Disco D

Disco D (David Aaron Shayman)
b. St. Louis, Missouri (1980-2007)

50 Cent's "Ski Mask Way" is a track that'll pop-up on college radio mix shows or in-between sets at a hip-hop show and it makes everyone just kinda feel weird. No one really knows whether to just stand still like "Okay" arms crossed because it's a track from 50 Cent or to nod their head approvingly or go nuts over it. I've seen hands swing up and then drop back down when an entire crowd didn't totally go wild for "Ski Mask Way". For most people, "Ski Mask Way" is producer Disco D's legacy and it isn't a bad one.

So clearly rooted in the the hyped-up soul production of the early 2000s--Kanye and Just Blaze grabbing from Pete Rock, but Puffy too--"Ski Mask Way" is still a stand-out of the micro-trend that ended up major. Especially notable is the embrace of empty space, the confidence to stop, start, roll back, and push forward the dusty, squeaky O Jays vocals over and over again. There's moments of this song where all the music stops, which is crazy. This is what happens though when you're some goofy white kid DJ responsible for developing "Ghettotech" (or however you choose to spell it), one of the many hundred high BPM, spastic strands of regional dance music. Those clipped vocals, the complete ripping-apart of the track, especially in the last minute or so, when it's just sort of this malfunctioning loop of keys, strings, and vocals, is the kind of production prowess honed mixing and cutting balls-out dance music.

That's to say, while it makes more sense for a Ghettotech kid to have made Trick Daddy's "I Pop" , "Ski Mask Way" is operating similarly when it comes to warm, wizened open-space. Even the execrable "Popozao", the first sneak-peek we got of Britney Spears ex Kevin Federline's music career was mind-bogglingly, subtly, weirdly catchy. And contains the very same comfort in absence.

Or just think of it this way: Disco D got 50 to quote Goodie Mob. That a wonderfully goofy white kid DJ made the gulliest--and most soulful--track on 50 Cent's otherwise hedge-betting The Massacre is an oft-noted irony, but it's not really an irony at all. Disco was responsible for "Ghettotech", as I already mentioned, and he was one of the many DJs of the early 2000s to get really into music from Brazil...but he briefly married some Brazilian Playboy model, which is some weird form of authenticity, right?

Committing suicide as your career's just warming up is a weird form of authenticity too though. For an overview of Disco's career and a piece of music journalism you'll print-out and pour over for years to come, check out Adam Matthew's "The Death of Disco" from the July 24, 2007 issue of The Village Voice. The producer/DJ/entrepreneur (like actually, not just a guy who jumped onto some weird trends, some of his business plans were prophetic) suffered from bipolar disorder and it ultimately led to his suicide in January of 2007. It's real easy to reduce people to symbols when they commit suicide, but Disco seems to represent so many troubled, trying-to-cope suburban but not really suburban white kids that are into hip-hop. "Authenticity" doesn't truly enter the picture ever in hip-hop, but there's a deep, hardened sense of dejection and tough-minded realism that makes so many kids gravitate towards hip-hop. Whether the stuff 50 Cent or much better rappers describe in their songs hits home directly, it's the carefree nihilism that only develops when you first, really, really care about like, everything, that bleeds through hip-hop and makes it "authentic". There's shit at-stake in hip-hop. Disco D knew this and he put it in those rap beats he made that are worth something.

Disco D hanged himself in his parents' home eight or nine days before my best friend shot himself in his apartment. Mike made beats too. A lot of them. But they never got fully completed. He'd always stop and move on once they were a skeleton, a fairly complex skeleton with crumbling vocals or some super crazy organ flourish he'd tossed-in but a skeleton nonetheless. A great Mike story is him getting an organ from some old couple advertising it in the paper and then kinda sorta intimidating them into giving it to him for cheaper when he got there. Every beat hovered around 60% finished and then he stopped altogether really. He was pretty hopeless about the beats being much more than "okay". You couldn't even tell him why they were good or oh-so-close to being really good. He'd already decided they weren't that good. Fucking asshole.


Jimmy Spicer

Jimmy Spicer
b. Planet Rhymeon, 19??.

1980: "Adventures of Super Rhyme" Single. 1982: "The Bubble Bunch" Single. 1983: "Money (Dollar Bill Y'all)" Single. 1985: "Beat the Clock/This Is It" Single. 1990?: "I Rock Boots" Single

Jimmy Spicer's decade or so of rap singles (he never made an album) are on the rapping tip, remarkably consistent. He spent the decade-plus rapping in a vampire voice or with a ridiculous accent and pronouncing shit like you'd just had the flu the week prior with only smart, subtle variation in voice and cadence. Spicer saw no reason for reinvention or a need to grow "hard" even as beats shifted away from rudimentary--or I should say "rudimentary"--funk loops ("Adventures of Super Rhyme") towards electro ("The Bubble Bunch" and "Money") and ultimately, on the Rick Rubin-produced "Beat the Clock/This Is It", those first glimpses of hard-as-fuck drums that'd dominate the next decade and a half of hip-hop.

"Adventures of Super Rhymes" is cut from the same cloth as every post-"Rapper's Delight" rap song and yes, it shares that song's awareness of audience and in-home consumption--the first step towards rap entering the pop realm--but it takes the goofy "chicken tastes like wood" lines of Sugarhill (or really, Cold Crush, but you know all about that) and extends that to thirteen or so minutes and it's just Jimmy, no rap crew (or gang) to play of off.

I've no idea Spicer's connection to "true" hip-hop, but he's beyond talented and therefore "real" where it matters, and seems to grasp better the existence and interaction of hip-hop culture's four elements and the way they must interact. Like the best graffitti writer or even the best breaker, Spicer's improvising even as he's focused, and he's grabbing from this or that to forge something entirely new. And so, "Super Rhyme" is an origin story in the tradition of proto-rap comedic toasting, proto-Space shit that don't make no sense (and just one more piece of a long-standing black tradition that finds hope and genesis in space), a series of childhood memories from pop-culture (Superman, "Old MacDonald", Dracula, Genies, etc.) turned into something else (much the same way graffers ingested cartoons and comic books into their work), playful sex talk, and just something that rocks a party. Think of Spicer's transitions from playful bouncing raps, to a Vampire voice, to a few moments of gutteral Oscar the Grouch groans, and back to the bounce.

"The Bubble Bunch", besides being a sort of great bridge between weird, conceptual funk of the 70s and hip-hop electro, is also a hilarious children's story in the style of a rap about a fat couple that go to a disco and also eat a lot of food, or something. It's a fun meaningless dance song I guess, but it's always to me, seemed to also be about disco trends and music appropriation and the inevitable mainstreaming of something to the point where fat, obnoxious assholes are digging it too. Some inscrutable politicism a lot like Spicer calling Howard Cosell "Coward" throughout "Super Rhymes".

And then there's "Money (Dollar Bill Y'all)", Spicer's masterpiece. Think of the way Black Sabbath named their palpably affecting song about depression "Paranoid" because calling it "Depression" would've been obvious and no fun. Spicer here does a similar trick, wrapping a serious analysis of the traps of capitalism around a memorably minimalist beat and still in that goofy, affected rapping voice of his. From money needed "to buy a tank" to the burden children put on your wallet, we're all caught up in it, everyman to the big scary military. Wu Tang were no doubt thinking of Spicer's capitalistic lament when they recorded "C.R.E.A.M" just as say, Kanye West was thinking of "Black Ice" when he made "Touch the Sky".

The Def Jam single of "This Is It" and "Beat the Clock" produced by Rick Rubin already shows a genre whose borders were growing less porous even though it coincides with the start of the ten or so years where rap's really great. On "This Is It", Rubin's thumps and skitters overwhelm Spicer's playfulness and he tries to respond with his best LL impression but it feels odd. "Beat the Clock" works a little better, the tick-tock audio invokes the melodies of "Bubble Bunch" and "Money" and feels more like the sound of rap in 1985 meeting Spicer halfway than the other way around.

Finally, (I think) there's the aforementioned "I Rock Boots" which is presumably from 1990--although Spicer could just be acting weird and Jimmy Spicer-like when he begins the song "It's 1990 a brand new decade"--and finds Spicer, over a twinkling soul-vamp beat, shifting his style up to sound more like Slick Rick or Dana Dane or any of the classic storytellers that, you know grabbed a whole lot of this or that from Spicer himself (the most appropriate Spicer homage is Busta Rhymes' "Do the Bus a Bus" which is every bit at out-there as Spicer's own work). This influencer becoming influencee is unfortunately, something that happens a lot in music: At just the moment where an innovator's style catches on, they hop on the very trend they create and try real hard to sound like their followers.

On "I Rock Boots", he's quieter, less confident, smoother which fits his style fine, but what's so cool about those earlier singles is how he attacks them and just keeps going, with little affection for the open space and pop-timing that even hard-ass hip-hop records employed when it got beyond just straight rhyming (for a really long time, about whatever you wanted, until the record side plays out) and got relatively pop.



Jay-Z (Shawn Corey Carter)
b.Brooklyn, New York. December 4, 1969

1996: Reasonable Doubt. 1997: In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. 1998: Streets Is Watching. 1998: Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life. 1999: Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter. 2000: The Dynasty: Roc La Familia 2001: The Blueprint. 2001: Unplugged. 2002: The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse. 2002: The Best of Both Worlds. 2003: The Black Album. 2004: Unfinished Business. 2004: Collision Course. 2006: Kingdom Come. 2007: American Gangster

Thurston Moore, in Punk:Attitude opined during the standard late 70's/80's NYC comparison between the adjacent development of punk and hip-hop as art/social movements that while the punk kids eschewed all material signifiers of wealth for myriad ideological reasons, hip-hop embraced and celebrated money and fat gold rope chains and all that shit. For a number of historical and sociological reasons, this was an insightful, if obvious, comment on the capitalist spirit that came to represent mainstream rap and is fully embodied, like Leviathan to government, by the Unitarian God MC, Jay-Hova.

Jay-Z, first and foremost, is probably the most important musical artist to me personally. Not necessarily my favorite and certainly not the best, but someone I've grown up with since I was 8 or 9, when I used to listen to the radio all the time because music had yet to be demystified to me so everything was new and wonderful and interesting and every radio station was my favorite, even classical and jazz. During that time I started listening to New York's own infamous Hot 97 radio station, which itself embodies a lot of the negatives and embarrassing fuckery of hip-hop this decade, where I first heard "Ain't No Nigga". Around '96 I would see tons of Pac and Biggie videos on MTV Jams, but Jay didn't really get that much airplay outside of New York at the time. I remember dueting the hook with this chick named Sharde in the second grade or so who I had a crush on for most of elementary school while a classmate who was trying to mac her was getting all salty. Jay served as the non-pop soundtrack to me life as a little kid in Brooklyn, back when my block would have parties in the summer and my grandfather would get ripped on Friday nights with his old-ass Caribbean friends and listen to 80's funk and recent shit like Domino and TLC.

My love of my borough and my neighborhood became a love of Jay-Z somewhere around age 10 when Biggie died. Before Jay, Biggie and Pac were my favorite rappers, but I was too young to really get emotional over their deaths. School continued, and Puffy and Mase were making singles so it wouldn't phase me until late into high school, much like the death of Kurt Cobain. But in the process of the two biggest solo rappers getting gunned down, this guy who bled Brooklyn, specifically Bed-Stuy somehow started ascending into the position left in the wake of their passing. Then Jay's videos started getting more airplay. I got to see "Who You Wit II" on MTV Jams when they were about to cancel it and it was relegated to a ghostly hostless video block full of posthumous Biggie videos and shit like "Breaker, Breaker" by GZA. Then during the apparent rebirth/rebranding of Def Jam and release of Hard Knock Life, dude was everywhere. When he played the 1999 VMA's, he kept shit Brooklyn. It gave us the continued aplomb to, honestly, shit on all of the other boroughs who at the time didn't really have much going for them on the East Coast.We were obnoxious and almost nationalistic in our pride, but who could blame us? Our boy was the king. Still not huge on a national level the way other rappers were, but well on his way and definitely, through successful singles and critical reverence, got bigger with each album. Plus it didn't hurt that dude quickly became king of the club "bangers".

Even when Jay faltered, like on the Vol. 3 The Life and Times of S. Carter and The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, he would still have 4 singles and corresponding videos out, non-album airplay, multi-platinum sales and the reverence of almost every rap fan, or at the least every rap fan under 30, for sure. In retrospect, that success backed up his transparent claims to be "a business, maaaaan". I'm not sure if at some point in the mid-90's he had taken some Learning Annex marketing/financing classes but like any good capitalist, he corresponded to changes in the marketplace quickly and flirted with the commonly accepted concept of art only when it seemed prudent to do so.

Everything from his rap style to his image shifted every two records or so as East Coast rap flirted with bigger, less basement-y and sample-laden beats. In an early video for a track from about '95 back when Jay sort of looked like a 6'+ version of Skee-Lo called "I Can't Get Wit' That" the video was done in the projects and he was dressed like any dude would be on a summer day in the Stuy. But by the time his first two albums dropped, it was mob imagery, tailored suits, expensive leather, Cuban cigars, etc., etc. It was obviously in reaction to the success of Nas' second album and Raekwon's "Purple Tape", and maybe to a lesser extent recent albums by Kool G Rap. The flash and glitz of the jiggy era lasted until DMX helped changed the template and took everything back to the hardness that had been excised by the Bad Boy model, and Jay followed in suit with Timbs, white tees and du-rags and proceeded to drop an album that was essentially nothing but singles, a large portion of which got heavy video airplay on the Box and MTV.

The business model between 1999 and 2001 was a weird calculated mix of club rap, confessional songs, usually about absent fathers and family, and coke rap. However, the two-album rule remained in effect and coming off the cocky, self-indulgent brank marketing posse record that was Roc La Familia, the brand had to evolve, thus defining the sound of the decade, "chipmunk soul", with The Blueprint. It could be argued that marketing an album as more confessional and soulful and the ensuing deluge of critical acclaim was just as calculated as the fall Roc-A-Wear lineup, but getting that boost from the acclaim was probably the last time his business acumen and his product would converge with good results. With the release of possibly the worst double album ever, a record that somehow managed to sound glossier than Rock La Familia and be filled with more filler than Vol 3. and yet go multi-platinum, Blueprint 2. Even as much as I enjoyed "Excuse Me Miss" seeing fellow half-caste Lenny Kravitz embarrass himself with Jay on SNL doing "Guns and Roses" only seemed to backup concerns that Jay had finally fallen the fuck off after 6 years.

So what do you do? You cravenly release a single disc edition of the same abortion, then announce your retirement and "boredom". With you hitmaking status cemented, two critically acclaimed albums, two great records and three or so bricks content-wise, it seemed wise for Jay to fall back and then employ the law of supply-and-demand to not only make himself more valuable than he was during the Blueprint 2-era, but to ignite discussion, rumor, analysis and ensure, with a previously unheard act of "retiring" from rap setting precedent and ensuring stannery for years to come. Though The Black Album was disappointing due to a few instances of lax quality control and the seeming finality of it all, he went out on a decent note.

Until he realized he needed more edible diamonds for his Cristal and put out two tag-team partial-births with R. Kelly and Linkin Park, respectively, thus annihilating almost all coolness and mystery and goodwill his announcement may have produced. Not only was his commercialism unwarranted at this point, it was wholly inefficient, as the Roc began to fall apart, leaving Kanye West the sole non-Jay-Z act to succeed. 50 Cent would then usurp Jay's throne on all fronts and rap went through a Southern renaissance of sorts commercially. And then in a series of predictable and disappointing moves, Jay returns after information leaks about Kingdom Come, and drops his second worse LP to date, a commercially crass and middling attempt at redefining himself and expanding beyond the 3 or 4 themes he’s always rapped about. From the afterthought album cover to the labored rhyming to the unforgivable amount of tepid R&B tracks that were surely left over from B’Day, it still managed to push units and sate his pop fans but turned to be a huge mistake, a rare one for Jay in which his capitalism would actual diminish his returns and success and render him an afterthought within the rapidly moving rap landscape. Even his forced movie tie-in with American Gangster, that managed to have a surprising amount of good, though not essential songs, showed signs of Jay being lost. And for a laundry list of reasons, I was honestly angry. Angry that he’d do everything people predicted, angry that he’d push out a late-term of an album, and angry that he’d lost his step and that his idea of lyrical maturity was ripping off GAP-era Common’s corniness, but in a higher tax bracket. NYC rap was, and is dead and there would not be a Superman to save it from Papoose or MIMS. Jay’s hardline financial ambition seemed sad for how unnecessary it was and how much of a compulsion it seems and how much of his “cool factor” and mystique was sacrificed for it. His comparisons to the Grateful Dead were apt, as, masterful live act he had become, he was becoming very much a Madonna/Rolling Stones sort of artist, pumping out lackluster records and opening themselves up to brutal critical derision in making themselves a shallow touring act.

And, beef with lyrics, the failure of the ROC, his popularization of the "hustla not rapper" breed of MC's, whisper rapping and etc aside, the tragedy to me personally of Jay-Z is that I no longer felt that personal connection to who he was and what he represented. When I see him now, I don’t think of Brooklyn, I think of Foxwoods, Las Vegas, the Bellagio and whatever gaudy casino is in Dubai. In his never-ending consumption, he had completely lost the plot, and in that sense and more, he is hip-hop.

Songs You Should Have On Your iPod:
What We Do off Philadelphia Freeway
I'll Be off Ill Na Na
Guess Who's Back off The Fix
Best Of Me off Backstage Soundtrack
Is That Your Chick off Coming of Age
Jigga My Nigga off Ryde Or Die Vol. 1
Anything off The Truth
So Ghetto off Vol 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter
It's Hot off Vol 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter
Big Pimpin' off Vol 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter
Girl's Best Friend off Blue Streak OST
Intro off Dynasty Roc La Familia
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) off Dynasty Roc La Familia
Stick 2 The Script off Dynasty Roc La Familia
1-900 Hustler off Dynasty Roc La Familia
Where Have You Been of Dynasty Roc La Familia
Hey Papi off The Nutty Professor 2 OST
Excuse Me Miss off The Blueprint 2
The Prelude off Kingdom Come
Oh My God off Kingdom Come
Kingdom Come off Kingdom Come
Show Me What You Got off Kingdom Come

Albums You Should Have on Your iPod:
Reasonable Doubt
In My Lifetime Vol. 1
Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life
The Blueprint
The Black Album


Egyptian Lover

Egyptian Lover (Greg James Broussard)
b. Los Angeles, California, 1963.
1983: Breaking & Entering OST (w/ The Radio Crew: Ice-T, The Glove, Super AJ). 1984: "Dial-A-Freak" Single (Uncle Jamm's Army). 1984: Egypt, Egypt EP. 1984: On the Nile. 1986: "The Alezby Inn" Single. 1986: One Track Mind. 1988: Filthy Album. 1988: "Let's Get It On" Single. 1990: Get Into It. 1995: Back From the Tomb. 1996: Pyramix. 2005: Platinum Pyramids.

Every DJ's schtick is that they’re the greatest or the best at what they do, but Egypytian Lover’s self-obsession act went a step further. Side Two of his debut ‘On the Nile’ begins with a shortened version of his hit “Egypt, Egypt” and then, instead of keeping the party going, it’s followed by “I Cry (Night after Night)”. “I Cry” is a confessional, electro jam that’s less “slow-song for the ladies” album concession and more like, a song that makes explicit the implicit, depressive feeling that underscores most, if not all dance music.

If you listened hard enough, those 808s-of-death breakdowns on “Egypt Egypt”—especially the 12-inch version—stopped sounding fun and got a little creepy and it just kind of made sense that the party would stop or take a break for a song, so that the Lover can announce, over top snapping drums and watery synths, how he goes to bed every night in tears.

That confessional side probably owes a lot Prince, who had plenty of sad-sack electro-funk for the Lover and others to digest and spit back out into electro-hop. Electro pretty much directly stems from P-Funk and Prince, and while Clinton and company have totally embraced their connection to hip-hop, Prince’s influence is severely under-discussed. In part, because Prince himself isn’t exactly kind to hip-hop—see “Dead On It” from his “lost” but not-really ‘Black Album-‘ for but one of many examples—and in part, because critics love to frame Prince as disconnected from rap, the only black music that still makes them uncomfortable and rattles their rockist values. But the “Prince” persona, the electro-funk, the focus on frank sexuality that could be funny and fucked-up too, and mix of egomaniacal fuck-fiend hard-ness and weirdo outcast insularity, still influence hip-hop, but those L.A electro dudes especially.

But it was only Egyptian Lover who took it to a level close to Prince’s knowing sexuality where like, the intent was as much to look all come-hither as it was to look absurd; purposefully courting the feel of that lame dude at the end of the bar who tries really hard to sell himself as sexy and does it by like, offering to buy you some ribs or something. This persona or part of his persona allowed the Lover to age better and a little more gracefully than other hip-hop and proto-hip-hop legends. Now aged and chubby (still), it just sort of makes sense that he’d still being shaking his ass and calling-out freaks to crowds of nostalgics and Europeans.

That totally uncool side is sort of what separates him from other L.A electro-rap pioneers and exposes a “darker side” of the scene that’s emotional instead of social. Not the oft-talked about gang-violence-that-destroyed-the-scene cliché but stuffing some rough-hewn emotionality into a scene particularly intent on strictly partying. Egyptian Lover’s earliest work was with Ice-T on the ‘Breaking and Entering’ soundtrack—super-rare but easy to find bootlegs of—and his 80s production work spread to other West Coast musicians, including some work for Bobby Jimmy & the Critters—Bobby James was now super-famous hip-hop morning show host Russ Parr’s LA radio persona.

Electro’s a weird genre anyway because it was such an incestuous genre—same region, same artists, same relatively simple technology--that all the music sounds very similar or similar enough. It's probably why you can stumble across stuff that mixes-up or confuses Egyptian Lover and Arabian Prince (or thinks Jamie Jupitor and Egyptian are the same person; they’re not). Ultimately though, the overt similarities in the genre are good because what sets Egyptian Lover apart is the subtler details—exactly how his 808s bounce off one another, just how trebly his beats can get, that outside of later Detroit Techno gurus, he perfectly ingested Kraftwerk’s influence beyond strings-sounding synths and “Trans-Europe”-like melodies—or those times when he wasn’t doing electro at all and you know, sticking Prince guitar approximations over-top his beats or singing about how lonely he felt.

Still, his best work’s the best-known stuff. The “Egypt, Egypt” EP because it does what electro’s supposed to do. Side A is just “Egypt, Egypt” stretched-out to dance-friendly length with one of the most exciting and dramatic breakdowns ever, and a second side of songs that keep the energy at the same level. ‘On the Nile’s fascinating for the weird, sad-bastard wanderings away while later works like ‘One Track Mind’, a bunch of his singles from the 80s, and ‘Filthy’ are consistent and fun. 1990’s ‘Get Into It’ thinks it’s a rap album and it’s just sort of weird. One feels too cynical or too critic-like dismissing his post 80s output because if anything, it’s as impressive for the way it pretty much doesn’t change as it is unimpressive for the way it shoe-horns in rave, house, or hip-hop trends where they don’t belong. There’s some interview where Egyptian Lover brags that he can make an Egyptian Lover beat on Fruity Loops in less than a minute and he probably can. That's not so much a sign of the music's simplicity as it is a testament to that underrated, early 80s scene’s futurism: it took twenty years for everyone else to catch-up.



2Pac (Tupac Amaru Shakur)
b. New York, New York (1971-1996)
1991: 2Pacalypse Now. 1993: Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. 1994: Thug Life (with Thug Life). 1995: Me Against the World. 1996: All Eyez on Me. 1996: The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. 1997: Gridlock'd OST. 1997: Gang Related OST. 1997: R U Still Down? (Remember Me). 1999: Still I Rise. 2001: Until the End of Time. 2002: Better Dayz. 2003: Tupac: Resurrection. 2004: Loyal to the Game. 2004: 2Pac Live. 2005: Tupac: Live at the House of Blues. 2006: Pac's Life. 2007: Beginnings: The Lost Tapes 1988-1991.

More than any of those definitive images of 2Pac, strutting down the street in a hospital gown, ‘Mad Max’-ed out in the ‘California Love’ video, or the entire ‘Me Against the World’ album- it’s the video he directed for Mac Mall’s ‘Ghetto Theme’ that gets closest to unpacking Tupac Shakur.

The video’s the kind of thing that hip-hop outsiders- the people that always break the biggest and least deserving rappers- would see and approve of because of its cloying anti-violence message. Basically, Mall gets shot over a dice game, his spirit leaves his body and accompanies his now wracked-with-guilt shooter, watches his mourning friends and family, and in the final moments, stops a mourning friend (played by Tupac) from retaliating and shooting Mall’s shooter, who still wracked with guilt, is crying at Mall’s grave. It’s quintessential Tupac, this uncomfortable mix of ghetto realness, embarrassingly sincere sentimentality, and cloying manipulation. It’s also pretty good and very affecting.

But it’s primarily good for contrast because it’s Tupac interpreting and ultimately, misreading the work of another, better, actual West Coast artist, Mac Mall. ‘Ghetto Theme’, the song, is the second to last track on ‘Illegal Business?’- that question mark at the end of the title is more political than anything Tupac ever dropped- and is the realistic but heartfelt plea to you know, “stop the violence” after an album that properly mixes street and pimp talk with frustrated indictments of violence and government corruption. Mall’s annoyed with guys like Tupac (or who Tupac would become) when he says stuff like, “Damn, I thought we were smarter than that”. I’d add, Mall reaches into the reality of reckless youth and blah blah blah in his brief shit-talking performance at the beginning of the video in a way that Tupac only performed in ‘Juice’. You feel it in the video and all over ‘Illegal Business?’; Put in a Tupac movie or a Tupac album and you feel Tupac trying to make you feel it.

Of course, people love a performance and not a performance, and Tupac gave complacent thugs, overzealous Marley/Dylan worshipping rock critics looking for the next rockist or pseudo-rockist poet to write about, sad white kids with slutty moms in middle school, and everyone else someone to embrace. And he courted these fans significantly more than actual rap fans. His apparent disinterest in the quality of beats he rapped on is an example, but more important and rarely discussed is the way Tupac mixed his vocal ridiculously high- an obvious concession to non-rap listener’s ears, making it easier to hear his convoluted and contradictory (not complex) message songs.

Tupac’s intelligence was about average and this is why he’s so appealing to the average person; he makes them feel good about themselves but rarely challenges them. His songs suck out the gray area in which hip-hop thrived and replaced it with the much easier to digest black (angry, “I don’t give a fuck” songs) or white- saccharine songs of regret and outrage that feel less like introspection and more like admitting flaws enough to cover one’s ass. ‘Me Against the World’ is essential listening; ‘Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z’ has its charms, it’s like diet, caffeine free West Coast rap.



Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.
b. Chicago, Illinois, 1972.
1992: Can I Borrow A Dollar?. 1994: Resurrection. 1997: One Day It'll All Make Sense. 2000: Like Water For Chocolate. 2002: Electric Circus. 2005: Be. 2007: Finding Forever. 2007: Thisisme Then: The Best of Common.

No matter what kind of rap fan I’m talking to, I end up having to qualify my thoughts on Common. See, if they are my kind of rap fan, the knee-jerk haters of the so-called “conscious” set that make jokes about Common eating granola, then I gotta remind them of just how fucking good early Common could be. If they are a conscious rap fan who really thinks its cool that Common eats granola, out comes my protracted rant about how everything from his persona to his politics is muddled beyond comprehension and he's made himself nothing more than the go-to for everyone from “heads” to kinda fat Jewish girls that like “some” hip-hop.

Resurrection is an absolute masterpiece, one of the five or so best rap albums ever. Way better than Illmatic, which came out the same year and in my head, the albums forever linked and just like Illmatic (and so many other rap debuts), it's an album that gives off the feeling of totally being inside the head of the rapper; you know, them saying the shit they wanted to say and before labels or their own fucking “creativity” screwed everything up. The “sometimes, sometimes…” break on ‘Thisisme’ makes me cry every time I hear it. Resurrection is a portrait of Common, warts and all, bad punchlines and on-point rapping and all, and features plenty of insight into one thing and one thing only: Common. He drops great confessions that are decidedly un-hip-hop without being purposefully un-hip-hop, just real: “I didn’t grow up po’ po’/but once you get grown and out on your own/Bills upon bills upon bills is what you have.” Resurrection is pretty much the bougie rap album Common would claim to be making from Like Water For Choclate to the present time. His problems, not enough money, too much fast-food and beer, have as much to do with those kinda fat “some hip-hop”-liking girls I mentioned earlier as they do with someone deep “in the struggle”.

There’s also something incredibly male and even masculine about Resurrection; the easy place to start is ‘I Used to Love H.E.R’ which is oft-cited as being you know a little closed-minded about what girls (metaphor or not) can do with their vaginas. Common comes through in that the album feels and sounds alienated in a way that girls just never really are; it’s a remarkable literature-caliber portrayal of a slightly educated twentysomething (Nirvana who?). On the album, Common’s aware of his problems and wants to fix them but is half-scared and half-lazy and half-enjoying being a fuckup so it’s all a messy loop of living rapped over messy-but-clean jazz and keyboard loops. He’s also weirdly un-ironic and not self-aware like a lot of confused twentysomething dudes (yes face it, Common is basically a dude); only a rapper with little irony or little interest in proofreading would not only rap a line like “and you could tell/By the way her titties hung” but end the verse with it!

At the same time, the album is a jarring transition from Can I Borrow a Dollar? (a great title by the way). No I.D went from pretty ill slightly wiser boom-bap to beats that move and gel together through the subtlest of keyboard touches and other genius sonic detail. Meanwhile, Common calms it down a little and makes the perfect use of his perpetually stuffed-up-like-he’s-got-a-cold flow. Many look back and like to joke or at least reference stuff like ‘Heidi Hoe’ to describe just how different he was when he first spit, but Common is the same dumbass he’s always been. His most winning aspect is a penchant for emotionally honest details that never seem cloying and his worst aspect is the one he’s been totally working-on for more than a decade: his political and social observations (if they can even be called that). It doesn’t surprise me that he dropped out of college because he’s exactly the kind of guy that would go and then drop out and then talk about how he didn’t need it and how (as he says on Resurrection) “I went to school for fourteen years and my best teacher was experience”; Common’s something of a dullard, really.

It’s fun to make fun of Electric Circus’ or the so clichéd they literally mean nothing stuff on Finding Forever (love is not a mystery…it’s everything?) but they are already there on Resurrection when he says junk like “I hope you wake up in time for the revolution/Or you gonna be like/I can’t believe it, I got shot!” and it works on that album because the whole concept behind it is a confused young guy just being real. It’s the same joyful ignorance found on the first N.W.A record (no really, it is); a decade later however, you realize he hasn’t learned much of anything about anything but he thinks he’s got the world figured out…his supposed resurgence with the help of Kanye West is highly overrated and Be and Finding Forever being celebrated shows just how far the Lonnie Lyn has fallen.

Songs You Should Have On Your iPod:
Take It EZ off Can I Borrow a Dollar?
Breaker 1/9 off Can I Borrow a Dollar?
Two Scoops of Raisins off Can I Borrow a Dollar?
Soul By the Pound off Can I Borrow a Dollar?
I Used to Love H.E.R off Resurrection
In My Own World off Resurrection
Thisisme off Resurrection
Orange Pineapple Juice off Resurrection
Chapter 13 (Rich Man vs. Poor Man) off Resurrection
Real Nigga Quotes off One Day It'll All Make Sense
Hungry One Day It'll All Make Sense
Reminding Me (Of Myself) One Day It'll All Make Sense
The Light off Like Water For Chocolate
The Corner off Be
Go off Be
Testify off Be
Southside off Finding Forever
The Game Finding Forever



Bun B (Bernard Freeman)
b. Port Arthur, Texas 1973
Pimp C (Chad Butler)
b. Port Arthur, Texas 1973

1988: The Southern Way. 1992: Too Hard To Swallow. 1994: Super Tight. 1996: Ridin’ Dirty. 2001: Dirty Money. 2002: Side Hustles.
2007: Underground Kingz

Like most people not up on southern rap, my first experience with UGK was in early 2000 when “Big Pimpin’” came out, and I kept thinking “Who the fuck is Ug-kuh?” At the time, I thought one of them was UGK and didn’t know which one. I also wondered why they were on the song, but stopped thinking about it when I heard Pimp C’s verse, which was pretty fucking great. It turned out to be a classic single, but I didn’t give the guys another thought, even after BET’s Rap City started programming a lot of southern rap around late 2000, until Spin did one of those “hip” magazine genre/sub-genre starter kits and name dropped a bunch of southern rap albums they thought were the best. The only ones I recall from the article were an 8 Ball and MJG record, and Ridin’ Dirty.

Around the time Houston started poppin off nationally (2005), Bun B put out a solo album, Trill, and succeeded in keeping UGK on people’s minds while Pimp C was incarcerated by getting almost every Texas rapper to either appear in the video for or rap on “Draped Up”. I fucking loved the song, and originally though it was another Paul Wall track since him and Mike Jones were the ones with the biggest exposure at the time, fresh off of “Still Tippin’”. Then, around the time I joined allhiphop.com and started reading blogs and just stopped isolating myself from current events in general, news of a new UGK album emerged and eventually I, though I don’t remember when or why, saw the youtube clip for “Int’l Playa’s Anthem” and got pretty excited for its release, which was compounded when I did a youtube search and saw the video for the awesome underplayed first single off the record, “The Game Belongs To Me”. (I wonder how Project pat feels about him failing to do anything with the exact same Three 6 Mafia beat in 2002?)

Like I usually do, I browsed iTunes for their discography and then Soulseek’d their best of CD, which I had on obsessive rotation for most of July. What got me about the songs were they sounded like I hoped they would, warm, soulful, spaced out, and gritty. I was so tired of the lame, sterilized southern production on the charts (only exceptions of late have been Rich Boy, Three 6 and Lil’ Jon) that it was a welcome change since it seemed the recently nascent south was already falling off in 2007 after 4 years of mainstream success. I was happily surprised that it didn’t suck, and that a good chunk of the compilation was great. It was clear which tracks were older, and judging by the lack of material from Dirty Money, that that record was the one bad album they made. My jaw dropped to the floor when I heard “Murder” and realized that East Coast bias prevents people from recognizing talent that doesn’t fit their own opinion of good, as Bun rips his verse and chocks it full of agile rhymes and assonance and about 50 different descriptions on how you’re going to get shot and bleed and drip “red jelly” out your “Pelle Pelle’s” and etc.

Not too long after I absorbed the record and planned on downloading Ridin' Dirty, Underground Kingz leaked and I copped it from mininova. From the onset of “Swishas and Doshas”, which is a fucking incredible opening track and song in general, I knew it’d be a great album and in between checking out an old Kool Keith record and Three 6 Mafia album from 2004, I obsessively listened to it, making a weird experience of still digesting years old recordings and aspects of a group simultaneously with their new, more “current sounding” stuff.

After a while, I came to appreciate and defend Pimp C to people who didn’t understand that, yes, he can rap, and yes, he’s fucking great. The kind of people who fap their e-dicks about Papoose and whatever lame NY rapper is supposed to be amazing according to their east coast bias. Shit, he’s Pimp C, bitch, he’s from the sooooooooooooouth. Pimp C’s role, besides basically being the RZA of UGK, is to exude attitude and charisma, while Bun is supposed to be earnest and technically proficient, which he often proves to be. Though sometimes it may sound like he’s “trying too hard’ or “robotic” or whatever allhiphop.com message board complaints people have, he displays enough fluidity and ability to be smooth and kill beats on tracks like “Murder” that any perceived problems with his flow (that are, like most cases, because of a strong southern accent that people outside the south can’t seem to not confuse with bad rapping) are unfounded.

Pimp C’s productions are great, and he might arguably be the best rapper/producer around, if not ever. Dude shits all over Kanye and RZA merely for being on beat and having this voice that commands a degree of respect from how defiant he sounds. Plus, the motherfucker can sang. And surprisingly, he actually outshines Bun on a couple of tracks. Most of all, as evidenced by the behind-the-scenes DVD for the last record, they’re just two really cool working class rappers who are essentially the flip side to Outkast…just as prolific and consistent, but more concise and blue collar, as opposed to the prog/artsy rap of post-Southerplayaliciouscadillacmusik ‘Kast.

Fact is, they’re immediately likable, and a look at the videos for “Tell Me Something Good” and “It’s Supposed to Bubble” reveal it’s because they’re kind of corny. They’re corny because they’re earnest, or more accurately, really fucking trill. As much as people spout clichés about “being real” almost all musicians are fake or disingenuous or behind a wall of irony or detachment. Even when Pimp is lashing out as “pussy ass niggas” from the south and east, he always reiterates that he speaks for himself and that his comments have nothing to do with UGK or Bun B as people or entities, which is pretty nuanced a stance for a dude that starts beefs with whole cities. What you see with UGK is what you get, which is rare in music, despite what rock journalists like to say about indie and emo. Its eye-opening to see actual crash photos and have Pimp C reiterate on their DVD that he “smashed up a grey one, got me a red” like he says on “Int’l Playa’s Anthem”. On one hand, he’s bragging, but more realistically, he’s demonstrating it’s not the empty fictional bragging or lazy baller-talk you get from most other rappers.

No matter how many times you hear them rap about women, coke, syrup, cars, the cops and being wistful about life, it’s always high quality and dense. Though I disagree with Pimp C’s assertion that the west coast did rap a “lil bit better” than the east coast, the influence is clearly there, and UGK’s position as respected elder statesmen in the South and a link to the first wave of southern rap from the 90’s and late 80’s/early 90’s west coast records solidifies their importance as both adaptable (young, at only 34) veterans and representatives of another era. You gotta be doing something pretty special to make me want to buy a car just to play your records.

And it doesn’t hurt to have Jay-Z put you on a single and later bite your verse for his last single before retiring (Bun’s verse from “Touched” on “99 Problems”).

Songs you should have on your iPod:

Something Good off Too Hard to Swallow
Use Me Up off Too Hard to Swallow
Cramping My Style off Too Hard to Swallow
Feel Like I’m The One Who’s Doin Dope off Too Hard to Swallow
Pocket Full of Stones off Too Hard to Swallow
I Left It Wet for You off Super Tight
It’s Supposed to Bubble off Super Tight
Front, Back & Side to Side off Super Tight
Three Sixteens of Super Tight
Feds in Town off Super Tight
Protect and Serve off Super Tight
One Day off Ridin’ Dirty
Murder off Ridin’ Dirty
Pinky Ring off Ridin’ Dirty
Diamonds & Wood off Ridin’ Dirty
3 in the Mornin’ off Ridin’ Dirty
Touched off Ridin’ Dirty
That’s Why I Carry off Ridin’ Dirty
Good Stuff off Ridin’ Dirty
Swishas & Dosha off Underground Kingz
Int’l Playa’s Anthem off Underground Kingz
Chrome Plated Woman off Underground Kingz
The Game Belongs To Me off Underground Kingz
Like That(Remix) off Underground Kingz
Gravy off Underground Kingz
Underground Kingz off Underground Kingz
Take The Hood Back off Underground Kingz
Quit Hatin’ The South off Underground Kingz
Trill Niggas Don’t Die off Underground Kingz
How Long Can It Last off Underground Kingz
Cocaine off Underground Kingz
Real Women off Underground Kingz
The Corrupter’s Execution off Side Hustles
All About It off Side Hustles
Get Throwed off Bun B'sTrill
Big Pimpin’ off Jay-Z’s The Life and Times of S.Carter
Sippin’ On Some Syrup off Three 6 Mafia’s Most Known Hits
Catch Up off Ludacris’ Back For The First Time
Where’s Da G’s off Dizzee Rascal’s Maths + English

Big Moe

Big Moe (Kenneth Moore)
b. Houston, Texas, 1974-1999.
2000: City of Syrup. 2002: Purple World. 2003: Moe Life.

Big Moe sort of looks like some half-adorable/half-scary anime creation or something- all body and no limbs, all head and little face...but that sorta matches his weird place amongst the S.U.C He never really fucked with tough-talk, but was never far from it because more often than not, it was Big Moe's sing-rapping (as opposed to rap-singing which everybody does) that gelled those S.U.C songs and freestyles together. As the perfect complement to the darker, scarier aspects of Screw music, he mainted a sense of resignation to his voice that allowed him to fit right in-line with the wonderfully depressive and oppressive sounds, but he was also fucking belting out a chorus or verse, adding some real sense of fun to tracks that otherwise, harshly rumbled along. His solo albums were generally more positive affairs, brighter and more overtly funny- best exemplified in the 'Purple Stuff' video- and inconsistent in a way that ends up making sense...how could Big Moe make a "tight" album? Also- he's not the guy who could sing amongst a bunch of rappers that simply can't, Moe's voice was legitimate; It's why a song like Mike Jones' 'Flossin' ends up being great. The integrity of S.U.C and Big Moe is so great it's self-destructive...just as those guys still devote songs and their lives to a heart-stopping drink, they continually pop-up on one another's albums with no interest in variation or expanding boundaries (fuck that). A part of me wants to imagine an out-and-out R & B album from Moe but his S.U.C devotion makes it not even worth fan-boy dreams...and that's how it should be...only for the uninitiated, would it be an irony that one of the biggest proponents of syrup-sipping would also make such musical rap and infect every verse with joy...this is written only a few days after Moe's death and of course, it makes his legit soul-singing much more affecting and mournful. 'Codine Fiend Freestyle' which is on some old-ass tape I have- has Moe's rap/croon over a chopped-n-screwed version of 'Every Breath You Take' by the Police, which of course became Puffy's stupid tribute to Biggie but now, it goes from a cool S.U.C freestyle to a vaguely sad but appropriate eulogy to the guy.

Songs You Should Have On Your iPOD:
'Sippin Codine' off DJ Screw's 3 'n the Mornin Pt. 2
'City of Syzzurp' off DJ Screw's Best of the Best
'Codine Fiend Freestyle'
'Barre Baby' off City of Syrup
'Payin' Dues' off City of Syrup
'Po It Up' off City of Syrup
'Freestyle (June 27)' off City of Syrup
'Purple Stuff' off Purple World
'Dime Piece' off Purple World
'The Letter' off Purple World
'Parley' off Purple World
'Hell Yeah' off Moe Life
'My Girl' off Moe Life
'My Life #2' off Moe Life
'Flossin' off Mike Jones' Who Is Mike Jones?


Big L

Big L (Lamont Coleman)
b. Harlem, New York, 1974-1999
1993: 'Devil's Son' Single.1994: 'Clinic' Single.1995: Lifestyles ov da Poor & Dangerous.2000: DITC's Worldwide.2000: The Big Picture. 2000: Live From Amsterdam.2003: Harlem's Finest: A Freestyle History. 2003: Children of the Corn's Collector's Edition. 2006: The Archives 1996-2000 (Ltd. Edition CD Release).

Big L exemplifies the gritty, punchline heavy battle raps mastered by his mentor, Lord Finesse. The recent trend of New York rappers aiming to “Bring New York Back” (in particular Papoose) with flurries of mixtapes and freestyles, seem to follow in the blueprint that Big L left. Big L is the logical progression of Lord Finesse’s style into the early and late Nineties. As a part of the legendary D.I.T.C. crew, Big L seemed poised to conquer mainstream rap, as rumors of Roc-a-fella signings whirled about before his tragic murder in 1999.

Legend has it that L met Lord Finesse in a record store in Harlem, and Finesse was so impressed by his freestyle abilities that he landed his first appearance on wax on Lord Finesse’s 'Yes, You May Remix'. He also appears on Showbiz and A.G.’s classic LP Runaway Slave on the posse cut 'Represent'.

His first album, Lifestyles Ov Tha Poor and Dangerous was a slept-on glimpse into the talent that Harlem had bubbling in the early nineties. Not only was it a great album for L to showcase his rhyming skills, it also featured a pre-Reasonable Doubt Jay-Z (spitting his Fu-Schnikens flow) a pre-Bad Boy Mase, and the first appearance of Cam’ron on wax. One wonders if Big L would be dipsetting up in Harlem if he had not been tragically murdered.

The main components of Big L’s style were a straight forward matter of factness, an attention to detail and word syllable breakdowns, and a humor that was rough yet hilarious. He might also be the father of the short-lived “Horrorcore” style, with his 12” 'Devil’s Son' and various rhymes about raping Jesus Christ and beating his mother up like Norman Bates. He usually rhymed with a similar pattern on each song, he would rhyme multi-syllable phrases for three or six lines, with a very potent set up right before he delivered the punchline. Memorable punchlines: “They want to know why/I’m so fly/My girl asked me for a ring so I put one around her whole eye”, “I’m a street genius/with a unique penis/got fly chicks on my dick that don’t even speak English”,“You’ve been rapping for years pal/and ain’t made a hit yet/you flopped in a split sec/in the shower’s the only time you get your dick wet”.

He also had a great ability to write concept songs and tell stories. 'Ebonics' is the handbook for rap listeners who are new to rap slang, and 'Casualties of a Dice Game' reads like a grimy, fast paced movie scenario. On an early Stretch and Bobbito appearance, Big L found himself trading verses with an early Jay-Z, and it is one of the few instances where someone manages to outshine Jay. In my opinion, had Big L been allowed to live and prosper, he would have eventually given Jay or Nas a run for their money as the official “King Of New York” title. D.I.T.C. released a long awaited album in 2000, but the death of Big L can be felt in what seems like a movement that lost momentum. The songs 'Dignified Soilders' and 'Tribute' address the loss of a microphone champion who died to soon to fully blossom.

Songs You Should Have On Your IPod:
'Represent' off Showbiz & A.G.'s Runaway Slave
'Devil's Son' off Devil's Son 12"
'MVP' off Lifestyles ov da Poor & Dangerous
'No Endz, No Skinz' off Lifestyles ov da Poor & Dangerous
'Da Graveyard' off Lifestyles ov da Poor & Dangerous
'Ebonics' off The Big Picture
'Fall Back' off The Big Picture
'Platinum Plus' off The Big Picture
'Day One' off DITC's Worldwide
'Big L Tribute' off DITC's Worldwide

Posted by Brandon but written by Kevin Earley...



Slug (Sean Daley)
b. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1973
1998: The Dynospectrum (with The Dynospectrum)1998: Overcast. 2000: Taste Rain, Why Kneel? (with Deep Puddle Dynamics) 2001: Lucy Ford, the Atmosphere EPs. 2002: God Loves Ugly 2002: Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci (with MURS). 2003: Seven's Travels 2005: Headshots: Se7en. 2005: Felt: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet (with MURS). 2005: You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having.

The first time I really listened to Slug, I felt unclean. An unspoken rule when rapping about partying and casual sex is that you keep it light and bawdy, celebrating all the transitory pleasures of getting drunk off your ass and hooking up with a stranger while cutting away right before things get weird and complicated. Slug doesn't follow this rule. His rhymes are full of blackouts, hangovers, and hateful glances from girls he barely knows. The world of Slug's rhymes is messy and ugly and often without redemption, mostly because Slug's attempts at uplift sound like a junkie swearing he's going to quit drugs, get a job, get married, etc, even though the idea of those things were what made him start using in the first place.

The Lucy Ford EPs is usually brought up as the high water mark for Atmosphere, Slug, and emo-rap in general. On the surface a series of EPs about Slug's relationship with his on-and-off girlfriend and mother to his son, Lucy Ford (not necessarily her real name), the EP is more about Slug's neurosis, from thoughts of murder and suicide ("Between the Lines"), his ambivalence about fame ("Guns and Cigarettes"), his problems with women ("Don't Ever Fucking Question That"), and his existential anxiety ("They're All Gonna Laugh At You" and pretty much every other song on the EPs). Slug succeeds on the Lucy Ford EPs when he runs headfirst at his demons, like when he explores his own rage and violence through the eyes of a cop and a schizophrenic woman in "Between the Lines," but when he tries, as he does throughout the EPs, to convince himself he should just stop rapping and raise a family, it never sounds like his heart is in it.

A serious mark against Slug is his almost total lack of humor (except for on Seven's Travels' "National Disgrace," which I'll talk about in a second). While he sometimes raps punchlines, they're usually something like "Dot your Ts, close your Is, and blow me counterclockwise" or "Open invitation to catch today's ejaculation," and delivered in an aggrieved tone that makes you want to pull him aside and tell him dick jokes are supposed to be funny. Whereas other albums wrapped in self-doubt, rage, and despair, like Elliott Smith's XO or Sly and the Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On, have enough melodies and different sounds to sustain a listener over an album, Atmosphere albums can't often musically bear the weight of Slug's angst and self-talk

As mentioned above, "National Disgrace" is one song where Slug cracks a smile, or more accurately, a smirk. Written by a rapper who could see mainstream success over the next hill, the song takes aim at celebrity culture by depicting its nonstop debauchery as mind-numbingly dumb, but also kind of hilarious. Lines like "Last thing I remember was the Ogden Theatre/ Backstage bathroom making out with all three of ya/ Kicked out of Tomcats--for where I put the vomit at/Finally passed out in a laundry mat/ Malnourished and topless, slurring and obnoxious/ Like 'Yo, we got this!'" do a perfect job of balancing Slug's contempt for thoughtless celebrities and his fascination with them. It's hard to hear "National Disgrace" without wondering why Slug's sense of humor has to hide away 99.9% of the time.

At heart, I think Slug wants to be a singer-songwriter, not a rapper. He's got a record label offshoot of Rhymesayers for signing rock bands, he name checks Tom Waits as an influence in interviews, and he raps about how, as a kid, he hated when LL Cool J started rapping about girls, even though any rap fan knows LLs been rapping about the ladies from the beginning. In this article, Slug says that a Cage song sampling Built to Spill's "I Could Hurt A Fly" was " one of the first hip-hop songs that touched me in a way outside of me wanting to bop my head or punch a cop." I'm not trying to make a federal case here, but isn't it odd that a guy who raps for a living would associate hip-hop with exclusively those two reactions?

Atmosphere's most recent album, You Can't Imagine All The Fun We're Having, was probably the best thing thing Slug has done since the Lucy Ford EPs. With his producer partner Ant providing bigger, more cinematic beats, Slug sounds more urgent, even if he's rapping about the same old things. Songs like "Smart Went Crazy" and "Get Fly" may not be the Cobain-esque self flaggelations found on the Lucy Ford EPs or God Loves Ugly, but it's about time that Slug took a backseat to the music.

Songs You Should Have On Your iPod
"Guns and Cigarettes" (off Lucy Ford EPs)
"Don't Ever Fucking Question That" (off Lucy Ford EPs)
"The Woman With the Tattooed Hands" (off Lucy Ford EPs)
"Hot Bars" (off Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci)
"All I Can Do" (off Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci)
"Fuck You Lucy" (off God Loves Ugly)
"God Loves Ugly" (off God Loves Ugly)
"A Girl Named Hope" (off God Loves Ugly)
"Godlovesugly reprise" (off God Loves Ugly)
"Modern Man's Hustle" (off God Loves Ugly)
"Trying to Find a Balance" (off Seven's Travels)
"National Disgrace" (off Seven's Travels)
"Smart Went Crazy" (off You Can't Imagine..)
"Get Fly" (off You Can't Imagine...)
"Hockey Hair" (off You Can't Imagine..)
"The Arrival" (off You Can't Imagine...)


Dilla, J

Jay Dilla aka Jay Dee (James Yancey)
b. Detroit, Michigan, 1974-2006
1996: Pharcyde's Labcabincalifornia. 1996: Slum Village's Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1. 1996: A Tribe Called Quest's Beats, Rhymes, Life. 1998: A Tribe Called Quest's The Love Movement. 1999: Q-Tip's Amplified.2000: D'Angelo's Voodoo. 2000: Common's Like Water for Chocolate. 2000: Erykah Badu's Mama's Gun. 2000: Slum Village's Fantastic Vol. 2.2001: Fuck the Police Single. 2001: Welcome 2 Detroit.2002: Common's Electric Circus. 2003: Jaylib's Champion Sound. 2003: Ruff Draft EP. 2006: Donuts. 2006: The Shining. 2007: Phat Kat's Carte Blanche.200?: Jay Love Japan.

Dilla is that odd kid in your elementary school, never talking, head-down, drawing weird comic book worlds with little interest in recess, as if he discovered alienation and angst six grades before everybody else. You peek over at his drawing and he covers it up, maybe even has a 49ers folder ready to stick over ridiculously detailed sketches. My image might be the result of posthumous idealization, but the true stories cum legends, how he hid in the car with his Mom outside of the Grammys, how he made beats in the hospital rail-thin and dying, are inspiring whether they are totally true or not because the music sounds like a dude that did that stuff. I recall reading after his death that he was survived by children...can you imagine Dilla having sex? I thought he never left the studio?!

Especially after his death, Dilla was referred to over and over again as "the producer's producer" and while that may be accurate- his reputation among a wide variety of beatmakers and serious rap nerds is unmatched- his style is too out-there and rarified to really take that title. It is more appropriately given to someone like DJ Premier because the "blank's blank" in any artform generally suggests unmatched virtuosity, that is only fully appreciated by the obsessives and it was not Dilla's virtuosity that made his music fly over the heads of the normies but his disinterest in not being obscure.

He's the kind of guy that will forever be an influence on others but short of his development of the "neo-soul" sound, Dilla was not tangibly "significant". Pharrell Williams' thick, loud drums have their roots in a Dilla influence and Kanye West's grab-from-anywhere-obvious-or-obscure sampling does too, but neither of them are "Dilla-esque". That's because no one really sounds like Dilla and it will forever stay that way.

The early work, for the most part, really is "producer's producer" type stuff. A lot of it, defined the too-subtle, too-laid back bohemian neo-soul, "concious" sound that bores me to tears. He got an early reputation as the guy who "ruined" Tribe and the Pharcyde and while there might be some validity to the Tribe accusations, those Pharcyde beats are undeniable. Labcabincalifornia isn't "fun" but it's not boring and it's actually mature and you know, not "mature". It seems however, that into the 2000s, he grew tired of maturity and "maturity". Recognizing that "neo-soul" had become a grotesque cliche, Dilla began releasing solo works that succeeded any of his work for others.

2001 saw him leaving the group he helped found (Slum Village), switching his name from Jay Dee to J Dilla, allegedly to avoid confusion with Jermaine Dupri but I think, to reflect a change in attitude. The single Fuck the Police has a beat and message immediate as his earlier work had been contained and subtle. That same year, on the BBE label, he released Welcome 2 Detroit featuring a bunch of friends and an insanely varied but cohesive group of songs. His Donald Byrd cover 'Think Twice' is a wonderful 70s soul-jazz vamp, that is a homage without winking or nodding, even the super-sexy keyboard intro doesn't sound like camp- but then it ends with 40 or so seconds of audio of a bunch of friends talking and then running from random gunfire; Dilla began to define himself by contrast and contradiction.

In 2002, he was diagnosed with a rare, incurable blood disease. Although his integrity was always unmatched, it's hard not to read an increased not giving a shit attitude due to the fact that he had an incurable disease. It appears that he began completely following his muse (not that he hadn't already but still-), working on Common's polarizing Electric Circus and showing little interest in giving production to acts that weren't his friends. That same year, a solo album and album with Detroit rappers Frank-N-Dank, went unreleased by MCA and as the liner notes for Stones Throw's re-release of Ruff Draft tell the story, this inspired him to make that EP (knowing he was going to probably die early had something to do with it too).

Ruff Draft is Dilla's statement of intent, although not his most accomplished or best release, it feels angry, contrarian, and inspired. Over increasingly avant samples, whirls of sounds and lo-fi beats, he spits with equal anger against those killing the game and the backpackers: "And those backpackers wanna confuse it/Niggas is icy ain't got nothing to do with the music" (from 'Make Em' NV'). One interlude is simply a poorly recorded answering machine message of a woman bitching him out and that segues into 'Crushin' an off-kilter half-groove containing the chant "I wanna fuck all night". Of course, the album also contains the emotional 'Nothing Like This' a love song and an outro track that cites friends and influences; again with the contrast. His collaboration with Madlib, Champion Sound, is well-loved by fans but I find it to be only halfway engaging (the Dilla half).

In 2005, his health problems became more public and more apparent and he was also diagnosed with Lupus. The stories are well-known and touching: Dilla in and out of the hospital, working on beats from a hospital bed, his Mom and friends at his side. Donuts, released on his birthday in 2006 (and what turned out to be three days before is death), is his masterpiece. Knee-jerk cynics suggested that it would not have been embraced the way it was/is/will be if it were not on the heels of his death, but that's missing the point because it is an album about death. I'd understand if the posthumous The Shining received vast amounts of praise the way Donuts did, but it did not because one is a complete, complex piece or art and one is a conventional producer album, with different rappers on each song (the instrumental version of The Shining however, makes for a great listen).This guy that runs this great record store in Baltimore told my friend that Donuts is “[J-Dilla’s] love-letter to the world” and that isn’t far-off. I won't even attempt to articulate the greatness of Donuts, you just need to hear it.

Songs You Should Have On Your IPod:
'Stakes Is High' (off De La Soul's Stakes Is High)
'Runnin' (off Pharcyde's Labcabincalifornia)
'Somethin That Means Something' (off Pharcyde's Labcabincalifornia)
'Got 'Til Its Gone' (off Janet Jackson's The Velvet Rope)
'Dynamite' (off the Roots' Things Fall Apart)
'The Light' (off Common's Like Water for Chocolate)
'Thelonius' (off Common's Like Water for Chocolate)
'Let's Grow' (off Lyricist's Lounge 2, song by Royce Da 5'9")
'Climax' (off Slum Village's Fantastic Vol. 2)
'Fuck the Police' (off Fuck the Police Single)
'Think Twice' (off Welcome 2 Detroit)
'Pause' (off Welcome 2 Detroit)
'The $' (off Ruff Draft EP)
'Crushin (Yeah)' (off Ruff Draft EP)
'Starz' (off Jaylib's Champion Sound)
'Reunion [MC Only]' (off Slum Village's Detroit Deli)
'Time: Donut of the Heart' (off Donuts)
'Dilla Says Go' (off Donuts)
'Last Donuts of the Night' (off Donuts)
'Whip You With A Strap' (off Ghostface Killah's Fishscale)
'So Far to Go' (off The Shining)


Ace, Masta.

Masta Ace (Duval Clear)
b. Brooklyn, New York, 1966.
1988: Take A Look Around. 1993: SlaughtaHouse (w/Masta Ace Incorporated). 1995: Sittin' On Chrome (w/Masta Ace Incorporated). 2001: Disposable Arts. 2004: A Long Hot Summer. 2007: The Show (w/ eMc).

If the Juice Crew were the Wu-Tang Clan, then Marley Marl would be The RZA, Big Daddy Kane would be Method Man, Kool G. Rap would be Raekwon, MC Shan would be GZA, and Biz Markie, of course, would be Ol' Dirty Bastard. Masta Ace was never the most prominent member of the crew in their hey day but over his nineteen year career, he's become the most prominent alumni of the crew still working so I guess that would make him Ghostface. He never achieved the stardom of Big Daddy Kane nor the respect and devotion of Kool G. Rap but by re-inventing himself in the 2000s as your favorite indie rapper's favorite indie rapper, Masta Ace, has continued to have a successful career almost 20 years after his first appearance on the classic posse cut, "The Symphony."

Despite never achieving great success, Ace's high energy "off beat/on beat" delivery and complex wordplay has been extremely influential on many emcees who have emulated his style including and most notably, Eminem, who credits Ace as being extremely influential on his Em's signature flow. (It's even been accused that Em was biting Ace's rap style straight up on The Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers LP and if you listen to those records and Slaughtahouse Era Ace you can definitely see the similarities.)

Ace is kind of anomaly in rap. He was one of the first East Coast rappers to make openly West Coast influenced rap music in the midst of a violent East Coast/West Coast rap beef as '93's SlaughtaHouse can attest. He is also one of the rare rappers that can claim that they have improved with age as arguably his two greatest albums, Disposable Arts, and A Long Hot Summer were released almost fifteen years after his career. I "discovered" Ace in the summer of '05 while traveling in Ecuador as I had bought a copy of A Long Hot Summer after reading a good review of it online and downloading a couple of songs onto my iPod. I was blown away by how amazingly well crafted the record was. A Long Hot Summer is a prequel of sorts to its equally great predecessor, Disposable Arts. It tells the story of how Ace ended up in jail over the course of a summer. Ultimately, the record is a record about friendship as Ace's misguided devotion to his shady, Italian wannabe gangster friend, Fats, gets him involved in a money laundering scheme while on tour over a summer that eventually ends up in jail. The record is one of the rare concept albums that really work. The records fit the story and at same time stand alone as great records on their own. Ace truly makes albums. He doesn't make collections of songs. I played the hell out of that record that summer as it followed me everywhere I went in South America becoming the de-facto soundtrack to that period in my life. After coming back home to Cleveland that summer, the first thing I did was cop Disposable Arts and Slaughtahouse which only increased my love and respect for him as an artist.

Ace's music discusses the realities of modern urban life with an every man charm and wamth that makes him unique compared with many of his contemporaries. He's able to be critical of the gangsta lifestyle and the rap music that exploits without coming across like a pretentious douche like the Commons or Talib's can occasionally veer into. '93's Slaughtahouse remains the greatest critique of gangsta rap music ever recorded. It's basically "Hip Hop Is Dead" a full 13 years before Nas made the record. He's able to avoid the traps that befall many conscious rappers go into by instead of simply wagging his finger at his target, he shows why he thinks that gangsta rap is bullshit over beats that truly knock. On the title track to Slaughtahouse, the record starts out with two ignorant rappers calling themselves , MC Negro and The Ignorant MC, making an extremely simplistic and generic gangsta rap song fully of cheesy over the top death threats and a chorus that is literally "Murder, Murder, Murder, Kill, Kill, Kill" over a bombastic G-Funk inspired beat. Th e beat then drops out and switches up and we hear Masta Ace's voice chanting '"Death To The Wack MC" over and over and it's like a fucking war cry against the fake gangsterisms of the day. He goes into a blistering verse shredding the hell out of the whole concept of gangster rap. It's vicious, it's angry, and it's powerful. This is the record that proves that conscious rap doesn't have to be pussified and pretentious. It's harder than hell. If you ever thought to yourself, "Man, rap today is so ignorant and exploitative but at least it's fun! Socially conscious rap is so boring and wishy-washy. I just wish it had more balls." than this is the record for you.

Masta Ace has carved out a nice little niche for himself over the course of the year. He's consistently released great albums over the course of his career. He's been a part of numerous classics songs like "The Symphony", "Me & The Biz", "Crooklyn Dodgers", and "Jeep Ass Niguh." He's enjoyed some small unlikely crossover success with "Born 2 Roll" and "Sittin' On Chrome" and he's part of one of the most legendary crews of all-time, The Juice Crew. Ace may never be on your top ten emcee's list but he's had a full and interesting career . If you ask me, he's the single most underrated emcee of all-time. There's a great song at the end of Disposable Arts called "No Regrets" where Ace expresses no bitterness that he never reached super-stardom or had the career he thought he deserved and is thankful for getting the chance to do what he loved as a boy as an adult. It's a beautiful sentiment. That's what Ace is about: No Regrets.

Songs You Should Have On Your iPod:
The Symphony (w/Marley Marl, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap & Craig G.)
Music Man (Off Take A Look Around)
Me & The Biz (Off Take A Look Around)
Slaughtahouse (Off Slaughthouse)
Jeep Ass Niguh (Off Slaughtahouse)
Saturday Night Live (Off Slaughtahouse)
Crooklyn Dodgers (w/Special Ed & Buckshot)
Born 2 Roll (Off Sittin' On Chrome)
Sittin' On Chrome (Off Sittin' On Chrome)
The I.N.C. Ride (Off Sittin' On Chrome)
Take A Walk (Off Disposable Arts)
Acknowledge (Off Disposable Arts)
I Like Dat (w/ Punch & Wordsworth) (Off Disposable Arts)
Dear Diary (Off Disposable Arts)
No Regrets (Off Disposable Arts)
Big City (Off A Long Hot Summer)
Good Ol' Love (Off A Long Hot Summer)
Da Grind (Off A Long Hot Summer)
Bklyn Masala (Off A Long Hot Summer)
Beautiful (Off A Long Hot Summer)


Sigel, Beanie.

Beanie Sigel (Dwight Grant)
b. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1974.
2000:The Truth. 2000:The Dynasty: La Roc la Familia. 2002:The Reason. 2005:The B.Coming. 2006:Public Enemy #1 (Mixtape). 2007:The Solution.

Beanie Sigel has yet to make a great album but rappers like Beans rarely do. Similar to Geto Boys, a big influence, the strains of self-destruction and depression in his music are so real that it makes sense he can’t get his shit together for an entire album. ‘The Truth’ and ‘The Reason’ have plenty of classics but drag. ‘The B.Coming’ is closest and with some re-sequencing and lopped-off guest spots, it would be perfect; but perfect isn’t why you listen to a guy like Beanie Sigel. The album was recorded right before Sigel went to jail and the dread is palpable. Flaws and all, it feels like a guy with nothing to do but rap, with anybody out there, over any beat (even chimpmunk Bon Jovi). ‘Feel it in the Air’ might be his masterpiece, one of the few homages to ‘My Mind’s Playing Tricks On Me’ that rivals the original.

His personal life continues to overshadow his talent (or are they one in the same?); his step-father was found burned to death in 2006, he’s been arrested numerous times since his release from prison, there are numerous rambling interviews where Beans, high on something, airs-out somebody. He seems truly unpredictable, the kind of rapper that I fear I’ll wake up one morning to read of his early death.

On particularly poignant or violent verses, that unpredictability is transformed into great, actual street rap. He also has a knack for giving great performances in straight-to-video rap movies (the ‘State Property’ series, ‘Paper Soldiers’) that feature otherwise atrocious acting. In a way, that defines Sigel, working equally hard on anything put in front of him, with little interest in saving or storing his talent: Beans never half-asses anything.

His place in real rap history is already established, as a part of the Roc-A-Fella dynasty in its heyday. While Jay-Z was the obvious leader, Beans is pretty much responsible for making Jay-Z the more complex, introspective person he’s become. Ever notice how every early “reflective” Jay-Z song, if you thought hard about the lyrics, it was Jay who was the asshole? Beanie brought a sense of self and morality that Jay picked up on. It moved him away from “thug em’, fuck em’, love em’, leave em”. I’d even go as far as to suggest that Jigga swiped plenty from Sigel’s flow (compare ‘The Truth’s ‘Mac Man’ and Jay’s ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’) and it isn’t a coincidence that with Sigel mostly out of his life, a pathetic version of maturity is found on ‘Kingdom Come’.