Category Archives: The Culture

Confession of a Nas fan: “Ether” vs “Takeover”

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Off rip, I need to  offer a disclaimer: in my debatable opinion, Nas is the G.O.A.T, almost divine from my point of view. His sophmore album, “It Was Written” may be my favorite album of all time. His second effort was laced with cuts like “Take it in blood”, “Shootouts” and “The Message”, which showed an elevation in his artistry in comparison to his immortal debut “Illmatic”. From Nas’ fashion sense, to his writing ability, all the way down to his mystique when dealing with some of the baddest women on the planet, the “only one Sade dated” has been an inspirtation to me in more ways than one. However, my admiration for Nas and opinion on the Jay/Nas feud creates quite the juxtaposition. With that said, I digress…

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In the darker years of Nas legendary career, circa 1998 to 2000, Jay-Z’s career really started to take off after going platinum 5 times over with his “Hard Knock Life” album. Up to this point, Nas was undoubtedly the  city’s golden pen, but the ink was running dry for Esco and the support seemed to shift in the direction of Hov. There was silent tension since the inception of Jay’s career, and escalated after the departure of B.I.G because it gave way to the King-Of-New-York conversation. Some will say Nas threw the first dart all the way back in 1996 on “The Message” when he said “Lex with tv sets the minimum”, after Jay was seen driving a lex, with tv sets, in a few of his early videos. That’s neither here, nor there. Some will also say it all started because of a proceeding subliminal exchange between Nas and Jay’s shooter, Memphis bleek, in 1999. 

“Ima ball til I fall what you think of that?”-Memphis Bleek (“What you think of that?”)

Re: “you wanna ball til you fall? I could help you with that”- Nas (“Nastradamus”)

Re: “ya lifestyle written, who you tryna be? Play your position” – Memphis Bleek (“Mind Right”)

Once again, that’s neither here, nor there. All the subs, resentments and tension would have it’s cover blown with one subtle line on that Hot 97 Summer Jam stage, in 2001. Hov used the platform to debut, what was really a Mobb Deep diss: “Takeover”. However, what caught the ears of the city wasn’t his jabs about Prodigy’s credibility or height, it was the line that ended the song: “Y’all niggas don’t want it with Hov, ask Nas, he don’t want it with Hov”. It is said that Nas was reluctant to respond because, despite Jay’s success, he didn’t believe the Brooklynite was on his level. Thankfully, Nas had some honest people around him, who put him on game and said in so many words “regardless what you believe, this is the dude right now, if you don’t respond, it’s over”.

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Nas initial response was “H to the omo” or the “stillmatic freestyle”. This was a flex in lyrical superiority over the break-beat from Dennis Edward’s “Don’t look any further”, popularized in the hip hop world by Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid in full” . Nas threw more than a few not-so-subliminal lines towards Hov, even calling him the rapper version of Sisqo, which un-intentionally made the Dru-hill singer the standard for soft in the rap world. The response was enough to make Hov go back to the lab to add an additional verse to “Takeover” solely aimed for Nas dome piece like Jerome’s niece coming from Jones Beach.

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The additional verse was all types of disrespectful and attacked Nas from every angle. Jay picked at his artistic and street credibility, and ended the verse by subliminally referencing that he fucked Nas baby mother, Carmen Bryan, who later used it to her advantage and made a tell-all book about it. It seemed quiet for Nas after that. Lo and behold, 6 months later, Nas drops “Ether” which is almost seen as the awakening of the beast, the resurrection and a far cry from records like “You owe me”. Nas also took it to record levels of disrespect and mockery, referencing him swagger-jacking Biggies style, his Hawaiian sophie days and made room to call him a “tae-bo hoe”.

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With everyone waiting for a response from Jay, he dropped a sub-par diss track “Super ugly” which just seemed like he was trying to be more disrespectful than creative. Nas’ biggest advantage, at this point, was representing the underdog . The game almost-unanimously labeled Nas the victor in this match of the titans. But here’s where the confession comes in, even as a Nas stan, I feel Jay won.

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There are a number of reasons why a lot of people feel that Jay lost. One, they didn’t expect anything from Nas at that point in his career, but he came out like a bear from hibernation. Two, Jay responded with  “super-ugly”, which gave room for general perception to compare a weaker response to “Ether”, rather than pinning it against “Takeover”. Three, “Ether” became a verb for shitting on people after Nas dropped it. However, outside of the moment and in retrospect, Jay came with more fact and “Ether” seemed more like a game of dozens.  Nas clowned Jay, attacking his physical misfortune, homosexual references, unrealistic threats. Nas also criticized him for taking from Big, which could also be considered Jay paying homage to a fallen friend. What could be the most potent and transcending critique in “Ether” was about Eminem “murdering” Hov on “Renegade”, which gave birth to barbershop analysts everywhere debating verses on any track which featured two or more prominent spitters. In contrast: Jay, being sharp in the art of war, played on the collective’s opinion of Nas at the time. Though a Nas fan such as myself doesn’t agree that he never lived up to the potential of “Illmatic”, there is a large amount of hip hop fans who feel that way. Jay also pointed out instances like the questionable “Karl Kani” ads and “oochie wally” appearances. Hov shot at Nas with facts, for the most part he avoided joking and bullshit threats. Here are some of the jabs Hov dropped that Nas should’ve addressed:

  1. He attacked “oochie wally”: Another questionable move on Nas behalf and is almost cringe worthy to listen to Nas stretch for fame in that fashion until this day.
  2. “I showed you your first tec, on tour with Large Professor, then I heard your album about the tec on the dresser”: this line would just be another aimless jab of credibility from Jay, but Large Professor spoke on this as well.
  3. “So yeah I sampled your voice…you ain’t get a coin, nigga, you was gettin fucked then/ I know who I paid, God- Serchlite publishing”: attacking Nas on a business-level and him getting duked out of money by bad contractual terms. Serch did say that there was some fact to this on “The Champs” podcast, though that wasn’t the name of his publishing company at the time.
  4. “You’ve been in this 10, I been in it 5- smarten up, Nas”: From a level of progression, Nas was not where he was supposed to be with the sub-par “Nastradamus” and the good (but not IWW/Illmatic level) “I AM”, he wasn’t where most would’ve thought judging from how the queensbridge emcee shot out the gate. In the meantime, Jay was going no-where but up.
  5. “Because you know who-did you know what-with you know who”: Jay referencing the more-than-alleged sexual encounter with the mother of Nas first born. Super disrespectful and confirmed.

So yeah, as a fan of fact-based personal attack, I feel Jay took this battle. Regardless of what your opinion is, we can all agree: this is one of the best back-and-forths hip hop as ever seen. The kings clashed and kept it on wax. They provided pure entertainment and classic material, that we still talk about nearly 15 years later.

As I stated in my disclaimer, Nas is still my favorite emcee of all time. He was 2 top 5 albums for me (IWW & Illmatic), while Jay only has one (Reasonable Doubt). As he stated on “Ether” he did influence a whole generation of rappers and reigned as the cream of the crop, in an era of hip hop when your pen had to be sharp to survive. Though Nas has had his inconsistencies, he’s always managed to bounce back and he proved that with his 2012 album “Life Is Good”, the moet-drinking-marajuana-smoking- street dweller can still do it, regardless of where he’s at in life.

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Sidebar: The beat to “Ether” was awful.

Sidebar II: If you say Jay won, on the basis of Nas signing to Def Jam, you’re a corn.

 

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Under-appreciated Greatness Vol. II: Yeah, Joe Budden is a legend.

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While some of you are ready to lose your mind, peep…

Budden came up in the last era of hip hop when bars were a necessity in route to respect. Joey stepped on the scene circa 2001-2002, the beginning of what is commonly  referred to as the “mixtape” or “punchline” era along side the likes of 50 cent, Lloyd Banks, Young BuckCassidyFabolous, the Dipset movement, to name a few. Seasoned players like Beanie Sigel, Cam’RonJadakiss, and Styles P, who were in the game for a little while, were beginning to flourish as well. This was a point in time when hip hop was changing, dudes were at eachother’s neck, turning interviews at radio stations to battlegrounds. The game was left to the wolves, whether it was Desert Storm (DJ Clue, Joe, Fab, etc), D-Block, State Property, G-Unit or The Diplomats, everyone had a team of lethal pens. Joey not only survived the times, but established himself as one of the more prominent spitters of the early to mid 2000s (hence why he’s still here almost 15 years later). He had one of the biggest hits of 2003, with “Pump it up”, which could have been a gift and curse, but that’s neither here nor there. The success he achieved in the mixtape circuit is what ultimately has defined his legacy. His “Mood Muzik” tapes, were a 4 part series that felt like it was being recorded from a psychiatrist’s couch more than a booth. The tapes were not only critically accalimed in the underground market, it also helped establish a “Joe Budden” brand, carving out his own lane of heavy-hearted and honest hip hop that you’d be hard pressed to find in any of his predecessors.

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To some of you, who didn’t really expereince the early 2000s and may only be conscious of  Drake-era hip hop (2009-current), being an emotional rapper may not seem to be anything special to you because you see it everywhere. Hip hop was once a genre based on the alpha-male and self-boasting bravado, where any type of vulnerability or fear was blood in the water to the sharks, and it could be the end of the road for a rapper. Regardless of the fact, Joe fearlessly turned inside-out, letting you into his personal space and speaking on everything from his relationship with a distant son, hatred for his baby mother, and detailed accounts of his trial and error with women, friends and family. He went into the depth of his personal demons and the likes of depression, drug addiction and suicidal thoughts more vividly than the game has ever seen. Joe Budden made it okay to be human in hip hop. Whether it was done purposely or not, this type of content helped him relate on an elevated level with listeners and gained him his cult-following.

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Building even more of a personal relationship with his following, Joe was one of the first people who noticed how important the internet and “visual” accesibility was, via vlogs and youtube. Now-a-days, its a regular marketing practice. Every artist  seems to have a vlog now, because they become more “human” and tangible when fans can see their favorite artist’s activities. In the years proceeding JoeBuddentv, an artist would never let their following look in that close, in fear that it would compromise their still-on-the-corner / superthug image that they were upholding. JoeBuddenTV documented any and everything from his relationship with Tahiry (and arguments), issues with fellow Jersey-native Ransom, one of the first interviews with Drake, or just a game of monoply.

joe budden relationship

Of course that level of openness wasn’t only in regards to his own depth and personal life, he was never shy about his opinions on others. Joe Budden’s name is synonymous with rap beef, which is something that may have overshadowed his true talent. He has battled with Sean Price live on Hot 97 (& lost miserably, Rest In Peace SeanP!) and subliminally but not-so-subliminally battled Jay-Z on record after Hov tried juxing Joe for the Just Blaze produced “Pump it up” track (it became the “Pump it up” remix). Aside from that, he’s beefed with damn near everyone you can think of, from the likes of Saigon to the legendary tier of the Wu-Tang clan. Oh yeah, and Def Jam as a whole got it too (The Growth album?). Though a lot of these situations made for some classic records, they’ve also left a bad taste in the mouths of hip hop listeners and his piers alike.

joe beef 2(Copyright: Complex)

The reason why it may be tough to recognize how important Joe Budden is to hip hop, is because of unnecessary and immature antics that may have come from an honest place, but developed into a stigma on the Joe Budden brand. His unapologetic frankness, which is admirable to some (me), may have also stopped potential-fans at the door before even giving him a chance. Instances like calling out Method Man in an unnecessary fashion (also documented on JoeBuddenTv) made him seem disrespectful and wreckless. Of course, him popping up on Ustream with an icebag over his eye after  Raekwon’s people reacted, didn’t help much, either. It’s these “when-keeping-it-real-goes-wrong” impulses that have grown legs of their own and make some room to slight the Jersey emcee, regardless of his catalog and ability to push a pen.

joe budden beef

On a more personal level, his romantic-endeavors with well-sculpted Latinas were always on display for the court of public opinion. Though he’s given celebrity and careers to a lot of his ex-partners, the element of publicity in a personal relationship can turn on you, especially when there’s an ugly demise involved. There’s a trail of women, longer than any public assitance line, ready to drag Joe Budden’s name through the mud with accusations of domestic abuse, which is tough on public relations. Throw that in the pot with his denim vest collection on VH1’s “Love & Hip Hop” and the marriage prosposal gone wrong that made him the butt of memes all throughout IG, and you have a lot of distraction surrounding his actual wins.

marriage

The open book that us Budden fans love him to be, has also made him a target and has given plenty of excuses to not recognize his caliber of artistry. All the controversy in the world, from verbal intercourse with the competition to his personal pitfalls, as well as the cliche “one hit wonder” claims, and Mr. Jumpoff Joe Budden has survived it all and remains a lot more relevant than most of his classmates (except Fab), 12 years later. The branch of emotion-driven hip-hop that he’s opened has had a major influence, whether directly or indirectly. The influence resonates with some of the biggest stars of today (He had Drake on JoeBuddetv in ’09). When the controversy quiets and all the claims against him become warn out, all you’ll have is his body of work. Remember, you can’t trust anything without a darkside…

joe

SideBar: All Love Lost 10/16 

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New New York 15: Harlem NYC Style: Dave East

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Name: Dave East

Stomping Grounds: Spanish Harlem

Breakout Year: 2014

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From the Eastside of the New York City fashion mecca, hails one of the more promising prospects from the 5 Burroghs. I was hearing the name “Dave East” for a minute, via blog sites (shout out to 2dopeboyz, catching everything OD early) and word of mouth. But in most cases, unless I trust the opinion of the source, I usually brush it off after years of being recommended and then disappointed. I admittingly did this with Dave East, and it wasn’t untill I saw Nas put him down with his Mass Appeal roster, that I was like “Hold up, if the GOAT co-signs….”

Dave Nas

To get a sense of where his pen was at, I immediatley went to his freestyles and heard him finessing the shit out of classics like NasLast Words” and Beanie Mack’sOnce again its on“.

A marksman with my target, I shoot awkward,

Shawn Marion, Bill Cartwright, by the park light,

It’s 33 for a gram, the shit slow,

Balmain denim lookin’ like I’m sellin’ dope

– “Once again it’s on” freestyle

Once I realized how sharp the sword was, I wanted to see what kind of artist he was. We all know there’s plenty of dudes, from our city particualrly, who can spit really well but can’t put together actual songs. I did my datpiffs and saw his most promising project was “Black Rose” mixtape, with no expectation at all, I sparked some potent product & took some time to see what these mean-internet streets were talking about. The standout factor of the tape & East as an artist, is that it’s well-balanced and diverse in sound. He could go with a banger like the RicoBeats produced “Red Bottoms” , which is more in the trap lane, and it sounds natural. On the other hand, he could spit over a drum-knocking New York record like “Fuck you think” and come with the vintage shit. My personal favorites were “Around here” and “The Town“, where the he takes you on a verbal tour through the not-so-gentrified & still grimey side of Harlem. He could talk the name-brand braggadocio, true to his Harlem roots, he can speak the word of the corner-bodega hustler or he could just let the bars fly to let you know where his minds at.

“Speak my pain
He got game, I feel like Jesus
Just couldn’t relate, ain’t never listened to Yeezus (never)
Still got connects with dope, Sour in the freezer
FoodSaver sealers and some scissors, thank you Jesus
I ain’t meet her once, tatted my name right on her cleavage
Kush got me talkin’ to nutso, like “are we even?”…”- “The Offering”

dave mixtape

Dave East hails very little comparison to anyone I’ve heard. The Spanish Harlem emcee seems more like an effortless fusion of the New York legends blended with today’s era in hip hop. He’s the artist whose got something for pretty much any fan of the culture, no matter what element of the game you fuck with. Get familiar with the name, the boy’s gonna be here for a while….

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The Dame Dash Enlightenment

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“I’m the bad guy to the bad guys”

Dame Dash is defined differently depending on your age group and era. You may know him for playing his pivatol role in Roc-A-Fella records side-by-side with Hov, you may know him for verbally assaulting business executives, or you may be unfamiliar all together due to his nearly-decade-long absence from the spotlight. In recent times, Dame Dash has been reborn again, he’s become the symbol for modern-day independence, a business man with his mind on just that, his own business (Fuck being a chatty-patty).

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Dame’s recent campaign started in 2013. The first chapter of his resurgence was based in calling out people, who he labeled to be “culture vultures”. This term was directed at those, who he felt had no genuine interest in the culture, except for the dollar, who were pimping young artists with aspirations of being in hip hop. He accused people such as Lyor Cohen (Of Def Jam), Joie Manda (Of Interscope), among other higher ups in the music industry, of being white collar crooks. He accused Cohen of inventing the infamous 360 deal, which is the closest the music business can come to slavery. For those who may be unfamiliar with what a 360 deal actually is, it’s the music label offering finances for touring, marketing and promotion (etc.), in exchange for ownership of pretty much every aspect of an artist’s income (might even tell them how to dress and talk. no bullshit). Dame’s side of the story holds weight, due to the fact that he’s seen it from the inside and he’s personally witnessed the sheisty methods of the music industry and it’s most powerful pawns. He used his history and experience in the game, to fuel his jewel-filled rant. His argument made even more sense in the age of the internet. Considering the fact that the internet offers a straight to consumer business model, which essentially cuts out the middle-man. Point being, there is no reason to pay, in the way artist’s have been paying, for major label services. The major labels are slowly becoming a dinosaur, as Dame said, the executives will tell you differently but it’s only because that’s their means of survival. The anti-major label route is becoming more popular in this era, as you see many artists who flourished courtesy of an independent grind (I.e. Asap Rocky, Troy Ave). People like The Lox, 50 cent and Prodigy (of mobb deep), who’ve all been a part of major labels, have opted to go independent.This segwayed perfectly into his next chapter, which is what I call the “Be your own boss” segment.

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Since his exposure of “Culture vultures”, Dash has not at all been shy about publically denouncing dirty business people’s tactics on platforms like Sway in the morning, and YouTube channels belonging to the well-educated, Dr. Boyce Watkins, as well as the “Hip Hop motivation” channel. But the most loved, hated, impactful and controversial appearance was that on New York radio-station Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club. The Harlem native spoke candidly about the beauty of independence, building your own brand and putting your own money in the street. He attacked those willing to settle for anything less than ownership and working for yourself, even making examples out of those in the room such as the legendary DJ Envy. A key point in Dame’s perspective was “Hustle for your last name, not your first”, which can be interpreted as taking financial risks and stepping out of the comfort of a 9-to-5, so you have an opportunity to indulge in generational prosperity. His criticism’s towards the every day working man or woman, was that they were selfish for not taking these chances and not thinking enough about the future of their children. He also accused the average employee of being too comfortable in the security of a “job” & too submissive to another individual, claiming that calling someone else your “boss”, is like calling them your “daddy”. He sprinkled metaphors from his drug dealing days in comparison to the “legitimate” work world, to put things in perspective for those who may live like he did in his past. Of course, none of his argument has any substance, unless it is backed with evidence. Dame decorated the interview with boastful claims of his own endeavors, beyond music, into the world of movie production, fashion, art and even oil, demanding he be called a “Tycoon” and not a mogul.  The delivery of the argument may have seemed harsh and even offensive due to him poking fun at working people, such as most of us, but it’s a reality check.

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If anyone knows their history, Dame Dash’s approach was similar to that of Karl Marx. Marx is a well-renowned socialist, among many other accolades. Throughout the mid-to-late 1800s, Karl Marx bashed the system of capitalism and the idea of working for someone else. Marx stated that working in a pyramid stucture under a “boss” alienates you from yourself and molds you into someone who is working towards another person’s dream instead of your own. Marx stated that the workers will stay workers and the bosses will stay bosses, because they are both necessary in the economic system. Furthermore, Marx claimed that managers and bosses will sell you a dream of mobility, to keep you content with being a worker, but made it clear that you’re never really moving up in the world unless you gain ownership. This is Dame’s point, exactly.

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Like most awakenings in our history, his sentiments were polarizing. Some saw the message underneath Dame’s rough-around-the-edges persona. Opposition saw it as insulting and ignorant, saying “there’s nothing wrong with working for a boss and a normal job”, which is a subjective argument and really based on personality. Instagram lit up with snarky memes exaggerating Dash’s “self-reliant” point of view, some of which, were hysterical too. The point of this piece isn’t to bash critics of Dame Dash’s perspective, but more so to say, that Dame Dash wasn’t wrong either. He has accolades and business ventures to prove his point. The only gap in between the every-day working person (such as myself) and ownership is often a lack of belief in their own ability, or fear. The fear of taking the risks necessary and the haunting doubt that’s telling us: “what if you take these risks, and it still doesn’t work?”, this is a defining question and the answer varies, depending on the individual. If you love your job and your boss, more power to you, I respect it. At the same time, if you have aspirations to be your own boss, there is opportunity out here and likeminded people (such as myself) who you should surround yourself with.

dame cam

Dame’s argument may have been fueled by criticisms of others but the foundation was empowerment of the individual. The man wasn’t saying you “can’t” become your own boss, but enticingly saying that you “won’t” because you’re afraid too. He used the critiques and jagged-edged jokes as a vehicle of tough love to wake us up as a people. In my humble opinion, I don’t believe he was talking to everyone, he’s probably intelligent enough to know his message won’t resonate with an older generation whose long been settled into their job. I believe he was talking to the individuals with time on their side, who, in their heart want to work off their own interest,on their own schedule and are only opposed by self-doubt. Dame is pushing for a different model of business for the future and if you can’t see the diamond in the rough, that’s on you fam.

dame final

Side-Bar: Harlem sticks together.

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The New, New York ’15 (Part 1): Brooklyn-Queens-Expressway: Manolo Rose

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Name: Manolo Rose

Stomping Grounds: Far Rockaway, Queens/ Marcy (Brooklyn)

Breakout year: 2015

Still, in 2015, there is confusion regarding what exactly “New York hip hop” actually is. Most have pigeon-holed the sub-genre into boom-bap, or anyone who raps like Nas or someone from Wu-Tang. My sentiment to those who assume such, is the same as it was last year, everything evolves and there are still dope artists coming from our city that sound nothing like what we’ve heard before. Such is the case with Bed-Stuy-Far Rock fusion of Manolo Rose.

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Manolo Rose is in the vein of New York artists like Onyx, Busta Rhymes & DMX. He’s not going to blow you away lyrically, but he uses his energy as his trademark. He has a knack for making memorable hooks, which is noted on his own songs as well as his often show-snatching appearances on other people’s records. The backdrop which perfectly compliments his riot-inducing vocals is usually supplied by Fame-school Slim, one half of the Fame School, an up-and-coming architect on the boards.  When Manolo came with his break-out single “Run Ricky Run” it was the most unorthodox, unconventional banger I’ve heard since Black Rob’s “Whoa”. The beat didn’t actually drop until well into the song and it was confusing DJs all throughout the Tri-state, who were trying to figure out how to work the record in the club. The concept was derived from classic Hood flicks like John Singleton’s “Boyz n tha Hood”, “Menace To Society”. “Juice” and “Harlem Knights”. He cleverly used the movies to define life lessons such as “keeping the grass cut so you can see the snakes come” and to “Never let a nigga get away with nothing”. My mind had trouble adapting to the song at first, but I felt it, and I knew it was something ground-breaking.

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With such an impact on a breakout single, it’s tough to say if we’ll ever see an artist again in the era of the one-hit-wonders, but he’s followed up strong. With records like “Fuck 12“, “Gun-Fu” and “Super-Flexin“, he continues to perpetuate the lane that he’s carving out for himself, the anthemic-through-the-roof energy New York city hip hop. He’s building both his brand and his buzz on songs with Harlem’s own Vado, Rowdy Rebel (Of GS9), Rico Love, and of course, the controversial collaboration on Troy Ave’s “All about the money”.

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As many have heard, the Troy Ave single was originally Manolo Rose’s “Dope man“, neither artist denies that fact. The concept, the hook and the production is all the same as the original, just with appearances from Troy Ave and BSB’s Young Lito. Though the transfer of the record was a bit jux-like, Manolo Rose kept it business and used it as an opportunity to market himself on a more established artist’s platform, even appearing in the video. He has since denounced any beef between him and Troy ave, charging it to the game, and enjoying the perks that came with the success of the record.

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Manolo Rose has grown out of the shadow of his mega-record “Run Ricky Run” and the controversy with Troy Ave, the Edgemere Projects native is also gaining notoriety outside of the hometown. He’s dropping his “Concrete Rose” EP today (June 2nd), set to have features from Vado, Chinx (Riot in Peace !), Dave East, and Cali’s own, Problem. He’s one of the artists that is both creative and daring enough to follow the beat of his own drum, without biting off of the biggest artists of the day or trying to sound like any of the City’s forefathers. It’s artists like Manolo Rose who push both the city and the culture forward, blurring the regional lines that dictate what a city should sound like. He’s just out here making music anyone, anywhere could wild-out too.

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Side-Bar: I gotta make it out to one of his shows on this “Concrete Rose” tour, anyone whose seen him perform his shit says he makes the records really come to life…

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Knowledge, God: Why isn’t Raekwon held in higher regard?

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The debate for the “King of New York” in hip hop is an unresolvable, pointless & compeltely subjective argument, but it’s fun none the less. It’s a conversation that’s been going on in barbershops since the days of Krs-One, Rakim & Big Daddy Kane. Nobody is ever going to change their mind whether they believe it’s Nas, Biggie or Jay, when it’s all said and done, opinions will remain unshaken and everyone will stick to their guns. That’s mainly because there are different reasons and standards regarding people’s opinions. My standard for the best in the town is based in longevity, as well as quality penmanship and product, for other’s it may differ. For instance, most people who say Jay owns the crown will support their argument with his accolades, how much he’s done not only for hip hop but on a business level too. For those who go the Biggie route, they’ll speak on him (and Bad Boy records) irrefutable dominance of Hip hop in the 90s, and his ability to crossover to the mainstream, while simultaneously maintaining his credibility on a street level. For those who say Nas, they will most likely bring up how his 1994 debut shook the grounds of hip hop, his uncontested pen game, How he ethered Jay and how he was regarded as the top rapper, lyrically, in the Golden-era of the 90s, when everyone had to be nice to survive. Regardless, it’s a cold case. Since the 90s other’s have been thrown into the discussion, but those 3 remain the top guns even in 2015. 50 cent, who specialized in the destructive competitiveness of New York Hip Hop, made the argument relevant again in a new era when he went on his tirade in the early 2000s going at everyone from Ja Rule, to Dipset, to The Lox, and Fat Joe, pretty much everyone in New York who was even remotely relevant. However, something that always amazes me, is that after the decades of debating and all of these bullshit back-and-forths I’ve been involved in or witnessed, nobody has ever brought Wu-Tang’s top swordsman up, The God, Raekwon.

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I won’t even use Rae’s countless amount of contributions on Wu-Tang projects as evidence to why he should be in the argument, I’ll focus solely on his solo career. Off top, the Purple Tape, his solo debut, the 1995 Classic “Only Built For CubanLinx”, widely regarded as one of (if not the) the best hip hop albums to ever bless the culture. It was more than an album, it was a moment, a turning of the tide in hip hop with an impact that is only rivaled by albums like Nas’ “Illmatic” or Dr.Dre’s 1992 masterpiece, “The Chronic”. The album established Raekwon (& Ghostface) as trail blazers, the influence was immediate, from the content to the slang Rae & Ghost were using. The album introduced a new subgenre in hip hop which was labeled mafioso-rap, the black Gambino. It’s the cross between Mob movies such as “The Godfather” and “Good Fellas”, intertwined with inner-city New York street life of the 80s and early 90s. The story-telling was vivid (Slick Rick/Kool G Rap esque) and RZA’s production was vintage. Aside from that, this album spawned a bunch of “A.K.A’s” such as Lex Diamonds for Rae and Tony Starks, for Ghostface, which set another trend in hop hop. Every major hip hop album that came out following OB4CL had traces and elements of Rae’s classic solo-debut. That includes Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt”, Nas’ “It Was Written” and Big’s “Life After Death”. All 3 of those albums, undeniable classics (Stop hating on IWW), had some of Ghost & Rae’s recipe in them. For starters, the street narratives started to become more of the norm, with artists detailing violent, often drug related, tales heavily based in cinematically-influenced imagination (Biggie “Niggas bleed”, Nas’ “The Set Up”). Along with that, the nicknames that started to pop up (Nas “Escobar”, Biggie “Frank White”, Jay’s “Cashmere Brown”), as well as the Gambino talk. The influence didn’t go unnoticed, even Cappadonna stated on Wu-Tang’s “Little Ghetto Boys” (1997):

                                                          “You not a real brother you just a fake type
                                                          That get on the mic then throw your cliché
                                                           Half the East coast sounding just like Rae
                                                            If you a Gambino, give credit to the flow”

That’s a shot that could’ve gone in plenty of directions, but, I digress. Some will say, “Well, Okay, that’s one album”, true, and it’s absolutely the stand out of Rae’s 5 album catalog. Every artist has that one album that outshines the rest of their work, regardless of how much quality material they’ve put out . Rae has had his slip-ups, sure, like his second album “Immobilarity”. Though the penmanship was still there, the overall feel and quality wasn’t. The 1999 release had no Ghostface features or RZA production and the story telling wasn’t as sharp or abundant but the album still had it’s moments. His 2003 release “The Lex Diamond story” was another dent in the catalog because of a lack of cohesivness, giving it more of a mixtape feel, and a tracklist which should of been narrowed down. Rae should be granted his 2 mishaps just as Jay was with “Blueprint 2” and pretty much every solo album after “The Black Album” (minus “American Gangster”). Nas was excused of his 1999 fail “Nastradamus” and 2004’s “Streets Disciple”. While on the other hand it’s hard to judge Big on a level of consistency, when he had two releases (both classics, though) and in hinesight we barely had 3 years from him (unfortunately, Rest In Peace). Rae’s 2 most recent releases, the sequel to OB4CL (2009) and “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang” (2011) are both high-quality albums in an era when we saw plenty of our favorite rappers from the 90s completely fall off.

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Rae’s longevity speaks for itself, he’s still everywhere you look, he’s still relevant, and he’s still dressed dip (Follow him on Instagram). Raekwon has had impressive features on some of the biggest projects in the modern era, such as Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (“Gorgeous”), French Montana’s “Excuse My French” (“We go wherever we want”), Schoolboy Q’s “Oxy-Moron” (“Blind threats”) and ASAP Mob’s “Lords” mixtape (“Underground Killa”), to name a few. He’s still sharper than his competition, even these days, and he’s more tangible to the younger generation of artists than anyone of the same legendary status. He’s not afraid to step in the box and hang with the new guys, which is testament to his consistency. All this to say, there is no reason why Raekwon should keep getting disregarded in the Mt. Rushmore of New York’s hip hop history, he has the albums, the penmanship, the timeless-influence, and the longevity to back his case up. I’m not saying he doesn’t get credit, because everyone respects Rae’s craft, but he’s not held on the pedestal that he’s supposed to be with the rest of the elite.

Sidebar: Raekwon’s sixth solo album “F.I.L.A (Fly Internation Luxurious Art)” is slated to drop this year, be on the look out.

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Uptown Baby: Bodega Bamz X The Martinez Bros “Sunday Service” EP review

Bodega Bamz and the Martinez Brothers Sunday Service

Artist: Bodega Bamz X The Martinez Bros

Project: “Sunday Service”

Stand-out tracks: “Going to DR”, “Fuck Dat Shit” & “Bam Bam”

P’s feel: 7/10

The EP starts off with a sample of 1970’s “The Cross and the Switchblade”, where the narrator states ” If the story you are about to see were a product of a writers imagination, you might label it unbelievable, but these events actually took place on the streets and alleys and the tenements where we filmed them“. This introduction was strategically placed as a segway for Bodega Bamz to detail some more of his own personal experiences and East Harlem tales. This project speaks to the elevation in Bodega Bamz artistry and shows him flexing more creative muscle in comparison to it’s predecessor, 2013’s “Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z“. This couldn’t be possbile without the cinematic and sample heavy production of The Martinez Bros. From the 70’s movie samples on the interludes which were carefully positioned to thread the needle and keep the concept going, to the sampling of classics for the Spanish Harlem emcee to rhyme over. There’s a great deal of artistic chemistry between the production duo and Bamz, as the Martinez Bros work as architects to build a backdrop which also serves as an ode to everything that inspired and sparked a creative fuse for the Domo-Rican spitter. For instance, the slightly more raw sampling of Sylvia Striplin’s “You can’t turn me away” on track number 6 “Fire“, which was also Junior Mafia’s “Get money” sample. To do the track justice, Bamz channels his Biggie-reminiscent flow and even throws the previously unheard-of-artist Bonnie B on the song, who serves as the Lil’ Kim and female adversary. On the high power “93 Acura Legend”, you can feel an adrenaline rush as it opens up with the same trumpet glissando (or whistle-like sound), from Public Enemy’s classic “Rebel without a pause”. In the spirit of Chuck D & Flavor Flav, Bamz attacks the track agressively sending shots to anyone and everyone that believed he would never resurface after his last mixtape effort. On track 8, “12 Am in the stu“, The Martinez Bros flip Incredible Bongo Band’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, which is the same sample used on Nas’ “Thiefs Theme” and “Hip Hop Is Dead”. The TanBoyz captain opens the track up appropriately stating:

“This that, ghost of Biggie Smalls, ghost of Terror Squad,

Ghost of Wu-Tang, can’t forget the Double ‘R’,

Ghost of Big L, Ghost of Rakim,

Ghost of New York, We the newest ones in charge”

In contrast to the classic hip hop records that were flipped, on “Bam Bam” the Martinez Bros and Bodega Bamz also boldly took on Sister Nancy’s song of the same name, which is one of the bookmarks in Reggae’s legend and can be heard at damn near any Jamaican club or West Indian festival to this day. If you’re from any of the 5 Boroughs or even Long Island, you know that Reggae has almost the same impact on our city as hip hop does, so it would be wrong if the EP was paying tribute to all the sounds of the city and not include at least one dancehall or Reggae classic. Another noteworthy instance of Bamz representing what he came from, was on the stand-out track “Going To DR”, in which he cleverly merges the Busta Rhyme’s “Put ya hands” flow, with seemingly Q-Tip-influenced verses over the drum-knocking production. To add to the retro-feel of the project, Raekwon appears  steals the spotlight on the riot-inducing “Fuck Dat Shit”, with a vintage verse.“Whats good? We swallow these niggas, lobby killers posin’ in stingray air forces, bombs that body niggas, Rae states over the electrifying-boom-bap-reminiscent track. Not to mention Lex Diamonds does some of his classic shit talking, reminiscent of his features on The Cocoa Brovas “Black trump”, Pun’s “Firewater” and Mobb Deeps “Eye for an Eye”. As far as legends and inspirational hip hop artist go, there is not many with the longevity and stripes of The Chef. Another undercurrent of this project, aside from paying homage, is the Uptown representative’s transitional phase from an up & coming artist to a young star in the game. Though he does not have the starpower of his ASAP Mob counterparts (yet), he’s also not the same artist notoriety-wise that he was when he dropped “Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z”. That’s why this EP has such a contrast, a nostalgic but progessive feel. This is the revelation, the realization of his own potential for Bodega Bamz. It’s a man whose in a state of reflection and perseverance, almost at a disbelief of what he’s achieved thus far because of the struggle he’s come from. On several tracks he speaks about this new-found fame, but “Going To DR”, he speaks about it most potently:

“Sleepin’ with dirty pistols, my life’s still the same,

maybe I’m scared, maybe I’m lovin’ all the fame,

mentally stable but everyday I’m getting crazy,

tell these bitches I love ’em, even promise them my baby,

guess what I’m saying I got a curse and a gift,

the gift is to give back, the curse is getting rich”

Even on the horn-heavy, slow-tempo “A Night In Rao’s”, he gives off the elegant-mobster side of his artist, speaking on the high-end diet of shrimp linguine and lobster. Even when Bamz is getting a little bougie on us, he still throws in a dose of where he came from:

“I’m where they call me by my christian name,

‘How the family doin’?, How you feel about your fame?’

meng, if I wanted a cheap convo,

I order take-out, chicekn lomein”

This is the growth of Mr. Bodega Bamz, and off the strength of his passion alone, there’s more heights to be reached for the halfDominican-half Boricua artist.

“Sunday Service” is a good look and a glimmer of hope for the sound of the New, New York era. The Martinez Bros and Bodega Bamz managed to produce something that articulates their inspiration aritistically, slightly nostalgic, but is still a fresh-new wave. The project doesn’t seem like a dated piece of work, it’s not the cliche “Lets bring real hip hop back” sound, despite the samples they used. This 3 man team showed their creative evolution making a completely cohesive project detailing the intersection between looking back and moving forward. In comparison to “Strictly 4 my P.A.P.I.Z”, the two projects are nothing alike. On his debut, Bamz sound was more new-age, ASAP Harlem sounding with the 808’s, subtle-Houston influence with a New York edge. On this project, the feel is more soulful and it carries the same vibe that the 70’s flicks captured on the interludes. The only similarity between the two projects, is that it represents the underdog story, just at different stages. If we were to compare it to another classic underdog story such as “Scarface“, Bamz first effort would represent Tony Montana as the dishwasher, still trying to figure out how he was going to make it in America, just as the East Harlem rapper was trying to find his place in the game on his 2013 release.  “Sunday Service“, would be the next step up, this is when Tony first meets with Frank Lopez and they begin to talk about bigger money,when Tony begins to realize the spoils of the lifestyle. It’s not quite the pinnacle but its not the gutter either, this is Bamz and The Martinez Brothers finding their lane. This time around is different, Bodega Bamz gives a better narrative on this project and it’s more intricate content-wise. I hope to see more collaborative efforts between the Martinez Bros and The Spanish Harlem rep, so they can continue to brand their sound.

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