Tag Archives: nas

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


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…


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”.

jay bleek

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”.

jay soph


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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New New York 15: Harlem NYC Style: Dave East

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Name: Dave East

Stomping Grounds: Spanish Harlem

Breakout Year: 2014


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”

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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….

Dave final

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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.


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.

rae 4 rae ghost 2rae ghost 3

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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Get Over It: The New, New York City (Part 1): Queens Bound


Nostalgia is healthy as long as you have your feet grounded in the present day and you’re not constantly trying to relive moments in your past. What I was once guilty of, as well many of my fellow 90s “Golden Era” New York hip hop fans, was wanting a resurgence for the city to happen in the same way it did the first time. I wanted the raw, fresh off the project bench, not-so-glamorous, gravely- RZA quality type of sound. I was looking for the next Nas, Raekwon, the next Ghost, and with those type of standards, I was setting myself up for disappointment. My expectations completely overshadowed good, modern day, talent and made me negligent to the possibility that it was even out there. But everything has to evolve, that’s what us fans looking for the next “Illmatic” need to realize. Jay-Z will never rap like he did on “Reasonable Doubt” again, The Firm isn’t going to get back together, it’s unlikely we ever see the members of the Wu on the same page again, & Prodigy did write a tell-all book, we need to get over it. We can argue and debate all day about why the city fell off. It could be the southern unity vs innately competitive nature of our artists shooting for the “King of NY”. It could be the lack of support from local djs and radio stations. It could be 50 cent. Maybe, we just started to lack innovation and got stuck in time, either way, it’s time to stop complaining and start embracing. We got caught in the feeling that the Tommy Hilfiger and Guess uniform era gave us, but we’re never going to get that feeling back. That feeling was a sign of the time, a moment and it was great while it lasted, but it’s over. The solution isn’t about bringing anything back, it’s about New York artists creating something new that has the same impact.

new new

Though some of these modern day NY representatives may not be rapping over boom bap, Premo production, there’s still a unique style developing, and a promising movement on the horizon for the city. If you love hip hop, you don’t just love 90s hip hop, you also respect and/or appreciate aspects of it’s evolution. You don’t have to love the strip club singles, the trap claps, the rapper-singers, but if you love the culture, you’ll listen and pay attention enough to know that it’s not just those elements. As far as the new era ushering in, I’m not talking artists from New York that have blown up already courtesy of the sound of another region (Shout out to them for keeping our city out there though), I’m talking about New York artists who have taken all the elements of their influence & mixed it into a fresh cluster. The movement is in its beginning stages, but its moving. The faces, production and flows may have changed but the New, New York has talent, too. Ill always love the 90’s New York hip hop more than any other time or sound, but I’m not going to be close-minded. I’m also not naive to the fact that a lot of you reading this, will remain unmoved and that’s not a fault in your character, I’m just trying to raise awareness- don’t be fooled by everything you hear on the radio. I’m fucking with the new squad that could build a new era in the city’s history…To prove my point, I’m doing a 5 part blog series of my favorite, relatively new faces on the New York and even New Jersey’s hip hop scene. Each blog will detail my top spot from Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, The Bronx & Jersey. The first installment is dedicated to Q-u-e-another-e-n-s.


Name: Action Bronson

Stomping Grounds: Flushing, Queens

Breakout Year: 2011

Stand-Out project: “Rare Chandeliers” W/ The Alchemist (2012)

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“Pain within running deeper than the ocean floor

Ocean avenue, the family straight from Kosovo
That was years ago mum look how your son has bloomed
I hum a tune and then I’m hotter than the sun in June
And I’m just living my life but feel I’m drifting
Demons on the doorstep, lungs that feel constricted
Or maybe I should see a shrink and get prescripted
Or take the hand of God but shit I think i’ll keep my distance” -(Action Bronson- 9/24/11)

I’d like to start off by saying Bronson is probably one of the only rappers who is actually comical, with the exception of Cam’Ron. The Chef-Turned-Rapper, Bronson incorporates humorous braggadocio about everything from who he fucks, to exotic choices of weed,  to gymnastics, to pulling strings in big time college and NBA games. Despite the sense of humor,  the man who claims to have paid Pat Riley to have Patrick Ewing miss the lay up in 1995, is no joke with his pen game. He’s held his own on tracks with some of your favorites, such as Prodigy, Raekwon and Kool G Rap, while keeping his foot in the new class, collaborating with Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa & ASAP Rocky, just to name a few. And just in case you were wondering , his A.K.A, is a mixture of his graffiti tag name (Action), as well as his love for 80’s action movies (Charles Bronson).


Early on, he was compared to Ghostface a lot, because of a voice reminiscent of 90’s Tony Starks, but has managed to develop into his own artist, out of the shadows of his influences. Bronsilini is a great contrast of the old and new New York. At first listen, especially on the first installment of the “Blue Chips” mixtape, he may remind you of some of the dudes you grew up on, because of the descriptiveness and imagery in his lyrics, but the way he incorporates his own personality into his music, his identity is unmistakable. Action Bronson has worked with a wide variety of production, everything from the soulful foggy sounds of Harry Fraud, to the genre-bending production of Party Supplies. You’re in for anything when you listen to Bronson, from smoking “Barbra Walters” Wax out of his G-pen, to his fitness sneaker fetish, to hiding drugs in the asshole of a Pitbull, but never anything that’s not entertaining.

SideBar: We hope to see his cousin Big Body Bes get out of jail soon, he’s provided some classic skits and intros from Action’s mixtapes.


   Honorable Mention (From Queens): Chinx Drugz.

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Everything comes full circle, fif.


From 2002 to 2005, there was nothing bigger in hip hop than 50 cent. He had just knocked Ja Rule out of his spot at the top of the charts, kicked his shoes off, and made that his new home. 50 and G-Unit were scorching, even before his record-breaking solo debut “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”. It was almost as if fif, Banks, and Yayo couldn’t release garbage, even if they tried. They were revolutionizing mixtapes, using it almost as a marketing plan and a build up for official studio albums. There’s no argument that they have a huge hand in why mixtapes play such a pivotal role for an artist in today’s game. Shady/Interscope was already a powerhouse in itself, with Eminem and Dr.Dre, Fifty and friends were just building a new empire on top of an empire. For that span of 2002 through 2005, everything G-Unit released (“Beg For Mercy”- G-Unit, “Hunger For More” – Lloyd Banks, “Welcome to Cashville”- Young Buck, “The Documentary”- The Game, “Thoughts of a Predicate Felon”- Tony Yayo, “The Massacre” – 50 Cent) was either certified gold, platinum or in the case of 50’s debut, diamond status (10 million plus, worldwide). Not taking away from the quality music that the group was putting out, but a huge piece of their success was from controversy as well.


G-Unit, mainly 50 cent, had issues with pretty much everyone at the height of their success. 50 had wiped Ja Rule clean off the face of hip hop, and continued documenting beefs with The Lox, Fat Joe, and Nas. These “beefs”, were just a money move for fif and it kept business booming. Though it didn’t dent any of his opponents careers too heavily (the way it did for murder inc.), it did disrupt any type of New York unity, maybe planting a seed for the sharp fall off on our branch of hip hop. However, piece by piece, the empire began falling apart. First, it was the Game. The Game wanted to collaborate with Nas and Jadakiss, who he grew up on ,and fifty took it personally as if it was a matter of disloyalty. The Game eventually started a G-Unot campaign, which whether people want to believe it or not, put a real scar on the G-Unit brand. It magnified the whole myth of 50 cent being a snitch, and took a lot of credibility from him, specifically on a street level. Next it was Young Buck. Apparently Buck was growing frustrated with his situation with the Unit, and started acting out publicly about it. This eventually led to him getting the boot, and 50 cent releasing a message recorded in his inbox from Buck crying about being given another chance. With Game and Buck out of the picture, it was crazy, but it was a business based relationship between 50 and them, not like the relationship Curtis had with Banks and Yayo. Banks, Yayo and Fifty were the original G-Unit, all Queens bred. But even those relationships eventually saw their demise. Banks and Fifty often danced around the topic of a falling out, but even Stevie Wonder could sense tension there. You never saw them together anymore, even in Bank’s brighter moments with “Beamer, Benz or Bentley”, and his consistent mixtape releases, 50 was no where to be found. 50 eventually grazed the situation, subtly remarking that Bank’s work ethic was not up to par with his own. Bank’s side of the argument was that his father had just passed, he needed some time to recover and fif was kind of callus and insensitive towards it. That only left Yayo. It was all good until yesterday, at least to the outsider. Though 50 declared the G-Unit brand to be a thing of the past, we still assumed there were still relationships considering it was more than music among the original 3. Just yesterday on Yayo’s Instagram, he posted, “50 ain’t rocking with me and Banks the same I layed my life down for the unit but you live and learn”. That you do. Though G-unit (as a collective) has been over on a level of relevance for years, it seems its over in every sense.

ca. 2006 --- 50 Cent --- Image by © Danielle Levitt/Corbis Outline

On top of the last link (Yayo), coming out about his detachment from the group, just today news broke of 50 leaving Shady/ Interscope, and taking the independent route. Mr. Curtis Jackson came to an agreement on an independent deal with Capital/UMG. The first thing that came to mind when I heard that, was a conversation 50 had with Styles P on the Angie Martinez show in 2007. After years of trading diss tracks, Angie Martinez played Mediator and got 50 on the phone with P. It was a civil conversation, but when Styles was arguing his decision of going independent, 50 mocked him about the independent money vs major label money, and specifically that Style’s label, “Koch”, was a graveyard for artists who were passed their prime. Ironic. Styles has seen more success and relevance on a music level with his independent grind since that point than fif, even with the machine backing that 50 had. Talk about a fall from grace, but its funny how history repeats itself (It’s murdaaaaaa). You can’t help but think how 50 displaced Ja from mainstream America, ruthless and relentlessly, and then see the same machine turn against him. That’s how the game goes. For the first time ever, 50 and Ja are at the same level of relevance. 50 cent’s gangsta persona has become discredited by the fact that he’s been out of that lifestyle for more than a decade and he struggles to reinvent himself. After 50’s attack on Rick Ross backfired, Ross dropped Teflon Don and became a megastar while fif just dropped, period. He hasn’t dropped an album since 2009, and nobody cares. 50 put so much time into destroying other people’s reputation, when he should have taken the time to re-evaluate his own craft, so eventually he self destructed, just as his last album title stated, “Before I self destruct”. More Irony. He’s now making records with Fat Joe, in the studio with Jadakiss and Style’s for his next album, and according to Cam, Fif is in business talks with the dipset cheif (who he had another feud with). Is it growth? or is it accepting the fact that you’re defeated?. Either or, the man is going to make his money, shit, he’s got enough endorsements that he never needs to write another lyric in his life, and it’s probably better off that way. Side Bar: At least “Get Rich or Die Tryin’, will always be considered a staple in hip hop history, some rappers have endured success but are followed by the black cloud of never dropping that one classic.

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Mainstream Vs. Underground: Mobility being a crime in hip hop.

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In a 7 minute long freestyle aside Big L, Jay-Z once rapped “I’ll raise hell, ’til its heaven”. Which is essentially what he did, coming from Marcy housing projects and moving his way up to having a partnership with Barneys among other business endeavors and plenty of platinum plaques. Jay-Z’s reign is unlike any we’ve seen in hip hop, still being just as relevant as he was when his break through “In My Lifetime Vol. II: Hard Knock Life” album came out in 1998. You would think that this is what all people who come from a background like Jay would aspire to do, however he comes under heavy heat for his success. Jay is labeled as “watered down”, a “sell out”, accused of compromising artistic value for finance. Of course, there are people who praise Jay-Z for what he has made of himself, but a lot of people from neighborhoods just like the one in which he came from, and people who were riding with Jay through his early work just look at him as an uncle Tom. Is it just a manifestation of jealousy and the crabs in the barrel mentality? or is there solid reason for this claim?, it’s a matter of opinion really. Some people may love Jay’s last effort with his Magna Carta album this past summer, while most fans of Reasonable Doubt Jay-Z can’t stand to listen to it. Though I’ve used Jay-Z as the example, he’s not the only one, this has been a trend in hip hop for as long as its been around. The mentality of attaching negativity to “going mainstream” may just be a reflection of the general attitude towards success in these neighborhoods where so many of these rappers come from. People like MC Hammer and Vanilla ice were the sacrificial lambs of hip hop, because though they were never accepted as real artists in thorough hip hop circles, they were the friendly guys who mainstream America could accept a little more, thus expanding hip hop. It opened hip hop to markets, that an N.W.A or a Public Enemy would never get in, just off the basis of fear of outside communities. Hammer and Vanilla Ice were completely cut off from the hip hop community, wrote off as pop trash (cue “pop goes da weasel”). Both selling millions on top of millions of records and bringing hip hop into houses it never was before, a more broad commercial success, but most hip hop fans laugh at them and make the two emcees as standards for being corny, ignoring the fact that they did make a contribution to hip hop. Not all rappers had to take the route of holding their sentiment to sell more records. Those who successfully managed to get across the views of the ‘hood and gain fame were viewed as superheroes, but their success came with a cost and possibly threatened the expansion of the art because of it’s negative and threatening stigma.

MC Hammer ... taking on You Tube

The way a lot of us hip hop fans see it, the way you’re supposed to gain more broad exposure is by kicking the door down, not with knocking politely hoping to being let in. N.W.A, is a prime example, coming out and gaining national exposure with songs like “straight outta Compton” and “Fuck Da Police”, songs that reflected the hostility and anger that lived where they came from, every rebel identified with it, even from suburban communities. Though the rebellious spirit in early hip hop was met with a lot of resistance, as they say “no press is bad press”. Hip hop was gaining national attention because of their take-no-shit, sick-and-tired, alpha male & misogynistic themes. Some would argue, though this negativity brought hip hop to an international level, it was also overshadowing the actual art of the music and hurting it’s chances of being sold in certain locations and being seen as a risk for people who were interested in investing. Record labels began taking heed to the fact that hip hop acts being so loud about the message may hurt the companies money,  and started to reflect that on to their artists. Despite the corporations efforts there were still labels like Cold Chillin’ Records (Kool G Rap), Loud Records (Wu Tang, Mobb deep, Big Pun etc), & Rawkus (Black Star), which generated what is considered to be “Real Hip Hop”. However, signing a deal with a label that may offer more broad and commercial appeal such as Columbia or Bad Boy, was viewed as something that could put even the most revered rapper’s career in jeopardy, reputation wise. Though it’s not even a stain the rapper’s legacy at this point, at the point in which Nas decided to strive for a little more commercial success, he was attacked for it. The “second coming of Rakim’s” first album, “Illmatic” was naturally accepted as a thoroughbred, hip hop by definition, classic. It was the second time around that was met with negative criticism. Nas’ second album “It Was Written”, took a little more time to really be appreciated. The QB spitter’s sophomore effort was a clear showcase of Nas’ elevation, as a story teller, a writer and as an overall artist. Nas had some of his grittiest tracks such as “Live Nigga Rap”, “I gave you power” & “Shootouts” on that album. But it was because The Trackmasters had a heavy hand in producing the album, and there was a lot less production from Dream Team of producers assembled on his first effort. There were more broadly appealing songs with R&B hooks such as “If I Ruled The World” and “Black girl lost”, that the “Golden Child” of hip hop was criticized for selling out because of. People grew such an attachment to Nas off illmatic, because of his promise and reflection of the projects, that they took it personal when Nas had a mainstream hit. The Trackmasters talents were often overlooked because of their mainstream success with Mary J. Blige, Soul For Real and Faith Evans, and the fact that they often flipped more hardcore tracks with a melodic, sample heavy remix. But Tone and Poke also had a history of production credits for Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap, among other well respected emcees, before they worked with Nas. But critics so conveniently ignored that part of the story. To people like me, “It was written” was a perfect album. There is something to be said about an artist who can have street, boom bap hip hop shit and blend it effortlessly with something more appealing to the masses. There was nothing gimmicky, even regarding the controversial single “If I Ruled the world”. It was Nas being Nas the visionary, with Lauryn Hill on the hook, whats more hip hop than that?. It was the fact that Nas wasn’t exactly waving the underground hero flag, and because his popularity grew, instead of Illmatic fans being happy for him and giving the album a fair listen, they criticized him. But for fun, let’s say Nas stays the exact artist he was on “Illmatic”, chances are he wouldn’t have made it to where he is now. Nas is now branching out to deals with Hennessy and others, representing hip hop at Harvard. His ability to make these moves come off the strength of what he has done as an artist, he probably wouldn’t be able to do all he has done if he didn’t evolve from Illmatic.

it was

I will admit, a lot of artists will sacrifice some of their music for more mainstream success and it shows. Artist’s who blatantly make songs that don’t sound natural, deserve to be criticized. Much respect to Jay-Z but when he came with “In my lifetime vol. 1”, which is an extremely underrated album, there was a blatant attempt to attract that Bad Boy audience. Jay was rocking a shiny green suit in his “Sunshine” video alongside Foxy Brown, and the song itself didn’t sound organic at all. Luckily Jay found his groove and exploded with Vol. II and did it smooth, he made his lifestyle appealing to all listeners. He brought in guys like Swizz beats, Timbaland (who didn’t produce much hip hop to that point), and even Premier to make a complete album that could rock an M.O.P crowd or a Drake crowd. But that’s the point, if someone’s putting together quality music that just happens to appeal to the masses, they shouldn’t be knocked just off the attention they’re getting for it. Now-a-days, we have someone like a Kendrick Lamar, who is the medium, the balance between super stardom and “backpack” hip hop (I hate saying “real” hip hop). His first album “Good Kid, Maad City”, was a critically acclaimed piece of work from both the guys in the barbershop and Rolling Stone magazine. He doesn’t seem to be doing anything to compromise his art, he made his personal story appealing enough to earn a platinum plaque and arguably the hottest right now. He just has the gift from God, of being able to be himself & be widely accepted at the same time. It will be interesting to see how Kendrick Lamar develops. People are already starting with the “he’s feeling himself too much”, due in large part to his game changing verse on Big Sean’s “Control”.  In some cases, there really are rappers who lost fans on the basis of their success, with no correlation to the quality of music. Certain types of people take pride in being “exclusive” as if they’re the only person to know about an artist. So when the artists starts gaining popularity, the loan fan loses his “one-up” on everyone else, ultimately making them be less of a fan. Ridiculous, but very real.  But for us more progressive hip hop fans who appreciate the Golden era hip hop, and find the good and artistic value in Today’s hip hop, we’re in good shape. A true artist can make the underground appealing to the masses, and mainstream appeal to the underground by doing it their own way. Very few are capable of it, but the gifted artists who do, are often assumed to be watered down and only given a biased ear. Not all underground hip hop is good, and not all mainstream hip hop is wack.  Open minds, people.


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