The Greatest Show on Earth: The lyricist Lounge, 1998


November was a cold affair, and by that month circa 1998, I was transported from the semi-city life in New Haven for the remote countrified feel of Guilford, all from the state that time forgot while Puritans relished, Connecticut. I moved to the United States, along with my older brother, younger brother, and mother, in the summer of 1992. We landed in New Haven, Connecticut where we would spread our sea legs in America. Being sons of Americans meant that we had a grasp of the language, and the culture as well. One of these defining aspects of culture was music. Music was a ubiquitous mainstay in the Cipriani household. Both pre-departure and post-departure our apartments, and later house, would always be rattling and shaking with loud music. Once I reached puberty, and later high school my taste in music began to change a bit. The once heavy metal loving, long hair sporting, ripped jeans and offensive Nirvana shirts wearing teen began to delve deeply into the world of Hip-Hop, mostly through the guise of Rap music. However, we listened to Rap music in Israel because I distinctly remember mouthing off the lyrics from 2 Live Crew’s “Dirty Nursery Rhymes” in front of my older brother’s friends for laughs.

However, once we reached the American shores I was profoundly influenced by a rock band I first heard of in Israel, thanks to the Dutch ladies in northern Israel. Nirvana would completely revolutionize my existence, and push me to further explore groups like them including Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Green Day and some of the heavier hitters like Biohazard, Metallica, Megadeath, Anthrax, and Slayer to name a few. However, once I reached high school things changed thanks to my new set of buddies who changed my perceptions of the magnitude of music.I had a few close friends who put me on to some of the best music and sounds, which I revisit to this very days. My boy Jared turned me on to the abstract and bizarre ranging from Radiohead to Aphex Twin, and from Squarepusher to Photek, and much, much more as we got laced in his room in the white ghettos of New Haven.

My boy Dan hooked me up with all the old school gold dust from artists like Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo, Eric B. & Rakim, and the rest of the top and obscure rappers from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

However, my boy Paul hooked me up with much of the indie and underground joints ranging from Company Flow, to the west coast based Freestyle Fellowship, Hobo Junction and Hieroglyphics, while also pushing some of his favorites like Tribe Called Quest and Pharcyde.

This cross-pollination continued from around 1995 to 1997. During my sophomore year I was told by my mother that she was getting remarried. My younger brother and I joined my mother, step-father and step-brother further down the east coast of Connecticut. We hit the town of Guilford, which was one of the biggest shocks to the system since we landed at JFK airport from Israel.

Guilford is where the country thrives. Guilford is a quaint corner where the kids scream for attention and fun by screwing around and experimenting with plenty of drugs and alcohol. Guilford is the type of American town that remained unchanged since it was founded. These are the types of towns that would look the same after a nuclear fallout. This is the land where I learned how to nurse a Budweiser beer while taking shots of Jack Daniels whiskey. Now that I’m in graduate school I highly admire the folk who taught me how to drink. Unfortunately, my friends remained in New Haven, and not having a car meant that we would only chill on the weekends. This didn’t hamper our relationships. Rather it was strengthened as my buddies would usually come to me, and then I’d show them the purgatory I moved to. But hey, enough about these small town issues. I still listened to all the rap, as well as Hip-Hop culture, that I could swallow in a sitting, and then some. In late Spring my boy Paul hooked me up with some singles that had this new and cutting-edge logo. The logo consisted of the silhouette of a mountain climber,

And some of the singles had a razor with a swipe in the middle,

This was my introduction to one of the greatest indie Hip-Hop labels, Rawkus Records. Shortly after seeing these releases Paul hooked me up with a compilation album released in the summer of 1998. Lyricist Lounge, Volume One was an amazing release for two reasons. First, at this point rap music became commercialized so a new strand of independent and underground labels popped up such as Rawkus. This was its inaugural release showing its roster of veterans and rookies who all sounded raw and precise. Second, this was another attempt of De-commercialization through nostalgia. Hip-Hop came from the streets, and these cyphers of rappers in street park jams and other parties. This release harkened back to the older days where Hip-Hop seemed far more free and fluid, unlike it’s rise in the corporate guise in the late 1990’s. This was also the album that gave us the single, which I own in all its artistic gorgeousity, “Body Rock.”

After I bought the album on vinyl I researched the covers and inserts meticulously, down to the lats detail. I realized that this Lyricist Lounge concept began years earlier as showcases for up-and-coming rappers and rap groups. I then realized that we were in the midst of a tour in the fall of 1998. Now, you have to understand that this was the era of The Source, Rap Pages, Fat Lace, Ego Trip, Urb Magazine, and other forums where we found out about this stuff. However, the underground scene was just that, underground. For people like my friends and I we had to sift through the information dust, in order to find leads to rap shows and other Hip-Hop related events.

I remember hearing about the lore of the shows, and how many rappers came up through the ranks at these shows in order to pay dues. This is where a 14-year-old girl, who would later be called Foxy Brown, tore up the mic with such precision. By the fall of 1998 Paul found out about tickets to a show out of the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. So, naturally these high school juniors decided to head to Paul’s older brother’s dorm at the University of Pennsylvania. It was on, and we were about to experience the Lyricist Lounge tour of 1998!

It’s amazing how harmonious the crowd felt as we nonchalantly carried on conversations about the state of Hip-Hop, wack rappers, and the new cream of the crop in the year 1998 with other lounge goers. The set up of the lounge consisted of a veteran who would be the MC or curator of the entire show, and another high-ranking wordsmith would headline. In the midst of this there would be performances by unsigned or newly signed rappers and crews. We were blessed to have the great De La Soul host, and this is still not long after the release of Stakes is High, which they performed from freely. The first slew out of the stable were quite a shmorgesboard of talent and disposition. Cipher Complete began with their anthem, which starts up the LP as well, “Bring Hip-Hop Back.” He was then followed by a white dude who I heard a few songs already from an indie EP he released.

Eminem was a force to be reckoned with and he performed three songs, that would eventually be re-recorded for his debut LP, later becoming the darling of MTV. Once he finished he came through the crowd and Paul and I struck up a conversation with him, as he bemoaned what he called the venue’s “play-school equipment.” He was funny and we then partook of some strong agents as he signed an autograph for a friend, and I wonder if he still has it? The funny thing is that after Eminem finished his set another newbie by the name of Sun Ra came on stage, but he tanked and he didn’t take kindly to being tanked by the audience. The crowd booed and booed due to his poor execution and his languid rhyme schemes. Mr. Sun Ra got angrier as a few members of the crowd began goading him, until one threw a water bottle at him. He then retaliated by throwing the microphone and then himself into the front of the crowd. This took a matter of seconds as he was whisked away by security, saying goodbye to his two-minutes of pseudo-fame.

We then were taken back through the portal of Hip-Hop history as we basked in the glow of KRS-One. KRS was the headliner and from the moment he hit the stage to the moment he left, electricity was beaming from his pores and into the audiences subconscious. He went through a rendition of his earliest work, all the way to the present with songs from his most recent release at that point, I Got Next. To reiterate, this was the period where commercial rap became ubiquitous so many of the purists, like myself, were craving this raw, unadulterated performance art as it looked in its earliest stages. Also, KRS was the perfect guide as he lived through the slums and poverty of the South Bronx, and rose up with his rap crew (Boogie Down Productions or BDP). I’ve seen plenty of rap shows since that day, but in my opinion seeing him was the best of the best.

Another great quality of the show were the surprise guests, who usually blessed the crowd. The guests were usually local legends or rap groups and MC’s who have a local following whether it be Goodie Mob in Atlanta or Fat Joe in New York City. Seeing the show in Philadelphia meant that we were about to see one of the best groups at that time. Coming straight out of Philly was, and arguably is, one of the best Hip-Hop bands, The Roots. Out of the corner of my eye I ask Paul, “Is that big hefty fella Questlove from the Roots crew?” Sure enough Questlove, and he was a big guy, brushed by as we both stared at Hip-Hop indie royalty. Unfortunately he brushed through us a few times to get water, and each time I extended my hand he ignored us like the plague. Still, it was great because a few core members of the group performed “Panic” and “Clones” from their undisputedly best album, Illadelph Halflife.

The end of the show remains rather blurry due to certain events beyond our control. All I remember is getting into a cab where the driver decided to blast his Indian music getting down with himself. We then exit on the shitty part of town, were accosted by a bum, who we then pushed aside while dragging back to his brother’s dorm room.

So, what’s the moral of the story, besides a selfish walk down memory lane? This show shaped my future by further solidifying my resolve to dive into any rap show I could see once I moved to Brooklyn in 2001. This also stoked my interest in DJing, which I delved in until I realized that I would be best served by teaching the truth, to the young black, latino, white, Asian, youth! Hip-Hop has shaped my way of living, much like most of my close friends, and many people in my age group. That is also why Hip-Hop has blown beyond the stratosphere in the present. My generation saw the change from independent, to commercial, and a recoil back to the underground, and beyond. That is why I’m writing on Hip-Hop in an academic setting, because of this fateful night, way back in my junior year, in the fall of 1998.


And a big shout out to my boys from the New Haven and Guilford hood!

Peace to Paul, Dan, Jared, Drew, Paul from the BX!!!

#LyricistLounge #Rawkus #LyricistLoungeVol.1

#Eminem #DeLaSoul #KRS-One






The Torah Portion in a Hip-Hop Universe: Noah


This past Shabbat’s portion from the Torah consists of much information for the avid reader. This is the chapter where we are introduced to the one, the only, Noah! Thanks to the gladiator himself Russell Crowe, and the disturbed vision of Darren Aronofsky (the director of such greats as The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream, and Pie) we have the visual for the story through his film, Noah!

So now Russell can literally ride around the world on his ship and fight! (That’s a South Park reference where Russell rides on his trusty boat Tugga and fights around the world). However, the film tries to capture the drama while Aronofsky takes many liberties in filling in the Biblical blanks. Noah, after generations of decline and immorality, was a righteous man in his generation. The great rabbinic scholars have constantly emphasized that every single word in the Torah is written for a reason. Noah was a heavy hitter, but he wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the next great heavy hitter, Abraham. One of his faults is his initial reaction to G-d’s announcement that the world will be destroyed amidst a great flood. Instead of warning the people, he goes right for the goffer wood and begins the work on the ark. Interestingly enough this point is solidified further where sages point out that G-d held off the flood for seven days in the merit of Methuselah who had just passed. The great Jewish scholar and commentator Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Or Rashi as he’s most famously known as, bolstering his street cred as well) wrote that the passage reading “For in Seven More Days,” meant that out of respect for Methuselah that the seven days of mourning would go on unimpeded. The flood was not held at bay because of Noah, but rather in the merit of Methuselah. So, why was Noah such a heavy hitter? Easy. It was the will of G-d, thanks to Eek A Mouse who describes this to us in his song aptly titled, “Noah’s Ark.”

The song, beautifully done for the vaunted Greensleeves Most Wanted Album, describes Noah as smart. The wisdom is imparted by knowing where to build, and in this case he built the ark.

Eek A Mouse described the contents of the ark, and arguably this is one of the strongest images everyone can envision with the story. Noah miraculously stuffed with ark with his wife, three sons, his three son’s wives, and a slew of animals of all kinds. Not only was this facet a miracle, but the animals all came of their own volition, and they all miraculously fit on the super ark. Anytime I equate animals with Hip-Hop my mind, body, and soul zap back to the late 1990’s indie Hip-Hop albums scene. The scene I’m specifically thinking of is the far out in space, frenetic, and loopy beats associated with groups like The Freestyle Fellowship, and the such. One of the best compilation albums to come out of this ear is west coast producer OD’s (Omid Walizadeh) Beneath the Surface.    

This album, amongst a tiny population of progressive Hip-Hop artists, pushed the envelope into the sphere of the avant-garde. This is Hip-Hop’s future. The album consisted of many great songs, but the one that helps us bring out the animals is a track titled “Farmers Market of the Beast.”

Taking a page out of George Orwell’s dystopian book Animal Farm, each rapper takes on the persona of a specific animal, down to the sounds uttered by these animals. Rappers Xololanxinxo, Jizzm, Radioactive, Awol One & Circus take on the animal with full attributes in all. Unlike Animal Farm this could be another venue where we can hear the dialogue between beasts and burdens we’ll never fully understand. This bizarre exchange could only be brought out by the great mind and abstract beats of producer OD. Music critic Jon Caramanica wrote it best when he said that, “For a twist, peep “Farmers Market of the Beast,” an aural bacchanal that takes a page from Orwell’s Animal Farm and explores the thoughts behind a panoply of clucks, oinks, and nyaaas. After all the conversation comes the party in an animal farm way, so let’s boogie with the Kinks and their song, “Animal Farm,”

Beautifully British in all its glory.

The great menace in the entire chapter is water. The waters of the earth and the heavens came down, so think of being caught in a deluge where the rain is hitting you from every angle. Water is described in many ways in Judaism such as the idea of the living waters of Mayim Chayim. Water is both the savior and downfall of many great sages including one of the biggest wigs of them all, Moses. Noah’s waters are seen a bit differently because they were unleashed in order to clear the earth, clean shop, and purge the world of evil. Rap music covers an array of subjects and when it comes to water I harken back to the same era as Beneath the Surface. However, this time I will point to the great compilation by the dynamic duo of Dan the Automator and Prince Paul. Their first collaboration, under the tutelage of their Handsome Boy Modeling School, contains a song by the MC Encore, and is titled “Waterworld.”

Like the menacing waters throwing the ark to and fro, the song begins with a hard hit on the organ. Each hit gives that menacing feel being bit on your head a la Schoolly D’s “P.S.K.” The song continues with its menacing flow while the strips of water trickle at a fast rate. Completely by chance, after looking over the lyrics to the song I realized that Encore even dropped a line about Noah spitting that, ” You doubt me like the foes of Noah, embarkin in this ark, the soul controller.” Precision and divine intervention are a good combination.

After the travels of Noah he finally finds dry land, disembarked, and G-d promises that he will never do it again. Noah, being human, was deeply impacted by the death and destruction. So, he did what most of us do to cope with reality, he planted a vineyard of grapes, and proceeded to get wasted. His son Cham found him, and this is where it begins to unravel like a story in the tabloids. Cham uncovered his father, who was naked, and showed the world including his two brothers. Some commentaries say that he raped his father, or that he castrated him. Hence Noah cursed Cham, and certain pseudo-scholars used the words of the curse to concoct this insane theory that the Bible is racist!!! Oy vey for the lost souls. We then veer to the tower of Babel.

The Tower of Babel is interesting because to the modern reader it seems that G-d pulled a fast one on the inhabitants. Instead of building a structure and unifying a people the Divine Force decided to disperse the people to the four corners of the world. One thing to keep in mind is the idea that the builders didn’t care about fellow builders, but only cared fully about the building. It can remind us that at times we care more about the structure, or about certain groups of people in lieu of the individuals themselves. The track by Copywrite featuring Cage and Mr. Eon is interesting due to the word play. They call out all the rappers and MC’s who babble, focusing on the center which is located at the Tower of Babel.

Patti Smith’s epic song cycle “Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer (De)” encapsulates her struggles and comforts within the framework of religion. Patti Smith was raised as a strict Jehovah’s Witness, but she was interested in the depth of other religious thought, and in this case one of them was Judaism. This recent connection was argued by the insightful writer, and family royalty of musical Jews, Seth Rogovoy in the Jewish Daily Forward:

With regards to this specific song he writes that,”On the song “ La Mer (de) ,” part of her opus “Land” on “Horses,” Smith sang, “At the Tower of Babel, they knew what they were after.” In hindsight, Smith was singing about herself. She once described her work as “three chords merged with the power of the word.” That is as pithy a description of the biblical prophets as any.”

I’ll leave it at that, until next time and next Torah portion.



The Torah Portion in a Hip-Hop Universe: The Genesis


This past Shabbat we rewound the clocks back to the year zero, and like the title of a great blaxploitation flick, Started it all over again. This past Shabbat’s Torah portion takes it right back to the source, the creation of the world. Now we should take this into context with the Jewish Holy Day of Simchat Torah (The Happiness of Torah!!!), which was celebrated before this past Shabbat. One of the traditions of this Holy Day is to read the last portion from the fifth book of the Bible, Deuteronomy in Greek and Devramin in Hebrew. The portion tells us of the death of one of the greatest prophets, and Jewish heavy hitters, Moses or Moshe our rabbi. It is no coincidence that he dies, and then we go right back to the start of the first book. We are dealing with life in concentric circles, and in a way Moshe’s death needed to happen so that we can restart the universe, or even existence as we know it. In Kabbalah there is the idea that the visible attributes of Hashem (the name, or a name for G-d), equal the to the number 7. The same goes for the idea of the cycle of planting in the land of Israel, which also goes in 7 year intervals. These intervals continue in a 7 year cycle in intervals of 7. This ends with 49, and in a grand way the 50th year is the Jubilee. With the attributes of Hashem, us humans can reach the highest reaches of spirituality, but we must rid our mortal coils in order to reach the 50th degree. Moshe achieved this, and in my theory, it had to happen in order to unwrap reality and re-wrap it for a new beginning.

The Torah portion of Genesis has a lot of information as well as stories, which only last a few sentences. Each story is introduced and then reaches its climax in a matter of words. However, this is all a new and fresh start. To connect it with rap music, the first person that came to my mind was Busta Rhymes. Busta was part of the group Leaders of the New School, and has a very unique and brash way of getting his rhymes across. During the 1990’s he made many guest appearances, and frequently out shined the rest of his cohort, just listen to “Flavor in Your Ear (Remix)” or the soundtrack anthems from Rumble in the Jungle and Space Jam. However, by the year 2000 with the release of his fourth album Anarchy it seemed like he was replaying the same old formula. Then, without warning came one of his finest works, his fifth album titled Genesis. This was the album that brought him back to form in the true sense of the word. Sporting a treasure trove of coveted producers giving him the finest sounds, he crushed all the freshmen with his fifth day out. It had some great tracks, but the one that concerns the topic is the title track, “Genesis.” Ironically as we talk about new beginnings it dawns on us that not everyone can experience rebirth like the producer of the track, J Dilla who passed away a decade ago.

The beat has an ominous sound as the vocals of the chorus is swirling in a bath of ocean water. J Dilla provides us with a beautiful layout of music over the sample from the track “Cosmic Mind Affair” by Acqua Fragile. He lifts the entire hook from the track and you hear the voice in each chorus majestically saying, “As we welcome you all to the future, Oh! We come to give you that, Operating like we be official, Yeah! We come to multiply.” He spits hard about his trials and tribulations while he hits us on the head with what’s sacred for ya’ll. Busta also keeps us in full gear that all things must move ahead in order for our starts to be meaningful.

The story of Adam and Eve is pivotal to the narrative, and we have many renditions by many musicians about their story. The rendition by Bob Marley and the Wailers, which can be found on the compilation album Trenchtown Rock: The Anthology 1969-78, is a raw cut sounding like a wannabe Rasta Doo-Wop rendition.

Bob Marley and the Wailers give us the bare bones of the story, yet they ask why did they sin? While they also abide by the fact that we all live in sin, and the fact that “Anywhere you go, woman is the root of all evil.” He is commenting on the sexist side of the story that for some reason still looms large over women like the sword of Damocles. After Adam and Eve tasted of the forbidden fruit they became aware, but another important note is that sin was made aware, and death came into existence. One great song that rings this alarm bell is an older track by Kendrick Lamar titled “I Hate You,” where he pens a letter to Death. In the third verse he switches characters and raps in the guise of death.

In the third verse death spits that, ” I was born to be a killjoy, I’m an old brat, Conceived by Adam and Eve, so who you mad at?” Kendrick evokes the idea that death is like us, yet it was a bastard creation coming from our faults instead of beauty.

The narrative continues after the fall of man and woman with the birth of the first siblings. We are all very aware of the term “sibling rivalry,” because it’s origin stems from this event. G-d favored the work and labor of Abel’s hands, while Cain’s offerings were putrid and rather lacking. Because of this favoritism Cain rose up and smote his brother Abel dead. He then uttered those famous words, also uttered by the character Nino Brown in the film masterpiece New Jack City, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Let’s listen to Louis Armstrong for the moral of this story,

The masterstroke is the moral where he sings that, “You can’t run from the shadow of retribution, If you’re bad then you gotta pay for your wrongs, Let yourself take a lesson from Cain and Abel: Don’t lament, be content, Don’t resent what the Lord has sent, And you’ll find that you’re bound to get along.”

The rest of the portion lists the many descendants of Cain, and lists the genealogy of Mankind by tracing the line straight from Adam to Noah, next week’s star. This is further solidified at the end when it gives the reader and/or worshipper a prelude to the flood. So before we get ahead of ourselves let’s note the fact that these are lists of names. Names, names, and more names are common in parts of the Torah. This is done so that we can reference back to our past. It also has deeper value as each name is full of spiritual meaning. In rap music the song “Where Are They Now” by the great Queensbridge MC Nas gives us the list of names of past greats and rap legends of yester-minute.

Naturally the track’s beat is an ode in itself using a James Brown sample, which was widely used in the 1980’s. Nas in his naturally smooth delivery drops all these of past masters who had a hit, but faded into obscurity only to be remembered by the older guard, myself included. He is bemoaning how the younger generation doesn’t acknowledge these people because respect for the past gives you a stronger sense of the present. This might be why the Torah lists these names? Maybe the names were greats who should be remembered, but were far more salient in the past than the present, or future.

Enjoy the rest of the good week and Shavua Tov, and keep it live until next time.



#TorahPortionInHipHopUniverse #SimchatTorah #BustaRhymes #Genesis #CainandAbel #AdamandEve #Nas #LouisArmstrong



My Straight Outta Compton History Review


The hype came like a large wave from the looming perfect storm. The past two months have been full to the brim with hype, trailers, and unfortunately a dead body, telling us that we don’t have to wait any longer. It’s here!!! The bio-pic we’ve all been waiting for, and that will somehow overcompensate for the lackluster Biggie Smalls blockbuster, Notorious. Well, after viewing the film I can tell you that it’s all it’s cracked up to be, and much much more. However, from an historian’s perspective it seems that the story could have stretched far longer, I say close to Shoah length! (Shoah, a French documentary about the Holocaust was released in 1985, and clocked in at over ten hours long, sounds like a great date movie!). The essence of that rant on length is important because the film is crafted beautifully. However, to the historian and avid fan, there are many instances where time literally collapses on itself in order to avoid hinderance to the movie’s flow. This epiphany hit critical mass when I was explaining to my lady, Saskia, that the scenes we’re watching are all interconnected, yet they tell a much larger story.

There have been many supporters as well as critics of the film. I, like most viewers, enjoyed the Hollywood aspect of the film, which is full of gritty situations, tense dialogue, and scenes that could scare your socks off (dealing with Suge) to moments of tears (as when Eazy E is dying in a hospital bed). It hit a cord with all of us, and in light of the Black Lives Matter campaign it seems like it’s release was inspired by divine intervention. The drama is captured brightly, and the environment is set as we see the tension. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to see the full breadth of the other members because it was mostly focused on Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy E who all had a hand in bringing this film to life. I don’t doubt all of their tales, yet when corroborated with evidence it makes it far more of a grey zone. This was one of my biggest criticisms of the film. They only give us one-dimensional characters who do bad things in order to survive. There is no grey matter in the film, no pun intended to the director. Eazy’s philandering with many women was omitted. Dr. Dre’s beatings of women was also deleted. Ice Cube’s image was also sanitized for the masses because he’d rather seem like a relatable character. I remember in the 1990’s seeing Cube as white America’s worst nightmare. Since then he’s become a Hollywood fixture. However, deleting these scenes only adds to the notion that we’re dealing with saints who never existed in reality.

A great aspect to the film are the many items thrown in for a chronology. It picks up the pace on a languid historical process. Instead of detailing the feud between Cube and the group, especially their manager Jerry Heller, it’s a pastiche of collage work. It would have been great to mine that for more historical information. Instead of being dissed, and then dropping one of the best diss tracks, I’m talking about “No Vaseline,” it should have been further explored. This is what I meant earlier where time collapses unto itself by being crushed by the narrative. There was more to the details about the back and forth, and of course the short segment where he recorded “No Vaseline” got the most time. Thankfully all these songs can be heard today, and hopefully the viewers will go back and listen to these tracks, especially “100 Miles and Runnin” which was the opening salvo.


Also, the reactions by the group and by Heller are very telling of the history of the music industry, as well as black and Jewish American relations. Heller is a Jew who came up in the music industry, and has faced anti-Semitism at various points in his life. In the film it seems like no one in the group cares much about the anti-Semitism of the song. That’s true because what would black dudes from Compton care about anti-Semitism. It’s not part of their reality. Heller’s character doesn’t come off as sympathetic, or even ethical for that matter, because he had nothing to do with the film. The same goes for Suge Knight.

Heller’s anger in the film is interesting for historians because when he freaks out he blurts out that he’ll call the JDL. The JDL (Jewish Defense League) was a rough and tumble group of Jewish fighters or thugs (depends on who you ask), which was formed by Meir Kahana. In reality the JDL was heavily involved in the hip-hop world during this period. The JDL, and its insane splinter group the JDO (Jewish Defense Organization) headed by Mordechai Levy, were very vocal with threats of violence first in defense of Jerry Heller and Ruthless Records, but later the FBI would allege that the JDL actually blackmailed Heller, so go figure. Not only were they involved in this matter, but they were very vocally about the anti-Semitic rants of Griff from the group Public Enemy. Bill Adler, Director of Publicity for Rush Management at the time, that he was told by Levy that there was a truck full of Jews with bats on the lookout for Public Enemy, and especially Griff. Levy would eventually shoot at a JDL member, Irv Rubin, on top of a building in the Bowery. Talk about Jews fighting. but I digress.

Another interesting aspect of the film, that catches the historian’s eyes is not only the collapse of time, but also a collapse of geography. The best example of this is during the scene where Dr. Dre enters the offices of Death Row Records as we view the hedonism and warped debauchery going on during its heyday. He then walks into a recording studio where we see Tupac recording his song “Hail Mary.” We should take note that the song was from his Makaveli album “The Don Killuminati.” Dre plays the music for what would be the seminal duo with him and Tupac titled “California Love.” Take note that in reality Tupac did not begin work on this Makaveli album until way after he worked with Dre. But I digress once again. Dre then leaves the studio and he confronts Suge Knight and his cohorts about their amateurish ways in light of his professionalism. We also see a man stripped naked while a woman is holding a gun to him. Dre proceeds to freak out and eventually punched one of Knight’s crew. Who knows if this is exactly the truth or embellishment? However, what we do know is that the accounts read that this occurred at a party located far from the studio. This is the example of collapsing geography in order to convey the many factors leading to Dre’s departure from Death Row. This is a remarkable feat by the director, editors, and cast but it also beckons us to ask for more raw data.

So much more information could have been presented but Hollywood has its time limits. Each member of the group had his own history and there is so much more story that could supply not only sequels but prequels as well. It would be great to see a biopic on the situations in L.A. in the 1980’s, or better yet the situations in New York City in the early 1970’s that bred the art of Hip-Hop. One thing that should definitely be written about the film is that it opened more doors for these types of films, as well as more documentary films about Hip-Hop. In the past few years we’ve seen a wealth of documentaries of all sorts, but the hip-hop genre is still new and fresh. In the following decades we’ll probably see more of these Hollywood vehicles such as the triumph and tribulations of Public Enemy, The Passion of DMX, how about a Geto Boys flick? There is so much history and a wealth of information that can be presented along with a stellar soundtrack. Not only are we seeing it on film, but print has also changed the way we frame the history of hip-hop. One of the best recent publications is Ed Piskor’s Hip-Hop Family Tree series, most recently with volume 3. Piskor presents the history of hip-hop through comic book vignettes that are easily digestible and accessible to all readers. These are the new trends of hip-hop history and I’m looking forward to contributing soon enough.


Peace and keep watching!!!


#StraightOuttaCompton #N.W.A. #Dr.Dre #IceCube #JerryHeller #JDL #JDO

Top 5 Craziest, off the wall MC’s


Oh insanity!!! We all think we’re sane, but then when poked and prodded by mad doctors, you get the feeling that it might be you who is in fact insane. One of the best lines on insanity was uttered by one of the greatest and most eccentric artists, Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd fame, before Roger Waters went shmorgesboard all over Israel and it’s dastardly deeds.

Syd is one of the founding members of Pink Floyd and he wrote almost all their early hits, and misses until he took the acid thing too far. However, in an interview with Roger Waters he recalled that a psychiatrist noted to Syd that he has a mental issue. Syd retorted by saying, well maybe it’s the world that’s truly insane! or that maybe this is your issue, but not mine! Unfortunately Syd had little output after releasing two solo albums, and plenty of bootlegs and unreleased material. He slowly dove deep into the dark corners of his mind, and wasn’t seen from again, until 1975 when he traumatized his ex-band members during their recording of, ironically, Wish You Were Here. Syd remains quite an inspiration, not only to rockers but to certain hip-hop heads as well. Just check Edan’s first album, Primitive Plus. Inside the album there’s a sheet with faces of inspiration ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Just-Ice, and right smack in the middle is Syd Barrett. So, in honor of Syd and insanity here’s my list of the top 5, with an honorable 6th man, craziest off the wall MC’s in the history of Hip-Hop.


#5 – Kool Keith – Kool Keith is known by many different names, and is so diverse in his world that you can catch him watching a baseball game in the Bronx while eating pink cotton candy and sporting a green speedo, or catch him at the strip club in L.A. giving out free baggies of fried chicken, HiC juice, and a wet nap (I managed to catch one at a show in New Haven’s Toad’s Place). We all first heard him on wax along with his critically acclaimed group the Ultramagnetic MC’s whose style was both spacey and fully confrontational. Keith, who has made a residence in many places, including Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric ward, takes on, or has discussions with all his inner voices that come out as full-fledged characters, with such diversity and pomp. He’s brought us to the bleak experiments he conducts in a subterranean hospital in the guise of the evil Dr. Octagon,

He’s taken us through the bizarre ride of his sexual fetishes and porn obsessed mind as Kool Keith,

He’s taken us to the nether regions of sexual space in the guise of Black Elvis,

He’s teamed up with Motion Man, and the great beat maker Kutmasta Kurt to become a cartoon Master of Illusion,

He’s made a funny live action video as the Bushman,

and that’s just the tip of his Ice-burg (no pun intended). He has many more characters locked in his head, and we hear their words from time to time. He also hasn’t slowed down on creating, as well as talking smack about the rap game as he does on the song and video “Goodbye Rap,” as his ode to the culture and how it changed. Interestingly enough he also talks smack about the old methods and notions of the rap game.

Keep up the crazy critique Keith.


#4 – Rammellzee – This is the original (OG) crazy man of Hip-Hop. He also hung out with another eccentric artist who was big in the 1980’s by the name of Jean-Michel Basquiat,

and he should be considered one of the first Hip-Hop renaissance men. He mostly stuck to graffiti and other visual art forms, but he also recorded one of the most iconic songs in rap music, “Beat Bop.”

There is so much going on in this collage of sounds as we hear the dialogue between a teen, thanks to the young K-Rob, and a drug dealer voiced by Rammellzee. Rammellzee also has such a distinct style of rapping about the life of drugs, while he also uses non-sensical words while streaming them along with the beat. This is considered one of the first alternative and far from conventional rap songs ever released. The single’s artwork was done by Basquiat and to date is the most coveted item among rap’s historical artifacts. Rammellzee continued to record some music, produce art works, and kept his manic appearances bizarre as always, while pushing the limits through his art using language as design, while providing the basis for what he termed AfroFuturism.

Unfortunately he passed away in his home in Queens in 2010. However, his influence as well as the influence of “Beat Bop” could never be downplayed, and is still reverberating through space. His spacey apocalyptic visions on wax have influenced rap outfits like the Anti-Pop Consortium, and El-P, and the song has been sampled by the Beastie Boys on two separate occasions. RIP, Z’L and now you’re in and with the stars!


#3 MF Doom – Like Kool Keith, Doom takes on the many personalities lurking in his head, behind the eyes, and below his cerebral cortex. However, unlike Keith who was born with his instability, Doom took on his persona much like the comic hero he emulates. Doom came from the ashes of tragedy and trauma, hence his style is so unhinged, and unbound by the human ear. Originally part of the group KMD along with his younger brother, the group released a solid debut album, only to have their second album shelved due to controversy. During that time period his brother, Subroc, was hit and killed by a car. This caused Doom, who was known as Zev Luv X at the time, to go underground for a few years while immersing himself in Jazz, and other music, as well as beer and the sounds of his brain talking back. What came out of this underground was MF Doom, dropping the comic book style debut Operation: Doomsday! 

The beats were solid and full of old comic book Saturday morning cartoon dialogue along with funk breaks and samples. However, it wasn’t only the music, but the words that he spits a mile a minute.

Just dropping lines like “On the slow-mo the calm artist with the so-so chick, Chased them all like how he did to Slobodan Milosevic.” Bizarre, but poignant at the same time. Also like Keith he’s taken on various characters in order to embellish on other aspects of his erratic personality. Whether it be one f the two albums under the name Viktor Vaughn, reaching to the darkest recesses of an evil doer,

Or under the guise of his city crushing monster Island czar, King Geedorah,

Or his amazing collaboration with the beat-smith extraordinaire Madlib as the Madvillian,

Or dropping the MF and leaving the Doom on his insanely underrated album Born Like This,

Or most recently adding the letters JJ, hence JJ Doom, and in this case the JJ belongs to the producer Jneiro Jarel on his last solo album Key to the Kuffs,

Most recently Doom has been mentoring an up-and-coming MC by the name of Bishop Nehru, and who knows what’s next for the man behind the mask. We’re still waiting patiently for the second Madvillian album, as well as the mythical collaboration with Ghostface Killah. But he might drop a solo out of nowhere, including supplying beats for a countless stable of MC’s. The question is, what’s next in the mind of this amazingly original MC?


#2 – Ol’ Dirty Bastard – The man, the myth, the father of all styles that has no father to his styles. Much can be said, written, and insinuated about the man we call Ol’ Dirty, or any other name from Dirt McGirt to Asun Unique. Like most of us the first time I heard him was on the debut album by the Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the 36 Chambers. Dirty, along with his cousins the RZA and the GZA were the original founding members of the Wu. Once they branched out by bringing in other members his style still remained oft kilter and unique. Each member of the Wu-Tang has such a distinct voice, personality, and character, but his was truly unique and insane in its own way. He would rap off-key while bellowing out tunes as he rapped over that. On the song “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'” he belts out that he gets “low like Jacques Cousteau,”

He gets far more ruthless and raw on “Shame on a Nigga,” belting out, “Shame on a nigga who tried to run game on a nigga,”

His debut solo album is chock full of that spontaneous spitting while singing, and all packed with pure raw emotional energy and grit. He glides and slides from a party anthem like the song “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,”

Combining that 1970’s Soul Train cool  tinted with James Brown performance, with the bizarre ghetto I don’t give a shit style by wearing nothing but boxer shorts. This grit is displayed further in his amazingly dilapidated Brooklyn anthem, “Brooklyn Zoo.”

This is one of the greatest ghetto anthems full of gold vampire fronts, nasty urine soaked hallways full of people pushing each other around, while Dirty yells out that you best to run, or get the fuck outta Here! and stop acting like a pig trying to hog shit. Dirty’s debut is packed with these renditions where you’re enjoying his company while he’s constantly reminding you that this is a ride through the dark side of town. His second album is a bit different, but he still belts out the songs while rhyming in his unique way. This time he veers from the raps to the smooth Rick James style singing on top, as we see on the cover as he dons the Rick James look.

He says it best in the beginning of the title song “Nigga Please,” by saying that “My words can’t be held against me, I’m not caught up in your law.” Ol’ Dirty was embroiled by the law, but you hear how he lives on another plain, or plane, of existence like his cohorts on this list. Unfortunately he passed away in 2004 due to a drug overdose, but like that line I still believe that his soul is spiraling out in space, reaching other regions in the multi-verse, so keep your eyes open.


#1 – Redman – Red, A/K/A Reggie Noble can do many things when listening to his albums, especially the early ones. The man straight out of Jersey can make you laugh, cry, sing, think, and laugh some more due to his range as well as his no bullshit take no prisoners credo. He truly doesn’t give a fuck, which is solidified in many ways including a segment I saw on the Hate your Mom’s Loved the Videos Series. The DVD begins with a Redman show, that is then stopped, and then a fight breaks out while he’s just standing in the middle of it all with a giant smirk on his face. From his debut he broke the mold, not only being extra grimy and gritty, as we see in his love song “Tonight’s Da Night,” from his debut What: Thee Album.

Not only did he drop some gritty lyrics, he also handled production on most of his albums giving us a taste of the funk. He was the first on the east coast to use funk beats and George Clinton samples that were mostly used by west coast producers and artists. He revolutionized the game while veering from the playful to the more dark, as we hear on his second album Dare Iz a Darkside. Here’s an example from the single “Funkorama.”

It seems like he became ever more unhinged and experimental by his third album, and my favorite, Muddy Waters. Whether it’s a Blues Brothers themed video with Method Man,

Or taking us through Newark, New Jersey in his video for “Pick It Up,”

Or his moments of slapstick comedy used in the videos for his fourth album “Doc’s Da Name” (I hate how rap albums at the end of the century added the 2000 for some reason), in videos for “I’ll Be Dat,” and it has to be uncut,

Or chilling on the couch while he spits hot fire on “Da Goodness,”

Or his constant collaboration with his brother from another mother and Wu-Tang star, Method Man,from the album Blackout!,

As well as the most recent collabo,

Redman is also unique in the fact that, unlike most rappers, once he blew up he remained in his neighborhood of Newark, NJ. He also hasn’t changed much as we can always count on getting jacked in Newark by none other than Redman, what a privilege.


Honorary #6 – R.A. the Rugged Man – You definitely have issues if you’re an up-and-coming rapper who’s about to be signed to a label, and then tank it for no apparent reason. Unless, there is a reason or if the methods of losing the deal are hilarious. Hence, we have R.A. the Rugged Man. He wrote the book, or shall I say the list, in Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists, on 10 ways to get dropped from a record label. The list is funny where he advises to bootleg every song you make, dissing your cohorts openly on the radio, and keeping the label heads on the edge of fear each time you pass by. He remains an enigma while constantly making music that defies category such as his song “Holla-Loo-Yuh” along with Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko,

To his more recent commentary on the media, accompanied by a strangely entertaining video for the song “Media Midgets,”

Where he not only chastises the media, but all the news and pop culture mediums that perpetuate these stupid formulas. These formulas are so safe that an artist like R.A. would throw them far off the center of their gravity. He’s the People’s champ, and although he’s been blackballed by the powers that be in the music industry he never lost his crustified edge.




#SydBarrett #KoolKeith #MFDoom #Doom #JJDoom #Rammellzee #Ol’DirtyBastard #Redman #R.A.TheRuggedMan












Rap and Reality: How Rap Music Tackles the Real


Since its genesis Rap music, as well as the greater Hip-Hop culture, has been dumped on for various reasons. If you take a passing glance at the pseudo-internet-intellectual’s vitriol, it seems like they have much to say about rap’s ills. Forums across the web, as well as certain scholars, pundits, talking heads, and all other so-called experts (usually from the conservative side of the spectrum) have lambasted rap for its many negative qualities. The long laundry list includes rapper’s egotism, sexism, lack of lyrical skill, the unmusicality of rap’s structure, braggadocio of ones large bank-roll, glorification of violence, racism, glorification of drug use, sexual overtones, homophobia, hyper-sexuality of both black men and women, excessive profanity, glorification of incarceration, the use of sampling, and the laundry list continues depending on the people who concocted the list. However, like all musical genres Rap music is far more complicated and paradoxical. By looking at its long and rather glaring history you will find many topics and issues that were, and remain pertinent used in the music. Some argue that Rock N Roll had the power to push for desegregation, integration, and cooperation. Like Rock, rap music has created a bond across the racial spectrum amongst the people who grew up listening to the music. We, I include myself as one of these avid listeners, heard many issues being discussed in rap that were not clearly touched upon by rock music. Grunge did open the doors, but there were many times where a Nirvana or Soundgarden or Alice In Chains lyric was nearly indecipherable. Unlike grunge music, rap was loud, fast, ad in your ear. Maybe, like riots, people did learn from rap and its many topics worth covering. Here are a few themes that rap music tackled indiscriminately, and with far more aggression than any other genre of music.

Last night as I was cooking I was blasting random rap from my youth. One of my favorite groups was De La Soul, and their best album is their second, De La Soul is Dead. As the title suggests, the content is dark, especially when compared to their more optimistically hippied out debut 3 Feet High and Rising. The song that went for the jugular was “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa.” It’s a jarring narrative about a sexually abused daughter whose father plays the annual role of Santa Claus at the local mall. After a long bout of pain and suffering decided to shoot him point-blank during his shift at the mall.

It’s a vivid song as she pulls the trigger amongst all the screaming mothers and children. Like that scene the entire song is addressing sexual abuse, as well as the fact that both Plug One and Plug Two (The MC’s of the group) play troubled teens who are mentored by the man, the monster the abuser. Besides the horrid abuse they acknowledge that people at times either dismiss it as teen angst, or treat with down right disbelief. This is a glaring example of how a rap song can transcend its negative stereotypes.

Rap scholars and historians have pointed to the 1982 release of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “The Message” as the first real conscious rap song. The song, along with poignant video, chronicles the grime and drug-infested realities of living in the streets of the ghettos. The song spoke of lost hope and dreams amidst the doom and gloom brought on by a shrinkage of all support systems. Although rap music quantitatively in content is far more interested in excess and escape, there were a few songs that depicted the harsh realities of life. During my research I came across an older recording like “The Message.” Profile Records is mostly known as the label that landed Run-DMC, but one of their earliest releases was by a rapper or group called The Rake. They dropped a single on Profile in 1983 titled “Street Justice,” which is a tale reminiscent of the film Death Wish.

The song is rapped by a man, who sounds older and established as a working class guy living in the city with his wife and daughter. One day his house was broken into and his wife and daughter were roughed up by the assailants who were teenagers. They were later caught, arrested and tried, but the justice system failed him because they were let go. He raps that the punks were let off because their lawyer labeled them misdirected youth, hence justice failed in his case.

He then says that the punks stepped to him and told him that he was next, hence it was time to “beat the punks on the battle front.” He then goes Charles Bronson on them (Death Wish reference) as he basically kills them one by one. In the end he says that you have to take the law into your own hands because in the end it wont help. It’s sad how realistic it was at that point due to the cutting of the police force due to budget cuts in New York City in the 1970’s. However, in the current situation in the carceral state some blacks still have to deal with street justice.

The graphic above is just for show, and is not much of a reliable source, especially the last assertion that rap music listeners are more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol. However, it proves the point that the generation growing up on rap music is far more lax when it comes to Marijuana. This attitude is due to the fact that they don’t fall for the war on drugs rhetoric, which is a mixture of racism and bullshit. Rap music, especially more recently has been overtly glorifying drugs, and the newer trend being pharmaceuticals. However, if you look at rap in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s during the height of the crack epidemic you’ll find plenty of anti-drug rap songs. One of the most pronounced was the classic “Close the Crackhouse” as an MC group effort.

It’s helmed by the great Professor X from the criminally underrated rap group The X-Clan. There are many more from groups like De La Soul (“My Brother’s A Basehead” and “Say No Go”), to Public Enemy (“Mega Blast” and “Night of the Living Baseheads”), as well as great songs from many notable rappers and rap groups like Masters of Ceremony (“Cracked Out”), The Maniacs (“Crack, Crack, Don’t Do It”), N.W.A. (“Dopeman”), Poor Righteous Teachers (“Get off the Crack”), Kool Moe Dee (“Monster Crack”), Brand Nubian (“Slow Down”), and MC Shan (Jane, Stop This Crazy Thing”), just to name a few. Although there were plenty of songs depicting the life of the dealer, it wasn’t just a glorification of the dealer, but also a critique as well. Here’s one of the best video about the epidemic, as well as America’s double standard thanks to Public Enemy!

Sex is many things to many people, but as men we must remember that sex is also about power. The fact that we can show our domineering sexual prowess over women can give any meek fellow the ego of a muscle-bound freak. Unfortunately one of the most overtly used formula for rap is the sexist imagery of the domineering male and the subservient woman (who is also beautiful in the current society’s standards). However, if you stop and listen to rap music you will find a wealth of songs about love and its deeply complicated inner vortex. Parallel to Rock music’s ode to that special lady (from “Anna” to “Zelda”), Rap music also has its many odes to that special lady (spanning from Warren G.’s “Annie Mae” to Grandmaster Caz’s “Yvette”). Each song is a sensual ode to a woman, and each is delicately rapped by the rapper or group speaking of this deep love. This is an aspect of that complexity of rap music. If you delve into the Ego Trip book of Rap lists you’ll find a long list of these songs. Here’s one of my favorites, “Latoya” by one of the best MC’s, Just-Ice;

There are plenty of rap songs that delve into the intricacies of love and lust, as well as everything in-between. One of my favorite albums, which I wrote a blog about, is Danger Mouse and Jemini the Gifted One’s Ghetto Pop Life. It has depth and dimensions that touch on humor and sadness as well as love and lust collapsed and compressed into two tracks. The first “Yoo-Hoo” talks about hollering at a women while the Jemini praises the woman he’s following with the duality of the lustful callings along with sensual overtures of love. The second song “Im’a Doomee (Love Letter)” is even more in-depth where the lyricist is pleading with his love about the life and lust on the road. He laments the fact that he cheats while opening up his feelings and vulnerabilities.

Rap and religion have gotten a lot of attention thanks to some old farts on the conservative end of the spectrum. The criticism goes that rap music is a bad influence (And the vitriol boils only when white teens are perceived as the victims of the influence), hence it’s swept under the rug along with all the other pathologies attached with rap music. There have been articles attacking that ridiculous myth including a great piece by Stereo Williams for the Daily Beast:

Where he mentions the many Christian references made by rappers throughout the history of recorded rap music. It ranges from artists such as Doug E. Fresh, just listen to the great collaboration with the young Slick Rick (known then as MC Ricky D) on the song “The Show.” The song is laden with religious imagery. There are others like Run, of Run-DMC, becoming a Reverend, the many biblical references made by southern rap groups like Goodie Mob, Lauryn Hill’s references on her masterpiece The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, as well as the most recent debut masterpiece by Kendrick Lamar, good kid, M.A.A.d city where you can hear the lord’s prayer. There are also plenty more religious allusions with regards to other religions like Islam, shown through the vocal support for the Nation of Islam by various rappers, as well as respect for the off-shoot Five Percenters.

The saddest part about this editorialized bullshit is the fact that this topic was researched and written about by scholars like the great book above by Dr. Monica R. Miller titled Religion & Hip Hop. The book is a great study asking both scholars and laypeople to stop looking at Hip-Hop through the Christian lens. There is also another great book of articles edited by the scholar Anthony B. Pinn titled Noise and Spirit: The Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music. Like Dr. Miller’s book, Pinn is trying to shed light on the complexities of spirituality amidst a musical genre that is very individualistic, and materialistic. It also highlights how certain rappers embrace their own version of spirituality while not always eschewing their heritage and traditions.

To end this section I want to mention what Tupac kept telling reporters, liberal deuches, conservative cunts, the police nation, state officials feeding from the trough of corporate greed, and all their mindless minions (and I’m criminally paraphrasing) that “All eyes are on me, but I don’t care. At the end of the day G-d is my only judge. Like many people of faith, this is the real mission statement of us all.

There are plenty more rap songs about the travails of ghetto life, drug addiction, and the sheer weight of the history of being black in the United States, as well as more micro issues I mentioned above. Unlike other American musical genres that seem either stuck in suspended animation, Jazz I sadly there as well as Country, while rap keeps prying open these issues, while constantly challenging society and always expanding as an art of true expression from the heart.

Keep It Real, or until everything goes wrong!!!


#RapandReality #StereoWilliams #Religion&HipHop #NoiseandSpirit

Top Five: Dead MC’s (RIP and Z”L)


The next few posts I’ll be writing are all inspired by Chris Rock’s recently released movie, Top Five. It’s a great and introspective film, which pays homage to many things such as the old vs. the new, the evolution of black humor, the many tricks and contradictions that black men tread when they become famous, as well as the conflicts of being considered a comedian while struggling to get out of that specific pigeon-hole. One of the most glaring influence felt throughout the film was Woody Allen’s self-inspection and conflict shown in his masterpiece Stardust Memories. Like Rock’s character, Woody Allen felt like everyone enjoyed his comedies while eschewing his more serious work. But, this is not a post about film.

This is a post about Rap music, and one of the topics discussed in the film is the various characters’ top five rappers and rap groups. While watching the film I kept asking myself the same question. Who are my top five MC’s of all time? I can’t tell you because I’m a partial judge who’s been listening to rap music ever since I was a little boy running through the streets of Tel-Aviv in the early 1980’s. Like myself, most Hip-Hop fans have grown up and gone through maturation or other forms of catharsis. If you asked me five years ago my list might have been different. If you asked me ten years ago the list would have been different as well. So, instead of pointing out five, with a sixth person for clean-up duty, I decided to categorize my top five rappers. Each post will give a list of the top five while I’ll try to stretch the categories to the far ends of the rap multiverse. So, without further ado, and much blabbed, I give to you my favorite top five rappers who have passed away. I’ll also add a sixth person of my personal taste. Also, as a note I know that there are plenty of rappers out there who deserve to be on the list, but I wasn’t such a huge fan. So, mad props to Biggie and Tupac, but they were never on my top five. Anyway, enjoy my list!

1. Too Poetic (AKA The Grym Reaper) from the Gravediggaz – Many rappers have their own niche, gimmick, and bag full of tricks at their disposal. The main ingredient for all MC’s is how they use their voices. At their best they could craft their distinct rapper voices. Poetic had that voice, and it was first heard in the opening track of the Gravediggaz debut album, 6 Feet Deep.

I think we were all mystified with this album. Although it dropped in 1994 amidst the rise of the Wu-Tang dynasty, it was crafted in 1991 through 1992. At first listen it catches you off guard when the intro drops. The mist begins to settle, followed by the screams, and cryptic words heard saying, “And just when you thought it was over”……”now comes the Gravediggaz” and then he jumps in like a bat out of hell, screaming…

“Beware! Four figures appear through the fog,Yeah, Gravediggaz cut like sword…AHHHHH, Fear makes ya brain go numb, You ain’t got a clue where the gods come from, I told myself to exist and then I fled over, Millions of sperm cells and I found the egg, No luck or mere chance, I came to enhance represent and get open as a vent.”

And that was just the opening salvo as he comes back to bite hard after Frukwan’s verse by rhyming,

“Mixing gravy pays my rent for the day, Some hate the image that I must portray, Critics say, “Go to Hell,” I go, “Yeah Stupid motherfucker I’m already here,” Frustrated, mentally aggravated, To be the rebel that society created, I’m good most times but when I’m foul then I’m flagrant, Living in the shadows like a government agent.”

The way he used his voice to personify the dread, fear, and anger gives the album its full breadth. Unlike the other members of the group Poetic was the odd man out, being the only unheard MC from the past or present in 1991. Prince Paul and Frukwan were both part of the rap band Stetsonic Fame, and Paul also produced De La Soul’s first three albums. Although he was somewhat new on the scene the RZA had also been heard with his first single for Tommy Boy Records as Prince Rakeem. However, Poetic had never really been heard until now.

The way he uses his voice can create levity amongst more shady situations. On the fourth track, “Defective Trip (Trippin’),” he weaves us through a defective trip while scheming a blowjob. The best part about his verse is the way he uses his tone in order to bring humor to a serious topic.

One of the best tracks displaying his talents is his sparring with the Rzarecter on “2 Cups of Bloods.” The best part about the track is the delivery. The RZA and Poetic go back and forth boasting some deadly metaphors. The dynamism and sheer talent between the two brings it to such a state of existentialism and dread. Poetic drops lines like,

“As you decipher the tricks of a viper, Swine is lethal!….is evil!, I am original, we can build upon, The ill form, and keep all your brain cells warm.”


“Dead stinkin’ rotten, you braincells forgot in, The past, you had your bumba raas pickin’ cotton, Now ya hate ya knotty hairstyles, I guess you figure the texture too wild, Child.”

Poetic pushed along with the group, even though the second, The Pick, The Sickle and the Shovel, and third, Nightmare in A-Minor, albums paled in comparison to the first. The third album was released posthumously because Poetic passed away in July of 2001 due to colon cancer. I guess you’re really ready for the grave yard tour! RIP.

2. Big Pun (AKA Big Pun, Big Dog Punisher, and born Christopher Lee Rios) – It was one of my best friend’s, Puerto Rican Paul!!! Big Ups Purchase days!, who first put me on to the genius who was Big Pun. Pun came out of nowhere, at first guest starring on fellow New Yurican tracks like Fat Joe and the Beatnuts. He then broke out with his seminal freshman album Capitol Punishment. Beside his enormous size, and oversized personality, he was a massive presence on the microphone. The way he whizzed through words, spitting them out like coal embers spewing from his mouth at break neck speed. The amazing thing about his rhymes is that they all wrapped around these riddles and storylines, that at times were lost to the listener after only one sitting.

One example is his remake of the classic Dre and Snoop collaboration “Deep Cover,” but remade for Pun and Fat Joe. In the end of Pun’s first verse he just plays with the metaphors with such finesse by spitting,

“Dead in the Middle of Little Italy little did we know, That we riddled some middleman who didn’t do diddly.”

He has this bravado, personified by his 550 plus frame, and more so by his lyrical swagger. He then kills it with his last verse spitting with defiance,

“Fuck peace, I run the streets with no compassion, Puerto Ricans known for slashing catching niggas while they sleeping, No relaxing, keep your eyes open, sharp reflexes, Three techses in the jeep Lexus just in case police test us, Street professors, Terror Squad, ghetto scholars, Full-a-clips mob, inflicts the fear of God when the metal hollers, Better acknowledge or get knocked down until I’m locked and shot down, Heather B. couldn’t make me put my Glock down.”

Pun broke down many doors and has the status of being the first Latino rapper to reach platinum status, all on the strength of his debut album Capitol Punishment. He demolished, no pun !?! intended, the competition while piggy backing on the great Latino MC’s of the past like Kid Frost, Mellow Man Ace, Cypress Hill, The Beatnuts, and Fat Joe. There are many stellar songs on his debut, but the first song catches the full wreck he’s about to unleash.

As the strings play, thanks to a sample from a Henry Mancini composition, you hear Prodigy’s words wringing clear, “I gave you fair warning, beware!” And then Pun unleashes the fury spitting,

“What you thought punk? Shit was sweet now you can’t sleep, Gotta keep your eyes open wide and hide your face from the streets, I’m like the beast with a warrant, far from a law man, Gave you fair warning, now you on the stairs falling, I’m calling out any rapper that I doubt, smack em in the mouth, Throw em in the yoke. Boom! Then I knock em out, No doubt, Freddie Foxxx files, Twenty-shot auto Glock, blaow Benny Blanc Puerto Rock style, With a twist of black and I’m proud, twist your cap and I’m out, Sleep with the fish-dips for yapping loud, What’s happening now, niggas is hard as hell but they Gargamels, Picking on the smallest victim gives them heart to kill, My squad is real and holds it down the hardest regardless, Besides of the largest we polish the floor with the rawest hardcore artists, Flawless victory and niggas can’t do shit to me, Physically, lyrically, hypothetically, realistically, I’m the epitome of catching wreck, catch you when you cash your cheque, Smash you when you pass then jack you for your fucking Lex, Nothing less than the best if the squad did it, Hard-headed niggas better beware and fear like God said it.”

Wow! That was a lot of detail and chock full of assonance and metaphors, while sprinkled with pop culture references ranging from Carlitos Way to the Smurfs. While weaving these words together he manages to demolish any opponent through the sheer dread of attempting to battle this behemoth of a rapper. He not only delved in lyrical assassinations, both on his solo tracks and guest appearances, but he also had quite a wit and a sizable sense of humor. One of my personal favorites that shows his playful humor is the track “Nigga Shit” from his second, and sadly last, album Yeeeah Baby.

The song is an ode to the culture that he took part in, and is very thankful for its acceptance. It also presents that Latinos live under the same dreadful conditions alongside blacks in this country. Wether the Bronx or East L.A. these two cultures became mixed and cohesive, but with tensions as well. It’s a short song with only one verse, but that verse is golden going down memory lane for all of us who delved in that type of shit, and still do. He drops it spitting,

“That nigga shit, smokin weed with my moms,                               That nigga shit, Slingin D and Heron,                                      That nigga shit, no love for the cops,                                      That nigga shit, gettin my dick sucked with my pops,                 That nigga shit, gettin drunk with my Twinz,                               That nigga shit, swearin to God I’ll never drink again,                   That nigga shit, gettin drunk again,                                               That nigga shit, three days in the pen,                                     That nigga shit, talkin loud at the flicks                                     That nigga shit, fried rice and rib tips,                                      That nigga shit, lookin fresh with no ends,                              That nigga shit, beatin on my sister’s boyfriends,                        That nigga shit, yellow tape and white sheets,                       That nigga shit, whoopin my kid’s ass in the streets,                That nigga shit, Iverson crossover,                                         That nigga shit, cheese doodles grape soda,                         That nigga shit, playin in the last car on the train,                  That nigga shit, hot sauce on everythang,                                That nigga shit, nugget gold in the 80’s,                                     That nigga shit, iced out in the 90’s,                                      That nigga shit, shoot the place if you play me,                             That nigga shit, Pun to run til they find me.”

He uses three words for the set-up and then fills in the gaps with the happenstance for all of us on the lower socio-economic wrung. If anybody intimately experienced some of this so-called “nigga shit” then you can understand the humor and homage Pun pays to the culture. Although he tried many times to lose the weight he reached the maximum at his death of almost 700 pounds! He suffered a heart attack on February 7th, 2000 while staying at a White Plains hotel. Paul and I were attending Purchase College so we were close in proximity. It was a sad day, but due to his amazing talent he will always be considered one of the best rappers of all time.

3. Charizma (Born Charles Hicks) – The first time I heard Charizma was his track aptly titled “My World Premiere” from the classic mix tape “The World Famous Beat Junkies Vol. 1 helmed by the great DJ Babu with some help from JRocc. The mix dropped around 1996 – 1997, and unfortunately he died three to four years earlier. However, the sheer magnitude of his rhymes over this hardcore beat is mesmerizing. It’s just one straight shot verse, but it cuts with precision. This is the song that spawned such great lines like, “It’s not my birthday but I’m pulling cards” and “When I didn’t have a mic I rapped on headphones.”

Hailing from the West Coast, California to be exact, he eventually met Chris Manak, who we all know better as Peanut Butter Wolf head of Stones Throw Records, and they began recording. Charizma was the rapper and Peanut Butter made the beats. They recorded a few songs, but most of them never saw the light of day until after his death. His life was cut short due to a car jacker who shot Charizma dead on December 16th, 1993. Fortunately for all hip-hop historians Peanut Butter would eventually release all these recordings in 2003 with the full length Big Shots album. Throughout the album you realize how gifted he was, and how he seemed to bounce off the music with his slip and sliding rhymes. One great example of this is his great cut, “Red Light, Green Light.”

The video is great because the into shows Charizma’s playful charm. His opening lines start it all out on the path to the stratosphere. He rhymes,

“Tic-tac-toe, ah here we go, Red means stop and green light means go, Common sense dropped cause I truly love the hip-hop, (beatboxing) I even like to beatbox”

He explains the structure by rapping that it’s following the red light, green light game through his rap. He then continues with his love for hip-hop, and even drops a hint by dropping Common’s name, who did the song “I Used to Love H.E.R.” Throughout the song he plays with the structure while spitting hot fire. He ends his second verse with,

“Have a bubble bath and then let the dopeness begin, So bump, bump the loop in your mob car, no we don’t roll jeeps, We roll the mob cause on the westside of the street, And let your car feel the heat.”

The album is full of great songs, but my personal favorites are the last few tracks that project his cunning speed and wit on the Mic. The last four songs, “Charizma What,” “Fair Weathered Friend,” “Soon to be Large,” and “Pacin’ the Floor,” blend so well into each other. The beats perfectly compliment Charizma’s pace, while he bobs and weaves his words so magically. Last example is some of his words from the closing track “Pacin’ the Floor.” The track is a throw back old school joint with a basic beat, scratching and bass line, as Charizma goes on the attack.

This song is a bottled version of the essence of hip-hop. His death had a huge impact on Peanut Butter, but thankfully he trudged along and started one of the best independent Hip-Hop record labels, Stones Throw. It was Charizma’s song “My World Premiere” that was the first release, hence why I heard it on a mix tape in 1996. He also bonded with an old school MC who lost a close family member by the name we know as MF Doom. Thank G-d for Charizma.

4. Subroc (Born Dingilizwe Dumile, brother of Daniel Dumile AKA MF Doom and a member of KMD) – Talking about Doom in the last paragraph, let’s shine a light on his first group KMD (Kausing Much Damage or A positive Kause in a Much Damaged society). They were scoped out by MC Serch of 3rd Bass making their debut on the classic track “The Gas Face.” From then on they forged their own style, along with their muslim upbringing, while being signed to Elektra records in the late 1980’s. Although Subroc wasn’t as prevalent on their debut album, Mr. Hood, he was mostly responsible for inserting such diverse samples from television shows and other obscure recordings including a series of samples from a language instruction tape. This was a decade before DJ’s like Kid Koala and DJ Vadim used these samples at their leisure.

Subroc’s brother, Zev Love X, and the third member Onyx were far more prevalent on the album. But he had a chance to shine on a track aptly titled “Subroc’s Mission.”

In a recent post about the making of KMD’s second album Black Bastards Zev/Doom admits that Subroc became far more confident and brash with his rhymes. Some of his best work is on the second album, and here’s a snippet or two of that masterpiece. The album was far more contentious and racially candid due to the album cover depicting a hanging sambo character. The Dumile brothers produced the entire second album, and on tracks like ” It Sounded Like a Roc,” “Plumpskinzz (Oh No I Don’t Believe It!),” and my personal favorite “Gimme” Subroc devours the mic. Check out some of his rhymes on the melodic “Plumpskinzz,”

Originally this was a full song, but was cut into two parts for the album with Zev Love on the first and Subroc on the second. Subroc has a nice flow spitting lines like,

“But always fix fat drums in the batter
They say you must, must share a little plum
I say, “With that idea kid, you’re dumb”
I play the role, play the role, kinda shy
And keep the concept to unbutton the fly
The question, my oh my, any left for thy shore?
I pick fresh fruit, plus vick ’em galore
Raw as can be, I can be much more adore
My sweet gift shot like Quickdraw McGraw,”

Simple yet right to the point. He goes extra ballistic on my favorite “Gimme,”

He drops great morsels throughout the track like,

“Well welcome me back like my man Kotter, If not, I’ll leave ya flat broke nada, Cause I gotta keep my style flexin’ like areobic, Gimme elbow room I’m crazily claustrophobic” and “Touch it, it’s up your rear, I hear a sequence, gimme so I can tell a tattle-teller, Now shut your mouth while I speak it accapella, I’m the yellow maraca medium brown tone, I do what I feel cause child I’m grown, Gimme no cologne I rock oils, Gimme a lot of looten, I still won’t straighten my nappy coils.”

Like Charizma, these are just words on an electronic page. You need to listen to the delivery because his voice plays along with the beat in order to give it more personality. He also ends the track with a funny phrase. After chanting “Check the Clock” he finishes by saying, “Now get on your knees next to my balls and BOX!”

Unfortunately after completing most of the album Subroc was killed by being struck by a car while attempting to cross the treacherous Long Island Expressway. His life was cut short, and like Peanut Butter Wolf, Zev Love X took his brother’s death very hard. However, he would be reincarnated as MF Doom, and would eventually work on Stones Throw under the guise of Madlib and Peanut Butter. Strangely enough both his and Charizma’s death have brought amazing incarnations in the world of hip-hop.

5. MCA (Born Adam Yauch) member of the Beastie Boys along with Adrock and Mike D. – MCA along with the other two members of the Beastie Boys have been around for decades. Ever since they broke out they never got that much respect due to being the first white rap group to sell millions of records. They were also the first rap group to be featured on Spin magazine’s cover, much to Harry Allen’s chagrin. It is problematic that they were the first featured when there was a history of great rappers and rap groups who were all black. However, you can’t hold it against them because of their skin color. They also had a litany of rhymes that hit the mark, while using the old school formula by being performing in the call and response style with each other. Instead of the newer formula of a verse, chorus, verse, etc. they interweaves their rhymes around each other’s words and cadences. MCA has quite a trajectory when it comes to his rhymes. He went through quite the catharsis when exploring the content of his words. The early material was crass, boorish, misogynistic, violent, and offensive to many listeners. Just check out his opening remarks on the track “The New Style” from the debut album Licensed to Ill,

MCA rips into it spitting,

“Four and three and two and one (What up!), And when I’m on the mic – suckers run (Word!), Down with Adrock and Mike D. and you ain’t, And I got more juice than Picasso got paint, Got rhymes that are slick, I’m not surprised you’re on my dick,”

Funny and mischievous, but the first album was solid and chock full of entertainment and debauchery. They would eventually leave Rick Rubin and Def Jam for California, Capitol records, and a collabo with the Dust Brothers who would produce their most genius and underrated album Paul’s Boutique. It’s an amazing group effort as most songs don’t allocate verses to each member. Rather, they bob and weave off of each other’s words in such a precise manner. One track that had more of the standard formula was “3-Minute Rule.” On it each shines in his own way, and this is MCA’s contribution,

“Roses are red, the sky is blue, I got my barrel at your neck, so what the fuck you gonna do, It’s just two wheels and me, the wind in my eyes, The engine is the music and my nine’s by my side, Cause you know Y-A-U-C-H, I’m taking all emcees out in the place, Takin’ life as it comes, no fool I am, I’m goin’ off, gettin’ paid, and I don’t ask why, Playin’ beats on my box, makin’ music for the many, Know a lot of def girls that’ll do anything, A lot of parents like to think I’m a villian, I’m just chillin’, like Bob Dylan, Yeah I smoke cheeba, it helps me with my brain, I might be a little dusted but I’m not insane, People come up to me and they try to talk shit, Man, I was making records when you were suckin’ your mother’s dick.”

Nice, poetic and vicious, which are antics they were rhyming about. However, they would keep on maturing, getting back to the drawing board, and picking up their instruments again. But they still dropped some heavy beats and mean verses on their third album Check Your Head. Aside from the great collage of Jimi Hendrix that would end up being the unreleased version of the track “Jimmy James,” one of my favorites is “Pass the Mic.”

The track begins with MCA belting out some nice verses while preparing the next member for his introduction. He spits,

“If you can feel what I’m feeling then it’s a musical masterpiece, If you can hear what I’m dealing with then that’s cool at least, What’s running through my mind comes through when I walk, True feelings are shown from the way that I talk, And this is me ya’ll, I emcee ya’ll, My name is MCA and I still do what I please, And now I’d like to introduce what’s up? I’ll pass the mic to D for a fist full of truth.”

Nice, solid and to the point. As I wrote earlier MCA, along with the rest of the group, matured through out his career and made it very apparent by commenting on the status of women. On their fourth album’s first track “Sure Shot.”

The Beastie Boys were heavily influenced by Rick Rubin, and he pushed their offensive taste through what they said about excess. This excess meant plenty of beer and women. They also had quite a stage show displaying women in bikinis on stage who would dance in cages, while a large blow-up phallus was flailing behind them. This would all change, and MCA’s lyric is the strongest refutation of their past debauchery and offensive behavior. He rhymes on the track that,

“I want to say a little something that’s long overdue, The disrespect to women has got to be through, To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends, I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”

It’s a beautiful statement of a man who’s grown up to be a responsible adult. It’s unfortunate that these types of rhymes are still very rare as the rap game has gotten far more misogynistic towards women in the rhymes. Unfortunately MCA passed away in May of 2012, followed by an announcement from Mike D. that the Beastie Boys were done. We can always go back to the prolific recordings made by the group, and you can always feel the beautiful camaraderie between them. MCA said it beautifully on their single “Alive,” which was released for their boxed-set.

“Mike and Adam have got my back, You bring the mics and we’ll bring the raps, Turn on the PA and rock your shack, Don’t smoke cheeba, can’t stand crack.”

6. Last but not least is the man, the myth, who was mentioned by Nas on the track “Where are They Now.” He allegedly staged his death in order to beat a bid, but the news sources were wrong on that account. News reports had to dig further into the fact that he in fact passed away in February of 2013. Who am I talking about? Tim Dog!!! Coming up from the Bronx and making guest appearances on tracks by the Ultramagnetic MC’s, he’s considered one of the hardest rappers in the history of the game. When the West Coast was on its rise to prominence, which was heralded by all the many hip-hop magazines, trades, and other mediums, Tim Dog didn’t like it to say the least. That’s why he dropped one of the most scathing west coast diss tracks ever. It was aptly titled, “Fuck Compton.”

He just tears it apart with rhymes like,

“Oh shit motherfuckers step to the rear and cheer, Cause Tim Dog is here, Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, And talk about a bullshit city, Talking about niggas from Compton, They’re no comp and they truly ain’t stomping,”

Although the track is directed as N.W.A. this was a pre-east coast vs. west coast spat. He claims that it was made out of frustration, rather than a personal axe to grind with the group. However, he makes sure to call them all out by name,

“(Why you dissing Eazy?), Cause the boy ain’t shit, Chew him with tobacco, and spit him in shit, I’ll crush Ice Cube, I’m cool wit Ice-T, But NWA ain’t shit to me, Dre beating on Dee from Pump it Up, Step to the Dog and get fucked up, I’m simplistic, imperialistic, idealistic, And I’m kicking the ballistics.”

He’s taking straight shots at the group, which was on top by this point. He also calls out Dr. Dre and the messy incident where he beat up Dee Barnes. This incident has been addressed again, most notably on Eminem’s track “Guilty Conscious” from his debut album, which was produced by Dre.

Tim Dog’s debut, containing the single “Fuck Compton” and other notable tracks like “Step to Me,” was titled Penicillin on Wax. These tracks were hardcore, in your face, grit along with the standard heavy drums, and break neck speed of a New York style rap song, circa the early 1990’s.

On “Step to Me” he kills it with more treacherous words,

“Step to me if you’re ready for a beatdown
Swift wit my hands, I don’t fuck around
I’m laying out MC’s in a sec
I’ll get wreck and break your muthafucking neck
Who can step to me from Compton
None them rappers cause I’m still stomping
So bail in your best MC’s
Nigga, please,”

Another great hard-hitting track, and arguably one of the hardest rap songs of all time, is titled “The Dog’s Gonna Get You.”

The beat is thrust into your ears as Tim demolishes the mic spitting,

“Pick ’em up, pick ’em up, pick ’em up
Pick of another wack punk then stick ’em up, vick ’em up
Suckers get in my way
I don’t play, so you’re gonna get slayed
You wanna come and come and come and come
Come on bum and come and get some
You know who the fuck I am?
Goddamn! Gimme a hand
I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man
With a lyrical hardcore plan goddamn,”

You can just feel the rage as he wails, grunts, and snarls bringing the fear into your heart, cause the Dog’s gonna eat you alive. Another great track that further describes Dog’s M.O. is “Bronx Nigga” where he describes looking for a stick up kid, finding him, and shooting his ass dead!

Tim Dog dropped six albums, two with the great and bizarre Kool Keith (who’ll be on a future top five list), but his debut solidified his legacy as one hard motherfucker. RIP Tim Dog.

So there we have it, my top five (with a sixth as clean-up) MC’s who are gone, but not forgotten. I agree that leaving Biggie, Tupac, Big L and others off the list is sacrilegious. I can already hear the screams of revulsion flying in my direction. These rappers were extremely skilled, but the guys on my list meant a lot to me personally. I also hope that if you didn’t know now you know, who they are. Listen to my suggestions and hopefully it will open up your scope on the history of rap music.

Until the nest list, Peace


#TimDog #MCA #Subroc # BigPun #Charizma