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







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s