Friday, April 18, 2014

Is Diddy The New Milli Vanilli?

One thing the world knows about Puff; He gets money. I’m not talking about the kind of money that would help you or me pay our cell phone bills or meet rent payments. I’m talking about long, sticky dollars. Diddy gets the kind of money that opens global channels to “hood” brothers. We’re talking about an official IRS portfolio member. That’s long cheddar. 

For years Diddy aka P Diddy aka Puff Daddy aka Sean Combs (whatever he chooses to call himself this week) has been the leader on Forbes Hip Hop Cash Kings. His business partnerships with various brands have made him a consistent leader in stacking chips. Do you want a drink at the club? Chances are you’ve just contributed to Diddy’s bank account. Oh you like that hip hop fashion, do you? At some point you probably paid Diddy. And now with his long arms of wealth extending into television, guess what? Cough up some more of your paycheck for this cat. And we haven’t even talked about the money he’s made from his Bad Boy record label in the 90’s. Diddy stays getting money. 

Recently in an interview 50 Cent brought up an interesting point about Diddy. In the interview 50 Cent says, 

The guy says don’t worry about if I write rhymes, I write checks and then sings to you. But this is why we got rid of Milli Vanilli.”
On the surface it seems like more sour grapes coming from 50 Cent. He has a well-documented history of going at anybody he perceives as not being down with his program. But hating aside, does he have a point about Diddy? Why is Diddy given a pass when Milli Vanilli had their careers destroyed for impersonating? Let’s analyze the situation.

Everyone knows the story of Milli Vanilli. They were a lip synching and dancing concoction from Frank Farian out of Germany that sought to take advantage of the music industry by impersonating singers. They humiliated themselves, The Grammy’s, and angered numerous fans when the truth was discovered. Total Fugazis.  

So how is Diddy even compared to such a group?

In order to understand this comparison and where it comes from you need to analyze both hip hop and Diddy and how the two interact. How original is hip hop and how does Diddy fit into its historic construction?

One of the core elements of hip hop is sampling. Hip Hop artists search for old records and transform sections or pieces of those sounds by adding percussion, keyboards, and effects to make the original recording their own. What is the element of originality in that? The element of originality is finding a sound or record so rarely used and forgotten that when manipulated it sounds fresh and new. BUT! Since the original piece was created by another musician it isn’t new and it is borrowed upon. So yes, hip hop largely steals original work, albeit they do it by chopping and manipulating the original recording. 

But emceeing is different.  Hip Hop MCs take pride in crafting their lyrics themselves and basing those works on their reality. In order to be considered a real MC you have to write your own stuff. And therein is the problem. If you are a “Real MC”, how can you use the words of others?

When hip hop went main stream certain negative aspects of business entered the art along with that wider audience. It was no longer about who had the best lyrical content or originality. It became more about who could sell the most records. And although many complained that hip hop wasn’t being equally respected in America, no one saw this negative aspect coming. It became more about making profit and less about originality. Hip Hop largely got treated like the other genres.

Enter Diddy.

One must first begin by defining what Diddy is and what he isn’t. Diddy is not an MC. He’s never been known for his poetic verses or his lyrical prowess. He hasn’t personally made one classic hip hop album and has never been remotely connected to any magazine’s Top 100 Hip Hop Lyricists of All Time list. You won’t find him sending out a diss record against anyone of decent skills because Diddy doesn’t possess even basic lyrical ability. He’s not a lyricist. 

 Diddy is a record executive. His sole purpose upon entering the hip hop game has been to make profit. Period. He analyzes trends in hip hop culture and manipulates those changes to his financial gain. That is what record executives do. At any particular moment he can tell you what’s hot in the street and how to get maximum value out of it. He is a salesman. 

So is it fair to compare Diddy to Milli Vanilli? 

Well…. Yes and no.

First, the “yes”:  Diddy is exploiting the culture of hip hop as a business man. One could argue that he doesn’t care about “keeping it real” as much as he does about “keeping it profitable”. Assigning another person to write lyrics on his behalf is not quite the same thing as what Milli Vanilli did, but it is pretty close. Those are another artist’s thoughts he’s using for his financial gain. And in the vein of REAL HIP HOP that is a Milli Vanilli sin. Diddy is exactly what’s wrong with hip hop. He’s more interested in selling the product and reaping the financial rewards than history or making sure the world knows what the art form is supposed to be. No wonder you have a guy that can brag about being a drug dealer while actually working as a prison guard. Who cares as long as his records sell? In the tradition of hip hop Diddy may as well start wearing braids and jumping up and down on stage to “Girl You Know It’s True”. He’s a sell-out to its core principles. 

And “No”:  Diddy performs what is written. The words that you hear in his songs belong to his voice. Milli Vanilli never used their voices until after their fake act was discovered. So technically, Diddy isn’t like them. What he is doing is no different than the way Beyonce has a whole team of people write her lyrics. In fact, the majority of all music on the Billboard charts is written by other people! Since hip hop is now accepted there, why should it be different? 

But there is another thing that separates Diddy from Milli Vanilli. Without Diddy the world wouldn’t have known The Notorious BIG in the way that they did. Diddy has given over and over to the art form he so easily takes away from. In fact, with his new television venture he has the possibility to give a platform to up and coming artists in a way that MTV or BET never could. He continues to give opportunities to numerous African Americans and has become a success story to those seeking a better way in life. That cannot be understated. 

So overall, 50 Cent’s statement was 50/50 on accuracy. If you’re looking at Diddy from a hip hop purist perspective, sure 50 Cent is dead on. But in terms of being honest about the big picture, it oversimplifies the situation and doesn’t account for the contributions of Diddy. 

50 Cent made his statement from a place of hate. One, he doesn’t like the fact that Diddy did a new song with one of his rivals (Rick Ross). And two, the new Forbes Magazine Hip Hop Net Worth article was recently released in which Diddy ranked at #1 and 50 Cent ranked at #5. If 50 Cent were being genuine in his statement he would also have to admit that most of the music that he’s released since entering the hip hop game has more than a couple of “Milli Vanilli Moments” too. After all, his backstory is what really propelled him in the game. Not his lyrical skills.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hip Hop Has Left The South

Nobody can take anything away from the South’s contribution to hip hop. The South has always been present in hip hop’s short history and through up and coming artists will continue to be there. From the Chop & Screw Movement in Houston Texas, to the Young Money crew in New Orleans, indeed the South has provided a lot of the gasoline that has fueled hip hop’s fire.

But let’s keep it real here folks. The South just isn’t doing it any more. For a while it could be argued that the South had the hip hop crown (in my opinion, they did). But if you look at the numerous changes that have happened on the Southern hip hop scene, things have changed drastically, and not for the better.

Take a look at Georgia. The Peach State gave hip hop the most popular and lyrical group in history. Outkast was and is still considered to be the best hip hop group to ever emerge from the South. Andre 3000 and Big Boi were not your average rappers. They spoke to social issues and pushed forth lyricism in ways that made New York dudes proud to have them under the tent. They’ve dropped arguably 3 classic hip hop albums with the crown jewel being Aquemini.
photo credit: erik.aldrich via photopin cc
But after Outkast took a hiatus there have only been a handful of MCs that delivered that level of high quality lyricism and respect for hip hop. T.I. stands out as one of the most gifted of that handful but he couldn’t properly sync his lyrical ability and his personal life and so he has fallen off quite a bit. Other artists in Georgia have had success but have not been able to carry the torch in the same manner as the kingly Outkast crew. Young Jeezy had the fame and the power but has been neutered by unnecessary beef with other artists and family problems. B.O.B. showed some promise but he seems too concerned with chart-surfing to really be able to make the social connection that Outkast made. Ludacris has never made a type of album even remotely close to what Outkast produced. He seems to be mostly about partying and getting his shine on. All other artists in Georgia can be summed up as “not worthy” or “cash seekers”. And so, when Outkast took a leave of absence from the game, they left a huge crater in the middle of Georgia that has yet to be filled today.   

Take a look at Louisiana. For years Master P had been plucking gold from that state and putting it in his personal coffers. But none of his artists were even close to being able to carry the title of “hip hop artist”. And so after many years of making paper, another hungry outfit came and snatched the cash machine from Master P’s hands. Enter Cash Money.

Cash Money had a stable of decent rappers but none of them could be called MCs. That is, none of them except for one: Lil Wayne. Most hip hop heads are reluctant to call Weezy an MC based off of his popularity and the unconventional flow he has. He sometimes sounds like a cross between a Martian and a Gremlin. But make no mistake about it, a few years back he was an absolute monster and could body any MC from any state. And in terms of talent Weezy stood alone in the state of Louisiana.
photo credit: kennethkonica via photopin cc
But that was the problem. There was no other artist in that state that could carry the workload of Lil Wayne and what he contributed to hip hop. And Weezy was getting tired. Being in the game for as long as he has could make anyone want to take a breather. And so, Lil Wayne, sensing that his fatigue was catching up with him, created Young Money. Drake and Nicki Minaj have been killing the game in terms of lyricism. But wait, they’re not from Louisiana. Drake is from Canada. Nicki is from New York City via Trinidad. So in finding these artists, Lil Wayne did nothing to solve the ghost issue within his state. And with his retirement rapidly approaching, one doubts that he ever will. 

But hold on… There is one artist from Louisiana that absolutely crushes Lil Wayne in terms of lyricism. This dude gets a lot of love from New York hip hop heads as well. He could be the answer to Louisiana’s problems. His name is Jay Electronica. But he hasn’t done anything for the majors and Jay Z is holding him in such shrouded secrecy that he can’t even contribute anything to this conversation.
photo credit: David Salafia via photopin cc
Let’s go over to Texas.

The Ghetto Boys. Scarface. Bun B. The late Pimp C. These were some real dudes that did big things for hip hop. They were undeniably attacking the art form with charisma, lyricism, and respect just as much as anyone in the game. But things happened. The Chop & Screw movement came upon the scene. And although it was innovative, it brought forth no true lyricist to replace the aforementioned group of rappers. And so Texas, as it currently stands, is in its own zone. It hasn’t had a true lyricist since Scarface and The Ghetto Boys. And while Scarface is still somewhat active, an infusion of new blood is needed to carry forth the flag. But no one currently exists.

How about North Carolina?

Things look a lot brighter for Southern Hip Hop in this corner of America. J Cole has put Fayetteville NC on the map in ways that no one expected. His lyricism is impressive and with the major label support of Jigga, there’s no telling how high he could go. 9th Wonder, Phonte, and Rapper Big Pooh, while originally forming the group Little Brother and then disbanding due to growing pains, now are putting in a lot of work. 9th Wonder in particular has established a curiously successful alliance with Duck Down Records based in New York City and formed his own company, Jamla Records. In addition to the label 9th Wonder has produced his own answer to Nicki Minaj in a more traditional female hip hop artist by the name of Rapsody. Not to mention that he teaches hip hop classes at Duke University and at Harvard University. All of the work going on in North Carolina is an absolute torch to the rest of hip hop.

And lastly we take things to Florida.

Florida has a lot of artists. But the only artist seeming to do anything right now in terms of hip hop is Rick Ross. The boss definitely has lyrical skill. But his checkered past and constant beefing with certain people has placed him in the position of having to branch out beyond the state. He’s not really doing a lot of good in nurturing new talent in his backyard. All other artists in that state are rappers looking for paychecks. They’re not respected in the art form. So what does this mean for the South?

photo credit: DivaDina785 via photopin cc
It means that the South no longer holds the hip hop crown. While record spins and radio play do mean something in terms of relevancy, nothing means more to the art form than able MCs that can carry forth the message and bring forth attention to social issues affecting our communities. Outkast understood that but have taken a multi-year break. Bun B understands that but needs some help in doing so. Scarface is a lyrical beast but cannot carry the load alone. With the exception of North Carolina, hip hop has left the South in a big way and so has the crown. The question is who is going to bring it back?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Eminem Wanted To Diss Kanye West and Lil Wayne

Recently hip hop mega star Eminem revealed a piece of interesting news. He revealed that he almost made a diss record going at Lil Wayne and Kanye West. Frustrated with the popularity of his colleagues and feeling somewhat depressed about himself was the motivation to what almost became the most interesting attack in recent hip hop memory. After doing some soul searching and discovering the problem was with himself as a person, Eminem decided not to take that action. And that was a good look because artists who recognize problems within themselves and directly address those problems have a sense of self preservation and maturity. Props to Eminem for that.
photo credit: Scott Kinmartin via photopin cc
But what if the battle did go down? What if Eminem decided to go bonkers and straight blasted Weezy and Kanye on his version of the last fight scene in Scarface? What would’ve happened? Would we be looking at Weezy, Kanye, and Eminem playing the ghetto version of Fight Club, smacking each other with relentless jaw-cracking verses?

This is my opinion of what might’ve happened if such a battle occurred.

First, Eminem would’ve attacked Kanye and Lil Wayne at the heights of their careers so let’s clarify that moment in time. Kanye had just dispatched with 50 Cent ala Graduation and was pushing almost a million in first week sales of that album. Lil Wayne dropped The Carter 3 a few months later and actually did sell over one million the first week.

Let’s say that Eminem attacked Kanye West…

Eminem’s attack probably would’ve been in the same method he’s used to attack other artists. It would’ve been tongue-in-cheek and would’ve probably been in the same vein as his Benzino, Mariah Carey, and Insane Clown Posse attacks; Nothing like Jay Z versus Nas, yet playful and able to get under your skin. Now if Kanye responded, the ish would’ve hit the fan. Eminem would’ve unleased lyrical fury. But that first attack would’ve been typical.

Kanye’s attack in response to Eminem would’ve been…Well…Nothing. He wouldn’t have attacked Eminem. Contrary to popular belief, Kanye is one of the smartest people in hip hop. To go at Eminem would’ve directly gone at part of his fan base. Kanye West is probably the only hip hop artist in history that hasn’t openly responded to beef. He’s been called homosexual, a skirt wearing rapper, and the tight jeans creator, and yet he still doesn’t respond. While most rappers who choose not to respond to beef might get called out for it (what up Drake), Kanye West has been mostly given a pass for two reasons:

1.       He’s mostly a producer/rapper and is not considered to be a “True Lyricist”

2.       Kanye West has intentionally shielded himself from hardcore attacks by working with rappers that actually ARE considered to be lyricists (Wu Tang, Jay Z, Nas, Rakim). None of those rappers would’ve gone at Kanye because Kanye had the best beats and that diamond exposure in the industry. During Graduation Kanye’s popularity was pre-Taylor Swift fire! Kanye placated those lyricists. That’s pretty smart. Even in his so-called sales battle with 50 Cent he was appearing with 50 on 106 And Park and actually gave 50 props on the competing album when he dropped the following verse, “50 told me go head and switch the style up and if they hate then let them hate and watch the money pile up”.

And let’s say that Eminem decided to attack Lil Wayne…

Eminem would’ve attacked Lil Wayne much more viciously and lyrically because at the time, Lil Wayne was killing tracks. Weezy was absolute lyrical fire during that time and if Eminem came out against that dude, he would’ve had to drop serious verbal calamity. Eminem probably would’ve gone at every questionable thing about Weezy; his appearance, kissing Baby Williams on the lips (his unofficial father)… Everything. It would’ve been ugly, ugly, ugly.

And make no mistake about it, Weezy would’ve dropped a big ball of fire right in the center of Eminem’s living room. Lil Wayne would’ve gone at his house, his dog and cat, his moms, his crew, his Dr. Dre affiliation… Weezy would’ve attempted to permanently revoke Eminem’s “ghetto pass” in this battle.

But what would’ve been the end result of this battle? What would’ve happened to Eminem, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne in the public arena?

Eminem: His status as a rap superstar would’ve been cemented in popular music, but with Black fans he would’ve been tarnished. Kanye and Lil Wayne were big stars in those communities and no matter the outcome, Eminem would’ve attempted to attack them for no reason and the Black Community would’ve held him accountable for that. He would still sell millions of records but he would’ve relegated himself to “Elvis Status”. He would’ve been perceived as someone that didn’t have real respect for the culture of hip hop and only sought to profit off of it in the same way that some perceive Elvis to have stolen his form of music from Black artists and used it to his advantage. People forget that there is a reason Eminem needed a street-anchor like Dr. Dre. If he didn’t have him, he may have been considered a step above Vanilla Ice. Not in the verbal skills department, but in the exploitation department. Eminem would’ve lost big time with Black America and his “hip hop” credentials would’ve been burnt to a crisp.

Kanye West: He would’ve been somewhat damaged but would’ve made a comeback through production and other means. He would have to work hard to get back those fans that sided with Eminem because like it or not, Eminem and Kanye share the same fan base. Their fans are part hip hop, part pop music.

Lil Wayne: It’s more difficult to say. If he won the battle with Eminem he could become ostracized by many fans of pop music. Eminem fans are diehard and believe the man can do no wrong. For someone to step on his neck and win a battle, would make those fans majorly angry. It’s hard to say if Weezy could recover. After all, he doesn’t have skill as a record producer in the way that Kanye does and he couldn’t peel off other artists’ fans in that manner. A lot of people would probably stay away from Weezy because of those Eminem fans. But in the hip hop community and in Black America Weezy would be considered a hero. Here was a dude that took it to a pop star and won! Weezy would be pure gold in the Black community and although his career wouldn’t be on Carter 3 status afterwards, he could still make a comfortable living.
Now if Weezy lost, it would’ve crushed him and Young Money. Drake wouldn’t have signed. Forget about Nicki, she’s not coming over to a losing team. It could’ve gotten so bad that Wayne’s career could’ve been ended. If Eminem verbally bodied Weezy on the right track, it would’ve been lights-out for that whole team.

Props to Eminem for having the vision and the forethought not to engage in this battle. Hip Hop battles are mostly about “My skills are doper than yours” and that’s keeping in tradition with the culture. This would’ve been a battle in keeping with that tradition. No doubt. But when you hate yourself and you have demons within your heart that you don’t come to terms with, you end up looking like 50 Cent; hating the world and nobody having love for you.  Contrary to popular believe, love wins more wars than hate does. This battle would’ve been so corrosive to all 3 people involved that none of them would’ve really survived unscathed. The mafia rule is “War is bad for business”, and in hip hop sometimes that rule applies as well.
Eminem deserves a great amount of credit for loving himself and hip hop as a whole more than wanting to hate. That is the mark of a real MC and someone that respects the culture. And that is the reason Eminem will go down in history as one of the best to ever do it. The dude respects the culture.   

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Best Hip Hop Producer of All Time

Dr. Dre is a legend. His place on hip hop’s Mount Rushmore is about as solid as the George Washington likeness on the original sculpture in South Dakota. No other producer in hip hop history has been as consistent or successful in pushing forth hip hop and forcing America as a whole to assimilate hip hop into its popular musical consciousness. Dr. Dre is the man.
photo credit: Jason Persse via photopin cc
For a long time many people have openly called Dr. Dre “The Best Producer in Hip Hop History”. And based on his long track record of platinum hits, few have openly challenged this notion. After all, the man is responsible for The Chronic; Black America’s version of Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. Without Dr. Dre, who knows if Snoop Dogg would even exist? Eminem definitely wouldn’t have been able to be accepted by both Whites and Blacks if it weren’t for the ghetto-anchoring of America’s most popular producer.

So does this make Dr. Dre the best hip hop producer of all time?

The answer is… No!

That title is clearly held by one man and one man alone. He’s a 48 year old DJ originally from Houston, Texas. His government name is Christopher Edward Martin. To the hip hop world he’s known as DJ Premier.
photo credit: Xi WEG via photopin cc
What?! A dude from Texas holds this crown? Are you serious?! I know I have you spitting out your drink right now, but the truth is the truth. DJ Premier aka Premo is the best producer in hip hop history. It isn’t Dr. Dre. I’ll present several facts to support the reasons why Dr. Dre doesn’t deserve this crown and DJ Premier does:

1.       Dr. Dre’s Production Volume Levels: It has long been a chief complaint that Dr. Dre doesn’t really produce a lot of music. But when you dig into his discography you can clearly see his low volume of production. He has produced records every year since 1986, but if you dig deeper you will notice that of each year the amount of production usually ranges from 3 to 4 records per year. That’s pretty weak. If you check to see what Dr. Dre has on deck for 2014, guess what you’ll find? Zero. Nothing completed and nothing scheduled.  

DJ Premier’s Production Volume Levels: DJ Premier has been producing records since 1990. But if you look into DJ Premier’s discography his production amount is well above Dr. Dre’s. He produces on average 13 records per year. That’s almost triple the production of Dr. Dre. To give you a true measure of how many projects this man has on deck for 2014? Try 4 completed productions so far and 24 scheduled projects on deck. The dude is no joke!

2.       Dr. Dre’s Artist Selection: Point blank, if you’re not making paper for Dr. Dre, he’s not working with you. That’s just how he rolls. Artistic motivation doesn’t really exist with him. It’s seems to be only about financial motivation. His production catalog is so closely aligned to the Billboard pop charts that you would think it’s a second arm of Dr. Dre himself. He’s about his money. He’s currently estimated to have a net worth of over $450 Million. Do you have a hit on the charts? Call Dr. Dre. All others don’t even try to solicit his services. You’d have better luck calling President Obama.

DJ Premier’s Artist Selection: You can find the people DJ Premier has worked with everywhere. He’s worked for your Billboard Chart surfer. He’s worked with the dude cutting hair at the barbershop. DJ Premier will work with anyone who has respect for the culture and who has the motivation. He’s done work for his now deceased partner Guru and he’s done work for Alicia Keys. He’s done work for Heather Hunter and Afu-Ra. He’s even done work for Blaq Poet and Christina Aguilera. His range of artist selection reads more like a global phone book than a connection to Billboard. The fire in his belly is hip hop as an art form. And oh yeah, he only has an estimated net worth of $20 Million. So much for chart-hopping.

3.       Dr. Dre’s Politics: It has been no secret that Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre are very good friends. Dr. Dre has made tons of money based on that relationship and in return Jimmy Iovine has been able to push Interscope Records to levels few record companies reach. But it is also no secret that Dr. Dre has treated more than a few people badly based on the alleged whisperings of Jimmy Iovine. For instance, numerous artists have signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records and have been allegedly held back due to Jimmy Iovine’s interference. Some of Dr. Dre’s signings to his label seem to be more politically motivated than genuine artistic fits. Many have whispered that some signings seemed to be made to remove an artist from the marketplace and to prevent other record companies from getting the artist. After a few years and significant loss of value, the artist is then let go with no album release and allowed to try to salvage their careers (see Eve and Rakim).  That’s some grimy stuff. Especially if you’re a hip hop producer.

DJ Premier’s Politics: DJ Premier doesn’t get involved in what your record company is doing. He stays in his lane and only puts forth positive energy towards his musical productions. If you have beef with your label or an artist and you want to say some gully stuff over a Premo production, go ahead and do it. It’s your track. You’re the artist. He won’t even try to sensor you! That’s your art and you have the right to say whatever you want. When an artist works with DJ Premier it is almost 100% artistic. No politics involved.

4.       Dr. Dre’s Production: What goes into a Dr. Dre production? Is it him actually making the tracks or does he go into a studio with a team of people? Does he actually play any instrumentation or is someone else performing the sounds that he has signed to his production company? There are more and more whispers about many so-called “super producers” that actually have whole teams that produce work and have the company heads sign off on the work as their own. The rumors have floated about Dr. Dre for years. In fact, Hi-Tek, an east coast producer has all but confirmed it in interviews. So has Scott Storch. What does this say about the producer? With so many questions, it can’t be something that will be good for his legacy. How can you be labeled the best producer in hip hop history with so many of these questions floating around?

DJ Premier’s Production: To be fair, every producer uses musicians from time to time. It’s just inescapable. But DJ Premier keeps those inclusions to a bare minimum. His preference is to go into the studio with the artist that has solicited his services and make the track on site. In your face! There are usually no questions about who made it. Enough said.

5.       Dr. Dre’s Sound: The Good Doctor has a sound so clean and crisp that it sounds like he’s playing it in the same room that you’re in. For a while it was a signature sound. It couldn’t be duplicated. And although times have changed, for the most part, his attention to maintaining that same sound quality has been the same. But California has changed around Dr. Dre. The MCs coming out of Cali are less into the “worm” sound and more east coast flavored. Sure you have a few “OGs” that still subscribe to that sound, but they are becoming more difficult to find. And so Dr. Dre is trying to adapt and change with the audience. The production he provided on 50 Cent’s new song Smoke (obviously not produced in 2014) was tight but by Dr. Dre standards was not up to par. But to be fair, it shouldn’t sound the same as Dr. Dre’s previous productions. Growth should be evident in the producer’s discography. Producers change with time. But in altering his sound it seems that Dr. Dre is a little out of his element and is struggling a bit. And that is the threat.

DJ Premier’s Sound: DJ Premier came into the game on some experimental stuff. His sound was so drastically different than what was heard that it has almost become an expected situation to get that signature boom-bap left field sound from him. But that dedication to pushing new sounds and to adding weird combinations is what has made Premo’s sound impossible to duplicate. His beats are pounding. His crate-digging skills are so strange that you can’t tell where the sound came from. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of what sound from a record made in the 1940’s he’s going to sample for his latest record.  DJ Premier’s sound has been so influential that whole companies have made or altered their programming behind his style of innovative production. Fruity-Loops, Reason, and Pro Tools… Take your pick. In fact, it’s safe to say that producer 9th Wonder’s professional existence was birthed through the drum and sampling machines of two innovators in hip hop production: DJ Premier and Pete Rock. And DJ Premier’s sound is so innovative that it’s still going strong. It’s just as much in demand as it was in the 90’s.

Dr. Dre is the man when it comes to hip hop. He’s always in my top 3 producers of all time. No argument there. But in terms of who has taken hip hop to innovative heights and who has been truest to the core principles of the culture, there is no competition. DJ Premier crushes Dr. Dre beyond belief. DJ Premier is the best hip hop producer in history. There’s no competition.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why Did Drake Diss Jay Z?

The Subliminal Diss.

My personal definition is:

“A verbal method of attack used to retaliate against a person that has disrespected you, without exposing yourself to the damaging of your brand. It is also used to cause doubt within the recipient of the attack or can be used to reveal a person’s true intentions by appealing to their emotional side.”

This is my personal definition and is probably the hip hop definition of the phrase as well. There are other names for it such as “sneak diss” or “slick talk” but it all boils down to the same thing. A rapper disses another rapper, without actually engaging in battle.

Where does it come from? What’s the most effective use of the practice and what event should warrant its application?

No one can truly trace the origins of the subliminal diss in hip hop, but it has been in hip hop battles since the early days. Where ever there has been lyrical war the DNA of a subliminal diss can be found at the crime scene. Some have used it as a tool to find out who their true allies are. Others have used it to chastise a fellow rapper that got too reckless in his magazine interviews. There are various reasons it was used. And there’s also no doubt that it was used by some of the largest names in hip hop history to initiate or further lyrical confrontations.

But within hip hop battles the unwritten rule has always been to use the subliminal diss in moderation. The tactic was always used as a preface to actual full blown lyrical battle. There have been very few hip hop giants that have used it as their only weapon, instead of battling. If you were wearing the crown of “Hip Hop King” or if you were one of the many that wanted to take the crown from a perceived unworthy individual, you had to confront them, man to man, on wax. A sneak diss wouldn’t do. You had to take the crown in the least deceptive and overtly in-your-face method, for the world to see.

Which brings us to your boy Drake...
photo credit: Khanillion via photopin cc
On April 1st Drake released the track “Draft Day”. The beat is pure fire and Drake kills the track on some no-singing hip hop stuff. This is the Drake that most people expected when he first moved to Young Money. Hardcore tracks with impressive flow and dominating ability.

But within those tracks are a large amount of sneak disses aimed at various individuals. The consensus in the hip hop community seems to be that the largest target is Jay Z. Here’s a sample:

Just hits no misses, that’s for the married folks…” ---Drake, taken from the song “Draft Day”.

I  heard they talking crazy, I was out of town/You know they love to pop all that sh*t when I’m not around/But when I’m here, psst, not a sound/That’ll make me snap, jot it down/ go in the booth and lay a body down” ---Drake, taken from the song “Draft Day”

Those two statements are an example of a perfectly placed subliminal diss. You don’t mention any names but everyone clearly knows who you’re talking about. Flawless delivery.

But let’s dig a little deeper…

On the surface it seems that Drake has a legitimate beef with Jay Z. In his recent track with Jay Electronica, Jay Z shoots his own brand of a sneak diss. Check it:

Sorry Mrs. Drizzy for so much I talk/Silly me rapping about s*** that I really bought/While these rappers rap about guns that they ain’t shot/and a bunch of other silly s*** that they ain’t got---Jay Z, taken from the song “We Made It” featuring Jay Electronica

For those that thought Jay Z didn’t have it in him because he’s 44, those lyrics smacked Drake in the face and forced him to reply. But why did Jay Z go at Drake in the first place?

Here’s what started it all…

“It’s like Hov can’t drop bars these days without at least four art references,” Drake said in the interview. “I would love to collect [art] at some point, but I think the whole rap/art world thing is getting kind of corny.” ---Drake’s Rolling Stone interview, as reported by Hollywood Life on February 13, 2014

Now personally I have continuously complained about Jigga’s constant talking about what he has. Nobody wants to hear a commercial about a bunch of things they can’t afford. Jay Z’s rhymes sound like the worst kind of product pushing.

But with that being said, Drake is wrong.

First of all, Jay Z has done nothing but been supportive of Drake’s career. From the very first album he has enlisted people from his team to offer the assist. Kanye, Rhianna, Beyonce, and even Jay Z himself has been on the albums. Granted, the benefits were a two-way street. Jay Z extended his shelf life by being attached to a hot up and coming artist in exchange for that access. It was mostly business.

But if I had the same kind of business/personal relationship that Jay Z supposedly had with Drake, I’d give my man a sidebar or even better, I’d keep my opinions to myself. While I may be the sales king in terms of moving units, everyone in hip hop knows who’s been wearing that crown and the numerous reasons he has held it for so many years.

And the last reason Drake shouldn’t be talking about Jay Z is because he’s guilty of the same thing! He frequently talks about his cars and what he has too. So just because Drake only said it 10 times, Jay Z shouldn't say it 12 times? 
photo credit: ellasportfolio via photopin cc

All of this subliminal dissing was started by Drake’s ego and him feeling he has the right to dictate what others in hip hop should be doing. And he’s wrong.

Ultimately I think this will get squashed. Drake’s heart is pumping Kool-Aid in the courage department and he won’t even stand up to someone like Kendrick, let alone Jay Z. But maybe he needs to check his ego and discontinue his usage of the subliminal diss because one of these days somebody’s going to force him to prove his worth. And he might not be able to handle it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why Did Benzino Get Shot?

Family biz is some cruddy stuff. There’s nothing more dangerous than a fight between family members. I’ve seen dudes swing on their moms and dads. I’ve seen sisters attempt to slice their own sister’s ear off with butcher knives. Dads have pulled out the Glocks and unloaded them in hopes of plugging their sons. It’s real gutter stuff. A fight between family members dictates that all individuals not responsible should keep out of it. If I personally witness a family squabble I will chuck up the “That’s family business, I’m not in it” statement quicker than an Allen Iverson shooting the 'J ' and withdraw from the scene. Self-preservation is usually my motive because in family fights, quite often whoever is involved will die. Brothers trip out when a family member does some shady stuff. This type of behavior has been around since Cain and Able.

And so we come to hip hop.

Many people (myself included) believe that fighting a family member is very stupid if you’re a multi-millionaire. Why fight anyone when you can easily hop a flight to another location and be done with them for good? After all, if you’re the hip hop star, you’re usually holding all of the power and money. They have no choice but to go along with whatever move you make to cut them off.

But most artists don’t cut them off. Sob stories and nice memories of childhood experiences are used like magnets to tug upon the rapper’s heart strings and compel the rapper into staying around.

“Remember when we used to…” or “You remember how tight we were” always gets thrown into the rapper’s face. Some of those relationships are genuine, but a larger portion of the relationships are manufactured and embellished to get into the rapper’s pockets. You’d think rappers would learn.

But reality is a beast.

What burns so much about family disagreements is the fact that a family member, while in some cases coming from the same household, will burn you quicker than a stranger will. And that is the thing that burns a lot of rappers so much.

For instance, take Slick Rick… Dude went on trial in 1990 for accidentally shooting an innocent person. But his intended target was his cousin who allegedly set him up to be robbed. How’s that for protection?
Sometimes rappers have a lot of pain and anger in their hearts about their upbringing. Everyone knows the story of Marshal Mathers aka Eminem and the long beef he’s had with his mother. Slim Shady dissed his moms like crazy on his albums. And she came back at him in her own diss record (this has to be the first and only case of mom and son going at each other on wax). There was no physical altercation but sometimes mental pain is worse than physical because it lasts longer.

Then you have some rappers that go at family members because of financial exploitation. T-Pain (I know he’s not a rapper but he’s played in the genre so long, I’ll give him a pass on this one) has beef with his dad to this very day. His dad allegedly was trying to use him as an ATM and even allegedly offered that if T-Pain gave him a payoff of $250,000 he wouldn’t have to see him anymore. Man! Talk about pimp stuff.

But then you get some hip hop artists, or people that work within the realm of hip hop, to bring heat upon themselves. They reach a certain status and think they can just dump on family members. They want to get treated like royalty. Anyone that doesn’t do as the king or queen says, is banished forthwith from the kingdom forever.  No cake, no concert tickets, no exclusive parties…

Which brings us to Benzino. The once head of Source Magazine, but current reality TV show diva. This story is so confusing and gutter that I could scarcely believe it happened.

On Sunday March 30, 2014 The Associated Press reported that while attending a funeral for his mother, Benzino was shot several times.

When I first read the story I was thinking it was on some previous stuff that Benzino had been spitting about. It’s no secret that he has a small booklet full of various beefs throughout the country based on his time with The Source Magazine and his uncontrollable ability to talk a lot of ish. Letting off rounds at a dude’s mom’s funeral was well in keeping with some gangsta street stuff.

But when I read that it was family, I was more than a little surprised. Really? At his mother’s funeral a family member would do this? Whoa! I’ve heard of family members getting into arguments and such but I think this one took things to a whole new level. Who does that? I did a little more searching because the incident had all of the markings of a young teenager who got amped by his friends. When other reports surfaced I read that Gai Scott, Benzino’s 36 year old cousin, allegedly confessed to the cops that he was guilty of shooting at the reality show star.

For real? A 36 year old dude is getting ignorant like that? I took a swig of my bottle of water and turned off my computer for the rest of the day.

Why did Benzino get shot? There are numerous speculations about what sparked this confrontation. Some say it was over money. Some say it was about disrespect. But one thing is clear. If you’re a rapper and you have a family that interacts with you on a regular basis, you’d better invest in some serious protective gear. Family squabbles have always been bad. But busting off at a family member while he’s at his mother’s funeral? We just went to another level. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Who Has The Hip Hop Crown Right Now?

If you’re a real hip hop fan you know where things began. New York. It is the Mecca of hip hop. New York birthed the term “lyricist”. No other city has such a rich connection to the art form. New York is to hip hop as Africa is to the birth of man. It is that deep.
Image courtesy of porbital /

During the last few decades hip hop has branched out. It’s crossed oceans and moved into China, Japan, France, Brazil, Canada and many other locations. Hip Hop has stopped becoming a local art and has become public property to the world. And it’s a beautiful sight to behold.

But within the states hip hop has taken a more competitive shape amongst different locations. Hip Hoppers openly compete and use the art to represent the states and cities in which they live. Its competition and it’s in the spirit of what hip hop is designed to be. I’m better than you. My city is better than your city. My state is better than your state. You get where I’m going.

Image courtesy of thephotoholic /
 Hip Hop has moved beyond the rugged confines of the New York City streets and traveled throughout America. Many regions have had their turn in customizing the art form to fit their regions. This has resulted in hip hop being taken to various levels of popularity never seen. California had its turn in delivering their version of the art. Hip Hop traveled to the Mid-West for a while. Then it turned to the dirty-dirty south for a bit of exposure.

And in New York, hip hop has mostly remained the same. Lyricism still reigns supreme and respect for the art form as it was originally created still is a daily operation.

Which brings up an interesting point of discussion for us to address….

Who has hip hop now? What location is doing it better than anyone else? What area is doing more for the art in terms of furthering its message and giving positive exposure the craft?

When I ask the question of ‘Who has hip hop”, I don’t mean it in the sense of someone stealing it or abusing it. There are a ton of guilty parties to that crime and we won’t waste today’s energy on that topic. But what I mean is what region in America has “The Hip Hop Crown” right now? Before you answer, let me give the criteria in which you can formulate your opinions. We will judge the situation based on these 5 things:

1.       Originality
2.       Innovation
3.       Lyricism
4.       Musical Production
5.       Global Impact

New York has held this title for several years. Then the crown went to California with Dr. Dre & Company. Outkast, T.I.  and Weezy took it down south for a bit. Kanye and Common had it for a brief period in Chicago. But who has the crown right now?

I’m an old school hip hop head and I’m partial to the east coast stuff. That is where it all started and that is where my heart is. But if I’m being fair and unbiased, I have to acknowledge where the crown currently rests….

The Hip Hop Crown has returned to California.

I know I’ll make a lot of people mad with this but it’s the truth. And the truth is always respectable. There isn’t anything out right now that has a strangle hold on the game as much as what’s coming out of California.
This is not your typical California sound that we’ve grown accustomed to hearing. These dudes are MCs. If you look closely at the artists coming out of California you will see that these dudes studied New York artists and became students of their lyricism and flow. Artists like Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul are admitted fans of artists like Rakim, Jay Z, and Notorious Big. And it shows. The majority of the artists emerging from that side of America can straight battle any MC from New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Turkey or China. They have grown that much.
photo credit: DivaDina785 via photopin cc

And the beats? The beats possess an east coast feel dipped in that old Cali flow. The beats may sound eerily similar to such producers as Just Blaze, Kanye West, and Pete Rock. But that’s because the new breed of hip hop producers emerging from California have become students of real hip hop. TDE owner Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith has openly stated that his record label’s business model is crafted to mimic Jay Z’s Rocafella Records, in that they have a certain group of producers that produce all of the hits for their artists.
And the criteria analysis of California’s new breed shows why they hold the crown.

1.       Originality: Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Dom Kennedy, Nipsey Hustle, Odd Future
2.       Innovation: TDE
3.       Lyricism: Kendrick Lamar’s “Control”
4.       Musical Production: TDE, Alchemist, Ty Dolla $ign
5.       Global Impact: Kendrick Lamar, Nipsey Hustle, School Boy Q

That is the current state of affairs folks. That is my opinion. But I’m interested in what you see. Tell me where you think hip hop is right now. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Rappers Wearing Skirts

Recently Lord Jamar has been in the news for some pretty incendiary comments. Those topics range from Macklemore to White People’s places in hip hop. Out of the controversial statements he’s made there are so many journalistic opportunities to respond to. But one of his statements caught my attention and forced me to address it in this blog post because it’s something that’s more recent.

“First of all, it’s not just jabs at Kanye West. It’s anybody promoting the feminization of the Black Man in hip hop culture.” ---Lord Jamar,

I speak to a lot of people on a lot of different blogs and hip hop websites. And when this story appeared or when a subject similar to this one appears in which a Black Man is wearing a “skirt” of some kind, you pretty much hear the same type of words that Lord Jamar spoke. For example, when a recent photo of Mos Def aka Yasiin Bey emerged of him wearing a Kente cloth wrap, the hip hop fashion police were at it again.  Bloggers called foul and labeled it a “dress”. Homophobic words were peppered throughout numerous hip hop comments sections.
photo credit: didy b via photopin cc

“How dare he?” “What was he thinking?” “Dude is weird anyway.” The judging was swift and mean. It was yet another case of a rapper that had fallen victim to the feminization of Black Men.
When Omar Epps from classic hip hop movie Juice showed up on the show The View in what some perceived to be a “skirt”, Lord Jamar got into a bit of a Twitter battle with Marlon Wayons (who defended Omar) about the incident.

To a lot of hip hop purists there appears to be a secret agenda to “feminize” the Black Man and to make hip hop more digestible to the masses through visualized feminization tactics. Some hip hop heads believe that “real” hip hoppers should never wear skirts or anything other than baggy jeans and a baseball cap. They believe there is a secret agenda that exists, set up by pro-gay rights people to infiltrate hip hop.
And I strongly disagree.

First, these people always seem to pop off when anyone wears anything different than their chosen attire (Lord Jamar). People like Lord Jamar label themselves as strong, righteous Black Men. Yet when they speak, their ignorance betrays them and reveals that they are really nothing more than ill-informed conspiracy theorists in dark closets. Why?

If you take it back to the motherland (Africa) you will see that these so-called “skirts” that most hip hoppers are complaining about are there. And they have been there from the very beginning! For instance, the Maasi Tribe has worn and continues to wear their traditional garb. These masculine men wear numerous bright colors and unique print within their clothing. To the Maasi Tribe the items are their clothing. But to most of you American haters, they’re “skirts”.

If Lord Jamar and people like him would take some time to do a little bit of research, even on the internet, their so-called “knowledge of self” would stand out less as a slogan and more as actual truth. Even when Omar Epps revealed that his attire during his visit to The View was a tribute to his ancestors and his African roots, Lord Jamar refused to accept it. One can only hope that he learns more about who he is and where he came from.
I know that I’ll have a few people to state that traditional African clothing is different than skirts. To them I would say this; it had to begin somewhere. To me the word ‘traditional’ only means “extended period of time”. But one African brother had to be the first person to put it on. Just because you’ve been programmed to believe that “only women wear skirts” and didn’t do the knowledge for yourself doesn’t mean that your ignorance is an excuse.

Now if Kanye West, Mos Def, Omar Epps, and numerous others walked into a Macy’s Department store and made the purchase in the women’s section and then openly stated that they were trying to make hip hop softer for the masses, Lord Jamar would be absolutely correct. But that’s not the case.
But let’s keep it even realer. Let’s name some Black Men that actually wore skirts.

Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Chris Tucker, Flip Wilson, Jamie Foxx, Wesley Snipes… I could go on and on. But none of their bank accounts seem to indicate that fewer people purchased their works because of the perceived “feminization of Black Men”. And these men wore actual women’s skirts and makeup! How long has Eddie Murphy been in the game? How many of his movies do you own? I’ll bet a million of you dudes saw Jamie Foxx in the movie Ray. I’ll even bet Lord Jamar saw it. But he didn’t protest it because Jamie Foxx was dressed up as “Wanda” on In Living Color. And before some of you come out of your mouth and say, “Rapping is different than acting” I would submit Rick Ross as my proof that hip hop is on par with acting. Ross took his name and his persona from another person and was actually a prison guard. Next!

Me as a person, I would never wear that type of gear because my preference is jeans. It is what I’m accustomed to and what makes me comfortable. But I’m not going to judge someone who chooses differently. We as hip hoppers need to understand that the world isn’t always against us. Sometimes we do it to ourselves. Conspiracy theories aside, one man is responsible for his own behavior. While trends do emerge and some people do ultimately follow suit we are accountable individually.

Lord Jamar is right in his viewing of fashion trends. A lot of men are choosing to push this button. But it’s based on fashion trends and not some conspiracy against Black men. What can we expect in the age of Facebook and Twitter? We are a nation of followers and biters. We are the “like button” generation.

We have to stop judging entire blocks of people based on our phobias or ignorant and unsubstantiated theories. We hurt far too many innocent people when we do this. While Lord Jamar may be correct in detecting a certain pattern or fashion trend, attacking someone because you don’t agree with that trend is out of bounds. You govern your life. Just simply say that you don’t get down with it. You don’t know what motivates others.