The Darkness

05/19/2011

By late-1997, the “Shiny Suit Era” was at its absolute peak. A monster had been created, which extended to an overflow of glossy videos and ’80s samples. While I personally enjoyed a good deal of the music that came out of it , some of it was flat-out unfukkinecessary. Regardless, it was the thing of the moment, and the whole world was on it. In the middle of this craze, there was an upcoming artist who was the complete opposite of everything that era represented. As a matter of fact, he seemed like he would’ve fit more into the era that preceded it, when things were a lot more grimy and a lot less polished and mainstream-aimed. His name was DMX, and in spite of what was dominating the charts, ’98 was about to be his year.

Ironically (or maybe not), X’s buzz started building through his appearances on albums by people who were actively jumping into the Shiny Suit Era. In the midst of Ma$e‘s extra glossy-flossy Harlem World, X was stealing the show on “24 Hours To Live”. As The Lox were trying their best to fit into the Bad Boy team with their Money, Power, Respect album, X shut it down on the title track. While LL Cool J was Puff Daddy-in’ it up with the Phenomenon album, there was still “4-3-2-1”, which X appeared on and killed. On top of that, he closed out ’97 with his own single “Get At Me Dog”, which hit hard and fast into the new year.

And from there, it was probably the greatest pre-album buildup ever. It seemed like every other week, he was making a guest appearance on some shit. From DJ Clue tapes, to remixes by Ice Cube and Mic Geronimo, to a currently obscure-as-fuck song by two female MCs named Duo, DMX was unavoidable. By May 19, 1998, X could do no wrong, and that was the level of anticipation he had as It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot hit the stores.

That album was the must-have of the time. Just about everybody I knew had it by the end of that week, and of course I did. I was STILL just getting over “Get At Me Dog” (and its video, which was the perfect introduction for him being the anti-shiny suit), so I was definitely ready to hear what else he had on deck. As expected, he brought the same aggression he’d become known for by then. His lyrics were violent, dark, and at times even comical to a degree, while the in-house production (mostly done by Grease) were both timely and different for its time.

Speaking of the production, It’s Dark was also the album that kicked off the long-running career of Swizz Beatz. He only actually did one track, but that one happened to be “Ruff Ryders Anthem”, which ended up being arguably the album’s biggest song. After that blew up, Swizz spent the second half of ’98 the same way X spent the first half- with his name popping up in some of everybody’s album credits. It was also that song which established the Ruff Ryders label as a brand and sound that would expand and remain relevant for the next couple of years.

As I said earlier, X surely brought the aggression and violence, but there was another angle to his music that I didn’t really expect. On top of all the chaos, he also rhymed about struggle- not just “trying to make ends meet” struggle, but being internally conflicted between living right and doing wrong. There was also a religious angle, most emphasized by his prayer towards the end of the album. While it didn’t dominate the content of It’s Dark, it did seem to flesh it out, especially in the era where who an artist was as an individual became just as important as what an artist said. It also turned out to be very true-to-life, as evidenced by the downfalls in both X’s life and career in the years since It’s Dark.

There’s a friend of mine who in retrospect said, “I can’t believe I used to listen to a nigga who barked on his records”. That is kinda funny when you think about it- I don’t know that if an artist came out nowadays making animal noises of any sort, I could even attempt to take that shit seriously. But it also says a lot about how strong DMX was as an artist at his peak in ’98. Outside of all the growling and barking (and I’m positive I heard him yelp and wimper a few times too), he had a voice that came along at just the right time. For that reason among others, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot was one of the best and highest-selling albums of ’98, and one that brought the street element back into the forefront.

“Ruff Ryders Anthem”

“Get At Me Dog”

“Damien”

“Stop Being Greedy”

“Niggaz Done Started Something” (feat. The LOX and Ma$e) 

-D!


Belly of the Beast

11/05/2010

I don’t think Hype Williams likes Belly. Yeah, he wrote it, he directed it, but everyone’s favorite ’90s video director doesn’t seem too happy with the finished product. I watched the DVD with commentary before going in on this entry, and homie has a gripe every two minutes about how much better the movie would have been if not for the amount of compromise he had to make. Honestly, I can’t say I blame him. I’m still deciding myself whether or not Belly‘s hood classic status is because it was good, or because it sucks but stars a few rap niggas we had love for at the time.

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Girlfight

08/14/2010

Last year around this time, I was doin’ the Summer Seven Series, which still contains some of my favorite posts that I’ve dropped so far on this site. In hindsight, there’s a few songs I would have added in the place of others, but it is what it is. One in particular was for the summer of ’98- one that I couldn’t seem to get away from no matter what. If I was watchin’ MTV, it was on. If I watched BET, it was on. If I cut on the radio, I had to damn near listen to the country station to avoid hearin’ it. Of course, not doin’ anything that had to do with music was a way I coulda gotten away from it, but gimme a break.

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DANJ! Presents Winter Six: 1998 (Year Of The Dog)

03/05/2010

Aight, so as we near the end of the Winter Six series, we keep it movin’ with the year of 1998. Follow my lead on a jour-r-ney…

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The Drug-Free Role Model vs. Shorty With The Big Mouth

08/27/2009

ll-cool-j-vs-canibus

You know the cliche: “Hip-hop is like wrestling”. And yeah, it is. For as far back as you can go, there’s been rivalries between different artists- some personal, some strictly lyrical. Of course, they eventually come to an end, with all the parties involved just moving on to other things, or sometimes even working together. But the way they end is usually not as interesting as the way they get started. Over the years, we’ve seen rap beefs begin over territorial conflict, severed ties, tattoos… wait a minute.

Yeah, tattoos. For those who don’t recall or didn’t know in the first place, let’s recap.

ll phenomenon

In late-’97, LL Cool J dropped a (turrible) album called Phenomenon. While it definitely wasn’t L’s finest hour, he had one or two bangers on there, one being a song called “4-3-2-1” which featured Method Man, Redman, DMX, and a new artist named Canibus. By this time, Canibus was bodying every track he rhymed on and developing a nice lil’ rep for himself. When he was included on this song, he met L in the studio and admired his arm-length tattoo of a microphone. In addition to his admiration, he even referenced it in his rhyme by saying “Yo L, is that a mic on your arm? Lemme borrow that.”

LL, while appearing to be humble and meek, has a notoriously huge ego (pause, no Beyonce) as an MC. Therefore, he relays a message to Canibus to either change that lyric or be removed from the song. ‘Bus takes that part out, but Cool James decides to further admonish him with his verse on the same track. And so, L goes in- the tattoo is off-limits, he is the ringmaster to Canibus’ tiger cub, and a battle between the two would be comparable to Jordan playing a pickup game with a kid. However, he doesn’t call out Canibus by name, so no one (except them and a few others) really knows for sure who this verse is specifically about.

LL Cool J feat. Method Man, Redman, Canibus, & DMX “4-3-2-1” (1997)

canibustattoo

But… lo and behold, Canibus is also a computer geek. In an era before blogs, vlogs, and unavoidable album leaks, most rappers didn’t give a fukk about an internet. But he did, and through his online travels, he finds out that the original track is floating around with the “mic on your arm” line still in- so of course, people now know that L is going at him. So they have a hilarious father/son phone convo, where ‘Bus clearly feels driven to respond, and L advises him to fall back. Somewhere after that, ‘Bus still feels that Cool J is tryin’ to play him, so he drops “2nd Round Knockout”.

Canibus “Second Round Knockout” (1998)

After this, shit goes crazy. If everybody else was like me, they taped it off the radio and ran it over and over, even playing it for friends who hadn’t heard it yet. And so, the feud was official, with everyone talking about how Canibus murdered this nigga. With Mike Tyson adding encouragement on the track, ‘Bus goes at L harder than anyone else had up to that point. Feeling pressured to respond, L first declines, but ends up doing it anyway with “The Ripper Strikes Back”. And for good measure, he also throws some jabs at Tyson and Canibus’ newfound BFF, Wyclef Jean of the Fugees.

LL Cool J “The Ripper Strikes Back” (1998)

WyclefJean

So now, there’s a debate which even hits the radar at MTV News: LL Cool J vs. Canibus. Would L’s experience be enough to take out the young tiger cub? Would ‘Bus be the one to finally sit L down, just like L sat Kool Moe Dee down some years prior? A lot of oldheads were NOT tryin’ to hear that shit, but it seemed like Canibus was kinda punching holes in LL’s reputation (not to mention, Phenomenon wasn’t exactly the hot new shit on the street). But it wasn’t over there: apparently feelin’ some kind of way about his being mentioned in the “Ripper” joint, Wyclef decided to add his own two cents, with the help of Naomi Campbell on the co-sign (???).

Wyclef Jean “What’s Clef Got To Do With It?” (1998)

The ‘Clef joint was pretty much the jump-the-shark moment for the battle, as he was clearly out of his league. Still, the debate went on through summer ’98, mostly with people wondering if Canibus was gonna come back at L on his forthcoming debut album, Can-I-Bus. He was highly anticipated by this point, even with a half-assed single leading the way. Ultimately, Cool J’s career wasn’t really in danger either. It wasn’t the first time he’d fallen out of favor with the fans, nor was it even the second, so it wasn’t like he couldn’t come back from this. But before he did, he decided to leave Wyclef with some choice words as well.

LL Cool J “Rasta Impasta” (1998)

LL Shhhh

So… after all of this, September ’98 arrived and Canibus’ debut album (mostly produced by Wyclef) was absolute ass. He and ‘Clef eventually had a falling-out of their own and made disses towards each other. Meanwhile, L was busy appearing in (turrible) movies and making (turrible) songs for the soundtracks of said movies. Believe it or not, this 3-way battle continued all the way into 2001, with songs that I don’t feel I should waste my time uploading, nor should you waste your time listening to.

The LL Cool J vs. Canibus & Friends battle ran way longer than it should have, but for a moment in early ’98, it was the hottest shit going. And all over a fukkin’ tattoo.

-D! (so who won?)


Freestyle Friday!

06/19/2009

Cam+and+Cardan

Can’t lie… the Clue retro got me in that zone. BONUS!

(You know the drill- you want ’em… click ’em.)

Nas & Foxy Brown (1997): With Firm Biz in full swing, Nas Escobar and the Brown Fox drop gems on ’em. I could do without the visual of Nas “bustin’ a nut on his fist”, but whatever works.

Killa Cam & Cardan (1997): A pre-Dipset Cam’ron and a pre-puberty Cardan go hard… LOL @ Cam “tryna sell records like Julio Iglesias“.

DMX & The Lox (1997): Before this beat went on to be used for his hit “Get At Me Dog”, a virtually-unknown X links up with Bad Boy‘s (then) latest act, The LOX. Jadakiss for the win, by the way.

Canibus (1997): Prior to all kinds of fuckery, Canibus was one of the most-anticipated new cats in the game. What an introduction.

Big L & McGruff (1998): The late great L and Harlem’s unsung legend Herb McGruff go in for Clue. Pause.

Mase, Killa Cam, Cardan, Noreaga, Imam T.H.U.G., and Tragedy (1997): For eight minutes, Biggies “Who Shot Ya” and Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit” instrumentals get jacked by the Harlem/Queensbridge connection.

Shyne & Fabolous (1999): While both were still in the shadows of the rappers they sounded like (Biggie for Shyne, Mase for Fab), these two Brooklyn reps put it down for the mixtapes in ’99.

Beanie Sigel & Memphis Bleek (1999): Known as the “1000 Bars” freestyle, this was Beanie’s first jump into the mixtape scene. He and fellow Roc representer Bleek get it on.

Ready for Summer? Get back at me on Monday!

-D!


Doin’ It With The R.

06/11/2009

rkelly

Not that it would matter to the subject of this entry, but we’re all adults here, right? Since we are, let’s all go back to a simpler time. A time before Zorro masks. A time before weird songs about being trapped in closets and midgets hiding in cupboards. A time before a nigga could sing “like two bears in the jungle makin’ looooove” and still be taken seriously. And yeah, a time before “the tape”.

Yep, there was a time when R. Kelly was my nigga.

I never liked him as much as the women did, but he was still one of my favorite R&B artists for a minute there, even during a time when I wasn’t checking for much R&B. After initially being tagged an Aaron Hall knockoff, he eventually broke out of that and spawned a number of his own imitators. Not only was he making a gang of hits, he was also writing and producing hits for others (Michael Jackson, Aaliyah, Hi-Five, Changing Faces, et al). He had the women on him of course, and he also got respect from the males who didn’t deny the quality of the songs. Sure, he always had some off-the-wall lyrics here and there, but they weren’t too ridiculous (yet).

kelly vibe

I first saw R. Kelly & Public Announcement on BET in ’92 with “She’s Got That Vibe”, which was about as close to a new Guy song as anyone was gonna get by then. It got the ball rolling, but then he made it official with the second single “Honey Love”, followed by “Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)” and “Dedicated”. Complete with the headset-mic hookup (with lights on the mic part!), R. was filling the void of all the New Jack Swing-era dudes who weren’t doing it on that level anymore by then. I wasn’t copping that album or anything, but I wasn’t mad at him.

Then came 12 Play, his first official solo album. Honestly, I wasn’t feelin’ his single “Sex Me”, or even “Bump N Grind” for that matter. It seemed like he was just hitting the same well over and over again. It was working for him popularity-wise, but it was “Your Body’s Callin'” that got me back on the R. Kelly train… pause. It wasn’t like the standard mid-tempo record that everyone was doing back then with the “hip-hop” beat and the hardcore posturing in the video. It was just some extra-smooth shit that had soul to it. Then, there was “Sadie”, “Seems Like You’re Ready”, the “Bump N Grind” remix… I was rollin’ with R. kinda heavy again. It continued with the ’95 R. Kelly album, with that epic “Down Low” video and “I Can’t Sleep Baby” (which I actually dedicated to someone on 92Q’s Love Zone– HA!)

kells_purple

Where Kelly threw me was when he started with the rampant cursing and the “rap-style singing” that unfortunately still goes on today. I was a fan of the “Hip-Hop Soul” style that had been going on, but I’ve rarely ever been a fan of singers doing things in their songs that are better left to the rappers. He’d still have a song here and there that I’d like, such as “When A Woman’s Fed Up” and some others… but by the time he’d gotten to “move your body like a snake, ma” and “Thoia-Thoing”, R. was on “this nigga is wack” status for me. And of course, the image of him taking a six-pack piss on the young’in wasn’t exactly cool either.

Just when I thought Kells had done his most ridiculous shit ever, more hilarity ensued. There’s the Best of Both Worlds albums, which are both further testaments that the self-proclaimed “R. In R&B” is not the “R. in Rap”. Then, there’s the “Trapped In The Closet” shit, which I couldn’t believe everyone thought was so ingenious. There’s also the time he ran offstage because he was high off some powerful shit thought stage crew was waving guns at him. Now, homie’s taking it there with the Autotune, and that just speaks for itself.

r-kelly-masked-up

All in all, I’m not a “Pied Piper” fan today, but those first four/five years were alright with me. He def. played a big part (for better and worse) in ’90s R&B and the direction it continued in. Even to this day, I don’t deny his talent and capabilities. I just wish homie didn’t go on to be a big nutjob and did a lot more classic stuff and less of that ol’ other shit.

“Dedicated” (1992)

“Your Body’s Callin'” (1993)

“I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I)” (1995)

“Down Low, Pt. II” (1996)

“When A Woman’s Fed Up” (1998)

-D!