As the summer of 2014 starts to wind down, getting inexorably closer to Labor Day on September 1st, today seems like an opportune time to look back at what was hot in hip-hop during the hot summer of 1994. For those of you under the legal drinking age, these jams from my college years may be entirely brand new - but for me they harken back to a time when Will Smith was better known as the Fresh Prince than as one of the Men In Black. Thanks to the Billboard Archive for the trip through the wayback machine, and of course YouTube for having all of these music videos available on demand.
Even though initial reports suggested Chris Brown was who the shots were meant for when Suge Knight took two bullets at a pre-VMA party over the weekend, it now seems that's not in fact the case. In what should come as a surprise to no one investigators now believe Knight was the target of the gunspray all along. It shouldn't even come as a surprise it came at a pre-VMA party - Knight also took a bullet at a Kanye West function in August 2005 (an apparent robbery). When Knight isn't the recipient of violence he's often allegedly the cause of it - and for the charges he's actually been convicted of he has a rap sheet dating all the way back to October 1987 (domestic assault). He's also widely believed to have strong-armed/intimidated Vanilla Ice into giving up royalties from his song "Ice Ice Baby" - though the circumstances are in dispute (urban legend says he was hung off a hotel balcony by his ankles) that same year.
It only takes a short amount of time looking at the three decade span of Suge Knight's involvement in the music industry to know that the old saying "history repeats itself" has rarely been more abundantly true than in his case. Marion Hugh Knight, Jr.'s nickname "Suge" is rather ironic because it implies he's "Sugar" or sweet, but the 6'4" 265 pound enforced on the football field proved to be just as intimidating off the gridiron - whether as a bodyguard, music mogul, or muscle for hire.
Knight has always had the reputation that he's someone you don't want to mess with, and if the long list of assaults he's either been involved with or on parole for is any indication, he has little fear of doing a bid for doing a violence. Knight's success has often been because of that aura around him - he gets things done by any means necessary. That's great if you're partnered up with him (a la Death Row Records) and not so good if you're his enemy.
As an entrepreneur and a business man I must somewhat reluctantly confess that I'm actually a fan of his success. The means can not be said to justify the ends, but he's certainly made (and possibly lost) more of a fortune than I will in my entire lifetime. I suspect the budget on some of Death Row's most successful albums was more than I'll make in a lifetime too - possibly even the advances or the money spent on catering at release parties. Why be a player hater though right? The albums were good, and at the height of Death Row's success, he created a lot of jobs and wealth for a lot of people. Suge Knight's goal was allegedly to create a "Motown for the 1990's" and for at least a short period of time he was that man - a true music mogul with an array of outstanding artists and the literal muscle to back it up in the boardroom. Death Row and by extension Suge Knight had it all.
The death of Tupac Shakur and the departure of Snoop Dogg signaled the end of an era, and though Death Row continued to sputter along for almost a decade afterward, it existed on the diminishing returns of a recycled catalog of albums and some posthumous profiteering. A five year stint in prison for a parole violation only exacerbated the situation, and multiple lawsuits and legal problems eventually left the company bankrupt - with several parties bidding like vultures to feast on the scraps that remained. One thing that never changed though is Suge Knight's aura, and even now in 2014 at 49 years of age, he's still feared by his peers and seen as an intimidator in the world of hip-hop - just one who has to tread more carefully to not get caught up in criminal charges.
One has to wonder if Knight has any regrets after this latest in a long line of violent altercations in his life where he was either the assailant or the recipient. I think it's safe to say the answer is NO. If actions speak louder than words (and frequently do) it's clear that Suge Knight's successes and failures all stem from the fact he believes in his ability to operate above the law. The only thing I wonder when I look back to the boom period of Death Row in the 1990's was if things could have taken a different direction - a sort of "alternate history" as seen in many science fiction novels these days. What if Marion Knight decided to shed his "Suge" image and persona, and adopt that of a more classic CEO and impresario? What if Tupac Shakur had never been killed? What if he had not so outraged Dr. Dre and Snoop that they wanted nothing to do with the label their hits had basically built? It's an interesting question, as one can imagine Suge Knight having a Jay-Z level of success today had it all gone right - a beautiful wife, an ownership stake in a NBA team, and the finest things in life money can buy.
There have been many changes for Suge Knight to put his formidable business acumen to the forefront and his imposing criminal stature to the back, but if Knight is anything like the archetype criminals from some of hip-hop's favorite films (think Nino Brown in "New Jack City" for one), the enterprise is always doomed to crumble due to the hubris of false pride - believe you're untouchable and someone will always prove otherwise. Over the weekend Suge Knight got touched once again. It's a shame for both him and everyone who once hailed from "the mighty mighty D.R." that Knight is the best/worst business man ever. Shawn Carter took his street hustle, one which he ultimately summed up by comparing the rap game to the crack game, and applied those skills to not only pay the bills but make a whole lot of hundred dollar ones too. It's never too late for Suge though. Even in his 50's he has a lot to teach today's up-and-coming rap moguls and the time to become one again - provided the violence that has swirled around him his whole life isn't his undoing first.
It's time for another new edition of The Hip-Hop Shop. Episode #286 is And We're Back, Live On the Air With.... "How your man got a show that's so whack?" Enjoy music from Marc Bucannons, Carolina Dirty, Mic Handz and Kool A.D. among others! Follow us @RapReviews so you never miss a new show when it's released each Tuesday.
* Mic Handz f/ A.N.G. - Therapy
* Kool A.D. & DJ Milkcrates - Holy Sound
* Carolina Dirty - About You
* Mark Bucannons f/ Fred the Godson - Live Fast
* Da Mascots - Twerk
* Element Rhymes - King Slayer
* Marc iLL f/ Lightshow, Phil Ade - How I Am
* MerCure Dior - Monday Night
"The phrase "long time emcee" starts to feel trite when you've written it a hundred times, but that doesn't make it any less true for California rapper LMNO, who can date his career back to the mid-1990's thanks to his membership in The Visionaries. Even if you don't know the group as a whole (their last release together was a 2007 mixtape) they've been prolific when working on their own projects - 2Mex has half a dozen albums, DJ Rhettmatic has almost as many, and LMNO has more than both plus the other group's members put together. Even if we did one LMNO album per week that hasn't already been covered on the site every week for the rest of the year, I don't think we could get to them all before 2014 ends - and he'd likely drop a new album in the interim. The title "Preparanoia" seems fitting as a portmanteau given LMNO's extensive discography. It would be easy to surmise LMNO is both "paranoid" about his rap future and "prepared" for his demise untimely or otherwise. The reason that 2Pac recorded enough albums for years of posthumous releases was a clear case of "Preparanoia." For a moment I thought I was paranoid myself until I realized the first single "The Most" was actually the last track on LMNO's new album - I thought he had deleted it before this week's release. It comes across as a political protest: "People with the most power/tend to not know how to use it." Et tu Ferguson police force? "There's more of us than their ammunition/it'll run out, eventually, blood will spill." Out of context those lines are even more potent but they certainly work well enough over Samplecentric's subtle backdrop. It gives the precise and measured flow of LMNO all the room it needs to breathe.Actually if LMNO was going to be paranoid about anything it would be the divisive opinion over his vocals. I imagine the same people who are against it are also not fans of Evidence, though his California flow is slower and deeper. Nevertheless there are times when LMNO borders on being anti-emcee. There's no consensus amongst our staff - Jay Soul has called him a "terrible/deluded" emcee while Grant Jones says a good LMNO album "relies on his monotone" to succeed."
"As an elite emcee, Apathy has spent much of his career bodying beats through his regular appearances alongside partner-in-rhyme Celph Titled, or as a reliably destructive member of Army of the Pharaohs. Given that AOTP is Vinnie Paz's group that grew from the Jedi Mind Tricks brand of uber-violence and intense macho-ness, Apathy's style of wrapping his so-called alien tongue around words has always suited more minimal production. His own group The Demigodz delivered a refreshing take on throwback hip hop in 2013 with "Killmatic", a polished collection of posse cuts which never felt like a bunch of verses tacked together - something AOTP records have now become. While Apathy's tendency to use "battle rhymes" is apparent, his solo albums are actually his best work. "Eastern Philosophy" was a self-indulgent ode to the New York artists he clearly admired as a teenager, but also sounded like a modern advancement on the traditional sound guys like Black Moon and Cella Dwellas perfected. It was the best of both worlds, old and new. Fast-forward to 2011's "Honkey Kong" (arguably his best work) and the self-confessed mother molester is working alongside the same guys who crafted classics twenty years earlier. DJ Premier, Da Beatminerz and DJ Muggs ensured fiery hot rhymes were met with equally scorching instrumentals, so to see a self-produced album from Apathy is a brave move. I'll give Apathy his props for trying something different, something that tries to be more grown-up but "Connecticut Casual" ends up being rather convoluted. There's certainly a focus on his hometown and some political themes, but it also feels like a bad homecoming. He's as intricate as ever with the rhymes, but there's a noticeable tendency to focus on themes I thought he had outgrown - "Underground Chick" is as tightly flown as anything Ap has done, but suffers from tedious misogyny harking back to the immaturity of early Apathy songs like "DSLs" and "Earth Girls Are Easy". He's just as vulgar on "Locals Only" showing further proof of an obsession with fellatio, although the impeccable and precise technique with which Apathy writes and delivers his rhymes is admittedly as impressive as ever."
FlamesYall :: RaglandTape :: Bandcamp
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Lou Ragland isn't well enough known or regarded to have his own Wikipedia page, which may be the very reason that UK producer FlamesYall decided to create a "RaglandTape" celebrating his catalogue. There's certainly no shortage of material for him to flip - the singer and guitarist has been releasing music since the late 1950's. He's made it all the way up to the mainstream on more than one occasion, including Warner Brothers releasing his single "Since You Said You'd be Mine" in 1973. It's a charming bit of Motown-esque R&B that fits in comfortably between the Jackson 5 and the Temptations. For reasons that are unclear to me, Ragland's discography is all over the map, working with a over a half dozen different labels on his own - and undoubtedly far more as a session musician or backing vocalist. It may be that Ragland's lack of notoriety these days is entirely his own doing, never staying anywhere long enough to build a legacy, condemned by his own wanderlust to be well sampled as opposed to well known. That being said you can't help but bop your head to what FlamesYall has put together on "RaglandTape" - not just the loops he chose but the rappers he chose to work with like TopDollaRaz. Even though Flames is UK based, he's reached out across the pond to work with foreign emcees, although I'm very partial to the local accent of SusBully on "GotToChanggge." He's unapologetic about his circumstances, "Forced to shit that was embarrassing - working for that chump change for my kid's sake ... supermarkets, no money for the big steaks." Between the beats and the rhymes it's easy to relate and feel where the 'Backyard Bully' is coming from, but it's just as easy to feel Jeff Spec on "Aiiin'ThatA (Bitch)" as he drops bar after bar of aggressive punchline over soulfully crooned "ooooooooohs" worthy of Otis Redding. "
"Of all the people throwing shade and firing shots at Macklemore, New York rapper Le1f had perhaps the most legitimate beef. As he put it in a tweet that has since been deleted, "that time that straight white dude ripped off my song then made a video about gay interracial love and made a million dollars." The song he is referring to is Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's "Thrift Shop," which came out in August 2012, and features horn stabs that sound awfully similar to those in Le1f's single "Wut," which came out in April 2012. Really similar. As in "call your lawyer" similar. I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but Le1f definitely has a case. Le1f was equally upset about all the media attention (and money) Macklemore and Lewis got for their pro-gay track "Same Love," when gay rappers weren't getting any attention from the media. I haven't listened to Le1f's EP or his three mixtapes, so I figured his new EP "Hey" was an opportunity to catch up with the rapper, see what he has to offer, and see if he deserves a share of Macklemore's market. Lyrically and sonically Le1f has a lot in common with the latest generation of club rappers who rap about getting high and getting laid over electronic beats. The whistling synths and handclap beats on opener "Hey" are straight out of the post-hyphy Bay Area. The lyrics could almost from Sage the Gemini, except for all the references to bubble butts."
"Contemporary R&B is a genre I've always enjoyed yet never explored as religiously as hip hop, probably because it centres around intimacy and love, two things you'll be lucky to witness from me, being the heartless bastard I am. Growing up on hip hop music probably hasn't helped this lack of emotion, but as I get older I find myself drawn more and more towards R&B and Soul artists. There's less cursing and I'd argue that it's easier to listen to, particularly with children around - except Trey Songz bucks that trend with his brand of carnal crooning and horny harmonies. I've always struggled to enjoy Trey Songz' albums, largely because his music is so one-dimensional and clearly catered to women, that I feel inadequate as a listener. He's the Dan Bilzerian of R&B, sharing endless tales of sex and male fantasy that he ends up evoking feelings of jealousy and hatred, rather than admiration. Sometimes you can get past an artist's background if the music is that good (Chris Brown for instance, although I still find it remarkable he hasn't been dropped after the Rihanna thing) - Trey gets away with much of his music thanks to some irresistible production that is as seductive as the ladies find the man himself. I wouldn't be surprised if nightclub DJs just throw this record on for an hour as it is literally one song after another about shaking ass and getting frisky. "Foreign" is about sleeping with women that aren't from the U.S.A., "Late Night" is about coming to terms with a lifestyle that focuses on sleeping with women, "Change Your Mind" sees Trey try to convince women that don't do one night stands to sleep with him, etc. It all comes off a bit "Duracell Bunny on Viagra". There are some more tender moments on "Trigga", probably recorded when Trey suffered a urine infection or something. "Na Na" is a highlight, not because it shows love for the older woman (it doesn't) but it shows Trey at his least intimidating. Simple, yet catchy, "Na Na" stands out amongst the other songs that end up blending in to one another. Nicki Minaj has the opportunity to provide vocals as sexual as her image suggests on "Touchin', Lovin'", but decides to go all robot on us. A robot that left the oven on, as not only does she quickly fire off her verse, it's blink-and-you'll-miss-it in length. It's a shame, as Nicki can do Lil Kim better than Kim can - even more annoying given Trey nails his hooks and bridges."
Video: Van People (Nu3tron & GLife) - "Stay on My Job"
Wanja: The first single “Stay on My Job” explains the non-stop grind that consumes independent hip hop artists, and the accompanying video shows footage from living that grind on tour in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. The rest of the ten song album will be released early DEC 2014 under AcropolisRPM Records, along with a House of Blues (Anaheim) CD release party followed by a 15 city tour. Both artists have solo releases planned for early 2015 as well, “I stay on my J-O-B” - Nu3tro
E: Today Bad Boy Alumni E. Ness drops the video for his new single BACKSTABBERS f young Philly spitter Santos directed by Tom Bomb for Bombvisionsfilm with creative direction from Newt the A&R (Rest Ya Kneck Records).
M-Dot ft. Skyzoo, Revalation & Krumb Snatcha - Chances & Change (prod. by DJ Nefarious) Cuts by DJ Decepta
Chris: Last week, while on his European Tour, M-Dotdropped his DJBooth presented mixtape "Jake LaDOTTA" and this week he drops off the 2nd Single, "Chances & Change" ft. underground favorite Skyzoo, EMS counterpart Revalation and Mass rhyme vet Krumb Snatcha,with melodic production byDJ Nefarious & Cuts by DJ Decepta.
James: Milwaukee-bred, NYC-based emcee Signif presents the “Play 2 Win”, her new single featuring Detroit rapper Elzhi. Produced by JBM Beatz, "Play 2 Win" is the newest single from her forthcoming album Friction, set to feature Sadat X, Aldrick, and Genesis Renji as well as production from Skeff Anselm, Fate, DJ Puerto Roc, Radio Raheim, and Tay Lee.
MMG: When Georgia Anne Muldrow surveys the musical landscape, she's left wanting more. It's not easy for us to watch the likes of Nicki Minaj dress up like a kaleidoscopic crack dealer and promote a dead end lifestyle.