Tag Archives: rap

Golden Era: Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx… (20th Anniversary-Ish)

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate one of the Greatest albums in Hip Hop history. While this isn’t quite the Twentieth anniversary date of Raekwon’s solo album “Only Built For Cuban Linx…” (initial release date was Aug 1, 1995), we simply couldn’t let 2015 pass us by without discussing one of the greatest Hip Hop Albums of the Golden Age era. So without further ado, me & my friend Shawn Adonis, break down four tracks off the legendary album. The Ice Cream Man is coming…..

**DISCLAIMER — this is not a Top 4 list. You could make an argument for 10 songs from this album being in the Top 4. This is strictly a review, a collection of songs from the album.** 

 

Ice Cream

Yo honey dip / summertime fine, jewelry dripping / Seen you on Pickens with a bunch of chickens how you’re clicking / I keep shooting strong notes as we got close / She rocked rope, honey throat smelling like impulse.”  – Ghostface Killah

Cee: Lemme give you my personal experience of this Ice Cream track, one that still stings somewhat years later. Twenty years ago, right after Labor Day weekend, I went down to New York City to visit my family for about a week or so in the Bronx. While listening to Hot 97, they announced that they’d be shooting the Ice Cream video in Staten Island that day, & get this…… EVERYONE and ANYONE were invited. They gave the address to the area where they’d be shooting the video and everything. Now, considering at the time that I damn near had this song & the album on repeat for weeks on end, this might have been the best thing I had ever heard in my life at that moment. What are the chances I’d be in New York City, the same time they’d be filming this video that I could actually be a part of??? Now, one thing about New York that I’ve come to realize over the years, a lot of people don’t know much outside of their borough. For example, you could live in Brooklyn your whole life, & have absolutely no idea how to get to or around the Bronx, or Queens, or sadly, even parts of Brooklyn. This brings me to my cousin Rob…

Now I shouldn’t knock him because he usually has a good sense of where he’s going for the most part when it comes to navigating through those NY streets. However, when I suggested to him that we should go down to Staten Island to check out the video, dude had no idea how to get there. I was so confused & annoyed at the same time. I was basically like, “What the f*** you mean you don’t know how to get to Staten Island?!?!?” I’m sure it was a logical choice to him, but to me, I wasn’t happy at all. Now mind you, I never expected to be in the video. I did not think I’d be on top of the Ice Cream truck swinging a cane alongside Meth, or scooping up the Butter Pecan Ricans, or trying to cop gold fronts at the swap meet where Ghostface was trying to get at the thick chick. I just wanted to experience the hype around it live and in person. So seeing that video for the first time & seeing how hype it was, maaaan……….. it still stings. To make matters worse, there’s Cappadonna popping up in the video with a Canadiens jersey on. The road colors & everything. I’m not gonna lie, it felt like he sent a subliminal shot towards me for not attending the shoot.

With that said, this song/video always represented the absolute peak of Wu-Tang’s powers to me. They already changed the game by staying as a group while each individual was allowed to put out solo albums. As a unit, they were on fire, but this was one of the hypest videos that ever came out of the Wu camp. Method Man by this time was almost like a fu**ing superhero. So much so that when he dropped that legendary hook (that became legendary the second it came out by the way)….

“Watch these rap ni**as get all up in your guts / French Vanilla, Butter Pecan, Chocolate Deluxe….”

……. I’m not entirely sure people remember what anyone else said. It didn’t matter if Ghost’s verse stole the show, or that Rae & Cappadonna kept the level high. This was a perfect storm for Wu: right production from The Rza, right characters to rhyme over the beat, right rapper with the right flow/delivery to make the hook incredibly memorable, and then capped off with the right video to marry the song. Even if this was Raekwon’s song, this was the Wu’s version of perfection. 

Shawn: If it makes you feel any better Cee, Robert’s inability to navigate beyond his own neighborhood might not have ruined such a potentially “epic moment” in your youth as you may think.  Did you miss the opportunity to be in the vicinity of a video shoot for one of hip hop’s most legendary groups at the height of their careers?? Quite frankly, yes.  But you know who I’ll bet didn’t miss it?  Every other young New York hip hop head sporting clothing with the signature Wu Tang “W”, with hopes and dreams of making a cameo appearance in the video. Which would of course in their minds, launch their own rap careers….. only to realize once they got to the video shoot that their lack of having a vagina & a pair of breasts made them pretty much irrelevant, watching from a distance where they could see no Wu member, French Vanilla, Butter Pecan Rican, or Chocolate Deluxe shaking their ice cream scoops.  So you’d be in NY in the mid-90s era, surrounded by a pack of angry & disappointed dudes, just looking for someone to take their frustrations out on.  So, you and good ol’ Rob might have ended up in the remix as the newest ice cream flavor…. Blood Pudding.

Now, allow me to take a walk down memory lane of my youth.  I was a certified Wu fanatic around the time the purple tape came out. So much so, that I convinced myself that anything affiliated with the Wu was automatically great (ie. Killa Army, Sons of Man, and Gravediggaz, all groups that I can now admit fell somewhere between garbage and mediocre in the talent spectrum).  So while listening to Rae’s first solo project, I was pretty much in a state of euphoria by the time Ice Cream came on.  After the beat dropped, I decided 3 seconds into the song that this was probably going to be my favorite track on the album.  By the time Method Man came in with the hook, I was looking around for a brown paper bag to breathe into so that I wouldn’t pass out before the song was over.  To this day, I’m pretty sure that respectable women everywhere fell into a trance with an uncontrollable urge to let dudes get “all up in their guts” whenever this song was played.  I can just imagine a business woman in the board room meeting hearing the hypnotic hook from a car stereo playing it outside, suddenly ripping open her blouse, hiking up her skirt, and daring her colleagues to take turns in them “guts”, until the car drives away, and she suddenly realizes what’s happening, and runs out the room screaming in shame straight toward HR.

Wu-Gambinos

“Who come to get you, none, they want guns / I be the first to set off shit, last to run / Wu roll together as one / I call my brother ‘Son’ cause he shine like one….” – Chorus by Method Man

Cee: Remember that time in hip hop when every rapper was adopting the persona that they were part of an Italian crime family? Well, you can thank this song for being the originators of that era. Back in 1993, Wu-Tang was able to change the slang culture with C.R.E.A.M., five percenter philosophies, martial arts teachings and sound bites. This time, they went all in with the Gambino a.k.a’s. Or should I say Rae, because it’s known that he was the one that made sure all members of the Wu had an alias similar to the movie “Once Upon A Time in America”, in order to be a part of this album. Something that I’m sure was a small detail at the time, ended up not only being one of the sickest records, but changed the way artists presented themselves to the public.

After that album came out & particularly this song, some of the biggest artists in hip hop changed their style up. Nas went from Nasty Nas to Nas Escobar off of his 2nd album, “It Was Written”. You remember the pink suit off the Casino-inspired “Street Dreams” video, right? Mobb Deep flipped up their style a bit & became more menacing on their “Hell on Earth” album. I used to have their poster where their whole team was sitting at the big table with coke residue on some of the crew member’s noses, as well as a big pile of coke laid out on the table (can you imagine the shitstorm that would hover over Havoc & Prodigy if that poster was handed to kids today??? Twitter alone would lose its collective minds). The Notorious B.I.G added the Frank White alias to his name (borrowed from the character of the King of New York flick + also using alias to subliminally declare himself as the King of New York Hip-Hop wise), & played the part of a crime boss until he was murdered in 1997. Even Tupac had the Makaveli name added to his brand, even creating a whole album around that character right before he lost his life. Check out Jay-Z’s debut album. For those that actually have his album & not the bootlegged version, check out the photos in the packaging. Hov, Dame Dash, and Kareem Biggs all looked like either they were part of a Mobster conglomerate, or they were headed to an Al Capone-themed Wine & Dine function right after the photo shoot. What about AZ? That Doe or Die album was not only dope, but was presented in a big boss way too.

The record played a major part in how East Coast rappers portrayed themselves, pretty much everyone from the ones I mentioned to Kool G Rap (Fast Life) & others acted as if they were in Goodfellas. Everyone was touching their inner Scarface. Pretty soon, it morphed into the whole Versace/Named brand clothing; which was championed by Biggie & Junior Mafia; which then graduated to the shiny suit era that Puffy led with his chest out. Even Hov did a video with the shiny threads on & the fish-eye-lens-supported “My Sunshine” record.

Moral of the rant: Blame Raekwon for the Shiny Suit era.

Shawn: Ok, can we start by agreeing that the intro to this song was entirely too long & uninteresting to have been eating up an entire minute and 10 seconds of my yellow Sony Sport Walkman’s fast forwarding time? Back when I used to have to damned near beg, borrow or steal to find a pair of mismatched AA batteries to be able to use my Walkman in the first place.  I think we need to file a class action lawsuit against Rae to get some of that battery money back, I’m sure there were many out there that shares my plight.

You bring up a good point though Cee, about Wu being the alias trailblazers, it never occurred to me but you’re right.  Before Wu, every rapper and crew had one name, it was pretty simple.  But after Wu, everyone had aliases, alter egos, different personas, crew nicknames, hell even country singer Garth Brooks caught the bug and became a darker “Chris Gaines” for a minute (which he abandoned with the quickness, I don’t think country fans were ready for the small taste of hip hop).  But can we take a moment to make note of the fact that other than Tony Starks, Johnny Blaze, and Lou Diamonds, that every other Wu Gambino name was pretty much garbage?  With the worst being Master Killa’s confusingly bizarre alias: Noodles (Rollie Fingers gets an honorable mention for sounding pretty uncool as well).

As for the song itself, is it me, or does the beat start to get a bit redundant after a while?  The track starts strong, Meth and Rae both captivated you as they did in every track back then, but I could have done without RZA or Masta Killah’s submissions, and jumped right to Ghost’s verse to close it out.  Speaking of Masta Killah, was he an official member of the Wu or not? Sometimes he’d be around, but most of the time he was nowhere to be found.  I never missed him mind you, because he was consistently boring, but where the hell was he? Did he have better things to do at the time then to be part of hip hop’s biggest super group? Did he have another job that he just couldn’t get the time off from? Were there not enough sick days?  That never made much sense to me; he was the allusive mysterious Wu member that always seemed to be away doing other things.  I mean, U-God probably had 3 verses over the entire Wu Tang reign (for good reason), but at least he was around for the ride.  I’m not sure Masta Killah made enough of an impact that he is even recognizable to the casual hip hop fan, then or now.

Incarcerated Scarfaces

“Thug related style attract millions / Fans, they understand my plan / Who’s the kid up in the green Land? / Me and the RZA connect, blow a fuse, you lose / Half-ass crews get demolished and bruised”

Cee: There are some pros and cons to the argument about Raekwon’s stake of the mythical King of New York crown back in the mid-90s. Did he have some say in that title with Cuban Linx? Absolutely! For those that don’t remember, that album played in every car, house, Walkman, CD Discman (if you could afford one back then), anything that had a speaker or earphones connected to it. That trip I made to New York that I was telling you about earlier? I’m not lying when I say almost every car in New York was blasting some album cut of Cuban Linx. It was almost like a unified understanding. The knock on his stake is that you can’t be called “King of…” anything when you have so many guest appearances. Outside of two songs, every song featured Ghostface (who played more co-pilot than sidekick to Rae) or a Wu member. Even with that said, out of those two, Incarcerated Scarfaces was a certified classic.

Keeping with the grimy, drug game theme of the overall project, Raekwon takes you through to the life of being a big star, the “Avon Barksdale” of the block. At least I think that’s what it’s about. Let’s face it, as much as I love Rae & his swagger, style, and slang……. his slang even for me was over my head sometimes. There were times I needed that Wu-Tang Manual to decipher some of those lyrics because it was so rich in slang and double entendres that you couldn’t possibly keep up with everything. Much like Biggie & Nas, you may have rewinded this track over and over. Unlike those two, it was less him spitting bars that made your head spin and more of his ability of making anything he says make complete & total sense over RZA’s production. It’s a little low key compared to some of the other records (i.e. Guillotine, Glaciers of Ice), but it’s probably the cleanest/smoothest song that veers a little left from the rugged style of the songs.

As for the video now, it seems like the budget wasn’t a whole lot, and why would it be? Take a look at the above paragraphs. You know this was shot in Staten Island or some sort of hood equivalent, which is completely fine. It goes perfect with the song itself, from the slam dancing and rapping behind the fences, to the rooftop shots, etc. But of course Shawn, I have a couple of questions about the video:

1) Seeing that they were in the hood recording the video, do you really think that they had “that white” blurred on the table? I mean, why do that if it isn’t, right?

2) Was Dave Chappelle right after all in saying that Slo-Mo really does make everything cooler?

3) What was that girl really doing underneath that couch cushion while sitting alongside Ghostface?

Your thoughts…..

Shawn: Very good questions you ask there Calvin mi hermano (which means “my brother” in Spanish). I’ve been binge watching that Netflix show Narcos, which is a series documenting the life of the notorious Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar, so you’re going to have to deal with me acting like I’m a member of the Medellin Cartel for the next little while.  Anyhow, here’s my take on your questions:

Question #1: If that was really La Cocaina that they were blurring out on the table?  

After a heated back and forth debate in my own mind, that may or may not have ended in violence, I’ve concluded that it’s not really that “white girl” (I had to throw in a bit of present day slang, to fool any young readers into thinking that I’m…..how do kids say “cool” these days? Turned? Lit? I can’t keep track anymore).

Let me elaborate.  I was torn about this until I realized at what point in Rae’s career this video was shot in.  If this video was shot during the 36 Chambers album, when the Wu were still a bunch a grimy, hood Staten Island boys, to the point that Ghostface used to wear a mask in videos and public appearances because he had warrants and didn’t want to jeopardize his freedom; not only would I have said that would have definitely been coke on the table, but also that there were most probably numerous fire-arms tucked in waist bands across the room, ready to be pulled out on the video director & crew if the coke wasn’t all accounted for by the end of the video shoot. But seeing that by the time Cuban Linx dropped, a shitload of money had been made, and the Wu members were a bit (and I stress the word “bit”) more refined at this point, I’m assuming it was a video director’s attempt to make an edgy hood video with a pile of baking soda on the table.

Question# 2: Does slow motion make everything look cooler?

Yes, Yes, Yes, and Si (the Narco effect continues).

I’ll be honest, before I saw this video, I pretty much slept on this song, and I would only listen to it long enough to allow my hand to press fast forward.  Then “Rainy Days” would come on and I would start “the wave” with my left hand and finish the dance off by pressing fast forward with my right, until I got to Guillotine (where Inspectah Deck absolutely bodied that sickening beat with his “Poisonous paragraphs / smash the phonograph in half / it be the Inspectah Deck on the warpath” intro, at which point I was trembling due to sensory overload, but I digress.  Back to me sleeping on Incarcerated Scarfaces, this stopped happening as soon as I saw the video, and a large part of my new found appreciation for the track had to do with the slo-mo scenes.  Between Rae walking through the hood, looking around and grilling dudes he had no business grilling (they were pretty intimidating figures), to the large mob of brothas hurtling the project fences in unison (what were they running from, you didn’t know and you didn’t care, cause they were doing it with visually pleasing slow motion wizardry). Every time I heard this song, I was inspired to stop whatever I was doing in normal speed, and switch to slow motion, which probably made me look mentally ill, but it made me feel cool, so it was worth the sacrifice.

Question# 3: What was that chick doing with her hand under the couch cushion?

The reasonable and mature person in me thinks that after a long day of shooting, she was pretty much just sitting there bored simply resting her hand on her thigh, & therefore incidentally creating a coincidental illusion there was some hanky-panky going on under there.  But the dreamer in me that would like to believe porno story-lines are in some way possible, and that one day I’ll order a pizza, and a sexy half naked delivery girl will feel compelled to “teach me a lesson” for giving her a bad tip (providing me with pleasure as punishment while chastising & belittling me may not make sense in the real world, but in the land of porn it makes perfect sense), likes to imagine that the young lady in the video didn’t mind the fact that there was a room full of brothas, and just had to treat her vagina like a turntable.  So, let’s just agree for my perverted mind, that she was being an amazingly filthy, naughty girl, who couldn’t fight the urge to defile herself in a room full of dudes, with only a pillow to cover her shameful act.  A pillow that some dude undoubtedly sniffed as soon as she left the room.

Verbal Intercourse

“It’s like a cycle, ni**as come home, some’ll go in / Do a bullet, come back, do the same shit again / From the womb to the tomb, presume the unpredictable / Guns salute life rapidly, that’s the ritual”. – Nas

“Perhaps bullets bust ni**as discuss mad money / True lies and White guys, we can see it through the eyes”. – Raekwon

Cee: Now before Cuban Linx, no Wu-Tang group or member ever featured an artist outside of their world. You can’t really blame them. When you’re one of the biggest entities in the genre altogether that go nine deep, and are also helping to change the landscape of hip hop, do you really need to? You want a banger of a beat? Call RZA. You want someone to wild out & act crazy on your track? Speed dial Old Dirty Bastard. You want a guest feature that will swing your song through the radio & the streets with the same impact of a bulldozer? Tap Method Man on his shoulder. You want your guest to slang & swag out our record? Hit up Raekwon and Ghostface easily. The list goes on & on. Wu Tang was like going to that friend’s house that had all the best toys & video games, and their fridge & cupboard was always stocked with everything. Right down to the different kinds of cereals, from Fruit Loops to Cocoa Puffs. You never needed to leave the house for anything. Which was why opening the doors for Nas to appear on a Wu-affiliated album was such a major deal at the time.

All Nas did once he entered the doors and took off his shoes was spit out one of the greatest lyrics he may have ever recorded. It was beyond being “Rewind-worthy” & it set the tone for the rest of the song. Both Rae & Ghost followed suit to destroy the record bar after bar. It remains the most underrated and overlooked song on this album, which seems crazy when you listen to this song again. You made a good point Shawn, on the Ready To Die profile, guest features between superstar artists were almost unprecedented, & when it actually happened, you couldn’t wait to hear it. So the fact that this song doesn’t get put on the same level as, “The What” for example, is almost blasphemous. I think only real hip hop heads with a great memory really appreciate this song for what it is.

Imagine if the three of them came together a few months after this album dropped and before It Was Written was released, and dropped a mixtape that was done by DJ Clue at the time. How seismic would that have been?

Shawn: No doubt Cee, a Nas, Rae & Ghost mixtape wouldn’t only have been ground breaking; it would’ve completely obliterated the rules of that era.  We’ve grown to get used to the collaborative albums from major artists to the point that we hardly bat an eyelash anymore; from the most recent merging of the two super powers Drake & Future, to R-Kelly & Jay, Hov & Kanye, the Lil Wayne & Juelz Santana mixtape, and the trailblazers Red and Meth, we pretty much meet these types of collaborative albums with a shrug. Although some of them are dope, others feel like a cash grab meant to capitalize off of two major fan bases that would want to purchase the same album.  But a Nas, Rae & Ghost album would have had hip hop purists at the time thinking the apocalypse was upon us. It would have sparked mass hysteria, looting, governments overthrown and national anthems being replaced by tracks from the album, it wouldn’t have been pretty. With all that said, I have to admit something that may affect our relationship my dear sir.  I have to plead guilty to being one of those dudes that you mentioned that slept on this track when listening to this album.  But it wasn’t one of those accidental “sleeps” where you doze off on the couch watching TV after a long day; it was more like as soon as I heard the song start playing, I downed an entire bottle of sleeping pills intentionally.  Now, I know what I’m about to say is going to be considered blasphemous and incredibly unpopular, and if I were to say this in certain barbershops it would earn me a punch square in my freshly lined up face.  But, how can I put this as delicately as possible; I kinda sorta find Nas……. boring.

Now before you start sharpening your cutlass, and setting your Google maps app for my address, hear me out.  I can fully appreciate that Nas is one of, if not the dopest lyricist we’ve ever heard, I get that.  But after I listen to a Nas track once, and take in the dope intricacies of his lyrics, I’m pretty much satisfied, forever.  I don’t really have the urge to hear it again.  I just feel satisfied that I’ve heard his verse that one time.  I’ll kind of compare him to Tim Duncan, or even the entire Spurs organization, you know they’re great, but I have more fun watching those teams lose than I do watching them dismantle their competition.  It’s like, my brain knows I should be excited, and I try Calvin, I really do. I try to fit in whenever I find myself in one of those best rappers alive convos, but I’m tired of the lies Calvin, they’re weighing heavy on my soul.  So there you go, the cat’s out the bag, I find Nas boring.  I said it.  This is why I never really appreciated this song.  Mind you, Rae dropped his usual bars filled with cool words, and the way Ghost broke down prison life in a few short bars was better than some dudes that dedicate whole albums to it.  But unfortunately, this track does not rank as one of my favorites on the album. I hope we can still be friends Cee.

Cee: I…….. I don’t even know what to say. Actually, what did you say??? Seeing that 2015 is drawing to a close, I’ll express myself the way pop culture dictates me to: Through gifs & memes….

I feel so disillusioned, so misled, so hoodwinked by what you just said. I feel like Steve Austin after he teamed up with The Rock to beat up the villain wrestlers together, and while raising my fists & middle fingers in the air towards the crowd in my trademark fashion, you hit me across the back of my head with a 2 X 4, leaving me unconscious in a fake pool of blood. I don’t even know if I should sever our friendship, or if I should just pay some goons to run at your house Sosa-style, crash through your kitchen, tie you down & force you to listen to all 10 of Nas’ albums. Even the Lost Tapes. You bastard.

If there’s a lasting memory regarding this album, it was the hype leading up to it. I’ve discussed the theory before of the pre-promotion of albums in the 90s that made each major album release from your favorite artists feel like it descended down from the skies. The example I have of this theory and how well it works is almost specific to this album. Prior to its ’95 summer release, with some of the songs that we heard from the album, it was getting major, major buzz, “5 Mics in The Source” buzz. Hip hop fans were foaming at the mouth for this album, myself and my crew of friends included. The day the album was released, was an event. My friends and I headed downtown about ten deep to the one record store that were selling copies of the album. Of course, out of the ten, only about 3-4 of us bought it, and the rest was armed with blank 90 min Maxwell tapes ready to dub the albums off. If you’re wondering, wonder no more…….. I was in the “Blank Tape” group. You got to understand, I was fresh off of finishing high school in Montreal, with no money. Basically, I never purchased a CD unless it came with 10 more CDs for a penny, and it came from a Columbia House purchase list. I’m not ashamed…. I’m not…. I swear?

Anyway, we went back to our friend’s house & basically digested everything about the album, from the beats & lyrics, to the linear notes & thank you shout outs. It’s the only time in my life I ever went to a store with all my friends, & then bought watch them buy (& dub off) an album….but it was 110% worth it. Within a few months it was a solidified classic that you played for about a year straight before you could put it down. Looking back now, it remains the greatest solo album ever released by The Wu, one of the best Hip Hop moments ever from the Golden Era, and it’s not debatable. For you Wu heads, the only solo Wu albums that come close to it was GZA’s Liquid Swords (which was GREAT), and Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele (his greatest album personally), both classics…… and yet still, it was a tier down from Cuban Linx. It changed the game as much as the aforementioned Golden Era albums that I wrote about. It was dark, gritty, and cinematic, it changed slang vocabulary, it was completely swagged out (the makers of Clark’s Wallabee’s are forever thankful). The RZA was like a cross between Charles Barkley & Wilt Chamberlain on the boards, and it represented the absolute peak of the Wu Era musically. When Nas re-released his Illmatic album last year & celebrated the anniversary like nothing we’ve even seen, I was a little surprised Raekwon didn’t go down the same route this year. There should have been concerts across the world celebrating the anniversary of this album. Here’s to hoping Rae does a delayed go-round with this album like we did this post.

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button. Very special thanks to Shawn Adonis for his contributions to this posting, as usual.

#FlashbackFridayVideos: Kardinal Offishall’s “Bakardi Slang”

Each and every last Friday of each month, we here at South Shore Ave will be releasing  #FlashbackFridayVideos, a segment focusing on music videos from back in the day, to something semi-recent (like a few months ago), & every once in a while, we might review a classic game or sports moment. We’ll have quick overall rundown on what was hot about them, how it helped moved its culture along, the ridiculousness of the videos, and everything else in between.

In our first monthly installment of #FlashbackFridayVideos, Shawn Adonis and I, will take you back to a pre-Drake Toronto where one of the signature artists from the T.Dot educated us on the city’s slang.

Cee: Before Drake & the OVO Team, there was The Circle led by Kardinal Offishall, Choclair, and Saukrates. These guys (along with help from The Rascalz) changed hip hop in Canada, taking it to higher level of respectability, and let’s face it, put out some good quality music (Northern Touch anyone?). When Kardinal dropped “Bakardi Slang“, at the time, it was one of the biggest Canadian hip hop tracks to hit the market & actually gain notoriety outside of this country. This song became Toronto’s version of Big L’s “Ebonics“, giving everyone outside of the Toronto a peek into the West Indian cultural pot that’s been simmering in this city for decades.

For me, as a Canadian who lived & breathed hip hop, I kinda wish this song came out a few years before, when I just moved to Toronto. Believe me when I tell you Shawn, when I moved here, I couldn’t really understand what anyone was saying. They may as well have been speaking Mandarin. You know when someone’s speaking to you in a different language & all you do is smile and nod? That was me the first two years here. In fact, I used to come home from school & with my cousin Brian, we used to try to break down what we learned in T-Dot ebonics like a periodics table. The only thing we were missing was the lab coats & the goggles around our necks. If this song dropped 3-4 years beforehand, I could have at least printed it out & kept the shit in my pocket anytime someone started speaking to me. I could have referred to it like a thesarus. How didn’t I get jacked for my lunch money more often?

Shawn: I hear you Cal, that T Dot slang did leave me scratching my head on a few occasions. When you’d be talking to one of the “gyal dem”, and you’d feel like a total square for not being able to participate in the slang-extravaganza.  The most I could offer to the conversation was a strategical placed “Guy” every few sentences (which Kardinal conveniently left out of the song. Go figure…), as I’d think, “She must think I’m cool, she’s clearly a girl and I’m calling her ‘Guy’. My act of deception is working perfectly”.

You know, thinking about it now, it’s a shame that Kardi didn’t come out with this song in today’s day and age.  He could have packaged the song with a “Bakardi Slang Translator App”, and gotten the honorable mayor Rob Ford to endorse it at the height of his infamous late night drunken patois rants.  You couldn’t dream of better promotion than that, it would be flying out the App Store. Think of how much easier this would make the lives of old white sugar daddies dying to spend their money to get a lil’ taste of chocolate,  and how ground breaking this would be for young gold digging sisters, no?

Cee: That translator app would be awesome. You think the commercial for the app would look as professional as the Game of War App game with Kate Upton in it, or would the quality be more cheesy like the Shamwow guy?

Speaking of “Guy”*, here’s another word he left out: Arms. This was the most confusing word I ever heard by far. It’s basically the equivalent of saying, “That’s messed up”. However, no one ever said that. They’d always say, “That’s arms!” or “That’s arms house!” (which always sounded like “Arms-Zus”) or simply “Arms!!”. During that period when I’d basically black out & start depending on my smile & nod defense mechanisms, in my head, I would have a mental interrogation about what that word meant. I’d be like, “Arms? Arms?? That’s arms??? Who’s arms?????……. ***thinking*** ….. My arms???? The fu**?!?!” If someone took a good look at me at that moment, you could probably see the faint smoke coming out of my ears trying to hold it all together. I even had to bring in my brother-in-law (who’s Jamaican) in on the case & the most he came up with was that it’s supposed to mean “House of Arms (Guns & ammo)”, but was still confused as to why it was used this way. That word still gives me a twitch to this day.

We forget now, but that song back then was huge in Toronto, and Canada overall. I remember it being on heavy rotation, you literally heard it everywhere. The video back then represented Toronto properly, showing off the requisite local stars, the Circle crew (ie. Saukrates), took you through some of the popular areas and streets, Kardi basically checked off a lot of boxes here. In the era where rappers were still proud to sound different from one another, he made a regional song that helped The North get even more awareness to the masses, similar to what the south was doing (especially in New Orleans. See No Limit & Cash Money records). Choclair was the first from The Circle to cross over to the Stateside, now Kardi was next in line. You were rooting for them to make it & put Canada on the map in hip hop just like Vince Carter did for basketball. The buzz from this song eventually made it across the border, & next thing you know 106 & Park was going to launch the video. This was the official “N**** We Made it!!” moment……

…….until AJ & Free stomped out the buzz by calling Kardinal “The Canadian Puffy” after they played the video. It was like hearing fingernails being dragged across a blackboard, but if the fingernails were connected to a microphone & was being scratched over a loud speaker. Listen, Puffy is a GREAT businessman. You may want to be compared to Puffy in a lot of ways. As an executive, an owner, a spokesperson, a marketer, a tastemaker, a baller…..but never a rapper. Not especially if you’re a legitimate one. It’s not like we got our hip hop knowledge from AJ & Free anyway, they weren’t exactly The Source or XXL. Nevertheless, they still had a huge platform, & to be more or less categorized with a guy who would tell you firsthand he’s not a rapper….. I mean, I can’t say for certain if it hurt his record sales in the States, but I’m sure it didn’t help. The only reason why there wasn’t more flack about this (at least from me) was…..well, Free wasn’t exactly hard on the eyes, and I enjoyed watching her, um, host the show (yeah, that’s it) on a daily basis. So for that they got a pass as a whole. But it still wasn’t the greatest of looks in Kardi’s sake.

Shawn: You know, they say that the true measure of a man is his ability to admit when he has made a mistake (According to an inspirational quote I read on a Facebook page, where the profile pic was a chick wearing just enough clothing so that her page doesn’t get shut down….. so basically a very reliable source).  With that said, Cal my good man, it pains me to admit that I may have not been giving the T-Dot slang innovators the full credit they deserve. I’ve said for years that young black Torontonians simply sprinkled bits and pieces of Jamaican patois into their conversations, and tried to pass off as their own lingo, like nobody would notice (which I think is still true 90% of the time).  But this whole use of the word “arms” has me completely flabbergasted.  You and your brother-in-law already spent enough time drinking coffee and chain smoking while you exchange theories, so I’m not gonna spend any more energy on it, that mystery is unsolvable.

After all this time has passed, and the members of the Circle have fallen from the limelight (Did I say fallen? I meant skydived, hit the ground, then put on a wet suit & oxygen mask to continue to descend to the bottom of the sea. Basically as far from the limelight as humanly possible), it’s easy to forget what kind of impact these guys, especially Kardi, had on Canadian hip hop fans as a whole.  Let’s be honest Cee, Canadian rap fans are generally US hip hop dick riders.  A club could be packed with dancing party goers until the DJ threw on some Canadian hip hop, and the crowd would suddenly look like they were waiting in line at the license bureau.  But with Kardi, it was different.  Dudes would drive down the block with the window rolled down and bump tunes from him and The Circle with pride.  I even copped Kardi’s first album (which was the first & last Canadian hip hop album I’ve ever bought. Sorry Drake, I’m a fan but thanks to the internet I can be one for free).  But that Kardi album was legit, that shit was certifiably & undeniably dope.  Call me a product of my “self hip hop hating” environment, but nothing would have made me happier than to say that slang translating rapper was trash…. but the dude was really talented, and forced you to enjoy the music for what it was.  Like you mentioned Cal, the fact that the Americans embraced it actually made us feel like we all made it. Of course to show our gratitude, we turned our backs on him as soon as he became lukewarm, in true Canadian fashion.

Cee: Man….. tell us how you really feel. I feel like I should send you a Hugagram, but upgrade it to the premium package where people group hug you for like 15-20 minutes straight while humming gospel hymns and everyone in the room fights back tears. Like Luscious said to his son in Empire this week (I’m paraphrasing here), it’s your music that’ll live on forever above all else….. & this song/video was evidence of the path that Kardi was taking towards making his mark on Canadian Hip Hop history. The song was innovative, and it shed light on the talent that Toronto (& this country for that matter) has. Bacardi Slang made an impact, otherwise, we wouldn’t be having this #FlashbackFriday moment…..still.

*“Guy” Translation: It’s like using “Yo” at the beginning of the sentence in slang speak. For example, “Guy, you won’t believe what happened to Mikey today”. Or you can use it as a statement if or when someone says something that you agree with. For example: “Did you see that game last night? Yo that shit was crazy!” Then all you have to say is, “GUUUY!” & everything’s understood. I’ve also added the lyrical meanings of this song off of Rap Genius here, so you should be at least 80% more educated on Toronto slang. I hope.

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button or by entering your email address. Very special thanks to Shawn Adonis for his contributions to this posting.

Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G’s Ready To Die

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the Greatest Times in Hip Hop history. On September 13, 1994, right in the middle of the Golden Age of 90s Hip Hop, Bad Boy Records officially dropped the debut album The Notorious BIG “Ready To Die“. This album went on to become one of the most iconic and influential albums of the genre, simultaneously making Bad Boy an industry super power and launching Biggie into superduperstar status. As we celebrate the anniversary of Ready To Die, with the help of my friend Shawn Adonis, we break down the top four songs from the album. If you don’t know, now you know….

UNBELIEVABLE

Breeze through in the Q-45 by my side, lyrical high / and those that rushes my clutches get put on crutches / get smoke like dutches from the master / hate to blast ya but I have to / you see I smoke a lot, your life is played out like Kwamé / and them fu**ing polka dots…

Cee: I don’t wanna add any more hyperbole to this song as great as it is already, but I could have honestly quoted the whole first verse of the song. When Biggie’s name was buzzing back in the summer of ’93 with his Party and Bullshit track, as much as I liked him and all the remixes he was on (i.e. see Mary J. Blige’s Real Love remix), I would have never thought he would have reached the lyrical levels that he brought to the song. I’ll admit, I just didn’t see the other levels coming. Before anything else that was released from him off of Ready To Die, this was actually the first cut I heard from the album. You can tell the difference in his voice from this song compared to the previously released tracks. It always sounded like he was yelling &/or too hyped up when he was rapping, as great as the songs were.

On “Unbelievable”, he appeared to be more relaxed, the confidence in his abilities had fully grown, & the swagger was completely swollen. But the lyrics….the lyrics….the lyrics though. In retrospect, what he did to that DJ Premier beat almost wasn’t fair. How he set up the metaphors (i.e.Breeze through in the Q-45 by my side…”), intersects the humor (i.e.Wear boxers so my dick can breathe“), ended the remaining potential of rappers careers (i.e. The Kwamé shot), this wasn’t just lyrical gymnastics, it was a verbal P90X session. Again, I’m only speaking about the first verse. Do you know how difficult it was to stand out like that lyrically in ’94 when people like Nas, Snoop, Jeru, Redman, Wu-Tang, Scarface, Keith Murray, Buckshot & everyone else were roaming the streets? And yet, he was so ridiculously talented that he made major room at the table anyway. The song title actually says it all to be honest.

Shawn: Very well said Cee. I’ve gotta say, you brought up some very interesting points that I’ve never really considered. And that I fully intend to steal like a burglar, while I head to the nearest barber shop to pass them off as my own original & enlightened thoughts so that I can be showered with praise.

I had heard a few tracks from Mr. Biggie Smalls before hearing “Unbelievable”, but they never captivated me enough to really keep my attention. The hyped up yelling flow that you mentioned just didn’t do anything for me, but this song changed all of that.  Just like you Cal, this was also the first track that I heard from Ready to Die. It was back in the days before you could go online and hear any song you wanted with the click of a mouse.  If you wanted to make yourself a hip hop mixtape (which back then was actually literally a tape), you had to sit by the radio with your fingers hovering over the ‘play’ & ‘record’ buttons waiting to hear something that was worthy to make the cut, and you were afraid to leave the room, cause as soon as you did, that’s when they’d play a song you wanted.  As soon as I heard that Primo beat come in, I started recording with the quickness.  After trying to figure out who “Sticky Smalls” was (I can’t be the only one who thought, and still thinks, that the hook sounds like he’s saying “Sticky, Sticky, Sticky Smalls is the illest”…. Perhaps this was some intentional brilliance that I just wasn’t cool enough to understand.  Why not just emphasize the B?). I heard him spit that first bar and I knew I made a wise recording decision.

No one can debate that Big was given a heater of a beat.  Back in those days Premier could have used a sample of himself passing a bowel movement, and as long as he mixed it right and added a baseline to it, it would be an instant classic.  But the “Unbelievable” beat stands out to me because it could have went either way depending on who laid down the verses over it, and the Notorious one’s style, flow, and energy is what made you take heed to the beat.  Any other rapper on that beat would have been like someone wearing a fly outfit with a beat up and bummy pair of sneakers.  It would have just ruined the whole thing.

What separated this song from others at that time, was that other rappers often used two bars to complete a thought, however, Biggie laced every bar with entirely new subject matter, and kept it up for line after insanely lyrical line. You hardly had a chance to process everything he was coming at you with.

And one last thing, that senseless unprovoked jab at Kwame was totally uncalled for. That poor bastard was probably somewhere plotting his comeback, when out of nowhere he was blindsided by the most relevant thing in rap saying he was now irrelevant.  I can’t help but to think that he was probably in a dark room somewhere pouring gasoline on his polka-dotted memorabilia, with tears streaming from his sleepy eyes.  To avoid the public backlash he was probably forced to change his identity……. which would have pretty much consisted of him dying that bleached swirl in his hair black.  Without that or the polka-dots, no one could have picked him out of a line up.

JUICY

It was all a dream / I used to read Word Up! magazine / Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine / Hanging’ pictures on the wall / Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl.

Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood / And it’s still all good / Uh… and if you don’t know, now you know, ni**a.”

Cee: It’s safe to say this is the most popular song Biggie ever made, right? I mean, we could make an honest case for that, can’t we? I don’t believe it was his best work, but it did its job, which was introducing him to the masses. And it worked in a major way. People can rip him all they want, but much praise goes out to Puff Daddy (I’m using his original name dammit!) for coming up with the idea of using Biggie’s talents over an old, classic 80s record. Sure, he almost ended up literally overkilling hip hop a few years later with that same “Just use the whole beat, don’t bother sampling it. No one will care!” formula, but for this song & some of the other Biggie songs & collabos down the line (i.e. Sky’s The Limit” and, I Love The Dough), it always worked to perfection. It was perfect actually. It allowed Biggie to stay street & gutter talking about his rags-to-riches story, but having the melodic nostalgia to play on major radio stations & still suck you in. In fact, the remakes Puffy created would bring new life to a whole new generation. Think about it Shawn, in 1994, what teenager even knew who the hell Mtume was?

To me, what made this song more of a classic than anything else is the video & the fact that it actually matches the lyrics. This is probably one of the more true to life videos we’ve seen, especially back then. It shows the progression from him hustling on the corner; getting arrested; his boys running after someone for doing something that violated crew standards; getting interviewed by the pool; his boys playing Street Fighter with either a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis on a 50-inch screen while Big, Puff & from the looks of the older token white man sitting beside him, his accountant handling business on the money green leather couches. Shit, he even had his Moms in the video holding the Source Magazine with a smile on her face. This was almost as authentic as you can get. A feel good story that matched the wordplay letter for letter.

If this song drops in 2014, there would be girl-on-girl kissing in the pool while guys pour Peach Ciroc on them; everyone holding red cups sipping on that lean & blowing weed smoke into the camera; & the reporter would have dropped the mic, stripped down to her bra & thong, to then start twerking on Big to the point of muscle spasming. But in 1994, everyone just waved their hands in the air & partied by the pool. It was almost wholesome.

Sidenote: Did you ever look at a street light & wanna do pull ups on it too Shawn or was it just me?

Shawn: Most definitely Cal, not only did those pull ups and dips on the street lights make those guys look like ghetto superheroes to me (cause as I’m sure you remember, I had what one might describe as a stick figure physique back then), but it inspired me to climb lamp posts to get my strength up. Unfortunately, they’re 30 feet high around here, so my fear of death deterred me a bit.

Now, I know that what I’m about to say is going to be considered the highest form of Hip Hop blasphemy known to man, and that the ground may open up and swallow me whole as soon as I finish typing this……..but…….. I’ve never really liked Juicy. * insert Gasp here *

Ok, now don’t get me wrong, I definitely understand the allure of the song and why so many people like it.  How can you not enjoy the story of a young downtrodden kid from the hood, single parent home, mother that struggled to put food on the table, took to the streets to make money, experienced the ups and downs of hustling, went to prison, pursued music to finally become one of the top rappers in the game, living a lavish life and finally being able to take care of his Mom.  I get it completely.  It’s just not my cup of tea musically.  So let me defend my opinion here.

First of all, like you said Cal, this wasn’t Big’s most lyrical contribution to the Album, and back then I was a lyrical fiend, I would live for those “I can’t believe he said that, I have to rewind it 30 times” moments, and this song had zero of these moments.  Secondly, that beat never did anything for me.  It was so simple, so boring.  I’ve never been tempted to so much as nod my head to, or even tap my foot to this song. When it comes on in the club, that’s my cue to take a trip to the bathroom. When it comes on the radio, that’s when I switch to the news station to get caught up on current events.  It’s one of those songs that you hear once and that’s enough.

It’s a great story that would make a great movie (which ironically was poorly casted years later, and made a mediocre movie at best), and like you said Cal it made a great video.  Sure, parts of it that looked cool to me back then, look a bit cornier and outdated now, but that’s only because people took this video’s blueprint and improved upon it throughout the years, which is why all the classics look a bit corny.  From what I remember too, this was the first video of that era where a rapper stepped out that “grimey” persona, and made it look cool to throw on some linens and hard-bottoms.  In a rap climate where Wu Tang, Nas, Boot Camp, and others made sure they were dressed in clothes that would make them “fit the description” of a perpetrator,  Biggie made it look cool to be classy.

Even though we only got little glimpses of it in this video, how cool were Puff’s diddy bop scenes? We had no idea at the time that Puff’s smooth two step/shoulder jerk/arm wave/neck bob/spin-around dance moves would end up playing Robin to Biggie’s Batman in his future videos and performances.  Or who would have imagined back then that this shirtless dancing champagne sipper would become one of the biggest music moguls in history?

By the way, not only did I not know who Mtume was in 1994, I don’t  know who they are in 2014 either.  But thanks to my pal Google, I’m fully caught up now.  Those dudes look disco-rific.  And sadly a lot of people would hear the original song today and think they stole Biggie’s ‘Juicy‘ beat.

Hey….um…. that 2014 version of the video you described, would you happen to have a link to that video that I could check out for some….. Uh…. research?

Cee: I’m sure we can find that version on Youtube somewhere. ***Searching***

BIG POPPA

“To all the ladies in the place with style and grace / Allow me to lace these lyrical douches in your bushes / Who rocks grooves and make moves with all the mommies / The back of the club sipping Moet is where you’ll find me / The back of the club, mackin’ hoes, my crew’s behind me / Mad question asking, blunt passing, music blasting / But I just can’t quit/Because one of these honeys Biggie gots to creep with”

“I love it when they call me Big Poppa / Throw your hands in the air if you’s a true playa”

Cee: This song is the blueprint and the reason why Rick Ross can take his shirt off, let his tatted man boobs swing freely into the air today & nobody bats an eye. In Hip Hop, The Fat Boys made being big funny and comical as well as stereotypical. I mean, we understood they were fat, but did they really have to talk about their love of food & gorge on pizzas in interviews too? Even as a little kid, I never took them seriously. Heavy D made the big man dynamic into something cool and fun. Not only were his songs on par with some of the best Hip Hop & R&B material during the late 80s & early 90s, but he kept up with everyone & them some on the dance floor in the era where you danced until you sweat through your clothes. He wore the suits, had his dancers behind him doing all the innovative dance moves (one of his dancers Trouble T. Roy died unfortunately during an accident at one of his shows, and was forever remembered on the T.R.O.Y classic by Pete Rock & CL Smooth), and even introduced Monifah to the game. I will never, ever be mad at him for that one.  With that said, as great as he was, he never gave off the image to women that they wanted to get with him. They wanted to party with him, and maybe afterwards give him a great big hug when the night was done.

Here’s where Biggie changed things. You know how you can speak things into existence? Meaning that if you keep making affirmations to groups of people after a while, the affirmation starts to become believable. Well, with songs like these and “One More Chance” (both the original & the Remix) off the album, Biggie gave the affirmation that he was a ladies man & gave all big boys a chance to prove they can also play the field. You kept seeing it in his videos. He started moving differently, performing in concerts in dress shirts, slacks & suits. He started looking more like the head of a crime family instead of a rapper. The bigger his star power got, the hotter the music got, the more women just started flocking to him. A year after this album dropped, this dude was married to one of the most popular R&B artists in the game on his own label (Faith Evans), & had a mistress on the side that we all pretty much knew wasn’t a real secret (Lil’ Kim). He converted this supposed weakness into strength and power.

The allure of power. It can make you look more appealing than you really are, funnier to your peers than you can ever imagine, and look more appealing than you really are. There’s a reason why I wrote that twice….it’s because it’s true. Some of your favorite athletes & entertainers are not the best looking guys, let’s face facts here. Also, the fact is, Biggie was not an appealing looking guy. Heavy-set, heavy-tongued, labored breathing when he spoke, & had an eye that was lazier than the least motivated couch potato. Not only did he know that, he effin’ told us this & rapped it so ridiculously most times, that it no longer became a focus. He turned his rap skills into a persona and his persona into superstardom. This song is living proof. Even in the video, he’s leaving with two chicks. I know it’s only a video & they said “Cut!” when he walked offscreen, but the images from that & the lyrics he spat made you think that this was at least possible to believe.

Most importantly, Big Poppa is a classic anthem that can still rock radio and clubs in 2014. The flow, cockiness & swagger was ahead of its time. Throw in The Isley Brothers Between the Sheets sampling, he raised the bar for “I’m gonna take you home. Here’s why and you’re gonna love it” records & almost made it mandatory for rappers to have at least one record on their album like this if they wanted to go major. All this from a  man who self-described himself as black and ugly.

One more thing: In the video, is there any reason why he couldn’t be in the whirlpool with the video chicks too? Puffy’s in the thing with all these woman wearing next to nothing, pouring champagne, basically about to get it in….. & Biggie’s rapping outside the lip of the pool like he’s providing them elevator music. The song’s called Big Poppa, shouldn’t he reap the benefits 100%? Instead he only got 80% like a work dental plan. Smh.

Shawn: You hit the nail on the obese head there my brotha. Big rapped with an arrogance and confidence that made it seem like if you were a woman, and weren’t craving him in all of his big, black, fat glory….then there was something wrong with you.  But something tells me, if he were Chris Wallace the grocery clerk, he may not have had that affect on the ladies.  It’s amazing how money and power seem to sexify a man in a woman’s eyes.  But then again who knows. They say he was a really charming dude, so maybe he would have dropped a line like, “Would you like paper, plastic, or latex?”, and he would still have the women fighting over his large physique.  

I’ve never really been a huge fan of these cassanova tracks, where rappers act like their lives are a never-ending Axe commercial.  But Big Poppa had to be the best of its genre, not only offering you ladies-man braggadocio, but clever wordplay such as: 

“Really honey listen I’m askin / most of the fellas think they be mackin’ / but they be actin’ / who they attractin’ with that line what’s your name what’s your sign / soon as he buy that wine I just creep up from behind…” 

Gotta respect a man that lets another dude buy the drinks before he comes in and snatches the woman right from under him, and quite aggressively too.  In the video Biggie moved the dude aside by palming his face like Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  Talk about adding insult to injury. I hope that dude went home after that. There’s no respectable way to dance and try look cool in the club after another man no-look passes your face. 

I have one question: Who was that chick that played the main love interested related too???  She had to be the director’s sister or something, cause she straight up looked like snaggle puss in the face.  Not only is she not the prettiest chick in the video, she wasn’t even the prettiest of the three people in that scene with her, Big and Busta.  I mean, maybe she had a killer body, but you couldn’t really tell cause they didn’t pan down.  Didn’t this chick look like Ludacris from the “Word of Mouf” album cover?  Google that pic and tell me that’s not the same person. 

I hear what you’re saying Cee about that hot tub scene, they got Biggie up there rapping, steam from the hot tub probably got him dripping sweat under that leather jersey, leather sticking to his skin, all uncomfortable.  They couldn’t even invite a brotha to roll up his pant legs and let his feet dangle in the water, with the hot water bubbles massaging his feet?  Honestly, it’s only cause Big played it so cool, making it look like he gets so much ass, that it didn’t even phase him to let his peoples enjoy moments like that.  Most men, myself included, would have taken a running start into a canon ball in that tub.  But I guess that’s what separates Big Poppa from the rest.

It’s all good Baby Baabeehh…..

THE WHAT ft. Method Man

“(Assume the position) / Stop, look and listen / I spit on your grave then I grab my Charles Dickens, bitch” – Method Man

Shawn: Cal my good man, the first time I heard Method Man, my favorite rapper at the time, spit that line, I thought my head was going to explode into my Wu Tang scully (actually, I was never cool enough to have a Wu Tang scully, and by the time I finally had two pennies to rub together and bought a Wu Tang t-shirt, it shrunk after one wash and was unwearable. Very traumatizing. I try to repress those painful memories). Not that it was necessarily the best line in the song, cause Meth and Big went back and forth with with so many hot lines that to borrow (steal) your phrase from earlier, I could have quoted the entire song, but something about this line stood out from the rest for me.

For the only feature on Ready to Die, Biggie employed the services of one of the games most captivating characters, the most recognizable member of the famed Wu Tang Clan, the “M-e-t-h-o-d Man”. Remember Cee, back then features happened about as rarely as a solar eclipse. Nowadays, rappers are feature whores, hopping on tracks with every other rapper, every time the wind changes direction.  It’s so bad now, that some rappers have more songs featuring other artists than they even have by themselves, and truth be told, it’s because a lot of them aren’t talented enough to hold your attention for a whole 3 minutes.  Some songs have so many different people featured on them, that by the time the song is over, you don’t remember who the song originally belonged to. But this wasn’t the case with “The What“. They were two rappers in their prime that could have easily commanded an entire song by themselves. What they offered their listeners was a rare gift.  Back then, cross-crew collabos were so rare that when you heard that two rappers you liked were hopping on a track together, you were actually excited, cause you knew you were in for some musical magic that probably wouldn’t be repeated any time soon by the pairing, if ever.

This song was very necessary for the album, it struck a balance between songs that real hip hop head’s would love (most men), and the more commercial snoozefest tracks like ‘Juicy’ that catered to a different demographic (mostly women, and we know that men like what women like).

I’m sure that Big spitting that opening line about throwing “Shield’s on the dick” was probably the last time a rapper claimed to use anything but Magnums, wouldn’t you say?  These days every rapper claims to be packing an Anaconda.  You have dudes that are 5’2″, 100 pounds, looking like they haven’t gone through puberty, yet claiming to be suffering from Ron Jeremy syndrome (I may have dated myself with that reference, and inadvertently revealed to my parents that those nights that I said I was watching “wrestling” in the basement, the blonde and brunette weren’t Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper) .  And then of course, in the next bar they use the word “magnum” as a double entendre in reference to a handgun. Man, hip hop is depressingly predictable these days.

Cee: Before I jump on this song, I wanna pour out a lil’ liquor for the career of producer Easy Mo Bee. Seriously speaking, this dude had a major hand musically for the first two projects for Bad Boy Records. I’ll never, ever take anything away from the talents of Biggie or Craig Mack, but think of how different life would be for those guys coming into the game without his production. I actually forgot just how much work he did for these guys. From “Party & Bullshit” to Flava in Ya Ear (AND the Remix!) to Get Down, I mean, I especially remember just how hot those records were back then. Shit, the “Flava in Ya Ear Remix” still shuts down parties now. By all accounts this is supposed to be one of the greatest albums that ever came across the Hip Hop genre & this man literally produced 1/3 of all the songs on it.  A third! Yet, by the time this album (and to a lesser extent, Craig Mack’s album) exploded, Biggie was a superstar, Puff was a superstar, Craig Mack was at his peak of screaming “Haaaa buoy!” everywhere with his Philly Afro-cutting ass, but where was Easy Mo Bee’s name in flashing neon lights??? Poor dude got left at the docks with his knapsack & suitcase while the party boat departed without him. He’s been properly credited for his work on “Gimme the Loot”, “Machine Gun Funk”, “Warning” (undisputed classic), and the album title track (Ready to Die), so I’m hoping he was properly paid for his services, however, I still can’t help but feel a little sorry for him. He’s THE forgotten entity off this classic & one of the most overlooked producers in hip hop history. I mean Shawn, did you know that he even produced this?!?!?!

Outside of DJ Premier with “Unbelievable”, Easy Mo Bee quite possibly produced the hottest beat on Ready to Die with “The What”. It might sound simple, but it’s a perfect combination of eerie and funkiness.  Also, if you’re gonna bring someone like Method Man in the studio to rap, wouldn’t it be to something like this? This beat was made for him. In fact, Easy Mo Bee created the perfect backdrop for both these rappers to come out with their best lyrics. If this was a boxing match, it would have been Method Man in a split decision, IF Biggie didn’t drop that last verse to make it a solid draw. Both guys are firing haymakers in this song, but these bars right here….

“I used to do stick ups, cause hoes is irritating like the **hiccups** / Excuse me, flows just grow through me / Like trees to branches / cliffs to avalanches / It’s the praying mantis….”

…..it showed another example of Biggie as the brightest of stars. Back in 1994, before Tical came out, Method Man was arguably the hottest rapper in hip hop. If he featured on your song, you had to perform first because once he got on, you had to do like those safe sex commercials & wrap it up. Nobody cared about you after he performed. Just sing the hook & get the hell out of Dodge. Make no mistake about it, Method Man came for the jugular here. So for Biggie not to only fight that off buzzsaw, but to drop lyrics like the ones I just quoted with almost effortless flair, it should have shown anyone who wasn’t aware that he was going to be major. And he was. By the beginning of ’95, he was the biggest hip hop star alive. You couldn’t touch him. The only ones that was on his stratosphere lyrically &/or star power-wise was Nas, Meth (and Wu Tang as a whole), Snoop & probably Tupac before he got shot and went to jail. He was not only the King of New York, but was basically the King of everything. Like Nas with Illmatic, he dropped a Mona Lisa. Unlike Nas, he eventually changed the game from how we looked to what we wore & what liquor to drink.

Looking back at it now, my generation was so spoiled because we had such groundbreaking legends from the rappers to producers who were creating at such a high level that we almost took it for granted. Almost. As a huge lover of music, I kind of wish that today’s generation experienced what mine did because we got fed. If hip hop was a restaurant, it was a five-star restaurant in the mid-90s. We were eating filet mignon & caviar, & washing it down with some Autumn Reisling wine and champagne often. As the times went along, the prices got more expensive and some of the superb dishes that we got to eat were taken off the menu. Now in 2014, a five-star meal mostly consists of spaghetti and meatballs with Allen’s Apple juice, & it’s being eaten up by everyone under the age of 25. I don’t want to knock it & say it’s not a good meal, but the palate of my generation was forever affected. Some of us decided to close our eyes and dig in, while others decided to try different restaurants altogether. And some like myself, want to try these new dishes, but when I look back at albums like Ready to Die & remember how well off I was, I end up walking out of the establishment shaking my head. Maybe that makes me a snob. Maybe so…. & it might be better that way. Damn, I hope I didn’t make you get hungry…..  

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button. Very special thanks to Shawn Adonis for his contributions to this posting.

Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of Nas’ Illmatic

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the Greatest Times in Hip Hop history. On April 19, 1994, an up and coming 20 year old rapper named Nasir Jones released his debut album Illmatic, which would go onto become one of the top five greatest albums in hip hop. As we celebrate the album rerelease of Illmatic today (not to mention the release of the Time Is Illmatic documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival tomorrow), we will review the direction it took hip hop, the impact it had on its genre’s history, list the Top 5 tracks, and the most overlooked song on the groundbreaking album. It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine….

Illmatic launched the super producer era.

Before this album started, most of the big named rappers (either solo or group) had an in-house producer that handled most, if not all of the production. DJ Premier handled all of the Gang Starr beats. Pete Rock manned the board while CL Smooth mostly handled the mic. Both NWA and Death Row was handled by Dr. Dre. Public Enemy was handled by their in-house production team The Bomb Squad. Tribe was handled mostly by Q-Tip, RZA handled all things Wu-Tang, Black Moon had The Beatminerz, the list goes on and on. On Illmatic, the game was changed in that regard. It was the first album that had multiple big named producers contributing to the work. Not only that, but with regards to Primo, Q-Tip & Pete Rock, these guys were at the very top of the producer game in hip hop. It also set off a friendly competitive environment with all the producers. No one wanted to be the one that put out the subpar beat on what was supposed to be the coming of the next Rakim at the time. As much as they all supported each other’s work & sat in on each other’s studio sessions, it also kept them on their toes to deliver their best. Primo even stated that after sitting in on the session and listening to Pete Rock create “The World is Yours” and also listening to Q-Tip do the beat for “One Love” , he was so blown away he felt he had to go back to the studio to come up with something on the same level of what he had just heard. He ended up remaking the beat for “Represent.

Just think of how hot those producers were at the time the LP was created. Q-Tip was fresh off of making the Midnight Marauders classic album with Tribe Called Quest. DJ Premier was working on Gang Starr’s Hard to Earn LP just after the success of the Daily Operation LP and the ’92 summer smash Dwyck. Pete Rock came off of Mecca and The Soul Brother success, just helped Run DMC become relevant again with Down With The Kingand gave the world the House of Pain’s Jump Aroundremix a few months prior. All three of these guys basically were having MVP seasons & all of them (including Large Professor & L.E.S.) felt compelled to give the then 20-year old some of the very best work they had to offer. Within a few years, having the hottest producers on your album (if you were a big name & could afford it) became the norm to make your album. If you had the major buzz coming before your debut album came out, it was almost a prerequisite. The In-House producer didn’t become extinct necessarily, but it definitely took a huge backseat to the new method of creating an album. Illmatic was the original blueprint. 

Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park) is the most underrated record on Illmatic.

“Pumping for something, some’ll prosper, some will fail/Judges hanging ni**as, uncorrect bails for direct sales/My intellect prevails from a hanging cross with nails/I reinforce the frail with lyrics that’s real”

Not only is this track underrated, after listening to the lyrics yet again, this song may be the true soul of the album. Nas takes us back on a journey to his youth & touched down on everything from: his boy getting robbed for his sheepskin coat; to the friends whose lives have been lost; to the justice system that is designed to take down him & other black people, to the legendary drug dealers that ran New York City in the late 80s. More importantly, it also may arguably be the most lyrically dense song on Illmatic, which is saying a whole lot considering this is one of, if not the most lyrical hip hop debuts that ever existed. The belief in his rhymes is that he is the Verbal Massiah, here to uplift his listeners, inspire them, and give them a glimpse into the future of what the new standard of lyricism will be.

However, the song shines even more with the production of DJ Premier, and by flipping an old Reuben Wilson song into a laid back, underrated classic. The song brings out a 70’s nostalgic kind of vibe that marries Nas’ lyrics to the beat. As incredible as Primo was as the producer of all the Gang Starr classics (i.e. Code of the Streets), it was his work here & the other tracks (“N.Y. State of Mind”, “Represent”) from Illmatic that helped thrust him further into superstardom. Post-Illmatic, if you wanted your album to be hot, you had to get a Primo beat to make it official. In addition, to top it off, Primo provided his legendary cuts & scratches to the “Coming Outta Queensbridge” sample at the ending of the song, basically killing anything else left on the track that Nas didn’t already destroy in the first 3+ minutes. Trust me, the more you listen to the record, the more you realize this song doesn’t get its just due. 

The Top 5 songs on Illmatic. In order.

Just remember, this is my list and my opinion. If you feel differently by all means, feel free to share. Who doesn’t want to have heated discussions about Illmatic? You can probably flip these 5 songs about 100 different ways in terms of ranking, but however, let’s review the list.

Just know this was hard to rank. HARD. 

5. One Love (produced by Q-Tip)

“On the reals/All these crab ni**as know the deals/when we start the revolution all they probably do is squeal/But chill…”

“So I come back home, nobody’s out but Shorty Doo-Wop/rolling two Phillies together in the bridge we call ’em oo-wops”

Probably the best “jail letter to my homie(s)” record ever recorded. Many artists have tried to follow in his footsteps of keeping connected with his friends in jail as years gone past, but nothing touches “One Love”. Q-Tip blesses Nas with the Xylophone’d out track that almost making you feel like Roy Ayers was sitting by your speakers. How he makes that instrument work in hip hop like that I’ll never know.

One part I have to bring up: forget the part about him providing updates on the hood, or him trying to provide advice to twelve year old Shorty Doo-Wop rolling up blunts (maybe he should have, you know, taken the blunts out of “Doo-Wop’s” hands instead seeing that he may have been a senior in elementary school??), but couldn’t they use a better girl as his boy’s baby mother in the video? She has a faint moustache! I know this was 1994 & everything, maybe the budget wasn’t huge, but video chicks came from this era of hip hop. There’s no excuse for this just like there’s no excuse for a uni-browed chick to get a close up head shot. Even back then, it always confused me when I saw that part. Of course shorty don’t care, she’s got excessive facial hair & she still has dudes trying to get with her. Why would she care?

4. Life’s A Bitch (produced by L.E.S.)

“Visualizing the realism of life in actuality/F*** who’s the baddest, the person’s status depends on salary”

“Life’s a bitch and then you die/That’s why we get high/Cause you never know when you gonna go”

– AZ

Think of how sick AZ’s presence was on this song. Firstly, he was the only guest artist on the whole album outside of Nas’ boys conversing at the beginning of “One Love” & chanting the song title on “Represent”. Secondly, his debut verse & hook was so hot that he started a major bidding war between record labels, eventually signing to EMI Records later on that year. A year later, he dropped the classic Sugar Hill track off of his debut album Doe or Die (which had a lot of gems on it) & helped to spin off his rap career. All of this came from his verse and the hook alone. That was the power of this album. If you produced something hot or in this case, spit something hot, you were gonna become a star if you weren’t one already. It’s amazing how album sales for Illmatic were slow coming out the gate even though it was revered at the time.

It’s even debatable that he even outdid Nas on his own track, though if you listen to Nas’ verse I’m still not so sure. Either way, Life’s A Bitch was the song that formed future collabos and The Firm album from the duo. Nas’ pops Olu Dara comes in with the smooth sounding horns at the end of record & adds a classy touch. Here’s an interesting fact: Nas originally wanted to sample Mtume’s Juicy Fruit, but L.E.S. didn’t have the record. So he ended up sampling The Gap Band’s Yearning For Your Love instead. Imagine that, he would have beaten Biggie to the punch had he come out with that first, mostly likely forcing Biggie to use another sample to make “Juicy”. Actually, no……I don’t wanna imagine that.

3. It Ain’t Hard to Tell (produced by Large Professor)

“Deep like The Shining/Sparkle like a diamond/Sneak an Uzi on the island in my army jacket lining”

Nah, nah, nah. Rewind that back…

“Deep like The Shining/Sparkle like a diamond/Sneak an Uzi on the island in my army jacket lining”

Oh my Gawd!! The first time my friends and I heard this line, our brains exploded. Back then, it was like going from Sega Genesis to a PS4 overnight without gradual process. Lyrically it was unlike anything we had ever heard. When we saw the video, it was simple, but still cool enough that it affected us to the point that we believed in all things Nas. If they sold Nas socks, Nas baseball caps, Nas jackets, Nas hoodies, Nas Fun Dip, Nas water bottles, Nas .40 ounces, Nas poutine (I am from Montreal, so…), whatever it was, we would have literally cleared the shelves of it. We were sold like that. Throw in Michael Jackson’s Human Nature sample which SWV also previously sampled to make a huge hit in the summer of ’93, some of the other gems and flows that he dropped on this song (Nas will analyze/Drop a jewel/Inhale from the L/school a fool well/you feel it like Braille….), & giving us the term “half-man/half amazing” and it was over. O-V-E-R.

It’s strikingly amazing that this song is only ranked third on my list. It could have ranked higher but, well, there are two reasons why….

2. The World is Yours (produced by Pete Rock)

“I sip the Dom P watching Ghandi ’til I’m charged/Then writing in my book of rhymes, all the words past the margin”

In my opinion, it’s not only my favorite song off Illmatic, but it’s my favorite Nas song ever. More than “Street Dreams”, “Nas is Like”, “2nd Childhood”, “The Message” and, “One on One” & every other classic he ever put out. I’m an absolute sucker for piano loops, so that piano intro right at the beginning caught my attention. Pete Rock comes in to sing the question “Who’s world is this?”, Nas drops the lyrical gems. It’s not a complicated track, but the flow and the production is incredible. Quite frankly, it’s one of Pete Rock’s greatest beats. The mellow landscape allows Nas to paint the vivid picture of his life & how he views his surroundings. The video then captures the laid-back & mellow vibe but intersects shots that matches the lyrics.

Does it also help that the song is about 30% better because the song title is lifted from the silver Globe in the indoor water fountain/pool that Tony Montana had in his living room, before he fell in it by way of the shotgun blast to his back? Hell yes!!

More than that, similar to like Memory Lane, this song hits you right across the chest in a soulful, nostalgic way. You can just close your eyes, and you’re transported to your teenage days (in my case, back to 1994) trying to navigate through the pitfalls and obstacles that come in front of you. Funny thing is, even when that song was released, the song made me feel nostalgic too. No, it doesn’t mean that I closed my eyes & I was playing with Legos in front of the TV waiting for Transformers to come on. It just means that it had an old familiar vibe to it, that made it forever timeless. To this day, it remains the flawless diamond above the rest of gems on this album. I won’t even get into the remix for this track, which was almost as sweet as this original.

However, there was another song that was more significant….

1. N.Y. State of Mind (produced by DJ Premier)

“The smooth criminal on beat breaks/never put me in your box if the shit eats tapes…eats tapes…”

“It drops deep as it does in my breath/I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death”

When you peeled the plastic off your CD or cassette and stuck it into your stereo or Walkman, right away Nas snatched you up with this opening track. And to think, he didn’t even know how to start the song off.

As the legend goes, when he stepped into the booth to rap, he was confused as to how to start the track. The beat threw him off a bit. He even stared off with some ad-libs,

“Straight out the fu**ing dungeons of rap/where fake niggas don’t make it back…”

& then literally says a few seconds later,

“I don’t know how to start this shit…”

As he looked up from his notepad, DJ Premier was literally waving at him already counting down for him to catch the beat. 4, 3, 2, 1….

& then in one take, Nas sheds the nerves & rips through the first verse like a veteran, stunning everyone in the studio. After he finished, he stepped out of the booth & asked in all seriousness, “Did that sound cool?” The entire studio erupted, completely freaking out over what he spit.

That moment & the song set the bar high for the rest of the album as a listener. If this was the first song, what the hell was the rest of the album gonna be and sound like??? Even though “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” was already released & was blowing up on radio everywhere, we were still waiting to hear the finished product. The beat by Primo was so eerie & menacing on top of everything else, it just took it to another place. This song was never released on the single, as the other ones mentioned in the top 5. With that said, it remains the most important song on Illmatic without question.

The Illmatic album cover represents the official Declaration for Hip Hop Greatness.

Along with Tribe’s Midnight Marauders album cover, Illmatic is in the category of the “most classic & original” album covers ever. Unlike Marauders, the Illmatic cover has been replicated repeatedly. This was the first cover that didn’t feature someone posing hardcore or otherwise on the cover, or have some kind of artwork done, or the artist/group’s logo sprawled on the front cover. Instead, it has Nas’ face as a kid blended in with the Queensbridge project buildings in the background. Nobody at the time knew what to make of it, until we started hearing tracks spew from the album. As time went along, it started being viewed as one of the greatest albums ever made in the genre (even though it did not reach gold status in the first year). Others started following the Illmatic artwork, starting with the Notorious B.I.G. on his debut album Ready to Die. While Biggie’s album became a certified classic & worldwide smash, some knocked him for copying Nas’ album cover, including Raekwon and Ghostface Killah who called him out subliminally on the infamous “Shark Ni**as” interlude off the legendary Only Built For Cuban Linx LP.

Whenever viewing the album cover, it’s automatically equated to “ultimate greatness”. Don’t think our favorite rappers don’t feel the same way. Starting from Common, to Lil Wayne, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and more, they have all used a variation of this blueprint. Personally, I feel it’s a way to not just pay homage, but a statement to the masses that, “this is my greatest work, I’m reaching for elite/iconic status right here”. It’s no coincidence that those albums in particular were either good if not straddling the greatness line. It’s the “Baby Picture Theory” I call it. You put a baby pic or pre-teen pic of yourself on your album cover in hip hop, and it better be damn good…..because you know what it’s gonna be compared to.

Sidebar/Wild angled question: Can you imagine if after all this time, Nas really stole this idea for his album cover from Nirvana? It may sound crazy, but that “Nevermind” album they had back in ’91 was HUUUUGE & I’m not even a rock guy. PLUS that album had “Smells Like Teen Spirit” & I don’t know Nas personally, but he had to have loved that song. Who the f*** didn’t like that song??? Tell me you didn’t love that song. I f***ing dare you!

Illmatic is the greatest East Coast album ever.

With deep apologies to Jay-Z, Biggie, Tribe, Wu, Redman, Boot Camp Click, Eric B & Rakim, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Mos Def, The Roots, Talib Kweli, 50 Cent, Mase Puff Daddy DMX & every other hip hop classic album I’m forgetting from the East Coast, none of those albums are deified quite like Illmatic. They just aren’t. For most rappers, they all strive to have Jay-Z’s success and/or be revered like 2Pac and/or Biggie. Everyone is forever trying to retrace their footsteps of success, but every rapper strives to make an album that is on the level of Illmatic. In their own way, rappers have followed in Nas’ path. From using their album cover as a spinoff of Illmatic or having a short tracklist (i.e. at least two of Kanye West and Common’s albums have a limited playlist), or even trying to be lyrical & heartfelt (i.e. J Cole), everyone’s used this album as a barometer to strive for greatness.

The formula was so tremendously successful, it’s a wonder why Nas himself hasn’t followed suit. He’s delivered many great albums since this Illmatic (including 2012’s “Life is Good) as well as collaboration projects like The Firm & Distant Relatives. They have all been good if not great, but none of them have quite matched up like his first album. It shows you how hard it is sometimes to replicate greatness, & it has nothing to do with Nas’ skills as a rapper/lyricist. One of the biggest complaints for Nas is the production selections in the past doesn’t match his talents. Doesn’t matter how good his albums are, there always seems to be a few beats that seems like they don’t belong there. Every time I purchase (yes, I said purchase) a Nas LP, a part of me keeps expecting a flawless LP, where his skills & the beats are one & the same.

I’ve heard rumors that he is thinking about making Illmatic 2. Normally I would cringe to hear these album sequel projects. Only this time, because of the stature of the original, Nas would literally have the ear of every major producer in hip hop about wanting to get on the project with him. It would be a producer’s dream. Until that day becomes a reality however, we’ll have to continue to honor the original. An album that was ahead of its time, but yet the future is still trying to catch up to it. #IllMatic #20Years

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

Follow me on Twitter or email me at southshoreave@gmail.com