Friday, November 6, 2009

B Side Stories in Rap Vol. 1

My sister Helen lent me a mix CD that she got from her friend. In sharpie someone wrote, "Introduction to Rap" on the cover. I think I heard 4 Eminem's, a couple Missy Elliot's, some Luda, and maybe a little Dre?

I am not opposed to this line up, but the title got me thinking. OK, my other sister, Katie's favorite rap song is Lil Wayne's, "Stunting like my Daddy." We debate on Weezy's credentials from time to time, but what about me?

This isn't about getting offended at how uneducated everyone is in "rap game." Or, hating on other people's fun. I just thought that if my sister is sharing some stuff with me, I could share some with her.

In the course of putting my own list together I realized that I could most easily share my point of view as an open letter with links. If you have some time, I suggest reading what I wrote below, and then listening music even if it is just a few bars a piece. Hopefully, you will have a few good names to come back to and visit when you are in the mood.



If you were really serious about making an introduction to rap, I think you should know about Jazz. Its the same heart and soul to me, but in objective terms it is musical form that relies on preexisting beat patterns. Making new songs with improvisation, and songs that people can dance to are hallmarks of both. Another similarity is that they are American art forms that were invented by blacks.

You really can skip these particular links or at least leave them out of your mix.

Jelly Roll Morton

Morton is a good place to start figuring out Jazz, he played Blues and Ragtime and you put it all together. (FYI: His nickname is the 1920's version of "Pussy Man".)

Louis Armstrong:

Armstrong is the name everyone has heard of, but for good reason. He could sing good, play great, and entertain best. He also played with about every musician in the world. He was the original world wide, number one stunner.

Woody Herman:

Herman was a good, good, good white guy. I don't know if anyone else besides me would add him next after Morton, and Armstrong, but I like him so check him out if you like jazz or my tastes.


"Old School" Homework:

I am skipping some the usual talking points and going straight for stuff you can recognize as what we like today. In one sense, these are the guys that the current guys listened to before they were coming up. You may be surprised at how rhythmic the flow is, the downside is that these guys sometimes sound cliche because they invented the stuff that became cliche.


KRS ONE is perpetually cited in Hip Hop documentaries as one of the Professors of Rap School. Currently, I think his glow has faded precipitated by his comments on Obama. Its like he's the cool Granpa that everyone loves, but you take his claims as less relevant than back in the day.

Big Daddy Kane:

Kane is one of the dude's Eminem liked coming up. For trivia, he was rapping about Decepticons back in 1989, which makes it funny to me to hear people giving props to Chris Brown's "I Can Transform You."

Slick Rick:

Recently, Kanye claimed he was the new Slick Rick. This British rappers was unique. He recently got off the hook for a murder rap going from the 80's that had him facing deportation.


G Rap was a friend and inspiration to RA the Rugged Man, who I will talk about later.

Played Out, But Still Cool:

The guys below are two of the best guys out making today, but they were made into paper gods by people looking for new heroes. They are now kind of caught between two persona: the representatives of the poor common man, and the rock super star over exposed type of MC. Honorable Mention in this category goes to Mos Def, who fits my mold precisely, but despite some nice lyrics I can't think of a favorite song of his off the top of my head.


Otherwise called "Common Sense", Common is one of the most fun rappers to try to inspire people with their music. This type of "socially conscious" rap is usually preachy and boring, but Common is a rare Pokemon that kind of pulls it off. His downside is that he is commonly in terrible movies.


Think of the whole Taylor Swift thing, if you follow my logic you can see him imploding in on himself between his sincere feelings and the pop expectations as he berated Swift for not being Beyonce.

"Conscious Music"

The concept is usually bullshit, like I said. I mean, music is music, art is art, and we shouldn't give some people a pass on judgment if they rap about AIDS or Hurricane Katrina. These guys are still "on message" at least in their own minds.

Lupe Fiasco:




"Guilty Pleasures"

I think the risk of becoming of trying to be a connoisseur is that there is a tendency to judge too harshly. So, the next category is pure entertainment and just good. With popular success you are going to get fans that don't know what they are buying and haters that are pissed their pets will have more competition for airplay.


He is everywhere, right now. His auto-tuning is a big bulls eye on his back, meanwhile I love this song.


"I call you For Real, because you're true." So spaketh Jay Z about Pharell Williams, and he as hot for a minute. Like Kanye, his penchant for "white style" clothing hurt his street cred and had the street calling him gay.


Hip Hop Ain't Dead, AKA The Rugged Man

RA the Rugged Man explains how there are plenty of poor people out there making good music, and the talk about Hip Hop being dead means nothing besides propaganda for commercial interests. RA is interesting because he is a journalist, a guy with street cred, and a big ugly white guy. He talks some straight and hilarious truth with a studied knowledge of the history.

Here is a good look at the RA:

This video hits all the important points: he is white, he represents interest in style over substance, and he loves the sweet science. (That's boxing.)

A Collab with Biggie Smalls:

I snuck this cameo in there, by way of demonstrating the relationship the street has with big labels. Apparently people wanted to sign RA and wanted him to make a catchy little single with Big, instead they made the rudest song imaginable.

Jedi Mind Tricks:

This is a narrative story about his RA's dad in Vietnam, its conscious music, I suppose. I point it out specifically for the difference in subject matters of rappers. More on that, later.

(While were on the subject)

Obama name Dropper:

This is one RA's video blogs.

The Interview that's on everyone's ears:

This is the now infamous interview showdown with caller Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Eminem's Shady 45 radio station. Its getting him exposure to people that don't know him.

The Best and Worst For Last

In my humble opinion, there is no heights higher than Eminem and no depths lower than Lil' Wayne. Just kidding, they both are somewhere in between, but the fact remains that they are galvanizing and polarizing forces in the business. Also, between the two of them there are stories about every little aspect of rap today.

Since you don't need anymore exposure to their music (Its everywhere.) I am going to just kind of finish up my thoughts, and you can browse some relevant links below as you see fit.

I think the ability to "Free Style" is crucial to a rapper's ability. Its the foundation, if not the key to the kingdom. Eminem, Jay Z, Biggie, Pac, all these guys are considered the greatest rappers that ever lived and they are all masters of free styling. (1) I am suspect of Wayne's ability, despite claims that he free style's almost everything he does. I mean, I believe it because its bad. His hallmark is funny little similes that don't really combine to form a coherent whole.

Beats are also crucial and rewriting a hot beat with different lyrics is the great common denominator of rap. Its easy to compare and contrast. (2) This is how 50 Cent blew up. He had a lot of underground success rewriting popular albums. This concept goes largely unknown to the public who is content to accept 50's provocative past and adoption by Eminem as all the information they need.

On that note, 50 Cent was such a good poster boy for rap because he is the living embodiment of the hype. He is a tough looking guy who ACTUALLY sold drugs, and ACTUALLY got shot multiple times. He was the real deal. Unlike Ja Rule and unlike Lil Wayne.(3). Lil Wayne is a paper champion in every possible way. he was brought up by his producer daddy, who made him the "youngest CEO" with no say and no stake in Cash Money Records. He had albums out with no publishing rights to his music. He had ghost writers actually right his lyrics in many cases. However, he does have a distinctive voice, he plays his part well, and he sincerely loves doing what he does.

One of the things Lil Wayne doubters kick around is his tendency "to bite" or steal from other artists. One thing that his fans say is that using someone else's line is an homage, not a crime. This is sometimes true, but I doubt this defense lets him of the hook completely. 

When 50 Cent writes, "Snoop said this is 94, we don't love these hoes," it was a textbook success: He cited his source, he called back to someone in his extended family (Snoop in bed with Dr. Dre, Dre in bed with Em, Em in bed with 50), and he varied his delivery to emphasize the joke.

Meanwhile, Weezy has a tendency to make almost blatant rip offs and makes no bones about it. For example his hit, "Like a Lolli" made good use of 50's "Lick it like a lollipop" line from his single "Candy Shop." For more controversial fun check this link (4).

This is starting to sound like I am really piling it on, but I have one last Lil Wayne anecdote to explain about the good and the bad and the ugly truth. There is this guy out in Philadelphia that you have never heard of named, "Gilly da Kid." Like 50, he was a rapping drug dealer. Unlike 50, he still is.

Amongst the controversy he stirs up, is the claim that Lil Weezy is the puppet version of himself, and there is a little bit to what he says.(5) Unfortunately for Gilly, even if Lil Wayne copied him like a mentor, Wayne is still on top of the rap game, and no one knows who Gilly is outside of Philly and Ving Rhames. Even worse, his attempts at proving his own greatness to the wide world has been pretty lackluster so far. (6)

(1)Freestyle em versus wayne:

(2)50 Cent MIX TAPES:

(3)Lil Wayne:

(4) Lil Wayne Swagger Jacker;

(5) Fun Gilly Drama:

(6)Gilly's Video:


Final Thoughts

Alright, so there is my mix tape. I count 18 songs with 3 hidden tracks of Jazz. Sorry I can't burn it for you. I also apologize to Lil Wayne, and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

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