It’s Dark And DMX….

ITS DARK AND DMX

 

They say when you’re a child, everything and everyone is larger than life. Every person or character is viewed as a being of mythic proportion, a superhero if you will. When you’re a child your imagination is in it’s purest state of freedom. Life at the time is vibrant and kaleidoscope-like. Music, whichever genre you gravitate towards, is the soundtrack to those vibrant, kaleidoscopic visions.  May 12th, 1998 offered a jarring contrast to what an 11-year-old boy originally understood about music, colors and though still in its infancy…life.

I was already an avid Hip-Hop fan by the time I was introduced to DMX’s music. We as a community were still reeling from the untimely deaths of  2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. so needless to say there was a power vacuum taking place in mainstream hip-hop. Who was going to grab the torch from BOTH of these instant legends? That question was lingering throughout all of Rap and seemingly out of nowhere I began hearing a gravelly voiced MC from Yonkers bellowing out to anyone that dared to crossed his path to “STAY OUT THE DARK!”

The song of note was LL Cool J’s “4,3,2,1” and I couldn’t get enough of it. I believe X’s verse at the time was probably the fastest I had ever knew a verse front to back, It had to be a matter of days. After that song was digested, another track was called “Pull It” featuring Cam’ron quickly filled the void for the contributions I craved. The music was dark, the feel was gritty and the tone was bleak. It seemed like even though the world was still grieving, X  was not about to offer recompense. It was HIS time and he was taking it.

 

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There was a different vibe in the air during the Spring of 1998. Before his first single dropped, we already had the a good sample size of what X  had to offer and what he was bringing the table. Aside from “4,3,2,1” and “Pull It” we also had “Money, Power, Respect” and 24 Hours To Live”. These core four set the stage for what was soon to some with DMX’s Debut album “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot”.  Armed with arguably one of the most street lead singles ever in Hip-Hop history, “Get At Me Dog” shot through the game like Super Dave being blasted out of a cannon.

I knew there was something different about the landscape at the time, I was not the only one captivated by his music and his energy. Imagine being in a middle school science class, when your teacher inexplicably leaves the room, then out of nowhere the entire class erupts in unison, chanting the chorus from “Ruff Ryders Anthem”. Or being at Boy Scout Camp and trying to play basketball with your much more athletic friends, so you go sit on the bench , become a mascot and press play on the radio. A team that was down 7 was magically up by 10, I guess that’s just how Ruff Ryders roll.

 

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By the time Woodstock ’99 came around, there was only two other times in my young life where I had seen one person captivate a virtual sea of people with just their presence. The first one was a clip of Freddie Mercury absolutely destroying Live Aid, the volume  seemed endless and overwhelming, but Freddie seemed unfazed and continued to dazzle the concert goers. The second was Michael Jackson’s ” Live In Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour” in 1992. Again the amount of people affected by MJ’s effortless moves were simply awe inspiring. After seeing those two Megastars achieve those feats, to see someone from the Hip-Hop realm do it as well was truly something that only few will be able to do. The “IT” factor was on full display with DMX.

 

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“Its Dark and Hell is Hot” was such an impactful album, that many could not understand why it did not reach the pinnacle of success that it should have. It’s eventual Grammy snub was in fact the impetus for Jay-Z boycotting the ceremony for years. Jay-Z ladies and gentleman. HOV. Jiggaman. The God MC himself said that because of the committee’s refusal to acknowledge a true work of art, he would not partake in any festivities. This was 1998 Jay…not the 4:44 Jay…let that sink in.

Looking back on how well this album has aged in the 20 years that it has been here for consumption, I STILL find myself picking up new jewels and nuggets of wisdom within much of the content. As a kid I didn’t fully understand the hurt, the pain, the anguish that plagued him throughout much of his life.  I was not aware of the mental health issues that he shared with us on many of the tracks. Paranoia,  Manic Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder, and in some instances schizophrenia were all elements that were weaved throughout the project.  What sounded like entertainment then is now viewed as a soul bearing plea for help in the present day.

It was the honesty, authenticity, and brass tacks lyricism that captivated a young 11/12 year old kid from Orange, New Jersey. It figuratively and literally changed the way I heard music from that point on. The rawness of it all, the dystopian outlook aged me in ways I wasn’t aware of until much later in my adult life. Hearing this album made realize that 1998 was more than just another watershed moment in Hip-Hop. It let me know that this genre was tailored specifically for me, something to cherish, uphold and protect. At a time in where much of what was given was saccharin sweet to say the least, The guttural bellows of the gravelly voiced MC from Yonkers let me know that there would forever be a place in music, in art,and in life for something real. Earl “DMX” Simmons…..Legend.

 

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J Dilla’s Lasting Legacy

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James Dewitt Yancey was born on February 7th 1974.  What he was able to achieve in terms of musical progression in the 32 years that he was allotted on this earth was quite simply amazing. From original compositions and remixes in the mid to late 90’s to jaw dropping, mind-boggling soundscapes of the early 00’s, Dilla’s penchant for pushing boundaries is that something that is still lauded and awe-inspiring to this day, even 12 years after his death.

As as a youngster discovering sounds and more importantly Hip-Hop for the first time, I was introduced to J Dilla’s work long before I knew who he was. Listening to the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, The Roots and D’Angelo I had no idea that many of the songs that I loved from these artists were in fact produced by him. It wasn’t until early in my college career that I discovered the man behind many of the songs that I deemed classics. If it wasn’t for “J.J.” I seriously doubt that I would have made those connections when I did, so for that I’m forever grateful.

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Once that light bulb went on however, I did my Due DILLAgence and began searching, scouring the net,  the brick and mortar stores and iTunes at the time for all things Jay Dee related. From there I really got into Madlib and Nujabes, the former is one who I strongly consider to be a direct contemporary. It was no coincidence that right after I had that thought, I came across “Champion Sound” which was sadly Jaylib’s lone collaborative project. It is a technical marvel in terms of sound and is rightfully considered an underground classic.

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Slum Village-Fan-Tas-Tic Vol.1

Slum Village was another important pickup for me while I was “digging” so to speak. “Fan-tas-tic Vol. 1” was the one that I gravitated toward, falling in love with the minimalist approach to crafting songs. “Welcome To Detroit” was yet another album that I have a ton of respect for. For me it sounded like more of what I was accustomed to in terms of the Slum sound and was a great addition to an already stellar catalog.  While listening to Slum Village, I was introduced to Elzhi and Black Milk.

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Khrysis and Elzhi are “Jericho Jackscon”

Even though most of Elzhi’s work was on subsequent Slum Village albums after Jay Dee’s departure from the group, there was still a bevy of material to sift through with Elzhi tearing apart Dilla Beats.  “Villa Manifesto” was the last time all four members of Slum Village were featured on a single project…Rest In Peace Baatin.  Even with the album pictured above that was released on February 23rd, 2018 the legacy lives on with Elzhi sounding as sharp as ever while Khrysis crafts beats that are reminiscent of  Dilla’s early work.

 

 

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Karriem Riggins- Headnod Suite

When “Headnod Suite” dropped on February 24th 2017, I declared then that if  J Dilla were alive today and dropped “Donuts 2”, It would sound exactly like this. From the chopped up loops, to abrupt breaks or “perfect mistakes” as I call them, It is abundantly clear that Mr. Riggins  has studied the techniques very closely and has arguably perfected the sound altogether. It’s also no coincidence that Karriem Riggins was entrusted with completing “The Shining” which was unfortunately only 75% completed at the time of Dilla’s passing.

 

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Black Milk-Fever

As mentioned earlier, while listening to Slum Village I discovered Black Milk while reading through the liner notes. Determined not to make the same mistake I did with J Dilla, I immediately bought “Popular Demand” and was blown away.  Any album that he has dropped since Dilla has passed has felt like he picked up the mantle of pushing boundaries musically. Every album sounds and feels different sonically.  The “Fever” album also dropped on February 23rd, 2018 and I implore all of you to go give this album a spin, you will not be disappointed.

 

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In ending, The words above summarizes my senitments on J Dilla entirely, to quote Black Thought’s heart-felt and soul stirring voicemail from the song “Can’t Stop This” he states:

“My man, JD, was a true hip hop artist
… I can’t explain the influence that
His mind and ear have had on my band
Myself and the careers of so many other
Artists.
 The most humble, modest, worthy

And gifted beatmaker I’ve known. And
Definitely the best producer on the mic
Never without that signature smile and head
Bouncin’ to the beat.
 JD had a passion for

Life and music, and will never be forgotten
He’s a brother that was loved by me, and I
Love what he’s done for us. And though I’m
Happy he’s no longer in the pain he’d been
Recently feelin’, I’m crushed by the pain of
His absence.
 Name’s Dilla Dog and I can only
Rep the real and raw.
 My man, Dilla, rest in

Peace.”

As I sit here 12 years after J Dilla’s passing, I can’t help but wonder where he would have taken music had he still been with us. What new technique would he have invented that would have changed the landscape entirely. J Dilla did indeed change my life, he changed the way I heard and understood music. He made me study music theory just so I could have a better appreciation of 3 second sample from an obscure record placed at an unconventional section that would normally destroy the structure of a song. A practice that if done by anybody else during that time, I’m not sure that it would have been executed with such precision. James Dewitt Yancey was born on February 7th 1974.  He was truly a one of one the likes of which we will most likely never see again…Maybe in our next lifetime.

The RapNerd’s Lament…

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“A Sad Man” by Javi Velazquez

 

As a life long fan of Hip-Hop, I find myself at a point where I’m extremely conflicted. Although my love for the art form has not wavered, I have begun to question much of the content and intent that has pervaded the mass consciousness of general music listeners. The more I listen, the more I absorb, the more I begin to realize a harsh truth. A truth that many will often defend to the point of being obnoxious, ignorant, selfish or just flat-out wrong. The truth is that we as a Hip-Hop Community hates women, Women in general but Black Women specifically.

On The Diplomats song “Once Upon A Time” Cam’Ron rapped:

“Welcome back to the hallway loiterers
I made mills off the white girl, I exploited her
No disrespecting the ladies, word from my team (why)
That’s the reason Dame smacked Harvey Weinstein.”

By now we should all know about the monster that is Harvey Weinstein and he deserves every punishment that can be given to him. While what Cam rapped about was something commendable on Dame’s behalf, I couldn’t help but think about all the times I went crazy every time “Wet Wipes” or  “Suck It Or Not” was played back in 2007. In 2018 I looked back on those songs began to cringe profusely.  I began to wonder how many men in their early 20’s 10 years ago feel the same way now as I do. As the conversation shifts ever so violently toward women’s rights. I found myself pondering what role if any does Hip-Hop play in the sphere of Misogynoir.

For those of you that don’t know, Misogynoir is defined as; misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias. To break that down further, Misogyny is defined as; the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls.  Now when you take those definitions and apply them to the current landscape of Mainstream Hip-Hop (the most listened to genre of music in the world at the present day) There is a very serious issue that stands before us. How many times have we as fans been complicit in the systemic tearing down of black women?

Through the music we have allowed ourselves to fall victim to the politics of respectability. The medium of music videos has done more to marginalize black women. Entire social media and terrestrial media platforms have been created to further drive home that point. So much so, that we as consumers believe that any woman who is apart of these platforms is of low moral standing. We as a community has allowed this to happen.

Another branch of the misogynior tree is rape culture. To make it plain and simple, anytime a woman is forced, or coerced into sex without her consent is rape period. In a world where words or phrases like “thot”, “scrapes”, “stabs”, and “hoes” have become normal jargon, it can blind you to the fact that women, Black women are the targets of these words more times than not. When Rick Ross rapped:

“Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it
I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it
Got a hundred acres I live on, you ain’t even know it
Got a hundred rounds in this AR, you ain’t even know it
Got a bag of bitches I play with, on cloud 9 in my spaceship”

he knowingly shared his tactics with us on how he beds women,and all we did was nod along and ran the song back.

There are varying degrees to which we as black men have been complicit with notions and concepts that are less than becoming or savory. Degrees that none of us are exempt from. As I sit here and continue to ponder, I ask myself, where did much is this originate from? On Kid Cudi’s song , “Make Her Say(Poke Her Face)” A song literally about receiving oral pleasure, Conscious Stalwart Common once implored women to “get their hair right and get up on this conscious dick”.  In that verse he answers a poignant question, while “Embodying everything from the Godly to the party” when he finally spit, “that’s the way I was raised in this Southside safari so….” That led me to believe that this has been passed down through generations as misogynoir normally is.

In ending, as I continue this mental exercise, I’m finding myself more confused than when I began. Where is the balance? How do I continue down this path of musical freedom while also being aware that Black Women continue to be marginalized? It’s literally coming from all sides. How do we raise this generation of young girls and boys? when is it the right time to expose them to the art form? While it is beautiful at its core, there is a bunch of muck that surrounds it. Muck that is profitable, Muck that is vibrationally frequent , Muck that is universal.

When 300 Took Over….

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The year was 2012, the month was March and to me it was a normal day. I went to work and instead of working, I would normally talk rap with a few of my coworkers. The normal back and forth about what’s hot, what’s not, and who is up next. This one day in particular was different because for the first time, I was one of the people who was being put on to something new. My coworker “JB” told me about this young kid from Chicago that had the streets on lock and I should check him out. Now of course I was completely flabbergasted because I didn’t know who the kid was, so my response was “Word?!, Nah gotta check him out for myself and get back to you tomorrow, whats his name again?” A look of frustration came over JB’s face because he couldn’t remember his name. Then about 10 minutes later he screamed out “BACK FROM THE DEAD!”, “That’s the name of the mixtape, you can find it on DatPiff or just look for it on YouTube, you’ll see what I’m talking about.”

Needless to say that ringing endorsement was all I needed to get me excited about the prospect of  new young artist that appeared to be taking the rap underground by storm. I rushed off the clock at work, turned my phone one and went straight to YouTube to get the full introduction. As soon as I typed in “Back From The Dead” I was blown away by the amount of views this kid and his crew had already amassed. An entire column of videos with astounding numbers for the time, They were already viral. No video had less than one million views with hundreds of comments. The kid was Chief Keef and the Crew was 300 or GBE as I would soon come to understand in the following weeks.

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The most popular video that I viewed at that time was Chief Keef’s  “I Don’t Like” and It was gaining in popularity. admittedly I was resistant because as a 25/26-year-old, all I saw was a young kid and not taking time to see what kind of impact he and the crew would go on to have. When I got home from work later that night, I continued my research and began to learn the names of  the crew members and many of the names that were shout out in the song. Aside from the track’s lone feature that was Lil Reese, the other names that I learned were…Lil Durk, SD, Tadoe and Fredo Santana.  It was something abrasive but appealing to the music, alarming but authentic. No it wasn’t the train wreck that some tried to make it out to be, but it was indeed a symptom of the socioeconomic issues that plagued many of our inner cities.

As the weeks and months went by, I began to notice something remarkable.  I began to see kids from my hometown and the surrounding areas of Northern New Jersey emulate the other kids they saw on the internet from the mid-west. The slang, hand gestures, clothing, and even musical styles starting bubbling from my state. At first I was taken aback and became angry because I felt that we needed to carve out our own identity musically and mimicking another region would prove detrimental. The longer I looked though, I soon realized that it wasn’t just my state of  New Jersey, but states like New York, Connecticut, various states in the south and the west were all doing the same thing. The influence of GBE was sweeping the country.

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Everywhere I looked and listened I saw kids all grouped together screaming “Gang” or “Squad”  along with the corresponding hand sign to differentiate the terms. Every neighborhood became a block named after someone who may have passed away or it may have become their “world” so to speak. Words like “Clout”, “Opps”, and “Savage” can all be directly attributed to the Glory Boyz. Others phrases like “In The Cut” and “Glo Up”  also became a apart of the American lexicon. Even in the present day, you would be hard pressed to find a single person that doesn’t refer to anyone that is overzealous in any arena as a “thot”.

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Unfortunately, much of this retrospection comes on the heels of the untimely death of  Derrick Coleman other wise known as Fredo Santana. throughout this weekend, I saw the love pour in from many of the same places that he helped to influence. In a world where hot takes and hyperbole have become the new normal, somehow Fredo being labeled as a legend does not seem out-of-place. The truth of the matter is that for him, his family and friends, the label of legend is supremely fitting. Glo In Peace Fredo Santana.

KayFabe and Hip-Hop

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In professional wrestling, kayfabe /ˈkeɪfeɪb/ is the portrayal of staged events within the industry as “real” or “true”, specifically the portrayal of competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine and not of a staged or predetermined nature of any kind. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Doesn’t that sound like something that is enjoyed by billions throughout the globe? Yes my friends, I am talking about The Sports Entertainment world known as Hip-Hop. While the culture and essence of Hip-Hop is still very much intact, The advent of “beef for profit’ has been something that  many of the labels have sought after since the first Hip-Hop record was sold.

When Hip-Hop was in its infancy in the late 70’s and Early 80’s, the life blood of the art form was based widely on competition and crew rivalries(Factions). During that time battles took place within the boroughs to see who could lay claim to the proverbial throne. As Hip-Hop fought for acceptance and viability, it wouldn’t be long before labels came calling, seeking to cash in on what would later on become known as manufactured beef.

Much like Wrestling, Hip-Hop is littered with “BabyFaces” and “Heels”.  As early as the 80’s you had your “Face Rappers” like Will Smith and Young MC while “Heel Rappers” could be seen as Ice T and NWA. While the face rappers were radio friendly and safe for mainstream ears, It was the heel rappers that gave Rap its edge and street cred during that time. It was cool to root for NWO and DX…oops I meant NWA and Public Enemy.

On the T.I. track “Tell’em I Said That” he rapped:

Please pay attention to this part of the bull
One time got robbed got shot got shook
Got a job started rhymin’ came up with a hook
Got a chain and some tats came up with a look
Went and made it here
Workin’ talk tough in a book
F*** the image and perception they never tough as they look

This quote from the album “T.I. vs. T.I.P” succinctly describes the current era of  Hip-Hop. The “Image” is what the label heads are trying to sell the consumer on a daily basis as it churns out act after act. In true Kayfabe fashion, many of the artists don’t bother to separate fiction from reality instead they straddle the line. “Am I really this mega rich, doped up superstar?, Or am I just a actor?” Now some may view this as pure conjecture but to the impressionable, try telling them that wrestling…err..um..Rap is fake.

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When the Drake and Meek beef took place, both artists positioned and postured themselves with a story line that seemed like it was ripped straight from the WWE writer room. While Drake used the Titantron…Shucks I meant the OVOFest screen to get at Meek, Meek cut instagram promos like a true mid carder trying to get over and make it to the main roster. Was it good clean fun for those few days that it occurred, sure but how many of us really believed that any kind of real harm would come to either one of them during this spat.

 

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The Lil Wayne and Birdman situation is something I would liken to the “Montreal Screw Job”. Vince McMahon has been billed as a true heel in the industry and the way he treats his artists….I’m sorry I mean wrestlers… is something that is akin to Birdman. Weezy to me is The Brett Hart of the Rap game and was forced to put other rappers over while his own product suffered.

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2017 gave us another WWE like feud…and it even included microphones being tossed on the floor! Again it was mindless fun like an episode of  Raw or Smackdown but for some reason many of us thought there was a legitimate threat of  a real altercation. No Such luck, just more comedic fodder to create memes and music.

In Ending, there is much to love about about both mediums. Both have their merits and adversely both are not without flaw. The gangsters are hyper gangsters while the more gentle rappers are damn near priests on the mic. As the veil of mystery and secrecy has all but dissolved between artist and consumer, it seems to me that the Rap Kayfabe machine has gone into overdrive. We create hashtags out of catchphrases, we walk around in our favorite wrestlers (there I go again) rappers merch, and throw up their gang signs in our pictures. To be clear there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a good time connecting with our favorite artist but we must always remember to take a step back and see it for what it truly is…..Music Entertainment.