Did they just rip off Jet Li and Jason Staham for this?

I’ve been thinking a bit about what the game’s been missing. I’m hoping that next week Kanye not only outsells 50, but moves a sick number of records, signaling to the music industry’s gate keepers that gangsta rap is not the end all, be all of Hip Hop music. In the wake of such a thing occurring, I’ve made me a list of essential things every potential MC who comes my way has to have.

How To Be A Credible Contender: Vol 1

A. Basic talent and ability. Does this cat rhyme good? Every would be rapper can’t be Rakim, but its difficult to be an MC without an understanding of rhyme schemes and the ability to bend words to convey meaning while staying on beat. This property is not hard to find. Learning to rap on beat and get a simple enough point across is not the most difficult thing in the world, although there are lots of jokers trying to be rappers who haven’t even mastered this basic step.

God MC, pay homage

You only just begun, I see strenuous workouts in your future

B. Is this rappers technique superior to any? Or even distinct in any way? I think this is where 90% f the rappers handing me CDs outside Virgin and concerts fail first. AFter learning to rhyme, they never realize they’ve actually got to move beyond this and create something distinct about themselves. So if you’re standing out there in the rain passing out CDs full of derivative flows and content that is being done better on radio every day, get back to training and work on your style. Your Kung Fu is not strong enough.

c. Tell me a story, any story, just make it interesting, chock full of detail and interesting enough The Wolf is realto keep me listening. You getting money, you on your grin, you put in work in the streets, a detailed description of your closet in the most mundane detail possible? There is nothing entertaining about this shit. Entertain me, make me laugh, touch on something I haven’t heard before, cover a topic no one’s touched since ATCQ, go boho like Arrested Development, or burn the track with some vivid narrative of youth gone wrong like its a New York train circa ’72. Even major label rappers fail at this most of the time these days. If you all don’t get more interesting, I’m going to put my Blues men on the ipod and listen to nothing but Howlin Wolf and Lightin Hopkins for the next year.

Yeah, that's what you look like to me, plastic and unoriginal

D. Present yourself so I actually care what your story is. Look I know what the Hip Hop uniform is. I’ve got fresh sneaks aplenty. Hoodies and baggy jeans ain’t hard to come by, but if you look like everyone and your album cover features nothing but your scowling face or scowling crew, you ain’t Hip Hop, you just boring. Wasn’t there a time when freshness was the thing in Hip Hop? Not just copping the latest trendy tee but actually creating a distinct and interesting look of your own. Give Kanye shit for dressing like the catering staff went on LSD all you want but give him respect for being a distinct presence every time he steps on a magazine cover or red carpet. Let go of your fear young one, you don’t have to be a clone.

Kinda goofy but totally fresh. Youngin you could learn

5. The abstract – swagger, star potential and most importantly, intelligence and an understanding that what sells on the ball court will not necessarily sell on iTunes. You’ve got to have the swagger to be a star, but be true enough to what you stand for to not lose your way once you have a single that sells. You’ve got to have the intelligence and willingness to learn and study the game. The skills alone don’t pay the bills. There are lots of talented rappers without the heart or intelligence to succeed in the industry. If you ain’t ready, I don’t even want to hear about you.

Anyway, I actually started this whole thing because I wanted to write about Mickey Factz, whose mixtape I’ve been feeling (like it was Nia Long on my lap). Flashback Vol 1. – Back to the Future is focused in its beat selection, ganking beats from the 80’s through the 00’s. How many mixtapes in 2007 you know cover Poison, Round the Way Girl and Mona Lisa (the Slick Rick version, not Wyclef’s)? The follow up to his equally geek friendly, In Search of the Nerd, Flashback just sounds fun. Mickey’s style is pretty distinct, a melding of mid 90’s b-boy cool and hip hop hipster cockiness. Yeah, he’s all about fashion, fresh gear and fly girls but he also does a fierce take on Jay-z’s “Friend or Foe”, putting would be rappers in their place and drops straight straight battle rap alongside some pretty fierce girl identified only as Mallory Knox. The total effect is something like fusing the goofy good fun of early Will Smith with that superfly street style that’s all the rage (gold sneaks and Japanese fashion), and infusing with a decent dose of street cred. And none of this feels forced, from the way he rhymes to the way he dresses and the mixtape art, everything is working together. Somebody sign this cat and launch a real career. I could totally work with this.

Download the mixtape free.

This is how you do a mixtape cover

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The mix of surrealist imagery, historical allegory and social criticism in Dizzee’s video makes it likely the sickest video of the year, from one of the sickest (and my favorite I think) Hip Hop albums of
the year. The other thing that’s great about this song that’s missing from a lot of Hip Hop is good old fashioned story telling. Hidden behind that scattered flow and accent of his are storytelling chops worthy of anyone from Slick Rick to Jimmy Hendrix.

“1 day i was with ma breddrin Aido roaming the street, on the main road hungry looking for summin 2 eat, not no burger or no chips, shit that’s easily digested, its the shit that if your caught u’ll be easily arrested”

It’s really annoying when the guys from across the pond do better work with a form that originated in the US but I figure it’s for the same reason as NY losing it’s dominant place in Hip Hop. Ownership breeds arrogance and stagnation. Everyone whines about how everything that comes out of any other market isn’t real Hip Hop rather than taking creative chances and letting their work evolve with the market. It isn’t 1994, but from the artists and music NY keeps fielding, you’d think Biggie and Tupac hadn’t already had their day and everyone had to keep trying to recreate them.

Anyway, check out more of Dizzee’s tracks, the bombastic EZ Rock and Rob Bass sampling Pussyole (Oldskool) and the bouncy, fresh to death ode Bubbles and then go buy some real Hip Hop right here.

Dizzee reps for the oleskool

Contenders: Killer Mike

February 13, 2007

The Killer Pledges

We went from too black and too strong to Sisquo and the damn Thong song – “Best Day, Worst Day”

For a guy named Killer, Mike sure is exuberant. He’s also angry, righteous, boisterous, thoughtful, brash and probably a little rash. All reasons to love him I assure you. The most obvious touchstone for Killer Killer is Ice Cube circa say 1992. Killer has got a conscience see. He sees all this stuff happening to and in black America and it pisses him off. But he likes to party too and make songs about the ladies. Actually, he’s unable to prevent his songs from slipping between categories. He’ll randomly begin to criticize some fake pastor on what ought to be a party track, or direct his ire at the women on what seemed to be a social commentary track. Whatever he’s doing though, Mike is compelling.

Shit, just last week a young nigga got shot, playing Superman, racing bullets in the parking lot – “Aye Oh”

He isn’t compelling for extraordinary metaphorical or word juggling skills, although he does occasionally deploy those as well. The Ice Cube comparison holds here as well. Killer says whatever is on his mind the directest way possible. he puts some humor into it and delivers every line, whether dissing Soul Train or lamenting rappers who’ve quit rapping for acting, as if it’s his last one. He’s got one of those big voices (think Big or Chuck D) that leave you completely convinced of whatever it is they are saying.

The problem with Killer being on the Contenders series is that he’s already made an album totally worthy of adulation. Killer’s Ghetto Extraordinary was delayed from release for so long that all the material he recorded for it went into the mixtape, The Killer. He released that in 2005 and you really must listen to it to get an idea of what he’s capable of. The entire mixtape is full of sharp, banging, raucous beats. There is psychedelic stuff that shows the Outkast influence, like the bouncy “My Chrome,” hard edged street beats like the unhinged energy of “Aye Oh” or the 808 propulsion of “Get Em Shawty,” and as it is a mixtape, there are also a couple of jacked beats including the awesome feat of turning 112’s saccharine “Cupid” into “A Dope Story.” Still there is an inescapable joy of life to the whole proceedings that keeps it fun to listen to, no matter how hard he’s going on any topic.

Killer Mike has been a part of the Outkast crew for a long time and he fell victim when Aquemini, the record label they started to release their own projects, fell apart. He’s on Big’s Purple Ribbon label along with some other folks you might have heard of (Bubba Sparxxx, Sleepy Brown) and some others you’ll soon be getting familiar with (Janelle Monae, Scar). The Killer is still my favorite Killer album/mixtape, but he released I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind, a street album (as he calls it) last year and it isn’t any lighter on righteous fury or good times. Check it all out, and check out the Killer Mike Primer below to get you started. One.

Dude murdered for his shoes, it was childish, but look how we remembered you. Came to your funeral in the same tennis shoes, too young and ignorant to see that our act of defiance caused your mother so much stress and crying – “You Don’t Want This life”

Killer Mike: Primer and Paint

Update: New Grind Time mixtape free download РSkulls and Roses Courtesy: Eskay 

Killer Kill on the rampage

Contenders: The Series

February 13, 2007

Contenders

This is the first of what I hope will be a long and interesting series. Basically I’m going to write about everyone I think is a contender musically. Contender for what you say? To which I reply, a contender to make an album that stands the test of time, to impact in a meaningful manner the music of the future, to deliver a message of some worth, find popularity and reap all the rewards accompanied with success in the weird morass that is the world of popular music. Some of these people will have already accomplished some things and gained some fame. Others will be folks you ain’t never heard of yet. Some of them might have been stars at some point and fallen by the wayside. All of them will be people whose music touches me in some way and who I think have potential to impact the general public in a big way. Let’s get this show started. First up, the Killer.