C Rayz Walz (Stronghold/Monster Maker/The Almighty):
Living in Boston during the so called “Backpack Era” was great because so many great indie Hip Hop labels were based there (Brick, Biscuithead, Landspeed, Detonator, etc.). It allowed you the opportunity to run across several up and coming emcees such as C Rayz Walz and his fellow Stronghold members (Breez Evahflowin’, L.I.F.E. Long, Poison Pen & Immortal Technique) when they recorded for different area based companies or did shows. They claim that Ason Unique had no father to his style but the same statement applies to C Rayz Walz.
C Rayz first caught underground heads attention in ciphers and freestyle battles around New York and made his first recorded appearances with Apani B. Fly and Rasheed (Ill Advised) on “The Specialist”/”Perspective” 12”. Next came a notable verse on the Stronghold track “On The Mic” followed by Ace Lover’s “Area Code 1 (212)”and Apathy’s “The Smackdown”. C Rayz was completely off the wall with it, pulling random punchlines and metaphors out the air constantly. Dude had his own slang and his own style and listeners began to catch on.
His singles “Mood Swing”/”Make It Happen” and “Whodafuckareyou”/”Degrees” began to move respectable amounts of units independently and his stock shot up after notable guest spots on Aesop Rock’s “Labor Days”, Molemen’s “Ritual Of The..” and Cannibal Ox’s “The Cold Vein”. In 2001, C Rayz dropped his debut “The Prelude” on his own label. Heads were ready. He dropped his collection of past material and called it “Singular Plurals”, then he hooked up with Def Jux and never looked back.
His catalog is ridiculous, starting with “Ravipops (The Substance)”, “We Live: The Black Samurai EP”, “Year Of The Beast”, “1975: Return Of The Beast”, “The Dropping” and last year’s releases the Parallel Thought collabo “Chorus Rhyme” and the Sharkey side project “Sharkey And C Rayz Walz Are Monster Maker”. It’s a shame that some people only know him as Blizzard’s coach from that episode of MTV’s “Made”.
Murs (3 Melancholy Gypsys/Living Legends/Felt):
Murs has a ridiculous discography that starts from independent cassette only releases from himself and his group 3 Melancholy Gypsys. I was exposed to his music when I was working at Tower Records by this girl from Cali. She had the “Gypsy’s Luck” tape and “Good Music” on CD and I spent quite a lot of time listening to those two albums while I was in the main office counting the big safe. The next year he released “Murs Rules The World” and he started getting more attention on the East Coast thanks to the internet and peer to peer sites.
Murs was leading a new generation of West Coast emcees that included Insane Poetry, Homeliss Derelix, Abstract Rude & A Tribe Unique, Mystik Journeymen, Emanon, First Sight, Sacred Hoop and a slew of others that did their own thing. Murs style managed to appeal to both the indie and street heads while at the same time having the seamless ability to make songs about anything from failed relationships to a typical hectic day in L.A. He can spit hard or be laid back. He can be introspective or kick clever battle rhymes. He even validates parking. Murs can do it all!
After killing the 00’s with his stellar list of classic releases (“Almost Famous”, “Felt: A Tribute To Christina Ricci”, “The End Of The Beginning”, “Varsity Blues”, “Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition”, “Felt 2: A Tribute To Lisa Bonet” and “Murrray’s Revenge”) it’s clear that Murs is a certified innovator in Hip Hop music. His music will truly stand the test of time. Murs, Apollo (and Living) Legend.
Hell Razah (Sunz Of Man/Maccabeez/Black Market Militia/The Almighty):
I first became familiar with Hell Razah through the 1995 Sunz Of Man EP “No Love Without Hate”/”Five Arch Angels”/”Soldiers Of Darkness”. It would end up being one of the most influential releases of the 90’s and introduce us to several emcees that still have careers to this day like Shabazz The Disciple. The next year the single “Bloody Choices” came out and Sunz Of Man signed with Red Ant Records.
After several singles dropped (“We Can’t Be Touched”/”Inmates To The Fire”/”Natural High” and “Shining Star”/”Cold”) the LP “The Last Shall Be First” was finally released to a public that wasn’t ready for it. We were in the era of platinum jewelry, Cristal champagne and Bentleys...the album fell largely on deaf ears.
Wu fanatics yearned for more Sunz material and their wishes were granted by Echo International, a label from overseas that released several Sunz Of Man and Shabazz The Disciple tracks on vinyl (“Deep In The Water”/“Writing Rhymes With A Liquid Pen”/”In The Beginning”/”The Sins Of Man”, “Who Are The Sunz Of Man?”/“The Valley Of Death”/“Bring Back The Mic”/”Valley Of Kings” and “Rosewood”/”Hell’s Inmates”).
Hell Razah made guest appearances on “Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars”, Mood’s “Doom”, “The Pick, The Sickle & The Shovel”, “Wu Tang Killa Bees present The Swarm”, “Heavy Mental”, “Beneath The Surface” and “Tical 2000: Judgement Day”. He was building up quite a resume on the low before dropping his debut “All Hell Breaks Loose” and then joining Sunz Of Man for “Saviors Day” and “Freedom Of Speech”. He also formed the Black Market Militia with Killa Priest, Tragedy Khadafi and William Cooper in 2005.
Young Rabbi delivered two of the best albums of 2007 with “Renaissance Child” and “Blue Sky Black Death & Hell Razah: Razah’s Ladder”. Maybe people will stop sleeping and recognize him as one of most slept on emcees of the past 15 years. One of the emcees from the Wu Tang Killa Bee hive has been influenced by his style and his name is:
Holocaust AKA Warcloud AKA Robot Tank (Black Knights/Wu Tang Killa Beez):
The first time I ever heard Holocaust was on a RZA track for “Bobby Digital” he killed so badly that it was named after him (“Holocaust”) and became a single. He also appeared on the track “Terrorist” from the same album. He blessed Killarmy with some sick guest verses on their “Dirty Weaponry” album (“Doomsday” and “Bastard Swordsman”).
His style was extra lyrical and inventive, he would rhyme in an even cadence enunciating every single word in his lines. He referenced everything from the Bible to comic book characters to historical figures all in conjunction to create a truly unique style. Holocaust went solo and Wu fanatics were awaiting his project to be produced by the Wu Elements.
The Wu Tang Records/Priority deal soured and RZA started up Wu Tang International in Europe. Holocaust changed his name to Warcloud (that name would play better in Europe) but he soon ran into serious problems regarding drugs. Two of his verses appeared on the “Wu Tang Killa Beez: The Sting” compilation (“Bluntz, Martiniz, Girlz and Guns” and “Woodchuck”) before he disappeared from sight for a while.
When he resurfaced he had dropped several project overseas that were available through several Wu sites (now all on Chambermusik.com) such as “Drinking Moonshine In The Graveyard” and “Nightmares That Surface From Shallow Sleep”. He’s also collaborated with production duo Blue Sky Black Death to make “Blue Sky Black Death presents The Holocaust”.
Canibus (T.H.E.M./The Four Horsemen):
I wish that I could transport some of youth back in time so you could’ve experienced what excitement Canibus generated when he first came on the scene. There were stories floating around about how he supposedly battled the entire Wu Tang Clan by himself and almost won (only partly true, his boy Webb was there). He was a new breed of emcee, almost like an evolutionary leap in pure lyricism.
Canibus had a powerful voice, excellent presence and delivery plus he couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else in the entire industry. His early freestyle and mixtape verses were so powerful that he became one of the first emcees to receive a huge internet buzz as the World Wide Web was just coming into it’s own. The bidding war started and once the smoke cleared Canibus was signed to a major with a famous team backing him and a high level of anticipation for his debut album.
Underground heads were hoping that he could be successful without having to water down his rhymes and that he’d be able to apply his writing ability and make songs that could catch on commercially. This is where the dream stopped and the nightmare soon begun. Extra lyrical cats that spit complicated verses just didn't move units in the Jiggy Era.
Mos Def (UTD/Medina Green/Black Star/Black Jack Johnson):
Mos Def was a member of the group Urban Thermo Dynamics with his brother and sister back in the early 90’s. Their album “Manifest Destiny” was never released so Mos Def went back to the underground and resurfaced on the Bush Babees sophomore LP “Gravity” on three tracks including their lead single. Later that same year he had a guest spot on De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High”. The next year Mos Def released a 12” on Rawkus (“Universal Magnetic”/”If You Can Huh You Can Hear”) as well as appearing on another one (“Fortified Live”). Mos Def appeared on the three biggest underground Hip Hop songs of 1997, he practically owned “Soundbombing” along with Talib Kweli.
He dropped the Medina Green sides “Crosstown Beef”/Fa La Lashe”, made guest appearances on “The Love Movement” and “Things Fall Apart” before releasing one of the most anticipated and critically acclaimed underground Hip Hop albums of the past decade: “Black On Both Sides”. Mos Def mania was at such a fever pitch that the British magazine Hip Hop Connection declared that Mos Def was chosen as the “Most Important Human Being (In Hip Hop)” by it’s readers. When they contacted Mos with the news of this honor he gave a response that only Dante Bize Smith would give:
“That’s blasphemous!” © Mos Def
Umi said to shine his light on the world and he has done so. Salute.
Talib Kweli (Reflection Eternal/Black Star/Idle Warship):
Talib Kweli (try pronouncing it phonetically, if it’s too hard then just let it be) first came to the attention of the Hip Hop Nation when he was featured as a guest on three tracks from Mood’s “Doom” LP. He followed that up with great verses on L Fudge’s “What If?” and the Reflection Eternal 12” “Fortified Live”/”2000 Seasons”. Once he and Mos Def were picked to freestyle on Rawkus’ “Soundbombing” compilation it was officially a wrap. Mos and Talib were the duo that would be the future of Hip Hop and make classics for years to come...kinda sorta.
Talib made several guest appearances and dropped a string of successful 12”s including “The Manifesto”, “On Mission”, “The Express”/”Some Kind Of Wonderful” and being featured on “Lyricists Lounge Vol. 1” and “Soundbombing 2” raised his profile even more. He and Mos Def were officially the Hip Hop poster children now.
Mainstream news and music magazines would talk about his conscious lyrics, his activism in the community, his sharp wit and rapid fire flow. They even pushed the fact that in the era of platinum jewelry, expensive rims, Bentleys, shiny suits and Christal that Talib Kweli went completely against the grain and did his own thing.
After the release of the hugely popular Rawkus projects “Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star” and “Reflection Eternal” many industry insiders predicted that Kweli would blast off into Hip Hop superstardom next...shortly afterwards Rawkus completely fell apart and Kweli was left in limbo. He had delivered some of the best songs in Hip Hop over the past 5 years (“Move Somethin’, “The Blast”, “Respiration”, etc.) but his new album “Quality” was delayed for more than a year and in danger of being scrapped altogether.
It ended up being released but label woes soured his next release “The Beautiful Struggle” as well so he started Blacksmith Entertainment with his manager and took charge of his own career instead. This past year, Mr. Green dropped “Liberation” and “Eardrum” while his label is ready to release two LP’s in ‘08. So, fists in the air for Kweli. You ask him what he’s writing for, he’s writing to show you what we’re fighting for: Freedom.
Vast Aire (Atoms Family/Cannibal Ox/Weathermen/Mighty Joseph):
Harlem’s own Vast Aire of the massive collective Atoms Family first came to my attention through his appearances on Ace Lover’s often slept posse jam “Lucky 7” and the song “Attention Span” from Aesop Rock’s “Float” LP. The next year he resurfaced on Atoms Family’s “The Prequel” compilation and as half of the duo Cannibal Ox on “Def Jux presents”. The songs “Iron Galaxy” and “Straight Off The D.I.C.” were all over the internet and the buzz about Cannibal Ox was crazy.
After “The Cold Vein” was finally dropped it was hailed as a masterpiece by not only music publications across the board but heads as well. Vast Aire (AKA Starvin' Harlem Scissortongue) became one of the most sought after emcees for guest appearances on the underground Hip Hop circuit. His style is so unorthodox that it’s hard to describe. He pulls out obscure references and spits some of the most off the wall metaphors you’ve ever heard.
He doesn’t fill his lines with a bunch of words all the time and he takes his time spitting his lines. The end result is usually a verse that either leaves you completely confused or in awe...or you just hate his style all together and think he’s wack.
He’s dropped the solo joints “Look Mom..No Hands”, “The Way Of The Fist” mixtape series, “The Best Damn Rap Show”, Mighty Joseph’s “Empire Staters” and his upcoming “Deuces Wild” project. He’s still nice with the battle rhymes, the last cat that tried to see him now he gotta touch braille.
This entire week of posts was dedicated to the memory of legendary B-Boy Wayne "Frosty Freeze" Frost/RSC. Those of us left here on Earth that remembered you will keep this culture of Hip Hop that you contributed so much to alive so your innovations and originality is never forgotten and legacy will live on with future generations of Hip Hoppers worldwide. Freeze Ta Pleeze! Rock rock on!