Thursday, May 3, 2007

Style Master Generals AKA The Originators (The Emcee Edition) Part 1 Of 4

This is a list I’ve collected of pioneering emcees that have forced the entire emcee world to step their game up as far as lyrics, style, flow, creativity, uniqueness or content is concerned that don’t normally get the credit that they properly deserve. While most Hip Hop writers fawn over the achievements and innovations of Rakim, KRS One, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, Jay-Z and Nas (and deservedly so) there are quite a few other emcees that deserve to have write ups on themselves as well. Whether they had styles that everyone tried to bite and emulate or they had a unique way of spitting that no one else would dare try to pull off, here is my list of emcees with no fathers to their style (Warning: Some of the emcees I've chosen to include in this list's contributions to Hip Hop culture or the art of emceeing may not be considered as important or significant to everyone/most people):

Grandmaster Caz AKA Casanova Fly:

Grandmaster Caz is often regarded as the first serious writer/arranger/emcee. His idea of writing rhymes for every situation and occasion as well as coming up with routines that incorporated popular songs and product jingles from TV and the radio were all ahead of their times. Casanova Fly started out as a B Boy and a DJ before he got heavy into the rhyme game. He has classic rhymes and verses for days (including his part of “Rapper’s Delight”, the first ever rap hit) and as an integral part of the Cold Crush Brothers he cemented his spot as one of the greatest emcees of all times. A young LL Cool J ‘s early rap demos sounded like he was channeling Caz, a true hip hop innovator.

Grandmaster Melle Mel:

Melle Mel’s big brother Kid Creole was blessed with the gift of gab and he could pick up a mic and rhyme from sun to sun, a talent very few emcees had at the time. He brought his little brother into the emcee game and under his tutelage and direction the B Boy known as Melle Mel would one day claim the title Grandmaster for himself as well as the title as the World’s Greatest Emcee. As one of Grandmaster Flash’s original 3 MC’s he was instrumental in innovating the back and forth style with his group where one emcee starts the line and the next man says the next piece and they go back and forth splitting bars. As a soloist, he could paint clear pictures with his verses that could transport to another place and time. Whether it was telling the street tales of “The Message” or “Survival” or “White Lines” it was evident that the next emcees coming up would have to step up their pen games quick or get booed off of the mic when they spit.

Kool Moe Dee:

Kool Moe Dee is most known as the dude with the “Star Trek shades” and his battle with LL Cool J. What many have forgot is that Moe Dee is one of the greatest lyricists and lyrical innovators in the history of emceeing. He was the innovator of the fast rap style and he taught it to fellow emcee Special K , his eventual crew member with L.A. Sunshine and DJ Easy Lee in the Treacherous 3. The song “The New Rap Language” let the world know there was a new emcee on the scene. His solo albums made him a rap superstar as well, his greatest work both lyrically and commercially was his classic album “Knowledge Is King”. On tracks like “I Got To Work” it’s clear that Moe Dee was nice on the mic. He’s also stayed critiquing his fellow emcees whether it be in his album liner notes or in books (“There’s A God On The Mic”).

Kool Kieth AKA Rhythm X (I refuse to type out all of his damn aliases cuz I'll get carpal tunnel syndrome):

This dude is legitimately’s documented. As one of the Ultramagnetic MC’s alongside Ced Gee he spit verses that traveled faster than the speed of thought. He made no sense at all and yet plenty of sense to hip hop listeners. Kool Keith taunted you by telling you that his style was so ahead of it’s time that heads wouldn’t catch on until the year 3000. His verses on “Critical Beatdown” were legendary, his solo joint “Poppa Large” become the lone breakout hit on the crew’s 2nd LP “Funk Your Head Up”. After spitting fire that could cook up your brain on the classic Ultramagnetic MC’s comeback album “The Four Horseman”, it wasn’t long before he embarked on a solo career. Keith is the king of rhyme parkour, his verses have a pattern only he is aware of and he jumps from subject to subject without warning. He can diss multiple emcees in 16 bars and use insults you wouldn’t catch until after the 2nd listen (even then you won’t necessarily understand them). Keith has help give a blueprint to some of the other emcees on this list, but they made up their OWN distinct styles and didn’t bite the master.


The dude was abstract WAY before Q Tip ever even spit a rhyme. Rammellzee was a B Boy, graf writer/artist and an emcee all at the same time. He used to be the official cat to rhyme while the Rock Steady Crew got busy and he had a signature style all his own. He was well known for rocking shows with his boy Shockdell and his brothers Kyle (whom he learned how to emcee from) and Mighty Mike. He created a strange alter ego with a nasal voice that he called the “Gangster Duck” (famously captured on the classic single “Beat Bop”). He was made world famous after he appeared in the two seminal hip hop films “Wild Style” and “Style Wars” and his rhyme style and slang would be emulated by members of the Beastie Boys and B-Real of Cypress Hill. The mellow they call the Ramm-el is currently still recording and making toys and art that defy description.


Jalil of Whodini is the father of the staccato/offbeat style. He would parts of his line fast, the next part on beat then vice versa. When blended with Ecstacy and the turntable wizardry of Grandmaster Dee it made for some classic material. Who can get Jalil’s unique flow on tracks like “Friends”, “Freaks Come Out At Night”, “One Love”, and “Funky Beat” out of their head after hearing them? The only rapper that has come close to being as offbeat when he rhymes since Jalil put the mic down in 1996 is Silkk The Shocker...but I’m not sure if he’s just doing it on purpose or he just sucks at rapping and has no sense of rhythm (though I suspect it’s the latter)


Just-Ice is known for being the “Hip Hop Gangster” as well as lickin’ lyrics alongside his beatbox DMX and his boy KRS One with assistance on the boards from legendary producer Kurtis Mantronik. He was one of the innovators of using a ragga chatting style on the mic and his mix of hardcore subject matter mixed with ill lyricism catapulted him in the stratosphere and he became on of hip hop’s superstars. His rhymes on the “Back To The Old School”, “Kool & Deadly (Justicismz)”, and “The Desolate One” etched his name in stone and made him an immortal. However, two other emcees are also credited with helping bring “gangsta” rhymes into the fold and popularizing the style amongst rap fans. The first one is...

Schoolly D:

Schoolly D’s laid back but still hardcore style still reverberates in the minds and souls of those who heard it back in the days and were immediately transported to South Philly on a chilly Saturday night. You and your crew are out drinking brews, smokin’ cheeba, hollerin’ at skeezers and having weird encounters on the ‘sub. You took time out to look at your Gucci watch to ponder what P.S.K. meant. Schoolly D made his music to represent his surroundings and the mindset of the people who inhabited turned out to be the progenitor of “Gangsta Rap” (I use quotations because gangsters don’t rap...that would be snitching. We all that how people involved in illegal activities hate snitches, don’t we?) as Ice T used “P.S.K. (What Does It Mean?)” as the blueprint for the seminal West Coast classic “Six N’ Tha Morning”. Schoolly D made (and self produced) several classic albums such as "Schoolly D", "Saturday Night! The Album", "Smoke Some Kill" and "Am I Black Enough For Ya?" and he helped put Philly on the map as far as Hip Hop goes (that and a seemingly never ending line of great DJ’s).

Ice T:

Ice T was spittin’ that hard shit since 1982 back when he recorded “The Coldest Rap”, he also made several more well received singles and we was well known on the West Coast. His appearances in “Breakin’” and “Breakin’ 2” gave him some more exposure, but it wasn’t until he recorded “Six N’ Tha Morning” that he broke nationally. That classic single preceded the classic albums “Rhyme Pays”, “Power”, The Iceberg: Freedom Of Speech Just Watch What You Say” and “O.G. Original Gangster”. Ice T turned rhyming about the street life, gang culture and the LA underworld into an art form. The same way Donald Goines or Iceberg Slim (one of his biggest influences) could give a vivid mental picture of the settings in their novels to the reader, Ice T could as do it as well...just with the spoken word and beats from Afrika Islam and the heads at Ammo Dump Productions. Schooly D, Just Ice and Ice T all helped to give birth to new styles and innovations in emceeing as well as influencing some of the greatest emcees in the game today.

Slick Rick AKA MC Ricky D:

Slick Rick used to be in a group called the Kangol Crew, in it was himself, Omega The Heart Breaker and Dana Dane. Omega had a Jamaican patois and Rick had an British accent. In order to not sound like the oddball in the group Dana Dane adopted a faux accent that sounded kinda like Rick’s but he had his own style. Slick Rick became known as the ultimate storyteller who also kicked rhymes that were largely morality tales. He was also known for his dirty rhymes and his sense of humor. After recording the classic joints “La Di Da Di” and “The Show” with Doug E. Fresh, he went solo and recorded the controversial single “Treat ‘Em Like A Prostitute”. Eventually, he signed a deal with Def Jam and recorded the masterpiece “The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick”. On this album he unveiled a new style in which he spit a conversational style and came up with the idea to rhyme as two people. He’d say the the first half of the line and then finish off his own rhyme as if he were someone else. He’d often switch the ears as well so you’d hear the first part of the line in the right ear but the second part in the left. He’d do the same with overdubs , as if he were his own hype man. The influence of Slick Rick’s style can still be felt today even more than 20 years after he first appeared on a record.

T La Rock:

Cormega once remarked on the Ayatollah produced track on his “Legal Hustle” LP "Bring It Back" that T La Rock in his prime had a flow unmatched. If you listen to early LL Cool J recordings you’ll notice the T La Rock influence as well. LL Cool J began sending his demos in to Rick Rubin because he saw his name and address on T La Rock’s “It’s Yours” 12” and the rest is Hip Hop history. T La Rock was a B Boy, emcee and a DJ as well as the older brother of Special K, who he influenced on his rapping and writing style. Special K had also encountered Kool Moe Dee in high school who added the fast rapping style with the advanced vocabulary to the mix. When those elements were combined with T La Rock’s natural talent, flow and lyricism, the end result was undeniably dope. On his “Lyrical King (From The Boogie Down Bronx)” LP he made his name known to the Hip Hop world at large. His sound, style, flow and brand of lyricism immediately resonated with many of his peers and listeners as he helped usher in a new age of lyrically advanced emcees in an era that later became known as the “Golden Age Of Hip Hop”.

Chill Rob G:

Speaking of flows and lyricism, this cat here took the damn cake in both fields. His Wild Pitch 12”s “Dope Rhymes” and “Court Is Now In Session” were precursors to the classic LP “Ride The Rhythm”. This album would also become his only LP on Stu Fine’s label as his shady business practices made him want to step away from the game. Chill Rob G was so ahead of the curve that when you listen to his rhymes today it’s hard to believe that they’re almost 20 years old. He took the advanced vocabulary, fast rap style and immaculate flow of the previous masters and put his own personal twist on it to create his own unique style. This member of the Flavor Unit instantly became one of the best lyricists in the game. The group Snap jacked “The Power” from him and made it into a global hit, his songs have been featured on best of rap compilations for years and artists as diverse as Tricky have covered his songs (he had Martina do a cover of “Bad Dreams” on his “Pre Millenium Tension” album). For more info on Chill Rob G read the interview he did with the heads on . Damn shame he only released that one LP (apparently he DID do a second one, but few have ever heard it...including myself)

Special Ed:

This undisputed style master recorded his debut album with the aid of Hitman Howie Tee at the age of 16. His premier single “I Got It Made” was so simplistic and dope that it was impossible to front on. Special Ed seemed like he was freestyling most of the time because his rhymes were so smooth and laid back but at the same time neat and precise. When he said “Think, just blink and I made a million rhymes/Now imagine if you blink a million times/Damn, I’d be paid!/I got it made” you just knew that this kid was for real. By the time he was 18 years old he was already established as one of the nicest emcees in the game. He had the ability to start a line and string into another one, then he’d go left and come back to his original subject at the end of the 8 or 16 bars. He would stop, start again spit fast then slow it down all without warning and never missing a beat in his flow. His first two albums “Youngest In Charge” and “Legal” would serve as blueprints to future emcees with unorthodox flows and styles for years to come and he still had it when he recorded his “Revelations” album and appeared on the “Crooklyn Dodgers” joint with Masta Ace and Buckshot (Who are both on the list. Coincidence? ).

The Jaz AKA Jaz-O:

If we’re talking about fast multi syllable rappers that were remarkable lyricists as well, then look no further than the originator himself. What Kool Moe Dee started and others added on to, Big Jaz took and perfected. He made two excellent albums with “Word To The Jaz” and “To Your Soul” but he is best known for the track “The Originators” with Jay-Z on the latter LP. While Jay-Z ended up surpassing him and achieving the fame that he never gained during what could be considered the most competitive era for emcees ever, Jaz’s innovations and achievements largely go unnoticed. It’s all good, though. I see you.

Erick Sermon AKA E Double & PMD AKA Mr. Slow Flow (EPMD):

E Double and PMD were both hardcore without screaming. They would diss the shit out of you seemingly while sitting in recliners and taking their sweet time with their words while simultaneously twisting knobs in the studio. They rhymed about 40’s and blunts and guns and you barely even noticed because you were so busy dancing. E Double had a noticeable lisp and he still got busy on the mic...the motherfucker ever sang (offkey)! PMD slowed down his flow and concentrated on selecting his words carefully, thereby being as blunt as possible when he was putting his foot in a sucker MC’s ass. On their first album, the name of the song was the damn chorus...What’s the chorus to “You Gots Ta Chill”? How about “You’re A Customer”? Who remembers the chorus to “Get Off The Bandwagon”? Anyone? Everyone else was getting all advanced with the speed of their flow and using compound rhymes, punchlines, analogies and alliteration. These brothers from Brentwood, L.I. said “Fuck all that!”, made some ridiculous beats, rhymed to them in their own style and that’s that. They laid the groundwork for the aesthetic of the rapper/producer that remains to this day. PMD’s influence is heavy with emcee/producer Evidence and Erick Sermon’s style rears it’s head time and again with several veteran emcees.

Greg Nice (Nice & Smooth):

Greg Nice doesn’t write his rhymes, he just hops in the booth and spits what he feels (Just ask Smooth B or T La Rock). Greg Nice is also an instant hook machine (Ask the Beatnuts). Greg Nice is an ill producer (Check Greg Nice is an original through and through. After spending some time as T La Rock’s (see how these guys are all somehow connected to each other...sensing a damn pattern yet?) human beatbox, he and Smooth B formed the legendary rap group Nice & Smooth. They made classic jams like the “Dope On A Rope/Skill Trade” 12” before making the classic “More And More Hits” and the breakout hit “Funky For You” on Fresh/Sleeping Bag Records. Once their contracts were bought by Def Jam, they delivered the smash “Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed” LP and were propelled into rap superstardom. Needless to say, few cats tried to bite Greg’s style due to his unique voice, energy and him not necessarily staying on any particular subject in his rhymes. Just listen to their “Jewel Of The Nile” LP for proof. There hasn’t been another emcee like Greg Nice since.

This is nowhere near over, I have about 40 more emcees left on my list of the kings of what? Style. One.


PYL. said...

Nice piece of knowledge there.

Unknown said...

This is such an ill piece Dart and I agree with everything you said, especially about the Slick Rick, T-La Rock, Greg Nice, Chill Rob G, E Double and the PMD (I hoped you checked my Erick Sermon-The Funklord Files)

Special Ed is one of my all time favourites, dude was just so incredibly smooth with it.

I am guessing you will mention Chubb Rock and Pharaoh Monch, Latee and Lakim Shabazz in later posts.

Brilliant work

alley al said...


great write up.

Anonymous said...

This post was all kinds of lovely, Dart - can't wait for the next installment.

Anonymous said...

this is a good post... me being a young dude, i don't know much about old school rap... before this post i only new a couple of the names mentioned... thx for the hip hop history lesson... 1