Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dart Adams presents Lost In Translation: The Lyricist Lounge Show

As we all (or the overwhelming majority of this blog’s readers should) know, the Lyricist Lounge started back in the winter of 1991 in an apartment in New York’s Lower East Side as a place where aspiring and up and coming emcees could hone their craft on the growing underground Hip Hop scene. It began to draw so many heads that eventually the founders (Danny Castro and Anthony Marshall) had to go out and seek bigger venues to house the open mic shows and especially the talent showcases.

In about 5 years time, the Lyricist Lounge was packing venues like S.O.B’s and Tramps wall to wall and the best crews above and below ground came to host the shows and perform themselves. By this time, the company Mic Media was formed that oversaw these events, they were approached by some execs at burgeoning indie Hip Hop label Rawkus about a partnership shortly thereafter.

In May 1998, Rawkus released a compilation called “The Lyricist Lounge Volume 1”. This double CD chock full of classics exploded on the scene and was regarded as an instant classic. The Lyricist Lounge was now a hot commodity, especially after the national Lyricist Lounge Tour sponsored by mp3.com packed venues across the country. Mic Media had grown up and it was time to strike while the iron was hot and the entertainment and corporate world would be receptive to the new thing in entertainment/youth culture. That thing was the underground/backpacker Hip Hop scene at the time.

Not only was the underground Hip Hop scene that dominant choice of music among the youth/college crowd back in 1998 leading into 1999, but the mainstream Rap industry was ruling the Pop/Top 40 carts at the exact same time. Danny Castro and Anthony Marshall in association with their partners and associates Jacob Septimus and Perry Landesburg pitched the idea of a sketch comedy show with both improvised and pre written skits to show the versatility of the application of freestyle ability and lyricism within Hip Hop culture to the world at large.

They were also inspired by the shows Saturday Night Live, In Living Color, What’s My Line and the improv comedy troupes in New York and Chicago like Second City and The Groundlings. They pitched the idea around town and MTV Networks were very interested in a meeting/demo. Mic Media assembled a team, stepped to the plate and knocked it out of the park. The Lyricist Lounge Show was a go on MTV in Fall 1999.

The show’s cast consisted of Lyricist Lounge veterans and underground heroes such as Wordsworth (of Punch & Words), Master Fuol (of the Lo Lifes, rhyme partner of Thirstin Howl III AKA Big Vic Lo) and Baby Power (AKA That Puerto Rican Kid With The Afro That’s In Everybody’s Videos). These three along with producer and emcee legend Def Jef would provide the foundation of the show by providing instrumentals or beats for Wordsworth, Master Fuol and Baby Power to craft scenarios, brainstorm ideas and write to.

They also brought in traditional comedians and actors with great comic timing (including Tracee Ellis Ross and Heather McDonald) to round out the show. They interacted with the emcees during their skits and performed in their own pre written skits. The table read through was an adventure for those that didn’t know how the show was going to come together as a whole. The show worked on a lot of levels and some of the skits crafted by Wordsmorth, Master Fuol and Baby Power were nothing short of brilliant. The problem was that there were too many damn cooks in the kitchen. Often times guest stars and up and coming emcees from the underground scenes were brought in to do segments as well. Def Jef even appeared in a few segments in the shows lifespan.

One of the shows executive producers, Claude Brooks was a veteran film and TV actor as well as a producer of several projects on the USA Network. He came up with a recurring segment on the show and he also came up with the idea to have the show pre taped and edited instead of being live in front of a studio audience the entire time. It took away from the impact of the sketches somewhat and ended up being a costly way of going about things. Since the show was in it’s first season and nothing like it previously existed the producers and contributors were all anxious to try to find ways to make the show appeal outside of it’s core audience. The show’s initial run proved more than successful enough to warrant a second season.

Hip Hop purists were up in arms about the show being corny and that Wordsworth, Masta Fuol and Baby Power were selling out the culture by doing the show in the commercial fashion they did it in. The second season saw Claude Brooks leave the creative staff and some changes in the cast (imdB’s page for this show has very little info on the show and I don’t know how many episodes there were exactly but I’m guessing it was somewhere between 20 and 26).

I went deep into my tape archive to see if I had any taped segments from the show during it’s first season. I watched the show but I taped the segments I thought were funny (they did tend to get corny) or really good as I was one of those Hip Hop purist types that was conflicted about the direction of the show. I have a documentary on tape that aired on MTV as a promo for the show’s second season that began airing in June 2000 (which leads me to believe that the shows first season aired in Winter/early 2000). The show was once again headed for mainstream audiences and was going to have a wide array of guests from Thirstin Howl III, Invincible, Common, Mos Def, Fredro Starr, Erykah Badu, MC Lyte, Da Brat, Snoop Dogg and Slick Rick. It also had some guests that completely didn’t work in the show’s format like Krayzie Bone and Suga T.

There was an event that I’ll never forget that was a huge deal with heads but no one else remembers it anymore. On one episode of the second season of the Lyricist Lounge Show there was a recurring segment about a hair salon that starred Bay Area femcee (and member of The Click with her brother E-40 and cousins B Legit and D Shot) and featured underground femcee from Detroit named Invincible. Her credentials included several appearances on the Lyricist Lounge, a place in the infamous Blaze Battle and she was a member of the celebrated female Hip Hop collective known as Anomalies). At the end of the show, there was always a cipher spit to the camera (and not an audience?) as the credits rolled.

Since the guests were usually well regarded underground spitters, this was the time that had to shine since they couldn’t get open in the skit really. Invincible (pictured above) was waiting in the wings to spit while Wordsworth even tapped and rubbed her on the shoulders and brought her up to the camera to let her know it was time for her to burn. Before anything even came out of her mouth, Suga T jumped in front of her and started half rhyming and singing for what seemed like an eternity.

This filibuster blocked Invincible from getting her time to shine on air nationally. Heads hit the internet and screamed bloody murder. The show lost a lot of respect from the (also very judgmental and fickle) underground audience and many stopped checking for it altogether.

The show didn’t have as many great emcee/lyrics driven segments as it did the first season and the comedy sketches took center stage. It had tried too hard to cross over and ended up alienating it’s core audience. The cost of taping the show and many of it’s segments and the declining ratings led to the show not being renewed. The Mic Media members felt that the show had gotten away from it’s original mission statement and lost it’s way after development. Once it hit the screen and got a response, everyone had an opinion on how the show could be done or expanded upon. Ultimately it died.

The foundation this show laid down is still seen today in urban themed improv comedy shows and it served as the main inspiration for Nick Cannon’s long running show “Wild Out” and it’s spinoff “Short Circuitz”. Nick Cannon was able to get this show off the ground on the backs of Method Man and Redman who had previous pitched two programs to MTV, a Hip Hop version of “Punk’d” called “Buzzed” and a resurrected version of The Lyricist Lounge Show. Cannon found the parts of the show that would work and he did them all in front of a live audience.

If anybody has any of these segments on tape (especially when Thirstin Howl III did “I Still Live With My Moms”, the crashing plane skit from the first season, Wordsworth and Mos Def on the ledge from season two or any other segment then upload ‘em on Youtube or Dailymotion.



Max said...

Holy crap, this was thorough. This morning I barely even remembered there being a Lyricist Lounge show on MTV, and now, not only can I kinda sorta recall the theme (or just a group of people shouting "The Lyricist Lounge Show" ad nauseam), I also sorta remember Master Fuol being pretty damn funny.

Now the MTV show (technically, I guess it would be MTV2) I remember being goofy was the pilot for Snoop's sketch comedy show; I remember Snoop working the drive-thru at an Arby's and asking customers through the voice box if they've found jesus to be their personal lord and savior; maybe it was because I was under the influence of influenza at the time, but I found this hilarious.


Aaron said...

I had to google Suga T before I remembered who she was.

LL had two seaons? I think I only saw a handful of episodes. I didn't have cable back then though.

Anonymous said...

Damn, Dart's taking my ass to class! I haven't thought about Lyricist Lounge in years. Great write-up as usual.

Anonymous said...

this srop was good money Dart.

I'ma ask my folks to put LL up on the YouTube

Anonymous said...


John Q said...

Man, This was a dope post. It was great reading about the lyricist lounge. I do remember something about the lounge with it having a decent mix of hip-hop and comedy. I will say that Nick Cannon should give major props to the lounge for giving him the blueprint to make not be the guy who made drumming the coolest thing to take up or making himself believe he was a gigolo with R.Kelly (got to keep myself from laughing, got to keep myself from laughing).

YO know, I will go with Max's opinion and say that Snoop' Comedy sketch show was pretty funny. I remember a lot of skits being hilarious (like the herb-n-essence one). Too Bad the show didn't last as long as his career.

So, peace to the nation, the people that represent, and those cats that never bug out to the extreme

Yo, If word is bond
then Q is gone

And I'm out...

AaronM said...

Dope writeup. another thing my 9-year old ass missed at the time. Would love to see more clips of this show.