Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Style Master Generals AKA The Originators (The Emcee Edition Revisited) Part 3 Of 4

Skillz AKA Mad Skillz (Supafriendz):

Shaquan ain’t mad no more and he hasn’t been since the late 90’s. He first jumped on the scene as a fierce competitor on the battle circuit where he clashed greats like J.U.I.C.E and Supernatural before finally signing a major label deal with Big Beat/Atlantic. He dropped his debut 12” Move Ya Body/Extra Abstract Skillz/VA In The House in 1995. “Move Ya Body” got a video but it was the other two tracks that resonated with heads. That single was followed by “The Nod Factor”/”Skillz In ‘95” and his LP “From Where???” was well received by fans and critics alike, his affinity for clever punchlines and wordplay were only heightened by his talent for writing tight battle rhymes.

He continued to come out with hot joints like “It’s Goin’ Down”, “Tip Of The Tounge”, “Doin’ Time In Da Cypha” and “The Jam” before his deal with Big Beat turned sour. Skillz hit the burgeoning indie scene and hooked up with High & The Mighty’s label Eastern Concerence to release one of their highest selling 12’s of all time “Conceited Bastard/Lick The Balls”, it broke the 20,000 sales mark guaranteeing that Skillz would see at least a dollar from each vinyl record sold. He followed that with Bedroom Wizards’ “Skillz in ‘98”/”Me & Mine” and appearing on fellow Virginian Timbaland’s album “Tim’s Bio: Life In Da Basement” (“To My..”w/Nas and “Wit Yo Bad Self”) and earning himself a plaque from the RIAA. He was approached by Rawkus to join their stable shortly afterwards.

In 1999, Skillz guested on the classic track “B Boy Document 99” on Soundbombing 2 as well as “Shaquan & Eon” on High & Mighty’s debut album on Rawkus. He also branched out by joining up with VA heads Danja Mowf and Lonnie B to form the Superfriendz while his latest Rawkus 12” “Ghost Writer”/”1, 2 Theory”/”Together” was flying off of record store shelves and explained why Skillz wasn’t exactly starving after his deal turned fell through years ago.

For some odd reason he still didn’t have a definite release date for his LP. He just guested on Timbaland and Magoo’s album (if ever a ghostwriter would be in need it’s there) and drppoed another 12’ called “Ya’ll Don’t Wanna”/”Do It Real Big”. He appeared on his final Rawkus joint (“Crew Deep”) shortly afterwards and released the albums “I Ain’t Mad No More” and “Confessions Of A Ghost Writer” on other indie labels.

There are few better than Shaquan in terms of the pen game as eveidenced by his yearly Rap Ups and his singles leading up to his new album “The Million Dollar Backpack”. Skillz has always kept it moving and explored new opportunities as opposed to having the game dictate to him when he can release a new project. For you other new jacks trying to get a hit out, try rocking back and forth it should be easier to get your shit out. Other head that had to bounce from the craziness at Rawkus was:

Thirstin Howl III AKA Big Vic Lo (Lo Lifes/Skillionaire Entertaiment):

After winning the Unsigned Hype In The Source, certified Lo Life Thirstin Howl III (possessor of a prestigious Brownsville Bullet Gold Card membership) released his Thirsty, Greedy EP on the public independently. Recorded on a 4 track and self made CD’s were sold from his apartment which he called Skilligan’s Island. He was approached to record for Rawkus and he delivered the 12’ “Brooklyn Hard Rock”/”The Message”/”Spit Boxers” to much fanfare, his profile increased due to his placement on Soundbombing 2.

The industrious emcee then made a popular 12” for Game Records (“Polorican”/”Brooklyn Hard Rock 2”/”Skilled Or Be Skilled”), to top it off he dropped his own independent debut LP “Skillionaire”that sold like crazy online after his appearances on Rawkus’ “Lyricist Lounge” LP and DJ Spinna’s “Watch Deez” with Eminem and the “Open Mic Night Remix”.

Thirstin Howl’s unique flow, voice, delivery, wordplay, sense of humor, creativity and hustle made him one of the top emcees on the underground. His ability to rock equally well in Spanish as does in English is greatly overlooked. His label has produced material for Rack Lo, Richie Balance, Will Tell, Meyhem and many other heads in addition to his own albums (“Skillionaire”, “Skillosopher”, “Serial Skiller”, “Skilligan’s Island”, “Licensed To Skill”, and “Skillitary”).

His work with Steve “Smitty” Boston, Will Tell and D-Tension is legendary and while he’s really focusing on business these days the Polorican is still nicer than all of the Huxtables combined. He was there at the historic Million Man Rush. He’s treacherous like Naughty By Nature or Kool Moe Dee and you wouldn’t catch him half steppin’ even if he lost both feet.

Sir Menelik AKA Cyclops 4000 AKA Scaramanga Shallah (Sun Large):

When Kool Keith first introduced the underground Hip Hop audience to his new protoge he was hanging out with Dr. Octagon. The next year he was dropping physical jewels and it was reported that he was so intelligent that he did nightwork fixing Space Cadillacs with a macroscope. When it reached game time at Rawkus and they had delayed his album too long already, in order to see if terror works Menelik grew to 7XL using special efx. Now he was in charge of his own destiny, he formed a partnership with Fat Beat for his own label Sun Large. Suddenly he had cash flow and he was holding new cards.

In 1998, he dropped his album under his Scaramanga alias called “7 Eyes, 7 Horns”. He would re-release the LP in 2001 with 4 extra tracks added to it and the following year he released another split EP under the names Scaramanga and Jabbar El. It would be 3 years before Scara would resurface again, this time he hooked up Traffic Entertainment and finally released his long awaited Sir Menelik AKA Cyclops 4000 LP “The Einstein Rosen Bridge” 7 years later than it was expected to first drop. He followed it up by dropping the albums “Snake Eyes”, “Cobra Commander” and appearing on the “Wu Tang Meets The Indie Culture” album in recent years.

The man known as Scaramanga Shallah remains a mystery to this very day leaving behind only the charred remains of 85’ers who non-believed he would flex the banger and reveal his golden gun diamond finger anger much like yet another ex-Rawkus cat that jumped ship:

R.A. The Rugged Man AKA Crustified Dibbs:

It was 1994 and I was listening to Emerson College radio station WERS 88.9 FM when they played one of the craziest songs I’d ever heard in my like up to that point. I could barely make out the lines but the hook went “Bloodshed Hua Hoo!” over and over again. He was some new cat signed to Jive named Crustified Dibbs. The song got requested quite a bit just because people were like “what the hell is this?”. That would just be the beginning because later on other songs came out called “Cunt Rennaissance” featuring Biggie Smalls and a song called “Every Record Label Sucks Dick”.

It was the first time in my life I’d ever heard of an artist being so pissed off by their label that they purposely tried to be released by making music the opposite of what the label wanted them to make...especially since people broke their necks to get a hold of the songs themselves. Eventually Crustified Dibbs was released from his deal and his album “Night Of The Bloody Apes” was never released. Dibbs resurfaced as R.A. The Rugged Man in 1996 with the singles “50,000 Heads” and “Smithhaven Mall”. It was hard to find a reputable mixtape around with either one or both of those tracks on it, the latter making Stretch Armstrong Lesson 1 compilation.

R.A. came back with the hugely popular 12’ “Flipside”/”Til My Heart Stops” on upstart indie label Rawkus. The single did very well and it only sold better after Soundbombing dropped and it was featured prominently on it. R.A. was in high demand to do guest appearances, he had the gift of saying the most foul and dirty shit but managing to stay lyrical and keep you interested at the same time. A gift he learned from studying the greats, especially his idol Kool G. Rap, R.A.’s unique perspective came from his unusual home life and upbringing.

By the time Rawkus dropped Soundbombing 2, he had another track on that compilation called “Stanley Kubrick”. His live performances were a sight to behold, sometimes he’d lose it on stage and just begin stripping down to his drawers before jumping into the crowd and deliver his highly technical rhymes while flopping around and doing somersaults (never once dropping the mic, mind you).

He’s a certified nutcase but cats like Mobb Deep, Sadat X, Godfather Don, Akinyele, Jedi Mind Tricks, High & The Mighty, Cage, Hell Razah, J-Live, C Rayz Walz will all attest that he’s ill. Even his idol Kool G. Rap co-signs his place in Hip Hop, one listen to his LP or the track “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story” about his father’s experiences in the ‘Nam will convert any non believer.

One of the few things I have that I never lend out under any circumstances is my treasured promotional R.A The Rugged Man DVD that I got with my copy of “Die!, Rugged Man, Die!” when I bought it from Sandbox Automatic. R.A. is a director, film buff, boxing expert and the host of several show and he’s written articles for On The Go, Ego Trip and Mass Appeal over the years. His next project is the film and soundtrack for “Bad Biology”. There was another crazy White kid running around New York in the early 90’s trying to get on named:

Ill Bill (Non Phixion, Circle Of Tyrants, La Coka Nostra):

Ill Bill was shopping around his demo when he ran into his future partners in Non Phixion at Wild Pitch Records. The first person to take the cats from Non Phixion under his wing was MC Serch, who had a job at Wild Pitch as an executive. He was an early member of the group before creative differences lead to him bouncing.

Ill Bill was known on the underground for his sick flow and unique brand of intellectual thug music mixed with religious references pervaded his lyricis on tracks like “Dope Fiend”, “Legacy”, “No Tomorrow”, “5 Boros” and “Four W’s” but it was the breakout 12” “I Shot Reagan”/”This Is Not An Exercise”/”Refuse To Lose” that exploded on the scene and moved a surprising number of units. Shortly afterwards they signed a deal with Matador Records.

After a string of singles (“The Full Monty”, “Sleepwalkers”, “Thug Tunin’”, “Black Helicopters”, “They Got..”, “If You Got Love”, “Drug Music”, “Rock Stars” and “The C.I.A. Is Trying To Kill Me”) and asking for a release from Matador they finally released their album “The Future Is Now” after a 2 year delay. It and the following “The Green CD/DVD” were certified classic material. Non Phixion eventually broke up and left Ill Bill’s crazy ass up to his own devices.

Ill Bill had recorded tracks like “Gangsta Rap” and “How To Kill A Cop” during Non Phixion’s time in limbo on Matador. He dropped “Uncle Howie Made Me Do It”, several Street Villian mixtapes, “What’s Wrong With Bill” and “Black Metal” along with his involvement with La Coka Nostra in recent years and he has a new project set to drop in ‘08. He also helped influence the style of his younger brother, an ill producer/director/emcee called:

Necro (Psycho + Logical Records, Circle Of Tyrants):

Necro is nice with it, no question. His technique, lyricism, delivery, voice and style are all unmistakably his own. While he does share his brothers penchant for rapid fire rhymes and multi syllable words in conjunction with each other, he tends to get a lot more gory with it ("the bile" as he describes it). A life long horror movie fan, Necro even made a few of his own films (“187 Reasons Y”) and incorporated his demented sense of humor to his rhymes.

He had a string of eye opening vinyl releases starting back in 1997 with his 12” “Get On Your Knees”/”Underground” and continuing the next year with his “Cockroaches EP”. In between his tireless production work he dropped “The Most Sadistic”/”You’re Dead”/”Your Fucking Head Split” in 1999. The vinyl sold like hotcakes online and the fans clamored for a full length. Necro released his debut album “I Need Drugs”.

After releasing “Gory Days”, “The Pre-Fix For Death”, “The Sexorcist”, “The Circles Of Tyrants” and “Death Rap” over the years in addition to his guest appearances on other Psycho + Logical projects there’s just no questioning who the most sadistic, sick and brutal is. On the complete other side of the coin is:

Slug AKA Seven (Atmosphere, The Dynospectrum):

The first time I ever heard of Slug was through some skateboard kid I knew that had the tape of Atmosphere’s “Overcast!” album. I’d never heard of Atmosphere and I just dismissed them without really even listening to their tape. The very next year while working at Tower Records I worked with a few folks from the Midwest that played both the “Overcast!” and “The Dynospectrum” tapes to death.

They slowly started to grow on me and I began noticing all of the Rhymesayers Headshots tapes and new releases all over the mail order catalogs in graffiti magazines. These cats were putting out a lot of material so apparently someone was buying it, right? After hearing “HeadShots: Se7en” I was convinced that this cat Slug was a new breed of emcee.

He was much in the tradition of Fatlip and reminiscent of cats like the Living Legends in Cali but his conversational style, vocabulary and beat poet style of imagery was something I was not used to. He talked about feeling like an outcast, broken relationships, drug use/abuse and general everyday concerns of the everyman in a way that made you feel as if he was speaking directly to you...oh yeah, and chicks dug it.

Slug dropped new heat every year like the oil company whether through his projects, collaborations or guest appearances (“Ford One” and “Ford Two” EP’s, “Lucy Ford”, “Godlovesugly”, “Felt: A Tribute To Christina Ricci” and “Seven’s Travels”). I still remember that weird feeling I got the day I saw the video for  "Trying To Find A Balance” on MTV2. I knew that Atmosphere were one of the best selling and well known indie acts in the country but that still took me aback..

“Felt 2: A Tribute To Lisa Bonet” and “You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having” have only set the stage for one of the most anticipated releases of the year. When Atmosphere’s “When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold” drops it will many people brand new Slug fans. Not that he needs them because hella dudes on MySpace sound exactly like him...there’s another cat that has a legion of sound alikes as well:

Aesop Rock (Weathermen, Def Jux):

The first time I ever heard Aesop Rock was on a Sony MiniDisc player during a lunch break from working at Tower Records. I went across the street to Biscuithead Records (original home of Edan and Porn Theater Ushers...what up Bruno!) to look at vinyl while listening to a MD marked “Appleseed Plus” in graf writing. It turns out that it was a combination of “Music For Earthworms” and “Appleseed”.

I was blown away after hearing this kid flow over Blockhead and Dub-L’s beats while holding his own next to the legendary Percee P. The very next year he came out with “Float”, his first proper studio album. It was even better than his previous material that already had backpackers staring into space during his nonstop verses.

The similarities that Aesop shares with Slug is that their conversational styles both make you feel as those he’s speaking directly to you. However Aesop’s continuous flow and cadences using multi syllable words, advanced vocabulary, extremely obscure references and advanced metaphors will have you looking for a dictionary and or thesaurus (or an aspirin). Many a rewind button has been fucked up thanks to Aesop Rock’s discography (“Daylight EP’s”, “Labor Days”, “Bazooka Tooth”, “Fast Cars, Danger, Fire And Knives EP” and “None Shall Pass”).

They should make it mandatory that Aesop Rock provides lyric books with his projects, especially with a shitload of Aesop Rock clones all over MySpace spitting imaginary words in the same voice, cadence and style that he’s used for years. Get your own style you shark bastards.



Wade Word said...

OOOOOOooo! These cats are so ill- this is right up my alley here, man. All of these dudes are so under the radar, even Ace Rock, as far as the mainstream audience is concerned. But they are so nice. RA and Thirstin Howl are all over my ipod.

Anonymous said...

You cover a lot of good emcee's and seem to be up on your shit! I'm surprised you don't have anything from GRANITE STATE on this page!! If you don't know who they are, google 'em...they're huge in the North East right now.

Dart Adams said...

@ bamf:

I know who Granite State are and I know them and their producers through my many years of posting on Boston and being involved in the New England Hip Hop scene.