Bastard Swordsman
Where It All Started From: A 25th Anniversary Retrospective Of New Edition’s “Heart Break” & Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” (Deluxe Edition)

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June 20th, 1988 was a landmark day for Black music as a whole. On this date, MCA Records released both Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” & New Edition’s “Heart Break” the week after they dropped Guy’s debut album. These two albums forever changed not only R&B/Soul but the entire landscape of the music industry simultaneously.

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In order to understand why this is significant we must start at the beginning, with the day Bobby Brown was voted out of New Edition in December 1985 amidst mounting pressure from New Edition’s management & production team and the fallout surrounding it all.

At the top of 1986 Bobby Brown was glad to shed himself of New Edition’s squeaky clean image and choose other producers and songwriters other than Vincent Brantley, Rick Timas and Michael Sembello of Jump & Shoot Productions whom their management had recently installed as their musical team.

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The group had discovered they were signed to Jump & Shoot Productions through a production deal by their management (AMI) instead of having a record deal directly with MCA while recording their self titled LP back in 1984 shortly after they won the case that secured their freedom from their old deal with Arthur Baker's Streetwise Records.

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New Edition released album after album, in hopes of amassing enough money to buy their way out of their management & production contracts with Steven Machat and his partners Rick Smith and Bill Dern of AMI/Jump & Shoot. They hoped to become free agents, then negotiate a new deal directly with MCA Records. However, before that could happen, they had to endure another album with Jump & Shoot while Bobby Brown signed a solo deal with MCA and began to seek out a new creative team for his upcoming solo project.

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In early 1986 New Edition recorded a cover of the 50’s Doo Wop hit “Earth Angel” for the soundtrack to the sequel to “Karate Kid”. It was initially seen as a one off song before they began working on what would hopefully be their final record making music they weren’t proud of. “Karate Kid II” opened in theaters in North America on June 20, 1986 and became an instant hit.

 Peter Cetera made the film’s main theme “For The Glory Of Love” which was a massive hit but New Edition’s cover of “Earth Angel” became a crossover hit, slightly missing Billboard’s Top 20 on the Pop charts (stalled at #21). Unfortunately, the success of that song gave New Edition’s producers the idea to make their next LP a concept album full of covers of Doo Wop songs.

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To put this rather horrible idea into proper context, Janet Jackson was crushing the R&B/Soul and Pop charts with her new album “Control” as was Cameo with their album “Word Up!”. The Minneapolis sound and a new brand of R&B that would soon be branded New Jack Swing was gaining favor thanks to Prince, Ready For The World plus the production of Cameo’s Larry Blackmon and Flyte Tyme’s Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. This was not the time to go retro in the face of all this recent musical progression. The fellas might not ever recover if they put out a bad album right now.

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Nevertheless, New Edition released “Under The Blue Moon” in October 1986 and the album barely managed to go Gold when their previous albums all exceeded Platinum and each had multiple hit singles. Outside of “Earth Angel” none of their singles fared well on the charts while the aesthetic of R&B was in flux. Ralph Tresvant became increasingly disillusioned with the group and began to consider going solo as 1986 soon gave way to 1987.

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Meanwhile, Bobby Brown began recording his debut solo album for MCA Records. “King Of Stage” was released in December 1986 behind the lead single, “Girlfriend”.  This ballad became Bobby Brown’s first solo hit, eventually peaking at #57 on the Billboard Pop charts but reaching #1 on the Billboard Soul/R&B charts.

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His second single, the uptempo dance number “Girl Next Door”, was a minor hit (#31 R&B/Soul) but his album failed to even go Gold. While Bobby Brown was a winner at the 1987 Boston Music Awards, he knew he had a long way to go before he was satisfied.

Mike Bivins had the foresight to ensure the future of New Edition following them finally getting out of their old deal with Jump & Shoot Productions after their management team AMI’s firm disbanded, senior partner Steve Machat stepped down and the group opted to not continue to be managed by junior partners Rick Smith or Bill Dern.

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They celebrated their newfound freedom by installing Brooke Payne as interim manager and signing directly to MCA Records in Spring 1987. Ralph was considering a solo project like Bobby so Mike brought in Johnny Gill both to fill Bobby’s vacant spot and to potentially become the group’s new lead singer in the event Ralph bolted.

Next, the guys and their longtime choreographer/personal manager Brooke Payne agreed to bring in Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis to craft the sound of what was going to become their breakout album and shed their old boyhood image once and for all. Ralph Tresvant ultimately opted against pursuing a solo project due to encouragement from Mike Bivins and New Edition once again became a quintet.

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In June 1987, just one year removed from the abomination that was “Earth Angel” and the havoc it wreaked on their young careers, New Edition began work on their “Heart Break” LP.

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New Edition had been all but written off after their horrific last album in 1986. In 1987 people were jamming to Club Nouveau, Full Force, Jody Watley, Levert, The System, Atlantic Starr, Alexander O’Neal, Terrence Trent D’arby, Cameo, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam and Keith Sweat throughout this time and they were slowly forgetting about New Edition. This was more than enough motivation for the Roxbury renegades of R&B to reclaim their thrones and once again change the game.

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Bobby Brown regrouped from his disappointing debut album. He stayed in contact with members of New Edition even though he was voted out and he took stock in their progress on the comeback trail. In turn, Bobby decided to do the same. He soon enlisted the services of the songwriting/production team of L.A. Reid & Babyface.

They didn’t have any huge successes on the level that Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis previously enjoyed with Janet Jackson, Cherrelle or Alexander O’Neal but Bobby was going to help change all of that. In October 1987, Bobby Brown, L.A. Reid, Babyface, Darryl Simmons, Gene Griffin, Larry White and Gordon Jones all began crafting the album that would change popular music forever.

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Teddy Riley was just beginning his run on the charts when he did keyboard session work on “Don’t Be Cruel”. His breakout album with Keith Sweat “Make It Last Forever” dropped at the end of 1987 and marked a sea change in R&B/Soul music. Songs like “I Want Her”, “Something Just Ain’t Right” and “Don’t Stop Your Love” were soulful R&B but they also contained the high energy aesthetic of Rap music.

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It was the natural youthful progression after Cameo's Larry Blackmon laid the blueprint with his hits “Word Up”, “Candy”  & “Back And Forth” earlier that year. Next, Teddy Riley teamed up with Gene Griffin to form the group Guy who were also signed to MCA Records and were also recording around the same time Bobby Brown and New Edition were. It was a perfect storm.

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By January 1988, New Edition completed their comeback album “Heart Break”. In the time they’d been gone from the scene the entire game had changed. They knew they had to come out hard and knock everyone else out the box. Instead of trying to convince everyone they were grown up and hope to gain acceptance in a changing industry, they instead operated from a position of power.

They were going to put together a comprehensive tour and bring the album to life in front of audiences all across the country so they could experience the new New Edition for themselves. Preparation for what was to become the 1988 Heartbreak Tour began immediately.

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Bobby Brown completed “Don’t Be Cruel” in April 1988. His boys and labelmates New Edition were putting together their comeback tour and they reached out to Bobby to be part of it, as he was coming back to smash the game as well. Bobby headed back to Boston in May to film the video for his album’s lead single “Don’t Be Cruel”. New Edition wouldn’t be releasing a single before they dropped the album, instead opting to begin the tour immediately and drop the lead single while they were on the road to actively help push it. It was risky but if it worked? It would pay off handsomely for everyone.

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Al B. Sure! (who was an Uptown/MCA affiliate) was added to the bill of New Edition’s 1988 Heartbreak Tour. His debut LP “In Effect Mode” was powered by the hit single “Nite And Day” and it would drop on Warner Bros. two weeks before Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” hit the airwaves for the first time. In addition, Al B. Sure’s album would only drop seven weeks before both Bobby Brown and New Edition’s albums were released in June 1988.

This entire plan was a huge gamble but it all paid off the second “Don’t Be Cruel” hit radio and the video entered the rotation on BET, entered the Billboard Pop charts and cracked regular rotation on MTV. It was a breakout hit out of the gate.

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Shortly after Bobby Brown released “Don’t Be Cruel,” Al B. Sure’s second single “Off On Your Own (Girl)” dropped. Both songs steadily climbed the charts until “Don’t Be Cruel” hit #1 on the R&B/Soul charts. However, it was replaced at the top by his tourmate Al B. Sure’s second single in August 1988. During the time both songs were ascending the charts, New Edition was getting started filming videos and doing shows to build anticipation for their upcoming album.

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New Edition wouldn’t have much downtime to film videos on tour as it would serve to promote their album plus drive up sales throughout it’s duration. If you remember correctly, most of the New Edition videos from “Heart Break” were centered around them either getting ready to go on tour (“If It Isn’t Love”), being on tour (“You’re Not My Kind Of Girl”), a live video from the tour (“Crucial”) then later the group coming home from touring (“N.E. Heart Break”) (the lone exception being “Can You Stand The Rain”). Execution had to be perfect and timing was crucial.

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On June 20th, 1988 MCA Records released both Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” powered by the hit lead single of the same name and New Edition’s “Heart Break.” To further hammer home how epic the Summer of 1988 was for Black music, the previous week MCA Records released Guy’s debut album, the week before that Atlantic Records released Troop's debut album (which contained the hits “Mamacita”, Still In Love” & “My Heart”) and we were only a month and some change removed from Al B. Sure! dropping “In Effect Mode.”

The hit songs at the time both albums were released were from Pebbles (“Mercedes Boy”, co-produced by Charlie Wilson & Pebbles ), Johnny Kemp (“Just Got Paid”, produced by Teddy Riley), “Groove Me” by Guy (also produced by Teddy Riley), Troop's "Mamacita" (produced by Levert's Eddie & Gerald Levert with Marc Gordon) and the debut single “Little Walter” by a group called Tony! Toni! Toné! who were produced by Foster & McElroy.

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Competition in R&B was at its fiercest but they were more than up to the task. “Heart Break” went Gold in two months and Platinum only a month later thanks to the singles “If It Isn’t Love” and “You’re Not My Kind Of Girl.” The videos for both songs played on both BET and MTV. New Edition had crossed over to the Billboard Pop charts but Bobby Brown completely obliterated them.

The era these particular New Jack Swing themed R&B albums were released in was analogous to the First Golden Era Of Hip-Hop (1986-1989). The style, sound and aesthetic of Black music had changed but soon that would spread to Pop music as a whole. The catalyst behind this change was Bobby Brown. “Don’t Be Cruel” became a #1 R&B/Soul hit and reached the top 10 on the Billboard Pop charts, but that was only the beginning.

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Bobby Brown’s second single “My Prerogative” not only hit #1 on the R&B/Soul charts but it hit #1 on the Pop charts as well. The Teddy Riley produced single was drenched in Blackness. The New Jack Swing sound, utter funkiness and the attitude and swagger of Hip-Hop were impossible to overlook.

Before “My Prerogative,” a Black R&B artist had to play it safe or release a song in the vein of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie or Stevie Wonder’s later work to achieve crossover success. Bobby Brown did it essentially by telling everyone to kiss his ass and he’s going to do whatever the hell he feels like. The song ended up being the biggest song of 1988 and it knocked Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” out of the #1 spot on the Billboard Pop charts at the top of 1989.

“Don’t Be Cruel” became a genre defining album, selling in excess of 5 million units by the close of 1989. No longer did Black artists have to play it safe or make songs like Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You” or Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” to reach the top of the charts. Bobby Brown did it with Teddy Riley at 120 BPM while giving everyone the middle finger.

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Bobby then released the ballad “Roni” at the end of 1988 which rose all the way to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1989. Bobby Brown had been grinding on people’s daughters in the front row since 1983 but now no one’s daughters were safe because he was now the biggest star in all of popular music not named Michael Jackson or Prince.

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New Edition’s “Heart Break” album went 3x Platinum worldwide by the close of the 1988-89 Heartbreak Tour and spawned five hit singles (“If It Isn’t Love”, “Not My Kinda Girl”, “Can You Stand The Rain”, Crucial” & “N.E. Heart Break”). Bobby Brown also had five hit singles off “Don’t Be Cruel” (“Don’t Be Cruel,” “My Prerogative,” “Roni,” “Every Little Step” & “Rock Wit’cha”) but it should be pointed out that Bobby had an additional hit from the “Ghostbusters II” soundtrack “On Our Own” that reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 to bring the total to 6 overall.

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Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” was so huge worldwide that after the 1988-89 Heartbreak Tour ended in Summer 1989, he immediately had to launch another 120 date worldwide tour that ran from 1989 into 1990 called the Bobby Brown World Tour.

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The 1988-89 Heartbeak Tour was also beneficial to Al B. Sure! who racked up five hit singles (“Nite And Day”, “Off On Your Own (Girl)”, “Killing Me Softly”, “Rescue Me” and “If I’m Not Your Lover”) and multiplatinum sales throughout the duration of its run. New Edition was finally able to rest on their laurels a little bit. Their tour plan worked to perfection and turned out to be a kingmaker.

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Bobby Brown gambled on L.A. Reid & Babyface, who at the time didn’t have any big hits to their credit, but ended 1990 with a phenomenal run of success that would in time become legendary. New Edition also became the gold standard for every young, touring, business savvy R&B group as well as the most influential young R&B group in the game.

Without Bobby Brown there wouldn’t have been a lane for Usher or Chris Brown. Ne-Yo or The-Dream could’ve pursued their songwriting and production careers behind the scenes but without the artistic aesthetic Bobby Brown set forth 25 years ago they wouldn’t have had the option to become artists (bridged by R. Kelly who also benefited greatly from Bobby Brown’s solo success).

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Michael Bivins (who initially got the whole ball rolling back in 1987) would become one of the most influential young music executives in the game. Shortly after the 1988-89 Heartbreak Tour ended, Mike Bivins, Ricky Bell and Ronnie DeVoe would begin work on yet another landmark R&B album to be released on MCA in 1990 called “Poison” under the name Bell Biv DeVoe. Let’s recap a little, shall we?

In June 1986, New Edition was in dire straits. By June 1987, they were back in the studio with a new member working on their comeback album. In June 1988, they were releasing the aforementioned comeback album. By June 1989, they were back on top of the world, multiplatinum and their 5th hit single in a row was on the radio as they closed out a huge tour. By June 1990, Bell Biv Devoe also became Platinum with two huge crossover Billboard hits in “Poison” and ‘Do Me” that would take what Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” did the year before to another level entirely. Leave it to some cats from Boston to bring bluntless & being bold in vogue.

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In only two years time, Boston artists (Bobby Brown, New Edition & Bell Biv Devoe) had completely changed both R&B/Soul and Pop music forever at a time when competition in R&B was at its fiercest. Check the record for yourselves. Yet another oft overlooked aspect of New Edition’s influence is the run of success Boston’s New Kids On The Block had in the music industry.

They looked up to New Edition and regarded them as the benchmark to aspire to in regards to their musical output and live performance. Back in Spring 1988, their New Edition soundalike ballad “Please Don’t Go Girl” is said to have inspired New Edition to make the song “Where It All Started From” to address all the soundalikes, clones and knockoffs. Once they met them and realized they were fans they no longer felt that way.

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New Kids On The Block began their run of hits right at the same time New Edition began their Heartbreak Tour and by the close of 1989 they boasted 5 straight Top 10 Billboard Pop hits. In addition, they had multiplatinum sales surpassing Bobby Brown’s (8x Platinum) and tour receipts that were only matched by fellow Bostonian acts New Edition (1988-89 Heartbreak Tour) and Bobby Brown (1989-90 Bobby Brown World Tour). It can be argued that no stretch of albums from acts from the same city (1988’s “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Heart Break”, “Hangin’ Tough” & 1990’s “Poison”) did more to change the overall landscape of the present day music industry since the Detroit groups from Motown back in the 60’s.

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In conclusion, 25 years ago not one but two albums were released that forever changed the music industry through sound, aesthetic, performance, style and overall influence. Without New Edition, there is no Boyz II Men. Without New Edition, there is no New Kids On The Block (thus no boy band formula and no boy bands).

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Without Bobby Brown, there is no Usher. Without Bell Biv Devoe what would Jodeci have sounded like? What would R.Kelly have sung about? Without Mike Bivins and his pioneering success in scouting, signing & developing talent both in production (Dallas Austin) and performance with Biv 10 does Puffy Combs still find the inspiration to launch Bad Boy (Biv was the ORIGINAL executive producer in the videos)? The individual Platinum sales of Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe, Johnny Gill & Ralph Tresvant following “Heart Break” are a lasting testament to the greatness of the feats they accomplished. Five Boston cats from Roxbury ultimately changed the music industry forever. Let us never forget that. I’ll never let you do so.

One.

You Must Learn! © KRS One (20 Things You Didn’t Know About Boston Music History)

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1. Musicians Locals 9 and 535 were chartered back in 1897 and 1915 respectively making them the oldest musicians union in the United States. The Boston’s Musician Association (Local 535) was located in the South End where Jazz musicians enjoyed a concentration of several historic Jazz venues they often left Harlem by train & got off at Back Bay Station in Boston to perform.

The first location of the Boston’s Musicians Local 535 was above Charlie’s Sandwich Shop at 429 Columbus Ave and across the street from Mother’s Lunch on 380 Columbus Ave. Both restaurants were hangouts for Jazz musicians who used to stay with South End residents or at Ella’s House on nearby West Canton Street.

Later, Local 535 moved to 409 Mass Ave across the street from Wally’s Jazz Club’s original location (as Wally’s Paradise). During this time everyone from Count Basie to Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway were members of Local 535. Local 535 (which served mostly the Black musicians) and Local 9 (an all White union) merged in 1970, resulting in it becoming Local 9-535 as it’s known today.

 

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2. Donna Summer was born LaDonna Gaines in Boston and she was raised in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. She dominated the local talent show circuit but spent time in New York doing theater and in Germany before teaming up with Giorgio Moroder and becoming the Queen Of Disco thus redefining the importance of solo women in both R&B/Soul and Pop throughout the crucial stretch of the mid 70’s to the early 80’s. Donna Summer inspired and influenced legions of women and vocalists/entertainers that followed in her footsteps. Rest in eternal peace.

 

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3. Boston Funk is the name given to the sound pioneered by Brian & Edward Holland of The Energetics and later heralded by Arthur Baker, John Robie, Michael Jonzun, Maurice Starr, Gordon Worthy and other Boston area musicians (it then stretched to include Space Funk) that in addition to the Holland brothers compromised the groups Jonzun Crew, Planet Patrol, Northend, Ritz & Glory between the years of 1979 and 1983 that recorded for various labels in New York.

By the time these musicians began producing, playing and recording on seminal Hip-Hop hits in New York the music was categorized as Electro beginning in 1983 and it quickly gained popularity on the West Coast and overseas. The only ones that still regarded this music called Electro as Boston Funk during this period were Bostonians.

 

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4. Between Tom Moulton and Shep Pettibone the most important producer/mixer & remixer in all of dance/urban music (R&B/Soul) was Boston studio technician/DJ John Luongo. Between the late 70’s and late 80’s he took off from where Tom Moulton began up until Shep Pettibone ultimately became the new industry standard circa 1987. Shep Pettibone, incidentally made his name working with and doing remixes for Arthur Baker who came out to New York after John Luongo originally blazed the trail from Boston to New York.

He essentially put the battery in the backs of Arthur Baker, Michael Jonzun, Maurice Starr & John Robie and gave Shep Pettibone the blueprint to work from. John Luongo also once owned & operated CBS imprint Pavillion Records.

 

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5. Boston product Arthur Baker produced numerous dance hits as well as several seminal Hip-Hop & Electro classics people attribute solely to New York. Those songs include Joe Bataan’s “Rap-O Clap-O”, Afrika Bambaataa & The Jazzy 5’s “Jazzy Sensation”, Planet Patrol’s “Play At Your Own Risk” and the song that ultimately made Hip-Hop/Rap music a global force, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock”. Thanks Boston…

 

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6. Boston’s Jonzun Crew produced several classics for Sylvia Robinson’s Sugar Hill label including The Sugar Hill Gang & The Furious 5’s “Showdown”, Sequence’s “Funky Sound (Tear The Roof Of)”, Brother To Brother’s “Monster Jam” and about a dozen other records. They used the money they made from producing for Sugar Hill into building Boston International Studios where they recorded several Jonzun Crew classics and New Edition’s “Candy Girl” album (which was released on fellow Bostonian Arthur Baker’s Streetwise Records).

Together with several fellow Boston Funk songwriters, musicians and producers they became the in-house production team for Tommy Boy Records. The first full length album released on Tom Silverman’s Tommy Boy Records was Jonzun Crew’s “Lost In Space” in 1983.

 

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7. Between 1982 and 1984, Rick Rubin & Larry Smith’s (Def Jam’s in-house production team) biggest competition in regards to impact and hit making were Tommy Boy’s all Bostonian in-house production team which consisted of Arthur Baker & John Robie (Planet Patrol) and Michael Jonzun & Maurice Starr (Jonzun Crew).

It’s safe to say that without Boston talent there’d be no Tommy Boy Records since Arthur Baker’s record deals and placements gave Tom Silverman the idea to start a label in the first place and have him produce for him. Arthur Baker just called his homies in Boston and the rest was Hip-Hop history.

 

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8. In 1984, singer/songwriter/producer Richard “Dimples” Fields discovered & signed a group consisting of three young ladies from Boston who dominated the Boston talent show circuit called Owch! then made them his back up singers. Later, they also became Patti LaBelle’s backup singers. Fields would later rename them 9.9 and they released a self titled LP on RCA Records in 1985 which yielded the R&B hit "All Of Me For All Of You".

 

9. Boston’s urban radio history isn’t known too well outside of Boston but it’s highly influential. Everyone from Bill Adler to Wendy Williams cut their teeth on Boston radio. WILD, WRBB (Northeastern University), WERS (Emerson College), WMBR (MIT) & WHRB (Harvard University) all ended up changing the world in different ways.

WILD was the Soul/R&B station that everyone from Donna Summer to Arthur Baker to Chairman Jefferson Mao to to DJ Kon to Geespin grew up listening to. WMBR was the home of Magnus Johnstone’s Lecco’s Lemma Hip-Hop radio show that essentially built up Boston’s Rap scene & gave it a home. From then, college Hip-Hop radio exploded in Boston as WHRB was home to Jonathan Schecter, Dave Mays & DJ Deff Jeff’s Street Beat Show.

Schecter and Mays would later partner with Harvard classmate James Bernard to create The Source magazine in August 1988. Considering Boston was the second city after New York to support Rap on the radio it’s importance in spreading Hip-Hop culture is undeniable.

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10. Gordon “Megabucks” Worthy & Larry “Woo” Wedgeworth were a Boston based songwriting & production team that was an offshoot of the old Boston Funk wave of songwriters/musicians (Worthy was a former member of the Jonzun Crew). In addition to writing & producing for Jonzun Crew, Peter Wolf, The Stylistics they were also signed to Sire Records as the R&B group Modernique. They produced, wrote for & managed a Boston R&B girl group signed to Atlantic called Picture Perfect. In 1987, they scored a minor hit with the song "Prove It, Boy" off their album “Boy Crazy. Modernique's album is still sought after by R&B music collectors more than 25 years later.

 

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11. MC Spice was the first rapper ever to be signed by Atlantic Records in 1987 and the first rapper from Boston to be signed to a major label. His single “Don’t Treat Your Girly Like A Dog, Dog, Dog” predated MC Lyte’s debut single “I Cram To Understand U (Sam)” and was produced by the aforementioned duo of Woo & Worthy. MC Spice was later regarded as the “Hood A&R” and became a writer/producer for Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch when they became Interscope Records’ first successful Rap act in 1991. He is now an active member of the Universal Zulu Nation.

 

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12. A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul & The Jungle Brothers (the three groups that comprised the core of The Native Tongues) all first met not in one of the 5 boroughs in New York but right in the South End of Boston near the campus of Northeastern University. The rest was history.

 

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13. In 1988, New Jack Swing began to dominate the urban music charts and Black radio before crossing over to the Pop/Billboard charts. Bobby Brown (“Don’t Be Cruel”), New Edition (“Heart Break”), Al B. Sure! (“In Effect Mode”) & New Kids On The Block (“Hanging Tough”) all became the biggest acts in all of urban & Pop music due to sales, accolades and tour monies. All of these artists & groups were born in Boston (Al B. Sure! was raised in Mt. Vernon, NY but he was born here in Boston).

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14. In 1988, Dorchester’s New Kids On The Block released “Hanging Tough” and sold in excess of 10 million units worldwide. At that moment, Maurice Starr had created the elusive “boy band formula” that numerous talent scouts, managers and record labels have copied and tried to emulate for the past 25 years to different levels of success.

First, form a group with members that appeal to different segments of a potential fanbase (or types). Secondly, take them overseas to build a fanbase and get seasoning. Third, have them tour constantly to increase their buzz. Third, use that momentum to create an album, release it stateside, watch it break worldwide then reap the benefits of their success through endorsement deals, licensing & merchandising.

Lou Pearlman of Trans Continental Records used Maurice Starr’s formula to the letter when he handpicked both Backstreet Boys & NSYNC which both went on to great success and started a great boy band gold rush a decade after Maurice Starr gave everyone the blueprint.

 

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15. In 1991, Hype Williams began his video directing career and he came to Boston to film Boston crew Posse NFX's video for their minor hit "Black Or Ya White" on Critique Records. This is believed to be Hype Williams’ first ever music video and Posse NFX consisted of original members of the second incarnation of Gang Starr Posse, Mike Dee (DJ 1 2 B Down), Lil’ Smitty & King Shab. It doesn’t appear on Hype Williams’ Wikipedia videography but it’s commonly known in Boston that Hype Williams directed the video.

 

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16. Following the success of New Edition, Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe, New Kids On The Block, Ralph Tresvant & Ed O.G & Da Bulldogs record labels descended on Boston and began signing R&B & Rap groups left and right all throughout the early 90’s. Among these many major label signings were The Almighty R.S.O., Here & Now, Homework, Tam Tam, Perfect Gentlemen, T-Max, Classic Example, Lady Soul, Juice With Soul, Joint Venture & Ruffa. Most of these groups or acts only attained minimal chart success or push/promotion thus killing any momentum the Boston music scene had made during that era.

 

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17. Armand Van Helden (pictured above with Va$htie) is now regarded as a global legend in the genres of House, Speed Garage, Instrumental Hip-Hop and dance music as a whole but he started out his DJ & production career in Boston. He came up alongside other Boston based DJ/producer legends such as DJ Bruno, Mastermillions, Madsol-Desar, Insight, DJ Kon, etc. and his initial releases on NYC’s AV8 & Nervous Records consisted of several seminal House hits and remixes.

His highly influential House/Breakbeat/Dance releases "Old School Junkies: The Album", "Sampleslaya: Enter The Meatmarket" & "2 Future 4 U" established him as one of the most important DJ/remixer/producers in all of Electronica/Dance music. Meanwhile, Boston area heads that frequented clubs like The Loft know where his career started. He is currently half of the dance music outfit Duck Sauce with A-Trak of Fools Gold. The Boston area dance crew Phunk Phenomenon take their name from one of his classic tracks "Funk Phenomena".

 

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18. Dow Brain & Brad Young of Underground Productions were both known as local legends for producing Boston Hip-Hop & Reggae artists like Polecat, Street Poets, Illin’ P & Ruffa. They’re also responsible for producing & writing huge commercial Top 10 Billboard hits like "Summer Girls" & "Girl On TV" for LFO in 1999. Those two singles sold in excess of 2 million units combined and LFO’s debut album sold in excess of 3 million units worldwide.To this date they have 5 Platinum & Gold albums to their credits.

To this very day, few know that Underground Productions who were once affiliated with DIF Productions' “Governor” Pete Bazille and the songwriting duo of Dow Brain & Brad Young are one & the same. They've gone into production for film & television and have more than 100 placements in their name currently. If you've ever seen a Match.com commercial before, you've heard their work.

 

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19. Sean C of Grind Music (pictured above next to Young Guru) is half of one of the most sought after production teams in Rap music (with LV). Sean Cane is also known as a founding member of the turntablist crew X-Men, he was an A&R for Loud/RCA and later a member of Sean Combs’ in-house production team at Bad Boy Records (The Hitmen). Sean has produced for notable acts such as Jay-Z, Big Punisher, X-Ecutioners, Ghostface Killah, Diddy, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Jadakiss & The Roots amongst others. He is also a brand ambassador/spokesman for Akai’s new line of MPC’s.

Sean C started out as a 1/3rd of the Boston/MA based Vinyl Reanimators production team alongside Joe Mansfield & DJ Shame who were responsible for kickstarting Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs & Scientifik’s careers in the early 90’s in addition to making some of the best Hip-Hop production & remixes outside of Pete Rock & DJ Premier.

 

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20. Roxbury product Ché Guevara was a former protégé of Teddy Riley (who had a studio in Boston at one point in time) and a former member of Wyclef Jean & Jerry “Wonder” Duplesis’ Refugee Camp All Stars production team. He produced Destiny Child’s breakout hit “No, No, No (Part 2)” (Wyclef took the credit) in addition to one of the crew’s biggest hits “Ghetto Supastar” featuring Pras, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mya.

He also lent production work to Wyclef’s “The Carnival” and Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill”, two of the biggest Rap albums of all times before changing his name to Che Pope and racking up some impressive credits. Ché Guevara AKA Che Pope is now known as Che Vicious, head A&R of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music.

One.

The Illest Brother © Gang Starr (Dedicated To The Life & Memory Of Keith “Guru” Elam)

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I’m old enough to remember back when Mike Dee & Keithy E left for New York in order to eventually land Gang Starr Posse a deal with K-Tel/Wild Pitch Records in 1987. Back then Boston’s Hip-Hop and Rap music wasn’t being acknowledged by New York even though Bostonians had already made significant contributions to the culture of Hip-Hop and it didn’t look like that was going to change anytime in the near future.

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Boston was the second city after New York to feature an all Rap radio show. Many of the seminal, groundbreaking Rap songs played at the time were actually produced by Bostonians such as Arthur Baker, Michael Jonzun and Maurice Starr. Due to the fact no one paid attention to producers, only the artists back then Boston remained overlooked in regards to Hip-Hop.

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What would Boston Hip-Hop be like today had Guru and Mike Dee never gone to New York? What if those first Gang Starr Posse 12”s on Wild Pitch had never dropped? What if Guru never met DJ Premier (or Waxmaster C as he was known then) and made No More Mr. Nice Guy? How would that have affected not only Boston Hip-Hop history but Hip-Hop history as a whole? Not only would this piece never be written but I never would’ve have become a Hip-Hop journalist.

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I’m extremely conscious of Guru’s influence on me but let’s examine his influence on the other Bostonians who dreamed of scratching out a career and eventually achieving fame in New York. Boston has completely infiltrated New York Hip-Hop to the point few even realize how many of them are currently there now in regards to Hip-Hop (both print & digital) journalism, radio, production, emceeing, or business management.

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For example, take Geespin (Power 105), Sean C (Grind Music), Cherry Martinez (Power 105), Statik Selektah (ShowOff Radio), DJ Madsol-Desar, Dawaun Parker, Che Vicious (G.O.O.D. Music), Maya The B, J The S, DJ Synapse, Touré, Chairman Jefferson Mao, The Source and the crew from Clockwork Music. Even New York City’s mayor is from Boston now.

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It all started with one man who was willing to crash on couches, eat sparingly & work menial jobs in New York to be where he had to be to make his dreams come true and put his city on one day. Even though the beginnings of Gang Starr and Gang Starr Foundation all started in Boston close to 30 years ago, their membership and extended family spread throughout the boroughs of New York and their influence is now worldwide. These things were all made possible through the drive and determination of one man named Keith Elam.  

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We all know Guru as the MC half of Gang Starr. We all remember the unique timbre of his voice. We all marveled at his conviction on the mic even when he was delivering in a laid back, relaxed manner. Guru was also an accomplished producer, an aspect of his amazing career that often gets overlooked. He had an eye for talent. He advocated for Lord Finesse to get signed to Wild Pitch after hearing his demo (which he took it upon himself to do at Stu Fine’s office).

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Guru also discovered and signed Bahamadia in addition to producing several of her most notable songs. Together, Guru and DJ Premier crafted the sound that came to define Brooklyn and East New York. Who would’ve ever expected that a transplant from Boston and another one from Houston came to create, symbolize and fully embody the sound and aesthetic of one of the most storied and highly regarded boroughs in Hip-Hop history?

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Guru’s highly influential Jazzmatazz series were his brainchild and he was the main producer behind the first three Jazzmatazz albums. He and DJ Premier reached out to many members of the GangStarr Foundation directly during their time in Brooklyn and East New York. Jeru Tha Damaja once told me flat out at the 2010 Boston Hip-Hop Unity Fest “Guru saved my life. Without his intervention and guidance I wouldn’t be alive speaking to you today. I’m not the only person who can say that, either”

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Guru spit countless classic bars and quotable lines over his illustrious career. He produced and penned both underground classics and radio hits. He helped to discover and put on numerous people we regard as legends in Hip-Hop today. Even when I heard him big up Brooklyn on records as a youth I knew that Boston, his home, could never leave his heart. In his memory we must make an effort to focus on the true essence of Hip-Hop culture and aspire to inspire others that follow. Make Guru proud. Make Boston proud. RIP Guru.

Thanks to the Boston Banner for completely ignoring Keith Elam’s contributions to Boston & Black music’s history by not running this article last month.

One.

Event Horizon © Paul W.S. Anderson

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This is the “event” era of Rap releases apparently. You can’t just make a quality album, promote it and hope it resonates with people after they hear it and builds through word of mouth anymore. It’s about generating massive amounts of buzz through hype via social networks and blogs until people on the streets are talking about said synthesized event. It happened with “Watch The Throne”. It happened again with “Yeezus”. This has also been the case with Jay-Z’s present album “Magna Carta Holy Grail”. Now let’s explore the repercussions, byproducts and reactions to how the project was marketed, shall we?

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The whole marketing plan behind Jay-Z’s new album “Magna Carta Holy Grail” kicked off in grand fashion. It’s premier commercial aired during a key NBA Finals game in a hotly contested series and was sponsored by Samsung. Jay-Z is no brand loyalist by any stretch of the imagination, mind you. In the past he’s released sneakers with Reebok while he wore Adidas regularly and done commercials with HP while he was photographed using Apple laptops. The company/brand that put up the money was irrelevant, all that really mattered was Jay-Z got them to pay him and fund his next endeavor. Something that no other rapper or emcee in the game is in the position to do.

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On June 16th, during Game 5 of the NBA Finals a 3 minute commercial that hyped up Jay-Z’s new upcoming album dropped after Kanye West’s highly anticipated album with no single, album artwork or pre-orders “Yeezus” had leaked, his protege J.Cole’s sophomore album “Born Sinner” had leaked, a couple of days before both would be released and a full month before Pusha T’s oft delayed solo debut “My Name Is My Name” was slated to hit stores. In one fell swoop, Jay-Z had taken the air out of all of their sails and become the leading topic of conversation both on the streets and the Internet. Something that no one else in the game could do. If you think you’re innovative and groundbreaking Jay-Z will come along and break the ground beneath you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

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Jay-Z was lavished with praise for being a savvy businessman who was Platinum three weeks before his new album even came out. He’d taken the steam out of a June 18th release date where the entire industry decided to release an album as well in order to get sloppy seconds and table scraps from Kanye West or J.Cole (although Statik Selektah was the first person to announce it as the release date for his album “Extended Play” several months in advance). The Magna Carta Holy Grail app wouldn’t become downloadable until June 24th. No one had bought a Samsung phone yet. No one had even heard a full song from the album yet but people were already making declarations. Wait. WHAT?

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There was talk about how Samsung had won already. First off, how long would it be before any sales numbers were reported on Samsung phones and tablets before that could be confirmed? Secondly, common sense would dictate that we wait to see how the app itself actually functions before declaring it a success. In addition, we’d have to contrast how Apple iPhones and iPads sold during the same period without have any entertainers use their brand to sell their new or previous existing products to consumers. That’s what we call “data”. Without it, it’s tough to arrive at a conclusion. Since none of us are Loopers let’s just wait and see what happens first, OK?

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In recent months, Jay-Z had turned Havana into Atlanta and the film adaptation of one of the Great American Novels (“The Great Gatsby”) into “Idlewild”. We’d entered a stretch where movies either had a Jay-Z or a Kanye West song in their trailers. It has been made clear that Jay-Z and Kanye West were by far the most palatable rappers to corporations. Kanye West has decided to spurn the advances of corporations, partnerships and sponsorships this time around. Instead, he wants to rub shoulders with creatives and artists in varying fields in Paris. This leaves Jay-Z alone in the wilderness with an AK-47 and night vision goggles while everyone else has torches, spears and arrows.

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Jay-Z spoke of and tweeted about "New Rules" in this new digital age the day after his commercial aired. In this new world where the business model is constantly changing and we have infinite choice the playing field is leveled somewhat because a “nobody” can elevate themselves due to the Internet’s democratization of everything. Then he said something completely counter to his point right afterwards. He wanted to gather everyone around the radio like they did in the old days for his next event. The radio. When people gathered around the radio for a big event there was little to no choice. What Jay-Z’s “New Rules” were talking about was essentially finding a way to monopolize people’s time and draw everyone’s eyes to him at a time where everyone’s attention was split.

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Jay-Z tweeted about the #NewRules and how Kanye West had the 66 building projection sites for “New Slaves” and “Yeezus” had no lead single or video and how J.Cole had the digital listening sessions for his new album “Born Sinner” (in some of the most tech savvy cities in America so his album leaked immediately afterwards). These were definitely innovative promotional attempts but their impact was too new to establish them as being a part of any “new rules”. What they are were attempts to market in a changing digital landscape. These new marketing attempts couldn’t even be considered successful yet. That didn’t stop people from taking his tweets and running with them as if they were gospel.

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Jay-Z tweeted about Billboard not recognizing the million albums given away for free as being sold copies on June 17th. The RIAA then decided to change their rules and have them count which bypasses both Billboard and Soundscan. Let’s recap. Jay-Z made a partnership with a communications company where they sell and market his album and help boost their brand. In addition, it’s already Platinum before the album is even downloaded by Samsung customers or even available to purchase. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like sales fixing rather than brilliant business to me. The reach was already guaranteed, the buzz was guaranteed, the sales were even guaranteed. Where was the innovation again?

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Let’s talk about the Magna Carta Holy Grail app itself for a moment. It became available on June 24th and there were problems with it from the outset all the way up until the moment it was supposed to deliver on July 4th. In the end, the functionality of this app really didn’t matter. The technical issues with the app were of no real consequence. If the app worked better with Apple product users than Samsung users wasn’t even an issue (although I think that is a serious issue as an Apple loyalist). Jay-Z made out like a bandit even though his album leaked. He got his buzz, money and sales for his new album. Samsung ultimately dropped the ball and failed to deliver basic things in epic fashion. Now about those New Rules…

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In order for any of these supposed New Rules Jay-Z is talking about to be valid, they have to be able to be implemented by more than only five people on the face of the Earth. Who else besides Jay-Z would be able to convince a conglomerate like Samsung to partner with him in order to release his album and promote it via an app they’d develop and make available on their phones and tablets? How many artists could even possibly sway people to buy a new handheld device simply because they were associated with it? Now ask yourself what RAPPERS could do any of this? While you’re thinking of an answer let me offer one: Not enough for these so-called New Rules to matter since they apply to almost no one else. Who else would any of this even work for?

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Between “Yeezus” and “Magna Carta Holy Grail” there’s been a central theme of high art, opulence and wealth, things that are just not accessible to the majority of the populace. I’m not even sure that the majority of either Rap fans or the buying public at large understands most of what either Jay-Z or Kanye West reference in their rhymes anymore. People in the Rap industry constantly praise Jay-Z’s business savvy and citing him as an example to follow. Just one thing, you CAN’T follow him. You can’t do what he does. His coups and successes aren’t ones you can readily emulate. At least not anymore, you can’t.

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Former drug dealer Notorious B.I.G. gained mainstream acceptance and subsequently made it possible for Jay-Z to do the same. Jay-Z’s crossover success and corporate attractiveness made it possible for 50 Cent to follow in his footsteps and also enter the corporate arena. Past about 2010, Jay-Z’s reach and influence have grown to near unattainable levels by any rapper who’s career began after 2000. Much like the theory of Trickle Down Economics, his windfalls won’t positively affect us in the rest of the Rap game. From now on, every time Jay-Z raises the bar he’s just putting it further out of reach for everyone else.

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The album has finally leaked and it’s not a bad album. It’s certainly better than that clusterfuck of an album “The Blueprint 3” or even the event album that put us on this current trajectory “Watch The Throne”. It’s far more accessible than “Yeezus”, the problem is that Jay often sounds like other people other than Jay-Z when he raps on “MCHG”. In some spots he sounds like someone’s 43 year old uncle on the mic rapping over beats that are too young for him using other cats’ flows. This is something Jay-Z should never do. No matter. He’ll do his numbers regardless. He gets paid no matter what. No harm, no foul. He’s not a businessman. HE’S A BUSINESS, MAN!

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Jay-Z is at a stage in his career that no other rapper has entered before. He remained a huge commercial draw and relevant in the music industry after 12 solo albums and 17 years. He’ll turn 44 on December 4th in a game where 30 is considered old. When I was a kid, most rappers were between the ages of 16 and 20 and the idea of 30 year olds rapping one day never even dawned on us back then. Everything from here on for Jay-Z is previously undiscovered territory. He once elaborated on Young Chris’ flow a decade ago and before that he used inspiration from Nas, Biggie and Big L to craft “Reasonable Doubt”. However, back then it wasn’t as obvious as it is now.

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Business trumping art isn’t anything new in this modern era of Rap. The issue is that we’re entering into a dangerous new era where the album and music itself is secondary to the synthesis of the event. The business deal and marketing of a project is a bigger story than the album is. No one was even willing to wait to see what happened with the full album roll out before speculating on what Jay’s new Samsung deal meant for the music industry first. This Billboard issue pictured above hit newsstands on June 29th, five days before the album was even available for download and more than a week before it went on sale. The story itself was bigger than the album. The music is secondary to the commerce behind it. No one even knew what the album sounded like when it went to press. It simply didn’t matter.

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While I wouldn’t compare the albums “Yeezus” and “Magna Carta Holy Grail” to each other I have no issue comparing the events surrounding them. Kanye West opted to forgo releasing a commercial single, video or even allow for any pre-orders of his album. Kanye West didn’t want to partner with any corporations or conglomerates this time around. When it came time to let people hear it, he opted against forbidding people from having any recording items or handheld devices. “If it leaks, then fuck it” was the attitude. When “Yeezus” finally leaked it looked like it was done on purpose. However, it was clear from jump that all of these live performances and the anti-stance weren’t just conscious decisions for the sake of the art. They were marketing strategies. The album premiered at #1 on the Billboard charts when it was finally made available for purchase on June 18th.

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Speaking of Rap’s need to synthesize events in order to sell product, let’s discuss how June 18th became an event in the first place. Statik Selektah announced that his upcoming album “Extended Play” was dropping way back in March after some last minute verses made him push back the release a few months from it’s original release date. On May 2nd, Kanye West tweeted “June Eighteenth” and people speculated about what it meant. Later on that night, Mac Miller tweeted that his next album was dropping on June 18th. By May 18th, it was clear that he planned to release his new album “Yeezus” on that date. Back on April 8th, J.Cole tweeted that he was going to release his sophomore album on June 25th.

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J.Cole decided to be a dickrider and move up his release date to June 18th after Kanye West performed "Black Skinhead" and "New Slaves" on SNL the previous night. Just like that we have a synthesized “event” that will hopefully draw record buyers to the stores during a time where sales are down. September 29th, 1998 was an actual organic event release date because of the wide range of quality Hip-Hop released that day. There was no need to try to generate it so people came out to buy CD’s because they already buying music. The business wasn’t more important than the music it was selling back then. At least not yet, it wasn’t.

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In conclusion, we can tell ourselves that these guys value the art and advancing the artform more than the business but the industry they’re in surely doesn’t. The corporations, companies, entities and individuals that they shout out, namedrop and partner with surely don’t. The record labels they record for are most concerned with the bottom line. Rap is nothing more than a product to be marketed and sold to consumers through them. These conglomerates and corporations will employ whatever methods possible to create an event that will ultimately result in the most revenue and the best numbers to report to their shareholders and the business trades. The numbers are all important. The industry was shady. It got taken over. Guess what? It’s STILL shady.

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Jay-Z and Kanye West both occupy The Throne. If they seek to employ you or bring you into the fold you’d almost be a fool to turn them down. Once you’re part of their team, job one is to uphold the brand. Job two is to play your position and contribute/do whatever is asked of you in your particular area of expertise. Job three is simply to await your turn (if it ever comes, that is). The most valuable piece of currency in business is loyalty. Once your stint is up, you are then free to leave and strike out on your own (I see you Cudi! I see you Hit-Boy!). This is no different from any other business or corporation that acquires startups that may give it competition. For me? Music is as personal as it can possibly get. The thing about business is it’s NEVER personal. Act accordingly.

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One.

Cold Fact © Rodriguez

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This post has been a draft for close to three months. It was originally supposed to be a post about Hip-Hop, misogyny, gender equity and rape culture in Rap music. I was building up to writing it as I wanted it to be a powerful piece from a male perspective that was completely devoid of any kind of patriarchy that would really resonate with everyone. In the middle of putting it together a string of things happened that resulted in not only that piece never being written but me not writing any long pieces of any kind. Either for Bastard Swordsman, myself or any other site.

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First, my mom went to the hospital with health issues and that seriously made me re-evaluate everything. Shortly after she got out of the hospital and was finally back home, the Boston Marathon bombing happened. I took to Twitter and Instagram then quickly became a respected news source during that harrowing stretch of 102 hours. I’d done several radio interviews (mostly phoners) and became a sort of impromptu embedded reporter/photojournalist like Matty Roth from one of my favorite graphic novel series’ “DMZ” during that time. When it all finally came to a close, I was physically, emotionally and mentally spent.

Afterwards, I was rendered incapable of stringing together a major piece or writing a large cohesive article detailing my opinion or take on anything of note for months to follow. Another hurdle was Tumblr had removed the option of resizing your own photos added to your posts. Since my Tumblr posts are usually articles or written pieces that you’d usually find on Medium rather Tumblr this was a major issue for me as it completely threw a monkeywrench simultaneously into my regular writing rhythm and the overall aesthetic of my site. I have a strict cap on my image size and a formula. Not being able to have things exactly the way I want them was beyond frustrating.

I had originally planned to end this site with my 100th post in late August & begin my final blog which I’m going to name “Goodnight, Prometheus” as a nod to me trying to get to where I want to in life versus the mounting pressures that I’ll ultimately end up a failure. The idea came from a piece I wrote called "What Happens To A Dream Deferred © Langston Hughes" in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the film version of Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin In The Sun”. What instead happened was a stretch of close to three months where outside of Twitter or making lists and writing 500 word album reviews I wasn’t able to really write like I was capable of.

Since I was still able to get paid to write and I was working, few people even noticed I hadn’t written anything in excess of 1500 words that wasn’t a list. It took months before any of these things were finally resolved. I wasn’t able to break through my block until I was asked to write about Boston’s rich urban music history for Black Music Month (June). I was able to write several pieces that averaged over 3000 words each. I also had to do quite a bit of editing before any of them were able to be printed in newspapers or posted on websites (which given my previous issues I didn’t mind one bit).

The full, unedited versions of these pieces about Boston urban music, the 25th anniversary of New Edition’s “Heart Break”, Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and how the forever changed both Black music and Pop music as a whole plus a think piece about Guru’s legacy will all find their ways to Bastard Swordsman in the coming days. In addition, my photo resizing issue has been remedied by the existence of an invaluable site called PicMonkey. This means I can FINALLY get back to doing Cult Films Of The Internet Era posts again since I can now resize the film posters. This site will get the end it deserves and just like Poisonous Paragraphs I’ll keep it up because it’ll take years before anyone actually reads this shit anyways (I speak from experience).

Another huge by product of me finally breaking through my writing block is that now I’m in the process of writing a few books of varying subjects. When you’re backed up like that for three months the words just don’t stop coming. This laptop of mine might explode in the next three weeks due to it so I try to write as much as I can by hand to extend it’s life. In case you were wondering why Bastard Swordsman has been inactive for so long, mystery solved. Now prepare to get sick of me.

One.

Onyx & The Mad Face Invasion: The 20th Anniversary Of “Bacdafucup”

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The first time I ever heard an Onyx song I didn’t even know it was them. Back in 1991, my boy Vanguard (who’d later produce tracks for O.C. and KRS One) gave me a mixtape with no tracklist. The only song I couldn’t identify was a track I assumed was called “Ah, And We Do It Like This” because it was repeated in the song’s chorus. Back in those days this was a common occurrence so I thought nothing of it. The next Fall, my younger brother tells me that his boy (Jam Master Jay’s nephew) let him hear this dope ass song called “Throw Ya Gunz” by a group named Onyx on his walkman. He’s raving about it and I just dismiss it as hype.

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A few weeks later, my brother comes home with a tape that looked like a promo sampler and I heard “Throw Ya Gunz” for the first time (it’s also one of the greatest clean versions in Hip-Hop history). My brother wasn’t exaggerating after all! The ChySkillz produced banger had a kinetic energy I hadn’t heard since the DJ Muggs produced “Jump Around” hit blared through my headphones. I played it over & over again wondering when it was finally going to drop. Three weeks later the song hit college radio & the video aired on BET’s Rap City. Chaos ensued.

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“Throw Ya Gunz” spread like wildfire on the airwaves, starting on college Rap shows then to mixshows and regular rotation on the major radio stations. The video went from being played just on “Rap City” to playing on almost all of the BET video shows except for “Video Soul”. As the song got more popular, a backlash occurred coinciding with when it finally was released commercially in late November 1992. Due to pressure from parents groups and others still reeling from the recent Warner Bros./Cop Killer Controversy & the L.A. Riots that happened the previous Spring, BET opted to blur out the guns in “Throw Ya Gunz”.

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By the holiday season, they had pretty much stopped showing the video at all. Around this time, MTV decided to interview Onyx as part of a segment about the violence in Rap music. Shortly after audiences saw and heard the passion Sticky Fingaz & Fredro Starr had, “Throw Ya Gunz” hit #1 on the Billboard Rap singles chart and rose as high as #81 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Keep in mind that BET was no longer playing the video & MTV’s video policy prevented them from ever even airing it.

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Sales of Onyx’s single “Throw Ya Gunz” was steady for four months up until their debut album dropped on March 30, 1993. What many forgot was an underground black & white video for the B-side of  “Throw Ya Gunz” called “Da Nex Niguz” was on a promo VHS circulated by The Source magazine. This served as an unofficial single & video even though it never aired on either BET or MTV. Onyx didn’t have a new single & video until “Slam” was released in May 1993. If you thought “Throw Ya Gunz” was popular? “Slam” blew it out of the water.

“Slam” aired on both MTV and BET, it was extremely radio friendly and it dropped right around the time of the 1993 NBA Playoffs. The NBA began playing it in arenas and even added it to their new promotional campaign. Next thing you knew, Onyx had their second #1 Rap single that reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned them a Platinum plaque from the RIAA. Onyx essentially went 6 months with one official single and no video airplay for 4 months but the single still climbed the charts. Try that today and see if you go Platinum & get magazine covers and a Marvel comic book!

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It was around this time that I remembered that on “Throw Ya Gunz” they went “Ah, Ah, Ah! And we do it like this!” and I went searching for music under Onyx with that title. I found out that Onyx was signed to Profile back in 1990 with Run DMC and Jam Master Jay took the young Queens emcees under his wing. Now they were on JMJ Records under the Def Jam umbrella with a Gold album approaching Platinum.

Onyx’s transformation and grimy sound orchestrated by ChySkillz, Jam Master Jay, Jeff Harris & Kool Tee completely changed the landscape of Rap in a short time. Hardcore Rap had crossed over and the rest of the Rap world followed suit.

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How influential were Onyx? Shortly after the bald headed, screw faced, hollering emcees brought slamdancing and mosh pits to Hip-Hop shows Run DMC had reappeared after years of hiatus with bald heads in similar dress to Onyx rhyming in a more aggressive manner. Da Youngstas shaved their heads bald and adopted a similar look and vocal delivery to Onyx as well (this all happened in March 1993, look it up).

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LL Cool J shaved his head bald and adopted a sound similar to “Throw Ya Gunz” on his debut single “This Is How I’m Comin’” from his new LP “14 Shots To The Dome”. LL Cool J’s “How I’m Comin’” became a #1 Rap single on the Billboard charts. Next, Run DMC’s “Down With The King” became a #1 Rap single. Da Youngstas “Crewz Pop” was a huge single as well but it’s lasting legacy is showing just how large Onyx’ influence became in just 6 short months time. Soon cats were shaving their heads bald, hollering on their demos and Black folks were moshing at shows.

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In addition to known acts adopting many aspects of Onyx’s style due to their now Platinum success, copycat groups began releasing albums. One of these groups was Epic Records’ bald headed grimy shout rap duo who spelled their song titles just like Onyx did, Hoodratz. Their album “Sneeke Muthafuckaz” dropped in August 1993 and yielded two singles (“Bootlegga” & “Murdered Ova Nuttin’”). It was obvious that their debut single was spun off of a 27 second skit on “Bacdafucup” so fans paid them little attention. Onyx’ sound & aesthetic was also prevalent on Run DMC’s Gold comeback album “Down With The King”, Boss’ “Born Gangstaz”, Da Youngstas “Da Aftermath” and LL Cool J’s “14 Shots To The Dome” amongst many other projects released that year.

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Onyx also rarely gets the credit for resurrecting the Rap/Rock hybrid sound that Run DMC pioneered on their collaborations with Biohazard (most notably the “Slam” remix and the title song for the soundtrack of the film “Judgement Night”). Onyx dropped a third hit single in “Shiftee”, it broke the Billboard Hot 100 (peaked at #92) and became the #2 Rap single on the Billboard charts.

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Onyx also dominated Def Jam’s pay per view event Phat Jam even though it was loaded with big name acts. Their set length lead to Redman’s set getting cut for time ultimately leading to the infamous fight when stage technicians cut the sound during his performance. The techs had to change the stage for Run DMC’s show closing set and Redman had to perform after Onyx who had whipped the crowd into a frenzy beforehand.

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When The Source listed the Top 100 Rap albums of all time years later it included “Bacdafucup” in it’s list. “Bacdafucup”’s impact has gone mostly forgotten in recent years and truth be told it might be considered the second best of Onyx’ first three albums (“Bacdafucup”, “All We Got Iz Us” & “Shut ‘Em Down”). The fact remains that the afficial nastee niguz with the baldheads who hollered when they rhymed, jumped around on stage while pushing each other around and stage dove into mosh pits at Rap shows helped to change the entire landscape of the Rap game.

Everybody wanted to sound grimey after them. They made it okay to be bald and not to water down your sound in order to move units. They lead and others followed. Jam Master Jay did the same thing he did with Run DMC that made them successful with Onyx and then he did it again with Run DMC for their comeback album.

Onyx had the all intangibles to become stars, they made timeless music and they gave a great live show. If you could do all of that and stand out during a Golden Era of Hip-Hop then your place in Hip-Hop history can never be denied. 20 years later, “Bacdafucup” still stands the test of time while most modern Rap released on major labels sounds more disposable than adult diapers.

One.

The Redbox Diaries: An Anatomy Of Film Addiction

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Hi, my name is Steve “Dart” Adams & I’m a film addict. I suspect that I first became addicted to movies sometime around 1981. See, back then cable as we know it didn’t exist. Instead of being consolidated under one single provider, everyone was free agents in the Pay TV game as different companies in each region provided these services. In Boston, circa 1980 there was a company called Star TV or Starcase. They transmitted a signal from the top of Prudential Tower and you could subscribe to this service, receive a transmitter box and watch uncut Hollywood movies from the comfort of your own home.

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As a young child I saw movies like “Escape From New York”, “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow”, “Superman”, “The Blues Brothers”, “The Shining”, “Jaws” amongst other films that all warped my fragile little mind. I was intrigued by how movies could make you feel different things and even affect your mood from early on, but just as I’d gotten hooked on movies something began to fuck with my supply. Rampant piracy due to people in the Boston area that found various ways to descramble the signal without even needing a transmitter forced the Pay TV provider (then called Preview) to suspend business back in early 1983.

By March 1983, I was going through movie withdrawals. I needed a fix bad but my section of the South End/Lower Roxbury still wasn’t wired for cable (although many of our neighbors were). I soon found a new connect, my dad. My brothers and I would spend weekends with our father in Dorchester and he had cable. Well, not only did he have cable but he had a huge top loading VCR and several computers. My dad was a computer programmer, a music lover and a film buff. It’s from him that I learned the difference between a serious film and some mediocre movie.

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I saw “Star Wars” for the first time at my dad’s house. I saw “Scarface” for the first time when I was 9 on VHS with my brothers and my dad. We watched “Billy Jack”, “A Man Called Horse”, “Westworld”, “Planet Of The Apes” (watching it with him I finally REALLY understood what “Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes” was about), “Space Is The Place” and more (including several Blaxploitation/grindhouse films from the 70’s). I was the only 4th grader I knew that had seen “The Godfather” and “The Deer Hunter” or had any interest in seeing “Once Upon A Time In America”. My friends were far more interested in seeing “Ghostbusters” (which incidentally, I was taken to see instead of “Once Upon A Time In America”). Another great thing happened in 1984, we finally got a VCR.

At the time, videostore chains began to sprout up around the city but none as prominent as local movie rental chain Videosmith. I further developed my taste in film and videos through choosing rentals and taking into account the actors, director, producers, film poster and the preview trailers I saw at the beginning of other flicks we rented. Between going to the movies with my big brother & sister, stays over my dad’s on the weekends and renting the occasional movie my film palate had become so sophisticated at a young age that I ending up hating movies that most kids my age loved like “The Goonies”. I preferred films like “Blade Runner”, “Dune” and I thought “The Empire Strikes Back” was the best part of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. I wasn’t a regular ten year old.

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Right before I turned eleven, my big sister came back home from Wellesley College and one of her school books contained the history of Black cinema from the 1900’s through 1984. I read that book from cover to cover and as I was turning 11 I learned about Spike Lee’s debut film “She Gotta Have It”. This ultimately became my introduction to the world of independent film as Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch and others made film that made me more aware of movies made outside of the traditional Hollywood system. I immediately noticed how independent films seemed to be more character based, not relying on special effects, stunts or gimmicks to keep the viewer engaged.

Spike Lee, Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans all led a new resurgence of independent Black film as in 1987 Robert Townsend entered the fray with his film “Hollywood Shuffle” followed by Keenan Ivory Wayans’ debut “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka”in 1988 which ultimately led to the so-called Black Film Explosion Of 1991 that I wrote about previously on Bastard Swordsman (Hollywood Shuffle © Robert Townsend). Another key occurrence happened that further spurned my film addiction in early 1991, I finally got cable at home.

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The 90’s ushered in several other key influences to what can now be termed as a fully blown film addiction. Sure, I had access to several different movie channels 24/7 through the A & B trunks of my Cablevision subscription (back then the only thing digital about cable were those numbers that appeared on the cable box) but it was MTV that was pushing the envelope this time. Between 1991-94, MTV ran an animation themed show powered by independent directors called “Liquid Television” which was highly influential and ended up sparking many young mind and beginning several careers.

In December 1992, MTV furthered opened a Pandora’s Box by finally listing the names of video directors. By 1994, the field of excellent, young, innovative video directors was brimming over with talented individuals like Spike Jonze, Hype Williams, Malik Sayeed, Lionel C. Martin, Michael Lucero, Michel Gondry, Diane Martel, Sophie Muller, Tamra Davis, Mark Romanek, Jake Scott, Joseph Kahn, Chris Applebaum, Jonathan Glazer, Brett Ratner, Chris Cunningham, Anton Corbin, Stephane Sednaoui, Wayne Isham, Marcus Raboy and the list goes on. So many of the music videos from this era were responsible for sending cats to film school it was ridiculous.

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What further pushed my film addiction was the Golden Age Of Video Directing just happened to coincide with the independent film boom that began in the 90’s. Influential films were released all throughout the 90’s like Richard Linklater’s “Slacker”, Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” & “Pulp Fiction”, Alison Anders’ “Gas, Food, Lodging” & “Mi Vida Loca”, Abel Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant”, Robert Rodriguez’ “El Mariachi”, Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”, “Mallrats” & “Chasing Amy”, Boaz Yakin’s “Fresh”, Larry Clark & Harmony Korine’s “Kids”, Harmony Korine’s “Gummo”, Bryan Singer & Christopher McQuarrie’s “The Usual Suspects”, Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man”, The Coen Brothers’ “Fargo”, Todd Solondz’ “Welcome To The Dollhouse” and Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson’s “Bottle Rocket” to name a few.

I had began working with a production company called MCET (it was located in Cambridge near MIT) my senior year in high school (1994-95) that created educational live television and also taped other segments to air during their live programming. It was here where I began acting, finally got my hands on my first camera and began writing treatments, scripts & screenplays. After high school, instead of attempting to enter film school or find a college that offered anything in that direction I opted to go to Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD. When I got back to Boston in the Summer of 1996, I came right back to MCET. Shortly after I turned 21, I decided to stop working with them to focus on lecturing & taking classes at Harvard Extension School.

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In the Summer of 1998, I’d left school and I got a job working overnight at a Super Star Market. After only two months I left there and applied for a job at Tower Records. I originally applied for a position on the music floor but I was given an audition working on the video floor which I passed with flying colors. I was then thrown into the pit with a bunch of film experts that specialized in every possible facet and genre of film you could imagine. I learned more about movies interacting with these people on a daily basis over the next 9 months than I did over the past 3 years on my own.

Working on the Tower Records video floor allowed me the privilege of three free film rentals (but for one night only) at a time and 35% off of CD’s, VHS’ and DVD’s. I could also special order movies that weren’t currently in stock which came in quite handy at times. During this stretch, I remember myself and about 6 other employees with our mouths agape as we watched the trailer for Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo 66” during the previews for another movie we were watching in the store. I remember helping people find movies from their childhoods that they only could recall details of key scenes or bits of dialogue from. I convinced my store that it was time to rent DVD’s like the Blockbuster Video down the street did.

After my time at Tower Records was up I spent a short stint at a Hip-Hop clothing store called Hip Zepi USA (RIP) before landing a job at a movie theater, the infamous Loews Theater Cheri. I learned so much about the film industry and it’s relationship with movie theaters while I was there. I discovered how theaters choose what to carry, how they phase out films that under perform and replace them with other movies plus I got to see a few projectionists work up close. The time I worked at movie theaters was also interesting because the industry was dealing with censorship issues post the Columbine High shooting so several film releases had been delayed.

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I saw the public’s initial reaction to “Fight Club” and it wasn’t anything like the praise heaped upon it today. People walked out of the theater during it (I loved it), to put that in perspective the only movie we got as many complaints about was “Random Hearts” starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas. Mind you, we screened crap like “The 13th Warrior” while I was there. I was also present when DreamWorks screened “American Beauty” in my theater for the Boston premiere. I met Kevin Spacey & Thora Birch (didn’t recognize her) and I heard DreamWorks execs bitch about everything from the theater being tiny to how filthy, offensive and “indie” “American Beauty” seemed (they’d never seen it). I, of course, loved it.

Several people on staff at the movie theater either wrote or directed so we’d talk film all the time. Once we got the reel for the new Micheal Mann film “The Insider” early and we decided to stay behind after the theater closed and watch it. It was more than 2 and half hours long and while it was a good film and well written it had little to no action. We all unanimously agreed that it was going to flop hard. And it did. For the record, “Fight Club” flopped but is considered a classic, “American Beauty” was a huge hit and also considered a classic while no one remembers “The Insider” was even made. I also remember seeing Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the Joe Connelly book “Bringing Out The Dead” flop. That one hurt.

I eventually left the theater (where I was promoted to being in charge of the box office & being the closing usher/security) to work at Newbury Comics during their holiday season. They hired me with the promise that I’d become regular staff after the holiday season was over. I discovered that I wasn’t when I saw the goodbye cake before the end of my shift on January 2nd, 2000. Nice. I was pissed off but I swallowed it and instead applied for a job literally 50 feet away at CD Spins, a used CD & DVD store where my movie expertise would come in handy (The movie theater, Tower Records, Newbury Comics & CD Spins were all less than 5 minutes from each other walking). They hired me and my film addiction was about to get even deeper.

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I started out my CD Spins training at the old Cambridge location in Harvard Square on Church Street. Shortly after being there, the talk turned to film and my manager Jay asked me if I’d ever seen the Guy Ritchie film “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” yet. I shook my head no and Jay exclaimed “Dude, you gotta see that shit!”. He then trusted us to mind the store while he went to Tower Records in Harvard Square to buy the DVD. He brought it back and we watched it right there in the store. Needless to say, I’ve been a Guy Ritchie film fan ever since. I also worked at CD Spins’ South Boston warehouse amongst thousands of CD’s, CD based videogames and DVD’s that needed evaluation and pricing. I was pretty good at my job and I only got better being immersed in music and film.

Beginning in early 2000, video & DVD rental stores began to gradually lose more and more revenue due to rampant internet piracy, P2P sites, overseas film bootleggers and a mail DVD rental subscription service called Netflix. I worked at CD Spins at the warehouse and several different locations before settling at a location on Winter Street in Downtown Crossing (which was across the street from the same Hip Zepi I worked at the previous Summer) until that Fall. By then, the box stores and video stores were on a downward spiral and the dotcom bubble had burst back in March. Shortly after George W. Bush became president the shit had hit the fan. Jobs were suddenly scarce and stores were shutting down.

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To feed my film addiction, I copped cheap VCD’s from Asia as I couldn’t afford to buy just one $19.99 DVD that I waited months for when I could get 4 $5 VCD’s for Asian films that wouldn’t find American distribution for another year. I copped “Battle Royale” on VCD in early 2001 after reading Quentin Tarantino rave about it in a film magazine. I was the only cat I knew with it for about 6 months before other people began catching on and copping films online from Asia either on VCD or regionless DVD’s. During this time, video stores were losing more and more revenue and they were putting a hurt on our pockets so my brother and I determined that a Netflix subscription was more cost effective.

In late 2001, we began renting films from Netflix and arranging our queue expertly so we received new releases on the Tuesday they came out. With a 5 at a time rental plan and us watching & returning DVD’s quickly we ran through a disgusting amount of movies a month. Many of these films ended up landing in my Cult Films Of The Internet Era lists during my runs on Poisonous Paragraphs and Bastard Swordsman. I would’ve done another one but Tumblr won’t allow me to resize uploaded pictures so I can’t. Once I began blogging in 2006, I had quite a sizeable list of films to share with folks.

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I was putting people onto "The Ring (Ringu)" back in 1999 when I was still working at Tower Records. I was putting cats onto Korean films like "Shiri" before anyone stateside (who wasn’t Korean) knew about it. I was one of the first dudes to own a copy of "Ong Bak" back in early 2003 & I played it for people in my crib for about a year. I sold more than 50 copies of it and spread it all throughout Boston (It wasn’t available on DVD in America until Summer 2005). British crime dramas like “Essex Boys”, “Gangster No. 1” & “Layer Cake” had me for an advocate. French action films like “Brotherhood Of The Wolf”, “The Nest” & “District B13” were all on my radar early as well. It’s almost like Pokemon, but with movies instead.

I’d already been blogging for more than a year by the time I first discovered Redbox in Fall 2007. I even wrote about it on Poisonous Paragraphs that October when I declared it was the wave of the future. Now in addition to streaming Netflix in my crib I rent from Redbox and I’m part of the streaming service which is in beta. Hypebeats line up for sneakers, film junkies line up at Redboxes.

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I came up with the idea to do this piece a couple of weeks ago when I saw that the film “Searching For Sugar Man” was in a Redbox about 2 miles away in a train station so I hopped a few trains before midnight just to rent it and watch it that night. I decided that it would be a good idea to get to the bottom of why I was at a Shaw’s Redbox at 3 AM getting “Zero Dark Thirty”. I guess it could be worse, I could be out purchasing drugs instead. *Scratches self repeatedly*

One.

New Edition’s “Candy Girl” Turns 30: A Retrospective (Deluxe Edition)

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We all know about New Edition being five cats from Orchard Park Projects in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. We all know about their career being kicked off 30 years ago with a hit single called “Candy Girl” but there’s so much more than that to the story. These five teenagers announced to the music industry and the world that there was (still) talent in Boston. Not only were they from Boston but so were the men that produced the album and sold more than a million copies of it.

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New Edition were the first Boston cats to bring a Platinum plaque back to the projects (in theory, in reality the RIAA never delivered them as it had to be reported to them by Streetwise Records or their publicity department first). They also kicked off a rush of record labels scouting, evaluating and signing the talent that performed at local Boston talent shows for years to follow (i.e. 9.9, Picture Perfect, The Superiors, etc.). In addition, record labels began looking for young singing groups nationwide due to New edition’s breakout success. Let’s start at the beginning…

The story of New Edition can’t be told without mentioning the Boston connection that resulted in them recording an album in the first place. Back in the early 80′s, Boston area producers/musician Arthur Baker often collaborated with other local producer/musicians Michael Jonzun, Maurice Starr & Gordon Worthy. They’d even previously recorded material as a group called Glory on NYC’s Posse Records. Individually, Arthur Baker was in a group called Planet Patrol with John Robie who had a hit called “Play At Your Own Risk” on NYC label Tommy Boy Records back in 1982 while Jonzun Crew also had a hit on their hands with a a song called “Pak Man (Look Out For The OVC)” released on their label Boston International Records.

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Arthur Baker would bring his Boston homies to the attention of Tommy Silverman of Tommy Boy who first heard the record as they were all a part of the same DJ record pool. The song would later become redone & re-released on Tommy Boy as “Pack Jam” to avoid being sued by Bally/Midway (Michael Jonzun maintains he didn’t know about the video game Pac Man, at all). “Pack Jam” became another big hit for Tommy Boy and soon Arthur Baker & his boys Michael Jonzun & Maurice Starr had already making hits for years for NYC labels using their trademarked “Boston Funk” sound that people outside of Massachusetts all referred to as “Electro”. They were always looking for acts to put on & write material for. Arthur Baker was already in demand in New York and beyond at this time, Maurice Starr decided to mine for gold right there in Roxbury.

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New Edition were already pretty well known up & comers on Boston’s talent show circuit after adding Ralph Tresvant, Ronnie DeVoe and getting direction and choreography from Brooke Payne. They entered Maurice Starr’s Hollywood Talent Nights contest and won round after round before making it to the finals at The Strand Theater, ultimately coming in 2nd place. Starr liked what he saw and wanted to record with them so they were signed to Arthur Baker’s label Streetwise Records for $500 and a Betamax (not even a VCR).

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They went into the Roxbury studio on Linwood where Jonzun Crew operated Boston International Studios (built with money Michael & Maurice earned from producing both credited & uncredited hits for The Sugar Hill Gang, The Furious 5 & The Sequence for Sugar Hill Records) back in Fall 1982 and began recording the album “Candy Girl”. In late February 1983, “Candy Girl” hit the airwaves and took off instantly. Before you knew it, “Candy Girl” was everywhere. How popular was “Candy Girl”? It knocked George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” off the top of the Billboard R&B charts and it had been there for close to a month at the time!

“Candy Girl” hit #1 on the R&B Chart, #1 in the UK (it was the first #1 hit in UK history that featured Rap) and it rose all the way up to #46 on the Billboard Chart. The video was mainly shot in Boston’s South End/Lower Roxbury area as it begins at the steps of the long demolished Dover Street elevated station and takes you to the John Hancock Building, Commonwealth Avenue Mall and the old Lunchonette that used to be near Dover Street Station. The record was in constant rotation on the airwaves. The album “Candy Girl” was released on March 15th, 1983 while the lead single was still hot and climbing up the charts. Just as “Candy Girl” had ascended to #1, Maurice Starr & Arthur Baker released the second single from the album “Is This The End”. Album sales continued to pick up.

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“Is This The End” had the feel of an old The Corporation produced Motown Jackson 5ive ballad from a decade earlier. Proving that they were no one hit wonders, the Roxbury Five’s second single rose all the way to #8 on the Billboard R&B Charts and peaked at #85 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Suddenly, Don Cornelius came calling and they debuted on “Soul Train”. The school year was about to end and New Edition would begin to tour the country (and other countries) to promote and sell their hit album “Candy Girl”. The B-Side "She Gives Me A Bang" has since gone forgotten even though it was one of the 5 songs from the album that got burn on the radio. Once the Summer hit, New Edition began to tour and ride the success of their two hit singles. Their energetic live performances and tight choreography made them stand out and garnered them even more popularity. Towards the end of the summer they dropped a two sided single which would also make noise, “Popcorn Love”/“Jealous Girl”.

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“Popcorn Love” reached #25 on the Billboard R&B Chart and just missed breaking into the Billboard Hot 100 (it peaked at #101) but these three songs helped to push the “Candy Girl” album. In addition, “Jealous Girl” became an extremely popular ballad. So much so that it often got played on air instead of “Popcorn Love” and New Edition decided to perform it on “Soul Train”. It had a Temptations meets the Jackson 5ive kind of feel to it. Teenagers were forming singing groups all across the nation and performing New Edition songs at talent shows, going as far as to even use Brooke Payne’s choreography in their performances after seeing them on TV. Before you knew it, the pride of Orchard Park Projects even had girl groups in New York singing love songs about them. New Edition had opened the eyes of the music industry and inspired young people in Boston and beyond to pursue their own dreams.

After all of the television appearances both stateside and abroad plus close to a year of touring, New Edition landed back in Boston with nothing to show for 3 hit singles and a Platinum selling album but 5 royalty checks for $1.87 each. New Edition’s parents lawyered up and sued Streetwise Records, ultimately freeing them from their previous contractual obligation to Streetwise Records. A bidding war for their services/contract began and was won by MCA Records, New Edition signed with a new management company who installed Jump & Shoot Productions as their new production team (which would create a new set of label issues & management woes for the next 3 plus years).

In July 1984, New Edition would prove that they were here to stay releasing their self titled debut on MCA Records. This time, they went double Platinum and the RIAA was notified so they received their plaques. Arthur Baker would go on to produce a ton of hits for acts as diverse as his own group Planet Patrol, Freeez, New Order, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force. Maurice Starr & Michael Jonzun had some more success with Jonzun Crew and writing/producing for other acts (both Planet Patrol & Jonzun Crew released albums in late 1983 on Tommy Boy) but Maurice Starr really struck gold when he groomed a group called Nynuk from Dorchester who later became New Kids On The Block.

In conclusion, New Edition’s legacy is undervalued even by many of their fans. They are both the direct and indirect reason for the signing of youth groups throughout the mid to late 80′s,  the R&B/New Jack Swing/Hip Hop hybrid sound of the early 90′s and even the boy band explosion of the late 90′s. Who can ever forget the evolution from “Candy Girl” to “New Edition” to “Heart Break”? Bobby Brown changing R&B forever by becoming a crossover superstar making edgy music with his albums “Don’t Be Cruel” & “Bobby”? Where would R&B be today without Bell Biv Devoe opening the door for groups like Jodeci to make raunchy Hip Hop influenced R&B that could also crossover to the Pop charts with their 1990 LP “Poison”?

Would Sean “Puffy” Combs have had the same willingness to launch Bad Boy without seeing Mike Bivins succeed at MCA with his Biv 10 imprint when he introduced Another Bad Creation & Boyz II Men to the world? Would future R&B groups be as willing to do side projects/solo albums if not for the Platinum success of all six members of New Edition? Without New Edition there’s no New Kids On The Block, meaning no Boyzone, Take That, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, 98º, B2K, LFO, etc. (and no TRL). If not for New Edition, the entire music industry and Black/R&B/Pop music as a whole would be different. 30 years later, they’ve survived bad records deals, shady management and defections (or voting outs) to still be standing and influencing the present generation of groups today. Now it’s time for their damb biopic, y’all know where to find me for that.

One.

The Improbable Ascent Of Christopher Wallace (1972-1997): From Unsigned Hype To King Of New York

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In the March 1992 issue of The Source, Matty C who ran the Unsigned Hype column picked a demo tape of straight up gutter street rap from some Brooklyn cat named Biggie Smalls over some looped up beats as his DJ 50 Grand did cuts. It didn’t even contain any fully structured songs but that raw demo tape was still easily head and shoulders above anything else that was submitted to him at the time. Bear in mind that in March 1992 the Second Golden Era of Hip-Hop was just underway.

Story goes that anyone else that heard this very same demo tape was instantly floored by the emcees’ presence, flow, voice, rhymes and delivery. Hip-Hop was just coming out of an era where Pop Rap was overly dominant and gimmicks and image were important. Biggie didn’t dance. Biggie wasn’t handsome (Heartthrob? Never). Biggie was just immensely talented, so much so that he was undeniable from the first listen. Over the next 5 years this underground rapper from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn would have the most dominant run of any emcee in Hip-Hop history during one of it’s most competitive eras.

From his first guest appearance on Heavy D’s posse track “A Buncha N*ggas” to his first single “Party & Bullshit” off the “Who’s The Man” soundtrack and his guest appearances to follow, BIG’s verses managed to even set him apart from the rest of the growing number of supremely talented emcees of the era which included everyone from Treach to Nas to Jay-Z to Big L to Raekwon to Ghostface Killah to Snoop (Doggy) Dogg.

In each of Hip-Hop’s golden eras there’s always a new influx of sonic and lyrical innovators that ultimately create an ultra competitive environment that leads to great music being churned out regularly. Biggie Smalls began as one of those innovators back at the outset of this new era in 1992 and by the time it was all over and the smoke had cleared, he was crowned the undisputed King Of New York.

Big listened to Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” & Wu Tang Clan’s “Enter The 36 Chambers” and knew where he had to go thematically and sonically with his debut album. He was going to speak to that man or woman who was struggling with day to day life in the inner city and he was going to strike a chord with them and make music that reflected his experiences simultaneously. Biggie went into the lab with all of these things in mind as he crafted his bars for “Ready To Die” (which was originally going to drop on MCA until Sean Combs was fired).

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Sean “Puffy” Combs landed a situation with Arista Records for his burgeoning label Bad Boy Records. Notorious B.I.G.’s album was highly anticipated after the radio airplay & charts success of the lead single “Juicy” and the buzz his mixtape bars created (although he hated doing them) and the streets were on fire because of the incredible DJ Premier produced B side “Unbelieveable”.

Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album “Ready To Die” dropped in September 1994 about 5 months after Nas dropped his damn near perfect classic debut “Illmatic” on Columbia Records. Keep in mind that Nas was essentially touted as the lyrical reincarnation of Rakim by The Source at the time. They did a cover story about the making of Nas’ album and it even received the coveted 5 mic rating in The Source. “Ready To Die” got 4.5 mics in The Source in comparison but then the streets had their say in the matter.

The Notorious B.I.G. singles “Juicy”, “Big Poppa” and “One More Chance” far surpassed Nas’ “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”, “The World Is Yours” and “One Love” in street buzz, radio airplay and sales numbers. When “Ready To Die” hit store shelves, it instantly captured the imagination and attention of not only hardcore Hip-Hop heads but it also managed to crossover and eventually win the hearts and minds of casual Rap fans as well. Biggie’s grimy street tales even resonated with those who resided in the suburbs. In the end, “Ready To Die” became for the East Coast and New York what Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” was for the West Coast and Los Angeles.

Biggie’s sheer lyrical brilliance and street credibility coupled with his overwhelming commercial success (thanks to Sean “Puffy” Combs in his role as executive producer, general counsel & overseer) aided in his once thought improbable ascent to the throne. Christopher Wallace, not Francis M.H. White, had now assumed the mantle of King Of New York all off of one album. All while Nas and the Wu Tang Clan were all hotter than volcanic lava fresh out of the microwave oven after 15 minutes on HIGH.

Big was so ahead of the game that if you pay attention he and Puff shout out “Junior Mafia” on “Juicy”. At the time he began mentioning them on record they’d be in the studio unaware he was referring to them. BIG told them “You’re Junior Mafia. You’re going to be my crew”. The ambitious entrepreneur would soon branch out with Un Rivera, secure a deal for their joint label Undeas then make & release Junior M.A.F.I.A’s “Conspiracy” album.

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Undisputed classic Rap albums like Mobb Deep’s “The Infamous” and Raekwon The Chef’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” were blaring out of Acuras from Pasadena to Medina at the time but none of that stopped The Notorious B.I.G. from completely sweeping the 1995 Source Awards. “Ready To Die” was still moving units. “Conspiracy” was moving units. Biggie was on top of the mountain when his competition was the stiffest it’s been since Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, KRS One, Ice Cube etc. were all at their peaks circa 1989 and the inevitable backlash had just begun.

Biggie started out as the quintessential hardcore grimy raw backpack emcee. His songs and verses circulated around on mixtapes (even though Dream Hampton told me on Twitter that BIG didn’t “get” mixtapes and felt they were stealing from him) between 1992 and 1994 up until his album dropped which helped to spread his legend. After he began to experience success and overshadow his talented contemporaries and peers a mini backlash had already begun (i.e. “Shark N*ggas” on Raekwon The Chef’s “OB4CL”).

Once “Ready To Die” exploded and BIG began to appear on every third radio hit as Bad Boy Records began to dominate the entire urban music landscape with it’s influence, the backlash suddenly kicked into overdrive. What followed soon afterwards were shots and things that could be perceived or misconstrued as shots that came from artists like De La Soul, Jeru The Damaja, O.G.C. and The Roots in either their rap bars, songs or their music videos.

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At the particular time, most of these acts were perceived to be at the opposite end of the Hip-Hop spectrum in 1996 as the fallout from the signing of The Telecommunications Act was just beginning to take effect. Biggie suddenly went from one of “us” in the army jacket, jeans & timbs to the dude in the Versace shades that rapped on those damned Total and 112 songs which got played on the radio 30 times a day. He indirectly became the guy responsible/or unfairly blamed for all that “Jiggy shit” you couldn’t escape in late 90’s urban music since everyone copied everything Bad Boy did at the time.

The whole playa/Big Willie/Don image that Sean “Puffy” Combs had created for The Notorious B.I.G. had caught on a little too well. Soon, even R&B artists were emulating it. Before long all of urban music fell under Big’s influence and if you were an underground cat or a backpacker you peeped game and your first instinct would be to address it. That being the case, we STILL all acknowledged that Biggie was the nicest cat in the game. Even in a Coogi sweater, Versace shades and gators as opposed to smoking a blunt in an army jacket, black jeans & some Timberlands.

We tend to forget exactly how tumultuous and ultra competitive the Rap game was circa 1996. The underground was still part of the fabric of mainstream Rap music but the industry was slowly pulling apart at it’s seams. The dispute that began between Suge Knight and his vendetta against Bad Boy Records turned into a supposed East Coast/West Coast feud as evidenced by 2Pac’s disses to Biggie, The Dogg Pound’s 1995 song & video for “New York, New York” and the Capone N Noreaga response “LA, LA” featuring Mobb Deep & Tragedy Khadafi in early 1996.

As someone who read a dog eared New York Times with the Death Row Records roster on the cover back in January 1996 as a 20 year old freshman at Morgan State University in Baltimore I can attest to this. Fist fights would break out in my dorm when one person played Biggie and the next room over immediately blasted 2Pac and vice versa. In addition to that, the underground emcee was slowly losing his place in the increasingly jiggy mainstream Rap world and that created a different kind of friction in the Rap world. In September 1996, 2Pac was gunned down at the age of 25 in Las Vegas and Hip-Hop suffered the first of several wounds that it would never fully recover from.

Biggie’s debut single from his upcoming album “Life After Death” (which was originally supposed to be released in October 1996 but it would’ve interfered with the release of Lil’ Kim’s “Hard Core” which he executive produced and released on Undeas in November 1996) was officially released on December 13, 1996, exactly 3 months after 2Pac’s passing. “Hypnotize” was already a hit on the radio before it was even available commercially. There wasn’t a place you could go without hearing it blaring out of speakers. At the same time the push for “Life After Death” began in January 1997 the Shiny Suit/Jiggy Era was in full swing. Puff Daddy & Mase’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” & Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” were #1 & #2 on the Billboard charts before “Hypnotize” finally took the top spot.

When we finally lost Biggie on March 9, 1997 he was about to take the entire world over. His album “Life After Death” was about to drop on March 25th. Puff Daddy & The Family’s ‘Hell Up In Harlem” album was waiting in the wings with an #1 single and several guest spots from Biggie on potential hit singles. He was the central figure in the Bad Boy empire and he had laid out a plan to bring forth a supergroup called The Commission featuring himself, Jay-Z, Lil’ Cease and Charli Baltimore (Wu Gambinos & The Firm, I’m looking at you). He was looking into breaking into television and film plus he had a clothing company on the way called Brooklyn Mint.

The passing of Christopher Wallace is one that hits me hard personally for several reasons. First of all, due to what’s happened with the music industry since Biggie’s passing we will never again have an underground raw street rapper emerge minus the hype based on his pure talent alone get signed to a major label, make his way through the ultra competitive underground then into the even more competitive mainstream Rap world during a golden era of emceeing.

Not only that, but he dominated that era loaded to the gills with greats and legends through his talent, creativity and lyricism alone. There wasn’t any hype with Big, it was all earned. No asterisks will go next to his name in the Hip-Hop history books. The same way you go and ask great producers who the best was and they constantly answer with “Dilla” it’s the exact same way with Biggie. If you try that “He only had two albums” argument with me as to why he shouldn’t be considered in the discussion for the greatest emcee ever that just proves that you didn’t fully experience the years of 1992-1997 in Hip-Hop to me.

In conclusion, all I can say is RIP Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace. The Rap game never fully recovered from your loss and things were only compounded with the deaths of 2Pac, Big L & Big Pun. Now Rap is no longer about the things that made it great when you and many other mic titans clashed between more than 15 and 20 years ago. From ashy to classy. From hustler to legitimate businessman. He would’ve been on the top of MTV’s Hottest MC In The Game list multiple years in a row back when it would’ve really counted.

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Dart Adams On MTV’s Hottest MC’s List (And Everyone’s Reactions To It)

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This past week has been chock full of Twitter and Facebook debates about MTV’s latest Hottest MC’s In The Game list. Every passing day they reveal more of the list and we get the (often unhappy) reaction of the artist picked, the (often unhappy) reaction of the fans and then we have everyone’s take on both the list and the reactions of the individual artist’s place on said list. Not only that but now we get to hear/read people’s take on other people’s take on someone’s reaction to the aforementioned list. Iyanla, fix my plate…

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MTV’s Hottest MC’s In The Game list is merely a manmade device. A synthesized event fabricated to serve several specific purposes. Let’s first delve into why this era needs this kind of thing in the first place? Let’s face it, Rap is at it’s lowest creative and lyrical point ever on the mainstream level. There hasn’t been a legitimate Golden Era since the Underground/Mainstream divide occurred back in 1997 so the overwhelming majority of rappers that get any push or mainstream attention are, for lack of a better term, “strugglerappers”.

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The people that initially formed the idea to have this list beginning with Sway Calloway are from an era where Rap music went from being part of an underground subculture to outselling Country music and selling out large arenas. They’ve each lived through both Hip-Hop Golden Eras. They all know that the Rap they’re forced to cover nowadays is underwhelming thus it’s harder than ever to get fans genuinely excited about the music. Especially the now cynical and jaded Hip-Hop head that grew to loathe the Rap played on the radio & in clubs plus has almost washed their hands of mainstream Rap altogether.

How do you not only get casual Rap fans, serious Rap fans, underground Hip-Hop heads, backpackers & haters to all join a discussion about Rap when it’s THIS down? Simple. Let’s make a list where we debate who the “hottest” or most “relevant” rappers are at this time where skill, talent or creativity no longer determines who gets the most love or props. This will incite reactions from EVERYONE. We already know we’ll get the clubgoers & radio listeners but we’ll also get butthurt reactions from rappers that feel slighted. We’ll get reactions from fans & stans alike, and even rants from those so-called backpackers that claim to not care. It’s a bonanza!

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I’m from a time when all we had to do to get a bunch of Rap fans to get excited about Rap was to hear someone make some great Rap music. THAT’S IT. Since there are no more Rakim’s, Kool G Rap’s & Big Daddy Kane’s all over the radio that’s simply not a viable option. That approach is out of the window. 85% of the BEST Rap albums every year (at least) are released independently and rarely get any attention from mainstream Rap outlets, blogs, publications or radio so basing anything around skill or talent is ultimately a waste of time (and ad dollars). That being the reality? We’re currently left with trying to squeeze blood out of cinderblocks.

Every passing day this week is another holiday for MTV. A gang of pissed off Rap fans on one side. A gang of Hip-Hop heads up in arms about Future being on any list or receiving any kind of praise whatsoever on the other. The heated debates rage all throughout Facebook and Twitter which lead to numerous page views all over the Rap blogosphere & a gang of viewers on RapFix Live. The ASAP Rocky rant. The Kanye West rant. The Danny Brown diss track. MTV is fucking winning right now. If you ask them they’ll say that they’ve created dialogue, compelling content and given the fans something to get excited about. I say “But mainstream Rap still sucks a Louis Vuitton bag full of rabbit dicks so…” *Kanye shrug*

And this is what we’re left with. The culture alone isn’t enough to generate the level of excitement MTV needs. Let’s be real, if Sway, Rob Markman & Renaud Jean-Baptiste Jr. were at a roundtable discussing how great Ka’s “Grief Pedigree” album is no one would watch. Quality music simply isn’t the draw anymore so you need to adapt and figure out a new way to get people to pay attention. Whether the reaction is positive or negative at least you’re reacting (and watching/reading). Sad but true.

I don’t care to argue the list because to be honest? I CAN’T. I just watched this one segment where Rob Markman ran down all of Drake’s hit songs that he was featured on recently. I never even heard any of that shit before. I’ve been busy playing CZARFACE, Demigodz, Oh No, K-Def, Uptown XO & waiting on the new Alchemist produced Durag Dynasty album. I honestly couldn’t give you any of Meek Mill or Big Sean’s bars. I remember hearing some godawful song at an event recently & asking some girl who it was and she said “Future”. Fuck I look like arguing a list featuring a gang of rappers I don’t give a damn about? I’m not even qualified to adequately hate on it!

These lists happen every year and every single year cats react the same way. Every rapper rant just leads to more page views. Every backpacker rant about “Why don’t they showcase emcees that don’t suck?” just shows that you don’t overstand what’s going on here. The point is to bring in viewers and create the most buzz in order to keep those numbers up. If MTV thought that people wanted to see lists that appealed to so-called Hip-Hop heads they’d exist by now. Or did you all forget that Sway Calloway is a bigger Hip-Hop head than 99% of the underground Hip-Hop loving fans complaining are? These are the cats all over the radio, the cats getting the most burn in the clubs and the ones selling music in 2013. Deal with it.

In conclusion, it’s a waste of time to react to MTV’s “Hottest MC’s In The Game List” because all they’re doing is talking about the rappers that ARE the hottest cats in this strugglerap heavy era. All it does is feed the monster. You want the other side of Hip-Hop to be covered by mainstream media outlets? Demand it. Make it plain to them that you’ll support it with the same exact fervor & passion you use to bitch about their “Hottest MC’s In The Game” list.

You can either do that or just completely ignore the list altogether thus forcing them to find a new way to synthesize an event that results in equal or greater site traffic, viewership numbers or Facebook & Twitter buzz. We all know that won’t happen, though. These cats at MTV had a job to do and they succeeded at it. My job is to ensure that the culture survives this unfortunate era. Miss me with arguing about a gang of cats that make my ears bleed. I’d rather focus on the best Hip-Hop/Rap music out instead. What about you?

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