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Slangin' the Real
by Donny Kutzbach
In the arena of hip-hop, the bottom line often ends up with what’s real. “Realness” is a currency with street value that sometimes supplants even cash. The difference between dollars and realness is the one anyone can earn and the other one, you either have it or you don’t.
Defining what’s real in hip-hop can be tough, but it’s something that’s easy to spot.
DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince corny teenage raps = real. Will Smith rhyming for a soundtrack to his big-budget blockbuster = nuh-uh.
Missy Misdemeanor Elliott = real. Fergie from Black Eyed Peas = nope.
Or how about Jay Z and Nas, who battled for the lofty perceived “King of New York status” in the early ’00s. Who won depends on who it is you talk to. Who’s realer? With the multi-million-dollar empire of record labels, clubs, lines of clothing, top-shelf vodka and laptop ads behind Jay-Z, he can’t hold a candle to Nas’ street-level style and for-the-people mentality. Nas is realer. (I’ll give Nas the crown in the King of New York battle, too.)
But who’s the realest rhymer of all time? Easy: Rakim.
Rakim’s machine-gun fast but eloquent, butter-smooth flow spawned countless imitators but no equals, earning him the de facto reputation as rap’s greatest MC ever. With DJ/producer Eric B., Rakim was not only half of one of rap’s significant groups but created some of hip-hop music’s greatest epics, blending streetwise cinematic stories over hard beats and jazzy breaks. As a writer and performer, Rakim consistently raised the rhyming bar, fluidly rapping with intricate wordplay and deep metaphor, with an effortless delivery that all seemed stream of consciousness. He could boast with the best, mixing his own knowledge of street science with Five Percent Nation philosophy.
Ultimately, Eric B. and Rakim’s list of hits is crucial to hip-hop with songs like “Eric B. Is President,” “Paid in Full,” “I Ain’t No Joke,” “Let the Rhythm Hit ’Em” and “Microphone Fiend.” Imagining hip-hop without Rakim’s deep imprint is a ridiculous prospect. Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent make a short list of MCs who have proclaimed the power and innovation Rakim has brought to the game. Tupac’s first shine of realness came courtesy his role as the crazed young warlord Bishop in 1992’s Juice, exuding thug-life bravado that was only further amplified by Rakim’s pointed rhymes on the soundtrack’s centerpiece, “Juice (Know the Ledge).”
By the end of 2006, Rakim’s return album, The Seventh Seal—his first since 1999’s The Master—is slated to drop for a new generation to hear first hand where the art of MCing came from and where it’s headed. As the man once said, “I am the alpha/No omega.”
And in terms of real, you can’t deny the hardcore street funk of EPMD. On 1992’s epochal single “Crossover,” EPMD’s Parrish Smith boasts with realness, “I’m strictly hip-hop/I’ll stick to Kid Capri.” Fittingly, Kid Capri’s name doesn’t bear that mainstream crossover appeal but his CV, legacy and reputation put him high in hip-hop’s upper echelon of groundbreaking DJs. Getting his start as a preteen spinning at Bronx block parties in the 1970s, he cemented his legendary status by taking hip-hop uptown to Studio 54 and producing tracks for everyone from Quincy Jones to Boogie Down Productions.
In the 1990s,“keeping it real” consciousness was at its height in hip-hop, but few artists really did. Rappers were more about hoping to collect big checks from the hungry majors hoping to cash in and then ride with Sean Combs in his limo straight to the Hamptons. Who was really keeping it real? The Boot Camp Clik.
Buckshot got the fire going with his crew Black Moon and his 1992 single with underground breakthrough single “Who Got Da Props?” and “How Many MC’s….” They followed a year later with the elementally raw and charged Enta Da Stage, a record that saw Buck and company bucking the trend of slick production favoring the rugged, back-to-basics beats of Da Beatminerz. Despite the ripples Enta made in the underground, the group split up temporarily, freeing Buckshot to form Boot Camp Clik, a street-level supergroup of sorts with his Brooklyn brethren from Smif-N-Wessun (a/k/a Cocoa Brovaz), Heltah Skeltah and O.G.C (Originoo Gun Clappaz).
The Boot Camp Clik released their first album in 1997, For the People, and have released three since, including this year’s The Last Stand, but the BCC collective has come to encompass the group mentality of Duck Down Records (the collective’s label homebase) and has seen members guesting across the steady stream of releases from all the different groups, including the reassembled Black Moon. It’s a hip-hop family that rhymes, curses and fights but ultimately gets along. Now that’s mad real.
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v5n38: Broadband of Brothers (9/21/06) > Slangin' the Real
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