RAPPERS YOU HAVEN’T HEARD ON (COMMERCIAL) RADIO
I know it’s the rock star issue but I’m writing about rap. Deal with it. “You know nothin’ about L/ don’t doubt L/ What’s this mothaf**kin’ rap game without L/ Yo that’s like jewels without ice/ that’s like China without rice/ or the Holy Bible without Christ/ or the Bulls without Mike/ or crackheads without pipes/ the village without dykes/ or hockey games without fights.” Harlem native Big L never made an imprint on the mainstream (It didn’t help that in his first single he proclaimed himself the “Devil’s Son”). But his legend eclipses his two official album releases and is rooted in his freestyles and live performances (step up your YouTube game). His punchlines are often audacious or hilarious (and mostly unprintable) such as “Ask Beavis I get nothin’ but head.”
If you pay attention at all, this selection is obvious. In the last decade, rap’s selfproclaimed supervillain, in the mold of the Marvel character Dr. Doom, hasn’t been photographed without his ubiquitous mask of metal. That fact has led to rumors that at some live performances he sends a masked body double on stage instead him. If he hadn’t lent his voice to such exceptional albums — most notably his collaborations with producers Danger Mouse (The Mouse and the Mask) and Madlib (Madvillainy) — his fans might be mad about that kind of stunt. If there is one thing he wants you to know its “Just remember all caps when you spell the man name.”
Madlib (AKA the Beat Konducta)’s rapping alter ego. Madlib raps slow and speeds up the recording to produce Quasimoto (aka Lord Quas)’s distinctive high-pitch that sounds like he just huffed helium. One of them professes to be “the most blunted on the map.” I wonder which one?
More so than any other rapper on this list, Immortal Technique can be described as incendiary. He is most eloquent when he raps about the US government, colonialism, religion and global socioeconomics.
In the song “The 4 th Branch” (of the government, AKA the media) he says: “They bombed innocent people/ trying to murder Saddam/ when you gave him those chemical weapons to go to war with Iran/ This is the information that they hold back from Peter Jennings/ because Condoleeza Rice is just a new age Sally Hemmings. How could this be/ the land of the free/ the home of the brave/ indigenous holocaust and the home of the slaves.”
El-Producto is the founder of the titanic independent rap label Definitive Jux. He produces and raps on many of the label’s releases including Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus, Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein and his two solo efforts Fantastic Damage and I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. Flagrantly independent in juxtaposition to commercial and corporate hip-hop (“F**k Time Warner and its affiliates/ promoting that wannabe Big Willie s**t/ leave those fancy clothes up to the Pope/ list all personal possessions in your liner notes/ but I connect, wreck genuinely through these red ropes”); El-P’s industrial beats, unconventional vocal delivery and lyrics that often depict dystopian urban landscapes can be off-putting initially. But if you actually listen to the words, he has a lot to say.
If El-P is too depressing for you, Canadian emcee K-Os is on a more positive tip. He raps verses and sings his own hooks for tracks like “The Love Song” and “Halleluiah.” His albums Joyful Rebellion and Exit best exemplify his eclectic style and cry for peace from the belly of the beast.
The member of Wu-Tang you probably can’t identify by ear, but have heard on some of their classics like “Triumph” and “Ice Cream.” Unlike K-Os Cappadonna can’t sing at all, but he tries in the hook of “Oh Donna” from his solo album The Pillage.
If you only know this West Coast underground legend from his somewhat recent, ballyhooed yet underwhelming collaboration with RJD2, then dig further back to his 2001 release Accepted Eclectic and his first solo effort, 1995’s All Balls Don’t Bounce. To go back even further, he cut his teeth with the influential early ’90s group Freestyle Fellowship. But my favorite track by Ace One is “Human Language”: “Your face looks scared/ Your spacesuits got a tear/ You’re a square and I’m beyond compare/ and I’m rare, yeah/ And I’m sick of turning apples into pears/ as soon as I get a little bit of it I’ma share.”
Though Del (tha Funky Homosapien) is Oakland-based Hieroglyphics crew’s most prominent member, Pep Love always steals the track with his verse. His vocal inflection is clear and makes it easy to follow even with his frequent use of internal rhyme. His solo album is titled “Ascension” and it’s fair to say that his lyrics often indicate an elevated perspective: “Mine’s just beginning and I’m intending to infinitely exist like this/ taking it to another dimension/ discovering I got style with a twist/ consistently distant from the brother uttering other nonsense/ we gotta keep ya braincells fluttering.”
Rap’s great uncle that’s still ticking and kicking rhymes. He started rapping in the Bronx in ’79, sold his own mixtapes for decades, made song-stealing guest spots for the likes of Jedi Mind Tricks, Aesop Rock and Jurassic 5 and finally released his official debut album, Perseverance (produced by Madlib), in 2007. If you have one of his mix tapes let me know.