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Venni, Vetti, Vecci: 20th Anniversary

Ja Rule: Venni, Vetti, Vecci
Def Jam Records 1999

By: Mic Cool

Just over 20 years ago in late 90’s, Jeffrey Atkins aka Ja Rule appeared on Mic Geronimo’s “Time To Build”.

Rising producer Irv Gotti already put his stamp on Jay-Z with production on Jigga’s Reasonable Doubt. Then he helped groom a young and hungry DMX, but his eyes were fixated on Ja Rule. Irv wanted to get Rule out of his TVT deal and needed him to go solo. There was a video station called “The Box” where if u called in the most times your video would get played. Irv called in multiple times to play the first Ja Rule video “Holla Holla”. This would go on to be Ja’s first single, but before that was officially released, Rule on was Jay-Z’s smash single “Can I Get A” along side Amil to be featured on the rush hour soundtrack. Irv Gotti originally had this beat reserved for Ja, but Jay liked it so much that he needed it as his next single.

Critics continuously compared Ja Rule to DMX and 2pac. This is something that would ignite a minor feud between DMX and Ja. Irv Gotti had great working relationships with both Jay-Z and DMX and they were supposed to form a supergroup with Ja Rule called “Murder Inc.”, but egos got in the way. A couple of songs on Venni, Vetti, Vecci had all three artists on it. The Hard Knock Life Tour started in 1998 while all three artists were hot. Def Iam signed Ja off of the strength of DMX and Jay-Z’s deals. Def Jam allowed Irv Gotti to create a sub label called Murder Inc. He then signed Ja Rule as his first solo artist.

Enter 1999, June 1st to be exact, and the release of the much anticipated debut album from Ja Rule is released. Venni, Vetti, Vecci opens up with “The March”, an intro that hypes up the first song; “We Here Now” witch unloads with lyrical fury . Irv did all the production on the album. “World’s Most Dangerous” and “Let’s Ride” were catchy as hell, thus The Inc. finally had a sound . Wherever they wanted to take it. “Holla Holla” was ahead of its time . “Kill em all” had Jay-Z on the hook. “Nigguz Theme” was about brothers hating on each other. “Suicide freestyle” featured R&Bb singer Case, and had a biblical theme going off top. “Story to tell” was a journey like Slick Rick tale. “Count On Your Niggas” is as tale about loyalty. “It’s Murda” is the quintessential posse cut with Jay-Z and DMX… they ran it no doubt. “E-Dub and Ja” was a bit surprising. You wouldn’t think it would happen, but Erik Sermon and Ja Rule went bar for bar. “Murda 4 Life” featured Roc-A-Fella Records second in line, Memphis Bleek. This track was so strong that it was also featured on Bleek’s freshman album. The heartfelt “Daddy’s Little Baby”, featuring Ron Isley is about his first born daughter. “Race Against Time” would question immortality, while “Only Begotten Son” closes out the LP in true fashion, with its religious theme intact claiming once and for all…Ja came, he saw, he conquered…Venni, Vetti, Vecci.

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Did Eazy-E Create Gangsta Rap?

By: Mic Cool

Eric “Eazy-E” Wright grew up in Compton, California selling drugs, and not too long after that he formed the supergroup NWA aligned with other legends Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Dj Yella. They bursted on the scene with Straight Outta Compton, a hard hitting album and title track describing the environment they came from which depicted police brutality, racism, and other political topics. Circa 1986 E met Jerry Heller, a white business man who believed in him and saw his vision. At the tender age of 22 Eric earned $250,000 dollars from hustling but, after his cousin was shot and killed, he decided to record music in the newly budding L.A. rap scene.

After the success of NWA’s debut, it was obvious Eric was a breakout star. In less than 8 months after the groups mega stardom his debut CD Eazy-Duz-It was out for distribution. The remix of the song “8-Ball” was written by Ice Cube who wrote most of Eazy’s songs in the early NWA days. After Cube left the group in 1989, NWA put out their 2nd LP Niggaz4Life in 1991. At this time E accepted and invitation to a lunch at the White House benefitting George Bush Sr. who was our U.S. president at the time.

Dr. Dre got suspicious of funds within the click then in turn connected with Suge Knight, who got him out of the Ruthless Records contract Dre had with Eazy and Jerry. The emergence of Death Row Records allowed Dre to dis Eazy on records like “ Dre Day” but E would respond on “Real Muthafuckin G’s”, basically claiming his ties to gang banging while exposing Dre for just making beats, not living the life he portrayed in his music, and for The Doc wearing lipstick before he smoked Chronic at picnics.

Eazy was also a big entrapenuer co founding the aforementioned Ruthless Records, a label which spawned Cleveland’s mega group Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony among other acts. In 1995 Eric was admitted to Cedars Sinia Medical Center in L.A. with what he believed to be asthma instead finding out it was the HIV virus AIDS. During the final week of his life he made amends with Ice Cube, Dre and even Snoop Dogg who had come at him in the past. Over 3000 people attended Eazy’s funeral, he was buried in a gold casket dressed in his signature flannel shirt, a Compton hat, and jeans. The Godfather of Gangsta Rap had been finally laid to rest in his 64 Chevy Empala driving straight to heaven.

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The Slim Shady LP Turns 20!

Image courtesy of Apple Music
By Mic Cool

Let’s face it Marshall Mathers scratched and clawed his way to the top of hip hop’s Mount Rushmore. Coming from Detroit Michigan while living in a trailer park, he battled his way through many obstacles along the way. Coming from a broken home and being a white emcee around an all black community, the odds were definitely stacked against him. He released his debut album “Infinite” for an independent label ran by local producers Jeff and Mark Bass called FBT productions under WEB Entertainment. It was a commercial failure and local DJs ignored the LP.

His personal problems and substance abuse culminated in a suicide attempt. Feeling like he needed to create a lane for himself to bee seen, Eminem attracted more attention when he developed the character Slim Shady. The alter ego was a sadistic, violent, lyrical bully. In the spring of 1997 he recorded an EP witch referenced drug use, sexual acts, mental instability, and disturbing violence. The Source featured him in its unsigned hype column, and he would then go on to compete in the Rap Olympics in Los Angeles. He shined at the Rap Olympics, coming in second place, but his manager was able to get his EP to the Interscope A&R. They sent the EP to Jimmy Iovine who immediately turned it over to Dr. Dre. After the good Doc heard the vicious rhymes from Detroit, he told them to find him ASAP! They flew Eminem to Los Angeles California and he became more comfortable working with Dre after a series of productive recording session, but the chemistry was there from the jump.

Let’s talk about his image. Now the only Caucasian rappers that ever blew up were Vanilla Ice who was just a novelty act and the group House of Pain, both one hit wonders. But Marshall was different. Shady, who was lyrically inspired by Nas, AZ, and Redman, was tooken seriously because of his skills on the microphone. He dyed his hair blonde, had earrings and tattoos, and was very controversial with aggressive content using witty wordplay. The Slim Shady LP was put out in February 23, 1999 on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Record Label through Interscope Records.

The intro “Public Service Announcement”, warned listeners of how explicit it was about to get. “My Name Is” would be next. The catchy hook would introduce Eminems alter ego to the world, but the verses showed just how much of an imagination Marshall had. He talked about pop culture, and making fun of who was big in the entertainment business at the time. The third track “ Guilty Conscious”, offers a feature from Dr. Dre who, contrary to most beliefs, only produced three songs on the album, this being one of them. The song describes stories going on in Em’s head while Dre plays the guy trying to have Shady make the right decision. All the while Eminem isn’t trying to hear it, basically being the devil choosing to make mistakes under the circumstance. “Brain Damage” detailed his hard past, dealing with bullying, harassment, and other hardships. After a skit from his manager begging him to tone it down, “If I Had” comes on. The message conveyed if he had more opportunities he’d actually enjoy living life. “97 Bonnie & Clyde”, an ode to his daughter Hailey, disturbingly details how, if he did kill his wife, who put him through hell, this is how he would do it. Another skit is played from a disgusted fan. Then comes “Role Model”, witch for listeners, is “punch line heaven”. Following another skit comes “My Fault”, a song about apologizing to a girl who he sucked into his world of pills and addiction that she could not handle. “Cum on Everybody” was supposed to be his dance track but it still had X Rated material written all over it. “Rock Bottom” shed light on his tough upbringing and how down and out he felt losing his 9 to 5 while raising a child with no money. “Just Don’t Give A Fuck”…well the title explains his mentality. I’m sure it was 2Pac influenced. “Soap skit” goes directly into “As the World Turns”. A joint that pokes at how fake Hollywood is and exposing anyone who did him wrong. “I’m Shady” takes us as hip hop fans, to another era, acid tripping, and pill popping. “Bad Meets Evil” is a back and forth with fellow Detroit rapper Royce Da 5’9. The two showcase equally impressive dope raps. “Still Don’t Give A Fuck” replays his message of the Slim Shady character. Eminem set the universe on fire and changed the face of main stream rap. He would go on to become a legend and this album was just the start of it.

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Big L: The Greatest Rapper We Barely Knew

Lamont Coleman aka “Big L”
May 30, 1974 – February 15, 199
By Mic Cool

This is the story of Lamont Coleman better known to hip hop heads as “Big L”.  Born in Harlem, New York in 1974, his father left when he was a child. At the tender age of 12, “Little L” as he was then known, started free-styling against people in his neighborhood. Then he founded a group “3 The Hard Way” which he quickly disbanded. By the summer of 1990 he had changed his name to “Big L” to impress one of his female friends and would go on to meet Lord Finesse at an autograph session. The 16 year old L kicked a rhyme and they exchanged numbers. All Coleman wanted to originally do was battle wether on a street corner, in the hallways, beating on a wall, or simply chilling with his friends at a house party. 

In ‘91 he recorded various demos while forming another click “Children of the Corn” consisting of Harlem rappers Bloodshed, McGruff, a young Ma$e(then Murda Mase), and Cam’ron (then Killa Cam). In 1991 Lord Finesse takes Big L under his wing as he promotes his upcoming album, leading to Big L’s first television appearance on YO! MTV Raps. Next in 1992 he won an amateur freestyle battle where he beat out 2,000 contestants to be crowned champion. Big L was vicious with the battles. This is how he earned money, battling anyone who wanted to test his lyrical prowess.

He signs his first deal to Columbia Records and joined DJ Finesses “Digging in The Crates Crew”, consisting of; Diamond D, O.C., Fat Joe, Buckwild, Showbiz, and AG. All of which are New York natives, although he was the lone representative from Harlem. In 1993 he penned the first so called horror core single “Devils Son”. He said he wrote the song because he was a fan of horror flicks plus the things he had seen in his neighborhood were truly scary. By 1995 he drops his debut LP  Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous which spawned the singles “ Put it On”, “MVP”, and “No Endz, No Skinz”. The album is a critical success but has trouble selling units. 

Come 1996 he was then released from Columbia over creative differences. While working on his sophomore album The Big Picture, one of his boys Bloodshed from “COTC” died in a car accident. In 1998 he formed his own independent label “Flamboyant Ent” which was planned to distribute the kind of hip hop that sold without top 40 samples or r&b hooks. Next he put out his biggest single “Ebonics” using lingo or slang the African American community invented. At this time he caught the eye of Dame Dash the CEO of one of the biggest rap labels Roc-A-Fella Records, and a childhood friend from his Harlem days. At this time Dame Dash and Jay-Z were trying to sign Big L to Roc-A-Fella but were caught up on minor disagreements that they working out. 

What happened on the cusp of this huge deal would be devastating. On February 15th, 1999 Big L was killed. He was shot 9 times to the body and face during a drive by shooting. Since his death he’s been regarded as one of the most auspicious story tellers in hip hop history, and one of the most under rated lyricist ever notable for using a rhyme style called “compounding”. He was a master of the punchline. With raps deadlier than a snakebite, yet cooler than a uptown pimp, he is larger than life. 

Big L lives on!

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You Like Jay-Z? How about Jaz O or Sauce Money?

By Mic Cool

So whatever happened to standouts Jaz O and Sauce money?

Let’s start with Jaz who was also a record producer. He began as a mentor for Jay-Z starting in 1990. They had a song called “Originators” which spawned a fast flow. At this time Jaz had a successful hit “Hawaiian Sophie”, but it was a little too flashy as he was known for more of a gritty style hailing from Brooklyn and all. It kind of felt like he was selling out. As Jigga started rising through the ranks of the underground rap scene he dropped his debut album Reasonable Doubt. On this album both Jaz and Sauce rapped on the track “Bring it On”, to which he claimed he wasn’t even suppose to feature. At the time he didn’t have a deal and refused to sign with Dame Dash and Roc-A-Fella Records. He wrote his part on the spot and recorded his verse in one take at the reques,t or other words “yelling”, from the CEOs of the company. Jay-Z and Sauce Money already had their parts written. Now Jaz produced Jiggas break through hit “Ain’t No Nigga”. Rumor has it Clark Kent and a lot of other producers tried but could not loop the beat. Jaz found the correct pitch and note so the hook would sound good in the song. He went on to feature on a couple of Jay-Z albums most notably “Jigga What (Originators 98)” off of Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life, bringing back their quick delivery. Jaz and Sauce Money both we’re gonna sign to Roc-A-Fell but didn’t trust Dame or Kareem Biggs Burk and weren’t satisfied with the amount that they were receiving. Apparently when the Nas vs. Jay-Z feud started, Jaz supposedly supplied Nas with info to use against Jay in the huge dis record “Ether”.

 Sauce Money featured 1st on the Big Daddy Kane song “Show N Prove”. Big Daddy was also a mentor to Jay-Z so Sauce an Jay linked up for a couple joints, the most famous being the posse cut “Reservoir Dogs” along side Jigga and the Lox with Beanie Sigel. Money is said to be credited as co writer for the chart topping single “I’ll Be Missing You” performed by Puff Daddy off of No Way Out.

What are they doing now. Well Jaz makes his money through stocks, properties, luxury goods, yachts, and private airplanes. Sauce is still making music underground helping young artists. Think about all the classics they could’ve made together and separately if cooler heads prevailed we’ll never know but appreciate what they put down already in the past. Roc-A-Fell y’all!

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Illmatic: Greatest Album of All Time?

Image courtesy of Apple Music

By Mic Cool

In 1992, G Funk and the west coast dominated the hip hop airwaves and had rap on lock between Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and his then protege Snoop Doggy Doggs “Doggystyle”. New York needed an answer. One emcee from the Queensbridge projects may have been what NYC needed to bring hip hop back to where it originated from, back to the Mecca. We were first introduced to a young Nasir Jones when he shined on Large Professors “Live from the BBQ” and had a notable quote “ I went to hell for snuffing Jesus”. This is a legendary verse that most from that era can spit back line for line. Nas was rhyming with his childhood friend  Willy “Ill Will” Graham, who was his DJ at the time until he was tragically shot and killed May 23rd 1992 near the building where they grew up as kids. This devastated the young budding emcee, but yet he preservered continuing on a mission. In mid 1992, MC Serch of 3rd Bass fame discovered him. Serch put Nas’s name out there claiming he was the 2nd coming of Rakim but Gods Son didn’t want that title; he wanted to be the first Nas. 

He got in the studio when he could sitting in on Kool G Raps sessions. He then began his debut album Illmatic. A slew of who’s who in hip hop came thru to add production to this project. Living NY legends; DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Large Professor, Marly Mal, and newcomer L.E.S., molded one of a kind beats that catered to Nas’ vivid street tales. After the talking/sampled intro “NY State of Mind” was born. Nas freestyled when the beat came on, with no practice or anything, the stuff legends are made of. Track 3 “Life’s a Bitch” featuring AZ brought not only a catch phrase but lyrical wizardry. Funny thing is Nas’s own father did a part of the instrumentation incorporating jazz music. “The World is Yours” told inner city youth that they could be what they wanted to be no matter what. “Halftime” is a verbal onslaught, crazy wordplay an punchlines. “Memory Lane” is storytelling at its finest in the mold of pioneer Slick Rick. “One Love” helmed by Q-Tip from Tribe called Quest, provided a canvas for Nas to paint pictures of realism. “One Time 4 Your Mind” had a simple hook yet once again Nas, blessed by a herbal essence, displayed excellence showing every black teen they don’t have to just play basketball to make it out alive. “Represent” was an anthem of sorts and was indeed a representation for not just his crew or his hood, but he was saying each dude around the globe should rep their city. The grand finally “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” featured no chorus necessary. The outro was three verses of tales from a creative educated poet well ahead of his time. Time is Illmatic and as we can see it never gets old no matter how many decades pass.

Illmatic has garnered many critical accolades throughout the years widely considered as the best hip hop album of all time. Blender magazine has listed it as one of the top 500 albums you must listen to before you die. Illmatic is in Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums as well, while also being included in The Source’s top 100. Ranked.com, a website that allows it’s audience create the ranking of their topics, ranks Illmatic the best hip hop album of all time. To date Nas’ 1994 debut release has reached platinum status and it’s lyrical poetic style is taught at universities across the world.