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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Swizz Beatz: The Monster

By: Mic Cool

Born in the Bronx NY, the place that birthed hip hop, Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean would help shape the east coast landscape as a mega producer. After getting the equipment he needed he started to DJ and garnered success. After relocating to Atlanta Georgia due to violent behavior, he began to work for his uncles Joaquin and Darrin Dean who just happened to be co CEOs of the Ruff Ryders record label. In his early work he chose not to sample but rather accentuate the performance aspect of his music. With his uncles and aunt heavily involved with Ruff Ryders, he began to produce tracks at the age 16. A year later he made his first collaboration with DMX witch just happen to be the chart topping “Ruff Ryders Anthem”. Swizzy did a lot of production on X’s first two albums It’s Dark and Hell is Hot and Flesh of my Flesh Blood of my Blood.

Following those accomplishments he produced other major hip hop songs “Banned From TV” from N.O.R.E. And Jay-Z’s “Money Cash Hoes”. He then produced most of the songs on the Ruff Ryders compilation “Ryde or Die Vol. 1” as well as the bulk of Eve’s debut who was the Ruff Ryders First Lady. Now in a joint venture with Clive Davis, Swizz established his own label “Full Surface Records” a part of J Records. The first artist signed was Philadelphia based rapper Cassidy who’s underground following was becoming a big deal off of his battle raps and the ability to become a larger artist with the right backing. Swizz put out his first Lp Ghetto Stories in 2002 getting noticed not only for his beats but now actually rhyming on the first single “Guilty” featuring a reggae artist Bounty Hunter. His second single featuring Cassidy, “Bigger Business” also reached the billboard charts.

Along with him associating himself with Ruff Ryders he also began churning out hits with labels like Elektra, Atlantic, Def Jam, and Bad Boy Ent. By 2003 his artist Cassidy had a massive song featuring R Kelly, “Hotel” and it blew up. He worked with the Problem for a while producing some of his biggest songs and when Cassidy was in a accident he waited until his boy came out of his coma and also beat a murder case, then they did “My Drink N My 2 Step” bringing back their dominance. After he and Cass parted ways, Swizz released his second LP One Man Band led by the singles “It’s Me Bitches”, “Money in the Bank” and “Top Down” which reinvigorated his sound and put him back in the charts. In that time period he married R&B songstress Alicia Keys and signed legendary group Bone Thugs N Harmony. His first Grammy award came in the form of “On To The Next One” by Jay-Z.

Let’s face it he reinvented The LOX after Puff Daddy made them wear shiny suits, he created a backdrop for DMX, he basically help shape The Ruff Ryders sound. Currently he sits as VP of sports, style, marketing, design, and brand music development for global footwear at Reebok. He is still trying to revive DMX’s career while working with a whole new crop of artists, and Swizz is still makes those beats. What his bread and butter has been and always will be.


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!


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., 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.