Category Archives: i used to love h.e.r.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Harris Pittman (Henry Clay People)


The 55th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Harris Pittman, bassist for the Los Angeles-based Henry Clay People, who are playing Crescent Ballroom on Thursday night in support of their new album Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives, out now on TBD Records.

Pittman dissects a not-so-obvious classic, an album whose much-anticipated follow-up is rumored to be finished with a possible release later this year.

deltron 3030Deltron 3030, self-titled
(75 Ark, 2000)

Picking a favorite hip-hop record is – for me at least – a difficult task. I will spare you the obvious favorites from Run DMC, Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest. Picking those groups are like picking The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana for me, respectively. The importance of their records are well-known, but my go-to record is more like The Soft Bulletin of hip-hop, Deltron 3030. It’s the work of mastermind Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator (Dan Nakamura) and Kid Koala, along with contributions from Damon Albarn and others.

Deltron 3030 is Del and Dan the Automator’s concept album of a dystopian society with only one hope: Deltron Zero. Throughout this tale of hip-hop sci-fi set in the year 3030, Del delivers abstract ideas set against Nakamura’s signature production. Deltron 3030 takes the idea of Nakamura’s previous effort, Dr. Octagon (with Kool Keith), and solidifies his vision with more intelligent and digestible rhymes from Del. Nakamura fuses odd samples, like the hook from the 1970 tune “Of Cities and Escapes” by Canadian pop group The Poppy Family on the track “Madness” to my favorite bass line on the album. The list of abstract samples continues further. Ever heard of the 1968’s “No Silver Bird” by Hooterville Trolley? Me neither.

Deltron 3030, released in 2000, really needs to be heard to understand how out of the box this record is to be fully appreciated. While many of the ideas are futuristic and more 1984 than “Fight the Power,” these tracks stand the test of time and will still be relevant for the next 1,018 years. Put any of them against your choice of mainstream hip-hop “hits” of the last twenty years and Deltron Zero will still remain victorious.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Mawnstr (Not the 1s)

The 54th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Mawnstr (born Alex Christidis), one-half of the party-rap rascals Not the 1s, whose eight-track debut on Gold Robot, Why You Cryin?, features production from the likes of Daedelus, Mexicans With Guns, Monster Rally, Young L and more. Shit is as fresh as it is funny. Highly recommended (and be on the lookout for a track premiere here very shortly).

Until then, peep the first single, with production by Lunice:

original gangsterIce-T, O.G. (Original Gangster)
(Sire, 1991)

Any time one of those “best emcees of all time” conversations jump off, one dude I never hear get mentioned is Ice-T. I always think that maybe it’s cuz he’s had so much success onscreen that people forget how raw he was. I musta been in third grade when Rhyme Pays came out, so all I remember was seeing the cover at the record store and recognizing him from Colors cuz that shit was huge at the time.

When I finally heard “6 ‘N the Mornin'” years later, I didn’t even know
who Schoolly D was yet. Aside from hearing some songs here and there, I really never copped an Ice-T record until O.G. came out. When I saw New Jack City, I was so juiced off “New Jack Hustler,” I couldn’t WAIT
for his album to drop. When it did, I instantly fell in love with that shit. O.G. was smart, hard, smooth and funny, all at the same time. This was a time where there was so much good stuff coming out, you’d have to make some tough decisions at the record store, too.

This tape had 24 tracks on it and was well over an hour, with no filler. It’s hard to go wrong with a James Brown sample and there’s plenty on there. There’s too many dope cuts to name, but some that stood out to me were “Bitches 2”, which is a hilarious story-telling rap about how dudes can be the BIGGEST bitches sometimes and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous,” which gives you sight into his life as a rap star. (DJ Premier did a dope remix on the 12-inch.) “Body Count” introduces his
metal band of the same name, and although I wasn’t really into it, it was only one song and it seemed like every rap album had a token rock track at the time. On “M.V.P.s” he shouts out all the other rappers he’s down with, and instead of dissing Hammer like everyone else at the time was, he gives him his props and disses those that dissed him.

Finally, he closes it out with “Ya Shoulda Killed Me Last Year,” which is a speech against the war and the prison system. He also disses the Police, FBI, the DEA, Tipper Gore, “Bush and his cripple bitch!” Damn, I love this album! I actually grew up in the LA area so I’d see Ice at Venice Beach and I even saw him at Macy’s in the mall
once and he ALWAYS had at least one hot girl with him and always showed love to his fans. I eventually caught up with all his older material and didn’t feel like such a “new jack” anymore. I used to HATE LL so when I heard Ice takin shots at him on Power, I liked him even more.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Chris Testa (Grammy Award-winning producer/engineer)

The 53rd installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Los Angeles-based producer/mixer/engineer Chris Testa, who won three Grammys for his work on the Dixie Chicks’ 2006 album Taking the Long Way.

Chris’ resume is extensive, and he’s become the go-to guy for several Phoenix/Tempe bands, including Jimmy Eat World, Source Victoria, Kinch and Reubens Accomplice (2011 should be a big year).

I’ve pestered Chris for a while now about doing this, and it turned out to be worth the wait. Just when I thought that maybe he’d forgotten, he emailed me this obviously passionate post about an album he calls “hip-hop’s most creative record” – on the exact 19th anniversary (April 21, 1992) of its release, no less.

check your headBeastie Boys, Check Your Head
(Capitol, 1992)

I was high the first time I heard Check Your Head … in my friend’s car at a party in Jersey. He had bought it and was freaking on it. I remember walking down into the basement of this party and seeing him see me and stop the cassette player, hit eject, grab a cassette and say, “Dude, you gotta hear this!” We went out to his car, smoked one and I heard it for the fist time. It was so fresh … so FRESH. The first track was more creative than most full hip-hop records (although calling it hip-hop could just be limiting what it really is). It’s one of the funkiest records of all time. Completely done in their own style, taking a real understanding of the past and totally doing something new with it. I feel in some way every great hip-hop record is basically a tribute to yourself and how “bad” you are. They’re proving grounds, but it was really about how creative you can be that makes Check Your Head the top contender. The thing is that the Beasties got their groove, whether it’s programmed music, fully live, or just a DJ, but their decision to start playing more themselves (and the brilliant production of Mario Caldato Jr.) just enforced their style on all parts of the sounds. This was the first record where everything coming at you was them (any samples seem more like them sampling themselves, minus the super obvious ones). It was a huge leap into a totally different thing than anyone expected. Most people never even knew they played. It was awesome to see “Bass: MCA, Drums: Mike D and Gtr: Ad-Rock”. I didn’t know what to think … all I can remember was a state of disbelief that their playing was something they just hadn’t shown us yet. How often are you that surprised by what your favorite bands do? I have an answer – rarely ever. At the time I was heavily into all of the pioneers of funk like James Brown, Sly Stone, P Funk, the Meters and every other band that introduced the word to the deep groove. The Beastie Boys were just like a lot of their heros from the ’70s, innovators in their time by making something new of that past … they had it all together. If you look back now at their clothes, their guitars, their fucking drum heads for that matter … all totally new and different from what was going on at the time, yet a total homage to everything that was cool in the past. They were reinventing, and it was dope.

There’s so many things that the Beasties really innovated with Check Your Head. It’s hard to think of just one, so I’m going to break it down:

Their humor

I think one of the main things that everyone related to that existed through all of their records was their humor. Let’s face it: They were funny at shit. Just watch any video. It’s not easy to take something that’s initially funny and twist it into something cool, but they managed to do that all the time. I mean, “The Biz v. The Nuge”… I mean, Biz Markie was a decently big rap star at the time, but Ted Nugent, he had nothing going on. It’s almost like what Quentin Tarantino did with John Travolta. “Let’s pick the most underappreciated artist and hip people back onto them.” Who else would have put a Ted Nugent sample on their record? They pulled the greatest out of the most random people and references, like grabbing Jimmie Walker’s “Dy-No-Mite!” before anyone else did.

The shout-outs

Buddy Rich, Rufus Thomas, Bob Dylan, Minnie the Moocher, Grady Tate, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder – it’s the history of groundbreaking music

The lyrics

Lyrically I don’t think anyone ever really expected anything for the B Boys after their first record, but they did introduce a lot of people to Buddhism on this record with Yauch’s track Namaste. Their wise-ass-ness from the first two records seemed to turn into intelligent sarcasm with style, and is it me or is “Funky Boss” really “Fuck Your Boss”?

The message

The message was straight off an early Sly and the Family Stone record. Stand Together, Time for Livin’, Gratitude, Namaste – bringing people together and paying thanks, almost non-existent in hip-hop music today. Their group camaraderie made them seem like a gang. Almost all hip-hop acts at the beginning were groups, not solo artists. The Beastie Boys continued that tradition. The Ghetto Boys, Public Enemy, NWA, the Furious Five, Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, Cypress Hill, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest – all groups that fed off each other, respected each other, wrote songs and rhymes with each of the other guys in mind. in order to share the wealth you need to have respect and to give room to others and collaborate on views and opinions. The mentality today in rap is virtually incapable of doing that … collaborating requires skill as well.

The sonics

Sonically it was an entirely different thing than they had done and, by far, miles apart from any hip-hop record of the time – distortion, delays, spooky reverbs, percussion, mixed-up samples. It took Paul’s Boutique to a higher yet rawer level … way more stoner. It combined everything in hip-hop, rock, punk and funk, something that had never been done before. The record was made with DATs, four-tracks, two-inch tape, cassettes and anything else that they could record to. Sonically it was super creative without ever really caring about how it sonically sounded – as long as it grooved and had attitude it was kept.

Their studio

The Beastie Boys were so far ahead of anyone with the creation of their own studio, G-Son Studios. No one had their own studio in 1992. Well, maybe some very famous session musicians or someone like Neil Young, but certainly no rock bands and definitely no hip-hop groups. They realized early on (and supposedly their decision to create their own place came out of the massive expense of Paul’s Boutique, the studio time and the sample clearance) that they needed a spot to relax and find their own groove and sound without worrying about the clock, a concept most people didn’t get into until about 10 years later. The whole record was recorded and mixed there. It was punk hip-hop, especially since it was in a shitty part of town in a building that they couldn’t even start recording in until 6 p.m.

The tracks

The standout tracks in my mind were almost too many to list. That’s why the record is so great. They’re all standout tracks – every one.

It was one of those records that made you feel more like a badass when you listened to it. It’s one of those few records that make you feel stoned even when you’re not. And if you are, shit, it’s way better. It sounds as fresh today as it did that night in Jersey sitting in that car hearing it for the first time.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Kyle Rapps

The 52nd installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Kyle Rapps, the New Jersey-born and Harlem-based emcee who on March 29 released his debut EP, Re-Edutainment, his own take on the Boogie Down Productions classic Edutainment.

The EP uses samples and loops from the BDP album and features KRS-One, which makes Rapps’ post here all the more fitting.

return of the boom bapKRS-One, Return of the Boom Bap
(Jive Records, 1993)

So I’m at my middle school dance in Princeton, N.J. I’m playing the wall with the rest of brothers praying for a chance to get my first slow dance on with a cutie across the room. All of a sudden we hear “woop woop that’s the sound of the police” and we all instantly hit the floor and start moving, throwing our hands up, etc. Students, teachers, even the police officer designated to make sure fights don’t get out of hand is nodding his head hard-body. The brilliance of this record is that it’s club smash Showbiz production, and infectous chorus contains lyrical content that is going completely over everyone’s heads. KRS-One is breaking down the finer points of police brutality and injustice from every angle, replete with ingenious world play. He does everything from comparing officers to slave plantation overseers, to dropping epic social critiques such as “there can never really be justice on stolen land.”

A week later, after stealing the tape from my local Sam Goody, I was in hip-hop heaven. Listening to the blastmaster recount his rising up in the hip-hop scene after being homeless and battling rappers in the shelter system, to losing DJ Scott La Rock and turning to Public Enemy for support on Outta Here gave me the deepest respect for the Bronx, NYC pioneer. I lost my mind hearing I Can’t Wake Up where he describes his nightmare about being a blunt and having everyone in the rap industry smoking him…creative virtuosity. Black Cop contains timelessly relevent messages to law enforcement around the world. With production by DJ Premier and Kid Capri, every track is winning. Without Return of the Boom Bap, “conscious” hip-hop would probably not exist. Utilizing a street flow and vocal prescence that spans from reggae to funk to jazz, this Boogie Down Productions masterpiece is hip-hop’s Mona Lisa.

KRS-One | Sound of Da Police

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Kokayi

The 51st installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Kokayi, a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, emcee and producer.

The Washington, D.C. native, who released Robots & Dinosaurs last year, offers his take two albums, one old and one new.

the great adventures of slick rickSlick Rick, The Great Aventures of Slick Rick (Def Jam, 1988)

Defining moments in the lexicon of hip hop culture are many, especially for artists who both evolve from and are involved in creating soundscapes that attempt to add an indelible stain to the pages of said lexicon. At each milestone of my passion becoming my purpose there have been records that helped me: bridge gaps, realign my focus and set off in new directions.

But there is a singular record that helped me understand that records could be all inclusive and that record is The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. I swear I murdered the tape (yes, “cassette tape”), the vinyl and the CD. All met their doom due to being played until: the tape popped, grooves were worn and the digital data was so badly burned that skipping didn’t happen anymore, respectively. In ’88 you had “gangsta rap” from NWA, PE scaring America, KRS on social justice, Eric B and Rakim on knowledge of self and Slick Rick with the bipolar album. Songs from possibly the greatest story ever rhymed, the brilliant “Children’s Story” the inspiration of “Hey Young World” to tales of illicit behavior “Lick the Balls” and the über misogynistic “Treat Her Like a Prostitute.” It was the craziest thing to hear, all of these emotions captured in a single body of work that told a cohesive story, the production was no slouch either, primarily handled by Bomb Squad members Sadler and Shocklee with an appearance from Jam Master Jay.

Most recently, I have to shed light on the fantastic record of fellow DC-area native and 1/3 of Diamond District, YU’s Before Taxes. The rhymes are solid, the brownswood bubbler “Fine” is positive affirmation in sample/loop/sung form. This album is emotional crack. Grown man on his B.I. shit. From his experiences as an Afro/Native American in “Native,” the anger of “Close,” the thump of the “Up & Up,” all 16 tracks tap chakras, cold brew or apple juice, dank or chew stick. it’s all in there.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Dan Mennella (The Mennella Line)

The 50th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from NY-based writer Dan Mennella, a friend, former co-worker and fellow music/baseball devotee (see his info below).

Dan surprised me with this one, providing a compelling argument to revisit an album with which I’d (probably unfairly) spent little time.

the grind dateDe La Soul, The Grind Date
(Sanctuary Records, 2004)

It’s funny, in a way, that this great record became one of my favorites and a very important one to me. Prior to The Grind Date, I didn’t like De La Soul all that much. I didn’t have anything against them, but I was 21 in 2004, and their best, early work had not aged well at all.

That’s not a criticism unique to De La, of course, merely an observation about the genre as a whole. If you were to look at the changes in hip-hop over a 13-year stretch from 1991 to 2004 in contrast to those from, say, 1998 to 2011, that idea becomes more apparent.

Anyway, The Grind Date is the record that brought De La into the 21st Century. The aesthetic was essentially the same, but they were now delivering it in a way that spoke to me and a new generation of fans, in particular those who, like me, were supporters of a very credible and thriving underground with acts like MF Doom, Murs, Madlib, Little Brother, the Def Jux crew and so on.

That whole movement may seem sort of dated now, but a lot of the guys on this record – producers J. Dilla, Madlib, 9th Wonder, Supa Dave West and Jake One, and MCs Doom and Ghostface – were at their creative heights in 2004. And that, combined with De La’s new-found focus and sense of craftsmanship, makes for a great record. It’s cohesive and lean, whereas the older records were too long and skit-heavy for my liking.

On a personal note, what really resonated with me was the record’s overarching themes: manhood, maturity, and self-reliance, to name a few. I was in the thick of a tough personal time in ’04, and, as I said earlier, I was 21, in college, and on the verge of entering the real world, i.e. adulthood. Pos and Mase rap from a place of peace and wisdom after having gone through the music-industry wringer, and I greatly admired their resolve. It showed me that people could go through a lot and still come out OK on the other side.

It was little nuggets like this from Church that helped me fight through helplessness and despair: “Instead of giving you a share or serving you a dish / I’ll lead you to the water, show you how to fish.”

I think De La always touched their fans in that way, but for the people to whom 3 Feet or Stakes Is High sounded too old, De La was able to reach them with The Grind Date. And if you look at this series, it’s a testament to their prowess as smart and talented artists that they have records from distinct eras featured here.

Dan Mennella is a NY-based writer and editor. His work has appeared on, MLB Trade Rumors, the Long Island Press and Check out his blog, where he writes about sports, music, politics and literature, or follow him on Twitter.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Isaiah Toothtaker


The 49th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Tucson rapper/tattoo artist/convicted felon/all-around badass Isaiah Toothtaker, who in the past two years has become one of my favorite voices in hip-hop. That he’s from my home state – and reps it to the fullest – makes it all the better.

Toothtaker released Illuminati Thug Mafia – compelling as it is chilling – on Jan. 25 and is scheduled to perform at the Paid Dues festival on April 2 with his Machina Muerte crew. Read more on Toothtaker in a recent interview at Brute-iful.

And if his impassioned words about Ol’ Dirty Bastard weren’t convincing enough, Toothtaker provided a photo of one of his tattoos to show his devotion (click to enlarge).

return to the 36 chambersOl’ Dirty Bastard, Return to the 36 Chambers (Elektra, 1995)

Fuck the dumb shit, it’s always Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Return to The 36 Chambers” top to bottom all day!

When I first heard “Return to the 36 Chambers” I was so amazed I played it front to back three times in a row and all else that was supposed to occupy my reality completely left me as I returned and returned and returned to the 36 chambers. The unpolished mixing and low fi audio quality added to the aesthetic and made the listening experience seem more exclusive, like I had acquired some rare recording not intended for public attention. Talk about dynamics: Here I was this lost youth with his obscure tape.

I was so mesmerized by the psycho babble of this genius I was more cult follower than fan. I worshiped the album thoroughly and examined every song till I wore the actual tape inside the cassette thin, mostly being stretched when batteries would run down or from constant rewinding. Man I studied this record, STUDIED, over and over…ahh yeah Wu-Tang again and again! ODB was actually dropping lessons, 5 percenter knowledge and street alchemy for one to decipher, I couldn’t fathom. A constant riddle that changed further every time my insight widened but that was the brilliance of the flux! At one instance the beats felt like they were dragging behind ODB’s drunken gibberish only to drift away in disharmonic crooning and at the next a song would enter with screams, threats and sharpened audio dialogue from movies that introduced sped up singing vocal samples. Through the insanity of it was all this talent that regulated a order of the wild, it refined the impossible without restricting it. ODB’s rapping took me to the point of questioning his ability into redirecting that to guessing my own comprehension of uninhibited delivery. “Return to the 36 Chambers” utterly challenged my whole shit, expectations, opinions, perspective, standards and eventually my own approach.

What was so futuristic to me then remains timeless to me now. RIP O’l Dirty Bastard.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Curly Castro

The 48th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Curly Castro, the Philadelphia-based emcee who will be appearing with Zilla Rocca and Random on Friday at the Hidden House, where he will unleash a solo set and perform with Zilla as 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers. Check the new track, West Indian Rum, which Castro will debut on Friday.

[ZIP]: Curly Castro and DJ Ambush | Phatman and Likklebwoy mixtape

Being asked to reveal the most influential Hip-Hop albums of my lifetime, the answers are almost infinite. So I decided to lessen the “Atlas pressure” on my shoulders, and focus on two albums that fortified and evolved my Past + Present styles of Rhyming.

funcrusher plusNow I am a Brooklyn-raised 80’s baby. So i was present as the Hip-Hop lexicon was in its genesis. All the Top-to-Bottom pieces on the entire Subway system, the B-Boy exhibitions on every corner, and the new and fresh sounds coming out of Boomboxes as they pass each other on the block made up my New York state of Mind. And no release in the 90’s signified all those elements more than Funcrusher Plus, Company Flow’s LP.

From the audacity of Bad Touch Example to the illuminati-infused Population Control to the mastery displayed by The Indelible MC’s on The Fire in Which You Burn, Funcrusher Plus echoed dystopian/steel-sharpens-steel/NY Babylon Hip-Hop. I was into many a conspiracy theory and Co-Flow brought paranoia home with a pipe Bomb. The scissorhands cuts of DJ Mr. Len, the Graffiti-soaked lyrics of Bigg Jus (Lune TNS), and the Bombsquad-esque/Mantronix sound of El-Producto, made Company Flow the ultimate justification of my late 90’s Emcee-ing.

Co-Flow made it alright for me to rhyme on syllable overload, to drown my lyrics in New York Newspeak, and be part of the “Independent as F*ck” generation.

Fast-forward to now, as we witness the birth of Nu-Gangsta: Shabazz Palaces. I discovered the Gypsy Hip-Hop of Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces through their first video for Belhaven Meridian. It is an homage to the film Killer of Sheep by Charles Burnett, and features a selection of their records from their two debut EPs.

shabazz palacesThe track that stood out immediately to my rhythmic sensibilities was played during the opening of the video: A Mess, the booth soaks in palacian musk, palaeer in vintage LRG, yes pure NS, uppowndet watermelon lips beat. The lengthy titles alone signify the inherent DOPENESS of the release. The biggest record to drop in 2010 (my honest opinion) parallels my own musical evolution. The “Nu Gangsta” motif exhibited by Palaceer Lazaro (formerly Ish of Digable Planets) & partner Palaceer Doug-e is a testament to DIY ethics. And focuses on the Music above all Else.

The lack of interviews, the stubbornness of not naming the musicians involved, the staunch stance to not take redit for the Solar-powered Phunk work, all coalesce to bring that “Nu Gangsta”, that adrenaline shot to Hip-Hop’s limp arm. 32 Leaves Dipped in Blackness… will bust your lip if you are not careful while listening. This is not your brother’s Hip-Hop, it’s your Godfather’s. It’s Bambaataa in a time capsule, accidentally cracked while digging for ancient Egyptian artifacts. It’s Pure Uncut Dope.

Thank you to Kevin and I will be performing in Phoenix on the 24th of September at the Hidden House, alongside 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers & Megaran (Random). Hope to see some of you readers there. Won L.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Paul Edwards
(author, “How to Rap”)

howtorap_thumbThe 47th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Paul Edwards, author of How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, a 340-page book containing analysis, advice and guidance about, well, rapping, culled from interviews with more than 100 emcees. For his entry, Edwards picked five of his favorite tracks by emcees he interviewed for the book, which has a companion YouTube channel that features fascinating audio clips from his interviews.

How to Rap (Chicago Review Press) is available at bookstores and Amazon. Soak up the book’s website and read an interview with Edwards – who holds a master’s degree in postmodernism, literature and contemporary culture from the University of London – at the Amoeba blog.

Big Daddy Kane – Set It Off
Kane is one of my favorite MCs and the first verse of Set It Off is probably my favorite verse of his. It’s a master class in MCing coupled with a great beat, so you can’t really go wrong. I think if you’re a student of MCing you could study this track alone and learn so much. Amazing rhythms, vocal projection, breath control, clever lines, the works.

It used to be standard on golden age Hip-Hop albums for an MC to just go on a rampage for at least one track, just showing off techniques, usually at a fast pace, too. Tracks like Set It Off, Kool G Rap’s Men at Work and Rakim’s Lyrics of Fury.

It would be dope if more newer MCs would try that – even just one track on the album where there’s no chorus, just relentless lyricism. I think it has to have a fast pace and really be crammed full of flows and witty lines with an energetic delivery to work though, otherwise it can just sound like a slow, lazy 500 bars worth of nothing!

Check out this clip where Kane talks about how he wrote Set It Off, mentioning that it’s his favorite of his own tracks. Also, if you weren’t up on the original meaning of “freestyle,” Kane explains that, too. So now you know!

Pharoahe Monch – Simon Says
This is a great combination of beat, chorus, and verses – everything fits. I like that it’s in the guise of a big single with a big chorus, but he also slips in extra levels of complexity.

He does the “NY city-gritty-committee-pity” run of rhymes at the end of the chorus and the “some might even say this song is sexistest” part is both witty (commenting on his own chorus within the song) and intricate flow-wise at the same time. And all on a hit single!

One of the things I really miss from back in the day was that you could have hits with big choruses that also had hard beats and stellar MCing on them – songs like Simon Says, Hip-Hop Hooray and Night of the Living Baseheads come to mind. Wu-Tang’s Triumph was a hit and it didn’t even have a chorus. Today it feels like you either make a huge, simple club hit, or you stay underground and get complex. But it’s definitely possible to do both and I think that’s the ideal kind of Hip-Hop single.

Check out Pharoahe talking about writing the song:

Das EFX – Mic Checka
This is another great example of a single that had complex flows and styles and was still a big track – it had a lot of clever references in there as well.

I think some of the punchlines in the track are similar to what is popular today, except Das EFX would flow rings around a lot of today’s popular rappers. I think many of the guys today underestimate the average fan’s ability to keep up with a complex flow and feel that they have to talk slowly over a track so that you’ll hear all the clever punchlines.

I don’t think you have to sacrifice interesting, intricate rhythms just so people can hear the line really clearly. I definitely know I appreciated hearing the mad styles Das EFX were kicking first of all and then I caught all the references on repeated listens—while some of the stuff today doesn’t grab me initially like that, so I’m not even bothered about checking out what they’re saying. Today’s guys have some very witty punchlines, I just wish they’d marry that to a high technical level of flow more often.

Check out how Dray from Das EFX keeps his flow interesting:

Royce da 5’9” – Boom
Royce is one of the newer MCs who I think has a very strong grasp of flow, especially with making whole lines rhyme and keeping it tightly in the pocket. He doesn’t do crazy rhythms like a Tech N9ne or Das EFX, but he keeps it at a level of complexity where the flow is interesting and sophisticated. He sounds great over a Primo beat and I think he’s the kind of MC that up-and-coming artists would do well to study – he’s an MC first and foremost and he respects the craft and the pioneers.

Royce talks about today’s MCs and older MCs:

Tech N9ne – Welcome to the Midwest
Tech N9ne is like a mad scientist of flow, and the first verse on this track is just insane. He’s got a lot of crazy verses and styles, but this track stands out to me in particular.

In this clip Tech explains his process for coming up with flows … it’s like a variation of Jazz scatting, but with the rhythms ramped up to a hundred.

I think by encouraging new MCs to study and find out about the different creative processes, MCing can keep expanding. I think the love for the art and the respect for what has been created and mastered so far is key, and I think Tech N9ne is an example of someone who has put in the work to gain mastery of the craft. Even with songs of his that I’m not crazy about, I can still hear the level of technique and mastery in his writing and delivery and I’d like to see more people with his talent pushed to the fore.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Chris DeLine (Culture Bully)

The 46th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Chris DeLine, the man behind the long-running and rather prolific (not to mention excellent) blog, Culture Bully. Chris shares with us “a few songs that helped shape my interest in hip hop.”

Maestro Fresh Wes – Let Your Backbone Slide
I don’t remember where or when I first heard it, I just remember that Let Your Backbone Slide has practically always been a part of my life. From what Wikipedia tells me the song was pretty popular state side as well as in Canada, but living north of the border for the majority of my life I can tell you that it stands as one of the few non-Tragically Hip songs that I can think of to be celebrated on such a level. Think Funky Cold Medina x Wild Thing in terms of its chances of being played at a party.

Coolio – Fantastic Voyage
Coolio came along at a time when I had practically zero interest in hip hop – for the most part I practically only listened to dance music; there were some exceptions like the Spin Doctors, Counting Crows & Aerosmith, but nine times out of 10 that’s what was in the cassette player. I was somewhere around 10 or 11 years old when Fantastic Voyage came along and at the time it was the playful (and sexy) music video which complemented the funky bounce of the song that really hooked me; something that was repeated on a similar level (sans sexy) with Coolio’s equally enjoyable 1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New) in 1995. I remember that I kept this tape in the drawer of my desk rather than putting it on the self with my other music for fear that I’d somehow get in trouble if one of my parents saw the parental advisory sticker on the cover. Not that they were particularly interested in browsing through my music collection, but when you’re 10 and you have something that has a sticker on it explicitly warning parents about its contents, the item carries with it some sense of danger. Regardless of what kind of fame-whore, Juggalo wannabe Coolio’s evolved into, if it weren’t for tracks like Fantastic Voyage I would likely have never gained a similar ear for like-sounding rhymes and beats.

House Of Pain feat. Guru – Fed Up (remix)
When I was in grade school I was on a competitive hockey team; I think I played for three or four seasons until my family had to move and I ended up quitting (I thought we moved for financial reasons … which we did, downsizing in many aspects of our life … so I told my parents I just didn’t want to play anymore. Years later this came up in discussion and apparently we weren’t hurting to the point where I had to quit. A shame in hindsight). One of the best memories I have was the team dynamic that was shared for a couple of seasons. While players moved up and down divisions based on their skill level, for at least two of those years I played with the same core group of kids. Never underestimate the power of winning to bring people together. Our warm-up music was made up of a selection dance music tapes … which in retrospect is absolutely ridiculous when you think about it … then again, acts like 2 Unlimited offered some pretty ill jock-jams back in the day. One of the favorites that came out of this was House of Pain’s Jump Around; or at least the edited version that we had on our K-Tel Dance Mix ’93 tapes. A few years later I was becoming increasingly interested in music and finding out what else was out there. The local library had a scattered selection of CDs to browse through so I typically ended up just snatching a dozen or so at a time, regardless of whether or not I knew what they were, and taking them home for a listen. On one trip I picked up House of Pain’s last album, 1996’s Truth Crushed to Earth Shall Rise Again. Granted, most all of it went right over my head and to this day I couldn’t tell you what the record sounds like … with one exception, that is. The remix of Fed Up really hit a spot with me then, and remains one of my favorite House of Pain tracks to this day (though in all honesty, the list of my favorite House of Pain songs isn’t a lengthy one). The song was also my introduction to Guru.

Beastie Boys – Root Down (live at Tibetan Freedom Concert)
In 1997 I wasn’t old enough to gain a knowledgeable understanding of what exactly was going on in Tibet, or why musicians were lobbying for Tibet to be free (whatever that meant), but I was old enough to recognize that the lineup on the three-disc Free Tibet collection was sick enough to pony up the cash for. In retrospect there are far more bands on the 36-track mix that I’m interested in now than I was then … for those who aren’t familiar I’d recommend checking it out as the lineup offers a great cross section of musicians from that period. Despite the laundry list of fantastic musicians on the comp., back in ’97 I ended up spending quite a lot of time with Beasties & Root Down. The version might not be too different from the original, but the variation caught enough of my ear that it led me to spend a lot more time with the group. For a number of years Intergalactic was practically my favorite song, and strange enough, I might not have been so attracted to it had I never stood in a music store wondering what the hell Tibet was.

Funkmaster Flex & Wu-Tang Clan – Lay Your Hammer Down
When I was in high school things weren’t really working for me: I didn’t particularly care about my grades, sports failed to hold my interest and the relationships I had with other kids were becoming increasingly superficial. I had heard about a program you could go into to work rather than take classes (essentially I’d go to school half the year, work the other half), and given my options I took that route. I went to work as a cook and for a couple years I met some ridiculous characters. That said, I was turned onto some great music along the way. Punk, rap & rave were key practically every day in the kitchen (oh, and James Brown… a lot of James Brown), and it was during this phase that I really latched on to Wu-Tang; I was familiar with the group before, but hadn’t really ever listened to any solo albums to that point. For the next couple years I remember Method Man being my favorite MC & Ol’ Dirty Bastard remains to this day one of the all-time greats in my book. While songs like Triumph and Protect Ya Neck are some of the best around and Bring The Pain was my favorite at the time, it was tracks like this Funkmaster collaboration that led me to dig a little deeper into the archives.