Monday, April 25, 2011

Bone Thugs N' Harmony

I can remember not being a big rap fan unitl 1994 (I was 10 years old) which was the first time I heard "First of tha Month". Its a strange story I tell everyone. I didnt start out listening to Nas or Notorious B.I.G. or 2Pac but for me Bone was bigger than all of those guys. I pitched a bitch to get the tape but never got it. I pretty much gave up on it until one Christmas I got a boombox radio and 3 tapes. The 3 tapes were Bone Thugs N' Harmony "E.1999 Eternal", LL Cool J "Mr. Smith" and Blackstreet. Of those 3 tapes I burned one out completely, listened to one once and never opened the other. I will leave it to the reader to make the distinction but one thing was for sure the Bone tape barely lasted 6 months before I needed a new one. The biggest hit of their careers "The Crossroads" wasn't even out yet and my tape had the original version of the song with the same name.

I can remember the first time I played it. The darkness of the music was compelling to me. It didnt have the party atmosphere everything on the radio had. It was dark, gritty and almost scary and when my mom heard someone epeaking in tongues she almost wanted to take it back. I had no real connection to the content, meaning I didnt know what the fuck they were talking about but I knew I liked it. I could only catch some of the lyrics but what I was able to make out I never stopped repeating and I must have played Mr. Bill Collector 400 times a day, which was very hard on tapes with all the rewinding and everything but I didnt care.

I can remember when the Art of War double disc album came out. I didnt have a cd player so I had to hear it at a friend's house and bootleg it for myself when I got home. This was of the only time I paid attention to a 2Pac verse http://youtu.be/9Z9nXD8HjIAand really I wasnt impressed. However I was impressed with Bizzy and with the intensity and speed he delivered his verse it was juat phenomenal for me as a kid. I didnt like that album as much as I did E.1999 Eternal and this was without knowing what the rest of the world thought about the group at all.

Shortly after Art of War the breakup rumors started because Bizzy was releasing a solo album (Heaven'z Movie). I didnt believe it until I saw the video for his first single http://youtu.be/4YNRfboGVQQSeeing the other members in the video kinda gave me a feeling of relief. Heaven'z Movie was my favorite album for a long time (and its still one of my favorites today) but I still preferred to hear them all together as a group.

Krayzie Bone released a double disc solo album ("Thug Mentality") in 1998 (I believe) and it was the second cd I ever bought (DMX It's Dark and Hell Is Hot was the first). I skipped school and went to the record store to get it.I remember played it very loudly for at least 5 hours when I got it. I didnt like it as much as Heaven'z Movie but I still loved it and since I had finally stepped into the cd game I could play it all day wihtout worrying about rewinding and fast forwarding.
It would be a long time until the next Bone album which was in 2000, I think BTNHResurrection. Which was in my opinion a great album. I wont continue to go forward with how I felt about each release because I burned pretty much all of them out within a year.

The important thing I wanted to get to in this blog was not that I am a huge Bone mark but that my love of all music came from my love of Bone. The harmonizing, which dudes swear they hate, was started with Bone. Buddah Lova'z was almost completely sang and it was released in 1994-1995. About 7 years before swaggerjackers like Nelly and Ja Rule would be doing duets with Ashanti. About 10 years before characters like Drake would be making Teen Beat/Heartthrob hip-hop, yet Bone doesnt get any respect for it.

Granted Bone was more style than substance. Which means the delivery and cadence was more important than lyrics but the lyrics werent wack by any means. I mean no Krayzie Bone isnt Nas but hes not wack either. Bone has a style so unique that they can do songs with Phil Collins and still put together dope shit with street rappers like The Game. No other act in hip-hop history could mesh well with Mariah Carey and 2Pac but Bone.

The creativity of each individual member in itself was insane. You have Krayzie remaking Aaliyah's If They Only Knew and creating the same vibe. Let's not get started on how Krayzie alone can take an R&B song from wack folks like Ciara and make something completely new and hot.

So even though the group is feuding...again. And Krayzie has left the group a long time fan like me will still support even if the mainstream continues to ignore them and not see what they brought to the game. "Black hippys" like Curren$y, Wiz Khalifa (which the majority of his album Rolling Papers sounds like commercialized Bone album)should pay homage. Harmonizers like Chamillionaire, Drake, Lil Wayne and Nelly should bow down to the almighty Bone Thugs N Harmony.

Professional Hood Shit

Regular readers know I love hip-hop. It's my favorite medium of entertainment and despite the fact that I get frustrated with the content and imagery at times it will forever be my favorite. My love of hip-hop doesn't just stop at the music but it extends to battling too. Now hip-hop fans are used to the concept of battles on wax where diss records are exchanged between artists who are competing but what I am talking about is street rap battles.

Street rap battles have always taken place but with the influx of technology they are now recorded and spread throughout the web, shit there are even professional street battle rap leagues. SMACK DVD in the early 2000s, to my knowledge, began the trend of recording and selling street battles between unknown artists. The battles would be added to a dvd entitled S.M.A.C.K (Street Music Arts Culture Knowledge) that featured interviews and other interactions with well known rappers. S.M.A.C.K was used to help the careers of many of today's artists like Jae Millz, Nicki Minaj, Maino, Cory Gunz etc when they were just local New York artists. Rather they were battling or just kickin' a freestyle or just doing an interview S.M.A.C.K. gave them an outlet to get their face in the streets across the nation. Here in Detroit it was hard as hell to get S.M.A.C.K. dvds we had to wait for the hustler's from New York to come to town and even then we had to hope they had a few of the dvds to sell. It didn't take me and my friends long to become more enamored with the battles than the rest of the dvd. It was interesting to see DMX do a street interview uncensored, drunk, high and whatever else but watching those battles was the real treat. It seems that alot of people agreed and the original S.M.A.C.K dvd format was dropped to focus on the battles.

S.M.A.C.K. dvd disappeared for awhile and was restarted as URL (Ultimate Rap League). URL stages rap battles in the same way boxing events are staged. 2 guys are chosen to battle, they negitiate fees, search for venues, have a production team and the whole nine yards. Despite having better production, contractual agreements and the battles now taking place in venues URL has kept the street feel it had back when it literally took place in the streets. However URL were not the first to make that jump.

For a short time there existed another battle rap league called the Fight Klub. Fight Klub took place in venues and had rules such as time limits, that S.M.A.C.K didn't have at the time. Fight Klub was wildly popular for a time, so popular that it was picked up and given time on MTV2 as a episodic television show. Unfortunately that didn't last long and the Fight Klub ultimately folded and was taken off the air.

Street rap leagues started popping up everywhere there were multiple that popped up just in New York. Soon there were rap leagues all over the country that had the basic set up of the original S.M.A.C.K dvds. With the birth of youtube these leagues were able to stretch their talent all over the country by doing this some of the talent of those other leagues began getting spots in URL.

I like to think of URL as the WWE of battle rap leagues. Wrestling being another one of my guilty pleasures i can recognize how both were able to become huge in their respective fields. WWF raided smaller promotions and signed away the talent to exclusive contracts and the promoted the promotion as the best in the world. URL is very similar. URL does not have exclusive contracts which means that talent most known for being in URL can take their talents to smaller leagues and compete with that leagues top guys and make more money. The biggest way URL has become the WWE how street rap is because URL is considered even by competitors (and it's actually URL's tagline) "The World's Most Respected Rap League".

I will post some of my favorite URL/S.M.A.C.K. battles as well as a few from their competitors to give the reader a sense of how the street rap game has changed and evolved into a business.

Hitman Holla (St. Louis) vs Arsonal Da Rebel
(Newark) (2010)
a recent example of what URL is today.

Jae Millz (Harlem) vs Murda Mook (Harlem)
great example of what URL was during the S.M.A.C.K. dvd days. I can remember waiting for these dvds to come out monthly.

Iron Solomon vs Jin Tha Emcee from the Fight Klub. This shows how popular and culturally diverse battle rapping has become. Solomon a Jewish guy versus Jin a Chinese emcee. A great battle.

A Dying Civilization

"A civiliation that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization. A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization. A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization."-Aime Cesaire Discourse on Colonialism (1955)

When these words were written Cesaire was furious with the concept of Western colonialism. The French had brought "civilization" to Algeria and brought with them barbarity and oppression. In 1955, the United States did not differ from the French occupation of Algeria and Vietnam too much. Blacks in America faced similar harshness. Under constant threat of violence and injustice, Blacks in America should have sympathized with their African brothers in this regard. In the 1960's Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) in his book with Charles Hamilton entitled "Black Power", asked the question that are Blacks in America a colonized people. It is hard to answer that they weren't. Much like all colonized peoples Blacks in America were being forced into integrating with a culutre, which considered even if he was successful, inferior and all their ideas and thoughts to be of no consquence to the majority of society.

This idea of inferiority and of colonialization has expanded greatly since the question Carmichael and Hamilton asked 40 years ago. The colony expanded from Africans, to Black Americans, to now its just the poor. The poor of every race are now the most inconsquential people on Earth. It could be argued that it has always been that way from the days of this country's genesis to today and that would be true but it is at its most visible in today's America. Much like in Algeria, where the Black population greatly outnumbered the French, yet in the department of power and the ability to push and promote their social, economic and political ideals the French stood far and beyond. The small French population was able to trick the masses into thinking that what was in the French interest was ultimately in the interest of the Algeria. This idea lead to the Algerians wanting to follow in the footsteps of the French. So as Frantz Fanon stated there were Algerians who sought to speak better French than the Frenchmen, they were determined to prove their worth to the Frenchmen and it perpetuated a feeling of inferiority. Looking for approval is a sign of inferiority and this is what the Algerian attempted to do constantly but it is also what the poor attempt to do to the rich in America today.

The poor and the middle class in America are the majority yet they are constantly bombarded with literature, shows and ideas that make them feel inadequate. They allow themselves to be scapegoated when the rich make mistakes (see the 2008 economic crash) and they fully believe the concept that what is good for the rich is good for us all. This mentality leads to corporatism and what Dr. Cornel West calls "free-market fundamentalism". Free-market fundamentalism is one of the ideas West feels is a direct threat to America's democracy and is highlighted in his book "Democracy Matters". "Free-market fundamentalism posits the unregulated and unfettered free market...where business leaders with wealth and power are worshipped" (3). Deregulation of private sector mediums has yet to produce anything more than constriction of consumer choice and fat wallets for corporations. Business leaders such as Donald Trump believe that because they made a couple dollars at one point that they now have the ability to lead a nation. And believe me there are people who think that being a CEO makes one a top contender to be President. We see the deification of people like Trump on television all the time and it has gotten to the point where we almost accept the concept of people like him being better than the rest of us, despite people like him making mistakes that cost us jobs, homes and general well being. I will end the topic of free-market fundamentalism with a few quotes before going forward:

"The oppressive effect of the prevailing market moralities leads to a form of sleepwalking from womb to tomb, with the majority of citizens content to focus on private careers and be distracted with stimulating amusements."-Cornel West

"Capitalist society, at its present stage, is incapable of establishing a concept of rights of all men, just as it has proved incapable of establishing a system of individual ethics."-Aime Cesaire

"You can't operate a capitalistic system unless you are vulturistic..you show me a capitalist and I'll show you a bloodsucker."-Malcolm X

Despite the quotes and the overall feel of the post so far I am not attempting to make an argument for socialism or communism. What I am making an argument for is in the opening quote: "A civiliation that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization." America has become a decadent society. A society that creates problems by favoring the ideas of a few over the rights of the many and then refusing to acknowledge that those concepts are the very issue with society. Going back to the economic collapse of 2008, one who did some research could see that deregulation of the investment and commercial banks lead to the collapse, yet we are told that it was the poor folks who failed to pay their mortgages and some accepted that, mainly because it's what the corporate media and it's bosses has accepted as the truth.

"A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization." America is stricken. We are taught not to see the amount of unemployed people in this nation today. We are told by the corporate media that unemployment is dropping, well that may be true but there are ways of manipulating those figures, such as people no longer able to collect unemployment being dumped from the unemployment rolls and no longer counting towards the unemployment rate (they are no longer in the labor force after a certain time). We don't see that people cannot afford healthcare, instead we are taught that we have "the best healthcare in the world" and that it's the best because it's for-profit.

"A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization." America was founded as a "democracy" or so we are told. America is not and never was a democratic nation, it is a republican nation similar to Rome. In a republican government the people vote for a representative who then argues and makes decisions on behalf of his electorate. This deception is spread everyday, how can we force democracy on Iraq when we don't have one? Free-markets and capitalism a.k.a "rugged individualism" where a person makes his wealth from the sweat of his own brow and should be entitled to keep all that he earns, sounds great. Except for the fact that this country was built upon slavery, which is forced servitude, and capitalism works best when it has a significantly weaker class whether its slaves or sweatshops (which American corporations use). The concept of citizenship and voting have been so warped that corporations have "rights" that were only intended for actual human beings. Money is speech creates a concept of bribery (they call it lobbying) that the common man cannot compete with. How can a farmer or regular working man lobby his government official when his interests could directly clash with the interests of a huge corporation? America is a dying nation and it is because people have become effectively second-class citizens and have been colonized by huge multinational corporations that now have rights greater than the average citizen and government in their pockets.

Jono's Viewpoints