Hands up who had a jheri curl? Come on, don’t lie now! Lol! I know I had one. I was 11 and it was the late 80s. I remember I was just starting secondary school at the time, and my best friend then, who is also my best friend now, still teases me about the fact that I always used to use my finger to flip up the fringe, as to stop the ‘jheri-juice’ from dripping into my eyes. I’ve still got my school photo sporting the style, and no, I’m not going to post it here!
I’ve been meaning to write this since the beginning of the week, but better late than never, right? Rather than pen a overall review, I thought I’d list my favourite things about the very insightful documentary, The Art of Rap, directed and presented, by Ice T. Hope you enjoy!
1) The stories and anecdotes.
My favourite of these stories being KRS1′s hilarious revelation that he became an emcee after being an innocent bystander in a rap battle. According to him, one of the emcees turned to the crowd, picked him out and started dissing him hardcore about his attire. Well, Chris wasn’t having that. He defended himself, buried the guy and the rest is hip hop history.
2) The greatest sounding voices in hip hop didn’t come naturally… At first.
MC Lyte is one of the most respected females to ever touch the mic, and has arguably the most recognised and projecting voice of any female rapper ever. However, she didn’t start out this way! Lyte reveals in the doc that it was down to much coaching from Lucien George Sr (the father of the brothers from 90s hip hop crew Full Force), which helped her developed that big unique voice we now all know and love! There are similar interesting stories to do with voices included in the footage from Chuck D and Muggs from Cypress Hill, but I’ll let you watch the film for yourself for those.
3) Rappers are fans too!
I loved hearing Redman gassing about Eminem, and then Eminem reminiscing that after hearing a verse from Naughty by Nature’s Treach (as an upcoming rapper), it depressed him and forced him to rethink his own approach. But it was all down to the love of how good he thought his rhyme was! Elsewhere, Dougie Fresh reciting lyrics from his heroes Melle Melle and Kool Moe Dee was a joy to watch – he was like any other fan, giddy with excitement! In addition, I’m sure Snoop Dogg’s perfect rendition of Ice T’s Six In The Morning, was one of the reasons why the Dogg Father’s slot in the doc was one of the longest included!
4) Rappers and writers/journos – we got so much in common.
This comparison is nothing new, but this film took me back to the reason why I started writing in the first place, and reignited my creative juices – thanks Ice T! I started writing as soon as I was able to string sentences together, from stories at primary school, which my teacher regularly read out to the rest of the class to plays which I would perform with my friends in the playground! Like a rapper, I get off on story-telling and documenting my experiences through words! Hearing Rakim and Eminem get all technical about how they write their bars, made me lean over to my bestie as we watched this in the cinema, and before I has a chance to say anything he said: ‘You can so relate, can’t you?’
5) Dr Dre has only spent two weeks out of the studio in 27 freaking years!
Damn! That tells anyone with half a brain that success doesn’t come easy! Also, if you love what you do, you will never really work a day in your life – it is clear that Dre spends so much time in the studio because he simply loves being there!
6) Joe Budden’s rhyme
This was one of the standouts for me in the entire doc. And I didn’t see it coming. This is not because I don’t rate him… But I guess if someone asked me (pre-watch) who I thought was going to leave a lasting impression on me after watching the doc, Joe Budden’s name wouldn’t have been in my top 50, put it that way – I just haven’t really considered him like that in years, if at all. Granted, I know Slaughterhouse are doing great things and his credibility as an emcee has had a resurgence due to that project, but this one verse made me want to go and check them out a bit more thoroughly. What I also took from that is that there are so many dope rappers out there, but because of politics, wanting to go mainstream, losing their way/hunger/mojo (we’ve all been there) and trying to hard to follow trends, they kind of let go of that original flavour they first came with! If every emcee out now rhymed with that fresh mentality and heart they first possessed when they entered the game, we may have less superstar rappers but we’d have a lot more modern-day classic material – just my humble opinion! The business of hip hop turned a lot of good emcees in to not great rappers! Personally I blame a lot of that on the fans – coz a lot of times the wider audience doesn’t support what’s actually GOOD, and emcees/rappers need to eat!
7) Don’t get it twisted about Ice T, AND this dude’s address book is crazy!
Anyone knocking Ice T’s credibility in the game, due to forays into project such as the reality TV show Ice Loves CoCo, which follows the relationship with the self-professed original gangster rapper and his Barbie-bodied wife, should know that a leopard rarely changes his spots! Ice T knows hip hop and the fact that a lot of credible people wanted to be a part of this project shows that Ice has that respect! What I said in my above post is true, but like Joe Budden, that original talent, swag or flavour is always there in someone, even though you may not see it, due to them moving in a total different direction, gaining more success or maturing. But hopefully once in a while you still get to see that come out! Snoop Dogg has almost become a bit of a caricature to the mainstream media, but when you see him doing what he does best, there is no doubt that the original Snoop Doggy Dogg is in the buildin’! Holla!
8) New York and L.A have some beautiful skylines. For Real!
The connecting shots for the doc largely consisted of beautifully shot footage of new York and L.A Skylines. Simply stunning!
10) Not everybody’s got it like Biggie, so just ‘do you’!
Treach was spot on when he said something along the lines of : ‘so many rappers boast about not writing down their lyrics and it shows, coz their rhymes are whack!’ The truth of the matter is, who cares whether you write stuff down or not, if it sounds dope then I’m sure most fans don’t care either way. But those emcees/rappers who are trying to prove something to everybody by deliberately not jotting down your lyrics and coming up with whackness? In the words of Jeru Da Damaja, ‘You’re playing yourself!’
10. Grandmaster Caz
I’m not afraid to admit I wasn’t really familiar with this cat before watching this, but I’m glad this doc gave me a flavour of what he is all about. He is a beast lyrically and an all round funny dude! Just my type of man! Another artist I look forward to digging deeper into.
A Lil Gripe…
As with everything, there are always going to be things that everyone thinks could have been better, my main gripe in this documentary is I wasn’t too hot on Raekwon, Ras Kass and Q-Tip’s inclusion, and not coz I don’t like them as artists, the opposite in fact. I just felt the weight they have bought to hip hop, and the part they have played in terms of the art thus far was not reflected in the best way. I totally understand the lack of time and trying to squeeze everyone in, but I still believe that if the right questions where asked, or the right edits included, this could have been achieved. With something called the ‘Art of Rap’, some of the best to do it should have been asked more directly about the actual art, their art – coz some of us students really want to know that stuff!
‘Straight outta Compton… A crazy mutherf***** named Ice Cube, from a gang called N**** Wit Attitude!’ Blam!
When I first thought about writing this post, I questioned why my 11-year-old self was so excited to hear these opening lyrics blasting out of the speakers of my older brother’s record player for the first time. It could have been hearing a couple of ‘rude’ words so blatantly on record that made my ears perk up ? Maybe that was part of it, but truth be told I wasn’t getting hyped over swearing at that stage… After all similar language was being shouted out in my school playground near enough everyday.
Nope, from what I can recall, it was more a combination of that hardcore pulsating beat and the pure passion and sense of urgency in the voice of the speaker. It all made my head spin – but in a good way… Nah, scratch that, in a great way! At the time I didn’t know that said voice belonged to O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson, who at the age of 17, was not much older than me. We even shared a hairstyle in the much-popular 80s do the ‘Jheri Curl’, neither of our finest moments I’m now thinking. But unlike me, Cube can be forgiven because of what came with it.
NWA, N****z with Attitude, everything from their name to their lyrics came with a ‘I don’t give a fuck’ swag firmly attached! YESSSS! *light bulb moment* That’s what it was – I heard that from the very first time! I was a young girl growing up in north west London, Kensal Green by way of Harlesden, while NWA, a group which also consisted of Andre ‘Dr Dre’ Young, Eric ‘Eazy E’ Wright, MC Ren and DJ Yella were, as the song unapologetically, announced ‘Straight Outta Compton…
NWA’s official debut album of the same name (1988) hit hard! How could it not with lyrics like that? They weren’t pretty, that’s for sure – a lot of it was damn right wrong. When someone is proclaiming… ‘So what about the bitch who got shot? Fuck her! You think I give a damn about a bitch? I ain’t a sucker!’ as Eazy did on the track, you gotta know that isn’t something you actually want to agree with. And of course I didn’t. But it was still music to me, ‘my music’ and I couldn’t help LOVING it, not the meaning of every lyric that was spat, often with more venom than a truck filled with poisonous snakes, but how it made me feel, which wasn’t violent or angry, just kinda free.
Of course it wasn’t my world or my story. I’d never even heard of Compton (in Los Angeles, USA) up until that point, but I could certainly relate to being strong, being passionate and being black and proud. That was what was inspiring to me.
Interwoven between the obscenities, there was a clear message of empowerment and standing up for yourself against those who try and bring you down. In the case of NWA, the police were a huge focus for their anger. Album cuts such as F*** Tha Police blasting police brutality and racial profiling, made NWA extremely significant in giving a large chunk of young African American men, namely those living in US ghettos across the country, a voice. They could relate. Heck a young black kid from Nottingham who had been stopped and searched by the police for no reason other than the colour of his skin could relate. I had an older brother, uncles, cousins and a dad who could directly relate.
Like a lot of hip hop music in the 80s and today, NWA also appealed to white male teens (many of them from middle-class homes). It was anthemic, the beats were addictive, the lyrics were charged and everybody wanted to be in NWA. They wore bomber jacket, shell-toe Adidas, baseball caps, neck-breaking gold rope chains and walked around like they owned the world! Well, everybody apart from moral group, politicians and the of course parents who didn’t want their kids listening to ‘that mess’. The FBI even tried to shut them down, and they were labelled ‘the world’s most dangerous group’!
NWA also spoke to young middle class females, judging by the appearance of actress Gwyneth Paltrow on the Graham Norton Show earlier this year (below).
The group’s audience was strong and this was reflective in the sales of Straight Outta Compton, which went platinum, as did their follow-up EP, Five Miles and Runnin’, which didn’t feature Ice Cube, after he left to go solo, following contract disputes.
Speaking of contracts, the one Cube refused to sign was drawn up by Eazy E, who owned Ruthless Records (co-founding it with Jerry Heller, who went on to become NWA’s manager), NWA’s label. Not many give Eazy, who passed away from complications from AIDS in 1995, props for his business acumen regarding NWA. Whether you share the view that he was shady or not, that doesn’t take away from him being one of the first hip hop players to own their own label, albeit one initially funded from money he made in his former ‘career’ as a drug dealer. The likes of Diddy and Jay-Z made that factor very cool in the 90s. But before them, following on from Russell Simmons, Eazy was also flexing as a label boss and signed acts such as D.O.C, Bones Thugs and Harmony and both Dr Dre and Ice Cube before they became NWA.
I remember having a recent debate about NWA and Public Enemy, over which was the most important group. I guess that totally depends on who you are asking. Most people I know would kiss their teeth at the mere mention of NWA being any sort of comparison to Public Enemy, and maybe for the majority they are not. But for me as much as I respect Public Enemy and wholly cherish a lot of the songs that are now stone-cold classics, NWA is a totally different monster for me, and that is all based on how I connected with them in my formative years. I guess I never had that experience with Public Enemy. Maybe as an 11-year-old who had posters of New Kids On The Block on her wall (Yes, I am a very eclectic, and WHAT???) I was looking for somewhere to channel another side of me and I found it in the music of NWA.
Whiel in the group, Dre and DJ Yella handled production, while Ice Cube and MC Ren wrote the majority of the lyrics. After they broke up in 1992, Dr Dre went on to become one of world’s most respected producers, discoverer of the world’s biggest rapper Eminem and someone who also introduced us to Snoop Dogg and made history with Death Row Records.
Ice Cube, who went on to have a handful of notable solo albums and became one of 90s rap’s most prolific voices with a solo career that will no doubt be etched in hip hop history. He then surprised a lot of people by carving out an uber successful Hollywood career as a bankable actor, producer, writer and director in both film and TV.
DJ Yella also released a solo album in 1996, called One Mo Nigga Ta Go. But these days he is best known for his successful career directing porno films, and has a whopping 150 under his belt.
Mc Ren has released five solo albums since NWA disbanded, including Kizz My Black Azz, which went platinum in 1992.
Yesterday would have been Eazy’s 47th birthday, his 20-year-old daughter, Erin ‘EB’ Wright, is now taking up the baton by releasing her own single, What I Wanna Do. Check out her story and a snippet of the single below!
The 80s and 90s US TV show, 21 Jump Street is reportedly in the process of being made into a big screen movie, and will star comedy giant Jonah Hill, Step Up’s Channing Tatum and hip hopper turned actor Ice Cube.
I remember the popular Fox series which ran from 1987-1991 back in the day. However, I never actually watched a single episode. This is because it only made it over to the UK via cable TV, and I didn’t have cable growing up. But I recall seeing slick adverts for the show whenever I was over at my friend’s house watching TV, and wanting to watch it so badly. Also the series heartthrob and lead actor Johnny Depp was all over the teen magazines at the time, so I was also aware of the show due to him.
‘Either they don’t know, don’t show… Or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood’. One of the most powerful lines delivered in the history of film, in my humble opinion and I’m sure many of you who have watched Boyz N The Hood will agree. Spoken by the character Doughboy (played by rapper/actor Ice Cube in his first acting role), a drug dealer/gang-banger, he was referring to life in the crime ridden district of South Central L.A, a vicious cycle that leaves a lot for young black men with the mentality of kill or be killed.