Naughty by Nature

nbnNaughty by Nature is an incredibly talented hip hop trio known for their combination of lyrical complexity and catchy choruses. They formed in 1986 under the name New Style and were later discovered by none other than Queen Latifah, who mentored them and helped them land significant record deals.

Personally, I found out about NBN through Ice-T’s Art of Rap documentary. In Eminem’s clip he notes that Treach from NBN influences him greatly in his flow and delivery. In particular, he notes that Treach’s lyricism in Yoke the Joker (see below) is one of the most advanced he has seen. I consider Eminem one of the greatest lyricists of all time (on par with Big L), so him talking up Treach like that means that he must be next level. Trust me, he is.

YOKE THE JOKER (1991)

This is hands-down one of the most lyrically advanced tracks I have ever heard. In the Art of Rap, Eminem said his “world ended” when he heard this. Treach not only uses short, fast, and choppy rhymes, but he mixes in a multiplicity of other techniques that few artists can pull off. He uses alliteration in several bars as well as a technique called Random Arrangement where each bar has a new rhythm instead of the matching the rhythm of the previous bar. This makes the flow unpredictable.

Example of Treach’s alliteration:

Soul simulated, sounds from a stocky
Semi social, never seem sloppy
See silly slappin’ suckers, sorry saps and slouchers
Straps slammin’ stouch, mackin’ this mass is savvy

Example of Random Arrangement (at 1:52)

All that straight faced shit like your heart had been thru
Smile and give your face somethin’ the fuck to do
You’re ugly, smugly, squiggly, dilly, wrinkled faced bastard
Someone needs to hit and run ya to run ya ass over backwards
Let’s giddy up, yep yep, another fuck up
Grab your microphone, battle time shown up
Any freestyle I see while I prowl I dial a new style, tell me about ooh chow

Listen to this verse and you see how he changes the number of rhymes and syllables per bar in a completely unpredictable manner.

FEEL ME FLOW (1995)

The minute the opening verse starts you know Treach is rapping because of the number of rhyming syllables per bar. At several points I lose track of what he is saying, but I can hear the rhyme endings repeated at least 3-5 times in a bar.

Example:

The flow pro poetical with skills only A vet’ll know better know where’s The wetter flow that’son point like Decimals 

In the first bar we have: flow, pro, po. In the second bar we have: vet’ll know, better know. etc. Note that in the second bar he not only manages to fits two rhymes in a short bar, but he also uses rhyming couplets! Sheer skill.

 LIVE OR DIE (1999)

Most NBN tracks feature the classic old school style with a hard drum chop. However, they distinguish themselves by changing it up once in a while. Here is an example of one of my favorite tracks with a more dark and sinister style.

Gang Starr

tumblr_mglatdUuMp1repi21o1_1280Gang Starr is an old school duo consisting of two of the most legendary artists on the scene — Guru, the lyricist, and DJ premier, the king of beats. The group was founded in 85′ by Guru but at that time he was rapping with other producers. In 1989 DJ Premier (known as Waxmaster C at the time) sent Guru a beat tape which he liked and teamed up with him soon after. The first track they released together was “Words I manifest” (see below).

Guru is known to have one of the most distinctive voices in hip hop. It is smooth and encapsulating. Additionally, he has the gift of story telling, backed by clarity of thought and articulation. Being able to structure content in the form of a story, and intertwining wordplay and complex rhymes, is what distinguishes Guru from other well-rounded artists. While you go into a trance listening to his voice, the story unfolds right in front of you.

Guru had a heart attack in February 2010 and went into a coma. He died a couple months later. His legacy has been carried on by a group of rappers who worked closely with him and DJ Premier. They call themselves the Gang Starr Foundation.

JAZZ THING (1990)

Guru and Premier had a vision of rap that included organic, unique beats with smooth and simple rhymes. Premier spent years trying to get this sound right. As artists must do to get a foothold in the scene, they identified themselves with a very unique sound — a fusion of jazz and hip hop. But not traditional hip hop. It was a slow, verbose style more to the likes of spoken word. Jazz Thing was their first song of this type.

Afterwards their jazz-rap style faded to the background for a few years while the duo focused on other styles of hip hop (below). In 1993 Guru alone brought jazz-rap back to the forefront with a whole album called “Guru’s Jazzmatazz: An Experimental Fusion of Hip Hop and Rap”. I will dedicate a full post to this album and it’s two other volumes.

WORDS I MANIFEST

This is the first track Gang Starr recorded together. As most new artists do, Guru starts off by establishing himself. Unlike most, he does not do this by talking shit and acting hard. Instead, he elicits knowledge of himself and gives a strong description of his inner qualities. Just a taste of his articulate form to come.

“I got tenacity, because I have to be
The brother who must live and give with much insight
Foresight to ignite, excite and delight.”

DWYCK FT. NICE & SMOOTH (1994)

Guru’s voice is so smooth, relaxed, and monotonous (in a good way) that it actually highlights the voice of his collaborators. In this popular party jam collaboration Nice and Smooth kick it off with some goofy rhymes. The second Guru comes on at 1:27 the whole tone drops down a notch.

EX-GIRL TO THE NEXT GIRL

Here is an example of Guru’s story telling abilities. What makes a good story teller is the simplicity of his rhymes. A good emcee has balance. Use too many complex rhymes and a big slew of advanced techniques while telling as story and the listener gets overwhelmed. Use too many simple rhymes in an abstract rap and the listener gets bored. Guru strikes the perfect balance.

Big L – Part 1

1303774787_big-lI can’t help but start this blog with who, in my opinion, is the greatest rapper of all time — Lamont Coleman a.k.a. Big L. Big L is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. And probably his favorite rapper too. He is the hallmark example of advanced rapping and uses all sorts of complex techniques such as multi-syllabic rhymes, alliteration, metaphors, wordplay, and speed rapping. Add to this an immaculate, ice-cold flow with nasty, comical punch lines and you have only a taste of what this cat is capable of.

Big L only released ONE studio album in his career — Lifestylez Ov da Poor & Dangerous in 1995. In February 1999 he was shot and killed in a drive-by in Harlem. The murder case remains unsolved to this day. It is a testament to his skill that despite releasing only one album he is considered one of the greatest rappers that ever lived. Unfortunately, as happens in many cases, recognition of his rapping skills only came after his death. During his time hardly anyone even know who he was.

PUT IT ON

This track is his most popular and showcases all the various skills noted above. The most common technique is rhyming two words at a time (called compound rhyming).

“I smash mics like cornbread. You can’t kill me, I was born dead”

He doesn’t stop there. The wordplay aspect comes in when he spits bars that have a compound rhyme within a compound rhyme, then hooks another one, and then concludes.

“I push a sick benz, I’m know to hit skinz
and get ends and commit sins with sick friends”

Randomly throughout the track (and many others) L turns into a dragon and spits rapid fire. He starts rhyming flows with shows, but then suddenly brings in clever-to-miss and speed raps the rest with that ending. Crazy shit.

“I flows, (so one of my shows wouldnt be clever to miss
Im leaving competitors pissed to tell you the truth it gets no better than this)”

8 IZ ENUFF

This is one of his least listened-to songs. It might be because it features seven other artists (hence, 8 iz Enuff) and fans want to hear L all the way through. I am posting this because of L’s opening verse. It is another perfect example of his advanced rhyming abilities interspersed with fast changes in flow that few rappers are capable of.

“I put chumps to rest fast, when my Smith-Wes’ blast
So just dash or trespass and get your chest smashed
Rap New York rules, I sport jewels and extort crews
Don’t get me pissed, I got a short fuse”

FULL ALBUM

I have only written about two tracks that stand out to me. In all honesty, every track on this album is incredible and should be listened to. I will be coming back to write about Big L many times. In the meantime, start listening to the full album. Other tracks in my favorite list are Da Graveyard, Street Struck, and M.V.P

BIG L VS JAY-Z FREESTYLE (1995)

It’s true. On February 23rd, 1995 Big L and Jay-Z changed the rap game with their appearance on the Stretch and Bobbito radio show in NYC. Known as “The 7-minute Freestyle”, this clip was almost impossible to find after it went live, and 15 years later it finally surfaced. Nowadays it is considered one of the greatest freestyle’s of all time — and after hearing it you will understand why.

At the time, Big L was right in the middle of his career. Although he never made it big time, this freestyle was done the month before he put out Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous. On the other side was a completely unknown rapper. Yes, 2 decades ago when this was recorded, Jay-Z was 26, had never put out an album, and no one had ever heard of him.

It goes without saying, Jay-Z got murdered in this battle. It’s a combination of L’s more-than-usual use of witty lyrics, autobahn-speed rapping, a rollercoaster flow, and impeccable, on-point delivery. Fast-forward to 4:00 to see L go super-saiyan. Jay-Z is good and incorporates many rap tactics that most freestylers don’t, but he still gets shown up by the master.

Structure of RaaSkillz

There is no particular, systematic structure to this blog. I will just be posting tracks with short reviews as they come up in my mind. The focus of my reviews will be more on the lyrical skills and techniques of the rapper, as opposed to a biography or history. I will also be posting tracks one or two at a time. The reason is because you all probably don’t have time to read a 5-page discography review of every single track the artist has put out (nor do I have time to write that much). Instead, I’ll just post my favorite tracks, write a few lines about it, and link you to the rest you can you listen for yourself. In the case of my favorite rappers you will likely see them come up several times at various intervals (with another one or two tracks).

From time to time I’ll categorize blog and track posts according to a theme. Sometimes when I listen to new (or old) tracks a certain technique or quality will catch my ear. If that happens, I look around for other tracks with the same quality. For example, I might write a post about the use of Alliteration in rhyming schemes and post several tracks that highlight this technique. Another example is internal rhyming.

To lay the groundwork for this blog, I will start with some old school rappers who exemplify what I mean by lyricism, technical rap, and complex rhyme schemes. These guys set the stage for the future emcees on the scene. If you listen to these guys and pay attention to their sheer skill and lyrical ability, and then listen to some mainstream rap on the radio, you will agree that hip hop is indeed dead. My goal here is to show you that it is not. So after kickin’ it old school for a bit we will start digging into the underground to find today’s equivalents of the old school kings.