Let's talk about manicure. The males among you might ignore it, but there are two kinds of false nails: those made of gel, and those made of acrylic. The former have benefits: they look natural, and they are shinier. The latter, though, are more robust, and they are cheaper. These two kinds of fingernails, also, are socially significant. While the first category is associated with the rich, the other, also characterized by its bad chemical odor, is favored by lower class people, and the African-Americans. It smells like the 'hood. Such, actually, is the main theme on "Acrylic", the song: on a minimalistic beat, the smell of acrylic is a starting point for describing a world made of tricks, police controls, and single-parent families.
This is an implicit law in rap music: at one step or another of its career, any major collective must integrate a female member. One of these crews, however – and not the least – was an exception for quite a long time: Gucci Mane's 1017 Records. It took them a decade, no less, to have a femcee. The chosen one was Misharron Allen, a Dallas rapper better known as Asian Doll - though she is not an Asiatic. Her first project, Da Rise of Barbie Doll Gang Empire, was released in 2015, but it was with another one, a year later, that the Texan lady started making noise: Drippin' in Glo. After this album, she would feature with PnB Rock and Famous Dex – her lover, according to rumors – and she would be praised by Nicki Minaj.
On the west side of the US, is the West Coast. But further west, there is Hawaii. Laura Yang, a.k.a. Neila, is from there. Nevertheless, it is actually the Californian rap scene, she is associated with; or more precisely its underground subset the rapper, DJ, producer and activist Deeskee organized around his LA2theBay website. Neila made a first appearance in his entourage, when she contributed to the best song on his Blacklight Sessions album, the nice "The Dream". And since then, she never stopped releasing music, until her recent Analog Jewelery in 2017.
By the mid 2010's, in Atlanta, the guys from Awful Records would make their best to push even further the borders of rap. They were the next step, or the arrival point, of this long path toward the bizarre, the experimental and the hallucinated, many artists from that city had engaged on. In reality, though, this collective of rappers and producers was not entirely based in Georgia. Father, their leader, had investigated further, when conducting his quest for like-minded non-conformists. He had explored as far as Vancouver, in Canada. Thanks to the Internet magic, he had got in touch with Tommy Genesis, who would become the sixteenth member of the Awful crew, and would release with their support an outstanding first album.
False Hopes is not just one record, but many. Indeed, such were named several solo projects, released in the mid-naughties by various members of Doomtree, before they recorded a joint album with the same title. Prior to this, actually, P.O.S. and Cecil Otter had founded a duo under the same name, even before they created the Minneapolis collective. But others would reuse it as a manifesto, and more particularly their female rapper, Dessa Darling, or Dessa. With the five songs of her own version – songs so good that she would reuse them on her second album, Castor, The Twin – she delivered actually one of the best of the series.
Lord Narf honors Awful Records, and their collection of weirdos mostly based in Atlanta. She fully complies with the experimental aspirations of this iconoclastic band of rappers. Like them, she is the representative of a new generation for whom rap music is obvious and omnipresent – this young lady said in an interview that it was her parent's music: yes indeed, we are already there – but who don't feel obliged to preserve or elevate it. They don't have any special respect for it. They feel free to change it into anything they have in their little twisted minds.
According to some, Eternia is the best female rapper in Canada. Whatever the truth is, this woman from Ottawa looks exactly as expected, from a Canadian hip-hop artist: she is White, her lyrics are on the conscious and progressive side of the genre, and her sounds are deeply rooted into New-York’s backpacker style. Actually, she has collaborated with underground heroes like the Demigodz, the Atoms Family, or Moodswing 9. Silk-Anne Kaya, also, is a feminist. Her lyrics, as well as her public activities, go into that direction. For example, she launched a campaign named "My Favorite Rapper Wears a Skirt" (including a series of t-shirts bearing this slogan), targeted at the sexist stereotypes her chosen music is full of.
By the end of the noughties, a dance called jerk, or jerkin', became all the rage in the streets of Los Angeles. Soon, it would create its own musical genre, a bit like its Bay Area cousin, hyphy. Though ephemeral, this craze helped putting dance back to the heart of West Coast hip-hop, and prepared the ground for ratchet, another style, popularized later on by the likes of YG and DJ Mustard. Among the bands at the spearhead of jerkin' was Pink Dollaz, a quintet exclusively made of female teenagers, with a taste for sexually explicit lyrics. Like the movement it belonged two, the band was short-lived, but a few years later, twin sisters Cammy and Cee Cee would become visible again, under the names of Cam and China.
By 1997, just when some feared that hip-hop was getting corrupted by its own success, "independent" and "alternative" had become buzz words. And no other claimed them louder than Company Flow. A product of New-York's underground, these self-produced and self-promoted rappers had created their own label, Official Recordings, and they targeted the music industry as the main enemy. And their slogan, a very definitive "independent as fuck", was everything but ambiguous.
Prior to this album, Qwel was mostly known as one of the Typical Cats, a rap trio who had helped making Galapagos4 a central label, in Chicago's indie world. His two albums, If It Ain't Been In a Pawn Shop... and The Rubber Duckie Experiment, had also collected praises in the underground. As for Maker, he had authored Honestly, a semi-instrumental record, and produced Seconds Away, another great album recorded jointly with DJ DQ and the rapper Adeem, under the name of Glue.
Antipop Consortium's very name, as well as its first album's cover art, hinted clearly about the trio's purposes: they were all about arts. Originally identified through the Nuyorican Café and the Rap Meets Poetry movement, High Priest, Beans and M. Sayyid – and E. Blaize, the DJ – belonged indeed to N.Y.'s spoken word scene. Their influences were jazzmen such as Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman, their collaborators alt-rap figureheads like Company Flow and Mike Ladd, and they would also work with luminaries like Arto Lindsay, Alec Empire and Vernon Reid.
According to Elizabeth Harris' Twitter profile, she will be "going to suck 2017 dicks in 2017". No surprise then, if her first album – or her second, depending on how they are counted – stays quite similar to her three 2016 projects: Cum Cake, S.T.D., and Audacious. With Queen Elizabitch, once again, the Chicago rapper delivers hardcore pornographic lyrics, making Lil' Kim look like a girl scout. The humorous "CPR", for example, is dedicated to her passion for sex, and it is full of suction and orgasmic sounds. "I got 3 holes for it like a pretzel", does she say on it; or "I fuck doggy style so much I need to go to the vet". And on "Cumshot", she expects her partner to ejaculate in each of her orifices. Hey, that's classy!
Being open to feminine talents was one of the Good Life Café many peculiarities. This scene's best testimony, the Project Blowed compilation, shows this clearly. One of its central tracks, the "Heavyweights Round 2" freestyle, had as many femcees as males. There, Medusa and her cousin Koko – a.k.a. S.I.N. - Nefertiti and T-Love were measuring themselves against Freestyle Fellowship's Mikah 9 and Self Jupiter, Volume 10 and a few others. The record's best song from women, though, was "Don't Get It Twisted". Recorded by Jyant (Ronda Ross) and Eve (Ava DuVernay), a.k.a. the Figures of Speech, it was a perfect sample of the Good Life style, with its erratic and unpredictable music, full of rhythm and flow changes.
By 1999, the excellence of the newly released Operation Doomsday album was not a surprise, to those already familiar with New-York's underground rap scene. By then, MF Doom had already released several great singles on Fondle'em, Bobbito's iconic indie rap label. And all of them were compiled on this opus, recorded by a man who was not exactly a newcomer. The guy, indeed, was Daniel Dumile, a.k.a. Zev Love X, an ex-rapper from the band K.M.D., who had reoriented his career after the death of his colleague and brother Subroc. Moving forward, he would start hiding his face behind a mask, and become rap's underground super-hero.
By the early 2000's, the Living Legends were the archetypical indie hip-hop band. They were highly revered in the backpackers international underground, where they fully deserved their name. In the Wu-Tang Clan way, this collective was made of various subgroups and solo artists, and people from countries as far as Japan and the Netherlands were affiliated to them. Thanks to such a network, their aura was global; and they reached a high standing without any help from major labels.
Kool Keith has been twice a crucial character, in hip-hop's history. In the 80's, he was the main rapper of the influential Ultramagnetic MC's. And later on, in the mid-90's, he was Dr. Octagon. As such, he reinvented rap once again. Playing the role of an extraterrestrial killer gynecologist, he pushed it out of its comfort zone, with the help of a new generation of talents from both New York and the Bay Area: the beatmakers The Automator and Kut Masta Kurt; the DJ Q-Bert; Sir Menelik, a rhyme partner; and even DJ Shadow, who contributed to the project with a remix.
The Juggaknots are hip-hop's best kept secret. Some discovered them by 1999, thanks to their proximity with the Weathermen, or to Breezly Brewin's contribution to A Prince Amongst Thieves, a concept album from Prince Paul. Some others, through the incandescent "The Fire in Which you Burn", learned that the band was part of the Indelible Emcees collective, along with Company Flow and J-Treds. And some others knew that the producer Buddy Slim (a.k.a. Fever the Kid, or BMS), the rapper Breezly Brewin (a.k.a. The Brewin) – and the femcee Heroine (a.k.a. Queen Herawin), not a permanent member – had released a fantastic record in 1996, the second album on Fondle'em after the Cenobites full-length, soon to become one of the most expensive vinyl records on the underground market.
The reason why Beneath the Surface is so crucial a record is, primarily, historical. Discovered by many on illegal download websites, where albums from the likes of MF Doom and Non-Phixion were also available (along with Anticon's very first releases), it had just predated the heyday of indie hip-hop, by 1999 or 2000. It was also an important glance on the late 90's West Coast Underground scene.
We already said it here, with full of conviction: all the albums Radioinactive ever released, absolutely all, are indispensable. Yes, all of them, including Fo' Tractor, the rerelease of an old cassette full of lo-fi tracks recorded by the mid-1990's, just after the rapper's adventures with Log Cabin and West Coast Workforce, two crucial bands from California's incredibly fertile underground hip-hop scene.
The previous album of Sage Francis, Personal Journals, had won over an audience external to hip-hop. And this was not surprising, considering that the rapper's label was Anticon, and that he was leaning toward rock music. Prior to this, however, his Sick Off… mixtape series, and his victory at the 2000 edition of the Scribble Jam battles, had proved that he was a true rapper. And in 2005, his new album would demonstrate the same. A denser and more intense record, A Healthy Distrust would remind to all that Sage was, first and foremost, a redoubtable MC.
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