Monday, January 14, 2008


By Zubz The Last Letta

I grew up listening to Hip Hop before I even realized there was a movement behind the music. Those days, I didn’t even have a clue what the rappers looked like, or believed in; what they stood for or held dear. All I knew were their songs; beats, rhymes and themes. If I vibed with it, I bumped it. The albums I listened to pretty much shaped the artist I’ve become today in the way I write, the manner in which I rap and the philosophy I choose to live by in the context of the culture. If you know Zubz the artist, you’ll hardly be surprised at the 5 albums I’ve chosen out of a possible list of dozens…

In no particular order:

Eric B and Rakim – Follow The Leader

“Competition is none
I remain at the top like the sun
And I burn whoever come
In the Chambers of Torture/ I caught-ya
You should have brought-ya/ neighborhood to support-ya
You name the day, the grounds can be neutral
Speak your piece the feeling is mutual…..
…..3/4ths of water make seven seas
A 1/3rd of land 360 degrees
I elevate/ and am made to rotate
Seven Days a week at a quick or a slow rate!”

With double barrel rhyme patterns and perfect verse symmetry, Rakim redefined the technical aspect of writing rap verses. The simple “Rhyme at the end of the bar” structure became the stuff of amateurs as dude ingeniously placed two, sometimes three, rhymes per 4 beat bar; on the 1, the 2 and the 4. I marveled at that. Add to that, Rakim was cool in his tone while others would shout on the record, yet he got your attention better with the chilled approach. The fact that he married the DJ and the MC so well was an added bonus.

The Roots – Illadelph Halflife
“The Principles of True Hip Hop have been forsaken
It’s all contractual and about money making
Pretend-To-Be cats don’t seem to know they limitation
Exact replication and false representation
You wanna be a man? Then stand your own!
To MC requires skill, I demand some shown!”

Here was a group that, while everyone else was redefining the boom-bap, plugged their own “live instrument” sound and kept at it until you had to respect it! The Roots stood for something. I loved that. They had a view on music and on Hip Hop. Most importantly, they wouldn’t be swayed on it. Black Thought rhymes his ass off! Always! It’s incredible how consistent this man is with 16s. He always sounds sharp. His freestyles always sound sharp, too…even today. Musically, Quest hasn’t murdered like he did on Illadelph and this was before the Grammy! The Roots make commercial success look too easy proving that doing the opposite of that leads to longevity and satisfaction…just ask Scott Scorch!

2 Pac – Me Against the World

“Back in Elementary
I thrived on Misery
Left me alone, I grew up amongst a dying breed
Inside my heart I couldn’t find a place to rest
Until I got that “Thug Life” tattered on my chest…”

When you ask any true head what they love the most about Hip Hop Music they try to tell you “it’s beats” or “lyrics” or “the sound”…Truth is, it’s all emotion. When you get moved somewhere in your core, moved to dance, think, smile, whatever, then you “feel” the joint. No one understood that better than Pac. When cats speak of Pac today, they speak of him not by his verses, or lines, but by his person. 2 Pac managed to do what many of us rappers can only dream of doing; be more than a just a dope track. This album in particular is a sonic work of art for me because it is drenched in emotion. You literally feel this man’s love, hate, joy, envy, insanity and passion. This is my best Pac album of all time. Hands down!

Nas – It was Written
“Life’s a Bitch but God forbid that bitch divorce me…”

Granted. That quote is originally from his Illmatic album. Yes, the one most cats would throw on there as a True Classic. No argument there. Truthfully though, my favorite Nas record is actually It Was Written. I bought it solely for the joint with Lauryn, “If I Ruled The World” but got so much more in return. Heads were dissing this record but I found myself vibing with Nas so much more on this album. His concepts were more intense (“I gave You Power”) his features were more appropriate (“Affirmative Action”) and his beats had a broader appeal (Trackmasters). He had started to grow. Nas is for me the poster boy for the “How to Grow into Yourself as an Artist” campaign. He made all the right decisions and all the wrong mistakes. At 35 he continues to grow today. That’s beautiful. Add to all that, Nas’ ability to relay flashing scenes so vividly in your mind so that by the time he’s done rapping, you feel like you’ve just seen a movie, but can’t really say what the moral of the story was…still, the movie was John Blaze! In keeping with all my favorites, Nas is an accomplished lyricist. Words have double meanings, puns are intended, and verses are well layered; beautiful.

Notorious BIG – Ready To Die
“Live from Bedford Stuyvesant/ The livest one
Representing BK to the fullest/ Gatts I pull its!
….ain’t no amateurs here/ I damage and tear…”

Check that quote again; ”Livest”, “Fullest” “pull its”? These are some the most unexpected rhyme words you’ll ever find used in the manner in which they were used in that song, “Unbelievable”. In fact, this time around, those words actually exist in the English Language. Often times BIG’s rhyme words are non existent, made up interpolations of actual words that exist! That’s what I love about B.I. He bends vocab like the Predator bends light! Black Thought does it too, but not like Biggie did it. It was so exciting to hear. Where others would rhyme hat with cat and dog with frog (you would so see it coming) biggie would rhyme hat with skiddat (an interpolation of ‘skidaddle’ slang for ‘scram’ which is slang for ‘run away’!!) and he’d rhyme dog with malaprop (which is an actual English word which just doesn’t sound like one; and is it really correct to use it in a verse?!!!) I absolutely loved Biggie. This album in particular was great, because, despite how dark and horrific it was, it actually led to Biggie become a very light hearted quirky mainstreamer. The opposite to the projected ban most thought he’d get. More than a lyricist, Biggie was a wordsmith. He could have gone on to be the originator of Hip Hop Speak. That’s not easy to be.

[Ed’s note: Zubz of course, is an accomplished and almost peerless MCee whose lyrical ingenuity leaves one’s mind pregnant with poignant imagery. His recent album ‘Headphone Music in A Parallel World’ is, in my journalistic opinion, one of the best hip hop albums ever recorded in Mzansi. Only Tumi’s ‘Music From My Good Eye’ deserves to be spoken about in the same breath. And that’s Real Talk dear Encore reader]


Sivu said...

Love and Let Love... when a genius bows down to another genius fine work, it brings tears to my eyes.

These are the moments in my life which will last forever.

Zubs sani, uyaRocka!

much respezi


jermaine said...