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The Mid-Week Beat: From Slick Rick to Mobb Deep – The Evolution of Rap

Music >

tumblr_mhfcf6wyEm1s3ctpmo1_500This week’s beat catches up with three extremely different, if not equally influential, rap entities.

It starts with two legendary MCs, thirty years in the game, then takes us to one of the more contentious and popular New York groups involved in the legendary “East Coast/West Coast” feud of the 1990’s and concludes with a film that documents the “thug life” that permeated 1990s hip hop culture.

For me, the most fascinating aspect of the evolution of rap is the prevalence of outlandish, unique and creatively brave artists that peppered the early years of the genre, and how the global success of hip hop in recent years seems to have resulted in, for the most part, artistic mediocrity.

Maybe I just don’t get “these kids today.” I am in my 40s after all.

Either way, it doesn’t matter which side of the fence you find yourself on, or if you prefer to occupy both, this is a good weekend for rap fans.

Friday, August 16th

Kool KeithBuffalo, New York

The amazing Kool Keith got his start in legendary New York hip-hop group Ultramagnetic MCs in the late 80s. He recorded three albums with the group before venturing out on his own and he quickly established himself as one of the most gifted free stylers in the game, and also the most unusual. In fact, a popular rumor circulated that he was institutionalized for mental problems.

In 1995 he transformed himself into the insanely genius Dr. Octagon and released his first solo single “Earth People.” His solo releases were highly acclaimed by critics and he would go on to record 15 solo records, the most recent being 2013’s Magnetic Pimp Force Field.

In 2000, he also collaborated with Ice-T, Marc Live, Black Silver and Pimp Rex to form the extraordinary Analog Brothers.

I was lucky enough to be able to see two of Dr. Octagon’s performances in person back in the day. One was the greatest hip hop show I ever attended, the other was absolute confusion and mayhem. One thing is certain, they broke the mold when they made this guy.

Carrying the torch into the 21st century as one of the most uniquely brave and outlandishly smart lyricists in hip hop, this kind of talent is rarer and rarer these days. He’s not so much into shouting about how much money he has as much as he is into weaving tales of intergalactic weirdness and “romantic” exploits.

Kool Keith performs this Friday, August 16 at Dukes Bohemian in Buffalo, New York. Click the link above to get tickets before they’re gone and witness this mad genius in person!

Saturday, August 17th

Slick RickManchester, New Hampshire

Being one of the most sampled and referenced hip hop artists of the 20th century you already know who Slick Rick is whether you realize it or not.

He began his career in 1983, as part of Doug E. Fresh‘s Get Fresh Crew, performing as MC Ricky Dee on classic singles like “La Di Da Di.” In 1988, Rick released his first solo record The Great Adventures of Slick Rick on the legendary Def Jam Records. It was an instant success and eventually reached #1 on Billboard‘s R&B/Hip-Hop chart. The record featured the classic single “Children’s Story” which is considered to be one of the top 100 hip hop songs of all time and has been sampled by the likes of Tricky, Black Star (Talib Kwali and Mos Def) and the Black Eyed Peas.

He’s been called “hip hop’s greatest storyteller” in an era where his contemporaries were artists like Public Enemy, Eric B and Rakim and De La Soul; the era now lovingly referred to by hip-hop fans as “The Golden Age of Hip Hop.” He’s been nominated for a Grammy and holds titles like “#12 MC of All Time” and “#15 Top Lyricists of All Time.”

He also inspired an entire generation to take their beefs to the corner, not with fists and guns, but with quick thinking, nimble spitting and a cutting sense of humor.

“Rick the Ruler” will be performing this Saturday, August 17 at the Shashkeen in Manchester, New Hampshire. Don’t miss this one kiddies.

Mobb DeepMiami, Florida

Also on Saturday, farther down the coast, Miami residents will be able to catch legendary Queens MCs Mobb Deep.

Probably one of the most critically acclaimed East Coast hardcore hip hop groups, Mobb Deep have released seven albums and nine mixtapes in the last 20 years. Definitely awesome, unapologetically¬†incendiary and provocative, they found themselves smack dab in the middle of the “East Coast/West Coast” feud that helped define the thuggish demeanour of late 80s/early 90s “gangster rap.” But as that gave way to more realistic long-term career survival, they ultimately signed with 50 Cent’s G-Unit Records in 2005.

They are still touring strong with captivating shows and loyal fans to this day. See them this Saturday, August 17 at The Stage in Miami.

Sunday, August 18th

Paid In FullOakland, California

This 2002 film, while underwhelming to critics, is a pretty spot-on snapshot of the feel that early 90s gangster rap tried to emulate. A typical story of crime initially paying, but then leading to betrayal and incarceration, Paid In Full is a fun and diverting, R-rated peek into the subculture that bands like Mobb Deep tried to express through music.

Also, fans of The Wire will notice that Wood Harris stars in this film a full decade before embodying the legendary Avon Barksdale.

Paid In Full will be screening at The New Parkway Theater this Sunday, August 18. Don’t miss it!