Cincinnati is the backyard of the south. Walk around downtown and you’ll hear down south beats pumping out of big body cars. Rappers and rap crowds in Cincinnati are a mixed bag. A lot of us grew up listening to east coast and midwest underground hip hop, which you hear in our flow. But plenty of rappers in Cincinnati spit with a twang that you’d expect to find in Atlanta or New Orleans.
Playing shows is primarily about facilitating the crowd in having a good time. Part (Most) of that is playing beats people enjoy. I have a wide taste in hip hop which suited me perfectly for playing in front of the mixed crowds in and around Cincinnati. I would rap over a popular underground or east coast hip hop beat, then cut and mix in a popular down south rap beat. Audiences loved it and the variety helped engage everyone at the show/party. One of my favorites was to cut into the Lil Jon remix of Lean Back.
Now I wish I could sound like a savant and claim Underground Kingz was my first exposure to music from the south, but they honestly weren’t a name to me until they were on Big Pimpin’ with Jay-Z. Truth be told, I’d heard UGK long before that on songs from No Limit Records — I just didn’t realize it.
No Limit Records
TRU 2 Da Game was the first No Limit Records release I picked up. The beats and hooks were catchy, the slang was unique, and the simple raps made the songs easy to memorize and recite. I had just started rapping and this seemed like easy mode for getting some practice with flow and breath control. About a year or two later, Master P released Make Em Say Ugh and suddenly everyone was using the slang I’d been listening to for a while (remember being “bout it (bout it)”?).
Third Coast / Ghost Coast
Another guy I programmed with on AOL, who went by Cobra, lived in Texas and would send me all kinds of hip hop from Houston aka the “third coast”. I will sadly admit that aside from a few features, I did not get much exposure to Scarface or Geto Boys. But Cobra introduced me to some other Houston artists long before they ever became famous — rappers like Lil Flip, Paul Wall, and Chamillionaire (who was my favorite out of the list). You might recognize Chamillionaire’s name from the hit Ridin’ Dirty which he made years later. Cobra also introduced me to DJ Screw who created the unique style of “chopped and screwed”. Plenty of unique sounds came out of Texas that helped shape my impressions and tastes in hip hop.
Everyone knows and loves Outkast so I don’t really have anything special to add about them. Each release of theirs was unique and special to me, and it was impossible to admire the levels and variety of artistic creativity that I could never develop. Years later I still listen to Outkast and enjoy the timeless music they created.
Ludacris is probably my favorite rapper of all time from the south. He had such a fresh sound, bold voice, and clever lyrics to boot. The lyrics and his innovative cadences and rhyme schemes were a welcomed anomaly as I had come to mostly associate lazy rhymes and simple hooks from the south by this point. Additionally, Luda had this incredibly fun energy that reminded me of Redman (who was one of my favorites early on).
On top of all that, Ludacris was a DIY artist before the internet facilitated services like iTunes and YouTube. Luda created his own independent label DTP Entertainment and self-published his first album. I was always wary of the record industry, but seeing Luda’s independent success before joining Def Jam South gave me hope that I wouldn’t ever need a label (and we haven’t thus far).
The dirty south shaped my perception and experience in hip hop in some pretty profound ways. While we don’t really have any down south tracks on our albums, I still have built my perspective and creativity with hip hop on a foundation which includes the lessons from my exposure with the south, musically and logistically. Also, the Ludacris album Back For The First Time is a classic. His follow-up Word of Mouf is solid as well.
As a teenager growing up in northern England, various strains of guitar and pop music were the usual listening material. Despite the influence of my friends, I didn’t fully identify with these scenes, and instead, had a penchant for more rhythm-led sounds such as drum and bass and other electronic music, plus the attitude, flow and funk of US hip hop.
Fortunately a new type of music was being brought to my attention. I came to know it as UK hip hop – featuring rappers using local references, accents and slang, combined with strong influences from American hip hop, the UK’s Jamaican community, and the various flavours of home-grown dance and underground beats. This was an exciting time.
I initally discovered this loosely defined UK Hip Hop scene through Tim Westwood‘s rap show on BBC Radio 1. The show usually focused on US rap, but if we were lucky, he’d dedicate 10-15 minutes at the end of the show to UK rappers. If you’d stayed up late enough, you might catch a few verses, followed by some guys from London shouting out their ‘mans dem on road’. Some sounded very very good, some were more questionable. But none-the-less, it was intriguing, so I started staying up late.
Around this time, I heard that a guy called Roots Manuva was playing a short DJ set on another Radio 1 evening show. His name sounded familiar, and I may have heard one of his songs, but didn’t know much about his musical taste. So I pressed record on my tape deck anyway.
This was a good move. For the next several months I replayed that tape constantly. I dusted off the original cassette last week, and amateur detective work leads me to believe it was Roots Manuva’s Hardcore Half Hour mix from 2002.
Much like (I understand) the hacking scene was at the time, UK hip hop was largely underground and small-scale, occasionally teetering on the edges of the mainsteam. Bigger songs like Roots Manuva’s Witness (1 Hope), and Don’t See The Signs by Mark B and Blade would occupy the lower reaches of the top 40 charts, meaning that not many people in the UK knew about it through standard mainstream media. Internet usage was still relatively low, however…my parents had a dial up connection to explore.
I ran a telephone line extension up to my bedroom, and got to work. Peer-to-peer software was an eye-opener – I’d found a niche community of like-minded individuals, who enjoy home-grown hip hop and spend extraordinary amounts of time sitting at their computers. There were others out there! Shouts to Soulseek, Limewire and Morpheus. Also, malware authors, whose creations I tried to avoid in my quest for downloadable music.
These initial discoveries lead me to delve further into the genre, through niche music forums, which in turn lead to numerous album purchases, gig tickets, and real life connections.
Looking back, much of the this musical self-discovery was a result of long hours alone in my bedroom, scouring radio frequencies and figuring out this new-fangled internet thing. It would eventually lead to making a connection with a talented man known as int eighty, forming our own music group, and sharing our music with people all over the world.
In retrospect, I believe that isolation and alone time was a key factor in shaping my musical taste, as well as learning to transfer these influences into my own creations. I guess this also applies to life in general. Isolation allows time for the mind to wander, time for exploration and creativity, and time to develop skills and absorb inspiration that can stick with you for a lifetime. As a child, maybe through activities such drawing and writing. As a teenager; coding, designing, learning software, and general experimentation. Cooking or science. Or making average hip hop beats.
On that note, a genuine thank you goes out to everyone who has supported Dual Core in any way whatsoever. Your appreciation motivates us to keep creating, and exploring these strange workings of our minds. And in turn, we hope that our music brings some genuine pleasure to yours.
Anyway, for the TL;DR crowd. We’ve compiled a YouTube playlist of said early 2000s UK hip hop for your earholes. Excuse the blatant brain-dump. Grab a cup of tea end enjoy
One of the aspects I’ve always appreciated about hip hop is the confidence needed to be a rapper. Of course, I wasn’t always a rapper and I wasn’t always confident. I was way more into programming, hacking, and WaReZ before the thought of writing a rap ever came to mind.
I used to write all kinds of tools for AOL. Server, mass mailers, phishers, punters, etc. One of the kids I programmed with, whose handle was Python, was really into hip hop and would send me songs and artists to check out. One day he sent me an email with a rap verse he had written about how his code was better than mine. I lauged it off (clearly I was more 1337) but he kept bugging me to write a response. This pushed me to get better at coding, hoping to shut Python up with an awesome function/module/program.
Finally I caved just to get him off the subject and back to writing code. I wrote a verse, sent it off, and didn’t give it any more thought. Python continued to send me verses and continued to talk trash until I’d send one back. This pushed me to get better at writing, again hoping I could shut him up with one ultimate delivery. Around the same time, I found and started watching Yo! MTV Raps. One night, I saw the video for 4, 3, 2, 1 which featured a verse from Canibus. The start of the verse from Canibus opened my eyes to how expressive you could be with lyrics:
“I’m the illest [censored] alive watch me prove it,
I’ll snatch your crown with your head still attached to it”
Mind = blown. This set me down a path seeking out any rappers I could find that had exceptional wordplay and concepts in their rhymes. I found people like Chino XL, Keith Murray, MC Juice, Supernatural, and more. Napster came out around that same time, and I grabbed every mp3 I could find — starting with those artists then fanning out on artists they featured or were featured with, and traversing from there.
Sometime after that I started going to the weekly hip hop night in Cincinnati with my aforementioned friend Brian. They had freestyle battles at the end of each night that were incredibly entertaining. Somebody at one of the nights told me about Scribble Jam, an annual festival that happened in town. The freestyle battles I saw there were unparalleled.
Freestyling was so impressive. These rappers were clever and witty right on the spot with what was happening at that moment. Eventually I worked up the courage to give it a try… and lost. Definitely not as easy as they made it look on stage. Like previous failures, this pushed me to get better at freestyling so that I could actually compete and win battles (which I went on to do).
Battling hasn’t appealed to me for a long time and the scene for it has changed significantly over the years. But it’s always fun to look back at the experiences and think about how it gave me confidence to continue with and improve at rapping. I’m not as angry or aggressive as Canibus or other battle rappers, but I am pretty happy with the hip hop we’ve made. At least now I have the confidence to lose to myself.