The Milestone is a music venue in Charlotte that has hosted some of my favorite shows. I first played at The Milestone years ago with Mikal kHill and Sulfur when they were then The ThoughtCriminals. The venue has the same feel of history and community as my beloved Top Cats where I grew up rapping in Cincinnati. They also sport a great sound system run by technical operators along with some of the nicest staff and energetic crowds I’ve had the pleasure to meet.
In its decades of operation, the venue has provided a stage for all genres, not just hip hop. Some of the notable acts to echo their creativity inside the walls include:
The full list is much more impressive. The Milestone has changed and shaped the lives of an untold number of people; but the venue is in dire need of repairs. I am flying out to Charlotte on my hard-earned frequent flyer miles to donate money and play a fundraiser show on April 29th. Come by and see me if you’re anywhere nearby. For the rest of us on the internet, The Milestone currently has a GoFundMe page up to accept donations. Please donate to them and keep the music alive.
Rewind a decade or so and you would find a version of me in an emotionally disheveled state with hip hop. I mentioned Cincinnati was the backyard of the south, but wherever I went there was no escaping the mainstream stranglehold of crunk music. Don’t get me wrong: I initially loved the big bass and simple, catchy hooks of crunk; but the lack of content and creativity in the lyrics department quickly made the sub-genre repetitive. I craved something fresh.
Tell Me When To Go
If you’ve heard any hyphy song, odds are good you’ve heard E-40’s Tell Me When To Go. I remember hearing this and thinking only one thing: MOAR. Although produced by Lil Jon, the beat had a fresh new sound to it. The flow and off-the-cuff slang were on par with what I’d previously heard from E-40, but this time it was situated perfectly over these outstanding drums. Then I saw the video and realized hyphy was more than just a new sub-genre of hip hop.
This was amazing. This was a brand new sub-culture that featured unique sounds, styles, and activities. If you’ve heard of ghost-riding the whip, this is where it came from. It was like a complete ecosystem had burst out of its confinement and exploded onto the mainstream stage to the surprise of everyone except, apparently, Bay Area residents.
I first heard Keak Da Sneak on the above-posted Tell Me When To Go. I was a bit perplexed by his style, to put it politely. The rhymes seemed off-kilter, half of the words didn’t make sense, and his voice sounded like Ned Gerblansky swallowed a lit pack of cigarettes. I liked it!
The unique slang was an integral part of hyphy. Granted, E-40 probably holds the crown for most words ever invented by a rapper, but Keak Da Sneak had his own vocabulary which I appreciated. Another appreciation for Keak Da Sneak is how much content he’s put out over the years. He’s got a steady history of releases along with a myriad of features. This is another favorite of mine with a more spectral feel to the beat.
Most surprising Keak Da Sneak moment was when I saw him give a speech at Hiero Day several years ago. Spoiler alert: His voice sounds normal when he talks.
Ghost Ride The Whip
Mistah F.A.B. is one of the more versatile rappers out. I’ve heard him crush freestyles, win battles, and make different types of music. Labeled early on as the crown prince of hyphy, I was surprised to see so much diversity in F.A.B’s body of work. He’s a solid rapper with some solid hyphy releases in addition to all of his other efforts. With regard to hyphy, he’s likely recognized outside of the Bay for his song Ghost Ride It, which I feel legally obligated to embed:
RIP MAC DRE
The progenitor of the hyphy movement is largely recognized as Mac Dre. While his tracks may not have the polished production of Lil Jon’s drums behind them, Mac Dre still brought an incredibly unique sound to hip hop. Unfortunately, Mac Dre passed away before my exposure to hyphy so I can’t recount any personal experiences other than my enjoyment of finding his songs on YouTube for the first time. This is my favorite and it still makes me smile whenever I hear it.
I was in Oakland earlier this month when a friend of mine sent me this article about the history and death of hyphy. It’s a pretty extensive read if you’re interested in some of the issues and relationships internal to the environment in which hyphy was cultivated. Sadly my time living in the Bay took place after hyphy had ended so I missed out on all the excitement in-person. We’d love to hear your experiences, though. Give us a shout on Facebook or Twitter.
This is a special post for me (c64), as we focus on the first three hip hop albums I ever heard, and consequently fell in love with. They remain in my top 10 to this day.
Back in my early teens, I used to hang out at my friend Ben’s house after school, doing crazy teenage things like drinking sugary drinks and eating Mars Bars. He shared a room with his older brother, and when the house was empty, we used to play a bunch of his (usually off-limits) CDs. Some had Parental Advisory stickers – a new concept to me at the time, and naughty words in the song titles. Naturally, we started to listen to these CDs. Over and over again.
In what seemed like no time at all, I had learned step by step instructions on how to pack a bong, the reasons why hoes are unsuitable for long term relationships, and lots of useful pointers on using my AK-47. However, I had yet to grasp what these words actually meant.
Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle (1993)
Snoop’s debut release introduced me to the G-Funk production of Dr Dre, a distinctive California sound which borrowed heavily from the ‘70s P-Funk scene. The beats on Doggystyle sounded incredible. Heavy, funky and catchy. Snoop’s rhymes were the perfect fit – super smooth, yet at the same time gritty and evocotive.
When I first heard the start of Gz and Hustlas, the juxtaposition of a six year old kid against the dirty beat and explicit rhymes blew my simple little mind. And then there were the collaborations – Daz, Kurupt, Lady of Rage, Nate Dogg. I hadn’t heard music like this before.
At the time, gangster rap was getting a lot of bad press, and no doubt our parents wouldn’t want us to be guided by the questionable morals. But it was the beats, melodies and rhythm of the music that stuck in my mind. A mix of aggression, funk and rapid fire flows.
I still love this album. It was great to get to actually see Snoop perform all my childhood favourites in full a couple of years ago, for the album’s 20 year anniversary.
Cypress Hill – Black Sunday (1993)
Another 1993 album from the west coast, Black Sunday brought a wicked concoction of bass-heavy beats, laid back loops and eerie samples from DJ Muggs. Topped off with raps from B-Real – a guy who seemed to have a bad cold and gun fetish, and rhymes from his constipated sidekick, Sen Dog. It was an unorthodox, yet somehow perfect mix.
Mostly dealing with subjects such as getting stoned, shooting guns, and disliking the police, this was another album that you probably wouldn’t recommend to a 12-13 year old. But once again, it was the production aesthetic that stayed with me. Sometimes hazy and psychedelic, sometimes edgy and dangerous. I was infatuated.
Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
The Wu’s debut album is largely considered a hip hop classic, with numerous soundbites and quotables that have since been sampled and re-assigned by other artists. Pretty much all of the members have gone on to be successful in their own right.
When I first heard this album, I was a little overwhelmed. RZA’s east coast beats were moody, purposely off-key and rough-edged, interspersed by odd kung fu samples and rambling interludes. The tracks featured a huge gaggle of different rappers with their own distinct styles. From Method Man’s smooth voice and charismatic flow, to the sloppiness of ODB, Ghostface Killah’s abstract visuals, and several other rappers that I still can’t fully tell apart, it was all pretty full-on.
I didn’t find this album as instantly gratifying as Doggystyle or Black Sunday, but over time started to appreciate the Wu-Tang sound more and more, to the point of 36 Chambers becoming a personal favourite.
In relation to our own music, RZA’s beats were a big influence in my early days of studying hip hop drum patterns. I remember noting that he only dropped the kick and the snare where really necessary to keep the music flowing. This minimalist approach helps his numerous layers of weird samples breathe, and leave adequate room in the mix for vocals and sword fights.
There’s so much more music that I’ve discovered off the back of these three albums, that I’m sure we’ll have a bunch of related posts in the future.