Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mr. Manic presents Boot/Sneaka Vol. 2: Post-Gangsta

          This volume was one of the earliest concepts that I had for a themed mix and discussion when conceiving this mix series.  It shows a major turning point in the rap music industry during its integration process in the 90's as the whole genre took a new form in lieu of unforeseen tragedies.  I call it Post-Gangsta because it immediately follows the Gangsta Rap era that scared the hell out of middle America in the late 80's and early 90's.  The style and themes of the genre suddenly shifted because of the so-called Gangsta Rap movement, a term heavily promoted by the media.  Sadly, some of the tragic elements of the black urban experience played out very publicly throughout this period of time, eventually bringing a close to the second generation.  This period was sent off with a number of repentant songs, commemorating the deceased, begging forgiveness, and petitioning for peace.  These themes have roots back to the earliest days of hip-hop and definitely throughout most of the second generation, but the highest concentration of these themes was from 94-97, coinciding with a few very specific tragedies.

Tracklist and sources:
Ice Cube - It Was A Good Day
     The Predator | Priority Records | 1992

Kool G Rap - For Da Brothaz
     4, 5, 6 | Epic Street | 1995

Master P - Is There a Heaven 4 a Gangsta?
     Rhymes & Reason Soundtrack | Priority Records | 1997

Scarface - Smile (featuring 2pac)
     The Untouchable | Rap-A-Lot Records | 1997

Coolio - Gangsta's Paradise (featuring LV)
     Gangsta's Paradise | Tommy Boy | 1995

South Central Cartel - G's Game
     All Day, Everyday | Rush Associated Labels | 1997

Richie Rich - Do G's Get to Go to Heaven?
     Seasoned Veteran | Def Jam Music Group | 1996

Havoc & Prodeje - The Hood's Got Me Feelin' the Pain (Southern Slick Mix)
     The Hood's Got Me Feelin' the Pain 12" | MCA Records | 1995

B.G. Knocc Out & Dresta - 50/50 Luv
     Real Brothas | Outburst Records | 1995

Mac Mall - Ghetto Theme (featuring Eboni Foster)
     Illegal Business? | Young Black Brotha Records | 1993

Onyx - Thangz Changed
     Sunset Park (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) | EastWest Records | 1996

Naughty By Nature - Mourn You Til I Join You
     Ride (Music From The Dimension Picture Soundtrack | Tommy Boy Records | 1997

M.O.P. - Dead & Gone
     Firing Squad | Relativity Records | 1996

Dirty Red - West Side Story
     DJ Yella - One Mo Nigga Ta Go: Dedicated To The Memory of Eazy-E | Street Life Records | 1996

Eazy-E - Tha Muthaphuckkin Real (featuring MC Ren)
     Str8 Off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton | Ruthless Records | 1996

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony - Crossroad
     East 1999 Eternal | Ruthless Records |1995

Kokane - No Pain, No gain      
     Funk Upon A Rhyme | Ruthless Records | 1994

          The 90's were particularly tragic for popular music and many young stars were struck down by vices that eerily resembled many socioeconomic issues of the day.  Rock music fans saw the loss of many stars in their prime including Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone - 90 - heroin OD), Bradley Nowell (Sublime - 96 - heroin OD),  Stefanie Sargent (7 Year Bitch - 92 - heroin OD), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana - 94 - suicide), Dwayne Goettel (Skinny Puppy - 95 - heroin OD), effectively decimating the presence of that era's biggest players from our current time.  The biggest names of the era in hip-hop, Eazy-E, 2pac, and Notorious B.I.G. all passed away within 24 months of each other effectively erasing their presence as well.  What a bitter disappointment.
          The hip-hop world played a quick game of catch up, literally exploding onto the scene after successful ventures in the late 80's.  It's influence on the market became undeniable, opening up a renaissance period where the genre's diversity was celebrated as new artists emerged.  New York no longer held the monopoly that it enjoyed during the preceding decade, and the music soon became a launchpad for showcasing black urban culture from all over the country.  Criminal elements have always been present in the hip hop business, but usually very secretly, and typically known only to the rappers and DJ's network (most notably the back of Eric B. & Rakim's Paid In Full, which featured a number of well known area hustlers).  Hardcore hip-hop started to emerge by the mid 80's with artists like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Geto Boys, and Ice-T, but it was N.W.A. who sparked the change in the market with their controversial image, message, and sound.  Most importantly, it sold, even without airplay.
          At the turn of the decade, the aural cues of the rough edged, hardcore sound became more prevalent in hip-hop and R&B (with the New Jack Swing era), as did the image.  If the golden era of hip-hop served to establish the fun-loving, colorful, liberated expression of urban youth culture in the face of systematic oppression, then the early 90's landscape ushered in by N.W.A. fortified those values with a ruthless armed guard.  The powerful impact of their first statement with Straight Outta Compton was certainly diminished with Efil4zaggin, where the hype of their revolutionary nature was contradicted by the nihilistic, morally vacant content of this sophomore effort.  In retrospect, Straight Outta Compton itself has few revolutionary moments that stand the test of time.  "Fuck the Police" is the only protest song and the tracks "Straight Outta Compton", "Gangsta Gangsta", and "Dopeman" delivered the provocative street tales that would earn them their reputation, but the rest of the album is typical late 80's hip-hop fare of testosterone-filled youthful exploits and tough talking MC bravado.  At the time, the shock of hearing so much profanity or this subject matter at all definitely increased the effect of the whole product.
          N.W.A. suffered major losses when Ice Cube parted ways over financial disputes, taking most of the intellectual talent with him.  Dre bounced soon after, taking the production and musical innovation with him.  What was left was not enough to sustain the world's formerly most dangerous group.  Ice Cube became a star in his own right, shifting his focus from mere street tales to all out resistance, no longer stifled by N.W.A.'s limited vision.  Dre helped usher in a more musically savvy era with his classic, The Chronic.  With both artists selling in the millions, and introducing fresh talent along, major labels had no choice but to embrace this hardcore style and the game quickly shifted.  Second generation newcomers like 2pac, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Naughty By Nature combined skilled flow, lyrical content and ability, and sleek production, raising the bar significantly.  This generation of artists gave you greater detail than ever in their relation of hood experiences, where summarizing and paraphrasing turned into microscopic dissections of street scenes as never heard before.  We didn't just hear about drug sales, we got measurements, quantities, street corner names, some times entire songs to express what might have been a couple of lines in the earliest hardcore rap songs.  This generation of artists also further humanized these experiences and the emotions that accompany them, and no artist of the 90's did a better job of this than 2pac.  His debut album, 2pacalypse Now included highly thoughtful songs like "Trapped", "Words of Wisdom", "Brenda's Got A Baby", and "Part Time Mutha".  Even its most violent material like "Wicked", "Crooked Ass Nigga", "Soulja's Story" gives logical breakdowns of the situations described giving the listener the tension of the character living the tale.  This included the grief and emotional trauma of the scenes described in a way that N.W.A. never managed to acknowledge, except weakly on the final track of Efil4zaggin, "Dayz of Wayback".  
      Ice Cube had already released the song "Dead Homies" on his 1990 EP Kill At Will by then, one of the earliest examples of reflection on mortality in hardcore hip-hop.  His song "It Was A Good Day" however was a major game changer in its portrayal of the relief of an inner city black male that there could be a positive day.  He shares simple pleasures like his favorite team winning, getting a burger late at night, and picking up a girl whom he had been pursuing since high school.  Who couldn't relate to those subjects?  This demonstrates the ability of Ice Cube to create crossover appeal without compromising his culture or the image he presented as an artist.  Being able to articulate ideas this way is major part of why he was able to become integrated into multicultural and family programming later on, but why his one time contemporary MC Ren never managed to make an impact as a solo artists outside of franchise devotees.  Ice Cube's involvement in movies like Boyz-N-The Hood and Higher Learning expanded his influence in establishing a presence of black urban youth culture in mass media, a mission much larger than hip-hop itself, but not possible without it.  2pac followed suit, appearing in films like Juice and Poetic Justice, further humanizing the black urban experience.
          The Gangsta Rap bubble really began to burst in 94 after the high profile murder case of Snoop Doggy Dogg and 2pac's ongoing legal troubles including a rape case and his eventual first shooting, which he survived.  The artform began to strangely resemble the life that it illustrated, mirroring the perpetual image of black men being hauled away in handcuffs, glaring in monochromatic mugshots, or lying in pools of blood, riddled with bullets from the gun of another black man.  Where was peace if our superstars could become rich and famous and still be facing these same struggles?  This can be accurately measured in the difference between 2pac's second album Strictly 4 My Niggaz (1993) and his third album Me Against the World (1995), which included "Dear Mama", "So Many Tears", "Death Around the Corner", and "Lord Knows".  Strictly 4 My Niggaz definitely had its fair share of introspective content, but was primarily hardcore and aggressive.  Snoop Doggy Dogg's sophomore release The Doggfather (1996) was considerably less aggressive than Doggystyle (1993).
          Eazy-E never fully regained his credibility and his beef with Dre became a moot point in the face of Snoop's murder case and Dre's own issues at Death Row.  He retreated from the forefront for a while focusing on putting out different groups trying to find the next hit for Ruthless Records.  This finally came with the discovery of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony whose unique and exotic sound catapulted them to the top of the charts in 94.  This would be Eazy-E's last summer.  Their success gave him a brief resurgence as prepared for the release of his come back double LP, Str8 Off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton.  It is well known that Eazy was still scarred by the N.W.A. breakup and he went to his grave trying to put the group back together.  He never managed to move beyond the image and subject matter that carried him to his initial super stardom.  The only evidence of an emotional response to his experience could be found on his posthumous release, a truncated version of Str8 Off tha Streetz... with the song "Tha Muthaphuckkin Real" featuring MC Ren.  While MC Ren delivers more of the same profanity-laced antagonism, Eazy-E not only acknowledges his mortality and hopes that he has somehow left a positive legacy.  This is the only look at this side of Eazy-E, as a rapper, that we'll ever have.
          An interesting byproduct of Eazy-E's death was the further success of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony with their tribute song "Tha Crossroads".  They had done huge numbers with their first singles and EP and were gearing up for their first full-length release East 1999 Eternal when Eazy died.  He was gone and already being paid tribute in the videos for East 1999's singles "1st of tha Month" and "East 1999", and dedications were all over the album when it was released.  Also present was a song called "Crossroad", most likely recorded before Eazy-E's passing.  It was a tribute to their deceased friend Wallace "Wally" Laird III, who was mentioned by name in the liner notes of their first EP Creepin' on ah Come Up.  This version condemns resolving conflict with handguns (though the majority of the rest of the album speaks of doing just that) and laments his absence, assuring that they will one day meet again.  This version is much more somber than the well known remix version that would become a massive hit for them and launch them to the top of the game for years to come.  This is a poetic chain of events given how terrifying it must have been for them to lose their mention not one year after coming under his tutelage.   Songs like "Do G's Get to Go to Heaven?" and "Is There a Heaven 4 a Gangsta?" express remorse for previous actions, wondering if there is a chance for salvation.  This was the tone of a lot of artists who after 2pac and Biggie's passing.  
          What soon followed was a much less aggressive era and a return to upbeat, positive content as Puff Daddy's Bad Boy Records began to dominate the airwaves.  Debut albums from East Coast artists like Nas, Jay-Z, and Notorious B.I.G. helped New York regain its prominence as the Gangsta Rap buzz began to fade before rapidly disintegrating.  By the end of the second generation, even Ice Cube was releasing singles like "We Be Clubbin".  Rap music continued to incorporate elements from Gangsta Rap for years to come.  In fact, criminal glorification was the dominant theme of a lot of mainstream hip hop throughout the 2000's, though typically in the context of an "entrepreneur" enjoying the wealth resulting from his illicit activities.
          Gangstas in the late 80's and early 90's were still broke and at the street level, perhaps with a bit of personal wealth due to successful hustling, but the fancy cars and big houses were still a ways away.  At the end of the second generation, many rappers had achieved these goals and materialism became much more dominant in subject matter as well.  Thus, in the second generation, the seeds of the Bling Rap era were sewn. It's major pioneers were struck down: Eazy-E by AIDS; 2pac and Biggie both by bullets, and there was a time of reflection on the sacrifices and hard choices made to build the rap industry into the what it is now.  It was only after this brief period of soul searching that rap was able to evolve to its next phase.