Archive for the ‘Hip-Hop Editorial’ Category


Earlier this week, the hamster wheels were in overdrive with the news that Janet Jackson, a few months removed from the birth of her first child, was separating from her billionaire husband Wissam Al Mana. Usually, this would be a time for sadness. But in a era where online relationship discussions have become the equivalent of Spy vs. Spy, a breakup is the opportunity to analyze who gained the most out of the relationship (finessed, scammed etc.). In this case, an alleged prenup worth $500 million after five years of marriage has been cited as proof Jackson is the ultimate scammer who ruthlessly waited five years and had a baby to hit the literal jackpot.

Fortunately for us readers, the internet has a way of quickly exposing hypocrisy and blatant gender bias. T.I., whose latest soap opera chapter with estranged wife Tiny revolves around a gorgeous new side chick Bernice Burgos, hasn’t gotten the same gushing praise for his comments about how marriage no longer fits his life.

Wait, no applause for Tip’s supposed “finesse” skills? No respect for an entrepreneur that got his star girlfriend and future wife to finance his career? No hi-fives on how he got married but still had threesomes, other lovers and outside babies (allegedly)? No props for getting said wife to take a charge while he was on parole? And no kudos ultimately being wiser than most people in knowing when a relationship has run its course and trying to get out with your sanity intact?


The crux of the issue is this – many of us have not come to terms with our past hurt and disappointments with the opposite sex. Sprinkle in the celebrity worship that defines our society and you get scenarios where we see ourselves in these T.I./Tiny and Janet Jackson dramas.

Nah boo, just because you got a meal and an outfit out of a thirsty dude doesn’t mean Janet, a 50-year-old multi-millionaire and legend who’s learned firsthand that money doesn’t buy happiness, would subject herself to a five-year bid to get coins out of a sham marriage. And homie, let’s pray T.I.’s philandering is nothing like your personal life unless you live for publicly embarrassing your family.

Love can be messy. Very messy. But every celebrity mess you come across does not constitute a scam.



25 years ago, three teenage girls from Atlanta changed Hip-Hop forever. Armed with an unapologetic joy for sex, a bold and colorful sense of style and womanhood, and an infectious charm that only can come from the optimism of youth, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas blindsided a Hip-Hop industry that had increasingly marginalized women’s voices. And in turn, TLC inspired a generation of young girls and artists, an impact can still be heard today.

When TLC signed with Babyface and L.A. Reid’s LaFace Records in August 1991, a formidable task lay ahead of them. 1991 had not been a strong year from women in the Hip-Hop lane that TLC hoped to infiltrate. Queen Latifah’s Nature of a Sista and MC Lyte’s Act Like Ya Know were the only albums in ’91 that dropped from female emcees.


Raunchy lyrics were in full swing at this time, but they were usually confined to albums and not the radio. On their first single, “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” which also preceded the album by three months, TLC circumvented radio’s strict censorship rules with wit and lyrics that speak to the diversity and depth of women’s perspective.

So when Chilli decides to be submissive for her lover’s attention (“Cause I ain’t too proud to beg for something that I call my own“), it’s balanced by the declarations Left Eyes makes on demanding sexual satisfaction and dictating how she wants it (“Realize the realism of reality treats/ Us Both the same/ Cause satisfaction is the name of the game… Yeah I like it when you (kiss)/ Both sets of lips/ Ooh on the TLC tip.“). And in a unique twist, Left Eye’s verses gives an early example of body positivity for men in her willingness to accept her lover(s) regardless of their physical shortcomings (“2 inches or a yard rock hard or if it’s saggin’…“).

The song proved to be a perfect introduction. …On the TLC Tip dropped on February 25, boasting production from the likes of Jermaine Dupri, Marley Marl, Babyface, and writing from Left Eye and Dallas Austin. The result was a gumbo blend of Hip-Hop, R&B, funk and sprinkles of New Jack Swing’s frenetic energy.



Despite their carefree attitudes, TLC was acutely aware of the confining expectations that patriarchal society has of them. That absurdity is a constant theme in the album via the skits, starting with an intro from a white male who casually dismisses their femininity (“They don’t really look like women…“). In “Intermission II,” it’s T-Boz dealing with a lover who wants to keep her at home while he enjoys the nightlife. The commentary reaches its most serious point on “His Story,” sadly showing that not much has changed for women who seek justice after a sexual assault.

His story over mine his story will be his story
And my story is a waste of time
They’re gonna believe

His story (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
His story (Oww)
They’re gonna believe
His story
His story



Part of the TLC’s success as a group stemmed from their contrast with the multi-platinum phenomenon that was En Vogue. The four-woman ensemble (Dawn Robinson, Cindy Herron, Maxine Jones and Terry Ellis) embraced the sexy diva image and possessed polished vocals that allowed each one to sing lead. They set the tone for the decade with 1990’s platinum Born to Sing, which spawned the classic single “Hold On.” As women in their late 20s and early 30s, they had a maturity to their sex appeal and presentation that TLC wisely did not try to emulate.

Instead, TLC occasionally poked fun at the glamorous diva requirements that had come to be expected of subsequent girl groups. The trio most noticeably did so in the video for “Hat 2 Da Back,” briefly donning black cocktail dresses while championing their love of baggy clothes and baseball caps (“Hat 2 da back I gotta kick my pants down real low/ That’s the kinda girl I am…“). Shots at the diva image can also been seen in the intro for “What About Your Friends.”



…On the TLC Tip proved to be one of the biggest albums of 1992. Although their style and music were rooted in Hip-Hop culture, the message of safe sex, self-love and care-free fun crossed over. The album spanned four singles and eventually went on to sell six million copies. Ironically, Hip-Hop purists were the last group to embrace the trio, likely due to gender bias and their softer presentation in the midst declining militant black nationalism and the emergence of gangsta rap in Hip-Hop. Much to the chagrin of some, the group graced the cover of The Source, back when the publication was the holy grail of Hip-Hop credibility.



Today, TLC stands alone as the best-selling girl group in music history with an estimated 65 million records sold. Their influence can be seen in everyone from pop acts like Britney Spears, to subsequent groups like Destiny Child, and those that deftly blended Hip-Hop and pop like Nicki Minaj.

But never forget the journey began in February 1992 with Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip.

RIP Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes


As if Lauryn Hill getting sentenced to three months in prison on tax evasion charges wasn’t bad enough, another legendary New Jersey Hip-Hop act is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Naughty By Nature frontman Treach announced yesterday on Twitter that he was “firing” Vinnie, aka Vin Rock, from the group for undisclosed reasons, and has now released a diss record entitled “Tall Midget.”

This song is painful on several fronts. For one, these guys have been together over 20 years and should be able to handle differences behind closed doors and not like rappers still in their early 20s. Secondly, this song is bad — the chorus, beat and verbal attacks scream pure struggle. And as someone just old enough to remember Treach’s prime years (circa 1991-1995) when he was one of the genre’s best emcees, the massive drop-off in quality leaves you speechless.

Treach probably threw this together in the last 24 hours, but it’s still amazing that no one in his camp pulled him aside to flat-out tell him how wack this track is. There are only a handful of times when a diss is so comically bad that the disser comes out looking worse than the intended target. This is one of them.

Let’s thank the Hip-Hop gods that Vinnie appears to be taking the high road and won’t be penning a lyrical response.

For the younger heads, I’m sprinkling this post with some vintage Treach in case this diss is your Naughty By Nature introduction.


Before the digital emerge, artists heavily relied on videos to push their music. For Hip-Hop, that promotional model reached its apex in the late 90s, when go to directors like Hype Williams could literally command million dollar budgets on 3-4 minute videos. The reason was a good video could not only stay in rotation for months, but it would make fans rush out to buy your music. That isn’t true today, and many emcees, especially those without major label backing, shoot simple videos almost like afterthoughts. Lil Wayne is hoping to change that with the release today of the socially conscious video “How to Love,” which his team has been lauding for weeks as a “game-changer.” The problem is that the song itself is a blatant, and not well-executed, pandering to pop audiences. Will that matter, or is the video strong enough in its message to give Tha Carter IV its final headed into next week?

The topics in the video are issues that will undoubtedly hit home for a lot of women: child molestation, unplanned pregnancies, HIV/AIDS and bad choices in men. The strongest asset of the video is the fact its a narrative that shows what shaped the protagonist’s mindset and eventual bad decisions. The video then flashes back and shows how that same character could have had a much different path with a stable family life. Aside from some nitpicking like not emphasizing the importance of a positive male/father figure in the flashback and the cheesy ending quote (“Thanks for teaching me how to love!”), it’s commendable that a rapper on Wayne’s level would offer this to mainstream audiences.

In the end, the visuals are strong enough that they enhance “How to Love’s” message, which came off much more hollow with just Wayne’s auto-tuned vocals to go by. The song isn’t going to convert most of Wayne’s hardcore Hip-Hop fans, but this song was never intended for them. Having been, however controversially, called the “greatest rapper alive” for a period in Hip-Hop around Tha Carter III, Wayne has obviously set his sights on becoming a pop star. And with “How to Love” being his second highest chart entry on Billboard (#5),  already certified platinum, and being lauded as a “great, creative song” on this very site by a 65% vote, it appears Wayne is on the right track for his pop icon goals.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

R&B star Chris Brown had a dressing room-trashing tirade following an appearance today on Good Morning America.

Brown was on hand to promote his new album F.A.M.E., which is currently #1 on iTunes and has spawned three #1 hits. Robin Roberts centered her interview around Brown’s conviction for assaulting ex-girlfriend Rihanna two years ago. The subject made Brown very agitated, and he attempted several times to refocus the interview on his new album.

According to reports, Brown quickly left the set after the interview and destroyed his dressing room, punctuating the act by hurling a chair through a window.

On Twitter, Brown complained of his past misdeed being used to define him.

“I’m so over people bringing this past shit up!!!” Brown fumed. “Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for their bullshit! All my fans!!! This album is for you and only you!!! I’m so tired of everyone else!! Honestly!! I love team breezy!!”

More information will be posted as this story develops.


Temper, temper CB. Just when he starts making strides to get himself back to where he was a few years back, he shoots himself in the foot. Think about it. When confronted with a violent, shameful mistake from his past, he deals with it by becoming violent again.

I understand that he wants this to disappear. I can empathize to a degree with not wanting this issue to define the rest of his career. At the same time, he has to understand that viciously beating one of the most famous pop stars in music is going to resonate for some time. During that time, people are going to watch very closely how he carries it. And childish outbursts like this just gives more ammo for those who believe he’s truly learned nothing from the Rihanna ordeal.

Someone on Brown’s PR team needs to let him know that anytime he gets interviewed by a woman, the Rihanna issue is going to be mentioned for the foreseeable future. Domestic violence is something very dear to the fairer sex, and nearly all of them either have went through it personally, or know someone very close to them that’s experienced it. So aside from your music, they want to make sure this is not something still dwelling inside you. In a way, every time it’s mentioned it’s a great opportunity for Brown to reconnect and heal with the women that are still hurt by what he did.

Don’t be surprised if Breezy has another crying session on stage over this. This time, the specter of Michael Jackson won’t help him get over. Brown is still a very young man. When I look back on my early 20s there’s definitely an abundance of actions I’m not proud of. And luckily, my misdeeds did not have to play out in front of the entire world. But no matter the circumstances, you’re past never leaves you. It’ll be up to Chris Brown whether he lets the Rihanna mistake be a burden on his soul that breaks him, or an incident that strengthens his resolve and propels him to be a better man.



14 years ago today, I said “fuck Hip-Hop.” I was 15 years old, and I had just been woken up by my Mom, who told me it sounded on the radio like something bad had just happened to a prominent Hip-Hop artist. I was still entering complete consciousness when the host uttered the words “We would like to send our condolences to the family of the Notorious B.I.G….” Immediately, a wave of anger, disgust and shame overtook me. Not again. Pac and now B.I.G.?

My Mom looked at me with sympathy. Hip-Hop wasn’t her generation, but she connected with the spirit of the music through its use of samples. She had exposed me to my first Hip-Hop through her vinyl purchases of Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and the Fresh Prince. She liked Pac and Biggie, especially the former’s intellect, but couldn’t tolerate a lot of the misogyny prevalent on their albums. Even in her empathy, I could see some disconnect there. She had lived through the losses of musical giants like Hendrix, Gaye and others. But never from them killing each other out in the streets. This was not the Hip-Hop culture she had grown to love.

And was it still the Hip-Hop I loved? Originally, I had taken sides on regional grounds in the so-called “East-West” war.  I still loved Pac’s music, but felt he had “betrayed” his origins by turning into a Westside rider and going at so many East Coast rappers. I was a huge B.I.G. fan as well; Ready to Die was one of the soundtracks that symbolized my “innocence lost” and arduous journey from naive adolescent to psuedo-independent teenager. In school, classmates and I would debate who was “right” in the feud and which side would come out the winner. Ironically, we almost never looked at it as who would win a street fight despite the threats included in some of the rhymes. Our debates always focused on who was the better emcee and who would come out on top through the release of better albums. At our core, we still believed this to be entertainment and competition like the old battles.

Ismael AbduSalaam circa mid-90s

When Tupac died on September 13, 1996, it was a rainy day in northern New Jersey. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe that Pac, who always seemed larger than life, was dead. No blaze of glory ending like the movies. No martyr sacrifice like some history revisionists try to claim. For all his potential as a transformative figure, he died slowly, ebbing away in a hospital bed riddled with bullets over a petty gang dispute. I mourned him for that tragedy as did all of Hip-Hop.

Biggie’s death was different. My sadness for Pac was replaced by anger. I thought Pac’s death was the wake-up call and something like that would never happen again. And yet here we were just six months later reliving pain from the nonsensical death of a another young, gifted and black young man. I listened to Ice-T try to play mediator on Hot 97 and assure us that people on the West Coast were not celebrating this death, all the while hearing from other people over there that many felt Biggie “deserved it.” I listened to Grandmaster Flash, one of the architects of this culture, break down and sob on the phone over what he deemed was the loss of the soul of Hip-Hop culture.

Was this the culture I wanted to commit my life to? One that destroys its brightest talents over bullshit? None of us pulled the physical triggers that silenced the lives of Pac and Biggie, but I felt Hip-Hop culture as a whole, from the journalists to radio stations and down to the fans, kept a fire lit that made this happen. Even their music itself sounded different. The song themes and albums titles (Ready to Die, Life After Death) all sounded like a surreal, sick joke. Our culture was not a savior, but another yoke that allowed us to reinforce the stereotypes and oppressions our forefathers fought against. I had had enough.

My “fuck Hip-Hop” phase lasted less than a week. Who was I kidding? You don’t abandon something you truly love…you fight for it. I had to be honest that our culture had been hi-jacked by a bunch of self-perpetuated bullshit, and that was the first step to fixing things. Over that next year, a lot of things happened in Hip-Hop. A few classics dropped in Aquemini and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Black Star dropped an excellent debut. Canibus and LL had a good battle without the extracurricular nonsense. The South got newfound national attention on the back of No Limit. Diddy, then known as Puff Daddy, became a star. Well, about that last point, I never said everything that happened was positive.

Today Hip-Hop is still my mistress. She’s loved and hurt me. March 9, 1997 is one of the more painful memories. Yet, the love has endured since I can remember. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Ether is one of the best battle songs of all time..”

It’s the debate that’ll never die. 2011 marks 10 years since Nas and Jay-Z went at it in their legendary battle. Visit any message board today and you’ll find posters still arguing over which emcee won this contest, critiquing who has the better career/ personal life, and if the two all-time greats are still engaging in a cold war of sorts. The latest two to offer their opinions are NBA players, and Lakers teammates, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest.

Both players are from Queens, and grew up on Nas’s music. Artest acknowledges this connection and potential bias, but gives Nas the nod. However, he does state when viewing overall careers, Jay-Z came out ahead.

“From a business standpoint, career moves, and longevity, Jay-Z won,” Artest explains. “You look at it from that battle, Nas [delivered] a pretty strong death-blow. Nas won that battle.”

Odom has a similar opinion, praising “Ether” as a seminal diss record, and better than “Takeover.”

“It’s tough, but Ether is one of the best battle rap songs of all-time,” Odam says. “Even though Jay had an incredible career, but just the song, Nas might of got him.”

In November, Jay-Z visited the Juan Epstein show and discussed his personal opinion on “Ether” vs. “Takeover.” Both hosts, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds, believe “Takeover” to be the better record. Jay-Z agreed, concurring that Ron Brownz’s beat was one of “Ether’s” biggest weak points.

The Lakers defeated the Suns last night 99-95, and will face the Bobcats on Friday (January 7).


I think it’s safe to say this battle gets discussed more than any other in Hip-Hop history. It even eclipses Pac and Biggie debates since B.I.G. never released full-fledged, non-subliminal records back at Pac to make their beef an on-wax competition.

Regarding who won, I go with Nas. Too often, I see both sides try to belittle or downplay the impact of the other to make their points. Make no mistake, “Ether” and “Takeover” are both all-time great diss records. Jay had some sharp lines for Nas, and however subjective those lines about Nas’s album quality after Illmatic, he brought to the forefront an argument that had previously been confined to corners and barber shops. It was witty deconstruction so thorough that many claimed Nas’s career was literally over.

On Nas’s end, “Ether” refuted literally everything Jay said on “Takeover” line by line. He flipped Jay’s barbs, but upped the ante. So my flow was garbage on “Oochie Wally?” That wasn’t even my song, but Eminem “murdered you on your own shit.” Nas also brought a murmured fan discussion to the glaring forefront, and that was Jay’s liberal use of Biggie lines. For those who pay attention to lyrics, seemingly juvenile cracks like “Tae Bo hoe,” and lines about Jay’s appearance (“Where you abused as a child/ Scared to smile/ They called you ugly?”), are actually clever flips from Jay’s own rhymes on Blueprint’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Song Cry.”

The reason Jay-Z fell short with Nas is that he was the first one to “blink,” meaning the first emcee to drop a record that wasn’t great. “Takeover” was great, and then it was on Nas to come back equally as great, which he did with “Ether.” Then it was back on Jay, who dropped the “Supa Ugly” track. “Supa Ugly” was solid, but nowhere near the quality the battle had established with the disgustingly underrated “Stillmatic Freestyle,”  “Ether,” and “Takeover.” “Blueprint 2” came a little too late, despite being a very good diss outside of the goofy chorus. By then, popular opinion was firmly behind Nas, and he ended matters with perhaps the best lines of the entire battle.

“I was Scarface/ Jay was Manolo/ It hurt me when I had to kill him/ And his whole squad for dolo,” Nas boasted on “Last Real Nigga Alive.”

You know what the best thing is? That perhaps Hip-Hop’s greatest battle ended with the below picture instead of someone in the grave.