Reasun and Proseed have just released a new 2-track single titled Less is Raw. Both joints are from their ongoing project Surface Level Freestyles. A big thanks to B. Isaac for the production and mixing on Reasun’s edition, “Figure it Out”. You can support the single (pay what you want) thru the duo’s Bandcamp page. To accompany the songs, creative videos interspersed with clips of live performances were created. Watch the playlist below:
My latest single, “Freestyle No. 2”, is officially released. If you’ve been keeping up with the Surface Level Freestyles project, you may have heard it, but it was limited to Soundcloud. As of December 1st, the track is available for streaming and download at all major outlets:
Download from Bandcamp includes bonus sheet music for the instrumental.
Friend of the crew Mao!Lik was recently interviewed about his current musical projects, and the end result is a collection of short videos with the help of emcees, including Ill Advanced, as well as b-ball and cans of Brisk.
When I was a kid, around 14-15, I was in my parents basement in the summer trying to bench press a measly 50 lbs when a new video came on BET. I never put the weight locks on, so when I heard what I considered trash at the time, one arm gave in, tilting the bar to the right as a 25 lb weight slid off and ran into the wall. My mother screamed down from the kitchen, “Derek, what was that?” I was appalled. It was the official video for what became a breakout hit, “Ha,” by the rapper Juvenile.
I was used to a different kind of MC. I was tuned into the type that was influenced by the likes of Rakim and Kool G Rap. I was used to the powerful delivery of KRS-One, the cadence of O.C., or the smooth and monotone voice of Guru. Juvenile’s sound was foreign to my ears.
A kid who had grown up on the Golden Era of hip hop, creative wordplay and thought provoking lyrics over boom bap beats, I thought Juvenile couldn’t rap. How wrong I was, thinking back now. Here I am in my late 30s and I can the hear the influences of the blues in his music.
Watching The Howlin’ Wolf Story recently, a documentary about the great blues musician, then shortly thereafter hearing “Ha” by Juvenile got me thinking about how connected their music really is.
Howlin’ Wolf was born in Mississippi during the terrifying Nadir Period when thousands of Black Americans were lynched by racist mobs decades before the Civil Rights Era. In adulthood, he moved to Chicago. On the other hand, Juvenile is a Cash Money Millionaires rapper from New Orleans. On the surface, there appears a picture showing two different experiences, but if you look a little closer, you’ll find hues and colors that make those experiences share much in common.
To hear Howlin’ Wolf (aka Chester Burnett) tell it in The Howlin Wolf Story (2003), directed by Don McGlynn,
“…I’m gonna tell you what the blues is: when you aint got no money, you got the blues. When you aint got no money to pay your house rent, you still got the blues. A lot of people’s hollerin’ about “I don’t like no blues cuz when you aint got no money and can’t pay your house rent and cant buy you no food, you damn sure got the blues. If you aint got no money, you got the blues, ‘cause you’re thinking evil.”
On “Ha”, Juvenile’s lyricism meets the Wolf’s definition. He’s “thinking evil” as he raps in second person.
“You full of that diesel, ha,
You duckin’ them people, ha
Your face was on the news last night, ha
You the one that robbed them little dudes out they shoes last night, ha”
But on the hook, he evolves from one of the traditions of blues music, that of expressing one’s grief, howlin’ about having the blues, to not letting the factors that lead to the blues, hold you back:
“You a paper chaser, you got your block on fire
Remaining a G until the moment you expire
You know what it is, you make nothin’ out of somethin’
You handle your biz and don’t be cryin’ and sufferin'”
In much the same way that Howlin’ Wolf explains what it means to have the blues, Juvenile’s “Ha” speaks to the same mood. “When you aint got no money, you got the blues” says Howlin’ Wolf, while Juvenile raps “you gotta go to court, ha”.
On Howlin’ Wolf’s track “Back Door Man,” Howlin’ is talking about sleeping with another man’s woman and sneaking out in the morning.
“When everybody’s tryin’ to sleep
I’m somewhere making my midnight creep
Yeah, in the morning the rooster crow
Something tell me I got to go
I am a back door man”
– “Back Door Man” by Howlin’ Wolf, written by Willie Dixon
The story shares a lot in common with the kind of sleeping around that Juvenile talks about in “Ha”.
“That’s you with that badass Benz, ha
That’s you that can’t keep your old lady ’cause you keep [expletive] her friends, ha” – “Ha” by Juvenile
Juvenile’s personal life reflects the soul of the blues, a musical genre rooted in the hearts, minds and spirits of the descendants of African slaves. He’s had legal troubles, and personal tragedies, including the murder of his 4-year old daughter. Though I’ve never listened to much of his catalog, my research into this connection has piqued my interest.
I can remember in the wake of Hurricane Katrina catching his video for “Get Ya Hustle On” (2006). The video opens with the message: “This is a tribute to those who died in the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. The storm may have passed, but for thousands, the struggle is just beginning.”
It goes on to spotlight a neighborhood where homes were destroyed and cars turned over, where crosses adorned with framed pictures cover makeshift grave sites like the scene of fatal accidents, while face masks of President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Mayor of New Orleans at the time, Ray Nagin, are worn by young Black kids. As one of the boys turns a mask over to put it on, the words “Help is Coming” are printed on the inside. As history shows, for many, help never came, or at best, came too late. The attitude and point of the song is: no one is going to save you. Your federal government failed you. It always will. Get your hustle on.
“Your mayor ain’t your friend, he’s the enemy
Just to get your vote, a saint is what he pretend to be “
“Everybody need a check from FEMA
So he can go and sco’ him some co-ca-llina
Get money! And I ain’t gotta ball in the Beemer
Man I’m tryin to live, I lost it all in Katrina (damn)”
“[Expletive] Fox News, I don’t listen to y’all ass
Couldn’t get a nigga off the roof with a star pass
Talkin’ y’all comfortable right now to your own land
Till a nigga catch ya down bad, starvin’ and want cash”
The song and video reminds me of the award winning documentary that I only recently watched this past February in honor of Black History Month, Trouble the Water (2008).
The documentary centers around Kimberly Rivers Roberts–and her husband–who filmed herself the day before the storm, as well as the morning that it hits. She’s eventually forced to the attic of her home. She continues to film after the storm and flooding recedes as she looks for her neighbors in the Ninth Ward, all of them vulnerable, including a man, who appears to be an addict, that she spotted asleep on the steps of a porch the day before the storm and had woken up to warn about the hurricane. Though she and her husband survive the storm, their neighborhood was never the same, and they eventually relocate, attempting to get help from FEMA.
Roughly 80% of the city was flooded after the levees broke. At least 1,800 people died. The way the poor, much of them Black Americans, were left without a means of evacuating or immediate help from the government, is reminiscent of the aftermath of the end of the Freedmen’s Bureau near the end of Reconstruction in 1872, a national tragedy regretted by W.E.B. Du Bois in his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, for both its obvious neglect and its costly mismanagement, the same type of criticism that FEMA and the George W. Bush Administration rightfully received.
Juvenile’s hip-hop may not be the sample-based, east coast hip-hop that I grew up on, but his poetry and the root of his music is just as relevant and poignant, and its relationship to the soul and simplicity of the blues, as well as the historical experience and present reality of Black Americans cannot be overstated. Now you’re gonna give it a listen, ha.
Reasun just released a new EP, Garden of Gravel. As usual, the emcee comes forward with sharp lyrics and dope production. Production is handled by multiple talented producers, including, but not limited to, B. Isaac, C. Scott and Jamajama (“El Cruce”). Support it on Bandcamp today!
Live musical performances are slowly returning, but the absence for the better part of two years has resulted in a new demand for intimate, in-studio performances. DFRNTFRM and I (Proseed) have both recently recorded a few live tracks in our own studios: “The Marvelous Mic” and “There Goes the Sun,” respectively. Enjoy the playlist below!
If you’ve been keeping up with our social media, you’ve probably heard about the project Reasun and myself are working on. It’s an artistic endeavor entirely composed of off the top freestyles over simple production; nothing overproduced, neither the rhymes, vocals or beats. I personally like the vulnerability of the approach. To start, we are releasing individual tracks every Friday on our respective Soundcloud pages (Reasun’s SC, Proseed’s SC). Alternatively, you can check out the Surface Level Records Soundcloud page to hear both in one location. The first edition of this volume, 1.01, is available for your listening pleasure now:
Check back every Friday for a new edition. Eventually we’ll get together on a few of them and then compile the best into an official release to be made available on Bandcamp and all major & minor digital outlets. Be sure to take a look at our Events section for this project and other upcoming releases.
Muamin Collective has been active in the Cleveland hip-hop scene for the better part of two decades. I’ve been blessed to know them and share the stage a few times, and was invited out to perform in Cleveland once at a cool, intimate venue known as the Grog Shop (Cleveland Heights).
Previously a duo that included MC Josiah “Zion” Quarles and Aaron “aLiVe” Snorton, the group has expanded to include producer and singer James “Jungle” Quarles.
Here’s a performance for the Applause Performances series broadcasted on Cleveland’s PBS station and the radio station 90.3 WCPN.
KRS-ONE is a household name in the world of hip hop, a larger than life pioneer from hip-hop’s Golden Era dating back to the 1980s, and there are plenty of articles centered around his most influential and important songs, both as a solo artist and as the emcee for BDP, some of which include “MCs Act Like They Don’t Know” (1995), “My Philosophy” (1988), “Step Into a World” (1997) and, of course, the breakout track “The Bridge is Over” (1987).
This article focuses on another aspect of KRS ONE’s music and lyricism. As an educator myself, I think his lyrics should be studied in English courses in American schools. In his nearly 40-year career as “The Teacher”, KRS-ONE has released several tracks that utilize repetition, a writing strategy or literary device that students already learn about, but with KRS’ street and universal knowledge, his artistic contributions make repetition in writing and poetry all the more relevant and likely much more interesting and attractive to the youth of America. While I’m in no way saying dump the classics, I am suggesting teachers bring the work of a modern poet into the classroom and I guarantee it will allow students to see classic literature and centuries-old poetry in a new light.
I’m thinkin’ real hard about some money I can hold
But everybody I know is deep in the hole
A steady payin’ job is too hard for me to hold
I call around for work but they puttin’ me on hold
But in my hand a shiny .45 is what I hold
I make a mayonnaise sandwich out of some whole-
Wheat, I’m feelin’ weak, I can’t hold
I gotta rob somebody tonight and take the whole
Bank roll, some cash I gotta hold
At the bottom of my shoe is a little bitty hole
That’s it, my mental sanity I can’t hold
I’m walkin’ to the store with this pistol that I hold…
Above is the first verse from the track “Hold” which appeared on the eponymous album, KRS-ONE (1995), and for those who know the album well, more specifically the cassette tape, it was the last track on Side A. Obviously, repetition is found at the end of each line which alternates between “hold” and “hole”, and the poet emphasizes the similarity in the words as he raps. As the song goes on, the listener gets the sense that the character in the story is desperate and as KRS put it, “your addiction to your needs and your wants is what causes problems in your life. Make sure you got what you need. Put at a safe distance all the things that you want. It’s wants that get you into trouble.”
Among the most inspiring KRS-ONE songs from the viewpoint of this emcee is none other than, well, “The MC,” from his certified gold album, I Got Next (1997). In much the same way that legendary drum solos like John Bonham’s (Led Zeppelin) on “Moby Dick” have inspired scores of teenagers to take up drumming, if you heard “The MC” in the late 90s and it didn’t make you want to be an emcee, nothing would. At a time when commercialization of hip hop had grown to the point that it was the prevailing approach in the mainstream, the artist reminded listeners of the role of a real emcee:
When the jam is slow and you need a proceeder
Who am I? THE MC
When you need a lyrical leader wit’ oratorical triple features
Who am I? THE MC
When you need to rock your 3000-seat arena, best believe, uh
Who am I? THE MC
When you need to get the word on the street wit’ demeanor
Who am I? THE MC
When I was in college, KRS dropped The Mix Tape (2002) to hold people over until the release of the Kristyles album. The short album opens with “Ova Here,” the track he put out amidst his brief feud with the popular rapper Nelly, but on “The Message 2002,” KRS offers his usual positive encouragement to live a life of wisdom and righteousness.
Right from the hook, KRS begins with…
Crack – don’t mess with that
Speed – don’t mess with that
It’s whack – don’t mess with that
Greed – don’t mess with that
Knowledge – yeah, mess with that
God – yeah, mess with that
College – yeah, mess with that
A job – yeah, mess with that
Then on to his first verse….
I rhyme for respect y’all, intellect y’all
Not sex y’all, move that neck y’all, correct y’all
Checks y’all, cash y’all, don’t last y’all
With cops y’all to blast y’all, harass y’all
On “What Else Happened” from Kristyles (2003), KRS tells a story that’s both humorous, as well as a warning to impressionable females to watch out for players and to not play themselves.
There once was a dreamer named Peter (what else happened?)
Peter was also known as Skeeter (what else happened?)
Peter had sex with Anita (what else happened?)
Anita got pregnant from Peter (what else happened?)
Peter wasn’t just with Anita (what else happened?)
Peter knew this girl named Rita (what else happened?)
Peter had sex with Rita (what else happened?)
Rita got pregnant from Peter (what else happened?)
Now TWO girls are pregnant by Peter (what else happened?)
But Rita doesn’t know of Anita (what else happened?)
And Anita, doesn’t know Rita (what else happened?)
The two of them, only know Peter (what else happened?)
Now Peter’s at the mall with Anita (what else happened?)
You know, he runs into Rita (what else happened?)
Well Rita takes a look at Anita (what else happened?)
And Anita takes a good look at Rita (what else happened?)
Well Rita starts to pull out the heater (what else happened?)
The heater now is pointed at Peter (what else happened?)
Anita jumps right on Rita (what else happened?)
Rita busts shots at Anita (what else happened?)
Rita missed Anita by meters (what else happened?)
But Rita’s bustin’ shots at Peter! (What else happened?)
Just then somebody shook Peter (what else happened?)
Yo how many spoons of the dairy creamer? (What else happened?)
It’s Keisha sayin’ WAKE UP PETER (what else happened?)
That’s why they call you the dreamer (Now that’s happenin’!)
One track later on Kristyles, KRS-ONE takes listeners on a journey through the opposite roles that people play in the world through the song “Somebody”. In a way it feels like a message to play the cards you’re dealt, even though it’s coming from a man whose main motivation appears to be to inspire others to improve their station in life.
Somebody gotta be lost
Somebody gotta be found
Somebody gotta be in the economy making the money go round
Somebody gotta be the president
Somebody gotta get down
Somebody gotta be hesitant
Somebody gotta be relevant
Somebody gotta be celibate
Somebody gotta be having their sex in a lex for the hell of it
Somebody gotta be intelligent
Somebody gotta be illiterate
Somebody gotta go all the way
Somebody gotta go a little bit
Somebody got to be an idiot
Somebody gotta be belligerent
Somebody gotta be hip hop
Cause somebody else is living it
Somebody gotta be spitting it
Somebody gotta be ignorant
Somebody gotta be holy
But somebody gotta have sin in it
Somebody gotta be losing it
Somebody gotta be winning it
Somebody gotta be flippin’ the style I’m kicking just a little bit
On “Me Man” from Keep Right (2004), KRS raps like he’s having an honest and intimate conversation with a lost soul about his role and place in a changing industry. He follows his own path, and he’s still got something to teach.
You told me man, you need me man
Who the teacher me man, who gon’ lead you me man
Who gon’ free you me man, well not mostly me man
But come up close to me man, make a toast with me man
I’m not starvin’ me man, I be feedin’ me man
You won’t be seein’ me man, cause I be bookin’ me man
Them lights be cookin’ me man, while people look at me man
They sing the hooks with me man, yo read this book with me man
How these rappers slash actors wanna fuck with me man
When we be up inside the spot they be duckin’ me man
I be movin’ me man, showin’ and provin’ me man
My wife is soothin’ me man, yo’ life is new to me man
Fast forward 16 years and the man born Lawrence Parker has not lost a step. Remarkably, on his 22nd album, Between Da Protests (2020), Kris hits us with the track “Black, Black, Black.”
The real Underground Railroad
The first subway for Black, Black, Black!
The freedom train begins with your brain
Get it on track, track, track!
Whether justice or injustice
How do you react-act-act?
Can you stand there laughing
While they shoot us in the back, back, back?
This is what some rappers sound like
Every time they rap, rap, rap!
I’m raising up the red and the green
And the black, black, black!
Even with no cops in the hood
We still hear “click-click, clack-clack-clack”!
I cannot forget my ancestors
Just because I rap, rap, rap!
Look at me from top to bottom,
KRS is Black, Black, Black!
KRS-ONE is the quintessential artist, poet and for me, inarguably the purest emcee. In the past, he’s been criticized for what some would label contradictory and controversial messages, but he’s been in the public light for nearly four decades, and what I get from his presence is honesty, growth, evolution and a positive spirit. He’s walked with the torch of hip hop the entire time, and spread an inclusive message throughout the world without shutting the door on anyone. That’s just one more reason to add to the list of a host of others as to why English classes throughout the nation should open the door to the poetry of KRS-ONE.