Friday, January 21, 2011

Underground Emcees of the Midwest

In the mid 1990s, many pundits within the music business felt hip-hop had reached its best successes yet.  With success stories like 2Pac Shakur and Christopher "Biggie Smalls" Wallace, as well as Biggie's producer Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, it was hard to disagree.  No longer widely considered by the public to be a musical genre for teenagers and troublemakers, rap began to reach a continually growing audience.  From college dorms to car radios, and from basketball courts to dinner tables, rap was now chic.  However,  this success could never survive.  Everything came crashing down in September 1996.

Fueled by the feud between rap megastars Tupac Shakur, with his record label Death Row Records, and The Notorious B.I.G., as well as his label Bad Boy Records, the world of hip-hop suffered a tragedy on September 13th 1996.  After attending a Mike Tyson boxing match at the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas, NV, Shakur suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and lower body from a drive-by shooter.  While he was rushed to a local hospital following the incident, Shakur surrendered to his wounds and died from complications of cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.  

Still recovering from the passing of 2Pac, music fans discovered on March 9, 1997 that Biggie Smalls had died.  In an eerily similar drive-by shooting, The Notorious B.I.G. was killed in Los Angeles no more than six months after Shakur.  2Pac and Biggie will always be connected.  Whether it was their feuding, platinum successes, rivalry or raw lyrical talents on the microphone, the legacy both men left behind is significant.  

As martyrs within their respective communities, 2Pac in Los Angeles and throughout the West Coast, and Biggie within New York and the rest of the East Coast, residents of each region began to draw allegiances to one artist and animosity toward the other.  This left a palpable rift across the nation.  Still today, many listeners feel that the only talented emcees come from our nation's coasts.  This notion is erroneous.  While the list of talented emcees, artists, lyrical poets and DJs from Los Angeles and New York is seemingly endless, equally impressive (and perhaps more inventive) rappers abound elsewhere.

This brings me to the crux of today's column.  New York and L.A. have long dominated the rap world. Even cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington D.C. and Houston have made tangible contributions to rap history. 

However, small music markets tend to suffer and rappers oozing with talent tend to go unappreciated. While there certainly are faithful following within the underground music community, plenty of thrillingly skilled emcees still have yet to be discovered.

So, as I intend to do throughout this blog, here is a list of rap artists who have small groups of faithful listeners.  You've also probably never heard of them before.  Specifically, these artists are all from, or work and produce their music within, the Midwest. 

1. Slug of Atmosphere

Born Sean Daley, this Minneapolis Minnesota native is best know for his work along side his friend and partner Anthony Davis.  Davis (aka Ant) produces and makes beats while Slug serves as the front man of the group.  Together they make up Atmosphere. He is also the co-founder of Rhymesayers Entertainment, a rap label started in Minneapolis in 1995.  Other artists on the Rhymesayer label include Brother Ali, Grieves, Freeway, Eyedea, Blueprint, Budo, Toki Wright, Jake One and others.

Here are some of Atmosphere's most famous songs:

"Shoulda Known" from "When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Sh*t Gold"

"You" from "When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Sh*t Gold"

"The Best Day" from "To All My Friends"

2. Brother Ali

Named Jason Newman at birth, "Brother Ali" grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.  However, throughout his childhood and into his teenage years, Newman moved throughout the Midwest.  Finally landing in the Twin Cities for high school, Brother Ali has emerged as one of the premiere emcees of the Midwest region.  He is also a practicing muslim and recently completed a lengthy pilgrimage to Mecca.  Newman was born with a rare form of albinism -something he still deals with today.

Here is some of his best, and most controversial (in the case of "Uncle Sam Goddamn"), work:

"Us" from his most recent album "Us"

"Forrest Whitaker" from "Shadows on the Sun"

"Uncle Sam Goddamn" from "The Undisputed Truth"

3. Hi-Tek

Longtime partner, friend and collaborator with Brooklyn-based emcee Talib Kweli, Hi-Tek was born in Cincinnatti, OH.  His given name is Tony Cottrell. Perhaps best know for his work with Kweli as the production half of the duo's group "Reflection Eternal," he also worked along side The Game, Snoop Dogg, G-Unit, Common and Black Star.  Though he generally can be found on the production side of the music business, he has been know to drop a verse or two.

"Just Begun" off of the "Revolutions per Minute" album

"The Blast" from "Train of Thought"

"Strangers (Paranoid)" from "Revolutions per Minute" 

Other relatively unknown notable rappers from the Midwest include: Grieves, The Crest, Heiruspecs and The CunninLynguists.  

Note: This will not be the last I mention, blog about or promote these artists.

1 comment:

  1. not much of a list, you sure didn't dig too far underground :) Midwest:

    One Be Lo (One Man Army)
    Elemint B. Fresh
    C Rayz Wallz
    and many more...