“Through the looking glass / Robert Mugabe watches Bob Marley perform ‘Zimbabwe’ / Feelin out of body / Fresh out the bush still see the bodies / Pompeii / History Will Absolve Me / Probably”
-billy woods, “Cuito Cuanavale”
Greetings once again from the couch, where I’ll never stop being impressed by dope, intelligent lyricists.
We talk about the same G.O.A.T. rappers so much like there isn’t a whole goddamn farm’s worth of rappers worth discussing. There are so many incredible talents who, for one reason or another, will never be as popular as Jigga or K Dot or Marshall or whomever. And that’s fine. We don’t need a world where everyone wins the same game. But whenever I hear billy woods spit, I feel a tiny rage brewing in my belly, a fire stoked by the injustice that there are people all over this country that haven’t even heard of him. More often than not, those who aren’t wise to the Backwoodz Studioz vibe tend to be some of the loudest and most despotic voices in the G.O.A.T. convo, declaring Eminem’s “greatness” without having heard an emcee who operates on a higher plane of existence. Anyway, listen to more billy woods.
This newsletter marks the ninth installment of Irregular Vegetables, a weekly series of CABBAGES’ emails where I share links to recent writings from other hip-hop/rap journos and critics, squeezing in my own work as I see fit. These midweek editions hit inboxes every Thursday as we all self-quarantine and try to protect the most vulnerable among us from COVID-19. Enjoy this week’s reads and be sure to scroll down to check out a bonus Lettuce Wraps Q&A with rapper Duncecap.
Uptown, a term New Yorkers use for Harlem, was a brand built on the glamorous life. From the days of the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Metropolis in Manhattan had represented upward mobility, Black artistry, and Black entrepreneurship. Harrell’s mission was to establish a modern-day oasis of Black excellence. If Def Jam catered to the streets, Harrell saw Uptown as a lifestyle brand that promoted the high-life of partying, champagne popping and being fly. He offered his motif of sophisticated Blackness to the masses and the results were legendary. (Read more at Okayplayer)
Oakland’s hip-hop scene was never going to rival that of New York or L.A., but at least, as Davey D puts it, the Bay didn’t have “a second-city complex”—the fear of not measuring up to New York, like Chicago or Philly did. Oakland rappers didn’t feel beholden to New York to bestow validation upon them. Take Too Short, for example: “He’s not trying to ingratiate himself with New Yorkers,” Davey D says. “They booed him at his album party in New York. But what Short knows, what people later found out, is that everywhere else around the country, they loved it,” particularly in the South. (Read more at The Ringer)
Rap isn’t always complicated, but do you know what is? Rappers. As a whole, the entire entertainment industry is complicated. The business is built upon a sensational foundation, one that sells scripted fantasies as real stories. In that regard, rap is akin to reality television. Rappers remove the script. You never know who is acting. You never know if the gun is real. (Read more at DJ Booth)
While a Beyoncé remix would be a career milestone for any artist – and Savage duly caused a sensation when it was released last week – Megan Thee Stallion fans knew it would be especially meaningful to the Houston native who has spoken nonstop of Queen B as an inspiration. Megan Pete grew up in the South Park area of Houston, Texas, not too far from the Third Ward where Beyoncé was raised. (Read more at The Guardian)
His personality shone through most impressively on ‘Supreme Clientele,’ his 2000 treatise in rap linguistics. Ghost fought off hip-hop’s universal “everyone’s saying the same things” criticism as literally as he could, interweaving words and phrases that no one before or after had even fathomed. Supreme Clientele is a warm, technicolor universe of crime tales and surreal fragments like “Duncan Hines monument cakes,” “Swing the John McEnroe, rap rock’n’roll,” and “Starks with the Parcheesi face, measly paced, old face Ghostface,” that form his distinctive mosaic of a bygone New York. (Read more at Uproxx)
“Basically, I found out I had anxiety in 2015. I really didn’t know where it came from or how to deal with it. So, at first, it was kind of like a bunch of panic attacks, heart palpitations and just those uncomfortable feelings. I’ve always been a person that likes figuring things out. So, as the year progressed, I went to a new college and I just decided, it was time for me to try to figure out what’s going on and how to, if not defeat it fully, then how to cope with it.” (Read more at Revolt)
Their new mixtape still feels beyond explanation. It’s hard to imagine it existing in a world less dystopian than the one we’re in now. The title implies a meeting of the minds and a marrying of their styles, yet this is a clear mismatch. Brown, while still commercially viable, has been slumping creatively. Thug is at the height of his success and near the peak of his powers. To work with Brown, Thug must sacrifice a ton of what makes him special and engaging. Why go from ‘So Much Fun’ to so little? (Read more at Pitchfork)
The video, shot in the titular Colombian city, features a notable co-star: Roberto Escobar, self-professed former "accountant" of the Medellín Cartel and older brother of the cartel's founder, the infamous Pablo Escobar. So you know Complex had to get on the phone with Killa Cam to find out how it happened. Shot in Roberto's house and in Pablo's former home (now a museum) the clip shows Cam moving around the city, surrounded by enthusiastic locals. Surprisingly, the video came together easily. "Roberto had been trying to get with rappers for a while, and it just happened," Cam explains. (Read more at Complex)
In late 2019, the rapper Billy Dean Thomas hosted a late-night party at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts called Hip Hop & Haute Couture. The event—a celebration of “queer fashion and hip-hop, DJs and rappers,” brought 4,000 hip-hop fans together at a venue better known for its vast collection of Monets than for its pop culture savvy. The event served as a validation that the city that birthed Gang Starr and New Edition was now home to a thriving new hip-hop scene, one that could hold court in one of the city’s premiere cultural institutions. (Read more at Bandcamp)
“It’s still in the music though, it’s an immediate reference cos I know a lot of The Bible, a LOT. It’s also one of the greatest books ever written, if you remove the religiosity from it. You don’t have to believe, but there are some amazing fucking stories in that book, with super ill language, and I’m just drawn to how things are presented in that way. I like the idea of parables, I think that’s a really slick way to teach, you know? I can’t get away from it, but I’ve gotten away from it, if that makes sense?” (Read more at Grown Up Rap)
Deep in the dungeon of a 19th century Troubadour mansion, beneath ruddy spires and ancient floorboards, Hook is standing on a plastic table delivering her gothic gospel. 20 bodies tornado into each other like Beyblades as she exhales the contents of past relationships and present anxieties. The raps spill from her gut and out of the speakers like sheets of magma. One day, Hook will pack out venues much bigger and better than this one. But tonight’s circumstances may never be replicated. (Read more at Passion Of The Weiss)
Nav has learned a lot over the past few years, both from his successes and his failures. Having seen his fair share of both, including a Billboard 200 debut at No. 1 for his ‘Bad Habits’ LP, the Canadian rapper/producer knew he had to plan ahead for his next effort. “I started working on my album this time as if it was due six months ago,” he says. “I was working hard every night in the studio. I just didn't want to be that kid who didn't do his homework and everybody else did.” (Read more at Forbes)
Three questions. Three answers. That's a wrap.
Photo courtesy of Shauna Cowit
NJ-born and presently NYC-based, Duncecap has been making moves in the local rap underground for a minute now. Affiliated with the Queens-based Karma Kids alongside talents like Googie and Samurai Banana, he struck out on his own with solo projects like 2017’s self-produced Rapping Is For Idiots. Coming mere months after the funereal miserable then for Backwoodz Studioz, the recently released Genuinely Sad Songs continues the rapper’s dark and introspective streak.
Who were the rappers that inspired you to start rapping?
Funny enough, the Fresh Prince was probably the first rapper I got into. My mom is pretty religious and when I was growing up she would monitor what I listened to pretty strictly. He made the cut because he didn't really curse and had that family friendly type of air to him. I think his influence is mostly on my persona on tracks and conceptual writing. I wouldn't go as far to say I wanted to rap because of him but maybe it helped me see what a rapper could also be. Also, I was writing poetry and songs around middle school time. One day, I distinctly remember what I was writing was 16 bars and I was rapping it in my head. I was holding a guitar like, time to learn how to make some beats I guess. That was the moment I decided to write hip-hop songs instead. It clicked in my head and made more sense to me.
Bonus fact: the first song I recorded ever was empathizing with aliens over the “Ghostwriter” beat by RJD2.
Over the past six months, you’ve released two rather moody projects. Why this recent pivot towards such thematic gloom and away from the relatively lighter fare of Rapping Is For Idiots?
It wasn't so much a cognizant thing that I decided to do as much as how things happened naturally. I've been writing songs since I was in school and a lot of that material was introspective and emotional. It was just not very mature, and you would have to have known me in high school to have that context haha. So to me, these two projects aren't really out of left field that much. It's really just a matter of having an audience and enough releases that people can get a feel for my range as a writer.
That being said, I like making music about my emotions because there's a lot of hip hop that won't touch that. People have reached out about how my music has helped them through a rough spot and that's some of the best feedback I could ask for and part of the reason I enjoy releasing it. I think it's also interesting in a sad clown type of way—and gives some contrast to my character. That wasn't a decision though; that's just me.
The material on your latest EP Genuinely Sad Songs was originally recorded back in 2014-2015. What kept it from coming out before now?
I wish the answer wasn't as lame as it is, but I was self-conscious. Genuinely Sad Songs was written before miserable then and so it was the first emotionally candid and melancholy type shit I had made as an adult. The people who were there when I was working on it had all told me it was good, but I let my insecurities take over and kept it under wraps for years. When ELUCID and I released miserable then, people were into it and it eased some of my self-criticisms about Genuinely Sad Songs. I revisited it and figured now is as good a time as any to release it. I'm proud of it so I'm happy it's finally out there.
I got a couple projects completed that I'm looking to release later this year with some help. I'm excited for those honestly because there's more slappers on the way. It's a bit odd sometimes promoting a project where I candidly talk about being depressed, so this will be a nice change in pace and more familiar. One of the said projects is self-produced and in the same universe as Rapping is for Idiots. The other is produced by my friend Hajino and has a more lo-fi aesthetic.
See you on Sunday.