Yesterday I published the first of a large collection of mixtapes, NY Connection Perfection. I compiled this first tape myself so I figured I would give some background on the records I chose to include in this 90 minute sound journey.
First of all, the tape dates back to around 1997 (I think?) which was a really strong period for rap music. The revolutionary rhymes of the Wu-Tang Clan had re-energised everyone; Nas (followed closely by Mobb Deep) had established Queensbridge as a stronghold for raw lyrical talent; and young producers like Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs or Jermaine Dupri were proving to be incredibly successful entrepreneurs. Besides these success stories, Hip Hop culture was also at a major crux in it’s exponential growth. As the late-great Notorious BIG sang on his posthumous ‘Life After Death’ album, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems”, rappers were being torn between making club hits with mass appeal, and keeping it real with lyrical content for the underground – A fine line only a few managed to manoeuvre with success. The Roots were held in high regard for their ability to spit conscientious lyrics and master their instruments making for great live shows, whilst Jay-Z released a velvet flow with mature lyrical content about the life of a hustler in his debut album ‘Reasonable Doubt’.
Sadly, business and egos got in the way of rap music making a successful run for global recognition as a respected art form when two of it’s brightest stars, Tupac Shakur and Christopher ‘Biggie Smalls’ Wallace were fatally shot dead within 6 months of one another over so-called beef between the East and West Coasts claiming supremacy over all of hip hop. After 9th March 1997, rap music split in two. On the one hand you had those who focused on the crossover into the mainstream with catchy club tunes, on the other hand you had the purists digging deeper for inspiration both musically and lyrically.
Looking at the tracklist for NY Connection Perfection, a few things jump out: i) Lots of Queensbridge emcees, and ii) Lots of remixes. First of all, as mentioned earlier, Nas and Mobb Deep were holding things down in the streets of New York and repping their ends on mixtapes. If it wasn’t Nas, Prodigy or Havoc lacing a track with poisonous penmanship, it was one of their cohorts (Tragedy Khadafi, Capone and Noreage, Cormega, Big Noyd etc…) defending the honour of the Bridge. Rumour has it, when the Los Angeles Death Row crew rolled into town for a music awards ceremony, the QBC sent an impressive and intimidating welcome committee uptown armed to the gills. Needless to say, the Californian visitors didn’t hang around for long. The war of words came to a head when the Dogg Pound released ‘New York, New York’ as a direct insult towards their East Coast enemies. Mobb Deep and CNN didn’t miss a beat by firing back ‘LA, LA’ which blew their offenders straight out of the water.
Secondly, the remix has always been a feature on rap 12 inches and albums alike but it wasn’t until Puff Daddy stepped into the studio that reworking a great song into something even better became a real asset to a rapper’s body of work. The album had it’s underground anthem, but a skilled producer could flip a different beat on there and add some extra vocals to send the record straight past the velvet rope and onto the dance floors of every nightclub from the Tunnel to the House of Blues. Back in the streets, underground DJs always had to drop something exclusive on their 90 minute Maxell tapes if they wanted to sell more units than the previous month. Rare test pressing remixes and freestyles were the gold dust that gave their tapes that shine. The Rainy Dayz remix featuring Raekwon and Ghostface Killah is still one of my favourite B-sides ever released during that era.