For as punishing as this pandemic has been for many in the hip-hop world (Stay up, Scarface! R.I.P. Fred the Godson!) there have been a few bright spots in the past 2 months of terror. Fans have had to trade attending live shows for creeping Instagram performances, but that level of intimacy has brought the hardcores closer to an artform that has — for some time now — taken a boom bap backseat to the trap, club craziness.
But, under the quarantine!?! True school/old school hip-hop fans have Returned to the 36 Chambers, embraced the Questlove and got D-Nice with it, and finally found their Moment of Truth: hip-hop, as we know it, is a most hypnotic, head-nodding, addicting, and cherished element we never knew we needed again (aw, yeah, again and again!). Better protect ya neck. I mean, in the past 6 weeks my place has sounded like a lethal combo of BET Rap City, Yo! MTV Raps, & underground hip-hop college radio all wrapped in one. 🤣 With that, I wanted to blog about the…
Top 5 Hip-Hop Moments Under Quarantine:
1. DJ PREMIER vs. RZA – Oh, this one was easy. April 11th will forever be a night hip-hop fans will never forget: King Kong vs. Godzilla.. two of the best producers ever to bless our eardrums went straight Marvel Team-Up to bring us the most bangin’ beats we ever heard. Once again! Whether you were gunnin’ to support the revered Gang Starr producer or stayin’ Forever on the side of the Wu wizard, it was the night hip-hop won…
Sure, hypebeasts and disc jockeys chose their sides, went on to analyze and dissect the selects, yadda yadda.. you know, all that cuckoo shit. But in the end, the winners were us, hip-hop fans who never thought they’d see these two pioneers.. no.. cancel that.. music GODS, share their most lethal, legendary tracks, the stories behind them, and a hidden gem or two (i.e. unreleased joints from Scarface and Joey Bada$$ !).
The Verzuz event also seemed to revitalize RZA, the legendary mind behind the Wu-Tang Clan who’s spent most of his time with Hollywood, writing, directing and even acting in a slew of projects (The Man With The Iron Fists, Californication, Afro Samurai, Wu-Tang: An American Saga). Despite his distance from “the game”, on that night Bobby Digital came off like an excited kid who got to meet his favorite baseball player for the first time, while Premo couldn’t help but drop jaw at their many timeless exchanges. It was lovely.
Major props to Swizz Beatz (and Timbaland) for pushing the idea solely for the culture and setting this series up for more potential Verzuz battles (Havoc vs. Alchemist? Pete Rock vs. Large Professor? Dr. Dre vs. Diddy? Yes, yes, and.. hmm.. maybe not). Also, a week ago, DJ Premier helped us honor the 10-year passing of Guru, with a 2-hour tribute to his longtime hip-hop partner in crime. Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal will always be “One of the Best Yet” and this set reminded us never to forget.
2. QUESTLOVE’S #QuestosWreckaStow / D-NICE’S #ClubQuarantine – I didn’t want to praise the longtime producer/drummer/writer of The Roots without first acknowledging DJ D-Nice (yes, that D-Nice.. “Call Me D-Nice”!) — who really set it off on Instagram with his nightly DJing sessions. #ClubQuarantine blew the fuck up.. giving folks plenty of reason to get busy in isolation to many R&B/Hip-Hop club classics. His vision also opened the door to many other DJ’s spinning live sessions from their own cribs, such 9th Wonder and DJ Jazzy Jeff. And this just in…
**NEWSFLASH** Tonight, Derrick Jones is taking his talents to cable with Club MTV Presents #DanceTogether with D-Nice — a one-night only live event on MTV/VH1/MTV2 at 10pm EST, with guests like LL Cool J, Common and Fat Joe. Dope!
That all said, Questlove has been my DJ of choice under the quarantine. Why, what, when, where, how?
A.) Questlove uses YouTube (as well as Instagram and Twitch/etc.), allowing heads to enjoy his sessions in landscape format with the best sound possible. Cause, let’s face it: bumping music off IG just hasn’t been the best– as we saw/heard with RZA and Teddy Riley from their respective battles…
B.) The Okayplayer co-creator has had a clear-cut vision for most of his set-lists, and his 2-day tribute to legendary A Tribe Called Quest emcee/producer Q-Tip was absolutely incredible; Quest also spun a night of awesome Beastie Boys tracks and samples (more on them in a bit), and four days of Prince on the third year anniversary of his death, among dedications.
C.) You can peep Quest doin’ his thing every day or night on this channel.
D.) Amir’s living room looks like a quaint indoor patio set turned intimate nightclub lounge, complete with fireplace, fluorescent lights and you can even catch his homie/roommate sketching some artwork in the upper right corner.
E.) Best of all? Every session comes with live commentary — maybe even too much, he even jokes — but I’ve loved the fuck out of every history lesson from one of the most educated minds in music. It’s clear that Questlove knows what the fuck he knows and it’s been a blessing to get “behind the music”, discover the origins behind many of Tribe and the Beastie’s samples, and a few hysterical BTS stories Amir has been nice enough to share. We can’t thank you enough for all of this, Quest.
3. TAKE IT PERSONAL RADIO – Before I talk up the absolute best hip-hop podcast on the planet — yes, whoa! — let’s get a little, ahem, personal. In the past few years, in the little time I’ve had to consume hip-hop (having opted for pro wrestling and video game podcasts over music on work commutes), I’ve been chasing. Oh yeah, I’ve still been a nerd about hip-hop, logging all the albums I’ve listened to for the year, putting an asterisk next to the ones that stood out for friends and future reference, sharing all of the current true school news from Okayplayer, HipHopDX, Ambrosia For Heads, etc.
But I was BEHIND! Like, a half-year to a year behind. I wouldn’t touch a new album without gutting through my backlog. It wasn’t easy, man. Soon enough, I cut out a few of the wrasslin’ podcasts to make time for music, got a new laptop last November that allowed me to listen to music 24/7 on my lap without it sounding like ass or burning my knees, and quickly got closer.. but I was still months behind the music. Enter the quarantine and playing a few 100+ hour JRPG’s on mute, and your homeboy quickly caught up. Now I’m beyond caught up.
Talk about timing. Now I can spend my day, the whole fucking day (because where the fuck else am I gonna go?), listening to throwback joints, music of yesteryear, the classics, and the Premo/RZA battle and live sessions with Questlove certainly inspired to do so. What now? I made playlists on MusicBee: all the best joints of 2020, and full discogs for my current favorite producer The Alchemist and Griselda, spent 4-hours watching every Redman YouTube video on his 50th birthday, and — best of all — discovered Take It Personal Radio. Thanks to Will Smith (yeah, not The Fresh Prince.. ‘notha dude), I was put onto pure hip-hop bliss with an absolutely astonishing 6-hour Tribute to MF DOOM…
The episode was sooooo great I decided to.. listen to all 63 episodes. OK, so right now I’m only on Episode 10 (part 2 of their DJ Premier Tribute), but let me tell you, again, that this is the BEST hip-hop show I’ve heard since the classic Funkmaster Flex/DJ Clue and legendary Stretch and Bobbito sessions. No joke. of course your mileage will vary. They don’t focus on what’s “hot” or what’s trending. This isn’t NYC radio, i.e. Hot 97, Sway, et al, which are dope too, especially when they have great guests, but don’t always focus on the music, nor is Philaflava’s joint as deep or as eclectic — or as British — as the incredible jump-offs from Tim Westwood and Benji B.
Take It Personal podcast is just a trio of normal ass dudes (DJ 360 and co-hosts Philaflava and Kevlar) who love this shit as much as you and me — the Golden Era/True School/Boom-Bap classics, rare gems, remixes — with a focus on dope, legendary artists, and insightful commentary. Best of all? It’s 95% music. There are dedications to Philly Hip-Hop; a heated Nas vs. Jay-Z tribute; they chat up their own Hip-Hop “Mount Rushmore’s”; and there are multiple artist interviews and dedications to the South, the Underground and plenty of other surprises. Essentially, this is the radio show I would have if I wasn’t lazy and was an actual DJ.
I’ve been wanting something like this in my life in forever. Don’t sleep, listen here.
4. BEASTIE BOYS STORY – This is a must-watch for any hip-hop fan. Period. I always knew the Beasties were legends, pioneers to the rap game, for sure, and I was a fan, albeit never a massive one. But, I never really knew the genius of MCA (Adam Yauch) and just how influential Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) and Mike D (Michael Diamond) were to so many artists in multiple musical genres. Until now. Questlove definitely helped set off that ill communication in his 4-hour dedication set prior to me peepin’ this, too…
The doc, set in live theater speak with Horovitz and Diamond, tells a fascinating story of a group still fascinated by their own story. Like, “Wow! We did that”? Through video clips and old photos, an energetic Ad-Rock and Mike D brighten up a live audience through the spirit of MCA’s legend, are plenty humorous and aren’t afraid to hold back utter controversies (Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, and an original female member they set aside) without making their deal too “woe is me”.
Of course, the music flat-out rules, and the multiple comeback threads are just the best. Directed by longtime Beastie Buddy Spike Jonze (Three Kings, Her, and the “Sabotage” video), you can watch the true Story on Apple Plus. 4/5 Hello Nasty’s.
5. PRAY FOR PARIS / A WRITTEN TESTIMONY / 3.15.20 / ALL MY HEROES ARE DEAD – BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM! Westside Gunn beats COVID-19! The Griselda emcee crosses over to the mainstream without changing his sound! Jay Electronica finally releases an album on Rocafella! And it’s pretty much a Jay-Z Electronica album! Childish Gambino drops a surprise album! He sounds like Prince– in a good way! R.A. The Rugged Man drops arguable front-runner for Album of the Year! I love hip-hop!
***BONUS*** 6. ESOTERIC “STIR CRAZY” – The best song about the quarantine yet! Peep the video below…
Honorable Mentions: discovering NPR‘s wonderful Tiny Desk Concerts, chillin’ to producer Blockhead‘s amazing Hip-Hop Blockhead Loves 10-hour Spotify playlist (listen here!), and bumpin’ DJ Critical Hype‘s fresh-to-def blend tapes (listen here!).
Check out to the best hip-hop tunes, music and news at the #GeekSwag Facebook Group and join the conversation. Stay safe, y’all. Wash them hands.