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Reflections on the late rapper’s historic career, one-of-a-kind talent, and hilarious ‘Top Five’ cameo

Photo: Johnny Nunez/Getty Images

When I first heard “Get at Me Dog” in 1998, I thought, Def Jam is back.

The Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons-founded label, then home base to LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and the Beastie Boys, ran in the hip-hop wars. Yet it had been outpaced, first by West Coast gangsta rap, then by the luxurious lifestyle rhymes of Diddy’s Bad Boy and the rise of Southern juggernauts like No Limit. Akin to Cold Chillin’, Uptown, and Tommy Boy, Def Jam seemed ready to be another once-important New York rap music enterprise slated for irrelevance.

DMX’s aforementioned debut single sounded…


Earl Simmons channelled his pain into his art — and forever changed the world along the way

Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

The largest angels rarely live the longest. For centuries, intellects and clergymen from the Eastern Hemisphere have spoken on existence being dictated by purpose. It’s been said throughout a myriad of cultures that once a person has completed his or her education, as student and teacher, their time in human form expires. Wherever your spiritual philosophies lie, Earl “Dark Man X” Simmons being a gift not only to music, but, more importantly, to the society of music lovers should be universal comprehension. Yes, the present was DMX’s presence. Moreover, the gift was a sum of his God-given gifts. …


It’s time for a musical litmus test for enlightenment

Photo: Gems/Getty Images

After the most recent Verzuz event this past Sunday, I’ve come to a social determination: There can be no further race conversations with people who are not familiar with Earth, Wind & Fire’s catalog.

The Verzuz format is so simple that it’s collectively embarrassing that no one thought to put it into motion prior to the pandemic: Put two legendary musical acts in the same room and make them have cookout debates over whose catalog is better. Almost none of the acts bring competitive energy to the challenge, with most artists appropriately deferring to each other’s greatness throughout. …


Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s first Silk Sonic single is a dope soul throwback, but it’s not a savior

Bruno Mars of Silk Sonic performs during the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards broadcast on March 14, 2021. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Earlier this month, power duo Silk Sonic — a collaboration between Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak — dropped its first single, “Leave the Door Open.” Produced by Mars and D’Mile (written by Mars, .Paak, D’Mile, and Brody Brown), it is, I suppose, a hit. It is everywhere. Given how the music industry has moved the goalposts to count streams as a portion of sales, if it isn’t a hit, nothing is.

And, because the song taps into historical Black musical forms and Mars is attached to it, we all have to have an argument about it.

Part of what’s interesting…


‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ is the perfect reintroduction

Lil Nas X at the MTV Video Music Video Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on August 26, 2019. Photo: Efren Landaos/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

I watched the “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” video no less than five consecutive times when it dropped at midnight last Friday, March 26.

When I randomly couldn’t sleep at 6 a.m. later that morning (symptoms of surviving a pandemic), I rolled over and watched it some more. I won’t go over all of the dope little nuances and easter eggs Lil Nas X packed into three minutes and 10 seconds; Mikelle Street did, and you should go read about them. …


What you see in the artist’s latest is a function of what you bring to it

Still: Lil Nas X

The video for Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” may not shock everyone who encounters it, but I think it’s safe to say that it is shocking to most people who encounter it. I find this shock largely amusing, but then I’m a Prince fan who played Dungeons & Dragons in the ’80s. I’ve seen this kind of pearl-clutching before.

Everything about Lil Nas X is hilarious and his resting smirk face suggests even he thinks so. He knows what he’s doing with his music, and his videos, and his presence, and he doesn’t care that you…


Just Rankin’ Sh!t

Happy 30th birthday to the best thinly veiled music biopic of all time. All tiiiiime!

A black and white photo collage of the members of The Five Heartbeats.
A black and white photo collage of the members of The Five Heartbeats.
Photo Illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Getty Images

6. Terrence “Dresser” Williams

Dresser had a decent voice, but getting washed in a dance contest by an old man — in front of your homies, no less — isn’t the most promising indicator of solo stardom.

5. Anthony “Choirboy” Stone

It’s hard to find a name less sexy than Choirboy. Yet somehow, even when the whole band was bombing, he was the only member who ever got shit thrown at him while onstage. Doesn’t exactly scream “we want more.”

4. J.T. Matthews

J.T. had crazy pipes, heartthrob appeal, and was a total womanizer. Sounds like a solo breakout to us.

3. Flash

Eddie Kane Jr. put it plainly in one of the…


Music stars and activists alike have exploited Black death and protest imagery for profit

Lil Baby performs at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards on March 14, 2021. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

A James Baldwin quote plays. Two White male police officers confront and question a Black man sleeping in his car, quickly pinning him to the ground. The man (played by actor Kendrick Sampson) breaks free, flees, and is shot down. This recreation of the June 2020 killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police was all a setup for Lil Baby’s performance of his song “The Bigger Picture” at Sunday night’s Grammys — but it wasn’t the end of the theatrics. …


The Gary, Indiana, rapper’s story exemplifies the rise of a time that changed everything

Freddie Gibbs performs live at Santeria on November 5, 2019. Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images

I try not to put too much stock in award shows. Part of that is because of who decides the winners; part is because many of these shows depend on Black artists for ratings but don’t reward them for their work. The last Black woman to win a Grammy for Best Album was Lauryn Hill—more than 20 years ago. Last century.

That said, I found myself invested in this year’s Best Rap category for the Grammys, in large part because Freddie Gibbs’ album Alfredo was one of the nominees. …


Hip-hop’s always made room for contrast — so as the culture continues to veer toward profiteering, let’s celebrate the givers

Lavon, Kidd Creole, Rahiem and Mr. Broadway from Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five performs at the U.I.C. Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois in January 1985. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

In the introduction to Tricia Rose’s seminal book Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop — And Why It Matters, she laments that the national paranoia around the art form has robbed the culture of artistic validation — and worse, strengthened the conditions that fueled its urgency. “In this climate,” she writes, “young people have few … honest places to turn to for a meaningful appreciation and critique of the youth culture in which they are so invested. The attacks on black youth through hip hop maintain economic and social injustice.”

Unfortunately, not much…

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