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Hip Hop

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Just Rankin’ Sh!t

One of hip-hop’s greatest rivalries has yielded some yearned-for duets — most recently on DJ Khaled’s latest album. How do they all stack up?

Photo: Save As/Medium; Source: Getty Images

Despite solid, straightforward verses, this solemn Theater of the Mind deep cut is a bit ham-fisted — like pandering too hard to the kind of dudes who refused to acknowledge Soulja Boy as #realhiphop. Loosen up a little, fellas. Sheesh.

Years of anticipation and royal horns ripped straight from The Godfather: Part II made the perfect setup for this much-anticipated linkup between two former foes. But the hype of this 2006 Hip Hop Is Dead cut was impossible to meet — and the end result felt especially anticlimactic. (Plus, Juelz Santana and Mixtape Weezy did it better.)

Due to their…


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. …


Reflections on the rapper’s passing

Nipsey Hussle on a boat with his left hand raised. A still from his music video for “Victory Lap”
Nipsey Hussle on a boat with his left hand raised. A still from his music video for “Victory Lap”

“Don’t let the water in the boat,” Nipsey Hussle told me on February 22, 2018, six days after the release of his album Victory Lap. “The boat’ll never go down if you don’t let the water in the boat.” It was advice he shared with his daughter sometimes, wise words to hang onto when facing any kind of adversity.

“And that’s just water,” he said. “You know what I’m sayin’? That’s just rough seas. We got a destination. We tryin’ to get across the ocean to the other country, or to whatever land on the other side of this water…


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…


Their ‘thuggish ruggish’ doo-wop and rapid raps spoke to the turbulence of inner cities during the ’90s

Rappers Bizzy Bone, Layzie Bone, Krayzie Bone and Wish Bone of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony perform at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois in April 1995. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Recalling and recording the internal machinations you had when you were younger can make for beautiful essays. But other than a few key details, I don’t remember much about the first time I witnessed a drive-by.

I couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. My father walked my older brother and I from his car to my Grandma Idelle’s house, just a couple of homes away from the corner. She lived in the Ashburn-Gresham neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.

As we walked along the one-way street, an old-looking car came driving in the opposite direction…


The energy can’t be duplicated

“New Jack City.” Photo: Warner Bros.

New Jack City makes me feel nostalgic.

My partner and I watch — and, at times, laugh — while Wesley Snipes delivers his tragic, Shakespearean performance. While we watch, I am talking about Christopher Williams’ acting debut and singing “I’m Dreamin’” louder than our Bed-Stuy apartment’s walls can take. I’m talking the rising tide of the New Jack Swing era and how Teddy Riley’s production is the backdrop for the lives of 1980s babies. The 1990s were the landscape for my upbringing: how I lived, loved, talked, and ran the streets. …


The Detroit rap legend is the patron saint of White entitlement and violence

Eminem performing at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

I can’t talk about Eminem without bringing up his obsessed audience.

To use his word, they are Stans. No matter their background, Eminem fans elevate him as a rap god, resurrected on Earth to drop intricate rhyme patterns about rape and farts. Whether or not you believe his status is earned, an Eminem album mints platinum sales; colossal success is his brand.

Eminem dabbles in babble. His prattles skedaddle into cadaver palaver — even citing his work inspires devious wordplay. More precisely, Eminem’s catalog is full of omens of the downfall and inherent resistance forged by Whiteness in the 21st…


Welcome to Minority Report, a weekly newsletter from the LEVEL team that packs an entire week into a single email. From last-minute partner pick-me-ups to the week in racism, from pop-culture picks to a must-read LEVEL story, it’s everything you need and nothing you don’t. If you’re loving what you’re reading, tell a friend to tell a friend.

Valentine’s Day hits a little different this year. Sure, Cupid is still fluttering around with his crossbow, shooting unsuspecting romantics in their necks. …

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