February 3, 2004

KRS-One hosts annual Boston MC Battle
By Canyon Cody
Originally published in The Heights

As 2,000 hip-hop fans waited for the Sixth Annual Superbowl MC Battle to begin, a circle opened up in the middle of the crowd. To everyone's surprise, the cipher wasn't started by local freestlyers or break-dancers, but the legendary KRS-One.

"We want to take it back to where it all started," KRS yelled. "With b-boys showing their skills in the cipher."

The scene was entirely different from last year's battle at The Middle East. Fans in the crowd said that last year's battle felt gritty and underground, whereas this year radio station Jam'n 94.5 advertised the event heavily. The inclusion of KRS-One guaranteed a huge showing.

The increased advertising clearly affected the appearance of the battle. Sponsored by MetroConcepts, Digizaar.com, Scion, and Vitamin Water, the stage was filled with advertisements for products. The contestants did not comment about whether the pink bottles of vitamin-enriched water helped their performance.

Many people complained that the battle felt corporate and that the organizers sold out by betraying the foundations of what an emcee battle should be.

Nevertheless, the increased exposure brought a more diverse crowd. KRS-One celebrated hip-hop's ability to bring people from different backgrounds together when a young white girl wearing Abercrombie & Fitch started break dancing on stage alongside an Asian man wearing Triple Five Soul.

"This is hip-hop, right here!" KRS-One said. "We got people here of every race, every social class, every gender."

The increased sponsorship also allowed the grand prize to be raised, from last year's $1,000 to $5,000 this year. Instead of giving the winner his prize in cash, as usually occurs in a battle, the winner was handed a big check, like he'd just won Ed McMahon's Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.

The annual Boston battle pits 16 contestants from around the country against each other in alternating one minute, one-on-one freestyles. Last year's winner, local rapper Jake the Snake, competed again, but lost before the finals.

The finals showcased Diabolic from Long Island, and Rhymefest from Indianapolis. To the disproval of much of the crowd, the celebrity panel, which included local rapper Akrobatik, awarded Diabolic the win.

Despite quite a few talented contestants, the highlight of the battle was still KRS-One's half-time show. The former Boogie Down Productions emcee performed most of his classics, like "South Bronx" and "My Philosophy," and some of his new songs such as "Let's Go."

Most of the contestants seemed to be in awe of KRS and referenced his presence and influence on hip-hop repeatedly in their lyrics. Other popular topics included Kobe Bryant's rape case, local rapper Benzino, and the New England Patriots.

The battle is known as the Superbowl Battle because it used to take place on Superbowl Sunday, yet it was changed three years ago when the Patriots were in the big game. Past contestants include Jin, Sage Francis, C Rayz Walz, and Mr. Lif, all of whom were unsigned hype at the time and have moved on to successful careers at major underground hip-hop labels.

"Rap is something you do. Hip-hop is something you live"
MixTape Friday: Game Recognize Game
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

Thank God '80s music sucked so bad. Future b-boys were so disgusted by the songs on the radio that they went searching for music in their pop's record collection. What they found was a treasure chest of soul that would supply hip-hop with samples for years to come. After pillaging Motown and sucking dry every last funky riff from the trinity of James Brown, Al Greene, and George Clinton, producers have been forced to dig deeper in those crates of LPs for that perfect sample.


Mtume "Juicy Fruit" Juicy Fruit
Rappers capitalize on the musical public's poor memory. Songs that were over-played radio hits just 10 years prior are now all but forgotten, allowing hip-hop to remix, repackage, and resell old goods. Notorious BIG's classic "Juicy," the first single off Biggie's classic debut Ready To Die, was produced by beat maestro Pete Rock using considerable portions of Mtume's 1985 song "Juicy Fruit." Pete Rock took the light beat and rerecorded the hook with a chorus of women rather than paying Mtume for her vocal sample.

Michael McDonald "I Keep Forgetin" If That's What It Takes
Warren G's "Regulators" keeps the simple, minimalist melody from McDonald's 1982 love song, but changes the former Doobie Brother and Steely Dan background singer's sad, wimpy lyrics from "I keep forgettin' we're not in love anymore/ I keep forgettin' things will never be the same again" to "I got a car full of girls and it's going real swell/ The next stop is the Eastside Motel."

Freddie Scott "(You)Got What I Need" Cry To Me
Listening to Scott's beautiful voice sing his 1968 hit doesn't sound right. Biz Markie has the best horrible voice in hip-hop and his laughably bad singing on "Just A Friend" from The Diabolical Biz Markie is one of the best songs for drunk karaoke. His croon is endearingly off-tune, perfectly matching his cartoon personality with a ridiculous voice.

It was a sad day in hip-hop when Biz Markie sanctioned an R&B remix by teeny-bopper Mario. When given the choice between Freddie Scott and Biz Markie, Pepsi decided to use the Biz in their Super Bowl commercial. Like he said, nobody beats the Biz.


David McCallum "The Edge" Music: A Bit More Of Me
How Dr. Dre ever came across David McCallum's music escapes me. McCallum is an obscure British actor who dabbled in some orchestral writing in the 1960s, producing mostly crappy lounge music, but "The Edge" is his masterpiece. It opens with a bang (the same bang that opens Dre's "Next Episode"), but whimpers off with a light melody. Dre threw some heavy bass on top of McCallum's, to give it the meat you hear on 2001. Ever-thrifty, Dr. Dre usually prefers to rerecord the entire sample in his studio, turning it into an "interpolation" rather than a sample. This allows him to pay only the writer of the song, and not the performer.

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway "Be Real Black For Me"
No duet since Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong has produced such beautiful, soulful music as Roberta and Donny. From the pathos of "I (Who Have Nothing)" to the lush melody of "When Love Has Grown," the duet's only album was nearly perfect. Scarface looped the short piano intro to "Be Real Black For Me" for his song "On My Block" from The Fix, one of the most under-appreciated hip-hop albums of the last five years.

William Bell "I Forgot To Be Your Lover" Bound To Happen
This is one of the most over-sampled guitar licks in hip-hop. From Ludacris' "Growing Pains" to Dilated Peoples' "Worst Comes To Worst," the electric guitar melody and accompanying chorus of violins beg to be sampled.
Does the N-word stand for Never?
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

"I hate niggers."

The president of the University of Alabama's NAACP had to scrub those words off the organization's office just three weeks ago, proving that racism is still a very real part of America today.

"I love niggas! I love niggas, cuz niggas are me!" A group of white teenagers sing these words along with 50 Cent's rap from "Realest Niggas," proving that racism in America is a more complicated issue than it has ever been.

In the OJ Simpson case, prosecuting attorney Christopher Darden argued that the N-word, as he referred to it, is the "filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language."

It is one of the very last truly taboo words in the contemporary culture. Most major newspapers refuse to publish the word, even when reporting legitimate news issues, preferring instead to write "n-," unless the word is in a direct quotation. Uttering its two syllables can cause severe ramifications, even if the speaker does not intend to be racist.

In fact, problems can arise even if the speaker is denouncing racism, as happened to a white employee at the University of Virginia, who was recently criticized by the school's president for a comment he made to coworkers regarding the name of the Washington Redskins. He said, "It is as derogatory to Indians as having a team called Niggers would be to blacks."

In a similar situation, David Howard, the white director of a Washington DC municipal agency, was forced to resign after he warned his staff that he would have to be "niggardly" with funds. An uproar followed that resulted in Howard's resignation, despite the fact that "niggardly" has no etymological relation to the racial epithet.

Experiences like these have taught white America that the N-word stands for "Never." Among many African-Americans, on the other hand, the word has become part of everyday conversation as a result of its proliferation in hip-hop.

In 1940, Langston Hughes wrote, "The word nigger to colored people of high and low degree is like a red rag to a bull. Used rightly or wrongly, ironically or seriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, or impishly for the sake of comedy, it doesn't matter."

To an extent, in 2003, this was no longer true. When Chris Rock can joke, "I love black people, but I hate niggers," and win an Emmy for his performance, clearly things have changed.

In the top-selling album of 2003, Get Rich or Die Tryin', 50 Cent raps "nigga" 131 times.

Though most hip-hop albums are recorded by black artists, the majority are purchased by white teenagers.

Ice Cube said, "When we call each other 'nigga,' it means no harm. But if a white person uses it, it's something different, it's a racist word." Many disagree with what they view as a racist double standard that allows some people to use the word, while prohibiting others.

In an interview with The Heights, John Kanka, news editor for The Observer, said, "You really shouldn't have some people use it and other people not use it because how are these kids supposed to figure out who is allowed to say it, and who is not allowed.

"If something is okay for some people to say, then it seems like it should be okay for everyone else to say," he said.

Justin McLean, president of the Boston College chapter of the NAACP, refuses to recognize this as a legitimate argument and feels that it is nothing more than an excuse to ignore the real issue of racism in America.

"The right-wing argues that the battle for equality is over and that since we're all equal now, then it's unfair that whites can't say nigga," McLean said.

"What they are actually doing is simply hiding behind the mask of equality and perpetuating false notions of victimization, rather than coming out with their true intention, which is to further their own notions of white privilege."

McLean said that he hears the word used at Boston College on a daily basis among blacks, a trend that Donald Brown, director of BC AHANA Student Programs, disparages.

Brown said, "For me, and for everyone else that grew up during the '60's, the word 'nigga' will never be a term of endearment, because when I heard 'nigger,' there was usually a cross burning somewhere nearby."

Brown disagrees with the distinction that many rappers make based on the spelling of the N-word, as articulated by 2Pac: "Niggers was the ones on the rope hanging out on the field. Niggas is the ones with gold ropes hanging out at clubs."

In fact, many in the hip-hop community argue that the definition of the N-word has evolved for the better as a result.

Rapper Mos Def says, "It's an act of empowerment. When we call each other 'nigga,' we take a word that has been historically used by whites to degrade and oppress us, a word that has so many negative connotations, and turn it into something beautiful, something we can call our own"

Last year, Harvard professor Randall Kennedy's book Nigger explored the tragic history and enduring legacy of racism in American as embodied by six letters.

He wrote, "I think we should take comfort from the idea that a word that has miserable, terrible, hurtful roots can be appropriated by folks and made into something entirely different, including an anti-racist word, including a term of endearment."

"There is much to be gained by allowing people of all backgrounds to yank nigger away from white supremacists to subvert its ugliest denotation, and to convert the N-word from a negative into a positive appellation," he continued.

When Dr. Dre calls Eminem his "nigga" in "What's The Difference" it demonstrates the difficulty of defining such an ambiguous word.

As a result, much of the difficulty of dealing with the N-word comes from its protean quality: historically the word means too many things and yet in much of hip-hop it means nothing at all.

Kennedy concludes his book by asking, "Can a relationship between a black person and a white one be such that the white person should properly feel authorized, at least within the confines of that relationship, to use the N-word? For me the answer is yes."

As for now, most leaders in the black community disagree. Burnell E. Holland III, president of BC AHANA Leadership Council, states simply: "There's no way that a white person can ever say 'nigga' and not offend a black person, no matter what his intention is. There is just too much painful history in that word."