Download Dart’s 25 “Backpack Bangers” HERE
Recently Complex posted up a list of 75 Tunnel bangers per one of it’s regular DJ’s Cipha Sounds. The Tunnel was a NY club that existed at a time where the underground and the mainstream could still interact with each other and the NYC underground Hip Hop scene was at it’s zenith. You could play street shit in this club & it would get a response like it was a club jam. That will never, ever happen again.
The real reason this post was created was because perusing the list of the 75 greatest Tunnel bangers there were at least 30 of those jawns that underground Hip Hop heads, later referred to as “backpackers” absolutely abhored. Don’t get me wrong, a fair amount of the Complex list brought back some great memories. The thing is a fair amount of the same list brought back memories of me playing a steady diet of Cannibal Ox, Rubberoom, K-Otix, Jigmastas, Five Deez, Cunninglynguists, Atmosphere & Athletic Mic League to combat the bullshit I heard on the radio.
Also, “backpackers” were oddly enough, largely perceived by mainstream fans as a collective of space rapping nerds & cornballs when in actuality we were the reason they instituted dress codes in clubs in the first place. To keep our rowdy asses out & help prevent violence. I always heard shit about how there were no underground street records, whenever someone said that I instantly knew they had no idea what they were talking about. In any event, here are my 25 picks out of hundreds of possible choices amongst my favorite backpack bangers of the Tunnel Era (1994-2000):
This track was so incredibly brilliant and ahead of it’s time that it got played regularly from 1994 until about 1997. It was years before I experienced another track from this era with that kind of longevity. It just kept grabbing new ears as time passed. Amazing record.
While the cover itself looked quite suspect the tracks “They Lied” & “Negro League Baseball” had mad heads open. I’ll never forget the feeling I had & look on my face when I first saw the black & white video for this track on BET’s Rap City back in the day. I remember being surprised that it made it on the network when in previous years they always supported indie Hip Hop videos. The producer credited as Run Run Shaw? That’s actually Jean Grae…
This jawn alongside “Lyrical Tactics” and “Shine” were often considered Natural Elements tracks but “Hemlock” seemed to capture the attention of heads the most even though “Lyrical Tactics” got picked for different compilations & mixtapes over it. I think it’s the horns. Easily one of the best 12″s of the entire era.
Lateef The Truth Speaker
The first time I heard this track it was like this track was made with cats like myself in mind. People that wanted to hear an emcee completely black out on a track for what went on like seemingly forever. Solesides was just getting started and I had no idea how big a role they’d play in this pivotal era of Hip Hop.
Imagine you just heard “The Wreckoning” and not too long after another dude from the same label blacks out over another frenetic beat but this time with a sing songy flow and a unique voice. Bar after bar, syllable after syllable was nothing but sheer brilliance. The next year Lateef & Lyrics Born would form Latryx and drop “Latryx: The Album”. That project alongside Company Flow’s “Funcrusher Plus” officially ushered in something I refer to as the Backpack Era (1997-2002).
“Blind” was and is one of my all time favorite Hip Hop tracks. Not just from this era, I mean of all time. I even loved the packaging so much I bought two copies. No hook, just the finishing line “If I had to walk this Earth without sight I’d be the illest blind bastard to ever touch a mic!”. El-P, Bigg Juss & Mr. Len were truly a force to be reckoned with. Independent as fuck, indeed.
It was the last song on this particular piece of vinyl and one of the first people think of when you ask them for an example of an emcee completely destroying a beat with his bars & flow. If anyone can pull this jawn off without incident at Hip Hop Karaoke they deserve a championship belt.
One of my favorite Cage songs and one of my overall favorite all time 12″s. People said his brain was infected by devils. It clearly was as it was the beginning of a string of excellent Cage material and his career would get a boost from an Eminem mention on “The Slim Shady LP”. Nowadays I see dude and I think to myself “Who is this? Cage?”
People sleep on this track so hard. Every so often I play it and I just look at people’s faces as it catches them. Not only was this track a banger but it was also one of those rare indie Hip Hop videos that got burn on BET’s Rap City. If you haven’t heard “Karma” lately then get thee to YouTube…
Natural Elements. Charlemagne. Dolo Records. Banger. I have their unreleased Tommy Boy album on a hard drive somewhere, I just need to ask my brother where. One of the greatest groups of this era hands down.
The previous Doom tracks were dope but they didn’t have the bounce or replay factor that “Go With The Flow” did. Even folks that weren’t really feeling the the initially Doom jawns all that much liked “Go With The Flow”. I remember hearing the Realplayer clip of this track on Sandbox Automatic before I bought it @ Biscuithead Records down the street from my house. I could’ve also copped it @ the Underground Hip Hop store which was also down the street from my house but closer. I miss that era…
I don’t need to tell you that this was not only an important track for Rawkus but it really established Mos Def & Talib Kweli as rising stars of this burgeoning underground Hip Hop movement. Around that same time, The Source ran an article addressing the growing division between mainstream and underground Hip Hop. It was listening to songs like this versus what was getting played on the radio that made it painfully obvious that things done changed.
Heads were already feeling Arsonists based off “The Session”, “Seed” & “Venom” but “Blaze” was the jawn that made it so cats were looking forward to a full Arsonists album. If you haven’t heard their classic debut “As The World Burns” then I feel sorry for your mothers. And your mother’s mother.
I first heard “I Don’t Know” on a tape of less than optimal quality back in 1998 from this kid from New Jersey. The next time I heard it was of a much better quality off of a friend’s Sony MiniDisc player. The third time was on “The World Famous Beat Junkies Vol. 2″ mixed by DJ Rhettmatic. After it appeared on that compilation it spread like wildfire for 2 years until Slum Village dropped the classic jawn on two separate pieces of vinyl and again when “Fantastic Vol. 2″ dropped. Every time I hear this song I think off people bugging out over it when they first heard it. I still love it.
Sir Menelik AKA Cyclops 4000 dropped a gang of my favorite Rawkus gems “Physical Jewels”, “Nightwork”, “So Intelligent”, “Game Time”, “Terror Works”, “7XL”, etc. but he bounced, changed his name & started Sun Large Communications. The first offering he dropped on Fat Beats was this 12″ pictured above. In all actuality I could’ve picked any of the songs on it but I’ll never forget that first listen as I dropped the needle (I had Gemini XL 500′s) on the record & got hit with that bassline & those vicious Godfather Don bars. Dayum!
Chicago’s Rubberoom were one of the most slept on crews of this era. They signed with Fiona Bloom’s 3-2-1 Records and were labelmates with former Co Flow member Bigg Juss (who was also a label A&R) and the recently reunited Ultramagnetic MC’s. I have the CD single & 12″ for “Sector Rush (Rebuilt)”/”Smoke”. I also have the CD “Architechnology”. Apparently I’m also one of the few that has all three as you can only find pics of the album online. Nasa of Uncommon Records & I talk about this album all the time. Hopefully it can get re-released as it’s long been out of print.
Out of the ashes of Mos Def’s first group Urban Thermo Dynamics emerged Medina Green. Most people thought that Mos Def was actually a member rather than just appearing on both tracks. At the time some heads though that Mos Def was a member of Reflection Eternal, Black Star AND Medina Green. How crazy is that? I believe this 12″ was reviewed in the last issue of “Ego Trip” as well. It was one of the biggest tracks on Rawkus’ hugely successful “Soundbombing 2″. Enough that heads that had “Soundbombing” were giving side eyes to the bandwagoners that played “SB2″ religously but never even heard ‘Soundbombing” before. Ruh roh! © Scooby Doo
Big L had a couple ill Fat Beats 12″s that did incredibly well through his own Flamboyant Entertainment label. The buzz reached far above the underground as D.I.T.C was getting ready to drop a crew album and Jay-Z was considering signing Big L to Roc A Fella. Unfortunately Big L passed before that could materialize and we have a brilliant posthumous album via Rawkus. Due to other unfortunate developments it looks like there won’t be any more Big L material released in the near future according to Lord Finesse. Damn shame.
This J. Rocc produced gem was the B side of the 12″ pictured above. The B side wins again. It was included on a few compilations as well as Visionaries excellent “Galleries” LP that dropped later on. I didn’t even realize they were a Christian Hip Hop group. I didn’t really care, either. The album was dope. You know I’m old cuz I write shit like “dope”.
MHz were one of the reasons Fondle ‘Em releases got copped for GP when you saw them at your local vinyl spot (back when they existed). I still have never recovered from missing the sense of community the indie Hip Hop scene had around this time. I’d be on the train & I’d see a dude with a Rawkus record bag or a girl with a Fondle ‘Em T shirt on the train. Back when Ecko was still Echo. I still can’t believe that Camu Tao is no longer with us. His posthumous release “King Of Hearts” drops on August 17th. Cop it.
One of the most aggressive B Boy tracks of the era. It wasn’t that long which meant it got put on repeat or extended on two turntables a lot. I even copped Stretch Armstrong’s “Lesson 2″ because I had serious trouble finding the vinyl for “Wildcat”/”Poisonous Youth”. It was always sold out on Sandbox and it was hard to get a hold of even though we had a gang of places to get it in Boston & Cambridge.
This was a landmark track. Necro on the boards. Non Phixion spitting some of the most off the wall bars over a disgusting beat. Some of the best cover art I’d seen on an indie 12″ plus one of the most ridiculous hooks I’d ever heard on a jawn up until then. Non Phixion was also a highly influential group from that era. I still remember when they signed with Matador alongside Arsonists and when they requested a release from that deal. The wait for “The Future Is Now” felt like forever.
When Common dropped “1-9-9-9″/”Like They Used To Say” on Rawkus the buzz was he was pissed off with MCA for not fighting for him to keep his name Common Sense. He was also mad @ MCA for a gang of other unrelated reasons involving his friends The Roots, J Dilla (The Soulquarians/Ummah). Heads thought he was gonna sign with Rawkus, instead he stayed with MCA and Rawkus started feeling themselves too much & they went downhill. Also, they got sued by a bunch of their artists because they weren’t paying them.
Back in 1999 this group called Black Star dropped this album that was supposed to singlehandedly save Hip Hop. I was confused because I didn’t think it needed any saving myself. The album dropped and it was ill. Some even considered it a classic. Hip Hop continued to live on afterwards. It still exists to this very day even though people claim it still needs saving. Hip Hop STAYS in trouble. You’d think Hip Hop was Sookie Stackhouse or some shit! Or even worse…Bella Swan.
Screwball was from Queensbridge. They were on Hydra Entertainment. Hydra Entertainment ended up hooked up with Tommy Boy and Screwball dropped the classic “Y2K The Album”. DJ Premier laced them with some heat for “F.A.Y.B.A.N.”. I could’ve gone with essentially ever other Screwball single as well. If you somehow missed the whole string of Screwball 12″s then it’s unfortunate you were born when you were because you missed out on all of the good shit (this is what all old people say, it’s a vicious cycle. I bet they even said it during slavery times).
Next Up: Eric & Travis’ 25 selections for Bloggerhouse presents 75 Backpack Bangers