Click HERE for link to Trav’s 25 Backpack Picks
From my standpoint, the term “backpacker” has changed greatly over it’s first derived roots. Even the time period we are discussing, 94-2000, the term went from being term coined (at least this is who I give credit to) by Black Moon as describing the underground hardrock timbos with a Jansport on their back to almost a geeky, over zealous, tru-ist that despised anything they deemed not “real” hip hop by the time 2000 rolled around. Despite the labels, which I do usually avoid using, some of the gritty boom-bap/backpacker inspired hip hop is among my favorite the culture has to offer. Following up Diggidy Dart and E left me scrambling for tracks when a good chunk of my list was already given it’s proper exposure, but in true Trav form, I dig around for my favorites that probably only myself would ever think of including on such a list as mighty as this.
Found On: “Brooklyn Hard Rock”/”The Message”/”Spit Boxers” 12″ (Rawkus, 1999)
Pretty much anything found on Rawkus, Fondle ‘Em, and even Stones Throw in this time period will fit in the backpacker label. Myself, I first heard this disgustingly nasty track on the Soundbombing 2 compilation (the backpackers bible) and immediately was my favorite track from it. Thirstin has that ODB type of rawness to his voice and delivery, backed by his Lo-Life crew, it was just straight up rawness that hasn’t been duplicated too many times. The story of Thristin is one that is probably worthy of a post all on it’s own, but if dude never does nothing else, “Brooklyn Hard Rock” will always be a classic Jansport joint in my book.
Juggaknots - Troubleman
Found On: “The Juggaknots” EP (Fondle ‘Em, 1996)
While the more traditional head would probably include the “Clear Blue Skies” track and without doubt I wouldn’t argue that inclusion, my favorite joint from their Fondle ‘Em release is “Troubleman”. The Juggaknots might quite possibly be my favorite group of the “Independent” era and easily one of my top 15 favorite groups of all-times and it’s blaring ass production and deep boom kick drums such as those found on “Troubleman” that lead to that standing. Throw in the fact that Breezly Brewin is one of the most underrated emcees in the culture and this joint embodies all that is “backpack”.
Found On: “Whutcha Want”/”Redrum”/”Me, Myself, & My Microphone” (Profile, 1994)
One could argue, if they so desperately wanted to, that this is more boom-bap, or jeep music from Nine. Of course I’d say there are way too many fuckin’ labels as it is and for this discussion I’m going to include it in this list. “Whutcha Want” is easily one of my favorite hip hop songs of all-times with it’s symphonic string sample over hip hop drums that hit harder than a Mike Tyson jab in his prime. The very essence of mid 90′s underground hip hop.
Found On: “The Visulaz EP” (Fondle ‘Em, 1996)
I used to say the golden age of hip hop ended in 1996, and while I’d still say it started to decline that year, hip hop really started heading underground that year. Another dope Fondle ‘Em release, Siah & Yeshua, the title track to their The Visulaz EP release was just a jazzy laid back sax sample that was produced by the duo along with unknown Jon Adler (more can be read in the interview I did with Siah back in 2008). Both Siah & Yesh were a little more abstract and lyrical than your typical “yuck yuck” emcee of the time, and in some ways that was their downfall as I think they went over some cats heads. Still, this joint has always been a personal favorite.
Found On: “Music For Tu Madre” (Old Maid Entertainment, 1999)
If Zone happens to see “Candy Razors” on this list, he might snap on me, but Zone was the backpackers champion when he dropped his first two albums, Music For Tu Madre and A Bottle of Whup Ass. Of course then in typical Zone fashion, he did what he wanted to do, which alienated some of the more over zealous backpackers for the rest of his discography. Luckily for me, I like vulgar pimp shit just as much as I like Jansport jams, so it didn’t bother me. On “Candy Razors”, we actually don’t hear Zone spit any bars, instead he has Huggy Bear and unknowns Trip and Kobayashi (who form the group RisingSons) handle the mic duties while J-Zone hooks them up with one of his better early era J-Zone beats.
Found On: “Frankenstein’s Pain” b/w “Peace & Quiet” (Knowledge of Self)
In what was Frankenstein’s first release (known as Dr. Frankenstein on the single then), “Frankenstein’s Pain” was the hip hop world’s introduction to this north of the border producer who has always been one of my favorites. He might not be as well known to the masses, but listening to this single, you can hear the talent that Frank has behind the boards with the dark, melodic strings and keys swirling images that would fit right into a soundtrack for an updated version of a monster flick. Frankenstein also handles the mic duties, and while he won’t be confused with Rakim or even Eminem for that matter, his style was perfect for his sound. It was unfortunate the world wasn’t blessed with more Frankenstein goodness.
Found On: “Work The Angles”/”The Main Event”/”Triple Optics” (ABB, 1998)
While it wasn’t the groups first (officially) release, the “Third Degree” single holds that distinction, the “Work The Angles” twelve inch got them a lot of love on the underground west coast scene and on radio shows such as Sway & Tech and the Bakka Boys. It and it’s remix also appeared on at least ten different compilations from ’98-’01 and countless mixtapes. The Evidence based production incorporates scratches, a few guitar stabs and of course the back breaking drums (that is the background for a lot of these songs). Personally, this my introduction to Dilated and I was hooked.
Found On: “Chill Factor” b/w “Hypnotic Blessings” (Atlantic, 1996)
The Biskits were part of the great Atlantic fuck up of the mid 90′s as the label dropped the ball on many solid hip hop releases. The Virgina based group came on the scene with some bang with a b-side only, Lord Finesse produced “22 Years”. The followd up t single was “Chill Factor,” which is a classic summertime jam with it’s half sung hook that conjures up images of cruising around in a drop-top while heading to the park for a BBQ. Produced by fairly unknown Troy L, it supports the subject matter with a laid back beat. Even hip hop backpack kids need to chill from time to time….
Found On: “Crooklyn” 12″ (MCA, 1994)
Once again, you could argue this choice, but in 1994, “Crooklyn” was the epitome of backpack music. Plus anything that included Buckshot, Black Moon, or Duck Down in that time frame could be lumped into the backpack label. Of course, “Crooklyn” should be known by just about anyone reading this blog that is over the age of 14, and even those under that age should kick their parents in the shin for not letting them hear this jam sooner. Buckshot, Masta Ace, and Special Ed seemingly try to outdo each other on each of their verses, which makes this jam even stronger. There is nothing that I can say about the classic beat that hasn’t been said already.
Found: “Lyrical Fluctuation” 12″ (Beyond Real Recordings, 2000)
With a line up such as that, it’s a Rawkus fanboy and Backpackers wet dream. The Jigmastas were DJ Spinna (one of the more underrated producers in hip hop history) and Kyrm and of course were closely associated with the post Native Tongue themed Rawkus movement. The beat found on “Lyrical Fluctuation” is a bouncy type of underground beat with a wicked vocal sample type of backing. All the emcees come correct, but strangely enough, it’s Sahdeeq that takes the cake for me, with Pharoahe a close second.
Found On: “Genghis Khan” (Superegular Recordings, 2000)
As the turn of the century came around, there wasn’t a self proclaimed backpacker that didn’t have a copy of Jedi Mind Tricks Violent By Design rocking in their walkman/discman. Personally, I’ve never been the biggest JMT fan, but I can appreciate their place in the hip hop neighborhood. However, I did bang the shit out of “Genghis Khan” that leaked onto Napster, Audio Galaxy, or whatever file sharing service I was using back in those days. It’s apocalyptic soundscape brings images of Armageddon and 2012 all rolled into one.
Found On: “Jurassic 5 EP” (Rumble, Pickininny Recordings, 1997) (later as a maxi single, and re released on Interscope in ’99)
I can remember some cats loving the retro style of J5 back when they dropped in the late 90′s. Others were quite sure what they thought of it. Although they originally released their self-titled EP in ’97, if you weren’t out west, chances are you didn’t know who the Jurassic 5 was. But Rawkus to the rescue, as the label placed them, and the “Jayou” track on the Lyricist Lounge release, and soon they were known nation wide. The track is a blueprint of why cats would dig their old school style, with sung choruses, all the members rhyming over a simple, yet groovy flute laced beat. The group would soon be the darlings of any kid with a Hiero shirt out west.
Found On: Lyricist Lounge Vol 1 (Rawkus, 1998)
Speaking of the Lyricist Lounge compilation, here is another jam that came from that Backpacker inspired title. “Famous Last Words” was one of my favorite jams from that 1998 release from the Brooklyn Academy associated Word A’ Mouth. The group was made up of Block McCloud and Mr. Metaphor and besides a bootleg from 1999, there isn’t much else out there from them besides some appearances here and there. Lyrically, they were on some of that “straight from the sewer” type of flavor as a lot of their lyrics were shouted/screamed. The beat, produced by underrated William Tell, is a catchy guttural, bottom of the barrel type of sounds, basic but perfect for the rawness that “Famous Last Words” oozes.
Found On: “Beware of the Rampsack (remix) 12″ (Rowdy, 1994)
How can you not include a song that is basically warning people about his backpack? Okay, maybe not, but the chorus mentions his “…napsack raps and his funky fly tracks”, sounds like he is writing to the “early” pre-indie backpacker. Rampage of Busta Rhyme’s Flipmode Squad, dropped this early single for his never released The Red Oktoba LP on Rowdy. The original was just alright, but this heavy bass lined backed remix was well worth the “b-side wins again” label.
Found On: “My Vinyl Weighs A Ton” (Stones Throw, 1998)
My theory is a backpacker always liked compilation projects such as the Soundbombings, Lyricist Lounges, and this project, My Vinyl Weighs a Ton, from backpack champion label out west. Leading off that project (okay, track two) was a new comer at the time, Planet Asia. “In Your Area” was a short intro type of track, but it gave me goosebumps back then. It’s slow, plodding beat was perfect for a powerful emcee such as Planet Asia to really command the listener’s ear. It was unfortunate not to see these two work together more often.
Found On: “The Anthem”/”Lost Art”/”Likwit Fusion” (Stones Throw, 1998)
On their first single for Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stones Throw label, the Lootpack crew dropped a single that in some ways launched hip hop producer extraordinaire Madlib’s career. Yes, he had already done tracks for the Alkaholiks, and the group had dropped a single in ’96, it was on Stones Throw that both Madlib and Lootpack would really launch into the underground/hip hop stardom. The single, “The Anthem”, got some shine from the backpacker/underground crowd, and would lead into the debut that got love from everyone but The Source.
Found On: B-Boy Document ’99 12″ (Eastern Conference, 1999)
Eastern Conference is another label that blossomed during the independent (which I consider synonymous with the backpack movement) era, of course lead by The High & Mighty. DJ Mighty Mi laced up an incredible track that has a ton of energy behind, which it needed with two of the most lyrical emcees of the time, Mos Def & Mad Skillz, rhyming on it. Both emcees don’t disappoint as they drop a ton of one liners (“try rocking back and forth, it’d be easier to get your shit out….”). Even Eon, who seems to get more hate as an emcee than he deserved, does the electric beat proper. It truly lives up to it’s name….
Found On: “Sound Clash” b/w “5 Star Generals” (Rawkus, 1998)
Another familiar face in the backpack/indie era, Shabaam Sahdeeq was going to be the next lyrical messiah. While that never quite happen, he took four other up and comers (although Kwest had released an album in ’94) and turned them loose over another DJ Spinna banger. It was the white kid from Detroit that would go on to be come an (one could argue) lyrical behemoth, but in the late 90′s, I think it’s safe to say that Marshall Mathers releases could be found in a large share of Jansports at the time.
Found On: “Internet MC’s”/”The Flow”/”Sports Center” 12″ (Rawkus, 2000)
Akrobatik released a single that was truly ahead of it’s time in “Internet MC’s”. Released back in 2000, the chatroom emcee was still new breed. The whole new phenomenon drew the ire of Boston bred emcee Akrobatik as he let’s the anonymous screen name emcees know that they aren’t real artists. If it would have only stopped at that, but ten years later, it’s an accepted thing. Ak also produced the Rawkus released cut (I didn’t realize it was released on Rawkus until looking it up), but it’s more the words that need to be heard. The beat doesn’t distract from the message. It some ways, it was the very backpackers, who would become the next great netcee on yahoo chat, that would be checking out this single. Myself included…although I never did the netcee route.
Found On: “Mixtapes”/”Keep It On Yawl!”/”Eighty-Five” (Wild West Recordings, 1993)
I’m going to cheat on the release of “Mixtapes”, by The Nonce. Technically, it was independently released in ’93, but most of America (meaning the Yo! MTV Raps audience) didn’t hear it and The Nonce until Def American (later just American) signed them and released the single. The west coast duo of Sach & Yusef Afloat (RIP) dropped a hypnotic cut, both in the terms of beats, rhymes and chorus. If the subject of mixtapes isn’t backpacker worthy, I don’t know what is.
Found On: “Area Codes 1(212)” b/w “Lucky 7″ (Marcion, 2000)
Ace Lover has always been one of those independent cats that I’ve always followed as he dropped a couple great singles around the turn of the century. One such single was the “Area Codes” which was a simple piano laced beat over some snares hooked up by Phil Rust that just allowed Ace Lover to run rampant over the track, dropping punchline after punchline. Ace Lover was a young kid at this town, but his battle/punchline style was a favorite by cats packing the Krylon in the backpacks. For more about what Ace Lover is doing lately, you can read the WYDU interview.
Found On: Overcast! (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 1997)
Okay, so I’m blurring the lines of backpacker music and independent. This was before the whole emo rap thing started to surround Atmosphere, and like I said before, I find most labels rather dumb as it is. Anyhow, this got some bump around a few websites I used to hit up back in the day, mainly UGHH, SOHH and HipHopSite.com. Slug defines the young, angry rapper, but it wasn’t at just one thing, it was pretty much directed at everything. The Ant beat wasn’t overly complex, a few simple piano keys and some hard snares, it shows just how far Ant has come as a producer in the last 13 years.
Found On: “Danger” 12″ (Fader Records, 1995)
“Danger” is another track that you could argue was more of the boom-bap/golden age material, and I’d accecpt that argument. Armed with it’s humm-a-long sample, perfectly placed vocal samples, and it’s snapping drums, “Danger” is a hip hop classic that could get the b-boys/backpackers doing their thing with big ass headphones that looked like earmuffs. I know, I used to bump this song in my big ass sony headphones while walking my ass to college back in the day. DANGER!
Found On: “Widespread” b/w “The Chosen” (Fondle ‘Em, 2000)
Jakki has personally been one of my favorite emcees since I first heard this single back in 2000. Dude has punchlines for days, and his delivery is nearly flawless. Coupled with the brash attitude of Copywrite, there is more than enough attitude and one liners to offend pretty much everyone. I was surprised to see that Copywrite was credit for the tracks production as I was expecting RJD2. It’s a strong effort in itself, with a smooth keys that pitches fat curveballs for the duo to hit out of the park.
Found On: Night Life EP (Rufflife, 1999)
How did a group that contained Pacewon, Young Zee, Rah Digga (conflicting reports of if she was official or not, but I always took her as part of the group) and had honorary member Eminem, not blow the fuck up? The Outsidaz were eight deep, filled with some of the best battle rappers that “The Bricks” had to offer and they brought it on tracks like “Rush Ya Clique”, that also had the backpacker model of Eminem. The ferocious hook over a smooth yet rough beat let Em, Zee, Pace and the rest just rip muthafucka’s a straight new one. This track was my favorite from the EP. There was been rumors of my favorite group to never get their just due is working on new material.