I was always one of those dudes that came “fashionably” late to the party and usually I was already three sheets to the wind. Keeping up tradition, I’m arriving a little late to our backpack jams gathering this week. None the less I brought along some party favors in the form of some of the dopest jams from my personal favorites to bring some of that party mood for the weekend. I even got a couple drinking jams, because hell, backpackers need to twist the cap and toss a few back. Shall we get to it? Like Slick Rick said, “Heeeeeeeeeeeereeee we go!”
Download 26-50 of Trav’s “Backpack Bangers” HERE
With the backing both with the promotion and on the production tip, you figured Neek The Exotic would have made much more noise in the underground rap game than he did. In some ways, I always found his delivery and flow somewhat cumbersome, but it was something I grew to accept and almost like. He seems a lot more precise on the lead track for his Backs N Necks EP, “Muthaf*ckin Man”. His voice was unique enough to make up for any other annoyances. The Large Pro beat is a true banger with it’s laid back synths which is perfect for the New Jack City-ish hook.
Found On: “General Principle”/”Factotum”/”Punchline” (Superegular Recordings, 2000)
Back in the late 90′s, you weren’t a true backpacker if you didn’t have something with Louis Logic’s name on it. The kid dropped mad vinyl singles that still hold that backpacker aesthetic to this day. While I could have picked from any number of Louis Logic songs, it’s Lou’s ode to the drunken night that holds true to my heart. One of the best drinking songs that has ever been released. JJ Brown hooked up a spanish/70′s singer/songwriter sounding guitar sample that just adds to the drunken, half closed eyes mood that Lou creates.
Found On: “Mr. Lif’s ‘Sleepyheads II” (Originally released 2000)
I don’t remember if this was released on wax as a single, but I found the Insight and Mr. Lif collabo track on Napster, Audio Galaxy or whatever file sharing site I was using in those days. You might recognize Insight from his work with Damu The Fudgemunk as part of Y Society. The cat has been putting in work for a minute. Then combining forces with your favorite backpack emcees favorite emcee in Mr. Lif over a great beat produced by Insight himself and you have a backpack classic in my book.
Found On: “Can’t Stop” b/w “Fed Up” (Brooklyn Pipeline, Buds International Distribution, 1998)
Constant Deviants are probably my favorite group to only drop 12 inch singles during the late 90′s indie period. I didn’t know much about it them at the time, but I got into them pretty heavy around 2000 during my aforementioned file sharing discovery period. The group released some classic singles during this time, “Competition Catch Speed Knots”, “Problem Child”, and “8th Wonder”. “Can’t Stop” was the first one I heard from them, and the jazzy piano sample got me stuck off the dopeness. You can pick up some of their re-releases and check there upcoming album on Six2Six Records.
Found On: “Edan And Company Bring You The Raw Shit” EP (Sun Moon Recordings, 2000)
Edan was something I discovered on UGHH’s store while I was listening to streaming audio back in the day. I think it was probably, “Sing It, Shitface” that first grabbed my attention, but soon, “You Suck” was found on the trusty Audio Galaxy/Napster and it got a lot of play. Edan is a backpackers deity in someways, with a do it yourself attitude, as far as production, rapping and cutting. The rhymes are so far over the top that they are hilarious, yet skillful enough that Edan won’t be lumped into the novelty class anytime soon (Paul Barman anyone?).
Found On: “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka”/”Lettha Brainz Blo” (Priority, 1996)
Once again, anything that was related to Duck Down, Boot Camp Click or Black Moon, could be considered the TRUE backpacker music. This Fab 5 (OGC & Heltah Skeltah) cut, “Leflaur Leflah Eshkosha”, was a classic Timbs and Jansports jam. Ruck & Rock were two of the grimiest cats to form a group in the history of hip hop, and throw in the three OGC members and it doesn’t matter if the song title makes absolutely NO sense what so ever, it just sounds dope as fuck.
Found On: “Bums”/”Monumental”/”Secret Wars” (self released, 1997)
How we’ve let Last Emperor’s “Secret Wars” go this long without being mentioned in a series about “backpack” music, I’ll never know. While I’ve never been a comic book dude, and this song was never one of my top favorites, it’s got a cult following by the backpack/jansport alums around the world. I have to admit, it’s rather creative as Last Emperor sets hip hop characters against comic book (Marvel?) characters, as the chronicles the battles between the two. He even uses some of the rappers voices and flows. I’m sure, somewhere Jansport has a “Secret Wars” and Last Emperor special edition backpack.
Found On: “Dedication To The Suckers”/”Don’t Nobody Care About Us”/”Microphone Master”
Who can argue with (somewhat) obscure J Dilla production (when he was still known as Jay Dee) over some rough-n-rugged Detroit bars from one Phat Kat aka Ronnie Kash. If I remember right, this was the first time I had heard of Phat Kat and he has been one of my favorite emcees and a prime example of why I love Detroit music so much to this day. It’s an underrated beat from Dilla, but you can tell it’s him as it sounds like something from the time period between Fantastic Vol. 2 and Trinity.
Found On: “Liquid”/”What If”/”Show Me Your Gratitude”
Others might say “What about ‘What If’,” which was found on the original incarnation of the Soundbombing series. While that was a great track, I’ve always been partial to “Liquid”, with it’s mellow, yet funky beat and L-Fudge shows why he is one of the more underrated underground emcees of the time. His verses always impressed me, but he seemed to get lost in the Rawkus shuffle and then overshadowed in the whole Demigodz circle.
Found On: “We Shine” b/w “150 Mc’s” (Federation Recordings, 1998)
Think Detroit has only been doing it the last five years or so? Well you’d be wrong. Another Dirty D group with a dope independent release was Da Ruckus and their dope “We Shine” cut, which also showed up on their ’98 EP, Episode 1. Truth is, even without the appearance of one Marshall Mathers, this track is still a classic backpacking joint. Without Eminem, this track would probably be obscure cut that only hip hop nerds such as ourselves would be reading/writing about. With Eminem, who drops a verse that you would expect from a circa ’98 (pre-Slim Shay release), it becomes one of those tracks that has some shine as a pre-famous Eminem appearance.
Found On: “The Cenubites EP” (Fondle ‘Em, 1995)
From a backpackers dream group, The Cenobites, “Kick A Dope Verse” is about the time where the term “backpacker” went from Timbs and dreads to kids on trains with big backpacks, headphones and carrying wax with them everywhere. Add the fact that it came from an EP that was released on Fondle ‘Em and then throw in Bobbito and this was the ultimate independent/backpack group, label and cut. Kool Keith was still somewhat grounded and displayed why he could be considered one of the best emcees of the early 90′s.
Found On: “Rhyme Mania ’99″ by Large Professor & Neek The Exotic b/w “NY Confidential” by Masta Ace
After Masta Ace got dropped by Big Beat around ’97, Ace was on a mission to prove to hip hop listeners that he wasn’t washed up just yet. From ’97 until 2001, Ace unleashed a slew of 12 inch singles on the hip hop masses. Most of them, such as “NY Confidential”, were dope as fuck. Produced by the little known Sqwad Productions crew, the beat is perfect for Ace as he run rampant over the strings and piano keys while he drops the knowledge about himself being a dope emcee. Really, it’s better than it sounds, and it’s perfect for the big ass headphones while you ride the train to your next stop.
Found On: “The EP” (Busted Lip Records, 2000)
Mighty Casey is almost a mythical hip hop character, one you hear a lot about, especially in these early independent years, but you don’t see much about him these days. He dropped two arguable classic joints with “White Girls” and this, a ode to drinking “Liquor Land”. He is uses his acute sense of humor to run through the dangers of drinking and hanging out in “liquor land”. Never the less, it’s a one of the greatest drinking jams.
Found On: “Too Complex” b/w “It’s Your Life” (Direct Records, 1997)
L The Headtoucha is one of those cats that was knee deep in a lot of the independent releases, but as far as I know, never released an album. This has everything needed for a classic Jansport Jam. 1. A dope beat: while the sample has been used before (don’t ask me to name it as I’m terrible at it) it never grows old with me. And it should be dope since it’s produced by the quintessential backpack producers, The Vinyl Reanimators. 2. A dope emcee: L The Headtoucha was always deep into the indie (aka backpack) culture, and he as more than adequate as an emcee. Throw in some well placed scratches and some great vocal samples for the hooks and it’s a classic in my book.
Found On: “Unholy” b/w “Uncontrollable” (Black Dog Entertainment, 1996)
A little Wu-Tang affiliation never hurt anyone. Of course it doesn’t always help either with everyone that rhymed on Staten Island in the mid 90′s claimed some type of Wu connection. The Dark Skinned Assassin dropped a rather dope, if not hard to find, Down Low Wreckage EP and also had (probably the more deserving track) “Lock Shit Down” track in ’95. “Unholy” doesn’t have that dirty sound that most Wu associated artist had at the time, but more like a dark Mobb Deep type of track. No word on who did the production, but it makes for an excellent beat. DSA is pretty good on the mic and makes the track even darker, maybe too dark for a backpacker jam, but I had to include it anyway.
Found On: TheJuggaknots EP (Fondle ‘Em, 1996)
When I chose “Troubleman” from this same EP last go around, I wasn’t aware that we were dropping another batch of backpack classics on the masses. I was torn between that joint and “Clear Blue Skies” so I guess we’ll be posting both of them. Breezly creates one of the more deeper tracks in hip hop history as he tackles interracial dating as a racist father talks to his son that is dating a black woman. Rather deep stuff, and all over a great beat that just works well with the overall subject matter.
Found On: “Nuttin’ To Do”/”Scary Movies”/”I’m The King” (Game Records, 1998)
Despite his mega-star, loved by teens everywhere, Eminem had the backpackers ears back in the late 90′s, for numerous reasons. This track as Bad Meets Evil, with fellow Detroit emcee (and one of the best doing it, IMO) Royce Da 5’9″ has long been one of my favorites. “Scary Movies” just has Royce and Em doing what they do best, spit viscous lines. The beat by Reef isn’t too damn shabby either, some straight up strings coming at you.
Found On: “Through The Eye”/”Kwestions”/”Against The Grain” (Quake City Records, 1996)
One of the more slept on Illdelph groups, Ill Advised was made up of Baby Blak and Malay Sparks. The crew had several tracks to choose from, including the equally dope “Through The Eye” found as the A-side to this single. “Against The Grain” had some of the more important emcees of the independent Philly era of the late 90′s. DJ Jazz laces a dope packpacking jam for the beat and we hear nothing but dope lyrics over the dope beat.
Found On: “Bionic” b/w “Change & Switch” (ABB, 1997)
Defari’s debut onto the hip hop scene was a dope one when he dropped “Bionic”, which was produced by another west coast backpack king, Evidence. Released on the ABB label, that kept plenty of a backpacker going in the west coast, “Bionic” is somewhat of a dark track with a simple drum track and dark as night keys and a dope Raekwon vocal sample .
Found On: “Physics” b/w “Rhyme Impotence” (Unruly Records, 1995)
“Rhyme Impotence” was my introduction to Sparrow back in 2005 on the OG Cocaine Blunts boards. The hard drums knock hard as a familiar sample comes which I can’t place (it’s been on another hip hop song from the early 90′s, but that too is escaping me). The overall feeling is a smooth yet rugged vibe that is simply great for the MC to do his thing over it. It’s a solid, nah scratch that, a great beat. Lyrically, it’s another on point effort. Dude is definitely an above average MC.
Found On: “I Don’t Give a Whut” b/w “Mic 2 Mic” (Blind Side Recordings, 1996)
Surprisingly, Big Kwam was from across the pond in the UK. You would never guess it, except for The Creators production found on “I Don’t Give a F…”. It’s a basic track, but incorporates two things that makes any great grimy hip hop song, sparse piano keys and hard as brick wall drums. Add a dope KRS vocal sample and this joint is some nasty shit, in a good way.
Found On: “Raida’s Theme” b/w “The Countdown” (Asphodel, 1998)
RIP, Grandmaster Roc Raida, but this is no pity inclusion. Nope, this is just a straight up dope jam with all the b-boy goodness a hip hop head could want. Roc Raida is listed as the producer and while he didn’t do a lot of production (Jungle Brothers and E-Bros are the most well known), he was more than capable behind the boards. A slow and deliberate piano sample is laid over some knocking drums. Throw some typical X-Men cuts in on top at the end, presumably done by Raida himself, and this is the one of the last examples of early b-boy sound. Wayne O of the E Bros (best known for their cut on the New Jersey Drive Soundtrack) laces the vocals nicely.
Found On: “The Rain Is Gone” b/w “All Hands” (Knowledge of Self, 1996)
Frankenstein’s “The Rain is Gone” has long been one of my favorite jams.It’s probably one of the first examples I heard of “underground/independent” hip hop when I first heard it on a Salt Lake City hip hop radio show in early ’97. It took me about six years to figure out the song, which I had recorded on a tape (a tape is….ah fuck it). Again, it’s a fairly simple track with a nice piano sample and a killer vocal sample. It might be a little “emo-ish” in nature, but back in those days, that label didn’t exist. I listened to the song many times in my “walkman” while wearing my backpack around the U of U campus back in the day.
Found On: “A D&D Project In Association With DJ Premier Vol. 1″ (No label, 1998?)
EZD appeared on the rare D&D Project w/ DJ Premier which had one side with Afu-Ru and the other was EZD. I don’t know much about EZD himself, and “Gunz Iz 4″ was released as a single, under “Gunz” in 2000. This track might be too “hard” for the backpacker label during the turn of the century, but for me it explifies the Boot Camp definition of “backpacker” music. It’s straight up raw NYC music which even raises the ante with the appearance of MOP and Teflon. Still, it’s an underground gem, I’ll lump it into this list
Found On: “My Flows Is Tight” b/w “Sacks 5th Ave” (Game Recordings, 1998)
Strangely enough, while I consider Masta Ace as my favorite hip hop artist, I’ve never been the biggest Lord Digga fan. I always found his flow rather cumbersome and awkward. To his credit though, he is a dope producer. That said, I’ve always liked his effort as an emcee found on “My Flows Is Tight.” He samples the music from the game show, The Price is Right and turns it into a rather dope track. Found on the somewhat legendary Game Recordings (Game girls?) this was a nice vinyl single that was a good pick up.