Click HERE to DL 76-100 of Dart’s “Backpack Bangers”
This ultimate Hip Hop fantasy draft of the illest jawns between 1994-2000 has been huge for us over here @ Bloggerhouse. We’ve highlighted a bunch of unmitigated classics as well as some overlooked and forgotten gems from this pivotal transformative seven year period in Hip Hop. If you keep in mind that we’re covering a span of time in which I was aged 18 to 25 (which is a full age demographic) then you’ll understand exactly how many possible songs we had to choose from.
Some people have been confused as to why so many major label releases were on this backpack bangers list. It’s because “backpack” is more about aesthetic than being indie. Back in 1994, what got played on the airwaves, video shows and love in all the major Hip Hop publications normally was generally shunned by 1998. The vast majority of the jawns picked by us @ Bloggerhouse would’ve been met with blank stares if they were played in The Tunnel during this same era even though they supposedly embraced that gritty, raw street shit.
I used walk the mean streets of Boston playing jawns like Bushwackas “Rough, Rugged & Raw”, Ruggedness Madd Drama’s “For Real”, Fierce’s “Crab” and Jemini The Gifted One’s “Brooklyn Kids”. They were all considered underground raw street records. They were also all considered “backpack music”. In my estimation Cannibal Ox’s ‘The Cold Vein” was a street album. It was all about the living conditions of the inner city and related themes. Due to the world turning upside down the very same people that album was made for, the very people the album represented universally shunned it like it was a fuckin’ Jazz album.
That’s why this list was born. I’d be willing to put up any of the tracks I picked vs. any produced by Swizz Beatz, Dame Grease or SP Killa that was promoted as a “street record” vs. any “street record” produced by V.I.C., Godfather Don, Charlemagne, DJ Spinna, The Beatnuts, DJ Honda, DJ Muggs, Buckwild, Alchemist, Evidence, Da Beatminerz, Saukrates, El-P, Necro, Tommy Tee, DJ Babu, The ARE, Showbiz, J. Rawls, Shawn J. Period, True Master or 4th Disciple. ANY DAY.
Once again, it’s on! © Ice Cube
Ultramagnetic MC’s f/ Godfather Don
The day Kool Keith met Godfather Don @ an industry event they ended up not being able to gain entrance to was arguably one of the most fortuitous days in Backpack Rap history. This was one of the first products of that friendship, the single “Raise It Up” where Don added some Blues Butter to the Jazz Biscuits he brought to the table. Kool Keith got the Hip Hop Quotable in The Source for the dopest rhyme of the month. Ultra got another classic. Godfather Don began a long run in underground Hip Hop fan’s headphones. Kick a dope verse and then be ghost….
The previous year, Kurious Jorge dropped the single “Walk Like A Duck”. The next year, he was back as Kurious with “Uptown Shit”. Those horns. Those bars. The classic video. The verse from Kadi. Kurious was down with the Constipated Monkeys crew that included 3rd Bass (Pete Nice, MC Serch & Daddy Rich) (@ one point), KMD (Zev Love X (DOOM), Subroc & Onyx), The Beatnuts (Juju, Psycho Les, V.I.C. & Fashion), Benz (Cage), Count Bass D, Lord Sear, Grym Reaper (MF Grimm), H20, Kadi Rock, Powerule & Bobbito Garcia, etc. He and Count Bass D were on Pete Rock’s Hoppoh Records. Why does Kurious look exactly the same as he did in 1993?
This song was off the soundtrack for the indie film “Mi Vida Loca”. The 12″ and video was pretty popular on both BET & MTV both not so much for the radio. The single still got pumped steadily in heads’ walkman’s. Boss would seemingly disappear from the scene after this song except for an anti violence posse cut that included Treach years later. She ended up having serious health issues and after her rhyme partner Dee Tha Mad Bitch had her album shelved by Def Jam and her sister Cap One couldn’t secure a deal it was a wrap.
This backpack banger was the world’s introduction to Shawn J. Period who would go on the become one of the most dominant producers with the defining sounds of this era (1994-2000). In my opinion, Shawn J. Period & DJ Spinna ended up carving an undeniable place in Hip Hop history during this seven year stretch. Once Shawn J. had a religious epiphany & quit sampling he disappeared from the scene for years around 2000. Check Discogs for the full list of classic material he made during that time.
This is one of my favorite all time Redman jawns (which is one hell of a statement to make). It was the lead single from Erick Sermon’s “Insomnia” compilation featuring a bunch of artists and groups he had in development. None of these acts included Humanreck, whose ads stayed in The Source for years claiming to have production from Erick Sermon & Redman as Humanreck looked a lot like Redman in the full page spread. In any event, this song was tough to sleep on. This track got mad burn when I was at Morgan State University back in the days.
Pete Rock f/Lost Boyz
This jawn was off the Hip Hop AIDS awareness compilation “America Is Dying Slowly”. It was produced by Pete Rock and featured Queens’ own Lost Boyz. Mr. Cheeks & Freaky Tah each spit verses alongside Pete Rock but Freaky Tah stole the show. “Don’t be fuckin’ wit my shorty!” was one of the most quoted (and scratched by DJ’s”) lines of the era. If you weren’t partying around this time chances are you didn’t really how big a song this was.
The bass line. The beat. The Amel Larrieux vocal sample from Groove Theory’s “Tell Me”. Sadat X’s unorthodox flow. All of these elements made ‘The Lump Lump” a classic. I used to rock the hell out of Sadat X’s “Wild Cowboys” CD. Luckily, I had some people that did promo for Loud Records so we got a gang of singles and albums early back then. I remember it took the video dropping for heads to even get what X was talking about in the song.
Chino XL was a member of the crew Art Of Origin but the entire Hip Hop world was calling for Chino to go solo. When he did go solo his lead single “No Complex” raised some eyebrows but it was the single “Kreep”, the remixes and the subsequent video that really caught the attention of backpackers and underground Hip Hop heads at the time.
Call O’ Da Wild
The B side won again on this Call O’ Da Wild single. Before Soul Assassins got their own label following Ruffhouse’s folding first Cypress Hill’s NY proteges Call O’ Da Wild dropped a few classic 12″s on their home label. Call O’ Da Wild’s “Intellectual Dons” ended up on a Cypress Hill B sides & remixes EP and their track “New York Undercover” was featured on Soul Assassins Vol. 1. Later on, Baron Ricks of Call O’ Da Wild joined Cypress Hill. Classic DJ Muggs production.
Rascalz f/Kardinal Offishall, Checkmate, Thrust & Choclair
If you consult Wikipedia, it will try to tell you “Northern Touch” dropped in 1998. However, I remember hearing it and seeing two different versions of it (Vik & Figure IV) on vinyl back in 1997. It got re-released in 1998 and the video and song became popular all along the East Coast after “Northern Touch” was added to a few Hip Hop compilations (including Stretch Armstrong presents Lesson 1). This song was huge for Canadian Hip Hop as it became the first national Hip Hop hit in years and helped establish/launch a gang of Canadian Hip Hop artists places in Hip Hop history. Fuck Wikipedia!
Cappadonna f/Ghostface Killah
This was yet another Wu banger that dominated mixtapes, underground/college radio mixshows and the turntables, walkmans or CD players of Hip Hop heads the world over. Fresh off his verses on “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” and “Winter Warz”, Cappadonna was becoming a fan favorite. This jawn got considerable burn all throughout the year and featured one of the most memorable “choruses” ever at the end spit by none other than Tony Starks himself. It ended up on the RZA compilation ‘The Swarm” the next year.
Yet another classic underground single from Dolo Records that dominated the underground. In ’97, the split had already occurred between the mainstream and the underground so there were heads that knew this song and loved it while there were those that loved Hip Hop but had NO idea this song even existed because it had no video and never got played on the radio stations they listened to. Ak Skills, Lace Da Booms, Raidermen, Dutchmin, the list goes on…
Killarmy’s debut album “Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars” was a classic in my eyes. Sure, my favorite verses usually came from Killa Sin, P.R. Terrorist or whomever was the guest emcee but the boardwork of 4th Disciple and True Master more than made up for all of it. The Wu Elements were so underrated it was ridiculous. “Wu Renegades” was a smash that dominated backpackers walkmans all across this great nation of ours.
Cocoa Brovaz (Smif N’ Wessun)
This jawn was on the soundtrack for “Soul In The Hole”, one of the greatest Hip Hop film soundtracks of all times. Smif N’ Wessun were sued by Smith & Wesson for copyright infringement so they changed their name to the Cocoa Brovaz. Huh? They often called themselves the Cocoa B’z (because people would fuck up and bill them as the “Cocoa Bravos/Bravoz”) but either way, the new name sucked. “Won On Won” was the JAM. The vocal and the instrumental version always set off a DJ set the right way. Next came the uneven album “The Rude Awakening” and an excellent Rawkus LP that never dropped. Wanna look like/wanna act like us…
All City’s J Mega and Greg Valentine both spit fire over top grade production on their classic 12″ “The Actual”/”Priceless”. They used to be on Onyx’s imprint Armee alongside Gangrene but that deal fell through so both groups had to seek new homes. Too bad their album “Metropolis Gold” didn’t live up to the singles they produced before it (going back to 1995). There was a lot of jiggy sounding beats on there with timbales and cowbells. I bought it. I returned it. I still have “The Actual”/”Priceless” on vinyl, though…
Tragedy was beefin’ with Noreaga who had recently split from 25 Ta Life and gone solo when Capone got locked up. N.O.R.E.’s career blew up and he became Tommy Boy’s cash cow and poster boy. Trag decided to get at him through one of the most vicious (and underrated) diss tracks of the era in “Blood Type” where he recounts the history between himself and CNN. At the end, he even claims that he taught N.O.R.E. how to rhyme and he finishes the track spittin’ like him. I still have my copy to this very day.
After running through several major label deals, the members of the Heiroglyphics Crew pooled their resources to begin Hiero Imperium. The first crew album they dropped was “3rd Eye Vision” and the lead single was “You Never Knew”. I bought “3rd Eye Vision” on tape and my brother and I played it until it popped so I went out and bought the CD to replace it. I copped the 12″ after the fact. This and “Oakland Blackouts” were my jawns!
D.I.T.C. was making a serious push in 1998 following “Day One”, “Internationally Known”, “The Enemy”, “All Love”, “I Flip Styles”, “Put It In Ya System”, “A Different World” and this B side “Dignified Soldiers”. If you include Show & AG’s “Full Scale EP” and Big L’s 12′s there was no way to deny the force that was D.I.T.C. Ultimately, the passings of both Big L & Big Pun pushed back the release of D.I.T.C.’s “Worldwide” to 2000. What if…
Chris Lowe f/Large Professor
Chris Lowe’s collaboration with The Live Guy With Glasses turned out to be one of the many highlights of 1999. “CT To Queens (Uncut Action)” got played on turntables the world over. Chris Lowe didn’t make too many memorable offerings but this jawn made the list as it’s beat and bars are both undeniable.
The legendary K.O. crew dropped yet another gem on ‘em with the banger “Questions”. We’d been blessed with “7 MC’s”, “7 MC’s II”, “Do You Wanna Be An Emcee?” and the “Spontaneity EP” but “Questions” was another smash from the Houston crew. They were down with Bronx Science and Landspeed which turned out to be two of the worst labels in underground Hip Hop. I’ll never forgive either label for that godawful cover to “Universal”. The ARE’s been killin’ shit!
Screwball’s classic “Y2K The Album” (notice how I use that word with no fear?) had many great singles and moments. One them them being Hostyle’s solo track “H-O-S-T-Y-L-E”. Hostyle was a Notorious B.I.G. vocal doppelganger who was ill in his own right and shone on previous Screwball tracks so it only made sense to feature him on a single. I still remember seeing the “H-O-S-T-Y-L-E” video on BET’s Rap City and being in shock that a Screwball video was being shown on a Viacom network. So much had changed in such a short time…
Boston based Brick Records was our version of NYC’S Rawkus & Fondle ‘Em. I could’ve done a post consisting of nothing but Brick, Detonator and Landspeed 12′s but that will have to wait. Lawrence, MA’s Reks dropped his first effort on Brick and immediately established himself as one of the shining stars of Boston/MA Hip Hop. It’s crazy to think this gem dropped a full decade ago…
J. Sands and J. Rawls formed Lone Catalysts in Ohio and they quickly became one of the best groups in Hip Hop. Unfortunately, they were one of the best kept secrets in the industry since they were relegated to the underground like the Morlocks. After years of making classic material they were tapped by German Hip Hop label Groove Attack to drop a 12″ for “Dynomite/My Claim”. Due to numeric constraints there were several other Lone Catalysts jawns I would’ve also included in this list. Maybe I can rectify that issue some way?
We backpackers know that back in 2000, Black Thought had a deal with MCA to release a solo project called “Masterpiece Theater” following Dice Raw’s solo project “Reclaiming The Dead”. The track “Hardware” was all over the place and heads were anticipating a classic from Tariq Trotter. MCA dropped the ball & the LP never out. MCA kind of has a history of not releasing albums. Man of the songs that would’ve been on the project ended up on later Roots releases (such as “Pussy Galore”).
Oh yeah…it ain’t over, muthafuckas! © Ice Cube