By: Joshua Neuman
There is a feeling that is equally as powerful as shock, but which perhaps is more addling.
When someone close to you passes away suddenly, you are struck by a vicious one-two punch: The fact that someone you loved is gone and the fact that you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I got that feeling when I was by my brother’s hospital bed at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital on September 12, 2001 in New York, watching the morose testimonials of those who had lost loved ones the day before just a few miles south of us.
If only I could have just told her how much I loved her.
I would give a limb in exchange for three more seconds with him.
I never had a chance to tell her how I felt about her.
Those were some of the refrains we heard over and over that day. I remember looking at my brother as he watched the 4-inch black and white television hanging from a crane-like apparatus that he could adjust from his bed. I remember feeling grateful that I had the chance to say everything that I needed to say to him.
Despite the tremendous outpouring of sadness since she passed away last week, Amy Winehouse’s death wasn’t a shock to anyone. Late night talk show hosts have been making light of her dance with death for years. A website, WhenWillAmyWinehouseDie.com, received over 96,000 entries since it launched at the end of 2007; even Amy’s mother talked openly about the likelihood that her daughter would die young. Upon learning of her death last week and deprived of the ability to process it through shock, a strange feeling ensued”I’m not sure I know how to describe it. It’s not like it’s less painful than the feeling of learning that someone close to you died with little warning. No, gradual decline grants no more reprieve from pain than slowly inching yourself into an icy pool of water grants you from feeling cold.
If anything, the fact that we knew that this was coming, that there was no opportunity for shock, made it more painful. We couldn’t fantasize about things we would have wanted to say to Amy Winehouse”we had every chance we needed to say anything we wanted. We couldn’t fixate on the results of the toxicology report as we did with Heath Ledger”who the hell cared which specific substance had done her in? We didn’t get angry at her father, who was traveling to New York City at the time of her death to perform at the Blue Note”after all, he probably did all that he could to save her.
The snail-like pace of Amy Winehouse’s descent deprived us of the capacity to feel shock upon her death and perhaps shows us how much we use shock to insulate us from our experience of death. In her farewell, she has less in common with the 27 Club than she does with Biggie and Tupac, whose lives and work seemed to forecast early death”however unable to soften its sting.
The ’90s coastal hip hop feud has been talked about, debated and over analyzed since, well, the ’90s. People are fascinated by the relationship between Biggie and Tupac, between Bad Boy Records and Death Row Records and of course the music that spawned from the disjuncture. In fact, you’re probably tired of hearing about it. So, here’s a (hypothetical) feud that you haven’t heard about: the riff between East Coast and West Coast rappers on OurStage! Let’s take a look at some of the players in this epic struggle for hip hop dominance.
You can’t have a conversation about East Coast hip hop on OurStage without talking about Overdose, aka “theofficialod.” This revolutionary emcee is redefining NYC rap and taking OurStage by storm at the same time. Sure he’s got a handful of badges for Top 40, Top 10 and even won the Alt. Hip Hop Channel, but earlier this year he was also crowned first place in our Best of Urban charts”three weeks in a row. Outside of OurStage, Overdose earned himself a feature on Nick Cannon Presents…America’s Wildstyle Champs and was a two-time finalist on Loud.com. Check out his track “Stepping Stone” below”after all, music does speak louder than words.
Born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx, Tribeca is another true New York talent. Not just by birthright, either”he’s toured with East Coast legends Fat Joe, Gang Starr and the Wu Tang Clan. Before he started rapping, however, he made a name for himself in the studio producing for other Bronx locals like Camp Lo and KRS-1. This guy’s done it all. I mean, he wrote the theme song to ESPN’s “The Life,” wrote a novel called Party and Bullshit and even body-doubled as Biggie for VIBE Magazine and VH1. Some other East Coasters you need to hear include Dom P MFD, Jae Apollo and Yonas.
This is only half the story though; we still need to take a look at their West Coast counterparts. Dylan Synclaire, for example, although born in Missouri, spent most of his life in Washington state. When given the choice of college or a music career after high school, the independent eighteen year old chose to follow his passion and started to write and perform locally. After making a name for himself in Kent, WA, Synclaire took the plunge and drove down to LA to test his mettle. Within a year, he signed a deal with Westlake Recording Services and worked with the engineer/producer for Salt-N-Pepa: Al Machera. Since then, he’s evolved into the uniquely polished but still raw artist he is today.
Also on the West Coast roster is the LA-born Element. Element is the perfect illustration of a natural-born rapper. The son of an R&B singer, Element was exposed to music and encouraged to dabble at a young age. This, coupled with severe domestic issues, caused him to fuse his interest in reading and poetry with writing music and free styling. In the last ten years, Element has taken his God- given talents to the next level. Don’t believe us? Give “Mic 2 Tha Thrizzoat” a listen on the playlist below.
Last, but hardly least, we should mention a California girl named Sibley. This hellraiser took LA by storm in 2005 and hasn’t relented since. She’s made a cameo in an Usher video, been all over the radio and eventually earned the chance to work with all-star producers Marc Kinchen, Brian Kennedy and Kadis & Sean. Other West Coast honorable mentions include Kadeve, Reyn, OddiO and J. Vic.
For aspiring hip hop artists, releasing a debut album can be a scary moment. If the album flops, it can damage more than just your reputation”it can also make you doubt yourself, your talent and the very music you poured your heart into. But, on the flip side, what if a first album is too good? What if an artist drops a landmark album and spends the rest of his/her career living in its shadow? Many rappers who are defined by their first release (or single) leave fans vexed by years of comparably lukewarm releases afterwards.
Take Vanilla Ice, for example. When To The Extreme dropped in 1990, it was the fastest selling hip hop album of all time and won him both Favorite Pop/Rock New Artist and Favorite Rap/Hip Hop New Artist at the 1991 American Music Awards. And, of course, the monumental track “Ice, Ice Baby””one of the first hip hop singles to top the Billboard charts”is credited with making hip hop popular with white people. Whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit it’s remarkably catchy. But how could he possibly keep pace with such a stirring debut? Especially because, and let’s be honest here, his well of musical ability isn’t really all that deep. After five more studio releases (soon to be six), he’s still barely more than a faint and mildly amusing memory to most.
Another prime example is Nelly. Since the success of Country Grammar in 2000, Nelly has never regained the same level of sensation. Granted, he’s had his share of hits: “Hot in Herre,” “Dilemma,” “Air Force Ones” and “Pimp Juice” for starters. But none of his four later albums match the 8.4 million US copies sold of Country Grammar and, besides, “Country Grammar” and “Ride wit Me” will always have a special place in our hearts. And we could go on and on: Chingy. Chamillionaire. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Not that Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch were necessarily destined for greatness, but the smashing success of Music For The People set the bar a little high. It didn’t help, of course, that their follow up album was rushed out in a year and lacked a healthy chart-topping single. But that’s enough about Marky Mark.
Don’t be too disconcerted, though. There are just as many artists out there who have had illustrious and enduring careers despite their industry shattering debut albums. Take the Wu Tang Clan, for example, with Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). While virtually impossible to top, this hip hop benchmark paved the way for a legendary career without killing its longevity. Of course there’s also the Beastie Boy’s Licensed to Ill, Nas‘ Illmatic, Biggie’s Ready To Die and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic”none of these artist have exactly fallen off the face of the earth either. It’s a phenomenon worth thinking about though; the line between a positive first release and a destructive one may not be as simple as just tallying album sales.
- Cruella De Vil dissolves deal with Target. No, wait. That’s Gaga.
- Raekwon thinks Charlie Sheen is a rich dick. #notwinning
- Can we just give up on the Spiderman musical, already?
- Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson battle for custody of son. Either way, child is destined for a future in pop-punk.
- Chris Brown done apologizing for “domestic mishap.” Is that what they’re calling it these days?
- Kim Kardashian’s lyrics are… awesome.
- Jadakiss remembers celebrating his birthday with Biggie. R.I.P.
- Ever wanted to know what Bieber would look like with facial hair? Yeah… neither have we.