Hip Hop's Civil War — Fri, 22/09/2006 - 17:26
Long read, found it on some other boards, but anyway...
Mommy, What’s A Backpacker? AKA What The Hell Is A Cannibal Ox?
If you’ve ever been on a music related messageboard before or on in a hip hop thread you’ve seen the word, if you’ve ever heard the word/term used as a description or a derogatory term (i.e. “Fuck you fake ass bitch Lupe Fiasco lovin’ niggas! Y’all need to take that backpack bullshit back to the surburbs and listen to some real shit like Young Jeezy!”) and wondered what the hell it meant or even where it came from, I’ll explain it to you in the following blog. This blog is about not just where th e term came from but it’s also about the grand “Kansas City Shuffle” executed by the government approving the Telecommunications Act and Viacom, Emmis Commuinications and Clearchannel in the roles of The Boss, The Rabbi, Mr. Goodkat and Slevin Kelevra (If you haven’t yet seen “Lucky Number Slevin” do so...it will all make perfect sense then).
Let us begin....at the beginning. There was a time when if you didn’t at least make a effort to speak about issues or put a conscious cut on your album you were clowned incessantly (Ask LL Cool J or any kid that rocked in African medallion back in the day for the same reason). At one point being afrocentric or conscious was mainstream.The Native Tounges crew RAN the hip hop world...groups had dancers and DJ's. That all changed over time as we entered the 90’s. 1990 was a transition year and hip hop was searching for a new direction. 1991 brought that direction, style and a bunch of new talent to the forefront (along with mad classic albums). Everything fell into place the following year, though.
It’s 1992 now. After 1991 brought the hip hop world a new influx of hip hop groups, style changes and classic albums, 1992 turned into what was called “The Year Of The Underground”by most hip hop publications (especially The Source). That year Das Efx, Redman, EPMD, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Black Sheep, The UMC’s, Fu-Schnickens, Cypress Hill, House Of Pain, Del The Funkee Homosapien, Mobb Deep, UGK, Common, 2Pac, Diamond, The Pharcyde, etc. all came out and either did big numbers, made a classic LP/single and/or dominated the charts...they all were different. Some were super lyrical, some just spit part rhymes. They were diverse in their styles and influences, some wore crazy ass clothes, others rocked work gear, hoodies, BDU’s and Timberlands most of the time...some rhymed about space age shit and others came up with straight up street tales, others spit battle rhymes. It didn’t matter what approach they took to the music or where they were from....they were all regarded as hip hoppers/rappers....oh yeah, a lot of them often rocked backpacks.
Whether it was Leaders Of The New School, Das Efx, Black Sheep, Redman, Black Moon, Ruff House Survivers (who had a single called “Check Da Backpack”), Mobb Deep or Onyx , heads used to rock backpacks. You could keep all your shit in ‘em! Your rhyme book, your black book (for graf), your contact information, your weed, guns, knives, pens, money, whatever! Rockin’ a backpack wasn’t an issue...Hip Hop also began invading the mainstream, moving units and becoming more and more popular with the youth across the board (Mostly industry fallout due to the crossover appeal of Dr. Dre’s dominant release “The Chronic Album”). It began seeping into MTV’s regular video rotation and taking spins away from rock videos, eventually MTV began to mix urban music videos in with their regular rotation of mostly rock music due to the surging popularity of Yo! MTV Raps. Hip Hop was on the rise creatively, musically and influence wise. 1992 also kicked off what would be later regarded as the Second Golden Age Of Hip Hop....it would last until 1996...What does tall of this shit have to do with backpackers now? I’m getting there!
In 1993, Wu Tang Clan (RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon The Chef, Ghostface Killah, U God, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, & Method Man), Boot Camp Click (Black Moon, Smif N Wessun, Heltah Skeltah & O.G.C.), Tha Alkaholiks and the Likwit Crew (King Tee, Lootpack (Madlib, Wildchild & DJ Romes) and Defari), Hieroglyphics Crew (Del The Funkee Homosapien, Souls Of Mischief, Extra Prolific, and Casual), The Beatnuts, Onyx, E-40, Snoop Dogg and The Roots all hit the hip hop scene hard. These names are legendary in the hip hop industry now and are extremely influential even to this day. A long ass list of seminal hip hop albums and classic releases was to come over the next 4 or 5 years so will will skip around liberally. In 1994 Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ready To Die”, Nas’” Illmatic”, Jeru Tha Damaja’s “The Sun Rises In The East”, OutKast’s “Southernplayalisticadillacmusik”, and Bone Thugs N’ Harmony’s “Creepin’ On A Come Up” EP were all released. In 1995, Mobb Deep released “The Infamous”, The Dogg Pounds “Dog Food” dropped, Raekwon released “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” and GZA released “Liquid Swords”. In 1996 Jay-Z released “Reasonable Doubt”, Ghostface Killah’s “Ironman”, Busta Rhymes “The Coming”, Lil’ Kim “Hard Core” and The Fugees dropped...
The radio was playing all of these artists material and their videos were getting burn on MTV and BET. The South wasn’t represented very well in the mainstream and on the radio...weirder still, Southern artists were moving more units INDEPENDENTLY and properly using their channels of distribution and marketing QUIETLY FOR YEARS! A Southern rapper/group could sell 100,000-300,000 by word of mouth, shows and creating a buzz so large that it locked down whole regions of the country....no videos, little or no radio airplay. The thing was that while Hip Hop was extremely inventive, ground breaking and influential to pop culture...IT WASN’T SELLING VERY WELL!!!! If you think I’m joking go find a list of classic hip hop albums from 1986-1996 and look up how many units they sold! I was shocked to find out that albums like K-Solo’s classic LP “Tell The World My Name” from 1990 only sold 81,000+ units! This album had 2 major hits and 3 singles, “Spellbound”, “Your Mom’s Is In My Business” and “Fugitive”...If you continue to check on the sales figures of some of the most lauded and universally loved rap/hip hop albums you be shocked to find out that between 90-95% of them caught a brick! Right around the end of 1996, the industry had to go into a different direction or there would be trouble for the music industry....or so they say.
In 1996, the Telecommunications Act was passed. This allowed larger companies to go and buy independent radio stations and put them under their umbrella. The companies that benefited the most from this were Emmis Communications and Clearchannel. Soon there were “chain radio stations” in effect across the country. Next, record labels began to trim the fat and whole labels folded and several acts that were prominent before 1996 either became dropped from their labels or they experienced diminished roles of importance in the industry. Artists such as Large Professor, who was signed by Geffen years before and was seen as a landmark signing at the time...until they realized that he wasn’t ever going to move a lot of units...they shelved his album and released him from his deal immeadiately. Right around this time a division in the industry began to happen...by 1997 it would be complete.
The division was mainly between the normally “underground/gutter/grimy” and “conscious” hip hop heads and the artists that rhymed about material wealth and the like. A rift had already formed between artist such as Notorious B.I.G. and members of the Bad Boy camp or associates of B.I.G. and Jeru Tha Damaja, O.G.C. and even Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Nas. Jay-Z dropped Reasonable Doubt and made rhyming about wealth, extravagance and hustling seem so fly that between B.I.G. and Jay Z, they spawned a LEGION OF BITERS!!! None of them took into account that Jay-Z and B.I.G. were two of the greatest lyricists of all times and that attributed to the music being so appealing...they figured “If I name drop Gucci, Versace, Donna Karan, DKNY, etc. and rhyme about selling crack, I’ll BLOW UP!”