Diggin’ Through the Crates: The Roots “Thought @ Work”

Song: “Thought @ Work”

Artist: The Roots

Album: Phrenology

Lyric: “I’m like Aquaman and Brown Hornet/I’m like Imhotep but don’t flaunt it.”

Character Reference/Meaning:

This time on “Diggin’ Through the Crates, we focus our time on parallel subjects: The Roots out of Philadelphia, Aquaman, Brown Hornet, and Imhotep. Chances are, if you have watched Jimmy Fallon do his Late Night or Tonight Show thing in the past few years, then you know The Roots as the band that does all the homemade covers of pop songs (the Sesame Street theme is my favorite). However, to those of us rooted in Hip-Hop, The Legendary Roots Crew are the best damn group to ever rock a crowd. While Wu Tang Clan got all the hype for knockin’ heads in Staten Island, The Roots were noddin’ heads all over the country with their genre-neutral melodies and conscience rhymes. Perhaps being that good was a gift and a curse, with millions of fans across the world yet still not leading to the commercial success that other groups in their class had (Wu Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A., etc). The Roots are always the underdog, and with the release of their most recent record, And When You Shoot Your Cousin, the world doubted they could still put music out like they used to. The Roots are a sleeping giant, and they finally have the recognition they deserve by being on the best late show on television and whether it’s soft melodies like “What They Do” or venomous cyphers like this one here, The Roots always put heart into their music.

“Thought @ Work” is five minutes of hard-hitting rhymes by head lyricist Black Thought, who covers everything from modern superheroes to ancient Gods in just one line. This started off as a way for us to give a nod to the recent photo that dropped of Jason Momoa as Aquaman, but no other reference embodied the spirit of the underdog quite like this gem. Until “Unite the Seven” became a household phrase (well, maybe just our household), Aquaman has been steadily been attempting to gain the reputation of being a comic book character people could get behind. His days of riding seahorses are over; Arthur Curry is a powerful force in the comic book world, possessing skills that no other on the Justice League has. He is a king of his own domain, a domain in which the other Justice Leaguers have no power in. Most importantly is his connection to ocean dwellers – his telepathy can direct the oceans’ inhabitants the way no other being could otherwise. I’m not saying that Philadelphia is the same as Atlantis, but both Aquaman and Black Thought have a special connection to and draw power from the land they rule.

Meanwhile, the Brown Hornet was a reference to a character from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, first airing in 1979. Created by Bill Cosby, Brown Hornet was the first mainstream animated black superhero to air on television. He was given segments within the show instead of his own series, believed to be due to Cosby wanting to avoid the backlash from putting out a black superhero cartoon based on morality – which was unheard of at the time. BH was a parody of the Green Hornet, and sort of a bumbling hero similar to Inspector Gadget, one that resolved issues with the help of his sidekicks, here named Tweetle Beele and Stinger. Black Thought, like the Brown Hornet, is a mighty force for good, but may have fallen to the wayside by not indulging in what mainstream media has dictated should be the content of Hip Hop these days. Even at the risk of falling off in popularity, Black Thought and the Legendary Roots Crew stand for justice and behind their people.

Contributing to this piece was Lewis Brown, the new Brown Hornet. You can find him here!

Diggin’ Through the Crates: RZA “We Pop”

Song: “We Pop”

Artist: RZA Ft. Division & Ol’ Dirty Bastard

AlbumBirth of a Prince (2003)

Lyric: “I cock arm, pass the bomb, like Troy Aikman/Play the basement like Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.”

 

Character Reference/Meaning:

Welcome back DTCers! Hope you all had a fantastic 4th of July. Over at Hush headquarters, we celebrated the great Red, White, and Nerd! Let’s keep it going, shall we? This week’s DTC features a repeat rapper, the one, the only, the RZA. This track comes off of his 3rd solo studio album and brings with it not only a powerful message, but some supreme nerdiness as well. Like all rap artists, RZA strives for success (he already found it if y’all didn’t know), and in order to be successful you have to make it happen. If you are to become one of the greats and have little boys and girls listening to your hits when you are long past, you have to do one thing. Work. If you don’t put in the work, and have no dedication to your craft, then no one will respect it. That is exactly what RZA expressed in this so skillfully executed nerdy comic reference.

Since 1989, or even before, RZA has been dedicated to his craft. He has put in the work from day one and look at all it has gotten him: multiple albums, countless soundtrack features, tons of features on albums and has been named one of the top music producers according to Vibe, NME, and The Source. RZA has also showed us his acting and directing chops in various films. If you people out there don’t think RZA is neither a star nor a nerd, just Google “RZA” and “Afro Samurai” together, and let all your doubts fade way with your embarrassment for being so foolish. It’s easy to see that RZA is a nerd simply based on this lyric. He doesn’t say “Batman and Robin;” he uses their secret identities. If you know secret identities, then you may be a nerd – congratulations.

RZA understands the importance of having a solid work ethic. Regardless of what you do, if you don’t do it with conviction and dedication, someone who is putting in the work will pass you any day now. Regardless if you are writing the next big comic book, or starting to write your first rhyme, you should strive to be hall of fame quality. You need to be Troy Aikman in a sense, and put everything you have into that one pass. Give your heart and soul into your work, and the work will speak for itself. As you all know RZA goes hard in the paint and truly shows off his craft by using a skillful comic book reference. Most rappers starting out, or even today find their basement to be the base of operations. With eggshell cartons lining the wall, and pantyhose over the microphone, the basement becomes a true recording studio. For aspiring artists on the come up, that basement is the Batcave. In Gotham, if there was no Batcave, would there be a Batman and Robin? If the answer is yes, would they be as effective as they are? Every person, despite the craft, needs a place to make the greatness happen. Batman and Robin have the Batcave, Superman has the Fortress of Solitude, Iron Man has the Stark Tower, and RZA has the recording studio. Similar to the Batcave, the infamous basement recording studio is both out of sight, and underground… I see what you did there RZA, I see it. If you aren’t working hard when you are out of sight and out of mind, then dedication isn’t part of your skill set. Because if you do work hard, who knows, you could be the next RZA, you could be the next Bruce Wayne, you could be the next Dick Grayson. Work hard, do what you do, and make the basement proud!

Diggin’ Through the Crates: Organized Konfusion “Bring It On”

Song: “Bring It On”

Artist: Organized Konfusion

AlbumStress: The Extinction Agenda (1994)

Lyric: “Rippin shit up at prime time, I’m Optimus Prime-time material/Imperial wizard of vocabularic havoc, I eat MC’s like cereal!”

 

Character Reference/Meaning:

DTCers, ROLL OUT! After a bit of a hiatus that I was on for grad school, we’re back at it again, ready to bring you all another ridiculously nerdy lyric that’ll probably make you want to transform into a rapper AND a nerd. Wait, that doesn’t make sense, because in Prince Poetry’s case, they are the same thing, AND I’VE BEEN SAYING IT SINCE DAY ONE!

Organized Konfusion, the dynamic rap duo out of Queens combines the awesome power of Prince Poetry, and DTC hall of famer, Pharoahe Monch. You would think that Pharoahe’s multiple appearances on DTC mean that he’s due for another spotlight, but today the honor goes to his counter part, Prince Poetry! These two individuals have ON (Original Nerd) status, seeing that they’ve been pushing bars since 1987. Need proof? Look no further than their 1994 hit, “Bring It On.”

With Transformers: Age of Extinction currently in theaters, it seems only right that we pay homage to two leaders of their respective packs – Prince Poetry and Optimus Prime. Shall we check the resumés? Prince Poetry a.k.a Prince Po has been rapping since before I was born, and is the founder of Nasty Habits Entertainment. He has four solo albums and EP’s apiece, in addition to the three Organized Konfusion alums. Impressive stats from an underground rapper. Now onto Optimus Prime. Prime is the leader of the Autobots, originates from the planet of Cybertron, sword enemy of the Decepticons, has saved planet Earth several times, while headlining countless cartoon episodes, movies and comic books. If you ask me, they’re pretty much one in the same.

On this DTC track, Prince Po is, without a doubt, letting you know this. Po is at the top of his game, and all the others dragging behind him, either need to figure out how to keep up, or learn how to step off. What he is saying is that if the rap game was planet Earth, and all the other rappers in the world were Autobots, he is pretty much Optimus Prime in comparison. After hearing his verse on this track, it’s kind of hard to refute that statement. Don’t believe me? Check the play on words. “I’m Optimus Prime-time material.” He is Optimus Prime and Prime Time, the nickname of Leon Sandcastle (That joke is funny). This lyrical ability demonstrates a great transformation in itself. Often times, young black men growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods are seen as useless, and unable to contribute to anything productive in society. Knowing that one in three black men eventually end up in prison, it’s hard to keep the faith. However, Transformers is given the same treatment. To the untrained eye, that hunk of junk truck that’s always sitting in that lot across the street is completely useless. It’s rusted, run down, and it only belongs in a scrapyard somewhere. What if I told you that piece of junk was a Transformer? Does your perspective change? All it takes is one fluid move, and all of the sudden, that uselessness turns into something extraordinary. See, these young black kids growing up trying to be rappers, or even rappers today may seem like pieces of junk to the outside world, but to those who are paying attention, they are greatness. Hip-hop is more than just music to some, it is a way of life, it creates change inside of us that is unstoppable. So, that kid on the corner may seem like a piece of junk now, but who knows when he will transform into something powerful beyond measure.

Basically, Po is nothing short of hall of fame material. When he goes hard on tracks like this one, all the Decepticons suddenly have something to worry about. See, Optimus and hip-hop have many things in common. Probably one of the biggest factors the two share is the their influence on the youth of the 80s and 90s. Growing up in the hood, black community, or any community where hip-hop was a way of life, being an MC’s with dope lyrics was something to strive for. Having a lyrical ability was somethings people admired, it gave you status and an overall sense of purpose despite your upbringing. Growing up in the hood, you are given more opportunities to fail rather than succeed, and it’s much easier to stay up, than to try and climb your way out. Optimus could be viewed in the same light. Despite Optimus being the very last prime, his commitment to his cause and craft never wavered. To the audience, Optimus made it cool to be a good guy. Similar to Captain Planet and G.I. Joe, his courage and willingness to sacrifice everything for what he believed in was admirable. Hip-hop and Optimus are strong, righteous, and dedicated to what matters in life. For Optimus, that meant saving Earth through the way of the sword, maintaining what was honorable and good. Hip-hop does the same thing for planet Earth, only rather than the sword, hip-hop uses the mind and the spirit. Both fight evil, and both create a better way of life, both inspire hope.

Po dropped a transformers reference back in 1994, when hip-hop, nerds, rappers and transformers were all prime indicators of greatness. Knowing that transformers originated as a popular toy line only 10 years earlier, and then expanded into a cartoon television show, and then blew up to what we know it as today, it’s obvious the product hasn’t lost traction. When the toy line dropped, right off the bat, Optimus was the one to have. Little kids on the block were saving up what they have, folding bills in their socks, and begging their parents to go down to the toy store. If you were one of the lucky ones, and actually got that money, or that ride, if you left with anything other than Optimus Prime it just didn’t feel right. If you aren’t Optimus Prime, you might as well be a Decepticon.

FUN FACT: Optimus Prime was created by Denny O’Neil, legendary Batman writer who had a long career alongside artist Neal Adams.

 

 

Diggin’ Through the Crates: Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch “Killin’ Em”

Song: “Killin Em”

Artist: Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch

Album: Cookies or Comas (2011 mixtape), free download here

Lyric: “Generally-accused mutant who kills sentinels eventually/For days of future past intentionally”

Character Reference/Meaning:

We just can’t stay away from this legendary MC; who knew Pharoahe was such a nerd? This week’s “Diggin’ Through the Crates” celebrates two occasions. First, Pharoahe is performing live in Denver tonight at Cervantes. If you’re in town, do yourself a favor and go see one of the illest MCs ever to rock the crowd, fresh off his P.T.S.D. album. He’s one of the best live performers I’ve ever seen, and VERY reasonably priced considering the level of talent and interaction you get at the show.

The other reason that Pharoahe graces “DTC” for the third time (“Agent Orange” and “Rapid Eye Movement” have come before it), is because of his acute knowledge of the X-Men. With Days of Future Past released today, we saw it fitting to pick a relevant lyric, but while there were some a couple Kitty Pryde lyrics and even more Wolverine ones, Pharoahe’s verbal portrait of the totalitarian rule in the X-Men’s future takes the cake. You know what? Scratch that, it takes the whole bakery; any MC that has rapped about destroying sentinels, let along read Days of Future Past (you can check out our spoiler-free review of the graphic novel here if you’re interested) deserves some recognition.

This track from the Jean Grae (who has made her “DTC” appearance with “Jeannie Rules“) mixtape Cookies or Comas features to artists just going in about how dangerous their flows are, likening their love to their apart MCs to various horror movie characters and other serial killers. It’s a track with of pop culture references aplenty, and isn’t just limited to X-Men shout outs. I could go on forever trying to dissect all the Easter Eggs in “Killin’ Em,” but we’ll stick to the mutant issue at hand (get it?).

Days of Future Past, for those that haven’t owned a television or browsed the web in the past four months or so, is a story about the desolate future, where the X-Men’s failure to stop a political murder has ended up causing the election of a radically anti-mutant senator who implements giant mutant eradicators that (surprise!) ends up killin’ everybody in site – much like the MC Lyte-sampled loop on the track suggests. Sentinels are a vital part to the X-Men lore, and represent the cold, heartless authority designed specifically to take you out. If this sounds like a social commentary, that’s because it’s supposed to be!

Let’s start with Pharoahe’s displeasure for the boys in blue. It’s no secret that Troy Jamerson isn’t impressed with the police and the American justice system. A point that Pharoahe tries to drive home is that young black men are a target in this society. The extended video for “Clap (One Day)” off his W.A.R. album illustrates the public shaming of police officers who shoot unarmed civilians, which is more common than anybody feels comfortable talking about. It might not look like it on the news, but the sentinels from Days of Future Past isn’t too far off of life in urban neighborhoods. The evidence is stacked high and people continue to ignore the dangers, and probably will until it endangers them, as well.

When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first introduced sentinels in X-Men #14 almost fifty years ago, it was right in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement, when police were systematically trying to dismantle organized groups trying to fight for equality. Hell, the entire X-Men concept is based off the Civil Rights Movement and the right to equal treatment. Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto are often compared to the Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, respectively, of the mutant-filled world. There’s even the concept of “passing” as regular humans, something that some of the X-Men can choose to do, like light-skinned black people would do to avoid scrutiny.

Through the decades, X-Men became a sub-conscious platform for loving yourself and being comfortable with who you are, while still loving the people around you. Sure, there was Wolverine, who encapsulated all the rage and the desire to fight those who persecute, but there was the balance of Storm’s loving view towards all living things, and the logical thinking of Scott Summers (except when it came to Jean Grey; he was crazy about her). Without audiences even knowing it, the X-Men inspired the world to work as a diverse team to thwart injustice – in whatever form it may take.

Diggin’ Through the Crates: Sadistik ft Vast Aire “Writes of Passage”

Song: “Writes of Passage”

Artist: Sadistik featuring Vast Aire

AlbumThe Balancing Act (2008)

Lyric: “I used to cry out why (why!)/Cus like Scott Summers, I couldn’t open my eyes/Cus everyone would die/If i took one peek, everyone would fry.”

Character Reference/Meaning:

Coming to the main stage of “DTC” this week is Sadistik. This very deep and nerdy lyric comes from the featured artist Vast Aire. Now typically “DTC” likes to have fun with its lyrics and show the handsome side of comics and Hip-Hop, however, most things in life both have a dark and light side to them. In both Hip-Hop and comics, it’s not always about saving the day, or speaking about rising above adversity. Sometimes things get dark; there are death, destruction and other pretty ugly things. I think that is exactly what Vast Aire is speaking about in this lyric. I can’t say that I personally know Vast Aire, but my guess is that when he wrote this he had a lot on his mind and some difficult things to deal with. Sometimes when things get so bad, people feel that no matter what they see, no matter what they put their focus on, it all gets broken, destroyed, and turned to ash. That could possibly be what this lyric is saying, that there is so much bad and wrong going on that he could possibly feel responsible. Or perhaps not, like I said before these are all just theories. But what do you “DTC” fans think I am? A one trick pony? Never. I have another theory.

Many rappers in the game aren’t here because everything in their life was sunshine and rainbows. A lot of rappers have experienced poverty, rejection, and death. My guess would be that Vast Aire is no different, that everywhere he goes he sees all these negatives. He sees people trying to provide for their people, he sees people trying to do better for themselves but continue to get pulled down, and he sees people die. So maybe, just maybe, if he closes his eyes, and shuts the world off, the pain will go with it. Like Cyclops when he first developed his powers, if he opened his eyes to the world and to the people around him, they would die. Maybe Vast Aire, was tired of seeing everyone around him go, so the best way to not see it, is to shut it down. Maybe we will be able to see this struggle in the new on going Cyclops series which will be written by Greg Rucka.

In this series, Rucka focuse on a younger Scott Summer (Cyclops) with illustrator Russell Dauterman. This is exciting because this will be the first on going solo series for Cyclops, one of the original leaders of the X-Men. This series spins out of “The Trial of Jean Gray.” I can’t say much about this series without spoiling what the main focus will be of the Cyclops solo series, however, if you are truly curious it might be a good idea to pick up that comic, or just look it up on the internet because well, you know, we can do that. I’m actually very excited about this series, and I hope it proves to be something special. It should be the same old Scott Summers we know and love, however the story will force us to look at him from a different angle and attitude. Seeing that we will be taking a look at Cyclops in a different time, with a different mind frame will allow us to see how this young character developed into who he is today. This solo series is set to drop in May and my bet is that this comic will be something very interesting and something all comic fans should check out. So remember fans, for every one ugly event in your life, there are fifty beautiful ones waiting in the wing.

Diggin’ Through the Crates: Jean Grae “Jeannie Rules”

Song: “Jeannie Rules”

Artist: Jean Grae

Album: Cookies or Comas (2011)

Lyric: “Fast and agile/Teleport rhymes, Nightcrawler while you’re fragile/Stagnant ballers/Don’t give a damn about your dollars.”

Character Reference/Meaning:

Today is somewhat of a special day for “DTC” as we introduce our first female artist to the stage, Jean Grae. What better person to represent our music/comic cross over than a hard hitting hip-hop artist who happens to share the same name as a strong and brilliant female comic book character (check out our profile on Jean Grey here). It is truly an honor to feature the underground legend Jean Grae, who truly proves her worth and nerdiness right off the bat with her name, and this sick lyric. It’s one thing to mention the X-Men in your lyrics, but to mention fanboy favorites like Nightcrawler and have it be as awesome as this. Basically, what Jean Grae is BAMFing about is that her rhymes are simply better and that’s all there is to it. With the wonder that Kurt Wagner travels through space is the same wonder her rhymes inflict on her listeners – which is actually as close to the truth as you can get without being Nightcrawler.

While a lot of artists think they are making moves and putting out work, they are moving in stasis compared to what Jean Grae spits. While they stand still, counting whatever their pocket-change produces, Jean Grae isn’t worried about them at all. For all she cares, you could be swimming in loot, but that doesn’t mean your rhymes are worth a dime. She might as well be Nightcrawler, the way she’s making moves from one venture to another. On top of rapping, Grae recently made her directorial debut creating “Life With Jeannie.” This half-hour sitcom is written, directed by and stars Jean Grae which dropped on JeanGraeTV.com. She also created her own company “KAGD.” In one of her most recent music ventures, Jean Grae released three cycles of “Gotham Down.” How nerdy is that. She is also a self-proclaimed X-Men and John Byrne, who wrote Days of Future Past (the movie adaptation comes out next month).

Along the lines of making movies, Marvel is finally making some big moves with our teleporting superhero, Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler is finally getting his first solo series. I won’t spoil anything for the people out there who aren’t up to date with out hero, but this is truly Kurt Wagner’s second chance at life. Back in 2010, Nightcrawler gave his life for a noble cause in X-Force #26 (April 2010). But, when Amazing X-Men launched last November, we saw our hero return. And now on 4/9/14 we finally get to see him with his first solo series. With artist Todd Nauck and writer Chris Claremont (who has worked with the character from 1975 to 1991) at the head of this project, we can hope and expect to see some good things out of this comic series. I’m getting blue in the face just thinking about it, ha, get it?  This comic hit shelves this Wednesday, 4/9/14, and we encourage you to go check it out. We also encourage everyone out there to check out Jean Grae and her latest endeavors. If you want more information about Jean Grae, and her works you can visit her website at http://www.jeangrae.com/.

I dare say…I was born for this. Raise the flag, X-Men. And let’s go be amazing.” -Kurt Wagner (Earth 616).

 

Diggin’ Through the Crates: K-Rino “Duality”

Song: “Duality”

Artist: K-Rino

Album: Annihilation of the Evil Machine (2010)

Lyric: “One a thought is born, nothing can harm it/You don’t understand the magnitude of torment, that it took for me to form it/I dare ya to deal, each of the labyrinth characters killed/Got a Captain America shield that I wear in the field.”

Character Reference/Meaning:

What is more American that Hip-Hop and being a nerd? The correct answer to that is Captain America. However, today on “DTC,” we combine all three to possibly make the most American thing in existence. Surprisingly, today’s song “Duality” fits in perfectly with all of our topics. For those “DTC” fans out there, you might remember a while back we did a “DTC” about Captain America (Hopsin’s “Lunch Time Cypher”), yet contrary to this week’s article, it was about Cap getting… well, Cap’d. Today’s article is all about surviving through the battle. K-Rino takes this duality notion to heart by posing the question, what would happen if he had a rap partner. So rather than finding a rap partner, he decided to just split himself in half and become his own rap partner. Similar to the superheroes of the world, they all have duel identities. For every Bruce Banner, there is a Hulk. For every Bruce Wayne, there is a Batman. And for every Steve Rodgers there is a Captain America.

We all have this other side of us that either contradicts who we are or thrives in addition to our known character. Everybody has this dual identity. It’s not just superheroes; rappers are no different: where there is a Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, there is also a Lupe Fiasco . With a Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr, you have a Snoop Dogg, and if there is an Eric Kaiser, there is always going to be a K-Rino. For most rappers and poets of today, their dual identity comes with one powerful weapon – their words. That is exactly what K-Rino is trying to say in this lyric. Once an artist develops a thought behind a song, and spends so much time and energy to make it into a harmony, followed by a rhythmic flow, nothing and nobody can take that away from them. A majority of hip-hop artist form their songs based off of their personal lives, so when K-Rino speaks about the torment involved with forming that thought, he is talking about the difficult life he has had to go through, which has been the reason he is a rapper today. Without that life and that hardship, he wouldn’t be able to form such a song. And if you dare challenge him on those thoughts, it can only end badly for you.

So, similar to Captain America’s vibranium shield that keeps him safe in harms way, words do the same for the rappers of the world. Just like nothing can harm Captain America when he is covered by his shield, nothing can harm an artist when covered by his poetry. The same can be said for anybody and everybody, you just have to go figure out what your shield is. Coming back to the notion of duality, just like we all have that one thing that makes us feel safe, we all have that one thing that can harm us. For Captain America that opposing force is the Winter Soldier. Within the next few days the world will get to see that battle play out on the big screen. Dropping April 4, 2014, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is going to shoot off vita-rays into every nerd heart, turning them into super nerd soldiers. This film looks to be a great one with the reappearance of some of our major characters such as the Captain and Black Widow, and the addition of some new ones, mainly Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I don’t know about you, but me and all of my other dual identity cannot wait to see this movie in theaters. So check out Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and go our there and discover the duality in your life.

Cover photo taken from houstonpress.com