Memories Back Then: Emcees Recount Their Earliest Hip Hop Moments
R.A. the Rugged Man, Papoose, Fashawn, Problem, Bangladesh & Rich Kidd take a stroll down memory lane by reminiscing on their first encounters with Hip Hop.
“I sat dead in front of speakers thinkin’ that could be me / Anticipatin' open microphones so I could emcee / Had a catalogue of raps impressin’ all the ‘round-the-wayers / Before I went to bed included rhymes into my prayers / But that rhyme is all on paper / I want my song on vinyl plates / I’m dreamin’ hits and doin’ shows, makin my niggas spines shake / Expectin’ nothing but a little bit of radio play / Gettin diced on one’s and two’s by the best deejays…” -Trugoy of De La Soul, “Brakes.”
Chances are, if you’re writing about Hip Hop or logging serious time on any Hip Hop-based website or blog, you’ve been a fan of the music and the culture for some time. More than just some passing fad, there’s likely some embarrassing yearbook photos of you with a trademark high-top fade, “three cuts in your eyebrows, tryin’ to wild out,” or a pair of sweatpants with one of the legs rolled up. Ladies may similarly cringe at the memories of doorknocker earrings and Salt ‘N’ Pepa or MC Lyte inspired asymmetric mushroom cuts. Even the ultra posh Beyonce recently shared memories of sneaking off to listen to UGK and Geto Boys with, “baby hair with my dookie braids” on “Bow Down.” Of course, most of these styles are en vogue again, so the references may be a moot point.
Long story short, the average Hip Hop head has some dominant, early memories that likely played a part in wanting to contribute to Hip Hop culture in some way, shape or form. And it turns out many of your favorite artists are no different. HipHopDX rounded up a few emcees to talk about their earliest Hip Hop memories. As we embark on this trip down memory lane, suffice it to say you’re not the only one that may have taken a beating for stashing those profanity-laced albums in your bedroom. Who knows, your favorite rapper probably has some similar memories of emulating another emcee in the mirror using a random household item as a makeshift microphone.
Fat Boy(s): R.A. the Rugged Man Explains “Daddy’s Halo”
“Through poverty, death, disease and sickness / You always somehow found a way to turn the situation optimistic / I was a big fat kid overweight / So to clown me you bought me the Fat Boys, it was my very first Rap tape...” -R.A. the Rugged Man, “Legends Never Die (Daddy’s Halo).”
While “Uncommon Valor” shines as the most notable example, R.A. the Rugged Man has no shortage of material paying homage to his father, the late Staff Sergeant John A. Thorburn. As it turns out, when R.A. credits the elder Thorburn with introducing him to Hip Hop on the track “Daddy’s Halo,” the Rugged Man is essentially laying out his B-boy bio.
“My dad had a tape club; you know, the one where you get 12 cassette tapes for one penny...like Colombia House?” R.A. the Rugged Man recalled during an April visit to HipHopDX’s offices. “He saw Fat Boys, and I used to be a big, fat kid. So he’s like, ‘I’ll get that.’ And sure enough, he goes, ‘Here you go, son.’ So my reaction is, ‘Thanks, dad…thanks, dad. Alright, alright. I get it. I’m a fat kid.’ That was one of my first Rap experiences ever—my Fat Boys tape that my daddy gave me. I don’t even know if he knew it was Rap or not. He was probably just thinking, ‘Fat Boys…ha, ha, ha, ha. I’m funny.’ He always thought he was funny. My dad used to tease me and kick me in my ass like, ‘Hey, fat boy?’ I didn’t even know what it was, I just saw the three fat guys on the cover. Then I put it in and caught on the fact that they were rapping. That wasn’t my game-changing moment in Hip Hop though.”
So what was the landmark moment that launched the career of one Crustified Dibbs? Would you be surprised to learn it involved a bit of property damage?
“Later on, I met this beatboxer from my neighborhood named Bub,” R.A. continued. “I tell this story often…he was blowing up a shop window with an M-80. He was like, ‘Yo, kid! Check this out,’ because he was older than me. And he fucking blew up the whole shopping center window…blaow! So I’m running away with him like, ‘Oh shit! You’re crazy.’ Later on, he’s like, ‘Yo, check out this Whodini tape. Check out this other tape.’ Then he beatboxed, and girls would think he was cool because he was beatboxing. So I tried to rhyme along with his beatboxing, and I was terrible with this high-pitched voice.”
Luckily for the Rugged Man, things improved. As it turns out, Fat Boys and Whodini weren’t the only crew that influenced both he and Bub.
“Then they would have these firehouse dances where he’d beatbox and I’d try to rap. We’d say, ‘We’re Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick,’ but we wasn’t really like Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick. We were pretty terrible. But around the ages of 13, 14 and 15 I got a lot better. I became one of the better kids around the neighborhood. I don’t know why, but I just happened to get good at my craft.”
Nobody’s Equal: Papoose On Big Daddy Kane’s Influence
“Remember when I used to boost more than jungle cables / Living in this Nacirema Dream, I’m able / To push the Maybach like an extra day of April / I’m nice, I rock ice just like Ice / Anyone Vanilla Ice, Ice-T, just ice / Ice Cube, ice dudes, make the right moves…” -Papoose, “Nacirema Dream.”
Papoose may name check Just Ice, Ice-T, Ice Cube and Vanilla Ice respectively. But if you skip the play on the word “Ice” and focus on the jungle cables he used to boost, it becomes a bit clearer who was one of his earliest influences.
“Awww, man…my earliest Hip Hop experience?” Papoose recounted during a phone interview with HipHopDX in May. “I would have to say when I first got that Long Live The Kane album. I was a kid, and a family friend came over. My moms and them used to have card games every weekend, and this dude pulled some shit out of his pocket. I never took my eyes off it—it was a Big Daddy Kane cassette. I picked up, looked at it, and when he turned his back, I put that shit in my pocket. [Laughs] I’m just being real with you, because I never stopped listening to it. That was one of my earliest experiences, and the culture of Hip Hop itself made me want to be a part of it. But Big Daddy Kane made me want to be nice. He made me want to do it. So that was one of my first experiences, and that was an incredible album. I knew from that moment that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Got Urself A Nas Tape: Fashawn On “Illmatic’s” Influence
Given the fact that Fresno spitter Fashawn released Ode To Illmatic in June of 2010, it’s no secret he was influenced by one Nasir Jones. As it turns out, Fash was no early adopter to Nas’ catalogue, and it should come as no surprise that a line from “God’s Son” himself inspired Fashawn to make a few Nas-related purchases.”
“I remember I was in seventh grade, and I think it was 2000 or 2001,” Fashawn recalled in an April 2010 interview with HipHopDX, just months before dropping Ode To Illmatic. “I went to the store and bought Illmatic, because Nas had a heated battle with this guy named Jay-Z at the time. Nas had a record called ‘Got Urself A Gun,’ where he said, ‘Hit the record store / Get my whole collection.’ So that’s what I did, and I was blown away.”
We can only hope young Fash skipped Nastradamus. Either way, a flame was clearly sparked with those middle school purchases.
“I started with Illmatic; that was the first one I bought,” Fashawn added. “That’s how that whole influence came…this was 2000, so I put it on, and my homies were like, ‘What are you listening to? That’s some old school shit. What is that?’ I had to tell them, ‘You don’t know about Illmatic? It’s a five-mic classic!’ So that’s how I stumbled upon that.”
A Familial Breed: Problem Recalls His First Hip Hop Experiences
Through his own work and early writing gigs for Snoop Dogg, we’ve learned California-bred emcee Problem enjoys partying. But before there was any molly or “turning up,” a young Problem got an insight on the festive atmosphere the right soundtrack can provide.
“Now that I’m fully into this shit, I start thinking back on shit I didn’t pick up on,” Problem stated during an in-person interview back in May. “There will be memories like my mom being young as fuck playing [N 2 Deep’s] ‘Back to the Hotel.’ I would think, ‘Why are we always listenin to this?’ But I knew my moms was on some other shit out here, and I was a baby at the time. She was on some different shit ‘cause the music I was listening to—one of my favorite songs was [MC Breed’s] ‘Ain’t No Future In Yo Frontin’.’ I used to hear that shit all the time. It was like, ‘Womp, womp.’ Shit, that’s my mom! I’m like, ‘Why the fuck would she be listening to that?’ She was really turnt the fuck up. [Singing] ‘I Wanna Be Rich,’ by Calloway. I guess she wanted to get some money, so I be trippin’ off that type of shit. I didn’t get my own Hip Hop experience ‘til I was older.”
Cold As Ice: Bangladesh Credits Ice Cube As Inspiration
“The first tape I ever bought was an Ice Cube / Mama heard the cussin’ and got rid of my Ice Cube.” -Bangladesh, “Untitled”
During a 2008 interview, when asked about how often fans told him about getting caught listening to NWA, MC Ren explained that he had similar experiences.
“I get a lot of the same type of shit,” Ren offered. “It’s just like how when I was little, we used to sneak and go listen to Richard Pryor. We used to get in some serious trouble for that shit [laughs].”
The whippings, confiscated albums and scoldings are almost associated with NWA as much as all black Los Angeles Raiders attire. And for rapper/producer Bangladesh, the story was no different.
“Ice Cube was the first tape I bought—Amerikkka’s Most Wanted when he went solo,” Bangladesh explained during a phone interview with HipHopDX in March. “I had $20, and my mom took my tape from me ‘cause he was cussin’ too much. I was trying to tell her that he got more of a positive message. He ain’t just cussin’. You can’t just hear the cussin’ without really listening to what he’s saying.”
Bangladesh had those childhood experiences come full circle, as he wound up producing “She Couldn’t Make It On Her Own,” for Ice Cube and his sons, Doughboy and OMG. And the man behind hits such as Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” and “A Kiss” by Eminem and Royce Da 5’9 had Ice Cube return the favor on his upcoming album, Flowers And Candy.
“The song that’s on my album with Ice Cube, I go back to that. I say, ‘The first tape I ever bought was an Ice Cube / Mama heard the cussin’ and got rid of my Ice Cube.’ I came up in the ‘80s, so I remember some of the first Rap music. I grew up in front of “Yo! MTV Raps” and “Rap City” and some of the first hosts—Donnie Simpson on the [BET “Video Soul”] top 20 countdown. That’s how I learned. Then the radio was more alternative, Hard Rock, Soft Rock and Pop. We had one urban station that wasn’t even all day urban. So the TV is really what showed me the culture. I been around Hip Hop forever, man.”
All A Dream: Rich Kidd On Discovering Notorious B.I.G.’s Music
“It was all a dream / I used to read Word Up magazine / Salt 'N' Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine / Hangin’ pictures on my wall / Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl / I let my tape rock ‘til my tape popped / Smokin’ weed and Bambu, sippin’ on Private Stock / Way back, when I had the red and black lumberjack / With the hat to match / Remember Rappin Duke, duh-ha, duh-ha / You never thought that hip hop would take it this far…” -Notorious B.I.G., “Juicy.”
If Notorious B.I.G. was admittedly influenced by Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Mr. Magic and the Juice Crew, then things got cyclical when aspiring B-boys and girls heard the Bed Stuy, Brooklyn emcee formerly known as Biggie Smalls. Just ask Toronto, Ontario product, Rich Kidd.
“My first introduction to Rap was my pops,” Rich Kidd recounted, in a May interview with HipHopDX. “He was a DJ. He usually played African music at these Guyanese parties that he used to throw with his friends. He had a whole bunch of records; I would always dig through them. My first introduction to a rapper I liked was Biggie—Ready To Die. That’s when I went back to Wu-Tang and back to the other stuff. I’ve always heard shit, but Biggie was the one that caught my interest probably because he was a dark-skinned, fat, ugly rapper. He was cool; he made all that cool. I seen MC Hammer and seeing all these flashy guys wearing chains and shit, but when I seen Biggie, I had never seen an artist like that, so greasy...
“But he still had that swag and the charisma. That’s who I latched onto, and I became a Wu-Tang fan after that, and Nas. It wasn’t until even later I started getting into Jay-Z, who is pretty much my favorite rapper now.”
Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native who has contributed to various magazines, newspapers and has been an editor at HipHopDX since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @OmarBurgess.