Alright, it’s no obscure video of a baby Wu-Tang on Bronx public access TV . But going through my shoeboxes of tapes has again revealed something dope. I wear a size 13, so you know the box has room for plenty of jewels and the box is for a pair of Sauconys, so you know its contents go back.
From 1994-98 I was an avid fan of underground rap shows on college radio. They presented an alternative to “getting on” in the rap game and were proof that you could be a big fish in a small pond and ensnare a following while completely disregarding what was happening with major label rap music. As an engineer at Vance Wright’s Vee-Dubbs studio in New Rochelle, listening to the likes of WKCR’s Stretch & Bobbito (on Thursday nights) and WNYU’s Mayhem, Sunset & DJ Riz (on Wednesday and Thursday nights) gave me hope when A&Rs at the majors weren’t feeling anything that wasn’t cloaked in a Bad Boy Records influence or name-dropping Italian mobsters that didn’t know or give a fuck about rap anyway. The mid-late ‘90s 12” single movement was brought to the New York listeners via radio shows like these, but both shows were also good for allowing the top artists of that niche to roll through with DAT tapes of their demos or a bag of their rhyme books. A Tuesday post on a blog was a Wednesday or Thursday night debut on the air, and unless you knew someone who was taping, you probably never heard the shit again.
One night in the Fall of ‘96 I was lucky enough to have the Sanyo rolling when producer Charlemagne came through with a DAT of his productions. From Last Emperor to Mr. Voodoo and the rest of the Natural Elements, he leaked some serious joints that never saw the light of day. Along with Minnesota (Sadat X, Money Boss Players, Grand Puba), Charlemagne was one of the most promising producers of that era - and when the major labels jumped on the indie bandwagon and it failed on a major stage, the producers and artists of that ilk and era never collected their full props. Even worse, the knee-jerk reaction to the sudden end of this epoch was to dis it on message boards and become a Dipset fan in an act of irony; the rep of mid-'90s indie rap has yet to recover (sans a few of the 12"s going for stupid loot online). While some songs have surely aged better than others, this diminutive niche meant giant things to your average college kid in NYC trying to find an entryway to the music biz at the time. I haven’t seen any of these online, so here go the sounds. Enjoy.
The Last Emperor: “The Empire Strikes Back”
The Last Emperor: “Title Unknown”
Mr. Voodoo: “C.R.H.Y.M.E.”
Natural Elements: “Title Unknown”
Essence: “The First of Many Reasons”
Unknown Artist: “Title Unknown”
I also first heard Common’s “The Bitch In Yoo” on WNYU (the version with one verse aimed at Ice Cube and the other at a pussy-whipped friend), but according to Google it’s not all that elusive. That’s what happens when you live under a rock like I do. Shout to the WNYU crew for regularly bumping Half-A-Mil (R.I.P.) and having him on the show as a guest. Anyone giving a man who rapped about getting his Fila suit out the cleaners in ‘95 ample props and airtime deserves a humanitarian award.