Yo, the ampersat killed hip-hop, son. In one fell keystroke, our friend the @ joined forces with the death of liner notes to completely obliterate the sixth element of hip-hop from the hip-hop album - shout outs to your boys.
How’d you know which rappers your favorite rapper was or wasn’t down with? How’d you know if he really believed in God (or Allah) and respected his mama? How’d you get the 411 on who was due to finish a jail bid? The shout out. And it just doesn’t seem natural on social media. A props tweet, Facebook mention or nod on a blog will just fall down the feed and become extinct...like the early ‘90s album filler phenomenon known as the “shout out track.” Most artists typically compiled a list of family, rap peers, and dead (and living) homies from around the way who were unknown to the general public in the album’s liner notes. But for a good four years, rappers often went so far as to dedicate one entire track to mentioning the names of those who were true to the game, immortalizing them for eternity. Shout out tracks were a sign of the times - they gave the record label and consumer mo’ material as average album lengths expanded from 40 minutes to well over an hour between 1988 and 1992.
The shout out track died of natural causes sometime in the mid-’90s, but I continued the archaic method of acknowledgement well into the 2000s. (I followed this practice solely to omit liner notes; multi-panel CD inserts and vinyl insert sheets were beyond my budget.) Looking back on this short-lived practice, here are nine of the greatest album filler shout out tracks of all time.
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9. Compton’s Most Wanted: “Gangsta Shot Out” (Epic, 1991)
Rarely would an artist actually rhyme on a shout out track. ( Chubb Rock’s “Regiments of Steel” and Brand Nubian’s “Dedication” are the only other songs that come to mind.) After all, it’s a throwaway. And when have you known rappers from the Golden Era to work unnecessarily? (Most of them still think $15,000 per guest appearance is standard, like the Rooftop is still open and Fab 5 Freddy will debut their new video this weekend.) But MC Eiht takes an unorthodox, funky loop that sounds like a leftover skit from an early Gangstarr album and lays down a mean, off-beat gangsta rhyme. Then he shows us who he’s down with via a cut and response with DJ Mike T, giving proof that the shout out track actually had more potential than a mere roll call over a raw beat.
8. Biz Markie: “To My Boys” (Cold Chillin', 1991)
The superfluous "To My Boys" is the greatest waste of album space in the history of recorded music - and that in itself makes it memorable. Two facts: 1. It’s the very first song on Biz’s I Need A Haircut album. 2. Biz is nowhere to be heard on this song - it's just DJ Cool V thanking people for 5+ minutes. Way to lose the audience, fellas. I bought this album on tape and this was the earliest in an album I've ever used the fast forward button in my 25+ year history of buying cassettes. The shout out track was typically the last song on the album, when the listeners had already absorbed the album’s finest moments and had the option of turning the song off mid-way through the roll call and being able to say with confidence that they didn’t miss anything good. But Biz and Cool V really foiled this one in the sequencing department. It was like busting a nut while walking to the corner store to buy the jim hats. At least Gilbert O’Sullivan probably heard it, which is more than can be said for the rest of these shout out tracks.
7. Shazzy: “SD50's Groove” and “Shazzy’s Shouts” (Elektra, 1990)
God damn, talk about beating a dead horse, then resuscitating him just to shoot him in the head. Dante Ross, I blame you. Rappers got the obligatory shout out track circa Fall 1990, but a separate shout out track for the producer, too? C’mon, Dante, you were on a hot date with narcissism, man. But shit, I can dig it - both songs have beats dope enough to warrant the blatant reach for more album filler. And considering how flawless the production was on this severely overlooked album, the SD50s deserved a chance to tell us who they gave a shit about, including a nigga we’ll probably never meet in “the Jheri Curl fly guy in the lobby of Calliope.”
6. Greyson & Jasun: “Special Thanx” (Atlantic, 1991)
Gotta leave a spot for my boys Vance Wright and Greyson & Jasun, who added a twist to the shout out track in its days as a neophyte. Lead MC, Greyson, bucks the newly set tradition: “We did this record all by ourselves and I’m not thanking a God damn soul...Goodbye. Thank you mom, for having me. I’m outta here.”
5. E.L. Me & The Street Products: "Outshot" (1992, THG)
E.L. Me & The Street Products, an obscure crew from Watts, offer the anathema to the shout out track - the out shot track. Yeah, giving props to people is so...cliche. So instead, they utilize the final track on their album to antagonize and insult people by name. Everyone from Tim Dog to the L.A.P.D; to Nemesis; to a "dingy-ass, stanky ass tramp' ho" named Terry that nobody knows except these cats - they all get smoked. Obscure local references played a giant part in the greatness and entertainment value of rap albums that aged poorly. A five mic shout out track fa sho.
4. 2 Black 2 Strong MMG: "MMG Shoot Out" (1991, Clappers)
They rap incites violence, but the shout out track and the equally extinct DJ track were always the ones you could cherry pick to play in court to prove otherwise. Harlem's 2 Black 2 Strong MMG destroyed half of that equation by littering an otherwise acapella shout out track with a sonic typhoon of gunfire. By far the most violent acknowledgements ever laid to wax, listening to this you'd think if you got on 2 Black 2 Strong's good side you might get a cap busted in your ass.
3. Ice-T: “M.V.P.s” (Sire / Rhyme Syndicate, 1991)
Ice takes one part status quo and one part Biz and meets us halfway - “M.V.P.s” is smack dead in the middle of his Original Gangster LP. Already a long-ass album, Ice dedicates 4:20 to who he likes, but he really didn’t have to do this considering he’s listed everyone he mentions on the song in the album’s liner notes. He even printed the lyrics to the songs in the liner notes, but was smart enough to not print the lyrics to “M.V.P.s.” That would’ve been overkill. But then Ice inexplicably omitted the track from the vinyl version of Original Gangster , and in the pre-Serato era, this completely robbed you of the chance to cut your name up when he says it. “M.V.P.s” makes absolutely no sense at all in retrospect, but Ice gets points for a slammin’ beat and givin’ MC Hammer some props (and dissing all who dissed Hammer). Well-intentioned and aesthetically great, but a bit aimless...kind of like his Art of Rhyme movie.
2. Tim Dog: “Breakin’ North” (Ruffhouse, 1993)
As I mentioned earlier, rappers never like to work when it ain’t necessary. Not only did Tim Dog follow up his magnum opus, Penicillin on Wax , with a half as long and half as strong sophomore effort, but he committed the cardinal sin and jacked a beat off another rap album for the shout out track, “Breakin’ North.” Shout out tracks were like casual Fridays for rappers at that point, but at least show off on the beat. No. The producer took the day off, too, and opted to jack Gangstarr’s “The Meaning Of The Name” right off the record and add a snare. Gotta give props for keeping the theme of laziness going, though. But there are some classic shout out track elements here, too. Tim Dog hints that he may have had some problems out west when he thanked Tupac for “having my back in San Francisco.” And in true Tim Dog fashion, he dissed Hollywood Basic Records and DJ Quik “for playin’ himself. Yeah, you bitch ass nigga.”
1. Ice Cube: “I Gotta Say Whattup” (Priority, 1990)
Kill at Will is arguably the greatest rap EP of all time. And “I Gotta Say Whattup” tops the list for one simple reason - it was the last time we heard Cube on wax actually sounding like he had a Jheri curl. After this, it was the Nation of Islam Cube, who was still angry, albeit more responsible and socially conscious (and bald). Well, you know where it went after that, but you can tell that the man kicking shouts on this one was still eatin' po'k (pork), drinkin' 40s, headin' to the sto' a few times a day, and wearing fur coats at the Apollo. The nice guy concept of shout outs couldn’t mask the ghetto rowdiness of a young, Doughboy-era O’Shea (and an equally vocal Sir Jinx doing adlibs). Even better, Cube's acknowledging folks over an Isaac Hayes “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” sample, which never fails to sound like rib shack / curl salon music. It's just that good ole triflin' rap shit that irked old white people and well-behaved, assimilated Negroes. Cube leaves rap for a second and goes local to give a shout out to “the nigga from my block, King Ronnie Ron.” I tried to @ King Ronnie Ron on Twitter, but the nigga is nowhere to be found. King Ronnie Ron is too hard for social media, as are all the unknown recipients of early '90s gangsta shouts of this ilk. Ron probably runs a daycare center today, and that makes me feel good. But then Cube lands the deathblow: “And to all the muthafuckas I forgot, y’all ain’t did shit anyway.” Ouch. No love for Twin Hype. Then a subtle N.W.A. diss appears at the end, to seal the deal. By far the greatest shout out track ever recorded and I dare you to disagree.
For those who remember this short lived trend, hopefully this brings back some memories. For those too young to know what the hell I’m talking about, take notes. What better a home for filler than a mixtape? People make lots of those these days. So quit with all that ampersattin’ you lil’ bitch ass nigga - let us know who you’re down with over that “A Milli” beat and give the listener mo’ value!