Let’s See Gucci Outsell This Dude

Celly Cel — “What U Niggaz Thought”

A few nights ago, I read through the latest spat between veteran blogger Noz and his (perceived) critical nemesis Jeff Weiss with a great deal of interest, though not at all for the music in question. You see, I’m sure Pill and Freddie Gibbs are talented rappers, but the truth is I feel no desire whatsoever to explore their “catalog” by downloading one of the gazillion mixtapes they’ve released for free. That’s just not how I’ve grown up listening to music. In fact, every time I hear someone complain about how mixtapes aren’t afforded the same critical respect as albums, or suggest that rap critics spend eight hours a day keeping up with the constant flood of free internet music (seriously Noz, is that your life?), I want to smash my computer with a bat and curse the internet for irreversibly ruining rap music. You see, before purchasing music became the sole domain of collectors and altruists, the same “gritty” and “uncompromising” qualities so prized in Pill and Gibbs could be found on any number of major label releases, many of which sold incredibly well without making any mainstream concessions. It wasn’t necessary to flood the worldwide web to create a buzz; on the contrary, one could scan a lot of fucking records without looking much further than his own coast or region. Nowadays, however, that approach is extinct, and artists like Pill and Gibbs have no choice but to court national attention through the internet. Which upsets “street-minded” bloggers, who don’t want to share their artists with anyone as white as themselves (certainly not readers of The New Yorker and The Times), evokes ambivalence in the few of us who still prefer our music in concrete form, and only wins fans among people who, should an album ever be released, will surely download it for free anyway (a la most of The Passion‘s commenters.) All the while, we know that if a major label does take notice (which has to be these rappers’ end goal) it’ll erase any of the individuality that made them appealing in the first place, since the old stick-with-the-formula approach (think Too $hort and E-40 on Jive) is just no longer commercially viable.

So what’s an artist to do? Fuck if I know. The game is fucked up, in a real way. But let’s remember a time when it wasn’t. A time when an unapolagetically regional rapper—from Vallejo of all places—was able to move well over 400K copies of his sophomore album, all while remaining virtually unknown outside the Bay Area (and, apparently, Seattle.) No, I’m not talking about E-40, or even Mac Dre. In those fruitful days, even a tiny city like Vallejo could boast multiple major-label emcees, of which Celly Cel, signed to 40’s Sick Wid It/Jive imprint, was merely one.

Celly Cel — “Remember Where You Came From”

Stylistically indebted to his mentor, Celly Cel nonetheless lacked much of E-40’s humor and personality, but on Killa Kali he benefits from some of the best straight-up mobb production of any Bay Area release I’ve heard. While Mike Mosley and Sam Bostic (of “Sprinkle Me” fame) are conspicuously absent, and Studio Ton contributes only one track, producer Ken Franklin follows their blueprint to great effect on the majority of the album’s tracks, with Tone Capone (The Luniz’ “I Got Five On It”) and Kevin Gardner and Redwine (40’s “Smoke ‘N Drank'”) taking care of the rest. The result is an aural snapshot of Bay Area rap circa 1996, blessed with a major label budget but free from the creative pressures that cripple artists on majors today. With the exceptions of fellow Bay Area rappers E-40 and B-Legit on “4 Tha Scrilla” and Spice 1 on “Redrum,” Killa Kali contains no features, while its single, the creeping “It’s Goin’ Down” would’ve been lucky to garner a single spin on New York radio. And yet Killa Kali, in all its mobbed-out, Bay Area glory, damn near went gold, a feat increasingly rare for any artist in this era of Nahright and Rapidshare links. So while I’m grateful to the internet for allowing me to share my opinions with the world, I also recognize the damage it’s done to the genre I love so much. Which is perhaps why I’d rather dig out a fully-realized, uncompromising album from 1996 than listen to whichever online mixtape is hot at the moment, or, even worse, the latest watered down mush to come out on a major label. The game done changed, I know, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna change with it.


19 Responses to Let’s See Gucci Outsell This Dude

  1. quan says:

    hey, i came over from Weiss’ shared items. to defend noz a little bit, to imply that he’s kind of a loser for spending 8 hours a day listening to rap is pretty unfair. yes, if any normal spent 8 hours of their free time listening to rap, that’d be kinda nuts. but yknow, he’s a rap writer, it’s his livelihood, his job. i spend 8-9 hours a day in a cubicle doing some pretty BS work but i’m sure no one would call me a loser for making a living.

    anyway, one point i think noz was making was that the regional “celly cel” model still exists to some extent. waka flocka probably hasn’t sold 400k CD’s but he still seems to have struck a chord in his region. yet writers like Weiss and you bemoan artists needing to keep up with the Internet age just because the artists who don’t keep up with the Internet age (and land regional success instead)–these regional artists don’t end up on these writers’ radars.

    anyway, don’t know if you’ve been checking on the cbrap comments but Oliver Wang kinda kills it.

    • hook says:

      Sure, to be fair, that is Noz’s job and I respect it. But I do disagree with his apparent stance that anyone who doesn’t spend as much time as him with the music is unqualified to write about it. I mean if Weiss and his ilk weren’t writing about Pill/Freddie Gibbs at all, I feel like Noz/David would still be mad, just for different reasons. It just seems like an excuse to start internet beef, when really talking about rap should be (imho) fun and not some sort of dick-measuring contest. Someone should be able to write about something they’re feeling even if they make not be quite the expert noz is. And if they make a mistake then why not just a polite correction? I think we’d all learn a lot about music from each other that way, and we wouldn’t have to cut each other down. It just seems so silly.

      I didn’t really get your second point but I think you’re talking about how there are still artists selling regionally without the internets. Yeah, there are; being in the Bay I’m aware of some of them. The Jacka, particularly, dropped a really dope album this year that you hear from speakers all over out here, but it was completely ignored by pretty much all bloggers (noz/david included.) however, Jacka’s not doing Celly Cel (or Too Short, or E-40, or 3-6 Mafia) numbers, and will never be of interest to a major label, because that model is long gone. So yeah I do bemoan that new reality. As for whichever rapper is hot in the streets of, say, Mississippi, who has no internet presence whatsoever, unfortunately there’s no way for me to find about him, except through word of mouth. So to fault me for not knowing about him would be kind of unfair. Anyway thanks for stopping by; I appreciate the comments.

      • quan says:

        my bad, i worded my second point like craptastically. i meant to say i think you (in this post at least) and Weiss in his Gibbs post bemoan the fact that artists have to release tons of music to the Internet–have to play the Internet game–just to get attention from the masses. But then Weiss doesn’t find the time to correct that tendency in himself, to not just check out the artists who are releasing tons of music to the Internet, but also to check out artists like Jacka or Waka who are regional stars and who are not playing the Internet game.

        I see your point about Noz/David personally, especially David who seems unnecessarily mad a lot of the time. But they often have valid points, or at least thought-provoking points.

  2. mark p. says:

    Great post! Killa Kali has been a favorite record of mine for ages.

    That Noz post sparked up a pretty great discussion and I kinda see what he was getting at, but it’s still kind of a weird thing to even bring up. I don’t think it was as much of a personal attack as many of the posters did, though.

    It’s not too hard to figure out really. Guys like Freddie Gibbs, Playboy Tre, KD, Pill etc have recently released “street albums” that, while I disagree about any of them being TOTAL “throwback” music, stylistically pay tribute to their influences and attempt to present a well-rounded, concise, album-like project to the world. This idea is more friendly to most music critics than, say, the approach that Yo Gotti and All-Star take, which is more like “ok here’s a release full of an assortment of new tracks that may or may not be on my next and/or first album that may or may not be released someday, freestyles over whatever beats are hot right now, some songs from old tapes just for the hell of it, and what the hell, a few joints from my homies just so people can hear it”. The latter approach is pretty much kryptonite to fans who appreciate Eightball & MJG or UGK’s concise and consistent albums but have no time to wade through 80-minute No Limit albums or the 8,000 SUC-related projects that came out of Houston in 1998, and I can’t really say I blame them. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t bothered to download every other mixtape posted on Dirty Glove Bastard in the past month either.

    So yeah, I think it’s less about “street authenticity” and more about why some rappers’ attitudes about making music and what makes music good make them more accessible to certain bloggers and less regionally successful (though as far as I can tell, this isn’t necessarily true of Pill) than other rappers who are less concerned with “craft” but still make dope ass music.

    This shit is obviously a huge headache, though, so I’ll just say that Pill actually only has two mixtapes, and you should download them because they’re both dope as fuck.

    So anyway, Killa Kali! “It’s Goin’ Down” is one of the best rap singles of the ’90s PERIOD. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no other rap beat sounds as good on a hot summer’s day as that one. Just an awesome, awesome track that is very likely in the top 10 Sick-Wid-It cuts of all time. Also “4 tha Scrilla” reminds me of what B-Legit is my #1 guest rapper ever. I don’t know what it is about him. His lyrical skills aren’t that great, his slow flow is the same on every song, but somehow he never, ever fails to bring heat to a track. Straight up one of the dopest voices in hip-hop.

    “Landlord landlord where you at / I’m hiding in the bushes with a baseball bat / I need that stack that you made today / Or watch me turn into Willie Mays”

  3. hook says:

    @mark p: I will try to check out Pill’s tapes. I guess I shouldn’t be complaining that artists are releasing great music for free; it’s just as someone who grew up collecting CDs I find it hard to absorb an album I’ve downloaded for free onto my hardrive. I wish I were better at it; I’d have a lot more money in my bank account. Also I’ve been reluctant to check dude out because the internet response to that “Trap Goin’ Ham” video left kind of a foul taste in my mouth…I guess I just don’t see how the fact that there are real crackheads smoking rocks makes that video some sort of work of art. And there’s something strange about white internet music critics getting such a hard-on watching it.

    As for B-Legit, he’s definitely the second most talented member of E-40’s family (well he and Turf Talk), but the hyphy movement was the worst thing that could have happened to his career. His flow sounds great over mobb shit but he sounds lost as fuck trying to “go dumb” or whatever. I’m sure the death of that fad was good news to him. And yeah, “It’s Goin’ Down” is dope; Tone Capone is super-slept on as a producer. He laces a lot of Rap-A-Lot stuff in addition to working in the Bay.

    Dude your blog is nice btw, I bookmarked it a few months ago but it seemed like you just stopped updating. I’ll have to swing back through.

  4. Enig says:

    “And there’s something strange about white internet music critics getting such a hard-on watching it.”

    I know too well that feeling, I align that feeling with the one that made Dave quit The Chappelle Show. Maybe its just a cultural divide but my white folks laugh and latch onto segments of black culture awkwardly. yeah that’s the best adjective I’ve got for now.

  5. Breezy says:

    baby cry cry you can’t contain music. it is what it is. how can you be upset about the demographic of listeners to a particular artist? i’m pretty sure freddie dosent give a fuck considering he has been releasing quality, original music free of charge since he was dropped in 05. he obviiusly just wants the people who want to hear the music to hear it. i’m in canada, he is spanning at least this far with 0 corporate promotion and good for him. because with the nature of the internet and leaks, music is so widely availble that the “album” or “record deal” as we kno it will change to more of a promotional venture to get people to come to the LIVE SHOWS rather than to be the sole determining factor if an artist is successful or not.this is not going to happen no matter what. you dont need to have a top 40 hit or even be relevant to the forfront of pop culture to sell out a venue. as long as you produce music and promote diligently on the internet i am confident you can have some sort of career in music cuz you create that fan base, people will come to the shows as long as the music is given to the listeners to inspire them to do so.

    i don’t think you can talk shit on anyone for that. they just livin their dream.

  6. Breezy says:

    “to be the sole determining factor if an artist is successful or not.this is not going to happen no matter what.”

    ***this IS GOING TO HAPPEN no matter what.

  7. hook says:

    @ Breezy
    I think you got it twisted man I don’t really care about an artist’s particular demographic; in fact I think its ridiculous how people are getting sour now that Pill and Freddie Gibbs are getting mainstream blog love. If you really like an artist you should be happy when they get some shine. And I think you’re right about the direction music is headed, but as someone who loves albums as a form of musical expression I’m not too happy about the new industry reality. I’m not trying to change it, ’cause I know that would be futile. But I don’t have to be happy about it. I also wonder if the artists themselves are as happy about the state of the industry as you seem to be; eeking out a living by touring 10 months out of the year is not a very glamorous lifestyle, and I would imagine it gets pretty damn taxing after a while. But my point was definitely not to “shit on” Pill or Freddie Gibbs; they’re just doing what they have to do in today’s music industry.

  8. David says:


    i think you misunderstand why im madd doggie about this whole thing.

    if anything, i care too much what new yorker readers think; im not mad because new yorker readers discovered pill or gibbs, im concerned that hip hop is being presented in an ahistorical way. Pill & Gibbs are not populist heroes (YET) the way Celly Cel was. There music is good & hits a lot of things I like about classic g-raps, but its also in some ways somewhat undeveloped. They dont have a huge regional following yet because they havent been targeting one — theyre going for that Clipse money. Theyve done a gang of CMJ shows. They’re targeting a specific crit audience. Im not mad at that. What Im mad about is how critics just receive that stuff, well, uncritically — “oh yeah i heard about this dude, he was at CMJ” — its not a very accurate portrayal of what rap is like in 2009 when writers cover stuff this way. thats what bothers me.

    Yo Gotti is more like today’s Celly Cel. Or Jacka. Or All $tar. J-Stalin. There are populist gangster rappers who are dropping lots of music & doing sold out shows throughout the south & midwest & west coast.

    Also, I’ve been bumping that Jacka album all year. I would have written something about it, but I was kinda disappointed in the tracks w/ artists outside his region, I thought he was better off sticking w/ the rappers he’s been on for awhile. His new record with Berner is dope. I also just finished a brief interview w/ DJ Fresh I’ll be posting in the next couple days.

    If u read somanyshrimp you will see we cover a pretty diverse range of rap music. ive posted about everything from NYG’z and Red Cafe to Gucci & Gotti.

  9. mark p. says:

    @hook Glad you like the blog man. I just got swamped with university work at the time (yes, in the middle of summer…), so I stopped updating. I want to say that I’m on some “slow blogging” shit, but I’d be lying. 😛 I will update it in the next couple days though, hopefully.

    I agree that B-Legit never adjusted well to the hyphy thing, but that’s because his slow flow was just so perfectly adjusted to those dope ass Tone Capone/Studio Ton mobb beats that he can’t really switch it up to fit with a faster “go dumb”
    beat like E-40 can.

    I never really felt the whole hyphy “movement” anyway, aside from a few great singles that were mostly by old favorites like Messy Marv and E-40, who are just masters at adapting to new styles. I know he’s supposed to be the originator, but Mac Dre’s later records were really on some other shit that’s pretty far removed from the minimal synth beats of the Pack/etc.

    To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by the Jacka’s album this year. I was a HUGE fan of The Jack Artist, but Tear Gas didn’t really seem as consistent, despite still having a few joints that are among the best shit released this year. I’ll listen to pretty much any new Mob Figaz-related project though, those dudes are the shit.

    My main problem with Gotti and All-Star is that, while I like them as rappers, I just don’t hear the HITS when I listen to their records. I don’t even necessarily mean pop or club hits, just tracks that’ll make me get really excited about a rapper. Starlito’s last tape was an alright listen, but where is his “It’s Goin’ Down”? Gucci & Boosie know how to write songs that people will remember, but I don’t think those guys have quite mastered it yet.

  10. hook says:

    @ mark p:
    lol “It’s Goin’ Down” is one of the worst songs ever made. I feel you about hyphy, although I do think there was some good music to come out of it. The first Federation album (which dropped before hyphy took off nationwide) is pretty bananas, and Turf Talk’s West Coast Vaccine is one of the best Bay Area albums ever made, imho. You’re right about Mac Dre’s later shit; he was rocking a lot of funky (although cheap-sounding) beats that really didn’t have a lot in common with Rick Rock’s shit or what Young L was doing with the Pack.
    I’ll admit Tear Gas is the only Jacka album I’ve heard. I’m a latecomer on him; I kinda always wrote the Mob Figaz off as “too Bay Area,” a la someone like C-Bo who is admittedly a very competent gangsta rapper, but that’s about it. I’ve been meaning to check out more of Jacka and the Figaz shit. I know a lot of people weren’t feeling some of the features on Tear Gas, but I thought they all felt pretty organic (and not imposed by his label handlers.) The joint with Cormega is one of my favorites of this year cause of the way they flipped that Doors sample. Gotta admit I’m not up on Yo Gotti or All-Star, so I can’t really comment on that one.

  11. hook says:

    @ david:
    I’m glad we can have a civilized convo! I get that you’re mad that rappers with strong regional followings aren’t getting the same critical love that Pill and Gibbs are getting, but I think that’s to be expected. I mean if you think back, Celly Cel was never a critical favorite either. Neither was Too Short back when he was going platinum with every album, or 3-6 Mafia before Hustle and Flow. But they still sold a shitload of records, so it didn’t matter. Certain artists just are more presentable to critics; think Outkast over Three-6 Mafia (again, before their Oscar.) That’s the way it’s always been, and will always be. You can try to turn a fellow writer on to someone like Waka Floka, but you can’t demand that they like him just because he’s popular. Someone like Weiss is entitled to that opinion, even if it goes against that of millions of listeners in Atlanta. The fact that I don’t like OJ Da Juiceman while many people do doesn’t necessarily mean I’m some sort of biased, ivory tower elitist. I might just not like his music (word to that crowd in NY.) And I give you that So Many Shrimp doesn’t post exclusively about Southern Gangsta rap, but it’s pretty heavily tilted to that side. I mean I do the occasional post on a Southern artist here, but that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of my posts are either East Coast or Bay Area-related. Not that that matters anyway; we all have our lanes.

  12. mark p. says:

    I meant Celly’s “It’s Goin’ Down” btw, in reply to David’s statement that someone like Gotti or Starlito is the current equivalent of someone like Celly Cel.

    It’s weird how Waka Flocka is the measuring stick for people’s taste for regional gangsta rap in these conversations. He has a regional hit that’s big right now, but in reality he probably won’t be around much longer because I can’t imagine he’ll be able to hold people’s interest in the same way that his homies Gucci or even OJ do.

    Then again I thought that about Juelz Santana when I first heard him, and his new joint (“Mixing Up The Medicine”, Subterrenean Homesick Blues sample + Yelawolf on the hook) is probably my favorite shit out right now.

  13. hook says:

    @ mark p
    haha what does that say about me that my first thought was yung joc.

  14. David says:

    young joc had some jams this year, to be honest. and can u tell me, in all honesty, that his verse on ‘posted at the store’ was any worse than a given ’06 era clipse verse?

    yo gotti drops plenty of ‘hits’ imo — i mean, hes already had a certified billboard smash this year, although imo its one of his weaker songs. but tracks like “phone ringin” w/ zed zilla from earlier this year? “sold out”? “gangster party”? those are jams. i play those a lot

  15. David says:

    i mean, i have a ‘bias’ in coverage, everyone does. ive never denied it. but i have a prob w/ critics who only cover ‘music friendly to critics.’ i mean, what kind of self fulfilling b.s. is that anyway? its not like critics cant choose to listen to good rap that isnt ‘critic friendly.’ i listen to as much rap as i can, critic friendly or not, & cover what seems interesting to me. a lot of times, popular music ignored by critics is really interesting to write about. & very good. like celly cel, or jacka, or gucci, or gotti, or whoever.

    the thing is … im not ‘hating’ on pill or gibbs at all, but im not calling on folks to chill on their shit simply cuz its not popular. im saying you need to be realistic. for all the gucci booster-ing ive done this year, i dont think ive ever been as hyperbolic as jeff was in that piece about gibbs.

  16. hook says:

    Honestly, a couple of hyperbolic lines aside, I thought Weiss’s piece was very well-written and well-thought-out. It seems like you just focused on one small piece of his post to support this picture you have of him as some douchebag hipster who has no place writing about hip-hop. Which I think is unfair. He’s no Tom Breihan. And again, in terms of writing, his is some of the better around, which I think is more important than you acknowledge. There’s a million sites offering zshare links and youtube videos, but there’s not half as many dedicated to thoughtful commentary about the music in question. As a reader, I appreciate that about Jeff’s site (the rap stuff, at least; I don’t even check the rest.) Anyway, i’m going to check out some of these yo gotti songs. I hope they’re better than Gucci’s “colors.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: