Thurs Jan 23
When describing the early days of hiphop (1976-1984), critics and hiphop historians are in the habit of saying things like, "There was a sense of community" or "a sense of unity" or "a humble dedication to the art rather than bling, guns, and hos." The birth of hiphop is imagined as a time (and land) of peace--a past Edenic order that was ruled by basic humanistic principles and impulses. Hiphop was not born in a paradise of peace, though, but in the middle of a war. At the heart of hiphop culture are street stratagems, raw battles and beat downs, uptown defenses, downtown offences, and brutal competitions that sometimes end in blood.
The most visible point at which real war is transformed into hiphop art is in the breakdance form of uprocking, which translates the frenzied, ferocious movements of a street fight into an energetic dance. Uprocking is great only when, like in the scene in the subway station of Beat Street (1984), it's on the verge of exploding into an actual battle. One moment it's a playful dance, then, suddenly, there's a blow to the head, a knife in the guts, a gun, a slug, and, as Mobb Deep once put it, "a burning sensation."
War is everywhere! It shapes the geography of hiphop: East Coast vs. West Coast; city (New Jersey) vs. city (New York); hood (South Bronx) vs. hood (Queens); street (Broadway) vs. street (MLK Way). It also organizes musicians, artists, and dancers into fighting units: posses (Double XX Posse), crews (Juice Crew), clans (X Clan), connections (Westside Connection), forces (Full Force), cliques (Boot Camp Clik), and squads (Def Squad).
The last two, Boot Camp Clik and Def Squad, are not so much groups as alliances that are connected, governed, and defined by one leader, group, style, or record label. The Boot Camp Clik, also known as Duck Down Entaprizez, has Buckshot of Black Moon as its chief. In 1992, Black Moon released Enta Da Stage, which contained the jazzy backpacker anthem "Who Got Da Props?" The success of the CD enabled Black Moon's Duck Down Records to sign groups like Smif-N-Wessun (later Cocoa Brovaz--they were forced by the gun company to change the name because "they were confusing customers"), Heltah Skeltah, and Originoo Gunn Clappaz. The Boot Camp Clik has released two full-length CDs, For the People (1997) and Chosen Few (2002), and a compilation, Basic Training (2002), which contains Duck Down's masterpieces, like "Operation Lock Down" and "Leflaur Leflaur Eshkoshka."
As for the Def Squad, its current leader is the Green Eyed Bandit, Erick Sermon, who once ran the outfit with Parrish Smith (they parted ways in late '92). Erick Sermon's bottom-heavy and bass-driven productions define the sound of this alliance, which has K-Solo, Redman, Method Man (who is also a member of the Wu-Tang Clan), Keith Murray, and Das EFX as its most recognizable members.
Discovered by Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, Das EFX released Dead Serious in 1992, introducing a new rap style--a pressured, frenetic, machine-gun flow--that was imitated by every major rapper of the time. To name but a few: KRS-One (who was the leader of Boogie Down Productions), Queen Latifah (who was the leader of the Flavor Unit), and House of Pain (whose lead rapper, Everlast, was once a member of Ice T's crew). Since Dead Serious, Das EFX has released four full-length CDs, the most recent of which is Generation EFX (1998).
The Boot Camp Clik's current national tour with Das EFX represents something of a peace treaty--two combat units agreeing to work together, sharing profits and fan bases. It also means there is no beef between Duck Down Entaprizez and Def Squad--and because the Def Squad has a treaty with Wu-Tang Clan, by way of the prosperous Method Man/Redman partnership, we can assume there is no beef between Duck Down Entaprizez and Wu-Tang Clan.
But alliances are not permanent. They often break down, as happened in 1996 when Redman dissed the former co-leader of the Def Squad, Parrish Smith, on "Soopaman Luva 3." With assistance from a new ally, Prodigy of Mobb Deep, Smith retaliated on "It's the Pee (remix)." This battle, however, did not end in blood; but the potential of that happening was always there because hiphop is the state of war.