My block.

MTV’s My Block came to Chicago this summer and they finally sent me a promo copy of the companion CD released alongside it. Its got some good shit – Gemini and GLC both sound pretty good, plus its got some classic hits from Crucial Conflict and Do or Die, but as an overview of Chicago or its sound its not very representative – no Triple Darkness, E.C. Illa, Traxster (“Po Pimp” aside), Psychodrama, Infamous Syndicate (Shawnna gets a solo cut tho), Los Marijuanos or Snypaz. Also, why the hell they would include “Girl Tonite” and “Overnight Celebrity” but not “Adrenaline Rush” is just beyond me.

If you’re looking for a good idea of Chicago rap and its history you can’t do better than the Chi-Bangin compilations – there are a bunch of them but they went and compiled a ‘Chi-Bangin re-release’ double disc comp of some of the best shit which you can get here via The Tip CDs.

Not convinced? Well fuck you. No but seriously, here’s some tracks to convince you to get off your ass. First is a Lil Reap freestyle about Humboldt Park, the Puerto Rican neighborhood on the near northwest side, and the song is hard as fuck.

Another significant track that probably should have been included on a My Block comp is D.A. Smart’s “Walk With Me,” which is basically a neighborhood tour of gang blocks on the south and west sides and can be found on another comp better worth your time than My Block:

here‘s a bonus track off Wicked Streets to give you an idea.

Of course this leaves off my actual block, where I grew up on the north side (which people in the Chi call the ‘north pole’). And maybe one of the best tracks you discover in the Chi-Bangin set is Jiggs and Cheeks “North Pole Anthem,” which does the same thing for the hoods on the north side that “Walk Wit Me” did for the rest of the city. (DA Smart recently did a new version of “Walk Wit Me” that you can find a performance of on YouTube that has him talking about the North Side.) You can read some Chicago message board debates about the relative gangsta-ness of the north pole here. Of course, a lot of this stuff is now outdated, since the city began tearing down public housing and shunting people off to suburbs in the outer ring of the city like Dalton and Cicero, but to me this makes these tracks even more valuable, as snapshots of the mid-late 90s Chicago rap scene, when the ‘inner city’ actually meant in-the-city and when the music was much more gangsta rap-oriented than a sanitized MTV-approved collection featuring a Common song with John Mayer would suggest.

Jiggs and Cheeks – North Pole Anthem
Jiggs and Cheeks – Gamble with Life

Theres something incredibly suffocating about the utterly claustrophobic production that came out of this city throughout the 90s on most of these underground tapes; Resurrection, as classic as it was, was about as representative of Chicago’s sound as the Pharcyde were for Cali in the Dr. Dre era. “Gamble With Life” is bleak, and thats a word people use to talk about somber rap music a lot but its hard to come up with other words to describe just how spare the track is. But on the rapping tip, Jiggs really brought it on this song:

In my lifetime I seen a lot that
n***as underestimate the next man and thats how fools get got
and thats how thugs get shot
and thats how family gets hurt
and thats how n***as end up dead six feet under the dirt
its either me and you first
you fallin offa your square
and my mind is made up that i ain’t goin nowhere
Too many folks to take care of
can’t let you shatter they dreams
close the curtains on my future
let you battle my team
I’ll be in yo hair like a bad perm
until we reach an agreement
or better yet
til we come to my terms
cuz I refuse to get burned by non-negotiable
little pranks screamin that they got rank
frontin like they got bank when i could care less
I will suggest you walk around with a bulletproof vest
cuz frankly I think you well outta tune
with more to lose
if you got beef
then simply have me removed
No need for bad attitudes,
cuz I ain’t got the latitude for f*ggot dudes
that think on a small magnitude
you in the danger zone
never travel alone
and when you see me on the streets
I’m concealin the chrome
Jiggs Capone will blast first and ask questions later
playa haters calm down and i’ll return the favor
acknowledge me instead of botherin me
this ain’t a threat, its a promise like godfather part III,
I’m bein honest

you can gamble with your life dude
but its a price to pay
for everything that you might do
nobody needs to enlight you
we trife too
ain’t no tellin what we might do
to strike you

Jiggs is an amazing rapper, but after dropping their underground classic “The Don,” they disappeared and only recently resurfaced – Cheeks moved to Detroit and has a MySpace page up and goes by “Chameleon Chief” now; some of that shit sounds alright. Jiggs still lives in Chicago and apparently recorded a bunch of songs and wants to get back into the music, according to an article Chi Bangin posted in April of ’05. The best news I’ve heard lately tho is that “The Don” is back in print, for a limited time, at The Tip CDs; I just ordered a copy and if you like “Gamble with Life” and “North Pole Anthem” it is recommended you do the same.

Another Chicago dude missed in the My Block comp is No I.D., which is especially fucked since he’s been producing for more than a minute, and I’m not just talking Resurrection. He’s done work for a bunch of folks – “Beats for Common feat. Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z, DMX, G-Unit, Bow Wow, Toni Braxton, Janet Jackson, Jaheim, Jamie Foxx, Beanie Sigel, John Legend, Monica, Mikkey, Rhymefest, Kaye Fox, India.Arie, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Johnta Austin, LEP, GLC, Imfamous Syndicate, Shawnna, Daz (Dog Pound), Do or Die, Malik Yusef, Magic Massey, Bossman,” sez his Myspace – the track for Daz was “Thang on My Hip” off Daz’s So So Gangsta from this year. Plus dude has an underrated record under his own name (plus whatever this is), and the Beatnuts remix of his track “State to State” is one of my favorite cuts ever. He’s been working with Jermaine Dupri lately (which is how he got on the Daz record) and he got Dupri to sign this Chicago rapper named Mikkey, another cat that probably could have gotten a spot on My Block over the second Lupe Fiasco song.

Mikkey grew up in Hamilton Park and worked with Kanye (who, to bring this full circle, was mentored by No I.D….) and eventually got signed to Cash Money – he’s on Hood Rich and Undisputed and dissed CM over the “Go DJ” beat awhile back although for some reason I can’t find the mp3 I used to have of that shit. He had a contract dispute and left them, now he’s got an album coming out co-produced by Dupri and No I.D. One track, “Poppin,” shows how strong No I.D.’s soulful style still is; another, “Liquor Store,” is kind of a tour-de-force indictment of the Liquor Store’s effects on ghetto life and you can hear both at Mikkey’s myspace. Its caused a kind of minor “Black Korea”-style boycott due to the following couplet:
“Shorties run up in the store, Arab on they every move” and “He’s getting money here, ships his bread back home / They give him tax breaks, banks give him easy loans.”

…which, shockingly, The Chicago Reader actually covered.

In other news, wtf this new Black Sheep album isnt bad at all.

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