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Thursday, January 10, 2008

When Hard Was Hard

posted by on January 10 at 8:54 AM


Lupe Fiasco is taking soft hiphop to places it’s never been: Kid’s smart and senstive but politically savvy, socially aware, and funny at the right moments. He looms over The Cool with a conceptual gameplan that’s so broad and deep that it could be considered impressionist. Lyrically, Lupe tends towards the abstract spiked with specific detail, but his subjectmatter is easy enough to parse (child warfare, hood nutrition, wealth porn, fame and fortune, etc). There’s mass-appeal potential in The Cool, and its wit is sly and subtle, leaving a lot to look into for those that like to dig deep. As I said in my review in this week’s paper, pop doesn’t get any smarter, and smart doesn’t get any catchier.

For that we should rejoice. For that we should also get some contrast. There was a time when hard was hard. And nobody in all of hiphop is as hard as Tim Dog.


In 1991, “Fuck Compton” set the standard for dis tracks; there’s never been a musical smackdown more inflammatory and more effective. Tim Dog was the hardest of the hard, and his debut, Penicillin on Wax, played like a drill sergeant’s verbal abuse set to an air-raid siren and a kettle drum turned up to 11. “Fuck Compton” first drew my attention to the Bronx-dwelling, high-top-fade rocking, megalomaniacal screamer. While the rest of my high school friends were falling for NWA, I stood firmly by my East Coast origins (if you can describe South Florida that way) and backed Tim Dog’s Eazy-E-bashing boot camp. Production by Ultramagnetic MCs was far harder than anything Dre did for NWA, and Tim himself was so freakin’ large and loud and straight-up HARD that he became a legend in his own time.

Having that gang war? We wanna know what you’re fighting for.
Fighting over colors? All that gang shit’s for DUMB MOTHERFUCKERS!

Thing is, Tim Dog was so goddam muffuggin HARD that he was a caricature. I’m sure the Dog himself knew this—he was fucking serious, yeah, ready to dish out beatdowns to “happy rappers, overcommercial rappers, bullshit rappers,” but Penicillin had some flat-out hilarious moments. Sample lyric, from “The Dog’s Gonna Getcha”:

“AAAAAAAAHH! I can’t believe how DOPE I am!/ I’m the motherfuckin man!/ Smackin MCs with one hand!/ Don’t cry you little bitch!”

and from “Sexual Fantasy,” wherein Tim waxes to Kool Keith about banging En Vogue in their dressing room:

“And then the short one, you know, the one with the fat ass/ OOPS..they all have a fat ass/She wanted me to pee in her face/So what did you do?/I pissed in her face.”

Ho shit! There’s so much to love. Penicillin on Wax is a classic of hardcore hiphop. The hardest, still.

Tim Dog’s still around. The former “Bronx Nigga” lives in the UK and does pretty well over there in and Australia, apparently. He actually dropped an album in 2006 but it didn’t make a splash here in the states. For most of us, it’s simply not possible to hear hiphop music like this anymore. For most rappers, it’s impossible to make music like this anymore. At least not seriously. The game has gone post-hard. Soft is the new hard.

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Are you really celebrating the misogynism, homophobia, and violence of battle-rap? Guys who talk shit and pander to suburban stereotypes of the scary, clowning black man? I'll give credit to the production and to TD's flow, but I can't help but have trouble buying into what these dudes were (and their fame-hungry protégés still are) trying to sell.

Posted by Sam M. | January 10, 2008 9:30 AM

To be fair, I know you didn't specifically call out any homophobic rhymes--that's more of an implication of how much of that is found in comparable battle raps of both then and now. But peeing on En Vogue--well, I don't get it.

Posted by Sam M. | January 10, 2008 9:34 AM

I don't think you can describe South Florida that way and how long have you been waiting to say "soft is the new hard"?

Could you please explain the peeing thing in more depth...I am also confused.

Posted by Mike | January 10, 2008 9:59 AM

this is funny, but it is easy to rhyme words with "pee". harder to rap about how to change the world. hip hop has always rapped on "what they know about", rather than how to change what they know about.

Posted by yearning | January 10, 2008 10:06 AM

'fuck compton' is pretty great, but one of the best death row vs. east coast battle tracks from the east coast, in my opinion, was luke's 'dr. dre is a bitch ass'. tim dog had better production behind him, but luke has a comic swagger. definitely not as scary as tim dog, but funnier and more incendiary.

also, the best diss track ever: 'bitch in yoo' by common. who would've known?

Posted by cosby | January 10, 2008 10:08 AM

Peeing on people is no way to change the world.

Posted by Mike | January 10, 2008 10:09 AM

pee on me

Posted by jerri blank | January 10, 2008 10:19 AM

Seriously Jerri? Perhaps you could take a moment to explain the appeal of being peed on to the rest of us.

Posted by Mike | January 10, 2008 10:48 AM

@1, @2--there really isnt a lot of mysogyny going on in tim dog. besides, he hates on dudes, too. a lot. as for homophobia, check out "goin' wild in the penile," wherein our dog politley asks an inmate to suck his dick. weird. hes an equal opportunity hater.

@3--i describe south florida that way knowing its often called "the sixth borough" bc there are so many damn new yorkers living there. plus its a lot closer to the bronx than compton. and technically, it is on the east coast. but i also realize that its still florida, which is its own special/sad place in the world.

i havent been waiting to say soft is the new hard that long, actually, bc i first said it when it first dawned on me a week ago in a blog post that i linked to in this one.

as for the pee thing, its a fetish. people are into some freaky shit.

@4--when you say "hiphop has always rapped on 'what they know about'," youre making a HUGE generalization that holds very little water.

@5--"bitch in yoo" is pretty good, but nothing beats "fuck compton" for sheer hardness. especially not common.

Posted by jz | January 10, 2008 11:03 AM

this post is going on and on like tim dog was the first person to ever talk about peeing on someone. marquis de sade just got his water sports pass revoked.

@ jz:
dude, 'i heard a girl say you was her favorite rapper / so i had to slap her' is insane coming from common. part of the reason it's a huge diss track because it was totally inconceivable. i don't think ice cube saw that line in common when he started shit. bonus minus points to common for going on oprah this past year to denounce degrading women in rap lyrics. of course ice cube gets all of the minus points available for being in any movie after his cameo verse on 'burn, hollywood, burn' by public enemy.

also, have you heard ultra? it's a one-off album from tim dog and kool keith after the breakup of ultramagnetic mc's. there are some classic moments on that album.

Posted by cosby | January 10, 2008 11:20 AM

@10, your point about common is a good one.

i havent heard ultra but i bet youre right about some classic moments. the kool keith connection only adds to tim dogs clout.

Posted by jz | January 10, 2008 11:39 AM

I gotta get one of those chains yo.

Posted by trent moorman | January 10, 2008 11:47 AM

if rappers aren't talking about changing the world- well...i just don't feel comfortable around that element.

hey i dont think the hold steady's stuff is conscious enough! boycott!!

Mickens, you can't 'get' Tim Dog? Even Tom Breihan loves Pimp C, relax.

jz i just can't get behind the soft-is-the-new-black thing. what has always won and what will always is sincerity. Tim Dog was sincerely that guy. These days Lupe kinda sounds like he's conning me, which soft or hard is no better than the money-porn he decries. Maybe it's just me, Lu just don't sound authentic to me anymore. I can't pin it down. I was a HUGE Lupe supporter.

'Soft' has already been in. Native Tongues- De La, JBeez & Tribe. The same people Lupe claims he never listened to growing up, no he was too busy listening to harder-than-hard raps from 8Ball & MJG. I wan't one of the people jumping down his throat for forgetting Tribe's lyrics at the ATCQ tribute earlier this year but his defense was pure
'i aint got time for this internenenets shit'. To brush off Tribe like that when he's making a song like "Paris, Tokyo" cost him a lot of respect in my book.

PS BTW Penicillin On Wax was one of my favorite bathroom tapes for years, so I did a lot of peeing to that line. weird?


Posted by lar | January 10, 2008 12:42 PM

lar. LAR. LAR!!!

first off, i think thats sam machkovech, not sam mickens up there in the comments. you KNOW mickens loves him some tim dog.

yeah, soft has been done before, but never this big. tribe, etc was never really pop. lupe is doing interviews on KUBE, playing the mainstage at bumbershoot. as i said, hes taking soft to places its never been, esp in terms of popularity.

seems that the criticism of lupe stems from all of his non-musical related activities: chilly getting arrested for all sorts of bad things, lu ignoring tribe. from there his "authenticity" gets called into question. i say that authenticity should be gleaned not from what happens around him, but what comes from him. he mightve fumbled a bit w the handling of fiascogate, but i think hes allowed that. when tribe was making music, they were the first of their kind to do what they do. now lupes supposed to know about that shit and 8ball AND run w kanye? i dunno, its a lot to ask of a young guy, especially a young guy whos already proven himself w mixtapes and a killer major label record.

put it this way: i know a lot about music, enough to know that theres a lot about music i dont know. for as knowledgable as i am, im constantly being schooled about shit--foundational shit--that i never heard. take this band crass--early-'80s anarcho-punk from the UK. never heard em until a couple weeks ago. i admit it. there would be no against me if there was no crass, but i like against me and ive written about them before. so i guess im no longer "authentic" bc i didnt know about crass but i wrote about against me? i just dont see it working that way.

Posted by jz | January 10, 2008 12:56 PM

Wouldn't it be more like if Against Me crassly wrote off Crass? Then continued to make music indebted to them? (Which I can't confirm. I don't know shit about Against Me and I never liked Crass all that much)

Look, I just got into this guy Nick Lowe this week. Like Ish said, We're Just Babies, Man.

I'm not calling him out for Fiascogate, I'm saying, how you gonna write off Tribe and then make a Tribe song? His extracurriculars don't really trip me out, his new bland TRL album does. Is it an achievement that he is on KUBE and makes about as much sense as Divine Styler? Yes absolutely. 'Superstar' is 'Beach Chair Pt.2', I guess that's an achievement. Gwyneth covered Smokey Robinson. I don't know what that has to do w/anything, I'm just saying.

Lupe is high off himself in a way far more irritating than Jay-Z ever managed. Because he believes that the farther he goes up his own ass, the closer he gets to Ultimate Truth.

Posted by lar | January 10, 2008 1:17 PM

Rudimentary Peni is the new Crass.

Posted by Paulus | January 10, 2008 5:08 PM

@ 4:

Suck it, bootstrappist.

Posted by Grim Is The New Oi! | January 10, 2008 6:40 PM

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