In the early stages of The Game, rappers were plucked up by record labels for their fresh ideas and raw talent. Whereas nowadays, Big Daddy Kane’s tight, high-top fade has more aesthetic value than most songs polluting 93.3
Besides being truly linguistic, Kane produced his own hits, such as Wrath of Kane and Smooth Operator. “When I first started, I was kinda going for a combination of James Brown, The Meters, and Gamble and Huff,” explains Kane, who was also able to step far outside his own hard-but-smooth persona (Kane definitely begat Snoop) to ghostwrite Biz Marke’s silly classics, “Pickin’ Boogers,” “The Vapors” and “Nobody Beats the Biz.” “Biz would be standing over you,” Big Daddy recalls, “acting all crazy like, ‘Yo, I want a style where I’m rhyming like aziga ziga ziga ziga zee.’ Kane even spent many unsuccessful years trying to procure a record contract for a young Jay-Z, whose talent didn’t set him apart from rap’s early generation of heroes. When asked how guys not even as talented as Jay get signed today, Kane replies cynically, “One way is just come home from jail. Another is get shot up.”
Jail hasn’t improved Slick Rick’s career. The same bejewled smile and English accent that gave us hip-hop’s enduring anti-violence anthem, Children’s Story, claimed to have been defending his family when he shot his cousin – a crime for which he paid two-and-a-half years. He was later jailed again as part of a post-9/11 crackdown on immigrant felons; Rick languished in jail beneath a pile of red tape for over a year while the government contemplated his deportation. But along with his trademark eye patch, Rick’s legend has endured, and his newer music — including a duet with OutKast on Rick’s Art of Storytelling LP — still boasts unique humor, narrative skills, and that smooth, English voice.
When asked, “How do you feel about being one of the only artists at Jazzfest who’s not playing jazz?” Doug E. Fresh – the world’s first human beatbox, most famous for the Slick Rick collab, The Show (La Di Da Di) – replied, thoughtfully at first, “Well, everything derives from jazz so…” Then boldly, “Plus, I may break down into a jazz set. I can do whatever.” Doug’s Bobby McFaren-meets-Sugar Hill style still amazes crowds at large-scale gigs such as EssenceFest. He was also nice on the phone, when asked about the present day:
Doug E. Fresh: I’m looking to get Rick to record one brand new song with me. But my sons also have a group now. They started to put together some songs, man, that was so hot! Which was good, cause at first I was bored with their conversation.
OffBeat: You told your sons you were bored with their music? How did they respond?
DEF: Well, they know I’m not a hater, and they know I’m in the mix so I know what’s going on, so it’s real hard to be mad at me.
How do you feel about recent events in New Orleans? You agree with Kanye West?
What Kanye said was definitely true – in his heart. He didn’t see enough support going out to black people. A lot of people felt that same way, but didn’t have the heart to say it. But even under the circumstance, I’m gonna feel good coming back there! Ain’t no city parties like New Orleans, baby!
Actually, you’re performing in a flooded neighborhood — not as bad as other parts of the city but… Please make a point to go tour the Ninth Ward and Lakeview. You’ve never seen anything like it.
You mean, like, dead bodies?
No, they took all those away. I just mean, you can come to the Quarter and stay sequestered along the river and never realize that the majority of the city is still completely destroyed. Tourists left Mardi Gras thinking, ‘They’re getting back to normal!’ But no way. Not for years.
Yeah. So make sure you go look around, so you can bring the truth back to your people up North.
And I believe he will. Along with possessing more talent, rap’s elder statesmen have always been more socially conscious. Three years back Doug produced the rap-along children’s reading aid, Think Again! And Kane, a member of Islam’s Five Percent Nation, always been known for his “Asiatic flow,” can be found bigging-up causes such as 2004’s Hip-Hop Peace and Unity Fest. And Rick… Well, Rick has, over the years, proven himself a decent guy, and should be cut a break!
Here’s a clip of Fresh and Kane on stage together in 2012: