Dukes is a beatsmith, historian and mailman hailing from the south of The Netherlands. He knows more about politics than you and is as nuanced as a brick through your car’s front window. This is his exclusive column for TRU. (the opinions expressed by Dukes are solely those of Dukes and do not represent the TRU board of editors).
What makes up a good rapper? Some might argue it’s flow, others might say it’s all about vocabulary, retards might argue it’s swag, but to me it’s very simple. It’s the Hunger. Remember Ghost’s verse on Run? Big Pun’s You Ain’t A Killer? Smoothe da Hustler’s chorus on Make or Take? Perhaps the best example of what I mean is Streetlife’s verse on Hellz Wind Staff: “A new year is dawning, new crews are forming, rival gangs warrin’, blood steadily poorin’, the streets is deep son everyday is like a rerun so I reach out and try to teach one.” The Hunger? Check. Desperation? Check. Air of tragic inevitability? Check. That shit is more unfuckwithable than the moustache of Joseph Stalin. Easily in my all time top five rap of lines. You just cannot fuck with rappers delivering their verses like that. Delivery is key in my eyes, since all music, including hip-hop, is just entertainment at the end of the day. You might kick the smartest, most insightful lines of all times, but if you sound like you’re either comatose or Stephen Hawkings – or worse, a comatose Stephen Hawkings – I’m not gonna bump your records at the crib.
The problem with the Hunger is that it is exactly the kind of thing that’s essential for a great debut album and at the same time, it’s also the kind of thing that most rappers tend too loose with their sophomore album – apart from Ghostface of course, who I not without reason called the greatest of all time in an earlier installment. The solution is very simple; beggin’ and prayin’ that every rapper’s first album flops or that their label tries to fuck them over. I don’t think we would’ve called The Infamous the classic that it rightfully is if Juvenile Hell had been a commercial and critical success, because it would’ve probably made The Infamous a totally different record. It wouldn’t have had the aura of desperation, of a necessity to prove the world what they were all about. Which is part of the reason why I don’t like Hell on Earth as much as I love The Infamous. Don’t get me twisted, I love Hell on Earth, but it just can’t hang with The Infamous. No matter the good intentions they had, they couldn’t do it like they did on their last album right? Different climate, less shit too prove, famed rapstars, classics under their belt, allathat. The same applies to Liquid Swords, with the difference that I love Liquid Swords so much that I’m afraid to peep any of GZA’s other releases just ‘cause I know it’ll be a disappointment and it’ll therefore reflect negatively upon my beloved Liquid Swords. I’m pretty sure that one of the major reasons why the earlier Wu-Tang albums are better than the later ones is the Ol’ Dirty Bastard to Masta Killa ratio displayed on them. Both Biggie’s and Big Pun’s debuts were great records ‘cause of the hunger they displayed, but both their sophomore albums are the kind of albums that if never released would’ve made the world a better place for the entire human race.
I never cared too much for rappers like Guru. It’s not that he is a bad rapper, far from it. I saw him live on and his show was crazy and I’ll go apeshit on every party where the DJ spins Code of the Streets. But I simply can’t recall the last time I bumped a Gang Starr album at the crib. He doesn’t make me wanna punch through walls or kick down doors. The same thing applies to the Jay-Z’s and Talib Kweli’s of this world. I want emcees sound hungrier than Rwandan refugees. I want emcees to sound like Bobby Sands the day before he died. I want emcees to sound like they’re on their way to stick up a bodega after the session is over, just so they can make ends meet, get some diapers for their seeds and be able to offer their baby momma a night on the town. I want to hear the desperation in your voice. In the Dukes residence it’s Doe or Die, Ready to Die, All We Got Iz Us, Violent by Design and it’s never, I repeat, never gonna be Watch the Throne. Never.