Part 2 Of 2
Modern Radio and the commercial realm of music has injured rap. It set up ambiguous rules and systems for success that don’t take into consideration the quality and skill of the rappers craft. It redefined rap as just being a beat driven hook with some words in between and an entire generation has surrendered to chasing the format instead of chasing the art form. While mastering any format should be the pursuit of any self-respecting rapper including the commercial format it must be kept clear that it is just one of many formats and that you should strive to master all of them. The art form is kept alive and progressive in the activities of the tens of thousands of rappers around the world who are everyday trying to think of that next witty bar. Trying to put that crazy verse together while at work. Trying to find that word that rhymes with catapult so they can finish off that vivid story rap about their childhood. Meek Mill struck a nerve accusing Drake of having a ghostwriter and the entire rap world reacted on all sides of the fence because rap is alive. It’s active and it feels. Its rules and traditions are vibrant and responsive. I enjoy both these brothers music and find inspiration and appreciation from both of them. I remember being in Toronto at Goodfoot years ago and it was a stack of CD’s on the counter and the guy behind the counter was like “Lupe you gotta take this CD. It’s my mans mixtape.” I didn’t really pay it any mind I took it to the car and looked it over and just kind of set it aside focused on other things. I vividly remember saying “what kind of rap name is Drake?” The rest is history. Once while in Philly I went to do an interview in a shabby and very hood basement studio complex. I peeked into one of the rooms and it was this tall kid with his shirt off bouncing up and down in the booth with an energy that was electric. I gave him my regards. He gave them back. I think I mentioned something about him cutting his dreads. As I left I remember him rapping something about being a boss. The rest is history. At the end of the day, for better or worse, rap is alive even if some of its greatest moments are written by ghosts.
Part 1 of 2
To rappers from a rapper…simply write your own rhymes as much as you can if you are able. Ghostwriting, or borrowing lines, or taking suggestions from the room has always been in rap and will always be in rap. It is nothing to go crazy over or be offended about unless you are someone who postures him or herself on the importance of authenticity and tries to portray that quality to your fans or the public at large. Then we might have a problem. Some of the most pivotal moments in rap have been ghostwritten verses. This leads to a bigger point. Rapping is not an easy thing to do. It’s takes years of work and trial and error to master some of its finer points. Respect from other MC’s comes in many formats. Sales, live performances, realness etc but the one thing that is the most important is the raps themselves at least in the eyes of other serious rappers. The phrase “I’m not a rapper” gets thrown around as if it’s a badge of honor. And that’s fine. If rap is a side hustle for you or just a come up then by all means may the force be with you. But I know a lot of MC’s where rap is the first love and the first thing they think about when they wake up and the last thing they think about when they go to sleep. Rappers who pursue the art form with this level of intention may not become rich and famous off selling their raps to a wide audience but that has never been an accepted metric to begin with in terms of quality or level of skill. The vast majority of rappers will never sell 100 records in their lifetimes let alone millions. But that’s not the point, the point is that what pursuing the craft gives us in terms of the intangibles is something that record sales or fame could never represent. We achieve a mastery of language and poetics that competes on the highest levels of discourse across the entirety of human history. We express ourselves creatively and attain a sense of liberation and self-esteem via this sacred mode of creation and communication.
1998) The Birth of ILL Sphere
ILL Sphere was transforming, bringing in a new member as well as other people would emerge to help support the vision: Lamer Lee (Spoken) who managed R&B groups previously and Tremayne Robertson (Intellect) who was on Death Row Street Team alongside his deceased brother in law Patrick Franklin, would serve as managers; Byron Short (B Rone) and Jermaine Cochran (Jay) would serve as quality control. The managers suggested that the name should be changed to something other than Low End because it was boring; the name that emerged was ILL Sphere.
The concept of ILL Sphere was the planet earth with the group and crew members coexisting and sharing space while bring their own things to the table. As far as the group was concerned Verbal was the flashy young rhymer with a smooth flow that could attract the ladies; Lush was the lyrical b boy that liked to drink and party and set the tone for battling; DJ Butta was the silent musical visionary and the backbone of the group.
The group practiced and turned freestyle sessions into song writing sessions. Verbal proved to be a one take Charlie with his delivery and Lush supplied the same energy as before but with more focus. After months of writing and rehearsing, with the guidance of Silhouette the group was ready to go into the studio to start recording.
- Remember (Do You) – Produced by DJ Butta, Lyrics: Verbal and Lush; Recorded at Super Sound Studios, Chicago, IL. Engineered by Vince & Silhouette (1998).
First song of the ILL Sphere era diversified the sound with dusty samples, dope hook sung by Verbal and tight lyrics by both emcees, great battle record. This song was played on Underground Radio Station WHPK
- Enta Da Dragon – Produced by DJ Butta, Lyrics: Lush and Verbal; Recorded at Super Sound Studios, Chicago, IL. Engineered by Vince & Silhouette (1998).
This track was aimed for play at a local hip hop spot that was popular in Chicago at the time, The Double Door. The jazzy groove was inspired once again by A.T.C.Q but the flows were a bit brasher.
- Summertime ft. (Jenay) – Produced by DJ Butta, Lyrics: Verbal & Jenay; Recorded at Super Sound Studios, Chicago IL. Engineered by Vince & Silhouette (1998).
Summertime was the first and only song that was featured several times on WGCI Home Jams. Managers Intellect and Spoken decided that the group should have a radio song and DJ Butta produced a tried and true radio beat, Verbal stepped into the spotlight to provide the voice for the group. Jenay, being managed by local radio personality Sam Sylk, was a find from Intellect as he managed her at one point. Besides being great eye candy she was a great young lady who loved music and had a powerful voice. The song would be the longest to record in the studio and most popular.
- Streetlife – Produced by DJ Butta, Lyrics: Lush & Verbal; Recorded at Super Sound Studios, Chicago, IL. Engineered by Vince & Silhouette (1998)
Chicago has long had an issue with violence and particularly in the Black Community; this song was made to reflect the conditions of inner City Chicago without glorifying it for the masses. This song was played on the underground radio Station WHPK.
Almost Famous or Maybe Not
The group was really high after receiving a local buzz for this effort. They would start getting a few local shows and enter various contests around the city. The catchiness of Summertime afforded them the chance to meet with a local Chicago Musical Legend, George’s Music Room owner George Daniels. The Meeting would be setup by Ken Jennings (31) and his close friend former NE Patriot Darryl Stingley. The group was nervous as the meeting approached because George had been instrumental in launching many careers. George scheduled the meeting on the same day that he had an In Store CD signings with Destiny’s Child. Ill Sphere was supposed to arrive before Destiny’s Child but plans got changed at the last minute with the group only being able to give George their CD. ILL Sphere would stick around to observe the young ladies work and beauty but would never hear from George or get a chance at another meeting.
After a photo shoot for the group Lush would spark a romance with the photographer (Toni Lewis) and eventually marry.