This past May I had the opportunity to visit London, England and multiple places in Germany. My girlfriend has been studying abroad since February and going to visit was the chance of a lifetime, as I was able to see her and also experience Europe. After visiting London, we headed to Germany and saw the cities of Hamburg, Tubingen and Frankfurt. One thing I noticed almost right away was the presence of graffiti. There was graffiti on trains, bridges, buildings and autobahn signs. It is easy to dismiss graffiti as vandalism. For example, people such as city officials typically see graffiti as something that is carried out by delinquent youth with nothing else on their mind than the defacement of public property. That being said, it is another thing altogether to consider graffiti as an artistic expression, and in the case of the German graffiti, an instance of global hip-hop.
In Black Noise (1994), Tricia Rose discusses the origins of graffiti and its place in hip-hop culture. Hip-hop was born in New York City in the late 60’s and early 70’s in the face of inherently racist development projects that were a brutal process of community destruction and relocation executed by municipal officials and under the direction of legendary planner Robert Moses (Rose, 1994, p. 30). This was a time of immense social, economic and racial oppression for those living in areas such as the Bronx, Bedford Stuyvesant and Harlem. In the name of “urban renewal,” homes were destroyed and thousands relocated. As these neighborhoods were inaccurately deemed slums, the newly “relocated” black and Hispanic residents in the South Bronx were left with few city resources, fragmented leadership and limited political power (Rose, 1994, p. 33).
Hip-hop culture began as a response to these city policies and was an outlet for people, especially the youth, in these areas to express their anger at the racially prejudiced city government. As Rose explains, “Although city leaders and the popular press had literally and figuratively condemned the South Bronx neighborhoods and their inhabitants, its youngest black and Hispanic residents answered back (p. 34).” Hip-hop is commonly thought of as a musical genre, and it is. The music is undoubtedly an important part of hip-hop culture as the words and beats provide an ideal outlet for expression. However, break dancing and graffiti were other ways for artists to participate in the process of self-naming and articulating their particular style. With graffiti, the stakes could not have been higher.
The individual credited with the beginning of the graffiti movement was a Greek teen named Demetrius; more widely known as Taki 183. While working as a messenger and traveling by subway to all five boroughs of the city, Taki wrote his name all over the subway cars and stations (Rose, 1994, 42). This was in the early 70’s and by the middle years of the decade graffiti had reached a new level of intricacy. Trains were the ideal canvas for these works of art because they traveled all over the city. It took an immense amount of planning and knowledge to execute a piece. Moreover, it took an understanding of the subway system as well as countless sketches of the desired tag design and color choices. As Rose insists, “No longer a matter of simple tagging, graffiti began to develop elaborate styles, themes, formats and techniques, most of which were designed to increase visibility, individual identity and status (p. 42).” What began as simple designs on a small part of a train car quickly blossomed into detailed works. Graffiti art made it possible for systematically underrepresented individuals to claim their identity and further the values of resistance embedded within hip-hop culture.
Similar to a work of art in a traditional setting such as a museum, it is important to take the time to study the graffiti and consider the color, design and stylistic choices made by the artist. With that also come thoughts about the process of making the piece. On the autobahn, there are works on road signs suspended over the famous highways. How in the world did the artist get up there? In Tubingen there was a piece on the canal of the river that could not be accessed unless in a boat or suspended by some sort of rope device used for mountain climbing. Each work of art had different bright colors, bubbled letters and swooping designs making them pop out, each distinctly different from the rest. The execution of a piece is the culmination of a great deal of time, labor and risk (Rose, 1994, 42). With that comes increased notoriety for the artist with complex designs and perilous locations. There is a lot that goes into each piece and it is important to consider the message the artist is trying to convey and communicate to the audience in such a public setting. What is the motivation behind each particular work? And ultimately, what is the story of the artist and their graffiti?
Ultimately, the graffiti in Germany represents the growth of the revolutionary aspects of hip-hop culture. This is true of other aspects of hip-hop culture as well. There are countless MCs and DJs the all over the world that use the music of hip-hop to tell their stories. There are also dance crews and breakers from every continent that have influenced and changed break dancing. What began as a response to the oppression of the minority communities in New York City has found its way around the world and is an avenue for addressing issues of oppression that exists in artist’s communities. With this in mind, the importance of hip-hop and in this case graffiti can never be forgotten or dismissed as vandalism. Instead, graffiti should be embraced as a form of painting that takes immense time, skill and precision and has pushed the world of art forward.
Rose, T. (1994). Black Noise. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
Rappers love pretending to be somebody else. Ever since the conception of hip-hop, alter egos have been used as a tool by MCs to further their music, freeing them up conceptually and stylistically. Here at Bonus Cut we wanted to pay homage to the creativity and ingenuity of these artists, so we decided to host a tournament. 16 alter egos, 1 winner. Over the next two weeks we will introduce you to these insanely cool personas and then pit them against each other. Only the strong will survive. But first, like any sporting event, we have to lay the ground rules. Here goes:
1) The participants must be alter egos, not alternative names or nicknames. This means that the artist must rap from the alter ego’s perspective at one point or another and this perspective must be significantly different than that of the artist’s.
2) Only one alter ego per artist.
3) There were only 16 available spots (we wanted to keep the quality of the artists high).
4) Seeding was decided by the Bonus Cut Crew. We took into account creativity, cultural significance, popularity and obviously the overall quality of their music.
5) All matchups will be decided by yours truly, based purely on which alter ego I think is better (creativity, cultural significance, popularity and music). So yes, this is extremely subjective.
6) This week will only be the first round, due to the fact that I’m going to be introducing each alter ego with fun facts and a healthy dose of knowledge. Next week the tournament will be completed.
7) Feel free to let us know what you agree and/or disagree with in the comments below. We love feedback!
Now for the main event. Enjoy!
1) Slim Shady:
Eminem’s lovable homophobic, misogynistic and downright offensive alter ego was introduced to the world on his 1999 release, The Slim Shady LP. A satirical portrayal of rappers, Slim took things so far that he needed a semi-sarcastic “don’t try this at home” disclaimer to serve as the introduction to the LP. Slim was sent to the rap world with the sole intention to “piss people off,” and he accomplished his goal with hit songs such as “My Name Is” and “The Real Slim Shady.” It wasn’t all fun and games, because Slim’s jabs would always have weight behind them, especially when pointed towards popular culture. All of this, combined with the success of the 5x platinum Slim Shady LP, makes Slim one of the favorites to take home the hardware when it’s all said and done.
T.I. has had some trouble with the law in the recent past. That’s because he hasn’t been able to keep his thugged out alter ego, T.I.P., in check. T.I.P. was born on T.I.’s platinum selling T.I. vs. T.I.P. Throughout the album, T.I. is constantly talking T.I.P. down from resorting to violence or other activities that could get T.I. in trouble. T.I.P. is a thug who will get his way by any means necessary, but things are going to be tough in the first round against Slim Shady.
The Verdict: The problem with T.I.’s alter ego is that it’s not his alter ego anymore; it’s his identity. He hasn’t been able to stay out of jail due to stupid decisions. Also, T.I.P. isn’t winning any points for the fact that T.I. vs. T.I.P. signified the beginning of T.I.’s descent from the top of the commercial rap game. He simply doesn’t have enough to go against Slim Shady, who is one of the most pissed off, warped alter egos ever, and that’s saying something. This dude has a song about bringing his daughter along while getting rid of his wife’s dead body. Slim Shady, no contest.
2) Wolf Haley:
World, meet Wolf. Wolf, meet World. Wolf is Tyler, the Creator’s white alter ego. He has appeared in Tyler’s music throughout Tyler’s career, and even directed Tyler’s famous “Yonkers” video. Wolf originally started as a name that Tyler decided to use for Facebook because Tyler didn’t like his birth name, but Wolf eventually developed into his own person. Tyler describes Wolf as “the guy I want to be.” Wolf is wild, cool and gives zero fucks. Wolf often converses with Tyler within Tyler’s head, telling Tyler to do crazy shit that he wouldn’t do otherwise.
3) Humpty Hump:
Life got rough for Edward Ellington Humphrey when he burnt his nose while deep-frying some chicken. He couldn’t be the lead man of his band, Smooth Eddie and the Humpers, after the incident so he tried his hand in rapping under the name of Humpty Hump. Digital Underground member Shock G’s brilliant alter ego, back-story and all, shocked the world in the early 1990’s with his nasally flow on songs like “Doowutchyalike” and “The Humpty Dance.” He stands out from the crowd with his Groucho glasses complete with the nose and his extravagant clothes.
The Verdict: One of the toughest matchups of the first round. Humpty Hump is an epic character, especially with the detailed back-story, which is completed with the costume. Shock G sold it so well that fans, and even some in the music biz, actually thought Humpty Hump was a real person. But I have to go with Wolf, mainly because he directed that insanely awesome “Yonkers” video. Rarely does a music video captivate the entire blogosphere, but “Yonkers” did exactly that. Everyone and their mother has seen that video and will forever be terrified by Tyler wearing black contacts talking about hanging himself. Humpty, I’m sorry but you’re falling off the wall. Wolf marches onwards.
Madlib didn’t like his voice when rapping so he let Quasimoto do it instead. Created by slowing down the beat, rapping over it, and then speeding it up, Lord Quas’ helium-inflected voice has terrorized the rap game for the past decade plus. With two critically acclaimed albums to his name, The Unseen and The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, it won’t be a surprise if he makes a deep run in the tournament. Quasimoto is a self-described menace to society, and is not afraid to use violence in order to impose his will. He is well versed in microphone mathematics, and spares nobody with his effortless, slick flow. With another album due up in 2013, you better hide your kids and definitely hide your wife.
4) Roman Zolanski:
Roman is Nicki Minaj’s homosexual male alter ego from London. He has no album to his name, but appears on many of her hit songs, such as “Monster,” “Beez in the Trap,” “Bottoms Up” and “Bed Rock.” The Young Money crew member is often times aggressive and tells the harsh truth Nicki can’t do herself. He used to be violent, but has toned it down at Nicki’s request. The only thing that stops Roman is his mother, Marsha, who he constantly fights with. Unable to conform to societal norms, Roman was thrown into the nuthouse until an undisclosed date. Things don’t look too good for Roman, who was punished by the bracket gods with a tough matchup in round one.
The Verdict: Quasimoto is a brilliant conception. Anybody with a shitty microphone and voice recorder can speed up his or her voice, but Madlib took that idea and turned it into a terrific rap album. The bad news is, unfortunately, his run stops here. As much as I hate Nicki Minaj, I have to give it to Roman Zolanski, because he has too many quotable lines. Take “Bed Rock,” a song with lines like “lemme put this pussy on your sideburns.” Nobody knows what this line implies, but it’s still an awesome and aggressive bar. Roman’s entire verse on “Monster” is quotable (“Well if I’m fake, I ain’t notice cause my money ain’t!”). It’s too catchy, it’s too fun, and I hate myself for doing it, but I have to put Roman through to the next round. Ugh.
2) Bobby Digital:
If you love comic books, Bobby Digital is your man. Conceived when RZA smoked a “really good bag of weed” and introduced to the world on Bobby Digital in Stereo, this “lyrical rhyme nympho” is a martial arts master who will “Pierce through your physical faculties/With pin-point accuracy.” He is a pleasure seeker, representing RZA before the fortune and fame. His rhymes play out like that of a comic book, in which Bobby never fails to save the world and get the girl. RZA went as far as making two short movies for Bobby and even pursued a comic deal with publishers, but it didn’t pan out. Bobby Digital is definitely a dark horse, and all those who oppose him better be ready for a tough battle.
3) Sasha Fierce:
Sasha Fierce made her debut on Beyoncé’s I Am… Sasha Fierce. Everybody loves Beyoncé, and everybody loved Sasha Fierce as well. With chart-topping hits like “Halo,” “Single Ladies,” “Diva” and “Sweet Dreams,” the album was a commercial success. Besides being fierce, Sasha is aggressive, sensual and sassy. Beyoncé claims that Sasha takes over every time she goes out to perform, and she performs a lot. Recently though, B claims that she and Sasha have combined, and are no longer separate entities.
The Verdict: Sasha literally, as Aubrey would say, shut it down, down, down at the Super Bowl this year with her halftime performance. She also gets a boost from the signs that she is a member of the Illuminati, which are littered throughout her music videos. It’s hard to decide against Sasha Fierce. Like, they might come to get me hard. But Bobby Digital is every kid (and therefore grown man’s) dream. You’re telling me I get to be a karate master, comic book hero AND an ill rhymesayer? Just stop. But still, I have to go with Beyoncé because “Halo” and “Single Ladies” were guilty pleasures for a majority of human beings at the time of their release. Oh yea, and because:
Sasha Fierce it is.
1) Dr. Octagon:
A shape shifting alien doctor from Jupiter with metallic green skin, a pink and white afro and yellow eyes, Kool Keith prescribed just what the rap game needed in 1996 with Dr. Octogynocologist, which put underground rap back on the map. Medically, Dr. Octagon is incompetent, as his patients usually die from malpractice and he can’t resist having sex with his nurses. Lyrically however, he dissects all opposition with his smooth flow, witty wordplay and humorous lyrics over futuristic backdrops. If you ever need him to drop knowledge from his glow-in-the-dark brain, he’ll be glad to. You might have trouble getting a hold of him though, as his office operators have a tendency to be masturbating while they’re supposed to be answering calls.
Biggie’s friend from the barbershop, Pop is always on the lookout for those plotting against Biggie. He gives Biggie the heads up whenever he sees something fishy and waits for Biggie’s word to take action. Pop represents how valuable loyal friends are to rappers who are constantly in the crosshairs of haters’ attacks. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be a short stay for Pop, who has a tough matchup in round one.
The Verdict: This one’s pretty easy for a bunch of reasons. First, Biggie gets punished for half-assing his alter ego. He could’ve gone with Frank White (which would’ve been awesome), but all he does is mention him here and there throughout his career and never really makes anything of it. Instead, we’re left with Pop, who’s not very creative or inspirational. On the other hand, you have Dr. Octagon, an orthopedic gynecologist (Get it? He puts bones into lady parts) from another planet that has performed with a dead Kurt Cobain and an uncircumcised Chewbacca. Doc Oc FTW.
A Mafioso style drug lord who came into existence on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and has appeared in Nas’ music ever since. The story goes like this: before the fortune and fame, Nas was known as Nasty Nas, another persona who was hungry for success that spent days and nights grinding trying to make it. After Nasty Nas reached the top, Escobar took over. Escobar is a ruthless kingpin in the rap game who is always looking to make the next dollar. He’s a tragic hero who represents how power corrupts and changes humans.
3) The Based God:
The Based God is a diety with the appearance of Ellen Degeneres, Sam Cassell, Dr. Phil, Bill Clinton and many more famous public figures combined together. When seen in public, it is tough to fight the urge to shout out, “Based God, you can fuck my bitch!” Based God is the creator of the now famous “cooking dance” used by athletes all around the world and he occasionally takes over Lil B’s twitter feed in order to drop knowledge on the Based Lifestyle. He always promotes love and forgiveness, even going as far as to write a book on the topic. This alter ego is more than the music, which gives him a punchers chance to take home the bacon.
The Verdict: The Based God is a new-age alter ego, utilizing Twitter as the main avenue to reach his fans. His grammatically-challenged Twitter rants are pure comedy, but they always are done with the best intentions (to spread positivity and tips on how to live a Based life). Escobar is legendary in his own right, as his verse on “Verbal Intercourse” marked the first time ever that a non-Wu-Tang member appeared on a Wu-Tang album. That’s some serious shit right there. But I still have to go with Based God. He’s convinced sane men in relationships that it’s alright for him to fornicate with their girls. Based God, you can fuck my bitch… in the second round.
Sensitive thugs need hugs. Makaveli never needed hugs. An angry, ruthless thug who strategically ruled the streets, Makaveli feared no man. On Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (which was completed in 7 days), Makaveli fired shots at all of Tupac’s enemies. He represented an artistic rebirth of Tupac, as Don Killuminati featured a much darker tone than Pac’s previous albums. Still, Makaveli’s songs featured Pac’s poetic verses and classic delivery, which is why the album is considered one of the greatest of all time. Based on all of this, Makaveli has both the style and substance to win this thing.
4) Brook Lynn:
Mary J Blige is well known for her singing abilities, but few know about her alter ego, Brook Lynn, who raps. Brook appears on songs such as “Enough Cryin” and “Midnight Drive,” and she teams up with Mary to make a formidable tandem. Brook is a sassy, independent woman who doesn’t do soppy love songs. She may need a soppy love song after the first round, as she is faced with the tall task of trying to beat one of the all-time greats.
The Verdict: I’m not going lie, Brook Lynn surprised me on the mic. She came with the goods, holding her own with the likes of Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, DMX and Rah Digga. And she’s dressed the part, decked out with some chains and sunglasses. That’s not even close to enough to challenge Makaveli, who gets huge bonus points because Tupac died before the album was released. It turns Don Killuminati into Tupac’s “say hello to my little friend” moment where he completely disregards his life and gives one last “fuck you” to his opponents. Makaveli lives to fight another day.
2) MF Doom:
Heroes are overrated. Daniel Dumile agrees, and that’s why his alter ego, MF Doom, is a super-villain. What’s a super-villain? The scholarly MF Doom defines it as: “a killer who loves children.” This charming masked man successfully flexed his complex rhyme schemes and unique flow on both of his albums (Operation: Doomsday and MM… Food). Rappers beware: Stand up to MF and Doomsday could be upon you.
3) Mr. Rager:
Super-duper Cudder’s struggles with drugs are well documented. He constantly battles his alter ego, Mr. Rager, in order to stay on the straight and narrow. Mr. Rager has always been present in Kid Cudi’s rhymes, but it wasn’t until Cudder’s sophomore album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager that he officially existed. Mr. Rager represents everything evil and isn’t afraid to show it, as he only wears clothes that are black. His music is drug-inspired, and his rhymes punch you in the chest harder than the heavy bass behind them. We all have problems, but luckily we don’t have Mr. Ragers.
The Verdict: An intriguing matchup. On one side you have Mr. Rager, who is more real than any other alter ego on this list. Kid Cudi’s career has come close to derailment multiple times because of Mr. Rager. Man on the Moon II is a vastly underrated album, and Mr. Rager has an unbelievably cool video to his name:
On the other hand you have MF Doom, the awesome super-villain who is criminally underrated as well. His creativity is on another level; he’s the guy who rapped about food in 2004. HE EVEN SAMPLED FOOD IN HIS MUSIC. Now cats are Instagramming food left and right, thinking they’re cool. No. MF Doom is cool, and so is his music. I don’t care how many ninjas Kid Cudi karate chops in the Adam’s apple, MF Doom wins in a close decision.
With this, the first round of the Tournament of MC Alter Egos is completed! I will provide the quarterfinals, semi-finals and championship bout in next weeks issue. Stay tuned! And remember, when in doubt, get yourself an alter ego.