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Wherever rapper Eminem goes, controversy and headlines are sure to follow. With so many people unsure about whether to love him or hate him, five young rappers have decided to join him on his latest project, D-12. Also known as the Dirty Dozen, D-12 is a sextet of Detroit-based rappers -- all between the ages of 23 and 25. Members Bizarre, Swift, Kon Artis, Proof, and Kuniva claim they are "here to bring the sick, the obscene, the disgusting." With this agenda in tow, D-12 could prove to be the sequel to the controversial parade that Eminem started with the explicit lyrics on his solo albums Slim Shady (UNI/Interscope Records, 1999) and the in-your-face single "Way I Am" (2000, UNI/Interscope Records).
D-12's 2001 debut album, Devil's Night (Interscope/Shady Records), had potential to cause some waves, with the inclusion of their raucous 2000 single, "Shit on You. D-12 was originally founded by members Bizarre and Proof around 1990, but the size and scope of the group expanded when Proof brought in childhood friend Eminem (it turns out that the pair grew up near each other, but went to different high schools) and the rest of the gang. Along their quest to stir the already controversy-infested waters of rap, all five members come complete with aliases, while each of them bears a tattoo of the name of former D-12 member, Bugz, who was gunned down at a picnic party.

D-12 is (listed in no particular order by real name and alias/alter ego) Rufus Johnson,
aka Peter S. Bizarre (Bizarre is also a member of the group the Outsidaz which includes Rah Digga and Eminem; he has appeared in magazines such as The Source and is the winner of Inner City Entertainment's Flava of the Year award for September 1998), Mr. Denine Porter, aka Kon Artis (Kon Artis is a producer for D-12), O.Moore, aka Swifty McVay (Swifty joined D-12 in 1998 after Bugz died), Von Carlisle or Hannz G., aka Kuniva (Kuniva was a part of Da Brigade along with Kon Artis), and DeShaun Holton, aka Proof or Dirty Harry (Proof is known for his freestyle talents. He won the Source Magazine Freestyling Competition back in 1999). D-12 requests that concerned fans contact the organizations that are focusing their "hateful attention" on Eminem (contact numbers for GLAAD and the Family Violence Prevention Fund are listed on the D-12 website www.d12net.com).

Da Brat

ALTHOUGH she hasn't received the same media attention as some of her peers (Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, Lil' Kim), Shawntae Harris, better known as Da Brat, has her own unique place in hip-hop history. She is the first female MC to go platinum, thanks to her 1994 debut album, Funkdafied. Da Brat has also proved remarkably resilient, weathering a sophomore slump and successfully metamorphosing from a baggy-jean-clad tomboy into a bodysuit-wearing rap diva.

The rap star's career began in Chicago. There, Harris grew up as an only child in a religious household with her mother and grandmother. "I was raised sanctified as a kid and couldn't do a lot of things," she told The Source magazine. As a youth, Harris attended church regularly, playing the drums and singing in the church choir.

At home, secular music like rap and soul were frowned upon; she had to venture to her paternal grandmother's house for that. "At the sanctified house, I had to be a lady," she says. "But when I went to the other house I could act up." Despite having to walk a thin line between both worlds, she would later realize the importance of having a religious background. "Had I not been through all that sanctified stuff, I'd be like some of my cousins," she says. "They had too much too soon. While they were out partying and drinking, I was clapping my hands and stomping my feet and speaking in tongues in church. I'm so happy I had that."

While attending high school, Harris developed an admiration for rappers like Eric B., Rakim, and LL Cool J. But the emergence of women like MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Monie Love inspired her to begin battling boys during lunch. "I thought I was Monie Love," she told Blaze magazine. Her first rap group was Experteez, and she later joined a group called Simply Nasty, going by the name Paris Paper Doll. "We rapped, danced, and wore little, tight bodysuits," she explained in the Source.

Although Harris initially planned to attend college to study architecture, her success during those school battles inspired her to pursue a rap career. She settled on the name Da Brat ("My family always called me a spoiled brat," she revealed to Blaze) and began entering local talent shows with the help of her godmother, an entertainment manager. One such show in 1992, hosted by then-Yo! MTV Raps host Ed Lover, led to a meeting with Kris Kross, the Atlanta duo best known for the smash hit "Jump." The three kept in touch, and Kris Kross helped Da Brat meet their Svengali, Jermaine Dupri, at a taping for the Oprah Winfrey show the following year. Dupri was impressed enough to sign Da Brat to a recording contract, and she guested on the title track for Kris Kross' sophomore album, Da Bomb, later that year.

In 1994, with Dupri's help, Da Brat released the single "Funkdafied," which went to No. 6 on the Billboard charts, eventually attaining platinum status. Her follow-up debut album, Funkdafied, followed suit, spawning two other hits, "Fa All Y'all" and the gold single "Give It 2 You," along the way. At the tender age of 20, Da Brat had achieved a sales plateau other veteran female rappers like Latifah, Yo-Yo, and at the time Salt-N-Pepa were unable to do.

But her baggy jeans and tomboyish attitude led to the usual rumors of lesbianism that plague strong women. "Any time a female comes out and she has a little bit of tomboy in her, she done totally crossed over," said Da Brat in XXL magazine. "It did hurt when I first heard [the rumors], but I got over it It just taught me to be a survivor." In accordance with her name, Da Brat also developed a diva-like attitude. "I throw s--t, I break s--t," Da Brat admitted during those years.

Fans, however, largely ignored her second album, Anuthatantrum, when it arrived in 1996. By that time, the rap music landscape had changed dramatically, and Da Brat's tomboyish demeanor seemed out of place among the sexually charged antics of Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown. Da Brat later told Blaze that "it's easier now" for female MCs to succeed than before. "You don't need skills. You just have to look f--kable." Though its sales weren't comparable to Funkdafied, Anuthatantrum still managed to earn a gold plaque, as did its two singles, "Sittin' on Top of the World" and "Ghetto Love." The latter song featured TLC singer T-Boz.

Undaunted, Da Brat continued to appear as a guest on other artists' tracks (Lil' Kim's "Not Tonight," Dru Hill's "In My Bed," Kelly Price's "Secret Love," among others), most notably on remixes of Mariah Carey's "Heartbreaker" and "I Still Believe." Ironically, it wasn't until her infamous performance at Soul Train's 1998 Lady of Soul Awards, where she appeared wrapped in a tight white jumpsuit with considerable cleavage, that Da Brat caught the industry's eye again. "I was so scared before I went out there," she admitted in Blaze. "I just wanted to get out of those clothes, but the response was so phenomenal!"

Since then, Da Brat has started her own record company, Throwin' Tantrums, and has read for several film projects. She's also appeared in fashion magazines to show off her revamped image. But her spate of promotional appearances in conjunction with her new album, Unrestricted, was derailed in March 2000 when she was arrested for allegedly pistol-whipping a patron at an Atlanta nightclub. Although the subsequent felony charges didn't prevent her from opening most of Mariah Carey's "Heartbreaker" tour, they did cause her to miss a Boston appearance. The case is still pending.

In April 2000, Da Brat released Unrestricted, an album whose title is an homage to the Millie Jackson album of the same name. Not surprisingly, the new disc features a bevy of guests, including Ja Rule, Kelly Price, Mystikal, and Jermaine Dupri, who also produced. Legal entanglements aside, for now, the future is wide open for Da Brat, and, as she recently told MTV, it could include a summer tour with Jay-Z, Jagged Edge, and Beanie Sigel.

Daz Dillinger

One of the most important members of the mid-'90s Death Row Records empire, producer/rapper Daz Dillinger worked alongside some of the West Coast's best rappers. Along with Kurupt, Nate Dogg, and Snoop Dogg, Dillinger (at time known as Dat Nigga Daz) was one of the Long Beach, CA, clique that had been introduced to Dr. Dre through Warren G during the preliminary stages of the legendary The Chronic album. Though Dillinger played only a minor role in the success of that album as a rapper, his subsequent contributions to Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle album as a rapper quickly established him as an up-and-coming West Coast talent. And when his production helped make 2Pac's All Eyez on Me such a success, he was chosen to be Dr. Dre's successor for the production of Snoop's Tha Doggfather album.

Around the same time, he was part of a duo also including Kurupt known as Tha Dogg Pound that released a somewhat overlooked album, Dogg Food. Of course, following the departure of Dr. Dre, the death of 2Pac, and the imprisonment of Suge Knight, Death Row suddenly lost its momentum -- and Dillinger's career with it. During the late '90s, he continued his efforts as a prolific producer but saw his long-finished solo album for Death Row, Retaliation, Revenge & Get Back, get continually pushed back until it was finally released in 1998 to an indifferent audience; the album did feature "In California," though, which proved to be a minor hit. In 2000, Dillinger released his second album, R.A.W., on his Dogg Pound Records label. The record found Dillinger dissing Suge Knight, Death Row, and even his cousin Snoop Dogg. Yet without major label push, the album was greeted quietly. The new millennium however, saw the release of Long Beach 2 Fillmoe.

Def Squad

Theres crews, then theres the Def Squad, the wild bunch that is Erick Sermon, Redman and Keith Murray that are hip-hops supreme dream team. Leading the underground sound to mainstream shores, the infamous elite street emcees, who earlier this year blew up nationwide with their "Rappers Delight" remake, embark on their full-length virgin voyage, El Nino.

Masterminded by EPMD legend Erick Sermon, the Def Squads origins can be traced to the dissolving of The Hit Squad (K-Solo, Redman, Das EFX) shortly after Sermon and partner Parrish Smith parted ways in 1992. What followed was truly the start of something big. First flowing together on "Swing It Over Here," from Sermons solo album No Pressure (1993), the trio have collaborated on several occasions, most notably on "Cosmic Slop" from Redmans Dare Iz A Darkside (1994), "Hows That" from Murrays The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World (1994), "Open Fire" from Sermons Double Or Nothing (1995), "Yeah" from Murrays Enigma (1996) and "Da Ill Out" from Redmans third banger, Muddy Waters (1996). Although the success of the Sugarhill Gang redux motivated the group to record this album, Reggie Noble is quick to clarify that, "We dont just do songs to get a lil video and all of that. We do this because we love it. We eat, sleep and breathe hip hop." No doubt the Def Squad also loves to crush the competition into mush. This is proven on the blazing lead-off single, "Full Cooperation." In your face from the get-go, Murray declares: "Now first but not least/You will respect Keith/Lay a nigga down like a doo-rag and grease/You must be crazy tryin to play me/Ive been dedicated since King Tut the III, baby...," Coming second as hard as he did on EPMDs critically acclaimed reunion album , Back In Business, E says: "My style aint no walk in the park/Got mainstream emcees scared to rhyme after dark...For battlin reservations 1-900-SQUAD/Frontin on us is like frontin on God..." And like the last episode of Seinfeld, all eyes shift to The Funk Doctor Spock who hems the finale with his trademark spark: "And when we take it there/ These three niggas in a square/ My Squad hangs out like 400 pounds of brassieres...Your style is weak/ Guard your Rollie/ With all the ice in it/ I snatch the ice out/ Put a price out/ Cop a Benz/ Put my moms in it..." Oh, the humanity. Draw a line from Brentwood, Long Island, Newark, New Jersey and Central Islip and you get an East Side connection thats stayed committed to the underground since its inception. Friends (both Redman and Murray lived with Erick at the outset of their careers) as well as both bomb mic wreckers and celebrated producers, the Def Squad demonstrate a chemistry few other crews can claim. Originators in this thing called rap, Sermon, Noble and Murray are some of the most often imitated but never duplicated icons in hip-hop. Personality-driven, the DS play off each other like the Bulls in the play-offs. As Keith Murray explains, "We all act the same, just different times when we do it. Like if Redman is the loud one, Im the calm one, Erick is the laid back one. Everybody gives each other room."

Masterminded by EPMD legend Erick Sermon, the Def Squads origins can be traced to the dissolving of The Hit Squad (K-Solo, Redman, Das EFX) shortly after Sermon and partner Parrish Smith parted ways in 1992. What followed was truly the start of something big. First flowing together on "Swing It Over Here," from Sermons solo album No Pressure (1993), the trio have collaborated on several occasions, most notably on "Cosmic Slop" from Redmans Dare Iz A Darkside (1994), "Hows That" from Murrays The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World (1994), "Open Fire" from Sermons Double Or Nothing (1995), "Yeah" from Murrays Enigma (1996) and "Da Ill Out" from Redmans third banger, Muddy Waters (1996). Although the success of the Sugarhill Gang redux motivated the group to record this album, Reggie Noble is quick to clarify that, "We dont just do songs to get a lil video and all of that. We do this because we love it. We eat, sleep and breathe hip hop." No doubt the Def Squad also loves to crush the competition into mush. This is proven on the blazing lead-off single, "Full Cooperation." In your face from the get-go, Murray declares: "Now first but not least/You will respect Keith/Lay a nigga down like a doo-rag and grease/You must be crazy tryin to play me/Ive been dedicated since King Tut the III, baby...," Coming second as hard as he did on EPMDs critically acclaimed reunion album , Back In Business, E says: "My style aint no walk in the park/Got mainstream emcees scared to rhyme after dark...For battlin reservations 1-900-SQUAD/Frontin on us is like frontin on God..." And like the last episode of Seinfeld, all eyes shift to The Funk Doctor Spock who hems the finale with his trademark spark: "And when we take it there/ These three niggas in a square/ My Squad hangs out like 400 pounds of brassieres...Your style is weak/ Guard your Rollie/ With all the ice in it/ I snatch the ice out/ Put a price out/ Cop a Benz/ Put my moms in it..." Oh, the humanity. Draw a line from Brentwood, Long Island, Newark, New Jersey and Central Islip and you get an East Side connection thats stayed committed to the underground since its inception. Friends (both Redman and Murray lived with Erick at the outset of their careers) as well as both bomb mic wreckers and celebrated producers, the Def Squad demonstrate a chemistry few other crews can claim. Originators in this thing called rap, Sermon, Noble and Murray are some of the most often imitated but never duplicated icons in hip-hop. Personality-driven, the DS play off each other like the Bulls in the play-offs. As Keith Murray explains, "We all act the same, just different times when we do it. Like if Redman is the loud one, Im the calm one, Erick is the laid back one. Everybody gives each other room."


What do you say about a brotha who has the name of a dog tattoed on his back, close to three million records sold of a debut album, and the hottest sound and image on the street? You'd call that man DMX. 'One Love Boomer' the tat reads, shoulder to shoulder, It's Dark And Hell Is Hot is the first effort still in Billboard's top twenty, and kids around the world are growling, barking, rhyming in short bursts of rough ghetto energy, anything to imitate an artist they would have no problem calling hero.

And now he has a new album. For an unprepared public, this game started less than a year ago when a deep-throated, bandana-wearing brotha started spittin' hot shit on cuts like LL Cool J's "4,3,2,1" and Mic Geronimo's "Usual Suspects." Then came two unforgettable verses: the first on Mase's "24 Hrs. To Live;" the second on The Lox's anthem "Money, Power, Respect," a sixteen bar ball of fire that DMX said he wrote "a couple of years ago." It was the perfect artistic set-up for a game that was coming out of Puff Daddy's self-proclaimed "Hammer era" into a harder, more broken-bottle, strife laden world where heart, credibility, strength, and attitude meant just as much as brightest suit or hottest girl. Heads were ready for tales of real life, stories of struggle and survival, pain and the ability to get by, the kind of urban tales DMX had always thrived at. "I think society is finally ready to deal with reality," DMX said last February, a few days before his first album was to drop, "so for that reason I ain't got no choice but to blow!" And blow up he did. Worldwide. "Get At Me Dog" was the song that did it, a spit-fire piece of uncompromising aggression that became the universal anthem of hood life, months before labelmate Jay Z called anybody's life hard knock.

But while everyone couldn't get enough of DMX's call and response, couldn't stop listening to the head-nod energy of "Stop Being Greedy," couldn't stop "Fuckin' Wit' D," or thinking about the introspective good vs. evil battle of "Damien," this hardest-working-thug-in-show business was working. Working on a new book of verse and rhyme that would give his people what they wanted. More X. Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood is more DMX. More dogs. More rhymes. More tales to tell. More barks and growls, more hos and bitches, more niggas and neighborhoods. More beats. And more love. Much more love. Who else but DMX would bathe in a tub of blood and call it an album shoot? Who else but DMX would stare out, naked and ready to blast the world, with his hands in prayer? And yeah, Damien is back, The Lox is back, Jay Z is back. But now there are some new kids, because Ruff Ryders -- DMX's Ruff Ryders -- is the hottest crew in the world.

Take one listen to the intro, "My Niggas," the first of ten tracks the young beat phenomenon called Swizz will produce, and you'll get an early feeling, that for DMX, this rap shit ain't no game. "Just 'cause I love my niggas / I shed blood for my niggas!" Two minutes later you'll hear some horrified strings and the wail of a brotha ready to bring it on. "Bring Your Whole Crew" will provide the first memorable lines of a 70+ minute album. "I got blood on my hands and there's no remorse / I got blood on my dick 'cause I fucked a corpse," X spits while giving you a drive-by tour of the mind of one of the most energized and manic artists this game has ever seen. "Ain't No Way," then finds the Dark Man taking a page out of the book of the great B.I.G., and ghetto-harmonizing on a hook laced with some of Swizz's robotic horns. "I love it, I love it," he says on the fade-out, right before the Lox kill it on the Yonkers posse cut "We Don't Give A Fuck."

"I want Flesh Of My Flesh to be like my connection to the community," he says. "I want to say what's on my peoples' minds, soak up all their pain. I've learned that when I take it all in, I can make one brotha's pain be understood by the world." Well, heads are gonna understand something after they hear coming-of-age tale called "Coming From," featuring none other than Ms. Mary J. Blige. "My journey's been a rough one / I'm not sure when it began / But the way it's lookin' / I kinda know when it's gonna end" Created by PK, another young producer-phenom in the Ruff Ryders camp, "Coming From" is a beautiful piece of ghetto blues. It's all in there: stuttered drum lines and staccato piano notes, heart-exposed lyrics with a mournful chorus, all combining in a classic message of learning and upliftment that could only come from the mind of a first-rate urban poet. And DMX says what he feels. Always.
His real name is Earl Simmons, and as a child he spent his days and nights alone, wandering the streets of the School Street Projects of Yonkers, NY by himself. Despite having five sisters, Earl says he had a very lonely childhood, a painful reality that led to an inner strength, a strong introspective side, and an undying bond for dogs. Real dogs. His two pit bulls (Bandit and Bobbi) go with him everywhere including the recording studio and his Boomer tattoo is a dedication to his best dog-friend that was run-over by a car. If you meet DMX, and listen to his rhymes, you hear the same person. He talks as he rhymes, with the same rhythm, cadence, and strength of feeling that has made him so captivating for thousands of fans and friends across the globe. You can hear Earl on the mellowed-out "Slippin'." Laid over a melodic Grover Washington, Jr. sample, "Slippin' " is the spoken thought of a man who has contemplated a life with little opportunity, a life with more than one rock-bottom, but a life that's nothing but his own. And don't get it twisted, there will be no excuses. "To live is to suffer, but to survive, well, that's to find meaning in the suffering."

"If you think this reality is positive then you're wrong," he says, "because there are not too many communities in the hood. there's just a bunch of individuals. But all that matters to me is if niggas know I'm speaking for them - because I am them. See, I'm just starting to realize that I'm good you know, and realize the power I have." To influence others? "Naw, I've always been able to influence others," he laughs, "it's just that now I know I may have done some bad things, but I'm not a bad person." At least not the one Marilyn Manson is trying to bring to the dark side on the eerie "Damien" sequel called "The Omen."

"The Omen" with a beats-per-minute slower than a dying heartbeat, continues the dialogue between our hero and the Grim Reaper over a simple drum and snare. Marilyn Manson brings his psychedelic alternative growl to the track and fuels this hip-hop anti-psalm. And who knows how it's gonna play out with an artist who has often said he's made a deal with the devil and covered his album booklet in the blood of a pig?

Back in the day, DMX had a single deal with Columbia Records. It resulted in nothing more than a white label single called "Born Loser." Now that same brotha has put out two full-length albums in less than a year under the Ruff Ryders/Def Jam banner, and the days of being ignored are an eternity away. It's Dark & Hell Is Hot is fast on its way to triple platinum status and may go down as the most impressive rap debut ever. But Flesh Of My Flesh's "No Love 4 Me" will probably say it best. It's here that Swizz spreads some Japanese string plucks over a kinetic club-ready beat and lets the Dark Man fly. As he also does on the guitar-heavy title cut: "Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood / All my niggas get down like what?!?" the rough and ready Dark Man asks us, no doubt without the need for any real answers. And it's the perfect anthem for another year of ill stage shows.

See, the hardest thug heads have been known to shed tears in the dark corners of DMX's from-the-heart shows, all attention is on stage, and all crowd beefs are squashed by the visceral power of the man on stage. "If you turn away, you might miss something, dog," he says.

"It's better to have someone being drunk and listening to your shit," DMX says, "as opposed to being drunk and going out blasting because he can't take it no more. You got your point across yo, but you also got life."

DMX is more than a rapper, he's an entertainer and a leader who understands the power and influence he has been blessed with. An album with a "Prayer" is no accident for DMX, it's designed to be the emotional climax of a trip through the subconscious of a young black male. In opening himself up, DMX believes he can save the souls of those he cares most about. And for that, he's a unique individual. Just listen to "Ready To Meet Him," the final song of Flesh Of My Flesh. It's a profound pre-millennial spiritual that will rank the Dark Man with some of the game's more infamous soul searchers. KRS-One and Chuck D have been there. The great Rakim has been there. 'Pac and Big had the spot on lock. Now DMX enters that rarefied place.

Lord you left me stranded, and I don't know why / Told me to live my life, and now I'm ready to die
Ready to fly / I cry but I shed no tears / You told me you would dead those fears / It's been years
Snakes still coming at me / Just missing / Sometimes I think all you do with me is just listen
I thought that I was special / That's what you told me
Hold me / Stop acting like you don't know me

You know the Dark Man X, and if you don't, now you know. Millions already do.

Don't be afraid, just be ready.

Dr. Dre

More than any other rapper, Dr. Dre was responsible for moving away from the avant-noise and political stance of Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, as well as the party vibes of old school rap. Instead, Dre pioneered gangsta rap and his own variation of the sound, G-Funk. BDP's early albums were hardcore but cautionary tales of the criminal mind, but Dre's records with NWA celebrated the hedonistic, amoralistic side of gang life. Dre was never much of a rapper -- his rhymes were simple and his delivery was slow and clumsy -- but as a producer, he was extraordinary. With NWA he melded the noise collages of the Bomb Squad with funky rhythms. On his own, he reworked George Clinton's elastic funk into the self-styled G-Funk, a slow-rolling variation that relied more on sound than content. When he left NWA in 1992, he founded Death Row Records with Suge Knight, and the label quickly became the dominant force in mid-'90s hip-hop thanks to his debut, The Chronic. Soon, most rap records imitated its sound, and his productions for Snoop Doggy Dogg, Warren G and Blackstreet were massive hits. For nearly four years, G-funk dominated hip-hop, and Dre had enough sense to abandon it and Death Row just before the whole empire collapsed in late 1996. Dre retaliated by forming a new company, Aftermath, and while it was initially slow getting started, his bold moves forward earned critical respect. Dr. Dre (b. Andre Young, February 18, 1965) became involved in hip-hop during the early '80s, performing at house parties and clubs with the World Class Wreckin' Cru around South Central Los Angeles, and making a handful of recordings along the way. In 1986, he met Ice Cube, and the two rappers began writing songs for Ruthless Records, a label started by former drug pusher Eazy-E. Eazy tried to give one of the duo's songs, "Boyz N the Hood," to HBO, a group signed to Ruthless. When the group refused, Eazy formed NWA -- an acronym for Niggaz With Attitude -- with Dre and Cube, releasing their first album in 1987. A year later, N.W.A. delivered Straight Outta Compton, a vicious hardcore record that became an underground hit with virtually no support from radio, the press or MTV. N.W.A. became notorious for their hardcore lyrics, especially those of "Fuck tha Police," which resulted in the FBI sending a warning letter to Ruthless and its parent company Priority, suggesting that the group should watch their step.

Most of the group's political threat left with Ice Cube when he departed in late 1989 admist many financial disagreements. While Eazy-E appeared to be the undisputed leader following Cube's departure -- and he was certainly responsible for the group approaching near-parodic levels with their final pair of records -- the music was in Dre's hands. On both the 1990 EP 100 Miles and Runnin' and the 1991 album Efil4zaggin ("Niggaz 4 Life" spelled backward), he created dense, funky sonic landscapes that were as responsible for keeping NWA at the top of the charts as Eazy's comic-book lyrics. While the group was at the peak of their popularity in 1991, Dre began to make efforts to leave the crew, especially after he was charged with assaulting the host of a televised rap show in 1991. The following year, Dre left the group to form Death Row Records with Suge Knight. According to legend, Knight held NWA's manager at gun point and threatening to kill him if he refused to let Dre out of his contract.

Dr. Dre released his first solo single, "Deep Cover," in the spring of 1992. Not only was the record the debut of his elastic G-funk sound, it also was the beginning of his collaboration with rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg. Dre discovered Snoop through his stepbrother Warren G, and he immediately began working with the rapper -- Snoop was on Dre's 1992 debut The Chronic as much as Dre himself. Thanks to the singles "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang," "Dre Day" and "Let Me Ride," The Chronic was a multi-platinum, Top 10 smash, and the entire world of hip-hop changed with it. For the next four years, it was virtually impossible to hear mainstream hip-hop that wasn't affected in some way by Dr. Dre and his patented G-Funk. Not only did he produce Snoop Dogg's 1993 debut Doggystyle, but he orchestrated several soundtracks, including Above the Rim and Murder Was the Case (both 1994), which functioned as samplers for his new artists and production techniques, and he helmed hit records by Warren G ("Regulate") and Blackstreet, among others, including a hit reunion with Ice Cube, "Natural Born Killaz." During this entire time, Dre released no new records, but he didn't need to -- all of Death Row was under his control and most of his peers mimicked his techniques.

The Death Row dynasty held strong until the spring of 1996, when Dre grew frustrated with Knight's strong-arm techniques. At the time, Death Row was devoting itself to 2-Pac's label debut All Eyez on Me (which featured Dre on the breakthrough hit, "California Love") and Snoop was busy recovering from his draining murder trial. Dre left the label in the summer of 1996 to form Aftermath, declaring gangsta rap was dead. While he was subjected to endless taunts from his former Death Row colleagues, their sales slipped by 1997 and Knight was imprisoned on racketeering charges by the end of the year. Dre's first album for Aftermath, the various artists collection Dr. Dre Presents...The Aftermath received considerable media attention, but the record didn't become a hit, despite the presence of his hit single, "Been There Done That." Even though the album wasn't a success, the implosion of Death Row in 1997 proved that Dre's inclinations were correct at the time. Both Chronic 2001 and its companion volume 2001 Instrumental followed in 1999.


How would you feel if your first album was the next release from the skyrocketing Ruff Ryders label? DMX has six platinum plaques and counting; Eve's freshman effort has icy grey all over it; The Lox are poised to take over the charts; and, all of a sudden... center-stage is set for you. Well, 20 year-old hip hop lyricist Drag-On feels the pressure. However, twelve years of paying dues and hard preparation have him feeling like his platinum opportunity is now. "It's my time... it's... my... time... I feel pressure, but I've been working hard at this. I paid my dues, I went on the Survival of the Illest Tour, the Hard Knock Life Tour, been on X's three albums, the Ruff Ryders Compilation and now I got my album coming out," declares Drag in a confident and reassuring voice.

But the outlook wasn't always so rosy for the next Ruff Ryder to blow. "I grew up in the hood," Drag-On narrates. "The Bronx. The projects. It was hard. I slept on rooftops and in trains when I had no place to stay. But all that made me stronger." Indeed, for most angry teenagers running away to escape their home, a quick excursion around the crowded streets and dark subways of the Bronx would give one a sudden change of heart. "A lot of people know what it feels like to have nothing. But a lot of people don't know what it feels like to have nothing and nobody. It's a difference. You ain't got shit, and when you need something, there's nobody there but you. You got no choice but to die or dig yourself out of it." At this point, young Mel "Drag-On" Smalls chose to pick himself up by the bootstraps and, as a man of his words, embark on a professional career in the rap game.

Drag thinks back to his years as a young buck coming up on the rap scene, reminiscing, "I've been writing since I was 8 years old... we'd battle to see who could hold it down in ciphers." A fateful meeting with Yonkers' underground master DMX led to a more serious commitment to hip hop. "A few years ago my man bought me into the studio to meet X. Not many people could hold it down battling with X like I did that day." Shortly after winning the approval of DMX and the Ruff Ryders, Drag-On was signed to the Ruff Ryders label and began to create an ambitious body of work. Some of his memorable moments include his verse on the "Ruff Ryders Anthem" remix, his duet with Cash Money Records sensation Juvenile on" Down Bottom," and his new joint "Spit These Bars" which is currently heating up radio stations everywhere.

These songs have led to some confusion as to where Drag is from, and the source of his lyrical influence. "I use different elements in my flow. I mix it. I mix the South in with New York, the West Coast in with New York. There's always gonna be New York in there," he reassures; "I write to the track. My whole accent might be different on one joint. I already got people thinking that I'm from the Dirty South. I'm just trying to make my own category."

Drag-on's style can also be attributed to his philosophy on the business of hip-hop: "You gotta study people's albums and think about the fans. You can't write for niggaz on the block any more," warns Drag. "You gotta think about your fans. You gotta write for people in the North, South, East and West. You gotta think universal and come from all angles." Drag-On sits on the verge of a major commercial success, but there remain old cohorts from the hood who might feel as though he has changed. "Some people on the block have changed, but I haven't changed. They've changed cause they're looking, they really watch me now.

They're waiting for me to say something, so they can be like, 'Oh Drag changed!' But I'm just gonna be me." For the haters, Drag has some choice words: "Niggaz that hate... deep down... they feel you. You're on their minds. You're impressing them. You're doing something out of their league. It's good when people are talking about you. When people ain't talking about you it's a problem." As the world prepares for the upcoming Ruff Ryders / Cash Money tour, the Feb. 29th release of Drag-On's new album, Opposite of H2O and a planned Ruff Ryders movie, Drag looks to the future with unfettered optimism, crowing,"We gonna crush 'em... flame on!!!"

Destiny's Child

Managed by Music World Management's Mathew Knowles, who's responsible for putting them on the fast track to stardom, the down-to-earth members of Destiny's Child have come a long way since forming the group in their pre-teens. La tavia and Beyoncè have been with the group since its 1990 inception. Kelly joined the group in 1992 and LeToya completed the line-up in 1993. Although they were merely nine- and ten years-old at the time, amazing things began happening for Destiny's Child once the line-up was in-place.

As the group progressed, voices were honed and stage presence and style were developed, leading up to the consummate, very feminine, tastefully sensual image they project today. Back then, as they do now, Destiny's Child displayed amazing talent that was advanced far beyond their still tender years. They often performed for young as well as older audiences in and around Houston, amassing a large, cross-generation fan base in the process. However, things didn't always run smooth. Indeed, working their way to the top has had its set-backs. One of Houston's hottest home town attractions, Destiny's Child eventually found themselves sharing stages with some of the biggest acts in the business.

It was just about a year ago that Destiny's Child signed with Columbia Records. "That was our turning point and we all knew it", Beyoncè says. "So when it was time to make our album, we never looked back. We were so glad to finally have the opportunity that all of the problems of the past seemed to disappear".

Destiny's Child encompasses four distinct voices seamlessly blending to make the whole seem greater than its extremely gifted individual parts. Kelly's vocal diversity and broad range serves best on the up-tempo front, although she can throw down with the best of them on ballads. LaTavia holds down the bottom, with her rich, deep sassy tones. LeToya's crystal shattering soprano is awesome and soars over several tracks. And Beyoncè, who sings most of the leads, owns one of her generation's strongest, most distinctively memorable voices, which by all accounts is saturated in silk, satin and serious soul.


I represent the Yay Area," raps the Yay (Bay) Area's E-40 in his typical lyrically innovative style on "Rapper's Ball" (featuring Too Short & Jodeci's K-Ci), the first hit single off the popular Vallejo rapper's greatly anticipated new album, Tha Hall Of Game. The collection never once disappoints with its sixteen tracks packed, or rather, sprinkled with Forty Wata's (A.K.A. E-40's) addictively fresh, ever-evolving lyrical flow plus a talent-studded cast of guest rappers and producers, including 2pac, Too Short, The Luniz, Suga T., Ant Banks, B-Legit and Tonecapone.

"I really put my heart into every song on the album. I had to because everybody is expecting me to come with some creative shit. I can't just come with no average shit, " said the veteran Bay Area rapper. His new release is his eighth to date--including all of his solo outings plus those with his ever popular family group, The Click (along with Suga T., B-Legit and D-Shot.)

For 1995 alone these included two albums: The Click's Game Related and E-40's solo In a Major Way, which firmly established E-40 as a major player in the rap game. This critically and commercially successful solo album sported wall-to-wall hits such as the single "I-Luv," the fast-paced "Smoke 'n' Drank," "Sprinkle Me" with Suga T. (which sparked everyone in the Bay to incorporate the word sprinkle into their vocabulary), "It's All Bad" with 40's son Lil E-40, who's also featured on the new album, and of course the ever popular, triple dope track, "Dusted 'n' Disgusted" where E-40 is joined by the best of the Bay: Mac Mall, Spice 1 and 2pac.
When I first started out...that flamboyant shit was way ahead of its time," he reminds us on the album's powerful adrenaline-fueled opening track "Record Haters," referring to his early underground hit "Mr. Flamboyant." There, E-40 originally demonstrated his totally unique rapping style: a humorous rapid fireball delivery which enables him to condense sixteen words into the space that most rappers would just fit ten. (Note: E-40 himself cites as influences "Too $hort, a brother from Richmond called Calvin T, UTFO and KRS-One.") With 40's current popularity and the fact that today countless rappers religiously ape his style and vocabulary, it's ironic in retrospect to think that only five or six years ago, most folks wrote him off as "just plain weird." Of course historically in any artform this response is the norm for anybody who comes along and challenges the status quo. And that E-40 certainly has done!

In fact Tha Hall Of Game clearly marks E-40's continued growth as a true wordsmith who masterfully commands poetic license over any work or phrase that happens to cross his path. Ross Perot for example become Ross Perelli. Meanwhile P.H. (translation: Playa Hater) is cleverly transformed to become "P.H.I.V." "I use many different styles throughout the album," he offers of his wide vocal range. On "Growing Up" (with his eight-year-old son Lil E-40) he spits an aggressive revved up, robot-like, stutter style rap which he syncopates with a belch-like sound. Then on the apocalyptic "Circumstances" he spits out his maniacal rhymes in a crazed guttural style. Elsewhere on such slowed-down, laid back album tracks as "It Is What It Is" he delivers his lyrics in what he calls "my tired talk." Production-wise Tha Hall Of Game also boasts a most rich and diverse array of sound. "I deliberately wanted a wide range of quality producers," said E-40 of the album's instantly appealing grooves which are delivered by the likes of longtime production associate Studio Ton (responsible for such irresistibly tasty, funk-laced tracks as "Keep Pimpin'"), Ant Banks, who produced "Rapper's Ball," and Tonecapone whose credits include the Luniz smash "I Got 5 On It." For proof of Tone's studio finesse, check the head-bobbing "Ring It" (featuring Spice 1, Keek Tha Sneak of 3x Krazy and R&B vocalist Harm,) a song which is already well on its way to becoming the voicemail/answering machine music of choice.

E-40 also made a point of including a couple of spoken-word cuts: "Pimp Talk" from Big Mike Tha Sheik and "Mack Minister" who he decribes as "my potna out of Frisco...a brother from the ghetto who does poetry and he's full of game." Just as with his previous releases, 40 also talks about what he knows best: the street and the lifestyle that goes hand in hand with it. "Million Dollar Spot" featuring 2pac, for example, he says, "Is about a place where there's illegal business.. It can be anything. Hooking up mobile phones. Slangin'. Or working with the Internet and doing white collar crime." Meanwhile on "Things'll Never Change, " the clever reworking of the Bruce Hornsby hit "That's The Way It Is," he offers a cold and sobering look at the realities of ghetto life.

Of all the album tracks, however, E-40 is perhaps most pleased with "Rapper's Ball" and how it just perfectly came together. "First Ant Banks came over with a track, which is actually 'Playboy $hort' (from '87) played over, before we had written any raps. Then me and Short, we had been trying to hook up for a least two years. As far as K-Ci, I've always been a big fan and it turned out he liked my music too...when we all hooked up in Cali, we all sat down together and just vibed. K-Ci came up with the hook. $hort came up with the idea of rappers ball meaning rappers be balling. We got in the studio that same day and we just hooked it up," said 40 of the hit lead single which has perfectly paved the way for Tha Hall Of Game.

Throughout Tha Hall Of Game, E-40 proved that he is truly one of today's few Hip-Hop innovators, a modern day bard who effortlessly (w)raps his tongue around his own brilliantly created vocabulary, transforming hard mob-style ghetto tales into visually vivid free-flowing rhymes that demand repeated listening.


Eazy-E, born Eric Wright on September 7,1963. He came from an average working class family in Compton, California. Living in a rough area outside L.A. Eric found himself in a gang and dealing drugs after dropping out of high school.

He had always said he wanted to do something great and in 1985 his chance came. With the money he was making as a dopeman he bought and opened his own recording company,Ruthless Records. With his label he started the group N.W.A.,know as "the world's most dangerous group". The group was made of five members Eazy E himself, D.J. Yella, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and fresh outta high school was Mc. Ren. They produced a style never before heard and stirred up great controversy. They rapped about the life in a gang and living on the streets, crime, and even murder. Despite how it seemed to many he was encouraging the youth to find new ways to make off the streets alive. He showed that there was more than sports or the gang life. He opened the door of music as a new alternative.

In 1988 the first of the N.W.A. albums was released as was Eazy Duz It, Eazy's first solo album. After the second and final album of N.W.A. came out in 1991 the group had a down fall. Ice Cube had already left ther group for a solo career before the albums release because of a difference of opinion between him and Eazy. Dre left soon after and became the target of numerous insults in Eazy's third album released in 1993.

Even with all the problems the group faced Ren and Yella stayed to back Eazy. One year before his 1993 release he released a album/maxi single in. Yella finished and released Eazy's final album in 1996 shortly after his death. In 1995 Eazy discovered he had full blown AIDS, one month beore his dealth. Instead of keeping it to himself he saw it as one last chance to send a message out to the youth living on the streets. Ice Cube and Dre came to visit Eazy in the hospital to set aside their differences before his death. Cube had stated that He and E had but there differences behind them, that E was still his homeboy and that they where down. It is not know what was said between Dre and E but It is said that they had talked about getting the group back together. The group was a whole one last time.

Eazy died March 26,1995 at 6:35pm, and was put to rest in a gold plated casket, leaving behind his new wife Tomica, who he had married a week earlier before he was to go into surgery for fear he wouldn't make it out alive, along with a great legacy. Eric had 7 kids with 6 different mothers. He died due to AIDS complications only one month after having discovered he had AIDS, which he never started how he got aids and he may have not knwn but it is asssumed it was by unprotected sex with all those different women. His new wife and daughter had tested negative for the AIDS virus. He was only 31


The average rapper wouldn't be able to grace the pages of Rap Pages, VIBE, Rolling Stone, Spin, The Source, URB and Stress and go on a national tour months before their major-label debut album is released. Then again, Eminem isn't an average rapper. He's phenomenal. The impending release of the The Slim Shady LP, his first set on Aftermath/Interscope Records, already has underground hip-hop heads fiending for Eminem. Chock full of dazzling lyrical escapades that delve into the mind of a violently warped and vulgar yet extremely talented wordsmith, the 14-cut collection contains some of the most memorable and demented lyrics ever recorded.

For Eminem, his potentially controversial and undoubtedly offensive songs will strike a chord with a multitude of hip-hop loyalists who believe they have little to lose and everything to gain. "I'm not alone in feeling the way I feel," he says. "I believe that a lot of people can relate to my shit--whether white, black, it doesn't matter. Everybody has been through some shit, whether it's drastic or not so drastic. Everybody gets to the point of 'I don't give a fuck.'" Those words are more than just a slogan for the Detroit resident. "I Just Don't Give A Fuck" and "Brain Damage" are the two songs comprising Eminem's initial single from The Slim Shady LP. Each tune is sure to paralyze meek listeners with their relentless lyrical assault. Produced primarily by long-time collaborators FBT Productions, the Slim Shady LP also features beatwork from Aftermath CEO Dr. Dre. The N.W.A. alum handled beats for "My Name Is" (the second single), "Guilty Conscience" and "Role Model." Dr. Dre was so impressed after hearing Eminem freestyling on a Los Angeles radio station that he put out a manhunt for the Michigan rhymer. Shortly thereafter, Dre signed Eminem to his Aftermath imprint and the two began working together. Thoroughly impressed with Eminem's previously released independent Slim Shady EP, Dre said they would include many of the EP's tracks on the album. "It was an honor to hear the words out of Dre's mouth that he liked my shit," Eminem says. "Growing up, I was one of the biggest fans of N.W.A, from putting on the sunglasses and looking in the mirror and lipsinking to wanting to be Dr. Dre, to be Ice Cube. This is the biggest hip-hop producer ever." But like many other rappers, Eminem's rise to stardom was far from easy. After being born in Kansas City and traveling back and forth between KC and the Detroit metropolitan area, Eminem and his mother moved into the Eastside of Detroit when he was 12. Switching schools every two to three months made it difficult to make friends, graduate and to stay out of trouble. Rap, however, became Eminem's solace. Battling schoolmates in the lunchroom brought joy to what was otherwise a painful existence. Although he would later drop out of school and land several minimum-wage-paying, full-time jobs, his musical focus remained constant. Eminem released his debut album, Infinite, in 1996. Desperate to be embraced by the Motor City's hip-hop scene, Eminem rapped in such a manner that he was accused of sounding like Nas and AZ. "Infinite was me trying to figure out how I wanted my rap style to be, how I wanted to sound on the mic and present myself," he recalls. "It was a growing stage. I felt like Infinite was like a demo that just got pressed up."

After being thoroughly disappointed and hurt by the response Infinite received, Eminem began working on what would later become the Slim Shady EP -- a project he made for himself. Featuring several scathing lines about local music industry personalities as well as devious rants about life in general, the set quickly caught the ear of hip-hop's difficult-to-please underground. "I had nothing to lose, but something to gain," Eminem says of that point in his life. "If I made an album for me and it was to my satisfaction, then I succeeded. If I didn't, then my producers were going to give up on the whole rap thing we were doing. I made some shit that I wanted to hear. The Slim Shady EP, I lashed out on everybody who talked shit about me." By presenting himself as himself, Eminem and his career took off. Soon after giving the Rap Coalition's Wendy Day a copy of the Infinite album at a chance meeting, she helped the aspiring lyrical gymnast secure a spot at the Coalition's 1997 Rap Olympics in Los Angeles, where he won second place in the freestyle competition. During the trip, Eminem and his manager, Paul Rosenberg, gave a few people from Interscope Records his demo and he made his major radio debut on the world famous Wake Up Show with Sway and Tech. Realizing that this was the opportunity of his lifetime, Eminem delivered a furious medley of lyrics that wowed his hosts and radio audience alike. "I felt like it's my time to shine," Eminem says of that performance. "I have to rip this. At that time, I felt that it was a life or death situation." Eminem would soon record the underground classic "5 Star Generals." This record helped establish him in Japan, New York and Los Angeles. It also helped him earn a spot on the inaugural Lyricist Lounge tour, which took him to stages from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Set to take the hip-hop world by storm with his unique lyrical approach and punishing production, Eminem and his The Slim Shady LP are sure to have listeners captivated. "I do say things that I think will shock people," he says. "But I don't do things to shock people. I'm not trying to be the next Tupac, but I don't know how long I'm going to be on this planet. So while I'm here, I might as well make the most of it."

Eric Sermon

The Green Eyed Bandit returns ... E-Double-E himself.
Or maybe you're more familiar with the name his parents gave him: Erick Sermon. That's because in a lexicon overflowing with abbreviations and nicknames -- "MC" this, "Ice" that -- there's only one rapper genuine enough to use his full name on records: Erick Sermon.

Since 1988, Sermon has elevated plain-spoken rap to an artform, selling millions of albums without making a single concession to the marketplace. With his trademark slurred delivery, the rapper shuns gangster posturing in favor stream-of-consciousness tales about everyday life in the "boondox" aka Brentwood, LI. "You can't lose focus. If the world is changing, you can't just change with it. If you never talked about guns or smoking weed on your other records before, don't do it now."

As the "E" in EPMD, Sermon's hit streak began with Strictly Business, the classic album featuring the jeep-crushing funk of "You Gots To Chill" and "It's My Thing." Strictly Business sold 300,000 units the day of its release, and was quickly certified RIAA gold. Each EPMD album since -- Unfinished Business (with "So What Ya Sayin"), Business As Usual ("Gold Digger"), and the group's final Def Jam/RAL/Columbia outing, 1992's Business Never Personal ("Crossover") -- outsold and outcharted its predecessor, setting the course for the laid-back funk style that now runs rampant in hip-hop.

When EPMD broke up late in 1992, Sermon didn't look back. "I was writing non-stop. it must have been from God or something. I won't take nothing from EPMD, but everything that's good must end."

And from that end comes more good.

No Pressure (Def Jam/RAL/Chaos), Erick Sermon's self-produced solo debut, is 12 tracks of vintage, funk-flavored hip-hop, no frills and no filler. "You get into the song and you get the f*ck out," he explains. "The less songs, and the shorter they are, the better. You want people to fiend, to rewind, not to fast-forward." The CD features a bonus track, the wise-cracking "Female Species."

No Pressure features a series of between-song skits in which cynical journalists -- male and female -- frantically dog sermon, questioning whether he can still bring the funk as a solo artist. In typical style, he lets his music do the talking.

"Stay Real," the first single, is a lyrical molotov cocktail married to a Zapp chorus. The sequel to EPMD's hit single "Crossover," Sermon's 1993 manifesto hits even harder: "The Green-Eyed Bandit coming funky with the tune/Yes I'm blowing up like Tom Berenger in Platoon/ ... I could kill a man for being false plus extra fake on the tape/talking hardcore when you soft like a piece of cake."

Sermon balances his ill regard for sell-out rappers with optimism. "Seems like ral rap -- the hardcore shit -- is back in. Pretty soon, all the stadiums will be filled again like they was in Run's heyday." Appropriately, a snippet of Run-DMC's classic "Run's House" winds through "Stay Real," Sermon's fitting tribute to the originators of the hardcore rap style he favors.

Another highlight is "The Ill Shit," a historic hip-hop summit featuring two West Coast arappers whose artistic debt to Erick is obvious: Ice Cube and Kan. "I liked Kam's flow on 'Peace Treaty,' so I called up Cube and I said I wanted to get with Kam," Sermon explains. "Then Cube said, 'Yo, I wanna get with this too.' I went to L.A. and chilled with Cube, Kam, and their whole posse. Shot some hoops. They was trippin' on meetin' me, and I was just as glad to meet them."

On "The Ill Shit," Ice Cube voices his support for Sermon's solo venture in no uncertain terms: "Heard some new shit/What is this?/EPMD is going out of business/Goddamn I can't leave my dog stranded/Who?/The Green Eyed Bandit." Kam sums it up: "What's up, now you can determine/The West Coast niggas is down with Erick Sermon."

On "Hostile," Erick introduces the world to his latest discovery, the raspy voiced 19 year-old Keith Murray, who waxes poetic: "The most beautifulest thing in the world is my notion for murderous poetry in motion/And the illiotic shit I come across, when realising trapped air with explosive force/I'll push your head through the cracks of insanity and have your brain doing a bid in purgatory." Stay tuned for Murray's Sermon-produced debut.

Lusty conquests and their consequences (remember Jane?) continue to play a major role in Sermon's life, from the sibling surprise of the hilarious "The Hype" to the irresistible "Safe Sex," the b-side of "Stay Real." With its whiplash loop and snug chorus, the track is bound to get heads nodding -- and then thinking.

"There aren's enough black people talking about safe sex," says Erick, displaying a compassion that his parents, who've worked with learning disabled children for years, would be proud of. The rapper's philosophy for getting through to kids on the street? "The beat's gotta get you first -- it puts the message in their head."

Erick has kept up the musical innovation on his solo debut by utilizing Colin Wolfe, the musical mastermind playing those serpentine keyboards all over Dr. Dre's the Chronic. Wolfe adds instrumental spice to "All In The Mind." Live is where it's at for E-double's future jams. "Pretty soon all the good breakbeats will be used up. I've bought a drum set, and I'm learning to play so I can loop my own beats, grooves I hear in my head."

As far as dope lyrics go, no matter where you drop the laser on NO PRESSURE, there's "enough lyrical food to keep the Ethiopians fed" ("Do It Up"). Just check 'Imma Gitz Mine" ("I'm doper than chronic/A million dollar man but I'm not bionic"), or his slyly-sung assertion "I've been rich and I've been poor/Now I'm back in the door, hardcore" from a cut entitled "Erick Sermon.

Off-mike, Erick's been following the funk non-stop, twisting knobs for the likes of Run-DMC, Redman (his protege, who cameos on the album's "Swing It Over Here"), Boss, ABC, Illegal, TLC, Shadz Of Lingo (who goes ballistic on NO PRESSURE's "Li'l Crazy") Shaquille O'Neal, and Chronic.

Erick's production style -- speaker-shredding bass, a smidgen of melody, monstrous groove -- is second to none. "I construct my loops and choruses for the maximum hook. Every sound, every beat, is there for a reason. For years, I've done my own production at home, and then bounced it to 24 tracks in the studio." For future work, though, he's build a 24 track SSL studio in his basement, dubbing it "Boonie Sound."

Instead of the bitterness one might expect, Sermon, who has relocated from the boondox of Brentwood to Atlanta, Georgia, is straight-up about the break-up of EPMD. "I don't want a war -- that's bad luck, bad karma. It's just me now, and I have to say so. I was always the personality, the funny stuff in EPMD. I put that all into NO PRESSURE. I make records for the people, not myself -- I make what I think they wanna hear. It's not about image. I'm real with mine."


Some of her friends (who now serve as her managers) hooked up with producer extraordinaire Dr. Dre and arranged an imprompt audition for Eve -- well, kinda,...they never told him that she was coming. "Out of nowhere they put the tape on and I stood up and started rapping and he was looking at me like, 'Why is this girl rapping?'," recalls Eve. Liking what he saw after only a few bars, the executive cut the audition short and promised to bring Eve to California to work with the good Dr. -- Eve was not impressed. "I had been through a lot of auditions," she admits, "so I thought, 'If he calls, he calls; if he don't, he don't.'

But he called the next day - I had auditioned for him on a Saturday and that Sunday he called and told me I had to be out there by Friday." Eve moved out to L.A. Dr. Dre put her in the studio, where she completed a three songs demo tape. "Eve of Destruction," one of the songs from those sessions, wound up on the Bulworth Soundtrack.

Unfortunately, Dr. Dre was still overseeing the growth of his fledgling label, and Eve's one-year contract with Aftermath expired before she could get to work on her album. "I believe that everything happens for a reason," says a pragmatic Eve. "The music that I really wanted to write at the time wasn't coming through me." While still in L.A., Eve forged a bond with a rising star named DMX, who she met through producer Mail Man, while X was in town promoting his debut album, It's Dark And Hell Is Hot.

When she moved back to Philly, Eve would come to New York and hang out with the rest of the Ruff Ryder's camp. Soon enough, Eve was invited to join Ruff Ryders Records through a trial by fire. "The way I was signed was in a cipher," Eve remembers. "I had to go up against [Ruff Ryders emcees] Drag-On and Infa Red - I was shook. If I was wack, Ruff Ryders wouldn't have signed me." The fact that you're reading this let's you know she wasn't wack.

If you're still not convinced, check her sexy yet hardcore appearances on the Roots' "You Got Me," the remix to "Ruff Ryders Anthem" from DJ Clue?'s The Professional and BLACKstreet's "Girlfriend/Boyfriend" - not to mention her work on Ryde Or Die, the Ruff Ryders' compilation album. Her verses are affirmations of self, recognition, and braggadocio rhyme skills. "I know who I am now and where I wanna take myself and what I wanna show the world," she says.

As early as third grade, Eve was winning school merit awards for her short stories, plays and poems. "I had a real good imagination," she assesses. In her early teens she was part of a 5-girl singing group, covering tunes by En Vogue and Color Me Badd.

Around the time Michael Bivin's ABC came out, the group's manager suggested they start rapping. Known as Eve of Destruction, she excelled at rhyming, graduating from cafeteria battles to "stomping all over" Philly's talent show scene and serving as opening act for local rap concerts as part of a female emcee duo named EDJP (pronounced "Egypt") -- all this is before the prominence of the female emcee.

"Now, it's more like rapping is the thing right now," Eve observes. "Before, when I was in high school, it really wasn't big -- especially for girls to be rapping." "I would really like my stage name to be just Eve," she says noting that many people refer to her by the moniker she carried while laying her hip-hop foundation.

"Certain people still call me Eve of Destruction. I don't mind it 'cause I'm still her -- I'm still destroying emcees."



Foxy Brown
She may share a name with that other legendary, strong, sexy black female, but these days, when you say "Foxy Brown" there's just one girl who comes to mind: in just two short years since her smash debut album Ill Na Na, young Foxy Brown has become an icon in her own right, busting open the rap game with her sexually explicit rhymes, unforgettable throaty voice, and a sultry beauty that belies her 19 years. Now the album that hip hop heads have been craving is here: her sophomore effort Chyna Doll, with featured guests Jay-Z, Mase, Total, and Mya, shows a Foxy that is stronger, bolder, and more raw than ever before. Foxy Brown says this album is going to give people a peek into what she has experienced in her life since hitting the big time. "When people hear this, they're gonna say, 'That girl went through a lot at a young age.' I was only 16 when I started so I went from dealing with teachers and principals to lawyers and accountants," says Foxy Brown "You got to fight to earn your respect in this business some people perceive it as being bitchy but that's how it is

If anyone should know what the business is like, it's Foxy. She first came to fame as a 15-year-old hand-picked by hip hop legend Jay-Z to rap on "I Shot Ya." Listeners next heard her on Jay-Z's "Ain't No Nigga," on which Foxy spouted the infamous line, "Ain't no nigga like the one I got/ sleeps around but he gives me a lot." Her distinctive musical style and feminine-female-in-charge persona quickly made her a hot commodity, and artists like Total and Case asked her to do guest spots on their records, too. Foxy continued to gain a reputation as the pampered princess of the rap family, The Firm, which includes Naz, Cormega and AZ. Without ever having released a single of her own, Foxy Ill Na Na, which went platinum, selling a total of 1.5 million albums. Growing up in Park Slope, Brooklyn,Foxy spent hours in her bedroom with another aspiring rapstress Lil Kim, dreaming about the day they'd both make it big. "We always said, 'we're gonna do this Thelma and Louise album.' Then she went with Biggie and I went with Jay-Z," she recalls "I always wanna give Salt-N-Pepa their props because they paved the way for artists like myself I took it a little further--I'm a lot more outspoken," she says, referring to her notorious style of saying exactly what she wants from a man, both materially and sexually.

"All the females in urban America want to be able to talk like this, but before,they didn't have the heart. Now if they don't have the heart to tell their men what they feel, they can just play my album for him and he'll understand." Foxy Brown is exactly the right nom-de-rap for this lovely young MC from Brooklyn who grew up watching Pam Grier movies, in which the equally buxom blaxploitation queen kicked ass. "Pam Grier always says, I think every woman has got a little Foxy Brown in them," Foxy explains."But what made me want to be Foxy Brown was I grew up with all her movies; my mom watched them all the time. Foxy could be sexy and no one called her a tramp; women loved her and men loved her," Ms. Brown has also had the honor of getting to know Ms. Grier, who has become like a fairy godmother to this ghetto Cinderella. "To this day if I'm doing something wrong, Pam'll call me and say, you know you aren't supposed to be doing that," young Foxy says with a laugh. young Foxy says with a laugh. "Pam's the OG Foxy, but she's like, 'Baby you gotta show people how it's supposed to be done. It's on you, now.'" Ms. Grier performs a cameo spot on the new album, in which she officially passes the baton to young Foxy-- and Foxy takes that honor oh-so-seriously. Her first single off Chyna Doll, called "My Life" shows a young woman who has been through a lot, and though she may be hurt to learn that success has its downside, she has come out stronger and wiser. "People come up to me and say, Girl, I wish I could have it like you do. But it's not like that at all. I can't do anything without it being in the papers the next day. Then when I got on there were girls who wouldn't talk to me. There's a verse about how my father wasn't around that much so that made me fall for these thugs; I thought maybe they weren't supposed to care about me that much because my father didn't." But in true Foxy style, she ends with a lesson for all women: "All his diamonds and ice will melt you but you need to have your own."



You don't go from being reared in New York's Bed-Stuy-housed Bevroot projects to being recognized by Rolling Stone and MTV first time out - without a story to tell. Fabolous's grand entrance into the rap world began with some impromptu flow outside the PJ's, which led to a hastily arranged audition for music-biz mogul, mixtape king DJ Clue in early 1998. The only catch was that the laid back linguist would have to impress Clue while kicking it live for thousands of New York radio listeners tuned in to Clue's Monday-night Hot 97 show. Add the fact that CNN's Noreaga was in the studio, and you're probably looking at more game than you can handle.

Not if you're the then-18 year old Fabolous. "I usually don't let anyone on the air unless I heard them first," says Clue. "But he lived up to his rep." Blessed with uncanny metaphorical ingenuity - and what just might be the most enticing sneer since Elvis - the charismatic rookie took the unforgettable night all in stride - including his now-legendary rhyme exchange with Noreaga. "I was living in Brooklyn with my moms," Fab remembers. "And my manager said I was going to get an opportunity to flow on the air. I wasn't even that interested in being a rapper back then. But I knew it was a chance." He also knew that DJ Clue was instrumental in the careers of some of hip hop's biggest names, including DMX, The LOX, Notorious B.I.G. and Foxy Brown - showcasing them on his coveted mixtapes. "I saw it as my shot to shine. But there wasn't really that much time to be nervous. I had been making up some rhymes that afternoon but by the time I got to the studio I forgot one of them. Luckily, I didn't have to battle Noreaga or anything like that. It was like he'd get on a beat and then I'd get on one. I made up the rest of the sh*t on the spot. I took advantage of the opportunity, that's all."

The freestyle-fest led to Fab getting premier placement on other mix-CD's, and a slot on the 50 city Hard Knock Life Tour. Clue and his partner Duro would eventually sign him to his Desert Storm imprint. Meanwhile, Fab began to bubble on other projects as well, including some much talked about Roc-A-Fella releases, and a star-making guest slot on Lil' Mo's chart-topping "Superwoman Pt. 2." When Desert Storm partnered up with Elektra Records, the stage was set for one of the most anticipated hip hop releases of the year, Fab's searing debut effort, Ghetto Fabolous.

"The streets heard of me from the tapes and stuff," Fab said. "I been holding it down on the freestyle tip. With Lil' Mo's video they got the visual." It's no surprise then, that entertainment powerhouses like MTV and Rolling Stone soon would jump on the Fabolous bandwagon. MTV branded Fab's first video "Can't Deny It" an immediate buzzworthy clip. Rolling Stone cited him in their summer Hot Issue as THE new hip hop star to watch. Said the mag: "Fabolous is" one hip hop phenom who flaunts his sex appeal along with his rhyme skills.

The proof, of course, can be found on Ghetto Fabolous - a kinetic/phosphorescent party album laced with Fab's custom made hood lingo. "It's straight fire," Duro said. "We're trying to create a good vibe where people can have fun."

Producer Rockwilder brings his sonic funk to "Get Right," where Fab plays off of Junior Mafia's "Players Anthem," exhorting listeners to "Grab your d*ck if you're gettin' right." The Neptunes produced "Young'n," a call-and-response club anthem, while "Ma Be Easy," produced by Just Blaze, finds Fab telling chickenheads to keep their hands out his pocket. Fab's mentors, Duro and Clue, helm the scalding "Keepin' It Gangsta."

On "Take You Home," Lil Mo sings the chorus Lisa Lisa made famous 16 years ago with "I Wonder If I take You Home," and Nate Dogg lends his subdued serenade to Ghetto Fabolous' smash first single, producer Rick Rock's rough-riding "Can't Deny It."

Fabolous' peers are indeed checking for him. He rhymes on Mariah Carey's remake of "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" (Rolling Stone raves again, saying: "he steals the show" on the remake) which appears on her upcoming album, and he also lends his talent to Jimmy Cozier's "She's All I Got" and Mary J. Blige's "Family Affair." "Lil' Mo's joint made everything easier," said Fab. "Now everybody wants to holla."

With Fabolous kicking off the Elektra/Desert Storm union, Duro is confident the new relationship will quickly make its mark on the hip hop business. "We wanted to make sure they are as excited about the project as we are. We weren't looking for any bandwagon, we wanted to start from scratch. A lot of people was like, 'We're the hottest camp, we're gonna make you hot.' Elektra was like, 'We can do this together, we're really feeling Fabolous.' "

Fab's wink-and-a-nod thug persona, coupled with his acclaimed guest shots on other artists' work have made him one of the truly original mic specialists to emerge form the ever-widening sea of sound-alike rappers. "I never expected all this attention or even dreamed about it," he says. "I used to just rhyme for fun. Or maybe change other people's rhymes around and make them funny, or something like that. Now I rap about everyday things and just try to perfect my style."

When asked to define that style, Fab smiles.

"It's the Ghetto Fabolous style, that's all."


Fat Joe
Some things never change. South Bronx-native Joe Cartegenas upbringing in the heart of hip-hops birthplace has kept him grounded. His success has had little effect on his ability to produce rap music in its purist form. After three solid albums, the man known as Fat Joe still feeds hungry hip-hop heads with the most genuine streetwise hardcore music in the game. Now, with his new Terror Squad/Atlantic release, JEALOUS ONES STILL ENVY (J.O.S.E.), Fat Joe brings rap back home to the streets, seizing control from the current wave of commercial-friendly thugs.

I had a lot to prove with this album, and whenever I find myself at my most vulnerable point, I seem to step it up, Joe says. I always knew the formula. I knew what I had to do with this album.

JEALOUS ONES STILL ENVY (J.O.S.E.) stands as a sequel to Joes critically acclaimed second album, 1995s JEALOUS ONES ENVY the rappers personal favorite of his previously released work. That album was cheated out of its commercial just due, he says, so I had to do this album, which is like a Part Two to that one.

The album is Fat Joes long-awaited follow-up to 1998s gold-certified label debut, DON CARTEGENA, and his first since the untimely passing of his close friend Big Punisher. The collection reflects the Bronx Dons period of mourning and perseverance in the face of hard times. Following Puns tragic death, Joe knew that he had to continue the Latino hip-hop legacy. Nevertheless, he remains determined to create rap music that everyone can relate to, regardless of their ethnic background

I dont make Spanish rap, Joe affirms. Im just a rapper that happens to be Spanish.

To create JEALOUS ONES STILL ENVY (J.O.S.E.), Joe was joined in the studio by a rogues gallery of todays baddest producers including Rockwilder (Busta Rhymes, Erick Sermon, Redman), Irv Gotti (DMX, Ja Rule), Psycho Les (Mos Def, The Arsonists), and Alchemist (Talib Kweli, Capone-N-Noreaga). In addition, a variety of superstar associates turn up on the album, including Xzibit, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, Noreaga, Petey Pablo, and Buju Banton, as well as Joes Terror Squad cohorts, Armageddon and Prospect. The albums powerhouse first single is We Thuggin (featuring R. Kelly), which was the result of the two artists longtime mutual admiration for each others music.

When I met R. Kelly, he was like, Joe, we gotta do something, Fat Joe recalls. He only had to say that once; I was already on my way to link up with him.

Fat Joe is on lyrical fire throughout JEALOUS ONES STILL ENVY, shooting machine-gun rhymes over smoking street beats on such tracks as Murder Rap (featuring Armageddon). Opposites Attract, sees the Don joined by his promising female protégé, Remy Martin, while the infectious blend of styles on Fight Club featuring M.O.P. and Petey Pablo adds up to the albums hardest joint.

I gave my fans a variety here, Joe says. I catered to everyone. I even got a Down South track, just to get that bounce going.,
Along with his extraordinary success in the music business, Fat Joe has created a number of opportunities for himself and his family, including the 560 clothing line, and his Terror Squad Records label. Often referred to as a rap politician, Joe is also remarkably active in his communitys life, starting a foundation for hurricane victims in Haiti, and regularly visiting local schools to speak to children (even playing Santa Claus at Christmas time).

Im very political, he says. If I hadnt done certain things, Id probably be the mayor of New York City in my lifetime. Im a very social person.

Despite his many entrepreneurial and charitable activities, JEALOUS ONES STILL ENVY (J.O.S.E.) makes it plain that Fat Joe has been careful not to lose touch with the music, never abandoning the honesty and integrity of his hip-hop roots.

I want people to understand me, he says, what I go through, and where I came from. This is a real autobiography. There are many different levels of my life. I went behind the scenes, and gave people one-hundred-percent of Fat Joe.