Hip-Hop History: Looking Back on Hip-Hop Connection June 2004

Music

The mid 2000’s were a very interesting time in hip-hop, an era that doesn’t always get a great amount attention but in my opinion was one of the greatest periods the genre has had. It was a time of progression, hip-hop was breaking away from the nostalgia of the so called “Golden Age” while the scene became further fragmented as new sounds emerged. The era coincided with a massive boom in internet use which massively affected the musical landscape, from how people consumed music, to how it was distributed to where it was discussed. The artists from these years are the main influences for a lot of today’s most popular acts and it was these years in which Kanye West, one of the biggest names in all of music today began his rise to stardom.

While recently sorting through some boxes of my old belongings at my parents’ house I found a stack of Hip-Hop Connection magazines from around 2004-2007 and it got me buzzing with nostalgia. Hip-Hop Connection was once the longest running monthly hip-hop magazine, which was quite an accolade for a British publication considering the America-centric nature of the genre. I absolutely loved this magazine, it had the perfect mix of interviews, reviews and editorials, an entertaining read that could concisely cover serious political issues then having you laughing on the next page. HHC was very focused on the music while other hip-hop magazines often read like a tabloid newspaper, more concerned with beef and rap gossip than actual music. It’s this concentration on music that kept me reading month after month and helped cement my obsession with hip-hop, having a huge impact on my teenage years.

Looking through these old magazines was fascinating. Reliving the trends of the time, seeing how rappers have changed and observing the different (or in some cases very similar) topics that were discussed. I felt like I needed to share this with people as I’m sure others will find this as intriguing as I do. So this is the first in what will hopefully be a series of articles looking at the pages of these old magazines and writing about their contents.

Under each page I’ll post an Imgur link so you can see the page clearer and read it. The album with all pages is here. I’ll also insert YouTube links were relevant so you can check out the msuic being written about. I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with me.

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On this first trip back to the mid 2000’s we’re looking at the June 2004 edition of Hip-Hop Connection. Popularity wise Prince Po may have been a strange choice for the cover photo as he has never been the biggest name, but his album “The Slickness” that came out in 2004 definitely makes him worthy of this position.

Second most prominent position on the cover goes to D-12 which is underlined with the quote “Eminem is no racist”. This quote seems odd now but at the time some people did throw these accusations around.

The other bigger features on the cover come from Method Man who had recently released the mostly lacklustre Tical 0: The Prequel, Lil Flip who was one of the biggest names from the South at the time and legends Pete Rock & CL Smooth who had been on a reunion tour.

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Skipping ahead to the middle of the magazine, here is the monthly chart pull out with lists from various DJs covering different styles of hip-hop. I thought this would be a good place to start before we move on with the rest of the magazine as it can give you a good feel for what hip-hop at the time sounded like. I’ve collated of of the tracks from the main chart in a YouTube playlist here.

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As always, the issue opens with an editorial which this month ponders the short shelf life of rappers and the fast paced nature of the genre. The thought conveyed here is that most rappers don’t have lasting success, that they blow up fast but their popularity quickly deteriorates and they end up either on an indie label or leaving the rap game altogether. We’re then given a number of exceptions to this rule, most of which just so happen to be the main features of this month’s issue.

This topic is still relevant today as there are many rappers who rise to the top very quickly only to be seen as a fad months later when the hype dies down. In the space of less than three years Lil Yachty has risen to fame on the back of a well-received (although very polarising) mixtape, released a number of disappointing albums and is already fading from the limelight. Time will tell if Yachty can recapture some of that hype and maintain some of his relevance but it’s starting to seem very unlikely. A few years ago it looked like Yung Lean was set to become an unlikely rap star as his releases gained popularity and the co-signs from big names such as Travis Scott started coming in. Unfortunately for Yung Lean most of the hip-hop world quickly lost attention in his catchy cloud rap and although he’s continued putting out music, his audience has dwindled to a small cult fan base.

Looking back at some of the big names of 2004 many of them have long since dropped off the radar. The crunk movement was in full effect with acts like Paul Wall, Trillville, Lil Scrappy, Bone Crusher and David Banner all releasing big hits but are now either getting poor sales are not putting out music at all. Even Lil Jon, the king of crunk, is now little more than distant memory of a Dave Chappelle sketch to many.

You may argue that the quick rise and fall of these artists is down to them being somewhat gimmicky in nature but it’s not only the outlandish rappers that suffer from this. 50 Cent’s popularity peaked quickly, at the time of this issue he was a very big name and a legitimate talent but has since dabbled in other industries and is now only in the public eye when he says something else stupid and hateful. Kid Cudi is a more recent example, in the space of a few years he gained commercial and critical success only to quickly slip out of the mainstream. His recent collaboration with Kanye definitely brought him back to the front of everyone’s mind but a glance at his historic album sales shows a rapid decline.

There are obviously exceptions though, since 2004 there have been a number of rappers that have managed to sustain their relevance and spot in the limelight. Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar have all been going strong for at least 5 years now and although their hype may dip somewhat in between releases everyone pays attention when they drop new music.

Some of the examples mentioned in the above editorial are a bit off, but I assume their inclusion is largely based on their presence in the issue. Prince Po is a fantastic MC and has released a fair bit of great music but Organized Konfusion weren’t big outside of the underground and Prince Po’s solo work unfortunately didn’t do much to raise his profile. Pete Rock & CL Smooth were big names in the early 90s but seem to be among the most forgotten of that era. And despite the continued popularity of Southern hip-hop, the platinum selling Lil Flip is no longer known to most modern day rap fans.

No one is safe in the world of rap, no matter how popular you are and how long you’ve been at the top you can always lose that spot. Just think of all the big names that have peaked since 2004, in addition to those above, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Waka Floka Flame and B.o.B have all past their prime popularity. It could be just a matter of time before the likes of Kanye and Drake lose that top spot to the next big name.

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Reading the letters section today I can’t but laugh at how little things have changed in the 14 years since this was published. All this time has passed and the same discussions are still arising. Firstly we have a 30 year-old Swedish hip-hop fan complaining about how modern hip-hop is all about “saying how ‘bad’ they are, and how many girls they can have, alcohol to drink, joints to smoke and what fancy clothes they wear”. This is a complaint I’m sure you’ve all seen and heard many times before, if anything I’m hearing it less now than I used to. Today’s rap fans tend to either be well aware of the fact that there is plenty of more varied subject matter out there or they embrace these shallow topics. Large egos, sex and drugs have always been a big part of hip-hop as well as politics and introspection, all these topics have a their place in the genre. Hip-hop is more varied than ever, you really can find whatever you’re looking for if you look hard enough. People like this reader just aren’t looking hard enough.

A reader named Ben Spurr brings up a topic that has been discussed at great lengths over the last couple of years; the issue of producers not getting their due when they are the ones responsible for making hits. In the last couple of years producers and fans have been complaining that beat makers don’t get enough money or respect for all of the work that they do. After all, can you imagine what Future, Lil Uzi Vert, Migos and Lil Pump would be without the quality instrumentals backing their vocals? But this is nothing new, rappers have almost always been the focal point of hip-hop (the very early years being an exception), they are the face of the music and because of this they’re generally the ones that reap the rewards of their releases. After so long of being overlooked it’s definitely time that producers get the props and the money that they deserve, from Alchemist and Timbaland in 2004 to Metro Boomin and Zaytoven today, producers are often the heart of a hit.

There’s also a letter from someone called Sam who starts off by criticising Westwood, something that many people still do. The UK has always had a bit of a love hate relationship with Westwood, he’s a bit of a goofball but he has certainly done a lot for hip-hop in this country. The letter continues by praising the magazine but blasting their coverage of “this crunk bullshit”. These few sentences still feel really familiar and if you swap “crunk” with “mumble rap” and “Juvenile” with “Lil Pump” this could have been posted yesterday as a comment on a hip-hop Facebook page.

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“Say What?” was the monthly news round up in HHC and it’s really interesting looking back on what was happening at the time. Down the left hand side we’re treated to some intriguing quotes from rappers around that time. First off we have a quote from 50 Cent spewing homophobia in a Playboy interview. In the 14 years since that was published the hip-hop community has grown more accepting but sadly we still have a very long way to go as homophobia remains common place. You can see the progression that has been made because 50 Cent didn’t face much backlash for his words whereas Migos have been condemned for their anti-gay remarks and lyrics, so at least this type of ignorance isn’t as accepted as it used to be. We also have some openly gay rappers now which (as far as I’m aware) didn’t exist even in the most obscure corners of the 2004 world of hip-hop. But with acts like Migos all too often expressing their hate and tracks littered with homophobic slurs we need to continue growing as a community until these backwards ideologies are gone for good.

The music industry has changed a lot since 2004 but one thing that remains the same is record companies ripping off the artists, as is evident the DMX quote. It’s no wonder that since then we have seen more and more artists go down the independent route, and with the increased creative freedom that comes along with that it can only be a good thing.

We have another quote from 50 Cent saying that he could make a record in three days but that he will take a lot longer because he wants to top his last one. Things have definitely changed in this respect as a lot of rappers put out copious amounts of music all year round. These days fans get impatient when it’s coming up to a year without a fresh album from their favourite artist but back in the early 2000s in many cases you were lucky to get one every 3 years. It’s great to get so much new music but I think a lot of fans are now wishing things would go back to how they used to be when artists spent more time on an album to perfect it. I love getting 3 Future projects in a year but I can’t help but wonder how good an album from him could be if he spent 3 years making it.

Looking through the news bullet points there are a few noteworthy entries. I hadn’t heard Trina’s “Leaving You” but after a quick YouTube search it’s pretty hilarious since she tells us that Nelly, Jay Z, Ja Rule and others all have big dicks. I’m not surprised her label didn’t approve it. Redman and Ludacris both landed themselves movie roles, neither of them have had a whole lot of luck in Hollywood since. DMX had also stated that he was moving in to the movie industry, this also didn’t turn out too well as a small part in Jet Li’s Cradle 2 The Grave is probably the best role he ever had.

My favourite news piece on this page has to be the report that Dre had scrapped plans to complete Detox. This is in 2004, and it wasn’t until 11 years later that rumours of the release were finally put to rest as Dre dropped his 2015 album Compton, stating that it’s basically what The Detox would have been. And now in 2018 rumours have started once more that Dre is working on the mythical album again. There are a lot of albums that were announced but will probably never come out; DoomStarks, Madvillainy 2, Kendrick/Cole collaboration etc. but Detox will always be the biggest.

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A short interview with eclectic producer RJD2. This was fairly early in his career and he had just dropped the spectacular ‘Since We Last Spoke’ (reviewed later in the magazine) which really showed his versatility as an artist. It isn’t even a hip-hop album, it’s a strange collage of musical genres all stitched together through RJD2’s incredible production skills. He has continued to release fantastic solo projects as well as solid collaborations with artists such as Acey Alone and STS. He released Dame Fortune in 2016 and put out an experimental, drumless album this year called ‘Tendrils’ under the pseudonym “The Insane Warrior”.

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The “Major Playaz” column was a monthly piece on recent major releases and club hits. A top 10 club bangers chart on the left is full of great tunes including ‘Jay Z’s 99 Problems’ which was huge when it first came out, Mobb Deep’s dark classic ‘Got It Twisted’ and Lil Flip’s video game infused anthem ‘Game Over’. Strangely enough Clipse’s seminal album Hell Hath No Fury is on the chart even though it came out in late 2006. The LP had been pushed back many times due to label problems and this writer must have got hold of one of the early iterations of the project. I’d be very interested to hear what that leaked version sounded like.

As with many current rap releases Ghostface’s ‘The Pretty Toney Album’ had been pushed back a number of times. This is one of my favourite albums from Ghost and is criminally overlooked. There are a few names here that I haven’t heard in a long time such as Cassidy, J-Kwon, Lil Scrappy and Trillville, they were all putting out hits at the time though and ‘Tipsy’ will always a party classic. It is also mentioned that Lil Jon is releasing an energy drink called “Crunk!!!” and Dip Set are behind a new alcoholic drink called “Sizzurp Purple Punch”, this was around the time that Nelly’s “Pimp Juice” energy drinks were available. There seemed to be more bizarre rap related products on the shelves back then and I kind of miss it, I feel like we need some Lil Yachty branded sherbet or a range of frozen desserts from Maxo Kream.

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A fun little interview with Jazzy Jeff who has been fairly elusive since his days with the Fresh Prince. He has stayed in active in a low key fashion though, putting out mixes here and there which are always solid. He showed his proficiency as a producer on a recent episode of Rhythm Roulette and put out a funky album called ‘M3’ earlier this year.

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It was a pretty big deal when Channel U first launched, a music video channel for urban UK music was a great way for our smaller scene to get some much needed exposure. Channel U remained fairly important for a while, pushing some grime legends in to the lime light with their low budget videos. As with a lot of music TV it lost some of its popularity in the late 2000s, and it was rebranded as Channel AKA. In June of this year the name was changed to Massive R&B, to most people this marked the true death of Channel U and sparked a lot of nostalgia for the early years.

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J-Zone is a multitalented guy, as well as being one of the most underrated producers in hip-hop, a solid rapper and more recently a skilled funk drummer, he’s a pretty good writer too. In this monthly segment he reviewed classic “ign’ant” albums to accompany a humorous editorial piece. Zone has always brought some of the funniest lyrics around these articles always had me chuckling. After taking a break from music around 2008, J-Zone returned in 2013 with a couple of dope rap releases before moving on to making some great funk music.

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Hip-hop connection had a number of interesting regular editorials including “Great Rap Misconceptions” were writers would pick apart commonly held hip-hop opinions. Here the writer looks at the hate directed towards P Diddy (previously known as Puff Daddy) and argues that it isn’t deserved. There have always been people in the hip-hop scene that are the focus of a lot of hate, these days the “mumble rap” scene gets a load of hate as well as Drake and Kanye who tend to be very divisive. Back in 2004 Diddy’s fame was fading and so was the hate towards him but for years he had been seen a negative force in rap.

I think Diddy was one of the catalysts in the segmentation of hip-hop, a player who active when hip-hop became more divided in to high energy, club friendly rap and the more lyrical side of genre. Although purists would probably disagree, in my opinion this segmentation has been a good thing, it has allowed artists to find different sounds and push the genre in all types of exciting directions. P Diddy really did pave the way for acts like Migos and Lil Pump so it’s no wonder that the same section of “real hip-hop” zealots have dished out hate towards them all.

“Rapper’s Rough Guide To…” regualr editorial piece that gave a short, often humorous summary of a hip-hop tropes. In this issue they take a quick look at hip-hop snobbery, mainly in the form of disliking music once it gets popular, a behaviour now commonly known as being a hipster.

Snobbery definitely still exists in hip-hop but I don’t think it’s a bad as it was, and it has taken different forms. Back in the early 2000s the genre was full of “real hip-hop” elitist fans who were obsessed with knowing about the latest underground MCs and dismissed anything that made its way in to the charts. Although things had started to change slightly there was still a clear divide between mainstream hip-hop and the rest of the genre, especially when looking at the audience.

Nowadays there is much more of a sliding scale between the underground and the mainstream and many fans appreciate both. You still have people on old school hip-hop Facebook groups making memes about mumble rap and kids calling anyone who listens to boom bap an “old head” but I think you’re average hip-hop fan is more open-minded than ever. A lot more people are now judging artists on their music rather than their popularity which is definitely a welcome change (although with the rise of social media more importance is placed on image but that’s a whole other topic).

Strangely we have seen a new form a snobbery appear among hip-hop heads, the antithesis of the snobbery discussed in this article. I often see people criticising artists based on their poor album sales or arguing that a rapper is superior due to the gold or platinum status of their albums. Previously fans prided themselves on their plethora of knowledge and would avoid admitting they were unaware of a particular MC. Now internet dwellers leave comments such as “who” when underground rappers are mentioned, a smug declaration of ignorance and a supposed slight at the artist. Fortunately these people are in the minority but it is an interesting paradigm shift.

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The “Dirty South” was huge in the early/mid 2000s and Lil Flip was one of the biggest names. As with many of the artists in this scene at the time his popularity dwindled a while ago although he has continued making music. Flip put out a number of projects in 208 and although they had their moments they didn’t have the highs of previous projects such as ‘Undaground Legend’ and ‘U Gotta Feel Me’. The 2004 hit single ‘Game Over’ will always have a special place in my heart.

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I remember buying Madvillainy the week it came out (based on this magazines recommendation), it was my first exposure to MF DOOM and I really didn’t know what to think at first. DOOM’s raps sounded kind off beat, the instrumentals were weird and the tracks were really short, it was like nothing I’d heard before. After a few listens though it really clicked and I became obsessed with both of these incredible artists.
Even though I wasn’t familiar with MF DOOM, this release felt like quite a big deal at the time (as far as underground rap goes anyway). Him and Madlib were already established names in hip-hop but this album really elevated them both as artists at the top of their game and some of the best in the genre. The release was very well-received as soon as it came out so it’s no surprise that it’s generally thought of as a classic now.

Not long after this we were told that Madvillainy 2 was coming soon but here we are in 2018 and we’re still no closer to hearing it (although we did get a kind of redundant remix album). Both DOOM and Madlib went from being two of the most prolific guys in underground hip-hop to releasing projects a lot more sparingly. When they do put out fresh music Madlib really hasn’t lost a step, his beats continue to evolve and often push boundaries still. His projects with Freddie Gibbs and Blu & MED were both fantastic and we’re all eagerly waiting on the Gibbs follow up. DOOM is still very capable but is no longer in his prime, his recent collaborative album with Czarface was solid but lacked the magic of his earlier work. The couple of tracks we got with Westside Gunn were stronger though and people still pay attention whenever the masked one drops a verse.

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Today hip-hop is completely ubiquitous but in the early 2004 its complete invasion of mainstream culture was still in the early stages(here in the UK anyway). For years there had always been a few very popular acts who had a large presence on TV but the majority of the genre stayed hidden and musically there was little variation in the rappers getting attention.

As a teenager, I remember watching Sunday morning kids show ‘Smile’ when I heard DJ Devstar play some Gang Starr instrumentals (as mentioned in this article) and I lost my mind. Apart from a couple of close friends no one at my school knew who Gang Starr were so hearing it played on a BBC kids show was of exciting to me. Back then I would scour the TV guide looking for any shows that were even slightly related to hip-hop so that I could record them on VHS. Now and then My eyes would light up when I spotted that a documentary, usually about violence or sex in the genre, was going to be on late at night on Channel 4. These shows were usually very basic but I didn’t care, if it was rap related I had to watch it. Once I struck gold and managed to record a late night showing of the superb 2001 documentary ‘Scratch’, I recorded it and played that tape until it wore out.

This editorial piece does a good job of summarising the situation at the time. The article closes by asking if “programmes could cover more than the dog-eared question of whether rap music encourages violence” or that documentaries “could finally stretch beyond those whirlwind histories ticking all the usual boxes” so I think the writer has got his wish. TV documentaries covering hip-hop tend to have a lot more depth now, a recent BBC show hosted by Rodny P was especially great. It’s not uncommon to see an interesting documentary showing on BBC or Channel 4, certainly a lot better than they used to be, not to mention the plethora of hip-hop related shows on more niche channels such as Viceland. The advent of streaming has also opened the door to massive amounts of content as Netflix is scattered with rap docs and there is an endless stream of discussion videos on YouTube. There has never been a better age to be a hip-hop fanatic.

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Hip-Hop Connection frequently had comedy articles and they were usually pretty funny. Here they imagine up a bunch of super rare albums from established acts such as a country album from Premier and an Eric Sermon Crooning Record.

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One half of the sublime Organized Konfusion, Prince Po is often overlooked in favour of his former rap partner Pharoahe Monch. Where Pharoahe rose to relative fame after going solo Prince Po became quite inactive, only putting out a few guest verses and one single until his debut solo album that is being promoted in this interview. It was worth the wait though as The Slickness is an incredible album featuring production from Danger Mouse, Madlib and J-Zone while Prince Po shows versatility on the mic.
Po followed up the release with ‘Prettyblack’ in 2006 and ‘Saga of the Simian Samurai’ in 2007, both of which were very solid releases but never got the attention they deserved.

After another hiatus he returned in 2014 with the mighty Oh No on their collaborative album ‘Animal Serum’ but has since gone quiet again. Prince Po has a unique style and I really hope we hear more music from him soon because with the right producer I think he could easily match the greatness of The Slickness or even his earlier work in Organized Konfusion.

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Just before hitting the reviews this regular editorial piece touched on topics raised earlier in the magazine, often referring to the artist on the cover and it’s usually quite poignant. In this issue the subject of selling out is investigated and it’s an aspect of hip-hop that I think has changed a lot in a number of ways.

Firstly, I don’t think people care as much about selling out any more. Most people would like to be rich and successful so why criticise those who use their talent to do so? “Keeping it real” has always been such an important thing in hip-hop, legitimacy was of the utmost importance and for some reason making it big was seen as going against that. Although this attitude still exists to some extent it’s no where near as prevalent as it used to be and as I mentioned earlier many people now judge an artist’s worth by their ability to sell records. It’s strange to see things flip so much and I’m not completely sure what has caused it, although my next point may have something to do with it.

Selling out doesn’t seem to happen as much, or at least it doesn’t seem as dramatic as it did. Hip-hop isn’t as dangerous as it used to be, it’s much more mainstream as a whole so whereas it felt strange to see Busta Rhymes drop a verse for the Pussycat Dolls it didn’t feel as weird to see Kendrick on a Tailor Swift track. Many rappers also seem to stay in their lanes more, people who start making club bangers and radio hits tend to continue doing so while the lyrical MCs stick with their own styles. Part of why this happens is because hip-hop is now big enough to allow for it, you don’t need to change your style as much to gain popularity.

Lastly, the divide between critically acclaimed hip-hop albums and ones that sell well isn’t as present as it used to be (despite what the “hip-hop is dead” crowd want you to think). The critically loved MF DOOM wasn’t doing big numbers in the early 2000s but Kendrick has reached almost unanimous critical acclaim for his last 3 albums which all went platinum. The whole landscape of hip-hop has changed so much in the last 14 years, the mainstream media is more open now so artists can get the radio and TV time they need to sell out, without “selling out”. It’s still hard to make it big but at least now rappers can get there without changing who they are.

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We’re now moving on to the reviews section of the magazine which is the main reason I bought Hip-Hop Connection. I found that the reviews were almost secondary in other rap magazines but HHC always had a large section dedicated to them and covered the majority of new releases. The singles reviews were usually a bit daft, with more jokes than actual critiques and the selection of songs they chose to look at where usually quite obscure.

Single of the month this time went to Jay-Z for ’99 Problems/Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ even though the writer is very negative about the Timbaland produced club hit. In the last couple of years I have seen ‘The Black Album’ lauded as a classic but this always seems strange to me as the reception was mixed, and mostly lukewarm when it was released. Many people where disappointed as the album was touted as Jay’s last and they didn’t think it lived up to the hype, especially as far as the production was concerned which lead to a number of remix versions of the album (most notably the fantastic Danger Mouse produced ‘Grey Album’ which I actually prefer to the original). I guess certain albums look different in hindsight but I still can’t see this as more than an average album. That being said I can’t deny that ’99 Problems’ is one of the best hip-hop hits of the early 2000s.

Elsewhere in this section we have quite a lot of UK releases, some more noteworthy than others. Veteran UK hip-hop producer Mark B collaborated with Tommy Evans for a catchy, fun single, Harry Love was another UK producer who was on fire at the time which is evident on ‘Surprize’ featuring the killer line up of Verb T, Yungun & Mystro. Lewis Parker & Yungun’s ‘The Big Idea’ was a favourite of mine at the time, with a perfect example of Parker’s signature production and some light hearted bars from Essa.
Taz was being built up to be a big name on the UK scene (notably working on the beat for Dizzee’s ‘Jus a Rascal’) and the catchy, grime infused hip-hop of ‘Can’t Contain Me’ showed he had some potential. His debut album ‘Analyse This’ dropped soon after and although it was a solid LP Taz disappeared soon after. Looking back on these UK releases many of the rappers had short careers, especially when compared to their American counter parts. I imagine the lack of money in the scene made it hard to achieve any type of longevity. Looking on the bright side, the few that have managed to stay in the game are still releasing great music. Artists like Jehst and Cappo don’t seem to have lost a step since they were dropping classics in the early 2000s.

The American indie rap scene was in good health at the time with solid releases from Josh Martinez and DJ Nu-Mark. Eyedea and Abilities dropped ‘Now’, a great single from their album ‘E&A’. The duo are frequently brough up as some of the most talented in the 2000s indie rap scene and with good reason. Unfortunately Eyedea passed away in 2010 but he is still remembered in discussions of the lyrical greats of the indie rap scene.

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This issue’s album of the month went to Ghostface for the very underrated ‘The Pretty Toney Album’. Ghostface has a stellar discography so it’s understandable that some albums get forgotten but I feel like this LP gets unfairly overshadowed by ‘Fishscale’ which was released 2 years later. Don’t get me wrong, I think his 2006 release was a very solid album but it doesn’t stand out to me like ‘The Pretty Toney LP’.

Oozing with serene soul samples contrasted by a rawness that perfectly exemplifies Ghostface’s unique delivery, this album was one of my favourites of the era. Tracks like ‘Biscuits’, ‘Beat The Clock’, ‘Save Me Dear’ and ‘Run’ (with a classic Jadakiss feature) all stay in my regular listening to this day. Ghost throws the rule book out the window when he uses an unedited Delfonics track as the beat on ‘Holla’, no looping, no added drums, just him going in over a soul classic. Except on ‘Big Girl’ from ‘Fishscale’ I’ve never heard a track like this where the beat samples a song in its entirety, I’d be interested to hear someone else try it although I’m not sure anything could compete with the greatness of ‘Holla’.

Ghostface was working a lot with Theodore Unit at the time, with Trife having one of the best verses on this album on “Biscuits”. The collective had an album out as a group the year after this which had some really great tracks and a number of the members showed a lot of promise (others not so much, I’m looking at you Shawn Wigs). Apart from Trife who has had a few sporadic releases, I’ve heard very little from any of The Unit since around 2006. I find it interesting how some rappers seem to disappear so early in their careers and it’s almost impossible to predict which ones will stick around, I wonder which newcomers in 2018 will still be around in 5 or ten years from now.

I couldn’t write about this page without mentioning this outstanding picture of Ghostface and his crew, all dressed in matching red and white with some big chains and shiny leather. What a glorious example of the terrible hip-hop fashion that was popular in the early to mid 00s. Lots of the music from this era still sounds fresh today, but I really can’t say the same about the dress sense.

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Now we get in to the bulk of the album reviews, it’s worth giving these a read to pick up on some releases you may have missed. I’m just going to comment on some of the more interesting names and albums I enjoyed the most.

At this point in time garage was way passed its peak popularity and So Solid Crew had pretty much disappeared. Asher D had been one of the more well known of the group and was trying to transition in to a solo career. This album had its moments and he continued to release 2 albums in the 5 years after this but never made a big impact musically. Fortunately for Asher D (real name Ashley Walters) his acting career that started years earlier went from strength to strength and he is now a successful actor.

Boot Camp Clik had been putting out great music for years at this point but it was Sean Price who was about to break out and enter the prime of his career. The year after this group album Price released his debut album ‘Monkey Barz’ which brought him attention from all across the scene. With one of the greatest flows in rap history and production from the likes of 9th Wonder and Khrysis the 2005 album is a perfect example of underground hip-hop. The quality of his music stayed consistent until his untimely death in 2015, a real loss to the genre. RIP to one of the true greats.

Experimental hip-hopper Busdriver put out his third solo album, one of his strangest and jazziest releases to date. ‘Cosmic Cleavage’ is frequently overlooked but may be my favourite album of his, it’s a succinct piece of uncut, boundary pushing hip-hop. Busdriver continued to evolve his sound over the years, going in a more electronic direction on most of his albums with slightly mixed results (although mostly consistent). The catchiness of ‘RoadKillOvercoat’ and sonic variation of ‘Pefect Hair’ have been further highlights in Driver’s discography but my favourite album of his since ‘Cosmic Cleavage’ is the phenomenal LP he put out earlier this year. ‘Electricity Is On Our Side’ is the jazziest album he’s put out in the last 14 years but instead of going back to his old sound it feels like he’s taken all the aspects of his albums in between and merged the best bits to devise something fresh. Over the course of his career Busdriver has continued to reinvent his sound, surprising us with every release, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

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J-Kwon was very popular for a very brief period of time, his hit single ‘Tipsy’ was particularly massive for a while. His album ‘Hood Hop’ gets a favourable review here but I don’t think most people would be able name more than the above mentioned track. He certainly never reached the fame that Nelly did as the reviewer suggests he might, although both have been very quiet for years now.

It’s strange to think that people were ever negative about Pharrell’s 2000s musical output but at the time there were lots of people who were very critical of his work. I think this is mainly due to the snobbery and hatred of “selling out” that I mentioned earlier in this piece. Hip-hop heads would often write off artists purely because they were popular and Pharrell was no exception to this. He has only become more successful since, working on a wide variety of projects but for me his work during the mid 2000s was absolutely groundbreaking and the pinnacle of his career.

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We have an early release from John Legend who later rose to fame as acclaimed singer-songwriter so it’s kind of weird looking back at when he was just “Kanye’s little helper”. The interviewer mentions Kanye’s “Very Good Records” and I’m unsure of whether this is a joke, a mistake or a previous name for the label (although Google gives me nothing so I assume it’s one of the former).

It’s a shame that we never got a proper second album from Non Phixion but ‘The Green CD’ almost made up for it. A real mixtape full of raw freestyles and great unreleased tracks like ‘Skum’ and ‘We All Bleed’. The trio never sounded as good as when they were working together, their chemistry was great and they had production from the likes of Necro in his prime and even a Premier beat. The group split shortly after this release and started putting out solo work which was hit and miss. Ill Bill had the most success with his solid ‘What’s Wrong With Bill?’ as well as a plethora of releases continuing through to present day. Meanwhile Goretex and Sabac Red had a couple of releases shortly after this (Sabac’s album also reviewed in this issue) and have been pretty quiet since. I once spoke to Goretex in a WinMX (old P2P software) chatroom, or at least someone claiming to be him. He said he borrowed ‘The Green CD’ from the library and never returned it. It’s weird that someone would need to steal their own CD from a library but it would also be weird for someone to be in a chatroom pretending to be Goretex.

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Crunk was really prominent around this time and was pretty much the precursor to ringtone rap which was followed shortly by the rapid growth of trap music (although trap preceded crunk, it was just a while before it blew up). Hip-hop Connection was generally very positive about the scene which is evident by the five star rating they gave the above compilation. 5 star ratings were incredibly rare in the magazine, the only other one I remember seeing was given to Kidz In The Hall – ‘School Was My Hustle’. Two strange choices considering all of the other amazing releases they reviewed. This compilation did do a good job of summarising the sound of the time and although a lot of crunk tracks now sound very dated there is something lovable about them.

The man, the myth, the legend, Tim Westwood also featured here for one of his many compilations. He may be a weirdo but he’s done a lot for hip-hop in the UK and generally had a good idea of what was hot. If you told me back then that Westwood would still be active in the music scene in 2018, putting out bizarre interviews online with big names then I’d assume you were having a laugh. Yet here we are, and with all the other odd events of the last year, a video of Westwood awkwardly hitting on girls with G-Eazy actually feels kind of normal.

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A lot has happened in Chappelle’s career since the first season of his show came out on DVD. I’m sure that like me, many other hip-hop fans have spent hours sat around with friends watching this show so it was sad to see him step back from comedy. Although I wasn’t a fan of his recent Netflix specials it is good to see him active again.

I’m almost certain this magazine got a lot of their funding from soft porn producers “Hip-Hop Honeys” because each magazine featured a centre pull out of one of the models and here they are plugging the DVD in the review section. It always felt out of place to me because it’s not really in keeping with the rest of the magazine but I guess they had to make money were they could. With free porn now so widely available online it’s hard to imagine a time when people would pop in to HMV and grab a DVD of girls posing in bikinis to hip-hop music, but these types of DVD were actually quite common, Snoop even had a few of his own.

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Here we have a fun page after the reviews with a few small pieces on it. The “Rapometer” has some interesting points. “Bad Rappers” is on the hot side of things which may have been somewhat of a premonition. For the last few years there has definitely been shift away from needing to be technically skilled on the mic. Many popular MCs from recent times have not been what you would call a traditionally “good” rapper. It was obviously meant as joke but it is interesting that this was around the time that the shift away from technicality started happening in hip-hop. It depends who you ask but I don’t think the change has been a bad thing, just a natural evolution and expansion of the genre.

“Mix Compilations by Name Deejays” being on the cold side of things also seem relevant to today’s hip-hop. Not so much the “Name Deejay” side of things but the fact that so many people are now selling mixtapes as albums, or maybe they’re labelling album mixtapes? It’s hard to know and the line between mixtape and album continues to be blurred.

Elsewhere on the page we have my favourite regular comedy piece in the magazine “My Crazy Hip-Hop Life”. This month it’s a run down of Pharrell’s typical day including a dig at the unnecessary amount of ‘Cot Damn’ remixes they made amongst other things (although I can now only find one remix of that track but I’m certain there were more). We also have the regular hip-hop crossword, this month it’s Organized Konfusion themed. These crosswords were always too difficult for me, I’m not sure whether that’s because I didn’t know as much about rap as I thought I did or the fact I’m just terrible at crosswords in general.

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Before we get to the closing editorial piece I thought it would be fun to look at some of the adverts that featured throughout the magizine. These ads look partiular dated and some are simply bizarre.

Snoop has a large official discography but he also has an almost endless catalogue of unofficial mixtapes and compilations. Here Hip-Hop Connection has an “exclusive offer” for us; an unreleased Snoop Dogg CD for only £10 (plus postage & packaging). Although I’m almost certain this collection of tracks is not worth a tenner I am very curious to give it a listen, especially for the Marvin Gaye “collaboration” (OK, so I found the Marvin Gaye track and it’s actually pretty good). Thankfully, if you can’t afford the CD you can step your game up with one of the incredibly cool mobile phone wallpapers which inexplicably can take 28 days to be delivered.

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The regular advertising block is pretty funny to look back on. The graphic design was poor for the time but it looks really terrible now, I imagine a lot of these were whipped up on Word or MS paint. The record shop ads are fairly standard, it’s the ones for urban fashion shops that look especially dated. Labels like Fubu, Phat Farm, Roca Wear and Ecko were all the rage with their super baggy clothes and bulky shoes, covering people in twice the amount of material than was necessary. I was disappointed as a teen that there weren’t many shops in my area to buy these brands but looking back it was definitely a blessing, checking out old pictures of myself is embarrassing enough as it is. There’s even some UK fashion represented here by “Souljah”, complete with an especially budget looking ad and boasting a “New ‘No Yank’ Design” that I’m sure all of the coolest kids were rocking.

We also have a beautiful add for WellCoolStuff.com which has you covered for all of your borderline illegal needs. If you want to trip on mushrooms and grow weed while firing off rounds from an air rifle then these guys have you covered, they’ll even sort you out with a t-shirt adorned with edgy motifs.

I tried to visit some of the websites on display here but none of them are live anymore, so unfortunately I assume all of these companies are now out of business. As much as I’m chuckling at these old ads it’s sad to think that all of these companies had owners that have since had to go through the stress of a failing business. Or maybe some of them have moved on to bigger and better things, I think this has to be the case for genius behind WellCoolStuff.com, a true entrepreneur.

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Out of all the changes that have occurred in hip-hop since the early 2000s I think the most dramatic is surrounding fashion and this advert is a great example of that. Now even for the time this is terrible marketing, the people behind this clearly had no idea about hip-hop culture. The model looks like a cop going undercover at a school in a bad comedy film, trying hard to fit in wearing his long sleeve shirt under short sleeve shirt combo. You can see what looks like a chain hanging from his pocket and an awkward stance that says “how do you do, fellow kids?”, the whole thing is awful. The tag line “Why’s everything gotta fit for?” is really the icing on the cake, the creators clearly thought that using bad grammar instantly made them very hip. The quote is even attributed to “#Aaron” which is bizarre because this was years before twitter and the era of the hashtag, I guess adding random symbols was also deemed hip by Levi’s clueless marketing team.

Even though this was a pretty out of touch advert it tapped in to the very real obsession that hip-hop had with baggy clothes. Baggy clothes were the norm in hip-hop for so long, from the early 90s right through to the late 2000s but it’s a style that we have recently shaken for the most part. Sure there are still scenes within the genre that have clung to their oversized garments but the general trend has definitely moved towards more fitted clothes. The segmentation of hip-hop in to sub genres has further expanded the variety of clothing styles that we see and has gone hand in hand with a greater importance being put on image. Rappers have always had signature looks but there were usually some universal style choices that covered the whole genre, baggy clothes being one of them.
Nowadays fashion is incredibly important to a lot of rappers whether they’re draped in extravagant designer labels or rocking a casual skater vibe, their clothes are an extension of their identity and it is a way to get themselves recognised.

Hip-hop artists were already getting involved in fashion around the time of this magazine, you had Rocawear from Dame Dash and Jay Z, G-Unit had their own clothing range and others were also jumping on this emerging financial opportunity. The partnership between rap and fashion has never been stronger than it is today and it’s being lead by the skinny jeans gang, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until the bagginess makes a real comeback.

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‘Speak Ya Clout’ always closed out issues of Hip-Hop Connection, a short opinion piece on a specific facet of the rap game. Here they look at the ever poignant topic of ghost writing with a scathing critique of those that choose to outsource their lyrical construction. It’s a criticism that is still regularly thrown at artists, most notably Drake and to a lesser extent Kanye West, although I imagine the practice spreads far wider that.

I think it’s undeniable that the use of ghostwriters drastically discredits a rapper’s technical ranking, you can’t argue that someone is a great MC if they don’t write their own lyrics. I’d argue that delivery is a more important factor but crafting rhymes is such a fundamental part of hip-hop that if an artist can’t do that for themselves then it detracts from their credibility.

That’s not to say that using ghostwriters makes you a bad artist, or incapable of making good music though. Some people work best in a collaborative environment, coordinating a number of contributors to mould a cohesive body of work. Kanye West and Dr Dre in particular thrive in this environment, bringing together a number of artists on all of their albums and acting as the conductor that brings out the best in everyone.

On the other side we have Drake who is more of a brand than anything, the face of a musical marketing campaign backed by ghostwriters. That’s not to say that his music is bad, I just don’t think there is much of a case for him being a great rapper. Regardless of who wrote it, good music is good music, but if a rapper won’t write his own rhymes then they can’t take the credit.

That’s it for this issue. This post has ended up a lot longer than I first envisioned but I feel like there was a lot to discuss, if you made it this far then I appreciate your patience. I’ll hopefully do more of these focussing on the other issues I found so keep an eye out for future posts.

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One thought on “Hip-Hop History: Looking Back on Hip-Hop Connection June 2004

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