Remembering Capital Steez (2017)

On this day 4 years ago, New York rapper and co-founder of Pro Era – Capital Steez committed suicide at the age of 19 when he jumped off a building’s rooftop in the late hours of the night. Hip Hop and its newly-formed “Beast-coast” movement suffered a significant loss of one of its most-promising talents by the hands of mental-illness and a severe social issue – especially amongst our youth.

As a 19 year-old now myself, I think I’ve recently been able to identify and relate with the ideas in Steez’s music that I couldn’t exactly connect with before: the character of a misunderstood introvert pushed into an environment that forces them to interact, the motif of a person with profound thoughts and feelings they can’t translate into exact words yet, the theme of a person finding solace in the culture of their city, and the belief that “the world is mine” yet everyone else around me has it better than me despite my efforts. All of these elements in Capital Steez’s music formed an underlying narrative of an artist tackling their own identity, their own culture, and facing personal tribulations like lust, envy, greed, and hate – something that resonates with most people.

Finding yourself (particularly at this age of our lives) is a process of critically analyzing, understanding and re-interpreting your past, your influences and whatever else has shaped you. Some things you find while on this process are hard to come to terms with; maybe it’s because certain discoveries challenge our perceptions, and pressure us to make (uncomfortable) changes to deconstruct our identity and rebuild it. I’ve been through it all this past year though, and it was always a struggle to confront my closest circle of friends and family about these ideas and feelings within me; so I can only assume it must’ve been even harder for Capital Steez, and any other artist really, to express his feelings to not just his closest circle of friends or family, but to his fans and whoever hears his music too.

RIP STEELO (all-caps when you spell the man’s name).

Amerikkkan Korruption still holds one of my favourite intro tracks of all time 


Instant Classics In 2017?

I saw this video tonight which claimed Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. is already a classic”. Crazy. I was really baffled that at only 7 months since the album’s release, it’s already hailed as a classic by the well-known music-journalism website: Pitchfork.

DAMN. in 2017 wasn’t culturally digested by Hip Hop and mainstream audiences the same way Good Kid MAAD City (2012) and To Pimp A Butterfly (2015) were.

Neither was Joey Bada$$’ All Amerikkkan Badass to his debuts; 1999 and/or B4.Da.$$

Neither was Drake’s More Life to his fan favourites; Take Care and If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.

Even Big KRIT and The Migos’ critically acclaimed albums from this year feel like they just came and went in the eyes of people’s interest. Who’s even listening to Slippery in November of 2017?

It’s a shame because although not many of those albums could be argued as any of those artists’ best works, they definitely made and had strong statements in their legacies and careers as artists, which was sort of overlooked because of how our culture collectively consumes art.

Rap in today’s mainstream has become infected by a strong sense of hyper-consumerism, where product-cycles and the relevance of an artist’s work have become vastly reduced. It’s come to the point where we can’t even let a record breathe without asking the artists for a new album, song or search for a new artist that’ll feed into our mainstream-tastes.

Typically, a “classic” is simply defined by the quality of an artist’s work lasting a certain period of time. A period of time is subjective, especially to context, but 7 months is quite a reach from Pitchfork to call DAMN. a classic. Think about it this way: are people fondly remembering, or will they fondly remember GOD. or LOVE. from this album in the same way they remember Poetic Justice or Alright?

How Young Thug Bodied Drake’s Sacrifices On A Whole Other Level.

Of all the high moments on Drake’s More Life; from the multiple song transitions (especially 4422-Gyalchester), the string of melodic beats, great guest appearances, infectious hooks, and instant-classic punchlines after instant-classic punchlines… it’s almost universally agreed on by fans and casual listeners that Young Thug had one of the album’s defining moments when he dropped the last verse on Sacrifices, and proved just how much some people slept on him and overlooked his work.

The verse by itself is a story which contrasts Young Thug’s old life of crimes and ignorance, with his new life of fame and riches. It’s layered with double-entendres and allusions, but it goes further than that too. What Young Thug does from a literature-scope; is deconstruct particular scenes of his old life and new life into vignettes of brief lines, then he juxtaposes those lines together with a recurring series of similes.

Check the introductory bars in his verse for example:

I was stealin’ from a bitch
Back when I was 21
My favorite gun was a SIG
20 in the clip, head one
Growin’ up, I was a runnin’ back
You never made me ran once
I got shot, sweat started runnin’
That shit was red like Hunt
I’m kickin’ pimpin’ like I punt
But don’t you think shit’s sweet
I’m talkin’ sweet like deer meat

This recurring series of similes is a nuanced approach for Young Thug to give us an insight into his perspective and subconscious. The similes which he uses throughout the verse are mixed with subtle shades of:

  • comicality (“I’m talkin’ neat like a geek”), 
  • jadedness (“I’m talkin’ wet like Katrina”),
  • childishness (“I’m talkin’ monkey like Jumanji”),
  • urban stereotypes (“I’m talkin’ Rose like Derrick”)
  • suggestiveness (“I’m talkin’ wet like it’s running”),
  • violence  (“Like the President, I’d kill him neat”),

by effect, this technique shows Thugga subtly implying the differences and similarities in his mentality as he transitioned from his life in the streets, into his life of newfound affluence today; he’s still got a sense of arrogance, and still acts a little bit childish thanks to the ghetto’s influence on his character, but he’s also grown more jaded and mature from the wealth he’s accumulated for himself and the violence he’s experienced.

By juxtaposing vignettes of his life with strongly nuanced similes, Young Thug is able to tell the listeners a reinterpretation of: the significance of all those vignettes, how they influenced him, what they symbolized for him, and how it translated into his similes and punchlines.

The verse itself is very self-interested too, and this is shown throughout by the heavy repetition of the “I” pronoun. Young Thug’s verse is all about him and the sacrifices he had to make.  He doesn’t discuss how other people in his life felt, or what they did which didn’t directly involve him – no, he only discusses how he felt, how he acted, and how he saw things. He’s being honest to listeners and that’s evident in the carefree, lack of hyper-articulation in his speech. Yet he’s also serious and critical about his past and wealth, and that’s evident in his less auto-tuned, more stripped-back tone.

I think that it’s ultimately an artist’s duty to be self-reflective of their environment, rather than to act as a representative or figure for others. I believe that’s why the genre and culture of Hip Hop, a particularly minority-driven and youth-based collective of artists and audiences, is seemingly saturated with songs about drugs, poverty, societal-taboos and such — because it’s very self-reflective of the artists lives, and its audiences may resonate well to it too since they may also be from similar experiences. It’s why artists in the genre often draw inspiration from one another, or important minority figures — because those people are relevant to the artists themselves, their perspectives and their culture. Lastly, I think it’s also why Jazz, blues, funk, soul and RnB; genres of music which were birthed and rose to relevance as a form of protest and anti-oppression for minorities, play important roles as the foundation of hip hop’s infrastructure.

I think how Young Thug is viewed as an artist reflects him to be a victim of vilification in a moral-panic situation, but it’s an instance where the moral-panic occurred within the in-group of Hip Hop’s culture rather than its out-group.

Throughout his whole career and rise to relevance, Young Thug was among the several contemporary artists from his time who were constantly denounced by fans of Hip Hop’s “Golden Ages” as the anti-thesis to its era and conscious-rap. It was fast and effortless for them to make these judgments since Young Thug seemingly went against a lot of Hip Hop’s status-quos and taboos from those times (eg. Dressed femininely, rapped about homosexual themes, heavy use of auto-tune), and was seemingly trying to promote a destruction in the negative stereotypes against cross-dressing and homosexuality — something which opposed the views of older rap audiences and “Hip Hop purists”.

Young Thug’s music, rise to relevance, and the controversy around his image also started reshaping the sonic-landscape and culture of Hip Hop by introducing new types of audiences, and influencing a new wave of similar artists into Hip Hop’s “in-group”. This caused older audiences of rap, and “Hip Hop purists“, to feel even more worried about Young Thug’s impact on the culture and genre, then scapegoat him as one of the main artists who were to blame for “rap going wrong”.

On Sacrifices, Young Thug seems to subtly acknowledge this by asking the listeners “do you get it?” several times throughout his verse. Young Thug’s got a seemingly playful tone in the way he asks the question, but that’s only because the song’s beat and pacing masks the line’s level of humourlessness. Contextually speaking, Young Thug’s really asking if: you — the listener of this rap song, which implies you’re in the in-group of this genre — get what he’s trying to artistically achieve? Or do you just skim through his music, and antagonize him for his public image instead?

In terms of the song’s message, Young Thug’s verse fits too. He’s saying he had to make a lot of sacrifices to be where he is now, but it’s not just done in the simplistic rap-cliche of “I sold drugs, I did crimes, my friends died…”, but rather it’s done in a profound level of literary technique use, and by also exploring the idea that he had to sacrifice his image to Hip Hop’s “in-group” to be where he is now.

Young Thug’s verse on Sacrifices was extremely well-nuanced, and clever, I think it’s level of complexity and thoughtfulness truly went over most peoples’ heads. but I think that also says something somewhat-worrying about how music is personally consumed and interpreted by the different generations and types of Hip Hop audiences in 2017.



I remember being in the Philippines last year and drinking cheap bottles of liquor in a hotel room by myself while my parents caught up with their distant relatives, and my brother went out for some smokes.

Observing a skyline view of the city which birthed me, from a 56-storey building which gentrified my family’s neighbourhoods – how could I have been so unsympathetic?

To Pimp A Butterfly was playing on my phone as I thought pensively about the journey I had taken, both spiritually and physically, to come full-circle and return to my motherland with a different state of mind as to when I left it before. Thinking about the path I paved for myself, the long nights I took, and the people I met on the way — for better or for worse.

Verse 2 of Momma hit me like a truck when I heard it in that hotel room that time and I’ll never forget that moment in my life; never in my life did I need to hear something so much and never known until I heard:
“I know everything, know myself
I know morality, spirituality, good and bad health
I know fatality might haunt you
I know everything, I know Compton
I know street shit, I know shit that’s conscious
I know everything, I know lawyers, advertisement and sponsors
I know wisdom, I know bad religion, I know good karma
I know everything, I know history
I know the universe works mentally
I know the perks of bullshit isn’t meant for me
I know everything, I know cars, clothes, hoes, and money
I know loyalty, I know respect, I know those that’s ornery
I know everything, the highs, the lows, the groupies, the junkies
I know if I’m generous at heart, I don’t need recognition
The way I’m rewarded, well, that’s God’s decision
I know you know that line’s for Compton School District
Just give it to the kids, don’t gossip ’bout how it was distributed
I know how people work
I know the price of life, I’m knowin’ how much it’s worth
I know what I know and I know it well not to ever forget
Until I realized I didn’t know shit
The day I came home”
— That verse truly spoke volumes and shades to me then and even now.

It’s 3:09 as I’m writing this, and I’m re-listening to To Pimp A Butterfly again. A set of lines on verse 3 of Momma inspired me to write this post, and I think it’s got me really shaken up about how closely I relate to it right now in this period of my life (see the Bad Warmth, Cruel Winter Playlist for further reference):
“you’re here right now, don’t you mistake it
It’s just a new trip, take a glimpse at your family’s ancestor
Make a new list of everything you thought was progress
And that was bullshit, I mean, your life is full of turmoil
Spoiled by fantasies of who you are, I feel bad for you”

To Pimp A Butterfly is one of the more personally significant albums of my life, and a personal favourite too. I even dedicated a short release-date anniversary for it on this page. The album first presented itself to me last year — in a time of heavy growth and fond friendships, and it really captured a lot of my personal feelings, events and relationships at the time. It’s great to come back to it, after a year since I first admired it, and find something new I could take out of it. DAMN. Music is such a fruitful art-form.


Common — Be

Be: Common’s triumphant second-wind in his career, which saw him regaining his focus in messages and ability to lyrically explore/connect ideas. Further assisted by the production efforts of a younger Kanye West and J Dilla, “Be” re-established Common as a premiere lyricist in the genre of Hip Hop after his string of “soulquarian”/90s albums had come to an end, and fans had felt way too disconnected to understand the ambitious vision of “Electric Circus” – his last studio album prior to this one.

“Be” was a textbook showcase of strong Hip Hop fundamentals – Beats, rhymes and empowerment. Audiences hear Common rap over tasteful soul samples throughout the album; vividly painting stories of Chicago’s ghettos and how it affected himself and the black-youth. Promoting listeners to find new inspirations instead of alcohol-dependency and circumstance-complacency through lyrical motifs which praise his daughter, music, sobriety, role models, god and family. I think Common even addresses how the then-prevalent “Bling-era” of rap had negatively affected black culture on a few songs too.

However, the lyrical content of “Be” never feels too cliché or boring and actually encourages a lot of repeat-listens; Common seems to have meticulously laced each song with layers of double-entendres and wordplay. Of course, there’s the style of Kanye’s early soul-sampling and J Dilla’s production talent too, but I think the strength of those two factors should be credited to Common’s ability to marry vulnerability and self-reflection harmoniously in his flows and lyrics – thus creating one of Hip Hop’s most honest and empowering albums, and further setting a new standard of “conscious-rap”.

Listen to the full album below:

Prodigy // (2/11/1974 – 20/07/2017)

Today Hip Hop mourns over the passing of Hayden Johnson — Prodigy — founding member, and one half of Queensbridge’s Mobb Deep, with fellow rapper Havoc.

Hayden’s work was very much an influential force in Hip Hop’s golden-age in the ’90s, with works such as The Infamous (1995) and Hell On Earth (1996) aging into ‘classics’ in the minds of many fans, and also being exemplary representatives of New York’s own style of rap in the ’90s — especially with the East-coast & West-coast’s cultural rap feud going on at the time.



Mobb Deep’s place in Hip Hop is already cemented; The Hip Hop duo’s image and sound further widened the sonic landscape of Hip Hop. Their 2nd studio album: The Infamous, is still widely regarded by many as a cornerstone album of both the ’90s Hip Hop scene, and New York’s Hip Hop scene too, with timeless anthem-cuts like Shook Ones (Part II) and Survival Of The Fittest — seriously, how many times have we heard Prodigy’s line: “I’m fallin’ and I can’t turn back” sampled on Lo-Fi beats, or interpolated by rappers?


Mobb Deep’s most celebrated works have been awarded many accolades in the years since their initial releases too. The Infamous and Hell On Earth have received notable critical acclaim, and have also placed on numerous “end-of-year”, “end-of-decade” and “all-time-greatest” lists too, alongside other similar and influential works from the duo’s area and time-period, like Nas’ Illmatic (1994), Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die (1994), and The Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers (1993).


Hayden Johnson and Mobb Deep’s influence on the culture and sound of Hip Hop is definitive, and can be very easily traced back from artists today like Ab-Soul, Troy-Ave, Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era. Hayden will be missed very much by his family, friends and fans. His music will be admired for the years to come too.

RIP Hayden Johnson — Prodigy of Mobb Deep. (24/11/1974) – (20/06/2017)






Before the Cilvia Demo EP dropped, Isaiah Rashad was originally gonna drop a mixtape titled “Pieces of a Kid”. The rumoured mixtape was never released but fans made their own versions instead with songs released by Zay on SoundCloud and others scattered elsewhere. The finished products are 2 well-known mixtapes – Welcome To The Game and Pieces Of A Kid – which to me, could’ve possibly gone down as one or two of Hip Hop’s greatest mixtapes ever.

Instead the fan mixes we’ve got left are just pieces of a hype that could’ve been. Not to take anything away from Cilvia Demo at all, but had Isaiah dropped a mixtape, there may have been a much bigger hype around him, like Joey Badass before he dropped B4.Da.$$ , when he had 2 cult-classic mixtapes under his name already: 1999 and Summer Knights  

Nowadays, the Pieces Of A Kid mixtapes and the story of what they could’ve been, are only really known to Isaiah’s rather small fan-base. I listen to the tapes every now and then and try to imagine what they could’ve been too but instead, I’m more intrigued about how Zay’s pre-TDE SoundCloud leftovers actually formed one of Hip Hop’s most consistent, honest, conceptual and unique 50 minutes.

In less than 2 minutes on GIL/Sounds From Friday Morning, from both mixtapes (and Zay’s Soundcloud), Isaiah performs one of the most heartfelt and personally-relatable songs I’ve ever heard. He expresses, what-could-only-be years of personal turmoil and feelings through juxtapositions and contrasting ideas, with a sense of intoxication in his vocal delivery, Zay also uses clever euphemisms and metaphors to lessen the severity of his depressing topics.

Along with the chilling instrumental too, all of the song’s elements translate to a song which perfectly encapsulates Rashad’s alcohol and narcotics-dependency, depression, social influences, social detachment and youthful restlessness. All in less than 2 minutes.

Other songs from the mixtapes and Zay’s SoundCloud like Part III, 2x Pills, Part II, Hurt Cobaine and ’95 are also worth noting too. Although, both mixtapes are really worth giving a listen. Download Pieces Of A Kid here or Welcome To The Game here. Check out Zay’s SoundCloud, Cilvia Demo EP and The Sun’s Tirade too.