It was autumn of 1997: Pac was dead, Biggie was dead, and with Ma$e as his new star, Puff (N-dem shiny suites) was riding the wave of Life After Death. Master P was also beginning to roll that tank to the top urban radio, as the East-West beef was becoming nothing more than embers in the media buzz-bin. ’97 was the year rap music began to put a Ric Flair figure-four-leg-lock on the music industry and the money started to roll deep. Intrinsically, the wedge between “the real shit” and “fake shit” was beginning to take palpable root, after sitting in the roof of the mouth of rappers since rap’s inception.
Beneath commodified versions of extravagant street life depicted on BET and MTV, was a culture of up-and-coming rappers and producers (and some old vets) folding established styles and techniques into starker and dirtier versions of themselves. On Oct. 14 of ’97, an upstart independent label named Rawkus released a 17-song East coast compilation called Soundbombing that attempted to consolidate and give some of the players national light. Most of the songs found on the compilation previously only existed as white label singles and thrived through performances at small venues in big cities, home-made mixtapes, or in the late hours of classic radio shows like Stretch & Bobbito or Sway & Tech.
Sure “real shit” like Wu was globally popular, and C-N-N had just released one of the grimiest and relatively popular street albums The War Report on a major, but there was a general feeling in the culture that the art form as a whole was headed in the wrong direction. R.A. The Rugged Man succinctly captured the tape’s disposition on “Flipside” before he even spits any bars gruffly stating: “I been fuckin’ poor out of my fuckin’ ass/eating fuckin’ shit fuckin’ ugly bitches…” Not a damn thing was sweet or opulent.
This was the sound of Primo, Tribe, Pete Rock, the Beatminerz, and RZA funneled through the most basic of set ups, chopped to bits, and compressed into the hiss of old records and burn of blunt smoke in the eye: boom-bap with a fat black sharpie, $2 beer, and no pussy. Soundbombing was sonic graffiti not capturing the voice of the voiceless, but the voice of the disgruntled and cerebral. Mixed by The Beatminerz’ Evil D, the tape captured the talents of Mos Def, Talib Kweli, El-P, and Hi-Tek in their nascent but highly calibrated states. Soundbombing was diamonds before they get cleaned up and cut into perfect rocks for the SO.
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