Memory Lane – 20 Years of illmatic

illmatic is the reason I like rap. And I like rap.

My pre-teen years were filled with the strains of 36 Chambers creeping out of my brother’s bedroom, matched in intensity only by my dad’s demands for it to be turned down/off. While I got that Wu-Tang was something to be respected, that Tupac made you cool at school and that Run DMC had made shoes important, I was frontin’ in the truest sense of the term.

It wasn’t until Pete Rock, Large Professor and DJ Premier laced raw east coast beats with brilliant jazz samples and Nasty Nas caused mass hysteria in my area that I understood why hip-hop was running amok in Sydney’s suburbs, headlining admonishing letters to parents from concerned Principals.

That tipping point led me to the back corner of countless record stores, hours of internet trawling and half-cut backyard battles, trying to recapture that first moment that I “got it”. Mos Def, Kweli, Common, J5, Kendrick, College Dropout era Yeezy, Schoolboy Q, Chance – many have come close, but it is still illmatic, 20 years on.

-Chris P

[Further reading/viewing - checkout Fuse’s 3 part special about the record’s legacy]

The Only Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram for Rap Beefs You Will Ever Need

via Grantland

Before this starts, know this: We — we as in HUMANS — are on the cusp of a moment. A moment that, should it occur, should even a glancing version of it occur, will produce a reverb that will demolish the lithosphere into, oh, I don’t know, about 10 billion pieces, if I had to guess.

Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Aubrey “Drake” Graham, the two most visible rappers on planet Earth, have almost inexplicably and without (at least publicly knowable) reason ended up on the precipice of an interstellar rap battle.

Drake, horns-of-fire eyebrows and all, called Jay-Z’s art-reference rap “corny” in an interview. Jay-Z, especially offended and surprisingly charged by the accusation, swooped down from the ionosphere on the back of his sun dragon and, eager to smite, fired exploding chain saws at Drake in a verse on a song called “We Made It.” Here they are:

Sorry Mrs. Drizzy for so much art talk
Silly me rappin’ ’bout shit that I really bought

And so now the world waits.

Waits for Drake’s response.

Waits for Jay’s response to Drake’s response.

Waits for Drake’s response to Jay’s response to Drake’s response.

We wait and wait and wait.

We’re still waiting.

Because we are on the cusp of a moment.


Every year for the last decade during the days between November 11 and December 20, I have attempted to teach middle school ESL students about all of the whole of the everything of the entirety of outer space, from its birth to its (hypothetical) end. This, as one would expect, is a bit of a task.

Sometimes it’s for reasons you expect (because that shit is hard, bro). But sometimes it’s for reasons you do not. The best: One particularly enjoyable student asserted that, given that our understanding of the cosmos beyond Mars is almost entirely theoretical, it was irresponsible of me to completely disregard the plot of Killer Klowns From Outer Space, a movie on Netflix about aliens who look like Earth clowns and wrap people up in cotton candy and then suck their blood. “If nobody knows what’s out there, how can you say with certainty that there isn’t a planet dense with a population of clowns that want to murder me?” is a polished version of her position. “Well … it’s just … I mean … I don’t know, man” was my exact rebuttal. (I watched Killer Klowns From Outer Space. It’s terribly creepy. Don’t watch it.)

Still, during that segment of the curriculum, the one thing we go over that every kid learns is something called the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. Here is the exact one I have for them in class:


A general explanation: The H-R diagram plots stars based on brightness vs. heat. There are four main groups: the supergiants, which are the biggest and, on average, the brightest stars; the giants, which are a little smaller though still impressive; the main sequence stars, which are regular, ordinary-size stars; and the white dwarfs, which are just remnants of stars and not real actual stars anymore.

Now, in class this particular discussion would be followed by an activity in which the students are given characteristics of stars found in the known universe and then asked to place them where they belong on the chart. But since this is not class — this is Grantland — I present a variation.

It’s the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram for Rap Beefs:


It’s the same as the normal one, except it’s different.

Instead of the brightness on the y-axis, we measure how interesting each rap beef is. And instead of the temperature/color on the x-axis, we measure how real-life dangerous each rap beef is.

Important: The beefs listed here are not all the beefs that have ever existed in rap, same as the H-R diagram doesn’t plot all the stars that have ever existed. The charts are used as reference, a guide for you to refer to when considering the parameters of, say, 2007’s Gillie Da Kid vs. Lil Wayne debacle and how it measures next to, say, 1992’s P.M. Dawn vs. KRS-One shenanigans.

The numbers scattered in the H-RDFRB correspond with the faces underneath it, and the faces represent the winning side of whichever beef it was that he or she was involved in. Explanations:

1. Drake vs. His Feelings: Top tier. Probably the most interesting rap battle of our generation, which, depending on how you process the world, is something you will consider very advanced or very disappointing.

2. Lil’ Kim vs. Foxy Brown: Lil’ Kim wins this one because I actually had to Google “is Foxy Brown alive” while researching this. (She’s alive, FYI.)

3. Kanye West vs. 50 Cent: The two released albums the same week in 2007 and so they were arguing over who was going to sell more. 50 was like, “If Kanye outsells me, I’ll retire.” Kanye outsold him by more than 200,000 units. 50 was like, “LOL I’m just kidding I’m not retiring.”

4. Nas vs. Jay-Z: (1) Yes. Jay-Z won. Shut up. (2) I will never not use the hyphen in “Jay-Z.” His mama named him “Jay-Z,” I’mma call him “Jay-Z.”

5. Ice Cube vs. N.W.A: They argued over money. Ice Cube recorded “No Vaseline.”

6. Eminem vs. Benzino (and The Source): This one almost certainly would’ve fallen into the the supergiants category in 2002. But Eminem the brand has swelled to such an alarming size that his moves are barely even interesting anymore and Benzino is Benzino, so this one plummets down into the cellar.

7. Nelly vs. Chingy: Mostly because I just wanted you to have a good baseline for what a very, very, very bottom-level white-dwarf rap beef looks like. (Note: In 2004, this beef was definitely a main priority for me. I’m saying, do you even know how many times I watched the “Batter Up” video, bro?)

8. This is when Ludacris went at it with T.I.: Ludacris won that one. This is not when Ludacris went at Drake and Big Sean. Nobody won that one. Not one single person.

9. Nicki Minaj vs. Gucci Mane: This one rates this high on interest because Gucci was on Twitter telling everyone he had sex with Nicki Minaj and that he had proof of it and for just a few moments somehow it kind of seemed like he was telling the truth. Know this: If Gucci Mane ever in any capacity proves that you had sex with him, he wins. That’s the most vicious blow. One time, one of my sons uppercut his twin brother in the wiener. This would’ve been worse than that. If he would’ve actually somehow produced a video or even a picture of him and Nicki Minaj engaging in intercourse, we would’ve had to put her in a rocket ship and shoot her toward a corner of outer space.

10. 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule: What many consider to be the greatest takedown of the modern era. It was definitely in the supergiants category while it was happening, but it falls out here because 50 is probably, like, only the 40th most popular rapper right now.

11. Papoose vs. hahaha psych just kidding Papoose never won anything LOL.

12. Gucci Mane vs. Face Tattoos: To crib a line from a 2004 Demetri Martin comedy special: This is a good example of how you can be a winner and a loser at the same time.

13. Common vs. Drake: “You a bitch because you cling like a bitch that’s 18 / Can’t say my name but rap about a n—-’s wife / You so black and white, trying to live a n—-’s life / I’m taking too long with this amateur guy / You ain’t wet nobody, n—-, you Canada Dry.” —Common

14. Kendrick Lamar vs. All the Guys He Mentioned on “Control,” But Mostly Drake Because Drake Was the Only One With a Higher Perch: Oh, man. Rap nerds had hella boners when this song came out.

15. Tupac vs. Biggie: Dang.



Five New(ish) Beefs That Belong on the Diagram


Snoop Dogg vs. Bob Marley’s Ghost (supergiant):
Snoop’s gotta stop. Someone please tell him.

Lil Wayne vs. Metaphors (main sequence): If Tha Carter IV has fewer than 200 of those stupid “I got presidential concentration / Call that a Ford Focus”–style lines, then that’s a win for Wayne.

J. Cole vs. J. Cole’s Face (white dwarf): He’s losing.

Nas vs. Evolution (giant): Has any rapper ever gripped more desperately to a time period, to what he or she at one point represented, than Nas? Nas is a total bore now. His fight against evolution is history’s longest war.

Wale vs. Everybody on Earth, I Guess (white dwarf): I just don’t get it. Wale seems like a decent (albeit tightly wound) person. Why does everyone hate him? I interviewed him at a concert once. He was nice. T-Pain was there. I talked to him, too. T-Pain is way more of a dick than Wale.

-Shea Serrano

Shea is a writer based in Houston. He has written for MTV, XXL, Vice, Complex, Myspace, and other outlets. He recently published his first book, Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book.

The Out Sound From Way In

Django Django continue to prove they’ve got the best taste in music when it comes to bands. This time around they’ve gotten all hip hop on us, be advised it’s not not your played out 2013 hip hop stuffs, instead they’ve taken it back and delivered a nostalgic selection of perfection dropping tracks from the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Tha Alkaholiks, De La Soul, Nas, Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes, KRS-One, Outkast and plenty more.

School’s in session… and If you don’t know, now you know suckers!

THE OUT SOUND FROM WAY IN // SPRING 2013  by Django Django on Mixcloud

Jay Shells Drops Rap Quotes



After schooling New Yorkers on etiquette via numerous unsanctioned interventions, artist Jay Shells channeled his love of hip hop music and his uncanny sign-making skills towards a brand new project: “Rap Quotes.”

For this ongoing project, Shells created official-looking street signs quoting famous rap lyrics that shout out specific street corners and locations. He then installed them at those specific street corners and locations.

Shells went all city and posted over 30 signs quoting the likes of Jeru tha Damaja, Mos Def, Nas, Kanye West, CL Smooth, GZA, and RA the Rugged Man. ANIMAL followed. Ride along with our video below. Follow @TheRapQuotes for more.


Who Is Nardwuar?

In short, he’s an eccentric, middle aged Canadian who interviews zeitgeisty musicians (though sometimes hall-of-famers). His interviews are usually pretty astoundingly researched with Narwuar often pulling out gifts for his interviewees that reveal details about their taste, history, influences or habits that are usually ridiculously obscure. I think he’s one of those phenomenon that really needs to be seen rather than explained so without further adieu, here are a few poignant Nardwuar interviews:






Then though, there are other less cooperative interviewees…



Head over to Nardwuar’s YouTube channel for more hilarious interviews

Doot Doola Doot Doo… Doot Doo!

Django Django’s Unorthodox Jukebox


Scottish quartet Django Django recently took over the 6 Mix on BBC for two hours and played a crazy eclectic mix of music including jams by Cat Stevens, The Clash, Major Lazer, Paul McCartney, Daft Punk, Nas, Grace Jones and many many more (42 to be exact)

It’s always refreshing when a band has great taste in music and based on this selection as well as the tracks the guys always put up on their Facebook page as part of their ‘album of the day series’ they have it in spades.

Check out the YouTube playlist we put together featuring the bulk of the tracks complete with videos where possible below

Stream the audio of the whole affair below via the player below or better yet download it for keeps HERE!

Spotlight On Chronic ¥outh Tokyo


We recently caught up with artist/graphic designer/all round nice guy Mark Drew to chat with him about his new clothing label Chronic ¥outh which drops in a few select Australian boutique stores this week. We asked Mark to tell us a bit of the back story and to choose three tracks that helped inspire and shape the label. This is what he had to say! -

I’ve been based in Tokyo for 3 years now. After doing China Heights in Sydney for so long, I wanted to step back and focus on my own work. I’m still involved in the gallery and regularly participate in group exhibitions here and back home, and over time realised that there wasn’t much difference in the artwork I was making for those shows, and tshirt graphics. If I’m not working on a job, or hanging out, I am thinking about what personal project to do next, so this was going to happen sooner or later. Same story as everyone who does an independent tshirt label, just felt like I wanted to make the kind of things that me and my friends would wear, and if other people liked it too, then that’s great, and will allow the label to grow. Half of my income is from graphic design (the other half from artwork), and with client jobs there is always a bit of back and forth, so doing this on my own means I can make things exactly how I want. Almost everything I have produced in the last six or seven years (paintings, zines, screenprints, graphics for other companies etc) has had music based references, which is where the name CHRONIC ¥OUTH comes from - and that’s basically the concept of the brand. Referencing the music and associated culture that I love. This first drop is just for Australia, having arrived in stores THIS WEEK! Australian stockists are Spares in Melbourne, Halfsleeve in Sydney, and 1Up in Perth. The official webstore and Japanese retail are planned for 2013.

As for the music, I still listen to probably 70% of the same stuff from when I was in high school, when the albums were dropping for the first time. Those crates are pretty deep, so let me choose 3 quick gems for you!

Nas ft. AZ - Lifes A Bitch (Arsenal Remix)

I love Illmatic as an album, and it gets regular play. For a long time I had forgotten about this version, and lately it came up at a club night I was at here in Tokyo. Not just the new pace of the remix, but having AZ’s verse come in pretty much the second it starts gives it such a “get to work” feel. Motivational stuff!

The Pharcyde- Soul Flower (Remix)

Can’t pass this one by… I saw Fatlip, Slim Kid Tre and J-Sw!ft perform the entire “Bizarre Ride” album live last weekend (twice!). I don’t think a month has gone by in 20 years that I haven’t listened to it. Maybe during my psy-trance stage in ‘97? Anyway, you can’t have a bad day when you listen to Soul Flower.

Tha Dogg Pound - ” Puffin On Blunts And Drankin’ Tanqueray”

No matter how much I remember myself as an East Coast guy, its actually a pretty even split. And that’s the theme of one of the C¥TYO prints - EAST and WEST. This West Coast gem was hidden for a long time and bumps hard. It may have a repetitive feel to some people, but personally, I have it ON repeat.

Shouts to CHINA HEIGHTS, THE SERPS, and FOR THE HOMIES. One what? One love!

-Mark Drew

Making Ends

Chronic ¥outh

How Hip Hop Changed The World…

This UK doco put together by Jamie Oliver’s production company and presented by actor, DJ, MC and lifelong hip hop fan Idris Elba (The Wire) debuted on UK TV last year. Featuring stars from both sides of the Atlantic (Snoop Dogg, Mark Ronson, Nas, Rakim, Debbie Harry, Jessie J, Chipmunk, Tinchy Stryder and N Dubz, to name just a few), How Hip Hop Changed the World counts down the defining moments of a culture that exploded out of the wastelands of 1970s New York and went on to become one of the most dominant global economic, political and social forces of our time.

From the birth of turntabalism to the UK grime artists who are now conquering the world, this two-hour special reveals everything you need to know about hip hop.

Check out the special in three installments below.

When I was 17 I looked like this - 

I loved hip hop and, on a whim, I would buy any tape, record or CD I could find with a black guy rocking a gold chain on the cover – there was only a handful of mags, no internet, no guides – everything was guesswork with a pretty disappointing hit ratio. I wrote my own raps – terribly, skated every single day – terribly, and dreamt of kicking game to the girls in my grade without my head exploding in a crimson blush…

Enter Joey Bada$$. At 17, he looks like this - 

At 17 this kid leaves me baffled. I just don’t understand how someone so young can be so, so good. The handful of crisp, no budget videos circulating before his mix tape dropped were dripping with promise and had us throwing around comparisons of a 19 year old ‘Illmatic’ Nas (speaking of Nasir – he may have dropped his finest yet : check it!), weathered and wise way beyond his years.

This week Joey dropped ‘1999’ – a free full length album (mix tape - not mixed, not a tape). It’s outstanding. His beat selection is superb – whether pillaged from the catalogues of some of the masters of dusty boom bap (Lord Finesse, MF Doom, Lewis Parker) or freshly produced for the release, they all jigsaw together in a cohesive style reminiscent of ‘95 – the golden era heyday of hip hop, the year Joey was born (the year after I finished high school).

There is no ‘throwback’ style about this kid – he honestly just exists in a different Era. His dense metaphor and word play are strictly of the standard of today’s finest and reveal themselves further with each repeated listen. His songs bounce around between braggadocio, gritty love songs and cautionary tales, and a surprisingly conscious track about the expected career paths of young black kids in New York. 

Aside from the sterling production, aside from the great visuals and the prematurely advanced lyric and flow, the thing that I am finding increasingly confusing are the pop references he chooses. So far I have caught Chaka Khan, Michael Jordan, Color Me Badd, Run DMC and Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ – while not exactly obscure, they are definitely not the source material you would expect a 17 year old to find relevance in.

Joey Bada$$ and his Pro Era crew are definitely going to have to weather comparisons to Odd Future. Like OFWGKTA, they are young, grimey and skate – unlike members of that crew though, Joey Bada$$ doesn’t depend on rudimentary shock value to break through and get noticed, it’s all skill here. Sure – his tracks are occasionally peppered with the ignorance of a puff chested teenager trying to be a bigger man than he is, and DO NOT follow him on twitter, but ‘1999’ is one of the finest, true school hip hop releases I have heard in a very, very long time. Don’t Sleep.