Typically on #JPLMagazine we choose to write about a particular story, record, or lyric that strikes a nerve with us. This past week however, there were a few things that happened that struck a chord with me and I couldn’t decide which one was most appealing to me. After mulling it over I thought to myself, “why choose? just write about them all.” With that in mind, here’s my inaugural edition of ‘What A Week In Hip Hop!’, a new column where periodically I’ll recap and explore a series of recent Hip Hop related happenings.
First off, former head of the once esteemed Death Row Records, Marion ‘Suge’ Knight was recently charged with both murder and attempted murder for allegedly using his truck to run over two people in Compton, California. A gentleman by the name of Terry Carter was killed while another, Cle ‘Bone’ Sloan survived the incident. Suge is currently being held with no bail and faces life in prison. This story strikes me for a few reasons. Firstly, the incident allegedly began as a result of an argument between Knight and the two victims on the set of the “Straight Outta Compton” biopic, a film which founding N.W.A. members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are behind. Suge’s business relationship and subsequent professional and personal falling out with Dr. Dre are well documented, as the two men were directly responsible for the rise of Death Row in the early-to-mid 90s, before Dr. Dre bolted in ’97 to start Aftermath Records.
The fall of Death Row began with the death of Tupac Shakur in September of ’96, but was expedited by Dre’s departure, as eventually label mainstays Snoop Dogg and the Dogg Pound would leave as well. Dre and Suge have had a weird relationship since, with Suge seemingly taking shots at Dre whenever possible, while Dre has largely ignored him, taking the high road and focusing instead on his various enterprises. So why the heck was Suge even at the set “Straight Outta Compton”? And what was the nature of the argument with the two men? Suge, through his lawyers claims that he was invited there by the now deceased Taylor to broker a truce between he and Dr. Dre, a sentiment Dre flat-out denies. So again, what on Earth possessed Suge to just show up at the set of Dre’s movie? Was he out for trouble? Were his intentions actually noble? My guess is no, they were not. Since Death Row fell in 1997, Suge’s been arrested several times, been in and out of jail, filed for bankruptcy, cried in court, and been attacked with both fists and bullets. For all his entrepreneurial successes with Death Row, let’s face it, he’s a train-wreck, and one has to wonder if he’s finally bitten off more than he could chew.
Is this the end for the once almighty Suge? My guess is yes. The fact that he was denied bail is telling, as it shows the courts no longer have any faith in Suge. I’m guessing he’s done. He may not get life, but he’ll be in jail for a long time. And as much as I love the Death Row Records catalog, representative of the mid-90s West Coast musical dominance that is one of my favorite eras in Hip Hop history, I have to conclude it’s for the best. When you lead a life by the code of the streets and never evolve, it’s bound to catch up with you. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are from the rough neighborhood of Compton and are two of the Godfathers of Gangsta Rap, but they grew up. Sure, their music still and probably always will have some elements of Gangsta Rap. It’s what they do, musically. But they’re not LIVING that life anymore. They’ve moved on to bigger and better things and know how to maneuver their lives without putting themselves in compromising and dangerous positions. Suge on the other hand seemingly could never let go of the street life and barring some fantastic legal maneuvering, it looks like his way of life is finally going to catch up to him. Pay attention young soldiers of Hip Hop Nation. Street cred might get you a record deal, fame, and money but if you keep living that life, you might get life. Smarten up.
Speaking of Dr. Dre, aside from the Suge incident, he was also in the news for selling his Los Angeles mansion for a whopping $32.5 million, a move that proves to be a wise sale as he purchased the mansion just four years ago for $15.4 million. It also helps offset the cost of his recent $40 million purchase of Tom Brady and Giselle Bündchen’s old place in Brentwood, California. When you’re worth $800 million (and leave the street life in your past), you can make these sort of big bank moves.
Another Hip Hop mogul made the news this past week as Jay-Z attempted to enter the streaming music industry. With his $56.2 million offer, Hov is set to purchase Aspiro, a Swedish streaming company that currently has about 500,000 subscribers. With Spotify as the streaming music industry leader and Dr. Dre’s (by way of Apple) Beats Music also a heavy player, Jay certainly faces an uphill battle with this purchase. Then again, aside from a propensity to “mail in” his verses as he’s grown older (I won’t say he’s not the rapper he used to be because occasionally he still brings it lyrically, just not nearly as often as pre-Kingdom Come days), what has Jay-Z done wrong in recent memory? Everything he touches seemingly turns to gold. As a matter of fact, the last thing I can remember him legitimately losing was his battle with Nas back in 2001. I expect this venture to be no different for the mega-mogul. Just the fact that he’s putting his name and his brand behind the streaming service should boost its visibility and number of subscribers. I expect Jay-Z and his team to put their own stamp on the product, find a clever way to differentiate, and ultimately grow the business into a very profitable one. What’s the over/under on number of months before Jay-Z drops a new project which’ll somehow be made available for free to Aspiro subscribers? I’ll set it at 8 months. And I’ll take the under. We all know Hov loves those summer releases.
Speaking of Jay-Z and Dr. Dre, an artist with whom they’ve both collaborated made an impactful comeback at the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show. That’s right, on the grandest of stages, one which she shared with uber stars Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz, Missy closed the set and quite simply stole the show. Performing a medley of her hits, including “Get Ur Freak On”, “Work It”, and “Lose Control”, Missy and her dancers went out there and tore the house down. It was vintage Missy, as her she put on a high energy, dance oriented, fun performance that reminded us all why she’s a multiple Grammy winner and one of the most purely creative forces Hip Hop has ever seen. Katy Perry was the headliner, but it was Missy’s Hip Hop set that was most memorable. That got me wondering about what Hip Hop stars would be able to pull of a Super Bowl halftime show of their own.
Surely Missy could do it, as she’s accomplished enough as an artist to merit that stage and her brand of music is exciting and acceptable enough (in its PG, edited form) to work for a Super Bowl halftime show. Beyond her the list is short, at least in my opinion if we follow that criteria (i.e. a transcendent artist whose music won’t bore or scare mainstream America). Jay-Z could pull it off as could LL Cool J. They both have a long line of hits that in their PG forms can entertain mainstream America without offending or frightening anybody. I like to think Run DMC could pull it off, but without the late, great Jam Master Jay in the fold, it just wouldn’t feel right. Eminem is a stretch, simply because too much of his music is gory and dark, and his safer songs typically aren’t as good. And of course Puffy. Puffy can pull off anything when it comes to performances and parties. I’d like to see a Puffy halftime show as it would surely be full of several guest appearances. That said, I’d be willing to bet that Macklemore or Iggy Azalea would probably get the nod before any of the above, but that’s a whole other column for a different day…
Lastly, we’ll close with the sad news that 21 year old Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of R&B stars Bobby Brown and the late Whitney Houston, was found by her husband and a friend laying unresponsive in a bathtub and is currently hospitalized, fighting for her life. This happened almost three years to the day after her mother Whitney’s tragic passing, where she was also found submerged in a bathtub, albeit deceased. How scary is that? While it’s not yet clear if drugs are at the core of this incident, it’s difficult not to make that connection from the outside looking in. Whitney had well-documented struggles with drugs and alcohol right up until she died and Bobby, though healthier today than he was for the majority of his marriage to Whitney, was no stranger to drugs and alcohol abuse himself. We’re praying for Bobbi Kristina. We hope this isn’t another tragic footnote in Whitney and Bobby’s story. Similarly to our thoughts on Suge however, youngsters please beware of drug and alcohol abuse. We’re no angels at JP Lime Productions and don’t want to come across as “holier than thou” and overly “preachy”, but youngsters, we implore you to be careful about your life choices. It’s common knowledge that young people experiment, but when experimentation turns to addiction and abuse, your life is literally on the line. Hopefully Bobbi Kristina will pull through and tackle whatever medical and/or life issues led to this scare. In the meantime, our prayers are with Bobbi Kristina and the Houston and Brown families.