A Short-Story Of Hip Hop Lyricism:
When I first discovered Hip Hop in ’79, in the age of party rap, I was simply intrigued by this innovative, exciting and different type of music. There was nothing particular I was focused on, just the music itself grabbed and held my attention.
A few years later, I heard Kool Moe Dee’s lyrical assault on Busy Bee and that expanded my mind. I wasn’t just moved by the blistering insults he targeted at Busy Bee, but by the means in which he did so. I continued to watch Moe Dee and he continually improved and introduced techniques. It was thru his verses that I understood the use of multi-syllables, similes, and metaphors. In ’82, The Fearless Four dropped “It’s Magic” and opened my mind to the fantasy realm in lyricism that could exist and a year later via “Fearless Freestyle” they better helped define my understanding of the Punchline. Around ’84, Mele Mel hit a lyrical stride and was exploring the mastery of visual imagery with his performances on “Beat Street Breakdown”, “Step Off”, “The Truth”, “World War III”, etc… Then in ’86, Kool G Rap enters the arena and takes Kool Moe Dee’s literary applications and innovative patterns to the next level while simultaneously injects a vivid street element…a technique reinterpreted a decade later, to great effect, by Prodigy of Mobb Deep.
As you may have guessed, I’m a fanatic for lyricism and that is the element that which most draws me into appreciating and ultimately analyzing Hip Hop songs. Additionally, it is those combined elements described above that I often find myself most entertained by; multi-syllabic rhyming, with layered meanings, doused in wit, with a slightly mystic touch that is visually graphic, treated with a level hand of street level rawness. Generally, that means finding one or maybe a couple of these qualities in any given MC. Rarely do you find a MC that inhibits all of those qualities and actually excels at each. Chief Kamachi is among a rare breed who does and that is why he is one of my favorite MCs of current times and that’s something I’ve been saying since right around the turn of the century, he is one of the few MCs embodying and representing all the characteristics.
And Then Chief Kamachi Enters The Cipher:
*Writers Note: Sometimes transcribing lyrics can be difficult to catch 100%. I listened intently, but there may still be some slight imperfections below. Things that I was really unclear of I left as questions marks....hoping to file in those blanks eventually.
Although developing his craft for many years previous, it
was in ’98 that he was formally introduced to the Rap world. I’m not sure which was actually first,
but thru out ’98 he appeared on the debut of The Army Of The Pharaohs track “5
Perfect Exertions”, Maylay Sparks a.k.a Rasheed “Unusual Styles”, and his own single, “At War
With Self” b/w “Copperfield”. Of all those moments, I would consider the
highlight his verse on “Unusual Styles”, “Yo it’s a solid engagement, I’m bending
arraignments/Giggle at plaintiffs, reverse the cadence in the murderous word
arrangements/Of this novelist, whose well studied in street nascis(?)/Address
the populace with the autopsis(?) of a Philosophist/I’m a old Salmarian
hostage, divine stylist/In a barbed-wired cottage/Erect a shrine in that
mineage, focused upon this, me and my literary honors/for 7 days like the
principals of Kwanza/Artists are starving like a rapping Rwanda/So at the seven
dollars shows I threaten to sponsor/And the shiny barrel to your head is just a
In ‘99 he showed up alongside fellow Philly MC, Rasheed, once again on a DJ Revolution track, “Forever”, where both MCs flashback on their early ‘80s Hip Hop experiences. I’m assuming it’s around that same time that both MCs also made an appearance on the Wake Up Show where Kamachi gave an excellent display of the written skills with a small taste of the off the dome tactics as well.
Later that same year I came across his first solo single, “The Meaning” featuring A.G. (of D.I.T.C) b/w “Nile Nutrition” featuring The Last Emperor. “The Meaning” has a similar feel to “Forever”, but also has its own individual flavor. The sharp and well chosen quotes lend heavily to the songs character, De La Soul’s “They Don’t Know…” is pieced together nicely with Large Professor’s "The Meaning of a Real Rap Song”, with a variety of other quick cuts that are excellently selected and worked around those primary sentiments. A.G. sparks it off and gives a solid verse and then Kamachi comes in with a display a skills that he describes, "Im ½ street, ½ spiritual. ½ sane, ½ hysterical/It’s the section 8 Egyptian, Ex-Christian, that’s writing my own parables/They like, ‘He’s got some kind of mind, able to break down Masonic signs’/And at the same time, cook up some the finest dimes/If I gotta resort to that/I roll with ni**as that bailed out under aliases and never been back to court for that.” It’s a solid joint, but it’s really the flip side that completely solidified him as one of my favorites. It was after hearing “Nile Nutrition” with non-stop repeated listens and under heavy study that I placed Kamachi among the current lyrical elite.
By this time, The Last Emperor, was already building his name as a thing of urban legend. He had a famed demo that was desired by Hip Hop fans across the globe. There were the tales of signing to Dr Dre’s Aftermath label, which resulted in the aptly titled and sought after unreleased album, “The Legend Of Big Foot”. Plus he just started to release a series of top-notch 12” singles. In short, The Last Emperor was purely on fire at the time and “Nile Nutrition” contains one of his finest lyrical moments*. I’m going to assume part of that is attributed to coming with his A+ game to stay on par with Kamachi. It’s also worth considering the very unique and mystical nature of the production that brought out some lyrical enchantments from both MCs. I don’t even know how to describe the beat, which is provided by Omne, who also produced "Unusual Styles" and a handfull of a other Philly Underground joints. The only term that comes to mind is “liquid mysticism”, that’s just what it sounds like to me. It would be the perfect modern music to sync under some lost ancient footage of a mystical ritual, taking place in the deep jungles of Africa
Kamachi's first verse could be considered his warm up, but not because it’s lacking substance. Moreso, he is just making great use of wordplay and word linkage, almost like he’s just showing off how easy it is for him to weave words together…it’s pure skill flexing and then he takes it to the next level on his second appearance;
“It’s prescribed for you to get this, Black Eucalyptus/Of the tribal mystic/I’m known as the vinyl ????/Travel districts of desolate minds of misfits/With a tricklet of the source that I predict with/Colonize the stylistics on the twelve inch discus/Uncap a hydrant on the heat of this ghetto tyrant/Ride a camel with just your ????, a much cooler flannel/The abysmal, dealing with the Earth rotating fiscal/Seek refuge in the temple and of the mountains Moses went to/My nurtured staff stop the idolatry, ???????/And promote intense study on memorizing my math/Sun it motionless, but look how close it get/Revitalize your showmanship, Chief gave you the light now focus it!”
His next explosive verse came courtesy his, now classic, verse on Jedi Mind Tricks “Deer Hunter”. This is poetic precision at its finest, “My words sojourn spreading like a slow germ infected/Diseased ears collected and quarantined from my method/I’m the borderline where the animal and divine become separate/Def Leppard, create some beautiful hell on a record/Compel the skeptic when Kamachi unveil the epic/It’s needed and requested/Brought to you like Elijah, in a message/Jury of ancestors were sequestered/to decide my fate for conducting such vicious vespers/Candle light deaths is extras/it’s usually hollow point flesh presses/until they skin caress stretches/I’m the best to finesse textures/my rhyme fabric is elaborate/ scrolls kept in a gold cabinet/Open the book to the chapter of this old soul magic/JuJu tongue, the voodoo come, behold this untold havoc/Up north grab it, then I hit the South Pole and the magnet/East and West have it/Now my name on all four points of the square is firmly established/The language is lavish/The first to rock Roshashannah’s in African pajamas/Swear before I die to be there with the best of the rhymers/Music for different ears, ears in different spheres/Global link like ??????, make sure the pitch is clear/K-A-M-A-C-H I be the dopest in here!”
For the next several years we saw Kamachi pop up with a handful of guest verses. Among the finest, were “Mic Messiah” courtesy DJ Sat-One and his appearance on King Honey’s “Trinity” with Hezekiah and G.O.S.
Finally in 2004 he dropped his debut album, “Cult Status”. It did not disappoint. Kamachi deftly maneuvered between all-out lyrical assaults to poignant narratives. It was also quite the pleasant surprises to find all of the lyrics printed in the CD artwork, reading along assists in better understanding the layered meanings and complex patterns. “1st Lecture” starts the album and serves as the warning of the heavy ammunition to soon follow on the album, then that moment sort of melts into “Show Me Proof” where the onslaught continues. His finest displays of his mixture of street mystics and lyrical savage intelligence are found on “The Edge”, “Liberated Wax”, “Hating On My Halo”, and “The Best” (his great duet with Guru of Gang Starr).
“This Man” mellows things out musically, but the words remain powerful, as he proclaims at the start, “This is for my brothers locked down in the steel monastery”. It takes a hard look at the struggles of the rough street of Philly, mixing in some of his youth experiences along the way. The highlight is perhaps the closing moments of the first verse, “Cultural ailments, the root to emotional derailments/That led to the eyes of failed princes looking through jail fences/Used to park Benz’s but ended up on park benches!”
“Queen” is a beautiful and respectfully written tribute that speaks volumes. Early in the first verse he drops this jewel, “Look in her eyes is like looking at Nile Valley Streams/All I visualize is a weeding with an African theme”, but it’s the second half the verse that most resonates in my memory, “Hard to beat it in her head kicking ‘yah mean’/That’s why I always come kingly and keep my vines clean/I’m a soul soldier, True a lot of brothers think scholarly/Them same brothers broke, ain’t got dough for your dowry/Put you in a temple, worship you hourly/My little meteor, let your radiation shower me”.
The album closes with “Still Searching” that questions the inconsistencies, false-hoods, and deceptions in organized religion.
In 2006 he returned with “Concrete Gospel”. The flow was less rapid-fire and Kamachi had further developed his understanding of song structure. This resulted in tracks with more focused themes and stronger hooks. In essence, where much of “Cult Status” vocally sounds like the rawest moments captured in a grimy street cipher, designed to eliminate all competition, “Concrete Gospel” is speaking to his loyal listeners, as well as former competitors turned fans and sprinkling them with some useful jewels, but with enough brutality to quell there thoughts of rising against the throne.
In 2008 he teamed up with the like-minded Killah Priest for the “Beautiful Minds” project. I don’t know exactly how this project came together, but it’s a great idea and leads to solid project. On “Reflections” each MC outlines some memories of their Hip Hop upbringing, a la the aforementioned “Forever”. “The Illest” is just the down and dirty raw. “Most High” and “Scrolls” are two of the strongest tracks and also the most enlightening. It’s also no surprise that Kamachi’s solo “Don’t Waste Your Lungs” is also a clear stand out.
In 2010 Kamachi dropped “The Clock Of Destiny” where he effectively he tapped into all his greatest assets as an MC. I speak about that in great detail HERE. His most recent album, “Rise And Rhyme Volume 1” showcases that he remains hungry as ever and is still growing as a artist, writer, and lyricist. You can read my review of "Rise And Rhyme Volume 1" HERE!
Make sure to catch Chief Kamachi representing on the Fifth Element Stage at Soundset 2012! While he’s in town I’m looking forward to finally securing that in-depth interview I’ve been planning to do with him for years now. The Chief Kamachi Chronicles continue…
*Last Emperor on “Nile Nutrion”: being this is already quite wordy and focused on Kamachi, but Last Emp is killing it on here. Sometime soon I need to do a post on him and his finest moments…