Though this article is about celebrating the lyrical history of Craig G, the primary sub-point is that his talents are still are in full effect! That said: BUY THE NEW CRAIG C "RAMBLINGS OF AN ANGRY OLD MAN" CD NOW!!!
I have said it before, and I’m sure I’ll need to say it again, Hip Hop artist careers are not known for their longevity. Often times a lot of it has to do with the challenges of navigating the business, shady industry tactics, and even a fickle fan base. However, though unpopular to say, sometimes the artist themselves are to blame. More direct to my specific point here, you are hard-pressed to find many artists who have been releasing music since the mid-80s and are still making quality and relative music. I challenge you to name more than a handful of artists who started making records in the mid 80s who are still passionate about their music and Hip Hop Culture and dropping skillful and relevant music. Truthfully, even naming that handful is going to be up for some debate. Craig G is one such rare example. He just released his latest album, “Ramblings Of An Angry Old Man” and it has a lot of great moments. Here’s how it all started way back when…
Craig G signed his first record deal at 15 years old with Pop Art Records. He then released two records for the label, “Shout Rap” and “Transformer”. Most, himself included, would consider “Shout Rap” the better of the two. Marley Marl does excellent production work in transforming the Pop tune by Tears Of Fears into a Hip Hop banger. One of the finest moments takes place in the second verse when Craig G introduces a loose concept that he introduces as, “I’m gonna tell you bout the things I can do without.” He proceeds to do just that and it reaches its peak with, “I could do without those weak MCs/Biting rhyme after rhyme, such as these.” It sounds so simple today, but at the time it had a touch of elegance that had rarely/barely been heard in Hip Hop. He ends the track flexing his Human Beat Box skills. Those skills would earn him an additional vinyl presence in 1986, provided backing beats for the Glamour Girls answer record, “Oh Veronica”.
In 1987, the Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack radio show born concept of the Juice Crew came to life on wax with a crew 12” that featured “Juice Crew All Stars” b/w “Evolution”. The single featured representation from the full crew at the time MC Shan, Roxanne Shante, Craig G, Kool G Rap, MC Percy (a.k.a Tragedy The Intelligent Hoodlum), Glamorous, Debby Dee, and TJ Swan, with production provided by the musical glue to it all, Marley Marl. Craig G only appears on one of the tracks, “Juice Crew All Stars” and you can clearly hear his voice has matured since the Pop Art days and his skills have also elevated. He takes a shot at the competition, giving them a painful reminder that skills in Hip Hop are constantly and rapidly being upgraded, “To my opponents, this won’t be pleasant/You were good in ’86, but this is ‘87/It’s time to react, put records on wax/My rhymes gain more than visual impact…” I think a lot of people slept on that last line…that’s the illness.
In 1988, The Juice Crew continued their rise to the top of the world as one of the most important and lyrically inventive crews of all-time with the release of “In Control Volume One”. Although it is officially a Marley Marl album, it could easily be recognized as a Juice Crew album as well*. Craig G gets a lot of shine here and it’s also where he first makes use of what would consistently be one of his greatest MC skills, unique multi-syllabic wordplay. The style of multi-syllables was already a growing standard by now and Juice Crew was leading the way in evolving the technique, particularly Kool G Rap, Master Ace, MC Shan and as witnessed here, Craig G. On “Dropping Science” he nonchalantly drops unexpected rhyme pairings such as “Showmanship” with “Go-n-get”, “Extraordinaire” with “Sorta rare”, &“Warning Others” with the Cold Chillin’ parent label, “Warner Brothers”. On his other solo offering, “Duck Alert”, not only does his go for the throat of Marley Marley’s radio rival, Red Alert, and take a shot at Hurby Luv Bug, but he does it while dropping more creative rhyme schemes, “I’m about to burn you 450 fahrenheit/You’re jealous of the crew, that’s why you’re staring, right?/Forget the answer, the situation’s obvious/When this is over, let’s see who feels the sorriest/You’ll be like, “Damn Craig, why did you play me yo?”/Then you’ll realize were’ topping rap radio!” He was certainly among the most creative with his rhyme linkage choices.
Although his solo cuts are where he most shines lyrically, it’s most likely he is best remembered in this time period from his appearance on one of the greatest Posse Cuts of all time, “The Symphony”. Craig G proves he is certainly in the big leagues by holding his own while rhyming alongside Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, and a newly introduced and extremely hungry Master Ace. Here, Craig G sports a smooth conversational style that he has used effectively many times since. He taps into a relaxed delivery that combines great rhyme schemes with a series of common actions found in everyday conversations, such as dramatic pauses, lip smacks, and the use of sounds in place of words.
Those three appearances were a perfect set up for his debut album “The Kingpin”. It was released via a production deal that Marley Marl had with Major Label, Atlantic Records and dropped in 1989. Craig G once told me in an interview that he thought his debut album was “totally directionless” and when speaking on the variety of styles he explored, he used the word “wack” in his description. This was all part of him explaining the type of pressure the label was putting on him to do certain things on the album, like make Hip House records.
Quite honestly, I felt he was being way too hard on the record. It has more than it’s fair share of highlight moments. I personally was a big fan of this record, even with its all-over-the-place approach. Truthfully, most Rap albums were that way around this time. “Dopest Duo” is a nice up-tempo cut where Marley Marl freaks a simple guitar sample and Craig G proceeds to drop a series of quality battle rhymes. “Shootin’ The Gift” was the album’s second single. In line with the title, Craig G flexes his wordplay skills (IE: rhyming “earful” with “appear to”) and flaunts a taste of a Roll-Of-The-Tongue style. “Slammin” is a clear standout and is also one of Marley’s most creative productions of the time. The drums are aggressively bouncing a bit maniacally, which makes the flipping, of what I think is a piece of, the Looney Tunes cartoon theme perfect. Craig G is also in top form here dropping gems like this, “To some Rap is a game. To some it is a hobby/I call it a living. That’s why I’m driven/Or should I determined, to keep earning/The money that I need to succeed without squirming…” I suppose the album’s sleeper song would be “Smooth”. The track is sort of an unassuming well-arranged beat by Marley, composed of a few distinct sounds that are chopped and pieced together nicely. Craig G has a few great moments through out the song lyrically***. Most notably, “This type of beat shows me I’m a vocalist/because I never waste time to approach the list/In other words, there’s no half-steppin/And if you diss me, Rap will be my LAST weapon/Rap’s not a game, it’s a business/And quite a few people don’t belong in this…” However, my favorite part is the opening of the last verse. It’s perfect for its use of simple language, but excellent technique, “You say you’re hanging from a string? Then I will light the rope/Recite the dope that turns your hype to hope…” The way it exquisitely flows off the tongue makes it one of the most memorable lines on the record, for me anyway.
Those are just the best of the best. The album has other solid moments as well, such as “The Final Chapter”, “Love Thang”, and the title track, “The Kingpin”. I wasn’t even mad at his first Hip House track, “Turn This House Into A Home”**. At the time, Rap artists doing a Hip House track was fairly standard and this is one of the best of the batch, especially lyrically. The album’s closing skit, “The Blues”, shows off Craig G’s sense of humor and spontaneous side, as he throws some jabs at his former label, manager, and Marley’s engineer. Fun stuff…
He finished off the 80s with an excellent B-side track and a guest appearance on the Roxanne Shante debut album. “Take The Bait” was on the flipside of the “Shootin’ The Gift” single and it gives a glimpse of his still growing talent. Over a fresh Charles Wright sample, Craig G drops three verses that are each probably better than anything on the debut album. This was a sure-fire sign to look out for any further vocal appearances of his. Speaking of which, Roxanne Shante ended her debut album, “Bad Sister”, with the somewhat ironically titled track, “Gotta Get Paid”. It’s rarely discussed, but Shante is without a doubt a pioneer of spontaneous rhyming on wax. She wasn’t the first to do it, but she was the really the first to consistently do it, plus do it very well, and make a point of noting tht she was doing it. “Gotta Get Paid” features her and Craig G rocking srictly off the top of the head rhymes. They both shine and it’s likely this is a portion of a longer session. I’m just guessing that because of the way it starts off with Craig G just doing one bar and passing it to Shante and also the way it ends with Craig G just getting cut off…
In any event, the years of ’85-’89 were key developmental recording years for Craig G. He had an opportunity to work with a few different labels to get a better understanding of the business, even if most of it was hard-lessons learned. Yet, through those challenging times he managed to release fair amount of impressive music and also evolve as an artist. The 90s would prove that most of that was just the start of a long career of growth and triumphs, as well as some additional setbacks….
Written By Kevin Beacham
*The only non-Juice Crew MC on the album is Heavy D (R.I.P), who Marley Marl produced several tracks for early in his career.
**This track actually inspired the DJ, Madd Maxx, for my group, Wildstyle, to produce a track with the same main sample, but with a slightly more Hip Hop flavor. I recorded a song to it called “You Want A Style Like This…Then Come Get It” in early 1990.
***Oh yeah, and it’s pretty awesome that he rhymes “Nissan” with a description of his gold chain as, “dope piece on”.
Bonus Note: Some excerpts of the lyric quotes contained here have been taken or reinterpreted from the upcoming book “Microphone Mathematics” by Kevin Beacham.