To be donned an emcee in the Hip-Hop community is a distinct honor that many aspire to obtain. But just simply acquiring the talent to spit over a dope beat doesn’t secure entry into this elite society. In the book “The Art of Emceeing”, Stic.man of Dead Prez embodies the distinction between an emcee and rapper: “A rapper is to an emcee what an average street fighter is to a trained martial artist. They are both fighters but the degree and depth of their skill is very different.” An emcee is a student of the culture. They know what the culture is built on (its roots), the external and internal events and things that have aided in the transition and evolution of the culture over time (its influences), and they definitely know of the vets that have built household names for themselves and dramatically affected the culture (the kings on the chessboard).
The three artists that will be blessing the mic at the Juice Hip-Hop Exhibition at this year’s Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, have definitely earned the distinction of emcee. On the line up is Taylor Bennett, Nick Grant, and Your Old Droog. All three are well-versed in Hip-Hop culture in its entirety, as well as what the culture means to the region or city they rep for, and it shows through their execution and delivery.
Chicago produced a range of emcees like the more alternative Kanye West and Common to choppers like Twista, Crucial Conflict and Do or Die. With such a variation of sound to be influenced by, it’s no wonder that the Windy City also gave us Taylor Bennett, an emcee that has been able to incorporate both of Chicago’s key native aspects into his music to create his own sound while staying true to his Chiraq roots. And to no surprise, two of his biggest influencers are Twista (probably one of the fastest to ever spit) and Kanye West, with his College Dropout album exposing Bennett to the fun side of music.
Originally from South Carolina and moving to Atlanta is Nick Grant. Heavily influenced by Andre 3000 and Nas, Grant is undoubtedly a student of the culture and pays homage to the roots of Hip-Hop. He nods to some of the greats in his latest project, ‘88, include OutKast’s “2 Dope Boyz in a Cadillac” and Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat”. He even gives us a hint of polar Carolinian native, J. Cole’s yearning to be accepted by the vets in “Let Nas Down” with his nods to Big Daddy Kane and Rakim: “I’ll probably make Rakim and Daddy Kane the proudest” and referring to himself as “the male Badu” (Black Sinatra). In addition, it is clearly apparent that there was a lot of knowledge and thought that went into the ideation of the album art for ‘88. Grant acknowledges Coming to America (‘88), Michael Jackson’s Bad (which Jackson was touring for during ‘88), as well as the then-president Ronald Reagan. He also chose ‘88 because of its place in the Golden Age of Hip Hop with some of the elites being alive all at once, ranging from Big Daddy Kane to Rakim. The consciousness Grant exhibits relates to some of his conscious influences including Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Pac.
Next up is Your Old Droog from our festival’s home, New York. Donned a true Emcee by Sway Calloway himself, Y.O.D. carries on the roots of the culture just in the way he approaches and executes the craft. He does it so well in fact, that upon the release of his 9-track EP, Your Old Droog—in addition to lack of identity and social media presence—everyone believed the young emcee was the vet and our festival’s headliner, Nas under an anonymous alias. With this honorable confusion, Droog has successfully carried on the tradition of complex wordplay native to the East Coast sound, specifically NYC. One influence that is always mentioned and most evident in his lyricism is Harlem’s own punchline connoisseur, Big L. Moreover, Droog’s Kinison EP is dedicated to the dichotomy established between Hip Hop and Rock upon the thriving rise of Hip Hop leading into the late 80s and 90s. Using a skit from comedian, Sam Kinison (inspiration for the title) in which he expresses his disdain for the culture back in ‘91: “I haven’t caught on to it, I don’t think it’s an artform.” The Kinison EP acts as a counter jab to, specifically, Sam Kinison’s views of the culture—which represented the opinions of a significant population of Rock enthusiasts of the time. With tracks like “Gentrify My Hood,” Droog seems to be poking fun at the non-Hip Hop community members’ generalized perception of what it must be like to transition from the hood to suburban areas, as well as what he satirically thinks of as he travels to the places he goes to record that “got all the ill spots.”
Emceeing is not only limited to the emphasis on the knowledge, but a heightened emphasis on the skill that helps the distinction between a rapper and emcee. Some of the key elements that help judge what makes a great emcee include: word play, rhyme scheme, breath control, and delivery. But all of these elements can’t be determined from an article… you have to witness it. So, make your way out to the Juice Hip-Hop Exhibition on July 15th from 7pm to 11pm at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn to experience this year’s emcees live and the judge of their emcee skills.