Those of you out there who keep your ear close to the gritty Hip-Hop underground will no doubt already be familiar with Bronx-bred emcee The Almighty $amhill.
Making a memorable contribution to the P Brothers’ 2008 album “The Gas” alongside the likes of Milano Constantine and Roc Marciano, the Rotten Apple representative has also dropped a number of impressive street tracks whilst working on various official projects, mixing his honest and unapologetically raw approach to lyricism with rugged, soul-drenched production.
Having recently released his free EP project “The Preface” via Unkut.Com, the East Coast talent is currently putting the finishing touches to his debut album “The $amhill Story” which is scheduled to drop this summer and promises more of the wordsmith’s trademark New York straight talk.
Whilst $am was taking a break from the lab, I threw him a selection of my own personal favourite tracks to have emerged from the birthplace of Hip-Hop to see what memories, thoughts and opinions they may provoke.
The Bronx is back…
Ultramagnetic MC’s – “Ego Trippin'” (Next Plateau Records /1986)
$amhill: “That s**t was crazy! What’s funny about Ultramagnetic MC’s is that them dudes is from my neighbourhood. Some them is from 159th Street & Washington and 3rd Avenue. I remember I used to see Ced Gee over there all time as a little boy. I would hear “Ego Trippin'” at the jams in the park and people would lose their minds. What was crazy though, was that dudes like Ultramagnetic were people I’d see in the community before I saw them on TV or anything like that. You’d see them around and people would be like, ‘Yo, that’s the dude from Ultramagnetic MC’s.’ So for me to then see them on Video Music Box after that was kinda bugged out. But that song was so dope to me because of that f**kin’ beat. It was just so knockin’! The drums were crazy and then that piano came in. That song was literally magnetic. It drew you to it. If you were a music head then you were drawn to “Ego Trippin'” not just because of the s**t that they were saying on there, but how they were saying it over that beat. That song made you want to move. I mean, Hip-Hop back then was like how soul music used to be, where you felt it from the inside first. What also bugged me out about that record was that when I first heard it, it kinda seemed like they were going at Run DMC with the lines about Peter Piper. I remember listening to that as a little boy thinking, ‘Hold on?! Are they shi**ing on Run DMC?!’ (laughs) It was songs like “Ego Trippin'” that made me realise that I like my music hardcore.”
Boogie-Down Productions – “The Bridge Is Over” (B-Boy Records / 1987)
$amhill: “I was a little boy when that record came out, man. That was one of those songs I’d hear when they used to have the jams in the park and everyone would bring their s**t out and plug into the street-light. But man, when that beat would come on with that piano, that s**t would be pandemonium. I had two older sisters and a brother and they would take me to the jams and I’d break away from them just acting crazy in the park taking it all in. I was young at the time and I didn’t really understand that KRS was beefin’ with Marley Marl and them, but the overall feel of that record was incredible. It was only after I saw the video on Video Music Box and then started to listen to Marley Marl and Red Alert on the radio that I realised what was happening with them.
But that song was so powerful because it was representing where we were from and it was also letting people know that Hip-Hop started in The Bronx and you’ll respect that or we’ll run right through you. With me growing-up in Hip-Hop, I had to recognise that that song was monumental. I mean, KRS was really disrespecting people on “The Bridge Is Over” (laughs).
I was in elementary school when that song dropped and rap was the consistent topic everyday that everyone would be talking about. So off of us talking about “The Bridge Is Over”, I also started to learn more about MC Shan, Craig G, Roxanne Shante and other people that were doing this music in other places. So I had to recognise that there were other people doing Hip-Hop in other parts of New York City. But from that moment right there I’ve always loved KRS-One as an emcee. I mean, he was born in Brooklyn but he’s always represented The Bronx and seeing him do that back then let me know early on that you have to represent where you’re from in this rap s**t and really be proud of it.”
Just-Ice – “Going Way Back” (Fresh Records / 1987)
$amhill: “That record is a classic. Around the time that “Going Way Back” came out the park jams were slowly dying down in The Bronx because people were getting killed and there’d always be something going on like a shootout. So the jams in the park were really getting shut down. So now you’d be hearing records first on the radio with Mr. Magic’s show and Red Alert and then a couple of weeks later Ralph McDaniels would be playing the video on Video Music Box.
Now, the thing with Just-Ice is that he was a street ni**a. He’s a dude that would handle what he needed to handle in his own way. A lot of people didn’t know that about Just-Ice then unless you were from The Bronx. But to hear him on that record talking about how he was there when certain things happened in The Bronx, Zulu Nation, this, that and a third, it really felt like he was teaching me and putting me onto some s**t that I really didn’t know about. But that record was so hardcore and Just-Ice always used to wear those leather rasta hats which he had on in the video. The part I always remember is when Just-Ice says ‘Yo KRS! What’s the purpose of you stopping me?’ (laughs).
The beat to that song was so strong and his voice was so aggressive but at the same time he was teaching me. It reminded me in some ways of someone like a Farrakhan, because he was always very aggressive in delivering his lessons. I learnt from listening to Farrakhan that if you’re not aggressive in the way you deliver your message then a lot of people won’t take you seriously. So when Just-Ice was telling me on “Going Way Back” about certain blocks and how if you don’t know what happened with this person then you wasn’t there, I had to listen to him because he was both commanding and demanding your attention. He was giving you a history lesson that you had to pay attention to.”
Tim Dog – “F**k Compton” (Ruffhouse Records / 1991)
$amhill: “That record had a major impact on me and my whole entire neighbourhood because Tim Dog lived just a couple of buildings away from me. But the funny s**t about that is that I didn’t actually know that then (laughs). I guess the older dudes I was hanging around with already knew Tim Dog from around the way and of course he already had the Ultra affiliation. But when that song came out it was wild aggressive, it was ignorant, it was disrespectful, and we loved it (laughs). We loved everything about it. But at first it confused me why he was dissing certain people on that record because I f**ked with N.W.A.. I loved aggressive, hardcore sounding s**t and at the time N.W.A. was the epitome of that type of style and the way they were coming with it was just so real. I mean, back then, as a little boy I used to think rappers like the Geto Boys and N.W.A . would really come to my mother’s house and kill everybody there (laughs). Like, seeing the video to N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” I thought Ice Cube was going to bust through the TV screen and kill somebody. Then when Tim Dog came out and was like ‘F**k them! This is where I’m from and this is what I’m about’ I was like, ‘Yooooo! Hold on, man Who is this?’
I mean, I wasn’t taking sides or none of that, but Tim Dog was really staking his claim and it was hot! I remember buggin’ out how he dissed Michel’le like that because it was just so uncalled for (laughs). I also remember buggin’ over how he actually came on the record with ‘Awwww shit…’ I was like, ‘How do you just come on a record with ‘Awwww shit…’?’ I was a kid at the time and curse words intrigued me, I was always cursing someone out, so when a ni**a would be cursing everyone out that would be the funniest s**t in the world to me. So when Tim Dog did that on “F**k Compton” I thought the dude had lost his mind but I loved it. And it was more than just being about the fact that Tim Dog was from my block, it was about the fact that he had to have some f**kin’ balls to do what he did on that record. He went at the whole of Compton! I mean, I couldn’t be mad at DJ Quik, MC Eiht or any of those dudes for going back at him or dissing the Bronx. I mean, I liked DJ Quik and MC Eiht. Their music wasn’t getting played on New York radio at the time but their videos would be on Video Music Box and I was like, ‘Yo, these dudes have really got a story to tell.’ But Tim Dog was just like, ‘F**k your story!’ He really didn’t care (laughs).
After that I had to get “Penicillin On Wax” when it came out. I mean, everybody in my mother’s neighbourhood was listening to “Penicillin On Wax” because Tim Dog was from the block and that album was crazy! Nobody could say that Tim Dog was wack. But what I took from Tim Dog back then was the realisation that you can do exactly what you want to do with your life and not give a f**k about what anyone else has to say about it.”
Showbiz & A.G. – “Soul Clap” (Mercury Records / 1992)
$amhill: “Well, I can honestly say that Showbiz & A.G. really made me want to be $amhill even more and pursue this music. I used to hear “Soul Clap” on the radio and I remember the EP they had that it was on because I bought it. I s**t you not, I used to buy everything on bootleg back then (laughs). The bootleg man used to be up the block next to McRogers, which was my neighbourhood’s bootleg McDonalds (laughs). So the tape man would be there and sell everything for two dollars. I used to have thousands of those tapes. But I got Showbiz & A.G.’s first s**t with “Soul Clap” on there and that record was crazy to me. The bassline on there was just so breathtaking. I’d be walking to school listening to those dudes in my headphones and I loved what they were doing.
To me, A.G. is the epitome of the evolving emcee. From how he rhymed on Lord Finesse’s first album “Funky Technician”, to how he rhymed on his own early s**t, to how he rhymes now, you can hear that was somebody who wanted to get better every time he came out. A.G. didn’t take what he did as a joke. You could tell he wanted people to know rhyming was what he loved to do and that came across in the music. A.G. is definitely the epitome of an emcee to me.
As for Showbiz, I remember the first time I saw their video for “Fat Pockets” on Video Music Box and then went outside afterwards and saw him on the f**kin’ corner, that s**t changed my life forever. It made me realise that even with all the music stuff, Showbiz and A.G. were just regular dudes from my community. Seeing them around like that really made me follow everything they did and it let me know that I could do it to just by being me. But around that time, I was about fourteen or fifteen years old, I’d be at house parties and when “Soul Clap” would come on the whole place would go crazy because that song was so funky.
I have such a profound respect for both of them. A.G.’s brother Wally World is one of my producers who I’ve done a whole bunch of stuff with. Two years ago I had about a two or three hour conversation with Showbiz in his studio. This dude I used to be cool with took me down there to meet him because I was always saying that Showbiz & A.G. were the reason why I was doing this. So I was introduced to Showbiz and we ended up having a three hour conversation about God and spirituality. He asked to hear my music and he respected what I was doing. I was telling him how I used to see him around the neighbourhood when I was a little boy and how he would have all this jewellery on and be looking so fly, and he was just sat there staring at me like, ‘Wow! Just off of me being me, this young ni**a is doing what he’s doing now.’ But I really respected Showbiz for taking the time to hear me out and to speak to me about the things that we did.
Same thing with A.G., I remember seeing him at a radio station a couple of years ago and he was saying how if something isn’t about the truth then he doesn’t want to speak about it because he’s so connected to wanting to spread the knowledge of God and that s**t literally sent chills down my spine.
But to me, Showbiz & A.G. have never done anything wack. They’ve consistently evolved and that’s what I’ve always loved about them. It would be a dream come true for me to do a song with Show & A.G. just off the strength of the impact those two men had on my life before they ever even knew anything about me.”
Fat Joe – “Flow Joe” (Relativity Records / 1993)
$amhill: “It’s funny that you say that s**t because “Flow Joe” is one of my personal favourites as well. I remember seeing when Fat Joe was filming that video. But it really impacted me because I remember when Red Alert used to play a short version of the song as a promo on his radio show with the ‘Everybody know Fat Joe’s in town…’ verse. I used to sit there and wait for that promo to come on when I’d be listening to the radio. That Diamond D beat was so hardcore and the way it dropped with the kick and the snare was just incredible to me. Back then you could buy the cassette maxi-singles with the instrumental on it and I picked that up and used to play that s**t all the time.
That s**t was so dope to me. I mean, what Fat Joe was saying on there in his lyrics was good and it was cool for what it was, but the s**t that was just so crazy about that track was that beat. The music was just so cinematic and I don’t know how many people got that same feeling from it that I did. It made me want to get into Fat Joe even more and see where he was coming from with his music. I mean, the founding members of D.I.T.C. being from the Bronx just made such an impression on me because I would just see these dudes walking around. It just made me believe that if I wanted to do this music thing then I could do it.
But going back to that track, if anyone ever asked me what my favourite Fat Joe tracks were I would have to say “Flow Joe” and “Respect Mine” off the second album. I always preferred the version of “Flow Joe” they did the video for rather than the one that was on the first album. But that album “Represent” was crazy. I remember I always wanted to rap over the beat that was used on the interlude “My Man Ski”. When I was in high-school there was a talent show and I was going to be in it and the beat on that interlude was so dope so I looped it up on the tape-deck and I was going to do a freestyle to it. But then I got kicked out of the show because I was being stupid (laughs).”
Money Boss Players – “Crap Game” (Warning Records / 1996)
$amhill: “Hmmmm. It’s like this man, the best thing about Money Boss Players is Lord Tariq and I’ma leave it at that. You can print that. The best thing about Money Boss is Lord Tariq and that’s all I have to say on it. It is what it is. I just don’t really f**k with that. I got respect for Lord Tariq and I’ve learnt that Lord Tariq has respect for me and my music and I’ll leave it at that.”
Big Pun – “I’m Not A Player” (Loud Records / 1997)
$amhill: “The original mix of that song is crazy. Big Pun was an intriguing dude to me. I mean, I never knew him personally, I just knew of him from the community. You remember the remix video where he’s riding around on that scooter? Pun would actually ride around the Bronx on that f**kin’ scooter. I would see Pun’s big ass on that scooter riding around Home Street, Boston Road, Forest Projects, I would see him do that. But the original version of that song was so crazy to me because I love soul music and the way that O’Jays sample was flipped was so dope. Then on top of that I had to respect the lyrical ability of Big Pun as well. I remember thinking how he reminded me of Kool G. Rap when I first heard him, not to where he was biting his style, but like Big L and Lord Finesse, Pun just enhanced that style and was the next generation. I just thought he was f**kin’ nice.
When Pun came out Hip-Hop was getting into some other s**t but he was still able to remain himself and keep it street. I mean, that “Capital Punishment” album was off-the-wall! You could tell there were certain tracks on there where Pun was trying to reach for that commercial appeal, but overall he did his thing on there. It always seemed to me that Pun knew what he wanted to do with his music and he did exactly that. I mean, Pun passed away in 2000, it’s now thirteen years after his death and we still haven’t had another new emcee come through from anywhere and make that type of impact to say I’m one of those next ni**as who’s going to be respected as legendary status.”
Follow $amhill on Twitter @MoeMiller96 and lookout for the full album “The $amhill Story” coming later this year.