Rap Draft with UpNorthTrips (’90s Edition)

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

Yeah booooyyyy. We’re here with another edition of Rap Draft, and this time, we’re gonna hop in the DeLorean and head back to the ’90s with our brethren at UpNorthTrips. For those of you who are somehow still unfamiliar with the greatness that is UpNorthTrips, let’s be clear: it is not a blog. As the site’s founder Ev Boogie puts it, it is a “curated experience,” highlighting the illest and rarest throwback hip-hop, sports, and street culture images. Dubbed on the header “Your Memory’s Museum,” Ev brilliantly posts classic photos, videos, advertisements, show flyers, and other keepsakes, and also commemorates historic moments with daily anniversary posts (yeah, UNT fathered that), while still managing to throw up the latest hot shit, too. Plus, UpNorthTrips comes correct with killer original mixes courtesy of their in-house DJ The Vinylcologist. In short, if you’re looking to take a trip down memory lane, and simultaneously stay relevant with what’s popping now, the URL you need is UNT. And first-time visitors take heed, UpNorthTrips has been around since 2009. Don’t sleep, their archives are deep.

To flip the style on our Rap Draft feature, we tapped our guy Ev Boogie to give us an all ’90s roster of his fantasy rap team, UpNorthTrips style. Sure, our expert drafters Dante Ross and Dallas Penn gave us a look at what current artists and front office folk they’d want down with their team in 2013, but we wanted to get a feel for what an UpNorthTrips ’90s Dream Team would look like. Check out the UpNorthTrips squad below, featuring a breakdown of owner Ev Boogie’s selections, and his pick of classic flicks to match them from the UNT stash. Tadow.

1. East Coast Rapper – Ghostface Killah

Ev Boogie: “I’m picking Ghostface to not only be on my team, but to be the captain of the team. He would also represent the team’s logo, which would be the big eagle bracelet that he wore. He’s in a handful of artists that had both lyricism as well as charisma and style. I put him in the same category as Grand Puba and Slick Rick, who were able to convey that style and storytelling, and still be captivating and relevant. And Ghost has that versatility. He can do those street records, and still take it to that place like ‘All That I Got is You’ and ‘Motherless Child,’ which were more like records with a message, and still be dope on them.”

2. West Coast Rapper – Ice Cube

“During the era when Cube was out in the ‘90s, he personified what gangster rap was. And he also had the versatility of being really street but being really political also. He carried those two, and I don’t think he was ever questioned either way he decided to go. Death Certificate, which came out over twenty years ago, was one of, and still is, my top five favorite albums ever. Most people don’t know that Death Certificate was recorded primarily on the East Coast with The Bomb Squad. It’s West Coast sounding rap with an East Coast production style.

“Cube would be like the locker room coach. He wouldn’t be the manager, but he’d be the dude to hold down the whole team. He’s the like the player/coach, who could lead the team, but still play minutes.”

3. South Rapper – Scarface

“There’s this theme here of rappers that are storytellers, and no one embodies Southern storytelling more than Scarface. He would be that dude you could count on in crunchtime. He’s clutch. Like, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, down by three runs with two outs, he’s the guy you want coming up to the plate for you. There’s no question that he’s coming to just work, and do what he does. And he’s not flashy about it.”

4. Midwest Rapper – Common

“Common is the Rickey Henderson of the team. He’s the dude who’s quick on the bases, and he’s got a little pop in his bat. Through the ‘90s, Common went through this transformation. It was kind of like Barry Bonds coming into the game as a really skinny dude in the beginning of his career, but towards the end of it he beefed up and got some muscle to him. Common is the type of rapper who would fit the sports analogy, ‘He plays good D.’ He’s the person I want on my team to hold the pace of the game.”

5. Utility Rapper – Guru (above left)

“Guru is easily to me one of the most unheralded rappers ever. His premature death put him in a place where he got clumped up with rappers who died, but really, his music was powerful. I really don’t think there’s been a duo like DJ Premier and Guru to have a relationship that occupies that type of space. A producer who’s had that longevity, and an artist that can also make these records that were street yet they had an edge to them where when you listened to a Gang Starr album, you came away with some sort of education. And of course, the voice. You can’t deny the voice of Guru. He’s like the pitcher on the squad who’s got that curveball. He’s got that element that you can’t really account for. Guru always had something special.”

6. Rapper/Producer – Diamond D

“Two words why Diamond D’s on my squad: Anthony Mason. The only rapper to put Anthony Mason in a rap video. Do I need to say more? He is the Anthony Mason of rap. He’s a dude who you don’t want to get caught under the boards with because his production level will knock you out the box, and there was still finesse to him. And Diamond D, who was a big dude, handled himself like he was a skinny dude. The same way Anthony Mason brought the ball up and thought he was a point guard, Diamond D thought he was this skinny dude out there. He didn’t care that he was big, kind of just like how Biggie was, or Pun was. Diamond D was the unheralded version of the big man rapper. He pre-dated those guys. And he had style to him. Anthony Mason had the fly haircut, and if you remember, Diamond D rocked the Jordans on the cover of his album. So there was that perfect mixture of both gangster and finesse.”

7. Producer – Showbiz (above left)

“There are so many great producers from the ‘90s. At first, I wanted to go with Lord Finesse. But the person who I chose for this slot was Showbiz from D.I.T.C., one-half of Showbiz and A.G. Show had that industry respect because at the time that ‘90s sound was best represented by those D.I.T.C. records he produced for his group with A.G. as well as his camp, but Show also demanded that street respect. He’s a dude from the Bronx who commanded respect. He was the silent general of the whole D.I.T.C. movement. And I would be remiss not to include someone like that on my team. Yeah, this team might not have all the flashy ball-handlers, but they have veteran skills and the respect of their peers.”

8. Producer – RZA

“I paid my homage to Primo when I introduced Guru to the team, but with a producer like RZA, when the Wu-Tang sound came out, it changed the game. And that’s undeniable. It was this gritty, street, unfiltered sound, with off-tempo beats. And he not only mastered that with the early Wu-Tang records, but he even managed to flip it and do joints like ‘Ice Cream’ and ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ that in their time controlled the airwaves. If the ‘90s had anything like crossover records, those were examples of dope ones. And RZA is the center. He’s the Patrick Ewing. You build the Wu-Tang Clan around The Abbot. So this team’s nucleus starts with the RZA.”

9. R&B Singer – Mary J. Blige

“There’s only one name for this: Mary J. Blige. Mary was able to do the raw, street records in the ‘90s, and could also get her hair all done up and come out and drop some crazy records for the females. I know Guru’s my utility rapper, but Mary’s my utility artist. She can do anything. She could even drop some bars. On ‘What’s the 411?’ she dropped some bars! She’s an R&B singer who can do everything.”

10. DJ – Stretch Armstrong

“Stretch is not only responsible for breaking some of the most seminal acts in the ‘90s that we still know now, but his mixtape career was pretty serious, too. He was a dude who got into radio, got into producing and made some records with artists like Lil’ Kim and Jay Z and Capone-N-Noreaga, and he did it in the mixtape game, too. I wouldn’t put him in any statistical category, but he’s like the dude that comes up, bats .300, hits 30 home runs, and has 100 RBIs. He’s your 22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists type of player. He’s out there doing everything.”

11. Executive – Steve Rifkind (above left)

“The prototype for the white rap executive is Lyor Cohen, but the second coming of that was Steve Rifkind. The name Steve Rifkind is synonymous with Loud Records. He took the throne for hip-hop labels in the ‘90s. He’s the coach of the team that rides for all his players. He put together an ill roster, taught them what they need to do, and gave them a lane to play. Loud Records was hugely influential throughout the ‘90s for New York hip-hop. Not only just the records they put out, but Loud Records changed the way you marketed a record. Their marketing, with the street teams, the promo van, the promo tours, and the retail merchandising, really upped the ante in terms of the way rap records were marketed.”

12. Press – Bonz Malone

“Bonz Malone was a writer in the ‘90s who probably wrote for every publication that you read if you were a hip-hop magazine reader at the time. He was the dude who not only wrote for magazines, but he was a part of the scene, which is something you don’t see much nowadays. He could really cover what was going on, because he was in the field reporting live. If there was a position on the team for him, it would be somewhere between the talent scout and the statistician. He’s like the guy who doesn’t step on the court to play, but he’s extremely integral with the way the team’s development goes. He’s a strategist in a sense. There were so many stories that were reported throughout the ‘90s that he had his hand involved in.”

13. Photographer – Ricky Powell

“For those that don’t know how important photography is to hip-hop, all they need to do is take a look at UpNorthTrips. It’s the basis of what we do. And Ricky Powell was the original candid hip-hop photographer. Actually, he was a candid New York City photographer, and he happened to be there when hip-hop was really coming out of its shell. Whether it was Andy Warhol or Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy or the Beastie Boys, Eddie Murphy or Mike Tyson, he was in the right place at the right time. Some of my personal favorite pictures ever are the candid, black and white photos that Ricky Powell shot. He’s also famous for being behind the fish-eye lens that shot some of the most iconic pictures of Big L in the later ‘90s. He was a man whose camera-work spanned the entire decade.”

Team Name – Crushproof

“Not Krush Groove, Crushproof. This team is indestructible, it can’t be crushed. Also, old Newport boxes used say they were ‘crush proof.’ And there’s something about seeing an old Newport box on a city street that really reminds me of the grittiness of the ‘90s, and what this team represents.”

First Single

“For the first single, I have to take a time machine back to the days when it wasn’t about radio play. I want Showbiz on the beat, because I want that hard, heavy-sounding, New York feel to it. And I would want Mary J. on the hook, because that Showbiz sound with Mary’s voice would be ill. And I would put Ghostface on there. I know that’s not a new idea, because Ghost and Mary have done records together, but the idea of hearing them over a Showbiz beat is pretty crazy. And I would call it ‘White Walls.’ I have no idea why, but that’s what it looks like to me when I envision it.”

Posse Cut

“The posse cut is going to have three of my favorite MCs on it: Ghostface, Ice Cube, and Scarface. RZA’s going to produce the beat, and for every verse, the beat changes. It’s kind of an homage to when Primo used to do the records like ‘I’m the Man’ and ‘Speak Ya Clout,’ where he flipped the beat differently for each MC. It’s gonna start with Cube, then Ghost, then Scarface.

“And I would want the video to be shot really grainy on a VHS recorder. It would look like raw footage. It wouldn’t be all polished and colorful. It would just be a really rough, rugged video. And it would be shot in an abandoned warehouse. It wouldn’t really need to be a geographical location because you have people from all over on the song. That idea of where people are from is a real 2000s thing. For this, it could just be in a basement or a warehouse.”

Photos via UpNorthTrips (Bonz Malone photo via Babylon Falling)

Previously: Rap Draft with Dallas Penn | Rap Draft with Dante Ross