With first week projected sales of 170,000 to 185,000, Meek Mill’s Dreams & Nightmares is poised for an impressive debut. The on-fire Maybach Music Group representative is the latest in a storied line of MC’s to wave the flag for Philadelphia hip-hop. Indeed, over the years Philly has boasted a diverse range of rap talent including Schooly D, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, the Roots, Bahamadia, Beanie Sigel, and Cassidy. So where does Meek Mill fit in with his illustrious predecessors? VIBE presents the 10 Greatest Moments In Philadelphia Hip-Hop.—Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)
10. Cool C Disses The Juice Crew
During hip-hop’s golden era, the diss record proved to be a sure fire catalyst for rap street cred. Roxanne Shante established her legend challenging U.T.F.O. Salt-N-Pepa threw darts at Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew while Boogie Down Production came close to taking down the Juice Crew. And Kool Moe Dee ignited a landmark battle with rhyme behemoth LL Cool J. But one of the most curious records of 1987 came courtesy of up-and-coming Philadelphia rapper Cool C.
Following in the brash footsteps of KRS-One and his Bronx, New York collective, Christopher Roney took on the Marley Marl-led posse with his own brazen track “Juice Crew Dis.” If Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince dealt with PG-rated material, Cool C and his Hilltop Hustlers team traveled in more street worn territory. “Juice Crew Dis” garnered national attention for C, but more importantly it signaled that the Philly rap scene was quite robust and deserved to be taken seriously. A series of albums from Cool C and Hilltop Hustlers cohort Steady B continued the momentum until the pair was convicted on second degree murder charges following a botched 1996 robbery.
9. The Boss Co-Signs Meek Mill
When it came time to build up his Maybach Music Group crew, Rick Ross knew he needed a true, unfiltered (and brazenly loud) voice from the streets to anchor his team of rhymers. Enter Robert “Meek Mill” Williams. The Philadelphia spitter, who had been previously signed to T.I.’s Grand Hustle Records, was already a rising talent in the underground hip-hop circuit from his time as a member of The Blood Houndz.
A well-received series of mixtapes and some serious buzz caught the attention of Ross who recruited Meek to appear on his own 2010 mixtape Ashes to Ashes. By early 2011, it was official: Meek Mill was a made MMG man. With a string of omnipresent singles (“Like A Boss,” “House Party,” and “Amen”) and the release of his Dreams & Nightmares, Meek is now leading the way for a new generation of Philly rhyme sayers.
8. State Property Runs The Streets And Beyond
In the early 2000’s, one of the most impactful rhyme cliques hailed from the City of Brotherly of Love. At their height, Roc-A-Fella’s State Property boasted a roster that included lead rhymer Beanie Sigel (more on Mack later), Freeway, the Young Gunz duo of Young Chris and Neef), Peedi Crakk, Oschino, and Omillio Sparks. After their 2002 soundtrack album for the cult street flick State Property, the two-fisted MC’s followed team leader Sigel with various degrees of solo success.
There was a sneaky diversity to State Property. The crew showed a propensity to deliver chart hits (the crossover radio favorite “Roc the Mic”), ‘hood anthems (Freeway’s exceptional Jay-Z featured “What We Do”), and enough style-changing flows to lyrically influence the rap landscape. Remember, it wasn’t just label boss Jigga taking cues from Young Gunz’ cool-handed, rhyme approach.
7. Philly Becomes The DJ Capital Of The World
During hip-hop’s ‘80s cultural ascendance, Philadelphia was arguably the center of the DJ universe. Let’s start with the region’s two biggest names: Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money. The former, the highly influential partner of the Fresh Prince and the man widely viewed as the creator of the transformer scratch as well as the successor to pioneering turntablists Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash and the late Jam Master Jay. The latter, one half of Cash Money & Marvelous and the winner of the 1987 New Music Seminar Supermen DJ Battle and 1988’s DMC World DJ Championships.
Indeed, Jeff and Cash laid out the blueprint for other aspiring Philadelphia DJ’s who dreamed of achieving more than just shutting down the neighborhood house party. The list of Philly spinners is seemingly endless: respected DJ Spinbad; late mainstream favorite DJ AM; Philadelphia born Atlanta mixtape king DJ Drama; alternative giant King Britt; electronic music DJ Statik; and club favorite PHSH. In Philly, the DJ is still king.
6. Roc-A-Fella Signs Beanie Sigel
“Y'all niggas nuts, like testicles/Hit you up in your apartment building vestibule,” rhymed a menacing Beanie Sigel on the epic 1998 Jay-Z posse cut “Reservoir Dogs.” To say that the stout newcomer came out with a Desert Eagle bang on his major label debut would be a vast understatement. Roc-A-Fella’s much hyped signing delivered on the noise. Sigel’s top 5 Billboard solo introduction, The Truth, proved to be a commercial and critical success.
The Broad Street Bully would go on to lead Philly’s next rhyme wave forming the aforementioned State Property. Perhaps Nas paid the biggest compliment to Sigel on his now infamous 2001 Jay-Z diss track “Ether,” dismissing his then label boss: “Compared to Beans, you wack.”
5. Eve Goes Double Platinum
The truth is Eve Jihan Jeffers should have become a hip-hop footnote after being left on the shelf by Dr. Dre. Yet the one-time Aftermath act broke through big after linking up with the Yonkers, New York Ruff Ryders crew in 1998. Along with DMX and the Lox, Eve more than pulled her weight. Her 1999 debut Let There Be Eve...Ruff Ryders’ First Lady became one of the imprint’s biggest sellers moving over two million copies.
Eve became the third female hip-hop artist to have an album debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts. A well-received television sitcom, clothing line and more hits would follow. But Eve’s impressive run would mean so much more to future female lyricists and her no-nonsense hometown.
4. Philadelphia Radio Pioneer Lady B Makes Her Mark
How much of an impact has radio legend Wendy “Lady B” Clark had on Philadelphia hip-hop? When the WRNB radio host celebrated her 30th year anniversary in the music biz in 2011, global icon Will Smith was there in-studio to congratulate the prominent voice. And for good reason. Lady B was the first Philly DJ to champion hip-hop.
After recording the city’s first commercial rap single (1979’s “To the Beat Y’all”), she kicked off her on-air career at WHAT radio station, and by 1984 Lady B debuted her now legendary Power 99 radio show The Street Beat. Everyone from hometown heroes Schooly D, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and Three Times Dope to out-of-state talents Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and MC Lyte have cited Lady B’s immeasurable influence in breaking a plethora of landmark acts. And she is showing no signs of slowing down. Lady B can currently be heard on WRNB 100.3. in where else? Philadelphia.
3. Schooly D Invents Gangsta Rap
Before Boogie Down Productions dropped 1987’s classic Criminal Minded, Ice T exposed Los Angeles gang life to the rest of the country or N.W.A. broke the whole damn thing open in the late 80’s, there was Schooly D. The groundbreaking MC and producer has been called the first gangsta rapper, a title largely attributed to his game-changing single “P.S.K. What Does It Mean??” It was cool, subversive, dangerous and prophetic. Park Side Killers told the tale. Hip-Hop would never be the same.
2. The Roots Release Do You Want More?!!!??!
As debuts go, the Roots’ Do You Want More?!!!??! was a quirky revelation? A jazz-inflected hip-hop group that played their own instruments—sans turntables and sampling. The ambitious 1995 release showcasing the criminally slept-on MC Black Thought, mercurial lyricist Malik B, drummer/producer/visionary Questlove, and the rest of the Roots crew, could have easily trailed off into gimmicky territory. But the uncompromising act never strayed too far from its rap foundations on such staples as “Proceed,” “Distortion to Static,” and “Silent Treatment.”
Sure, Do You Want More?!!!??! now seems like a quaint snap shot when compared to the Roots more expansive catalogue (among the highlights Illadelph Halflife, Things Fall Apart, Game Theory, and How I Got Over). But without their opening salvo, there would be no road warrior reputation as the hardest touring band in show business; no Okayplayer.com; no Grammy-winning acclaim; no backing band heroics for Jay-Z, Eminem, and Nas; and no house band duties for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Philly’s finest, indeed.
1. Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince Take Over Middle America
In 1988, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince was unavoidable. They ruled radio and MTV with their boy-next-door single “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” picking up Grammy’s first hip-hop award for Best Rap Performance; proved their B-boy credentials on the concert show-stopper “Brand New Funk;” and moved an astounding three million copies of their sophomore double album He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper.
Amid the complex lyrical street genius of Rakim, the fiery black nationalism of Public Enemy and the obscene ‘hood escapades of Niggas With Attitude, the Philadelphia duo came off as brazenly family-friendly. For many suburban hip-hop fans, Jeff and Prince represented their introduction to the artform. Still, the duo earned respect for never trying to walk outside their sunny confines. No tough guy posturing. Just a turntable god and a future Hollywood heavyweight who could also rap his ass off.