People are always arguing over who is the greatest emcee of all time, as if it could possibly be decided. Is it Biggie or Tupac, the iconic James Deans of rap? Is it Rakim, the lyrical genius? Chuck D, the Marv Albert of game-calling hip hop? Weezy? Jay Z? Jeezy? I don’t really care who the best is, it’s stupid and trivial.
My favorite of all time is Russell Jones, aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Osiris, Big Baby Jesus, Dirt McGirt, Ason Unique – the list of monikers goes on and on.
I’ve been met with heavy criticism from many angles in this obsession; I’ve been accused of “ironically” liking him to “point and laugh at the ghetto-ass motherfucker”, just as I’ve been called "retarded" for not immediately citing either Big or Pac. Sorry to be real about my personal taste, but no rapper has ever moved me in the ways that Ol’ Dirty has moved me. The one thing that cannot be challenged is the simple fact, a quote from Wu-Tang’s first album by Meth – “There ain’t no father to his style.” Period. Ason Unique is so for a reason. “This is why, this is why, this why!”
I somehow identify with Russell Jones. Not in the sense that you’re thinking, but in the artistic sense. My greatest achievements on all art fronts have been from moments that were completely not rehearsed or planned; moments that I was enraptured with what I was doing. It’s obviously coming from a place of thought, yet releases itself in its own way in pure passion that you can’t truly claim to have “thunk it through”. People may argue with me here, but I believe that was what is Mr. Osiris. And his first solo album, Return to the 36 Chambers, is all of these things: a concept album, a dramatic play - dished out in several acts, an energy completely enraptured, and so pure it is the most unique voice to ever enter the rap game; so pure, because it is completely giving and real, with no barriers of self-protection, or concern over any opinion. It is one million percent swagger in oneself, to the infinite degree.
“Shimmy Shimmy Ya” is probably his greatest hit, and that makes sense to me. The RZA-laid hooks alone are in need of commemorating; Dirt has the swagger of a thousand men, and delivers nonstop verses of some of the most original combinations of rapping and singing that anyone has ever heard of, up to this point. Don’t forget the reversed verse; I don’t believe anyone’s ever done that before or after, either. But most folks took this track and moved on; this is where they were wrong beyond reprieve.
The one thing that most people forget is that this album is the equivalent of a walking tour with the man himself. It is the realest foray into the depths of going out drinking with the most raw type of genius you would ever experience – someone’s probably going to get hurt along the way.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Brooklyn Zoo”– I had purchased the TAPE, so that I could rock out in my Hyundai to it (luckily I had a sick bass-booster), and my initial reaction to this was not much different to somebody freaking out over a “Blair Witch Project” or “Paranormal Activity” movie; I was scared shitless. No lie. I was completely taken with terror over the very thought of setting foot in the city of Kings. Little did I know that I would be at home here only a few years later, but that’s another story. I will say, however, that it tasted very much like this song when I moved here – now it tastes of something completely different, perhaps something gluten-free, and safe for white folks like myself.
“Rawhide” is probably the heaviest cut on the entire album (I’m biased, since it was my favorite for many years, although that title has been changed to “all” since) – once again, Russell is compelled to remind you not to fuck with him, that what is real is dangerous, and, well, fucking real. But at the same time, he maintains his place atop the mantel as being a clown, a freestyle guru, and an open-minded, experimental genius. This song encapsulates ODB as the unstable-yet-incomparable Uranium that he is; from one minute to another, he goes from goofing around to threatening the entire world. Where else will you hear this sort of thing?
The album encompasses everything frightening, while at the same time remaining positive, even self-deprecating – the interlude of the ladies making fun of the man, without any leftover feeling of resentment from him in any way. As a matter of fact, he somehow finds a way to incorporate childhood games into play, as well as simply singing “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow” over ladies who disagree and attempt to ruin his vibe.
ENTER THE INIBRIATION: DRUNK GAME (SWEET SUGAR PIE)
Ballsiest move by an emcee of all time. He took it there. Yup.
A braggadocio emcee going soft and singing R&B – this never happens. Once again, points for having no shame in the game. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
Not for too long, however; because along this drunken game, he stumbles into that moment of “check”, where one goes from inebriated bliss to hardcore over the possibility that someone is, in fact, biting your flow. You must always keep this in check, if you know what I’m saying.
And now, with Brooklyn Zoo II, we’re just dead drunk.
This is the embodiment of being highly drunk, and I’ve never encountered any other example of anything remotely close to this. From repeating verses, to the recap of the album, to the live interlude – the philosophically brilliant commentary about what it is to be “drunk”: “When you drunk, all you can see is fuckin’ light, man – that’s all I know, and that’s all I see…” This is the realest of the realest real real realsies realtor. He hides nothing, and does so without any shame. We are now (even sober) experiencing his drunken world. He also somehow drunkenly points out some more genius knowledge (this being the era of east coast vs. west coast) in that, if you take the north, the east, the west, the south: that spells NEWS. (what the fuck other person do you know that has come up with that?
After all, isn’t being unpredictable and psychotic to some degree something inherent in every genius?
Russell Jones proves to me that you can never judge a book by its cover. The whole world enjoyed him in a “Jerry Springer” way – meanwhile, underneath it all there was the roughest, unpolished, genius diamond of them all. When we look at all the great artists that were taken from us to substance abuse, why would it be that he not be included in that circle, especially considering I would place him miles above the likes of Joplin, Morrison, Cobain, etc, etc, etc.