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Breath Control: Five Classic Rap Cuts About Breathing

Breath Control: Five Classic Rap Cuts About Breathing

The manipulation or mastery of breath has often played a critical role in hip-hop.

Even without the assistance of turntables spinning or a lunch table available to bang on, a rapper can still be provided percussion accompaniment via human beat-box.

One of the most important traits an MC can possess is flow.

When hip-hop expanded beyond its 1970's New York City-birthed, five borough origins, spreading into other regions across the country during the 1980's, the way rappers definied breathing might symbolize their surroundings or make for a metaphorical milieu.

In L.A., that “8-Ball” made Eazy-E’s breath start stinking.

Up in Seattle, Sir-Mix-A-Lot, long before he became the royal prince of the posterior, revealed that he may have been a fan of fat-asses but definitely not The Fat Boys while declaring “tricky breathing is out, boom music is in” and then ruling with an “Iron (man)” fist.

Way down in Houston, a young “Scarface of the Geto Boys spun gangsta-rap folklore about putting a gun between his enemy’s eyes, ordering “don’t breathe” before adding “he took a breath, and he knew he’d breathed his last breath”.

A decade later on the east side of the South over in ATL, at heretofore unprecedentedly fast rates of track tempo and rhyming speed, Andre 3000 of OutKast told y’all “Hello, Ghetto, Let Your Brain Breathe/Believe There’s Always More, Aaaah!” just before the choir sang about those “Bombs Over Baghdad”.

So inhale deep, much like these songs about breath
We never sleep, ‘cause sleep is the cousin of death
Behold these bars of excellence, as breath is defined
Take your time, to check out a few breathing rhymes

1989

Boogie Down Productions

“Breath Control”

With a young D-Nice on the beat-box and the Blastmaster KRS-One mastering the ceremonies, it’s hard to get more stripped-down-to-basics than this, while still managing to sound so dope, right up to this very day.

Even the seemingly cast-off KRS singing in the beginning before Kris starts his actual verse (a trademark BDP tactic in their early records) would later end up as a hook that the late Bradley Nowell (all the way over in Long Beach playing ska-rock) borrowed to write as the chorus of an early Sublime song.

While “Breath Control” was still relatively early in KRS’ career, it did come almost a full two years after the tragic death of his mentor and Boogie Down Productions DJ/Producer Scott LaRock.

So in a sense, this song’s skeletal remains is a metaphorical display of how the group’s two most notable survivors could carry on.

Four years later and following BDP’s breakup on the autobiographical, DJ Premier-produced career-autobiography cut “Outta Here”, KRS-One would talk of facing the prospect of continuing on without LaRock by rapping: “I knew my breath, was one with his breath”.

1998

Black Star (Mos Def & Talib Kweli) featuring Common produced by DJ Hi-Tek

“Respiration”

The air just got a lot heavier.

One of the finest metaphorical odes to the weight of urban existence in existence.

A personal Top 25 rap single of all-time.

Google’s first three images that come under the silly-ass “conscious rappers” category, sharing mic time during all three of their undisputed rhyme prime.

The Pete Rock-produced “Flying High Remix” version with The Roots’ Black Thought tagging in for Common and Mos Def adding his croon to the chorus is also pretty damn brilliant in its own right but the original’s weathered breath is still traceable in the skyline of hip-hop history. 

1999

Q-Tip

“Breathe and Stop”

From the Sons of the Native Tongues (Mos, Kweli, Comm, Tariq) to one of the original ones, the Legendary Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest.

Yet a decidedly different mood from the prior selection.

Towards the end of 1999 as we all got ready for Y2K’s two-thousand-zero-zero party over oops out of time, The Abstract was ready for a party much like his buddy The Artist.

Tip caught a lot of heat for this, the second single off his platinum-selling Amplfied, the first solo album following the breakup of A Tribe Called Quest.

For one, it was sort of a kissing cousin, if not downright knockoff, of the album’s lead single “Vivrant Thing”.

Or maybe it was all the jiggling eye candy in this video.

Yet for all the ‘sell-out’ catcalls from some of the “true-school” hip-hop fans during the divisive Backpackers vs. Bad Boy era of the late 90’s, the simplicity of this hook’s mantra sounds like something you might’ve heard rock at a Bronx block party back in rap’s early formative days.

While ironically some of the same folks crying foul about this “jiggy” beat crafted by the late great Hall of Fame hip-hop production wizard James Yancey then known then as Jay Dee, are the same people who would later go on to worship at his alter under his now more used moniker, J Dilla.

So 18 years later, just enjoying watching the girls move around and if you ever see your main dog Kamal, for this joint, give that brother a pound.

   2001      Jay-Z      “Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)”     The fall of 2001 was a traumatic season in New York City for obvious reasons.    Notable New Yorker and arguably the greatest rapper of all-time Jay-Z, dropped  The Blueprint  on the very same day the World Trade Center’s towers did.    That album’s now-classic-material provided at least some small musical refuge for the city to take in, while still choking back dust from the debris at Ground Zero.    The album released on 9/11/01’s track listing only contained, in retrospect somewhat ominously, thirteen tracks.    Yet buried underneath the aural rumble created by those thirteen, after almost thirty seconds of silence following the album’s title-track coda “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)”, back comes Jigga with an ode to microphone calisthenics to remind the competition that it’s a marathon not a sprint.

2001

Jay-Z

“Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)”

The fall of 2001 was a traumatic season in New York City for obvious reasons.

Notable New Yorker and arguably the greatest rapper of all-time Jay-Z, dropped The Blueprint on the very same day the World Trade Center’s towers did.

That album’s now-classic-material provided at least some small musical refuge for the city to take in, while still choking back dust from the debris at Ground Zero.

The album released on 9/11/01’s track listing only contained, in retrospect somewhat ominously, thirteen tracks.

Yet buried underneath the aural rumble created by those thirteen, after almost thirty seconds of silence following the album’s title-track coda “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)”, back comes Jigga with an ode to microphone calisthenics to remind the competition that it’s a marathon not a sprint.

2004

Fabolous

“Breathe”

Whooooo!

That’s all you could say the first time you heard this song come on in 2004.

It’s somewhat fitting for this list that this video begins by depicting childbirth.

Fabolous is a descendent of the Brooklyn MC lineage that gave us Jay and B.I.G., while those two shook from the same tree where Big Daddy Kane once set it off.

Meanwhile Jay-Z’s Blueprint had, three years later, birthed two stars behind the boards: Kanye West and Just Blaze.

This ferocious beat Fab was born to rock over was made by the one of them who didn’t later go on to marry Paris Hilton’s big-booty friend, back then dating Brandy’s brother.

Nevertheless, “Breathe” is simply put one of the best bangers set to tape in this millennium.

It’s a testament to this song’s undeniable power that a cut like this, which would typically be considered the “street single” or an album cut favorite, blew down the doors toward pop radio heavy rotation and a Top 10 Billboard spot.

 

Postscript:
Does anyone think they can find anywhere else besides than Something In The Wudder to get as bad-ass a breakdown of a process as seemingly simple as breathing?

Let us know, because if so...

We'll address the haters and under estimators/and ride up on ‘em like they escalators

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