Backseat Freestyle

By Jayson Rodriguez

Looking At Jadakiss' Legacy Outside Of Top 5 Debates

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Backseat Freestyle
Looking At Jadakiss' Legacy Outside Of Top 5 Debates
By Jayson Rodriguez • Issue #28 • View online
Welcome to Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. (Programming note: I’m a couple days late with this week’s column because I put together a Twitter thread on Puff and the LOX on Friday that was bringing in a lot of new folks to BF so I waited to include them). I also include links to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. If you’re a subscriber, thank you for your continued support. Please share this newsletter with your circle so that they can enjoy too. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of a forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. With that said, let’s get into it….
Sponsor: The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap is a first-of-its-kind multimedia collection chronicling the growth of the music and culture from the parks of the Bronx to solidifying a reach that spans the globe. The set includes 129 tracks on 9 CDs and a 300–page book with essays by some of hip-hop’s leading writers and critics and hundreds of photographs spanning decades of history. Pre-orders are available here.

Jadakiss // Credit: Nolan Persons (Kith)
Jadakiss // Credit: Nolan Persons (Kith)
Front Seat
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
INITIALLY, I planned write about Jim Jones this week. Regular BF readers know I’ve been praising him heavily for his last album, The Fraud Department, among the best projects of the year so far. (Throw Pooh Shiesty, Tyler and Cole’s albums in there, too.) I figured the Diplomats had a path to victory in their Verzuz matchup against the LOX and if they’d won or come close, Capo would be why. I’m tabling the Jim argument (for now) and instead giving flowers to Jadakiss. Kiss was punishing on that MSG stage this past week. The unique nature of Verzuz allowed him to showcase all his best attributes wholly at once. He was brutal with the bars, menacing in his taunts, a touch commercial when it called for it and deep in his bag of features and mixtape material. It was an all-world display that may not have moved Jadakiss up in the all-time rankings but it made his legacy swell like Dipset’s bruised egos.
Back Seat
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
LET’S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY from the jump: Jadakiss is dope at many things. He’s a dexterous rapper with the ability to reach deep into a discography that features everything from R&B guest 16s (Mya’s “Best Of Me,” Usher’s “Throwback”) to boastful solo material (“Kiss of Death” from Ruff Ryder’s Ryde or Die, Vol. 1, “We Gonna Make It”) to scene-stealing cameos (Nas’ “Made U Look” remix, Ghostface Killah’s “Run). Not to mention his close-to-unrivaled mixtape material. Plus, he has as distinct of a voice as hip-hop has ever heard and he rode shotgun for two of the culture’s most iconic labels, Bad Boy and Ruff Ryders. 
His resume is impeccable. 
That doesn’t mean he’s Top 5 dead or alive. He’s not Top 10 either. He’s not even Top 15.  
But the way we determine those lists don’t account for what Jadakiss did earlier this week as a part of the Verzuz battle between the LOX and Dipset. 
A couple months ago in a column titled The Inexact Science of Ranking Rappers I touched on criteria. 
I wrote: 
During our yearly Hottest MCs debates, we also shared this unspoken understanding that we were all operating from the same plane. In the accompanying online editorial, led by Shaheem Reid, he would relay our five beats: skill, success, presence, outside ventures and influence. We also operated with the comfort that we’d be comparing apples to oranges in some cases. 
We as a culture often center the debate over the greats based on a combination of sales charts and plaques, radio rotation and the relationship rapper’s tracks have to the streets. Along with intangibles. It goes without saying when these forces collide, you have moments that cement an artist’s place in the cannon. Think Jay-Z and Vol. 2, Lil Wayne and Tha Carter III, or debuts from Snoop, Jeezy and 50 Cent. 
Cam’ron broached this a bit when he called Jada and crew the “best side bitches” because they were trotting out everybody else’s records they were on instead of their own. 
In trying to maximize his talent, Jadakiss spent years venturing on a limb that wasn’t sturdy enough to secure his success. 
Be clear, however: None of the aforementioned greats could do what Jadakiss did on Tuesday. 
Through a combination of song curation and deft timing with his DJ, charisma and force of personality, and the physical projection and delivery of his voice, Kiss proved himself a totally different type of showman (and animal!) as he pushed his Verzus record to 2-0. (As a solo artist he previously defeated Fabolous.)
It’s through this scope that we should most appreciate Jada’s abilities moving forward. 
Himself, too. 
During LA Reid’s tenure as the head of Def Jam the prevailing notion was that any rap artist’s singles would feature an R&B singer on the hook, thus after two fine Interscope albums we got Kiss coming to market with Ne-Yo on the chorus of “By My Side” for Kiss of Death
On Top 5 Dead or Alive, the grit that preceded the album wasn’t there, replaced by a heavy Southern slab of collaborators over polished beats. 
In trying to maximize his talent, Jadakiss spent years venturing on a limb that wasn’t sturdy enough to secure his success. 
That began to change as a part of his joint LP with Fabolous, Friday on Elm Street
What Jadakiss does is worth more than any committee of outsiders can see or has more value than even his peers and the standard criteria calls for. 
During an interview I did with Fab and Kiss in 2018 they spoke about the specific digital element of the project (check the 8 minute mark). It wasn’t a mixtape and that freewheeling nature, so there was an accountability to the constraints of a proper release. But they also didn’t pursue it with the haughtiness that an album sometimes brings out. 
“I ain’t never trying to be not regular or normal and do what I do,” Kiss said to me when I asked about his approach. “I don’t care what type of platform or what type of collaboration it is. You gotta do you, that’s what the people like you for. That’s how you got where you are today, by doing you.” 
That same ethos powered his most recent solo release, Ignatius, named after his longtime manager, Icepick Jay, who passed after a bout with cancer. 
I spoke to Kiss for that project too right at the onset of the Covid pandemic and he was more somber in the wake of his friend’s passing. But his panache on record was there. I took a run recently and gave the album a listen for the first time since its release and it comes closest to balancing all the things Jada wants: street rhymes, commercial prospects, deep records and Grammy catnip. 
In our interview, he was very upfront about “I Know” and his hopes for that song’s recognition. 
It’s only right he seeks validation for his work, a topic I covered with regard to rap and the Rock Hall of Fame. 
Sometimes, though, a trophy is just a trophy. 
And what Jadakiss does, and specifically what he did during Verzuz, is worth more than any committee of outsiders can see or has more value than even his peers and the standard criteria calls for. 
It’s his calling card.
That might not move him up any all-time rankings but it damn sure secures his reputation as an all-time great. 
Trunk
Music, reads, podcasts and videos (music and more) I’m checking for.
Nas is back with King’s Disease 2 and it might be time to look at his career with a lens like Kobe’s 8 vs 24 years. Certainly since 2012’s Life Is Good Nas has marked a charge toward more mature concepts. His latest is more of the same, with early highlights being “Rare,” “Store Run” and, of course, “Nodbody,” where Ms. Lauryn Hill bars back up. [Listen]
After a lot of freestyles and a Lego partnership track, we have a proper record from Tierra Whack for the first time this year in “Walk The Beat.” It’s a blast of a pair of verses, but like most offerings from the Philly MC they’re sharp. Here’s hoping for more. [Listen]
I might have to officially designate a hardest record of the week category on BF. Last week it was Eladio Carrion’s “Tata” with Daddy Yankee, Bobby Shmurda and J Balvin. This week the honor goes to Rico Nasty’s “Buss,” which rings out with get off me energy. [Listen
It’s coming together for Lil Tecca. His We Love You Tecca 2 is on the way later this year and his new one, “Repeat It,” shows the young gun further rounding into form. I’ve been tracking him a lot in BF and looking forward to his project. [Listen]
Jack Harlow teams with Pooh Shiesty for an effective loosie in “SUVs (Black on Black)” [Listen]
Lil Baby covers Billboard’sR&B/Hip-Hop Power Players issue. Shouts to all my fam that made the list. [Read] [Read]
Water & Music’s Cherie Hu said it best about Travis Scott (paraphrasing): He doesn’t partner with brands, he is the brand that companies are partnering with. The latest? A24 to tease a Utopia film. [Read]
MTV turned 40 recently (I did a short Twitter thread about my time there) and Spin put together this list of the 40 Greatest Music Video Artists. Although Michael Jackson isn’t dethroned, this list by Al Shipley does a good job to remedy hip-hop’s often overlooked visual influence. [Read]
This is a short read but the concept being it is intriguing, with all the changing dynamics in the business between artists and music companies “Labels are going to become more like VCs than they probably want to be.” [Read]
Diddy officially introduces his next era as he formally rebrands himself Love in this Vanity Fair cover story. There’s a line in the piece where Puff says his new label isn’t going to sign artists as much as do partnerships with them. That was the hook for me letting my Twitter thread go, plus the Lox were in the headlines. Just an FYI. [Read]
A retrospective look at UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty and it’s slow march toward classic status. Although, I would argue, it wasn’t slow as much as the album met the moment where regional distance began to shrink with the onset of internet activity, from chat rooms to early digital radio stations, etc. [Read]
Today’s the 10-year anniversary of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne and a while back I was fortunate to speak on the album via The What?! podcast with Mouse Jones and Nyla Simone. Top notch convo. It’s me, but still, I can’t recommend this one enough. [Listen]
Beanie Sigel is charming and candid with N.O.R.E. on Drink Champs. [Listen]
Tyler, The Creator displays a level of thoughtfulness, introspection and maturity mixed in with his trademark zaniness in this remarkable sit-down with the Ebro in the Morning team. [Watch]
Kodak Black and Rod Wave connect for “Before I Go” and there’s not enough Henny in the world to pour out to compliment/complement this one. [Watch]
And you don’t stop. The Senate has officially recognized August 11 as Hip-Hop Celebration Day. [Tweet]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by Jayson Rodriguez for Smarty Art LLC. If you have any comments, questions or want to discuss sponsoring a newsletter issue, feel free to email me: jayson@smartyartllc.com. And follow me elsewhere:
(I added a couple of new links below recently because I might experiment with promoting Backseat Freestyle on TikTok and Clubhouse or Twitch.)
Instagram: @jaysonrodriguez
Clubhouse: @jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: smartyartllc
Podcast: coming soon
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Jayson Rodriguez

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