Friday, August 5, 2011

August 5: Kool Moe Dee, "How Ya Like Me Now"

Artist: Kool Moe Dee
Song: "How Ya Like Me Now"
Album: How Ya Like Me Now
Year: 1987

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All across every genre of music, there are certain trends that seem to rise again with each generation, and though the aspects themselves are unique, their recurring nature is absolutely universal.  Whether it is the excess of rock and roll, the "dues paying" of jazz, or any other such reality, one cannot deny their persistence through the generations, and this reality is no more clear than when it come to the "rap feud."  Though many believe that this interaction of sorts was a side effect of the rise of "gangsta rap," the reality is that such incidents had been happening as long as hip-hop had existed, and this is no more clear than when one delves into the catalog of Kool Moe Dee.  Unquestionably one of the most important figures in all of hip-hop history, Kool Moe Dee was a part of The Treacherous Three, one of the first "hip-hop crews," and their influence continues to penetrate the current hip-hop scene.  After striking out on his own, Kool Moe Dee released a handful of equally essential records, and as he rap style itself began to grow, the way in which other emcees "borrowed" his style became a source of frustration which he took out in his own rhymes.  Though in modern times it is largely a forgotten event, the feud he had with LL Cool J throughout the latter part of the 1980's was one of the biggest stories in music, and on many levels, Kool Moe Dee answered all doubters as to his abilities and status in hip-hop with his iconic 1987 single, "How Ya Like Me Now."

When it comes to the music and production on "How Ya Like Me Now," it is as classic as one can find anywhere in hip-hop, with the songs' structure built around a sample from James Brown's, "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag."  Over these horn and guitar breaks, producer Moe Dewese places a sharp set of beats, highlighting the techniques upon which the rest of hip-hop was built.  This simplistic structure allows for the focus to stay on the rhyming, yet at the same time, it does not seem under-produced or stark at any point.  Each loop of the combined sounds hit harder and harder, and one can easily picture the song being blasted from car stereos.  It is also the perfect balance in beats and music that makes this arrangement one of the "go to" selections for free-styling, as it has an ideal pace and power upon which any emcee can hone their skills.  This emphasis on the "one" beat also help to punctuate the overall mood that Kool Moe Dee conveys through his rhymes, and the song as a whole is one of the finest fusions of emotion in both lyrics and music.  The various additions such as horn and keyboard progressions, along with the scratching give "How Ya Like Me Now" a "golden age" feel that is on par with the most beloved tracks in hip-hop history, again cementing Kool Moe Dee's place in such a category.

However, while the musical arrangement is certainly one that has achieved a revered status, it is the in-your-face rhymes of Kool Moe Dee that have turned "How Ya Like Me Now" into a true hip-hop classic.  Bringing a power and force that was rather uncommon in the world of hip-hop at the time, Kool Moe Dee ensures that every word is completely clear, guaranteeing the maximum impact of every line.  With each rhyme, one can easily picture his body movements, as he commands the complete attention of the listener, embodying everything it means to be a great emcee.  Yet this focus and force are supported by the fact that "How Ya Like Me Now" is one of the most unapologetic "battle" rhymes ever recorded, as Kool Moe Dee sets his sights on LL Cool J and holds nothing back in his thoughts.  At the time, Kool Moe Dee felt that LL Cool J had completely "bitten" his style, and yet was not giving credit where it was due, so Kool Moe Dee asserts his long list of reasons as to why he himself was the "originator" of the "hardcore" rap style.  There is no question as to his aim when he rhymes, " you think I feel to see another MC, gettin' paid , using my rap style, and I'm playn' the background meanwhile..."  It is in this thought where Kool Moe Dee compares himself to James Brown in the way that hip-hop had used his music without proper credit, and the combination of hard hitting lyrics and a fierce vocal presence is what solidified Kool Moe Dee's place as one of hip-hop's most important performers.

Along with the lyrical assault on LL Cool J, there are far more subtle elements at work in the feud all across "How Ya Like Me Now."  The cover of the album (which shares the same name), shows Kool Moe Dee in a fighters' stance in front of a Jeep, and if one looks closely, there is one of LL Cool J's "trademark" red Kangol hats being crushed beneath one of the wheels.  Kool Moe Dee also challenges LL Cool J to a live battle on the track, and while he has reiterated this dare many times over the years, it has never been accepted.  As the years passed, both emcees claimed victory in the feud, and as "gangsta rap" began to dominate the world of hip-hop, the conflict became somewhat forgotten.  However, the power of "How Ya Like Me Now" has not diminished in the least, and it continues to serve as the blueprint for "battle raps."  Furthermore, there are actually two different recordings of the song, as the album version contained a handful of verses that are not found on the far more well-known single version of the song.  Regardless of which take one hears, the essence and power of the track are never lost, and there is never any question as to the superb talents that Kool Moe Dee possesses in every aspect of being an emcee.  The way in which his top-notch vocal skills are blended with the harsh, simple beats is as good as early hip-hop gets, and there are few songs that can command the same respect as Kool Moe Dee's classic 1987 single, "How Ya Like Me Now."

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