To vehemently transmit a resonating message in our modern society, an individual must establish oneself as an entity that entirely separates from the pack. Much of the hip-hop ecosystem has become saturated with gimmickry, imitation and recycled materials. The tried and true methods will always utilize flavor, originality and authentic conceptualization. Moreso, it is important to package the product into fully refined and polished material. It is becoming more apparent that the mainstream media can only control our thought patterns to an extent. Following trends and riding fads only last for so long, whereas true artists who experience longevity do so with poise and purpose.
Year after year, hip-hop continues to emerge as a leading genre in terms of popularity, revenue and shifting cultural landscape. Many people listen to hip-hop because they enjoy the feeling and rhythm that it provides. True hip-hop listeners enjoy every component of the composition, including the lyrics. A prime example of how hip-hop can catalyze a generation stems back to the nineties. Pioneers such as LL Cool J and Rakim that graced the microphone during that time carved a lane so wide and indubitably cemented themselves within the record books. The essence of that era can never be duplicated. One thing that can be reciprocated and appreciated is the ability to express and experience growth within yourself through the medium of hip-hop.
What most people fail to understand is the difference between a rapper and an emcee. Anybody could be a rapper, for instance Dr. Seuss could be considered a rapper. It takes much more than rhyming to become someone who leaves an eternal imprint within the game. One must practice breath control, vocal inflection and most importantly storytelling. There are multiple different ways to piece together a song and/or write to a beat but what it comes down to is self-knowledge guiding your process at the pace that yields the utmost progression.
Those who continually unravel their story through detailed anecdotes and layered presentations are the ones who are admired the most. Their practices of giving the audience all they have while only choosing to reveal so much speaks volumes to these types of artists and their dominance. By choosing which elements of their being to shed light upon and creating space for other pieces to be heard later, the artist develops a deep level of intrigue that keeps fans honest and attentive to future releases.
Hip-hop has always come down to who does it the flyest. In actuality, it is unfair to say hip-hop comes down to one thing in particular because you must be proficient at everything to be recognized as a legend. With that being said, being fly does not just mean dressing nicely. Doing things in a fly manner means being smooth, delivering results and always being the bigger person. The way a person moves, maneuvers and handles themselves is also considered a part of being fly. To leave a legacy, a modern day emcee must incorporate all of the integral constituents that comprise a thoroughbred enterprise.
Unfortunately, many of the revered hip-hop artists in today’s current climate do not acknowledge those that came before them. Sure, showing homage is commended but it is more important to encompass the methods and differentiating factors shown from those who did it before. Being technically sound and curating a background that illuminates experiences in a profound manner is paramount. The best artists always have more to share and it never gets old because it is always elicited in a refreshing and appealing way.
That brings us to the collective unit that has been restoring the feeling of classic hip-hop through their VHS lens in Hoboken, NY. Vintage on First (Est. 2012) is a vintage thrift store that carries some incredibly coveted pieces of clothing with an archival historic presence. Inside, there are a great variety of exquisite pieces, hence the reason Mark and the Top Shelf Premium brand have been able to generate a plethora of genuine clientele. With all of the connections naturally forged from the apparel, the group of guys at Vintage on First started to devise a plan to increase the awareness of their brand. Considering the fact that the majority of individuals who purchase the apparel are hip-hop artists (or receive influence from the cultural wardrobe) it only made sense to conceptualize a freestyle channel called, “Off Top.”
Recently, the “Off Top” Freestyle has elevated immensely and it originated from an appreciation of the hip-hop culture. They are responsible for ushering in a new wave of talented underground artists in the most organic way possible. The multitude of endeavors and various angles they pursue would lead it to be classified as a “dream series.” It is evident that their program has become the go-to source to discover who can spit from the underground. It is fair to say that the Top Shelf Premium movement is much more than the music.
Some of the best programs tend to sample from individuals and/or eras that have influenced them. The pivotal moment within any movement stems from the ability to harmoniously provide proper balance in the form of multiple meanings. The multiple meanings arrive when wordsmiths toil with literary devices in ways that leaves the listener scratching their head, scrunching their faces or reaching for the rewind button. Presentability is key and everything has been done before, which is why giving audiences authentic versions that build upon the crucial foundation laid originally is so important.
Here are three of the strongest performances from the “Off Top” storefront recordings:
This man glides over the track with such smooth velocity and truly blesses with this performance. As an even-keeled experimentalist, he treats every project like a chapter. With gritty short of breath narratives, he delivers nuanced self-sobering lines while leaving ample space to portray a reflective disposition. Over steadfast production from frequent collaborators within his Mutant Academy, Fly utilizes descriptive texturing to give us a glimpse of his clairvoyance.
Smoke DZA inaugurated the “Off Top” series and tore down the backroom in the Lower East Side on Stanton. As a Harlem descendent of Big L this man signed with Jonny Shipes and Cinematic Entertainment around 2002. Nowadays, he is focused upon shifting his perspective away from solely a “weed rapper.” Clearly an intellectual emcee, he would consider himself someone who uses in-depth language, depictive imagery and aesthetic to share his lifestyles and experiences. With vibrant substance matter, DZA sustains top results and remains a mainstay in the hip-hop ecosystem.
Henny Lo – the L stands for Live the O stands for Observe. This Virginian formulated a cohesive freestyle that deems him one of the top performers of the entire “Off Top” broadcast. He vividly has an intoxicating drive and passion for the sheer sport of hip-hop. Henny Lo embraces the struggle, enjoys the painful process of growth and faces all things head on with bravery and humility. With consciousness and lyrical prowess, be on the lookout for Mutant Academy to push the envelope and create a major resurgence within circles of true hip-hop connoisseurs.
DJ J Hart
The entire “Top Shelf” production would not be possible without this Parisian cat, DJ J Hart. Starting out with his own, “Big Bang” interview show this record spinner received boatloads of inspiration from Wu Tang’s “Enter the 36 Chambers.” His relationship with Sean Price proved to be instrumental as well. DJ J Hart does not view music as his profession because it is what he lives for.
Above all else, the Top Shelf Premium team has provided a platform for positive reinforcement and acknowledgment of the abilities for everyone involved. Stay in tune to their future moves as they will continue to host video freestyles, home grown mixtapes, concerts and festivals. Someway, somehow this next generation will slowly begin to open their eyes and appreciate the art of the craft. Especially, if Top Shelf Premium has anything to say about it.