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from the mainstream back to the underground
by: Rahul Reddy

I remember when I first got into underground hip-hop. I used to be a Hot 97 groupie, bought DMX and Mase's albums respectively. Now I cry whenever I think about it. Anyways, after a stint with mainstream obsession, I started to get into underground hip-hop. The artist that turned my radars on to true lyricism, tight beats, and dope rhyme topics was Canibus. Canibus opened my eyes to a whole different aspect of hip-hop when I was an ignorant fan. The flow he employed combined with his rhyme schemes earned him respect throughout the underground and mainstream. Canibus has gone through a long journey from being loved in the mainstream, to hated, and now to underground respect.

This story starts in Jamaica in 1974 when Canibus was born Germaine Williams. His parents suffered a divorce, and he moved around a lot with his mom because of her occupation as a housing project manager. He lived in places like Washington D.C., Atlanta, Jersey, and London. Of course with all that moving around, Germaine had issues with finding friends and enjoying a current environment. Canibus got into fights a lot he'd say, and never could really relate to anyone. He later discovered hip-hop, and found something he could get into to and started his ascension to stardom.

Aligning himself with another emcee named Webb, Canibus and him combined to make T.H.E.M. Canibus and Webb got a lot of notoriety from a famed freestyle session they had with the Wu Tang Clan outside of an Atlanta club? In 1995, the Wu pretty much ran the rap industry with releases of classic solo records. Canibus and Webb completed a 17 track demo in hopes of getting signed. Shortly after, Webb and Canibus split up. There was no specific reason cited, but the two emcees parted ways. Canibus ended up becoming a General Manager at Group Home Records in 1997, right before he blasted into the game.

Canibus was always known as a smart cat, he used his position at Group Home to start recording freestyles and getting his name out.? Canibus immediately got love from the streets as his freestyles were commonplace on mixtapes by powerhouse DJ Clue. The first Canibus track I heard was a freestyle on a DJ Clue tape. He spits "Canibus is the lyrical version of German Engineering". As soon as his metaphors started to hit my dome, I was sucked in and joined the forming Canibus fanbase. I wasn't used to these kind of raw lyrics, I was an MTV junkie. I preferred my hip-hop videos with booze, honeys, and bling. Canibus opened up my eyes and ears to true hip-hop, which wasn't about all that materialistic garbage, just about dope beats and ill lyrics. Canibus's music inspired me to delve into the underground, and the rest is history.? As Canibus's freestyles started to get more listens, more and more people wanted more music from him.

After a host of appearances with groups like Lost Boyz and Common Sense, Canibus was aided by Jay-Z in finding a home to record his music. Jay-Z introduced Canibus to Wyclef, and Wyclef knew he had to sign Canibus. LL Cool J met Canibus shortly after, and they collaborated together on "4,3,2,1", which spawned one of the most interesting and famous battles in hip-hop history.

LL Cool J was on top of his game, a legend who was still selling records by the millions. No rapper really had gone at LL in a while since LL Cool J was infamous for lacing rappers.? Canibus kicked a rhyme on "4,3,2,1" that was taken as a direct attack against LL, "I snatch your crown witcha head still attached to it". LL Cool J ended up recording a subtle diss right back at Canibus on the same track!? After a few bad words, the beef's effect on Canibus's career would change him forever.

It was 1998, I was in the car with my mom when I first heard "2nd Round K.O." Canibus's first official diss of LL Cool J. I turned up the dial to max and just zoned out as my mom was yelling at me to turn "that racket the f*#k off!!". Before that, I hadn't really heard a diss track in hip-hop. I was blown away at the way Canibus got at LL Cool J. Mike Tyson was featured on the track talking about being a warrior and what not. What's funny is that Tyson kinda confuses Canibus as Cannibal, and says "Canibus just eats, eats, eats emcees". You gotta love Iron Mike. "2nd Round K.O." was Canibus's coming out party, as MTV News and other sources fed this beef with extensive coverage. Since Canibus came out firing hard as hell, his proverbial stock shot through the roof. "2nd Round K.O." was the lead single to his first solo album in 1998, Can-I-Bus. The album skyrocketed to #2 on the Billboard charts, turning Canibus to lyrical wonder to rap star.

Wyclef helmed the album, which was looked at as a problem by a lot of Canibus fans including myself. The album was too mainstream for me, it didn't have enough battle tracks like "2nd Round K.O." or dope lyrics like his infamous freestyles. Can-I-Bus ended up going gold, meaning it sold 500,000 copies. Soon after Canibus's success, LL Cool J came back at Canibus on the vicious diss track "The Ripper Strikes Back". This wasn't Canibus's biggest problem though. He had issues with Wyclef. The two had creative differences and soon Canibus left Wyclef's camp. After "The Ripper Strikes Back," LL and Canibus never had too many official releases against each other. Some say LL Cool J won the battle since he continued to sell records while, as you will learn, Canibus did not. What I say to that is, listen to LL Cool J's last two albums. You won't find worse music unless you asked Kelly Osbourne to a collaboration album with Ja Rule.

After Canibus left Wyclef, he worked on a new LP still under Universal.? He asked artists like Pharoahe Monche and Journalist to lyrically assist him.? The new LP, 2000 B.C., also revealed the super emcee group, The Horsemen. Ras Kass, Kurupt, Killah Priest, and Canibus combine to make this group, who all spit on "Horsementality." This LP was for the hip-hop fans as it featured dope production and raw lyrics. On the title track, Canibus apologizes for the last album cause "Motherf*ckin' Wyclef spoiled it." 2000 B.C. didn't sell though, it opened at a meager 23 in comparison to his last album, and didn't even go Gold. However, fans like me adored the album. Too bad Universal Music group didn't feel the same way. Canibus was soon no longer a part of the label.

An underground hip-hop fan in my opinion stays by his artist as opposed to your run of the mill mainstream hip-hop groupie who just tends toward what is pop at that particular time. Artists come and go in the mainstream, but in the underground, I find that artists get a fan base that's solid. Canibus needed that after releasing the independent "C" True Hollywood Stories in 2001. Canibus showed his resiliency against mainstream standards for the first time. He wasn't Wyclef's signee anymore, he was his own artist. Sadly, this album wasn't good at all. It was abstract Canibus that I wasn't used to. I was a fan of his fresh lyrics and insane flow. Canibus again takes a shot at a hip-hop mainstay, this time Eminem. He acts like Stan, Eminem's fictional fan, and starts dissin Em. I'll be honest, the diss was pretty weak. Eminem was on the top of his game, a frail diss by Canibus had no chance of stopping his momentum. Luckily, within a year Canibus rebounded with a dope independent release.

It's 2002 and Canibus drops Mic Club: The Curriculumon his own imprint, Mic Club. By this time Eminem has already busted a shot at Canibus on the Dre banger "Square Dance" off the immensely popular album, The Eminem Show. Instead of going back to his mainstream ways and relying on disses for fame he comes correct independently. His lyrics aren't generic like before. Canibus starts to bring in more scientific references. The lyrics are most definitely over the head of the average fan, but his flow was back in action. "Poet Laureuate" redefined Canibus as an artist, as he spits lyrics about his obsession with the microphone. He doesn't battle rap like a stereotypical artist, Canibus does his own thing.

Canibus released his latest CD, Rip the Jacker, in 2003 to acclaim. He takes his lyrics to another level, to the point where you need a Ph.D. just to understand what Canibus is spittin'. Most artists dumb down their topics so they can get a large fanbase, but Canibus isn't about that anymore. He spits what he wants on this record, not what a mainstream artist like Wyclef would have wanted. He even describes the creation of the weak "C" True Hollywood Stories and disses to Eminem, due to depression. The creation of this album is truly original. You see, Canibus decided to join the army, and actually recorded this whole album accapella. Stoupe of Jedi Mind Tricks then matched beats with Canibus's lyrics, a style of hip-hop that is rarely ever seen. This just goes to prove how ill and original of a lyricist Canibus is.

Canibus's emcee career mimics his childhood, as Canibus would pick fights with hip-hop heavyweights like schoolyard bullies, and still hold his own. He does his own thing now, he's no longer a mainstream tool. Canibus actually just came back from serving in Iraq. His reasons for fighting the war are shrouded in secrecy, but it's a fact that he did go to Iraq for a period of time. Canibus has transformed from a mainstream fad to a respected underground artist, and Rip the Jacker only exemplifies this fact.

So what's next for Canibus? Chino XL has dropped info that there will be a Horsemen LP, which will be one of the most anticipated CD's in 2004. Canibus is also going to collaborate with hip-hop legend Jeru the Damaja and Shabazz the Disciple for a full length LP. Both albums will most likely be released under the radar of the likes of MTV/BET. Canibus, whether mainstream or underground, is a pure lyrical machine, and IS like German engineering. Smooth, precise, and the f*#king sh&t when it's on point.


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