AG: Andre's New Posse
- Words: Jesse Serwer
Andre Barnes (a.k.a. AG) no longer lives in the Patterson Houses-where he saw Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizzard Theodore scratching in the park as a small child, and scribbled the impeccable rhymes on Showbiz and AG's impossibly mature Runaway Slave LP as a teenager-but he's still very much a part of the tapestry here.
"These are quiet projects, but you wouldn't believe the violence that goes on here at night," notes the diminutive rapper as he enters the South Bronx housing complex, stopping to chat with some old friends. Across the street, a mural promoting his 1999 solo debut, The Dirty Version-and also paying homage to each of his fellow soldiers in the legendary Diggin' In The Crates crew-remains intact along the side of a Chinese restaurant, six years later. "People always want to put posters there but the owner always says, ''You gotta call AG.''
While he now lives across the borough, on a typical day you'll find AG at his boy Woo's place, indulging in his favorite vice: playing sports videogames with friends for bragging rights and money.
"Competition is big in the hood," AG says. "It gives you an opportunity to show how good you are-people here don't often get those opportunities. So we take this shit serious. We've played for around $500 a game-not against each other, ''cause the arguments get out of hand, but we'll go play five guys in another building."
Harnessing that competitive energy while a student at DeWitt Clinton High School in the late '80s, Andre The Giant-the moniker's a reference to his lyrical vastness (eventually shortened to AG)-entered the harsh world of Bronx freestyle ciphers, where he battled and immediately befriended DITC founder Lord Finesse. Through Finesse he met Showbiz and, finding chemistry with the MC/producer, the pair quickly took matters into their own hands, self-releasing their Soul Clap EP in 1990. They sold the EP out of Show's trunk before signing as the first act on Payday Records. The result was the visionary Runaway Slave (1991) and its back-to-basics follow-up, Goodfellas (1995). But in 1998, around the time of Show and AG's Full Scale, and his own The Dirty Version, AG says he found himself falling back.
"Whether I didn't like where hip-hop was going or I didn't like dealing with the phony people in this business, I just did the music and let other people do the rest," he admits. "That's over with now. Lyrically, I'm at my prime and I'm out to let people know that. There's a purpose for me, after 17 years, to still look and feel young; to flow like this. I have to show the people that reason, feel me? It's like I've been resurrected."
For his latest project, the soon-to-be-released Get Dirty Radio, AG stepped away from the Bronx (for the most part, although Finesse and Show each contribute a beat) and headed to California, where he hooked up with Look Records' DJ Design. At the Look office in San Francisco, Design introduced AG to producers he'd heard about, like Madlib and J Dilla, and ones he hadn't, like Dabrye and Madlib's brother, Oh No.
"When I got these beats, it just took me back. I feel producers like Madlib [and] Dilla are an extension of Diggin' In The Crates. It was like putting something that people know from Diggin'-myself-and mixing it with people that were influenced by Diggin' and making one package."
As Design puts it: "AG was someone who all the producers running the underground now grew up listening to. I thought if we could put him together with this new wave of producers, it would bring AG a whole new audience, bring about some interesting collaborations, and be a good opportunity for my label. Everyone I talked to immediately wanted to be on this."
The only guest voices on Get Dirty Radio's 17 filler-free tracks are those of DITC's Party Arty; Lil' Rose, a 13-year-old family friend embarking on a rap career; and Aloe Blacc, who adds a pair of hooks on "Take A Ride" and "Hip Hop Quotable." Cross-referencing AG's previous solo effort, The Dirty Version, the title refers to a back-to-basics, DITC-inspired approach to hip-hop. "Hip-hop isn't meant to be clean," says AG. "It's for the artist that has a nasal problem, or doesn't look so cute. Hip-hop started 'cause no one was listening to us kids in the Bronx. It was saying, ''They wouldn't let me in anyway so I want to go further to the left.'' Now our music is blending in with clean music-that has me upset. If we keep making music in that direction we'll have no culture left for people who want to say ''Fuck America.'' Not saying I want to say that, but there's a bunch of kids here that need to let the world know what's going on. And if they clean the music up, you'll never know."
Still Diggin': Where are Diggin in the Crates now?
The Bronx-centered vanguard of authentic hip-hop since the late 1980s, the DITC crew has followed divergent paths since Big L's 1999 murder and the release of their self-titled group LP in 2000. Here's what the core members have been up to.
The least visible member, super-producer Buck is cashing the most checks, with production credits on The Game's Documentary and 50 Cent's The Massacre. Black Rob's "Whoa" and Biggie's "I Got A Story Tell" are among the all-time classics he's laced.
The DITC elder statesman has often gone AWOL since crafting the 1992 masterpiece Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop, but he's about to follow up 2004's self-released Grown Man Talk with Needful Things, an album featuring rhymes from producers like Alchemist and Nottz.
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