“Outside of New York, everyone wanted to be like New York. Inside of New York, everybody wanted to be like Harlem.”
From Pleasant Ave. to Broadway, from the Polo Grounds to Jefferson Houses, Harlem is its own Babylon amidst Mesopotamia. More recent generations think about drip when they think about Harlem; old heads remember Harlem as the home of the dope game. At one point, more than 90% of all the heroin that touched down in the United States came through Harlem. I could go even further back and speak on various riots and civil unrest, but you already got the point. Harlem is mecca.
My family spent the better part of a half century in Thomas Jefferson Houses at 210 E. 115th St. in Apartment 2A. To the trained eye, that’s smack dab in the heart of El Barrio, better known as Spanish Harlem. If you know me, you know I was raised in diverse spots. I was born in Southampton. I lived in Washington Heights, #BXNYC, Hempstead, and Bridgehampton as a child. Eventually, I migrated to VA. But NY has always been home. I used to spend summers at 1500 Noble Ave. at my paternal grandparents’ apartment, the building my dad came up in. As soon as I was old enough to work, I came home to spend summers in the X on 1751 Gleason Ave. with my uncle and aunt. But most of my time was spent in Jeff, dating back to the early ‘80s. My dad used to bring me to my Aunt Betty’s crib because that’s where he used to spend his time as a child when he wasn’t raising hell somewhere in the X. No matter where I was, I always ended up at 210. I “cut my teeth” in Harlem, aka the 100 Blocks. My big cousin Nut (Albert Bradley, political prisoner – FREE MY BLOOD) raised me up in the streets. He put me on to everything. I learned all the hustles from those 100 Blocks. I got my first piece of ass in those 100 Blocks. I made PLENTY of money from drugs that came from those 100 Blocks. My big cousin Wendy had the crib on 122nd St. and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. (7th Avenue). Apartment 7G to be exact. I spent plenty of time on the west side and got into plenty of mischief. All the while, those 100 Blocks were my playground. When I moved back up top Summer 2002, I was in the hood every day (literally), even when I lived Jersey side. Eventually, I moved back to the city. And where did I end up after the NYPD raided my establishment and the US Marshals put an eviction sticker on my door on Apartment 2C in 1400 Jesup Ave? Back in Harlem. Back in Jeff. I said all that because I wanted to make my resume known to any motherfucker who might have some dumb shit to say about the type of time I’m on. Let’s get it.
Last week provided what may have been the best Versuz we’ve seen thus far, as legendary squads D-Block (LOX) of Yonkers and Harlem’s own Diplomats hit the stage in the Garden to go track for track, hit for hit. All politics aside, we can all agree that it was an amazing spectacle and a fun ass evening. Damn near everyone I know tuned in. Off rip, there’s no way around it…L-O-X prevailed. Jada proved that he is a rap savant, juicing and plant-based diets are amazing for stamina and breath control, and Harlem niggas gon be Harlem niggas no matter what. Cam was more than fashionably late, Jones came on stage in a whole leather outfit, and Juelz was (over) dressed like it was closer to late October than early August. There was more visible jewelry than in some display booths in Queens Coliseum. They rapped over records (not instrumentals), their playlist strategy was suspect, and they had 118 niggas on stage with them. Shit damn near got a bit out of hand. BUT IT WAS IN MADISON SQUARE GARDEN! AND THEY BLEW IT DOWN HEAVY! That shit really was a movie. But I think a few things need to be addressed.
First off, no one who was riding with the Set was under the false assumption that the Dips hits would dwarf the LOX hits from a “rappity rap” (lyrical) standpoint. That wasn’t the thing. One thing I will admit is I think most people on either side forgot just how many hits the LOX have in their cache. But mixtapes aside, I truly feel a lot of us felt that between all three Diplomats there were enough hits to make it a serious competition. I personally feel that the playlist order plays a MAJOR part in a Versuz. You gotta come out swinging in these settings. If you hold too much of your stash back the other side may have already put an insurmountable lead on the boards before your hits can put things back into perspective. And being that it was in front of an audience of THOUSANDS, the opinion of the crowd weighed heavy. It was evident from about midway through that the LOX had taken control of the crowd. From a body language position, the Dips felt the exact same way. They faded down the stretch while the LOX got stronger. All jokes aside, salute to juicing and vegan diets. The combination sure had those three middle aged humans fit for the competition. And that brings me to the last part of the LOX domination of the Versuz. The LOX treated the Versuz like a Game 7. The Dips treated it like it was a preseason “intrasquad” scrimmage with no refs. As a Harlem MF, it was clearly evident that Cam was only there for the bag and to display drip. That set the tone for the evening, along with him being OD late. Maybe it’s just me, but I think Jones kinda lost interest as the night progressed. His facial expression and energy were off. And God bless Juelz; he ain’t the same. I’ll leave it at that. So, there you’ve got it. I’ve candidly listed all the reasons why the LOX won the VERSUZ. Now, I’ll explain why no one from the Town gives a fuck.
FOR THE RECORD, ANYONE WHO KNOWS WHO FREAKY ZEEKY IS KNOWS EXACTLY WHY HE WAS ON STAGE DURING THE VERSUZ. PLEASE ASK SOMEONE WHO KNOWS OR SHUT THE FUCK UP IF YOU DO NOT.
The Dip Set is so much more than a Versuz competition in which they were clearly outmatched. The LOX was the 1950s Yankees that night. But during the early 2000s, the Dips were the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. They were the team that, for a moment in history, shook up and sat atop the rap world. Who was the GOAT MC from Harlem before Cameron Giles? I’ll wait. Exactly. With all due respect to Doug E. Fresh, Black Rob (RIP to Jeff’s greatest), G. Dep (free my guy) and Reverend Mason Betha, no MC embodies the spirit of Harlem like Cam, from the attitude to the style of music to the drip. He brought his close childhood pal and blood cousin along for the ride, and the childhood pal ended up becoming a damn good MC while the cousin is still big time loyal to this day. Then, he fucked around and won the rap draft lottery and took Juelz Santana with the #1 pick. He created a brand that rang bells from Lenox Ave. to Paterson, NJ and all around the rap world. And without any doubt, Dip Set single-handedly put an epinephrine needle in the thigh muscle of the city’s gang culture, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I lived in those 100 Blocks at the height of the Dips movement. The entire city was knee-deep in gang activity, and at the time there were about seven Bloods for every three Crips. Some may disagree, but from my perspective, it was fashionable to be nine trey or UBN at the time. And drip wise? I’m a leave it at this…Cam made pink fashionable to the 20-30 something Black male who had yet to come to terms with his inner thug. Pink furs, pink Nextels, pink Range Rovers, pink everything. Oversized fitteds with bandanas tied around. Air Force Ones with the Gucci and Louis Vuitton customization. Gaudy jewelry and chains. Outsiders may proclaim that the drip wasn’t a thing for them, but all five boroughs and surrounding areas would be lying if they tried to deny the influence. But that wasn’t a Dip thing, per se. That was a Harlem thing. They were just emulating what the streets said was en vogue. FYI: all that started with Dapper Dan back in the 1980s. Ask Mike Tyson. Ask Rakim. Ask LL.
Leading up to the Versuz, I never really pondered who the winner would be. I was simply giddy that it would take place. If I had, I suppose I woulda went with the LOX. But I’m loyal to the Town. That meant that it was Dips or nothing. But all in all, I’m pleased that I got to see two of my favorite crews of all time go toe to toe. I’m even more pleased that everything was peaceful. That means more than anything. Catch the LOX, Dip Set, and State Property on tour this fall at an arena near you. It’s my time, y’all. Many blessings.
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