For underground-hiphop purists, Kool G Rap merits mention in the same sentence—albeit a few commas down—from old-school legends Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and KRS-One. Heroically overcoming a speech impediment to wrap his tongue around some of the most complex combinations of syllables this side of a Mandarin tongue-twister, the Queens-born Kool Genius of Rap opened doors for later lispers such as Ma$e and EPMD’s Erick Sermon and a whole rack of other hiphop nonenunciators. Most rappers claim to “spit” their lyrics; G took that shit literally.
No question, G Rap (with the help of the now-MIA DJ Polo) threw down a musical gauntlet with 1986’s “It’s a Demo” and its B-side, “I’m Fly.” The bard came with the standard repertoire of conspicuous consumption and resume-flashing, but he kicked it with a wit and an off-kilter use of vocab that put him ahead of the pack. Along with the lyrically relentless Just-Ice, G pioneered the subgenre that came to be overexposed as “gangsta rap.” But unlike his artistic progeny, G relied more upon verbal creativity than shock value to get over. Case in point: In 1988, G Rap straight-up humiliated no less a legend than Big Daddy Kane for being silly enough to follow him on the classic posse cut “The Symphony”: “Makin’ veterans/Run for medicine,” he rhymed, “‘Cause I put out more lights/In a fight than Con Edison.”
The ’90s were cruel to old gangstas, though. After dropping bangers such as “Rikers Island” and “Streets of New York” on 1990’s Wanted: Dead or Alive, G went so far underground that he practically fell off the radar screen. With the circa-1992 ascent of the West, G Rap tried to go bicoastal, presumably in the hope that some imported G-funk might flavor up his East Coast offerings. Whatever the case, he dropped the verbal ingenuity that gave his tales from the stark side their flair and began trafficking instead in Ice Cubean realism. The prevalence of body counts and lack of deft similes had heads disbelieving that this was the same cat who once said, “Talk about a battle/But you ain’t yet ready for war/Your metaphor sucks/More than a whore.” Unsurprisingly, G’s sole notable offering of the era was the hitman’s-eye narration of “Ill Street Blues,” from the 1992 LP Live and Let Die.
You can’t judge a CD by its title, but the arrival of a new G Rap release called The Giancana Story is reason to raise an eyebrow. Early on, we hear that the G in the rapper’s name no longer stands for stands for “Genius,” but for “Giancana, nigga/ Gangsta/Quick to gank ya ass with the gigantic gash-gasher.” Problem is, rappers have been adopting gangland monikers for a good six, seven years now, and the trend done got tired. Even Nas ditched his fictive Escobar surname for 2001’s Stillmatic. Sure, G is back trading couplets with rappers from the 212 area code—not the 213—but the question of residual skill looms large. And even if the big man flips a clever phrase once in a while, overall the essential G-Rapness is still missing. Checking Giancana is vaguely similar to watching Mike Tyson’s calamitous meeting with Lennox Lewis. G doesn’t go out on his shield a la Iron Mike, but he nonetheless keeps you waiting around, hoping that the man from 1989 will show up and drop a blistering combination.
Like many a journeyman gangsta, G Rap has chosen to augment his funk by enlisting some young guns. In this case, the presence of an extra 10 MCs—from thug notables Prodigy and Havoc to rhyme neophytes such as Jinx Da Juvy—makes it hard to get a feel for where G Rap is
trying to go. It’s not that Giancana is a bad CD per se, but both the cameos and the unending catalog of crooks, cops, and copulation wear thin without the leavening wit or wordplay of classic G.
On disc-opener “Thug for Life,” G swears his boulevard allegiances over a descending array of bass notes and periodically clanging gongs, all held together by a sinister rock guitar riff. A track later, he’s dropping lines with Prodigy on the stark, midtempo “Where You At.” Goosed by a slick R&B guitar line and a pulsing bass, the cut is more than likely to raise your blood pressure. “Chopped up bitch inside of a Dumpster/Paramedics tryin’ to speed a nigga pulse up,” G raps, “Block sizzlin’ hot, flooded in the middle with cops/Innocent nigga topped, riddled with shots.”
Would that G Rap continued that kind of momentum, but the standout “Where You At?” is followed by the monochromatic “Holla Back.” With a throwaway hook line declaring, “If you livin’ thug, holla back/My bitches strippin’ in clubs/Let the dollas stack,” the cut is less than memorable—which is a shame, because the minimalist keybs chords and ominous bass undergirding it are as catchy as foot-and-mouth disease. And although G has dropped his Cali fetish, traces of his flirtation with the West Coast show up in the Bone Thugs-style flourishes on “Fight Club” and the Roger Troutman-esque voice effect he employs on “My Life.”
Later, things drift even farther. The chorus of the incongruously harpsichord-driven “The Streets” is Giancana’s most interminable moment: “The streets/Yo, where it happen at/The streets/Is where they clappin’ at/The streets/Is where the action at/The streets/Is where they packin’ at/The streets/Is where it’s crackin’ at/The streets/Bringing it back to that/The streets/Bangin’ ya gat to that/The streets/Start hangin’ back to that.” And the hook to “Gangsta Gangsta” hangs on more cliches than is really wise: “Put ya hands to the streets for this gangsta shit/You a nigga or a bitch, keep it gangsta kit/You know how these fuckin’ gangstas get.”
For the first half of G’s career, his supporters were quick to point out that the rapper never had the benefit of tracks equal to his verbal gift—thus his reputation was built on his ability to rhyme other cats under the table. With Giancana, the opposite is the case: For the most part, the ad hoc production committee of Younglord, Buckwild, Jaz O, and Dr. Butcha, among others, cranks out eminently noddable sounds that outpace what G lays down on the mike. Truth be told, throughout the album, G Rap finds himself playing catch-up in a field he helped create.
Of course, G’s standing in the pantheon of old-school verbalists is such that not even a go-nowhere outing like The Giancana Story can impeach it. Current street value is a whole ‘nother thing, though. Kool G Rap’s rhyme skills have become the stuff of legend, not life—which is to say that old gangstas never die; their cred just fades away. CP