Words By Preezy
In 2016, hip-hop is littered with artists of all ages making contributions to the culture, whether it be through music or with beats. But the further we get into the future, the more ageism in rap is becoming a hot-button conversation. Past years would see rappers being considered long in the tooth by the time they hit 30 years of age, and now that the stars of the ’90s and aughts are all nearing or past the 40-year-old mark, there has been talk from the younger generation of rap fans insinuating that these elder-statesmen need to get off the mic because it’s the voice of the youth. Conversely, some of the elders have pointed out how immature and undeveloped a lot of new talent is, citing that a majority of rappers actually made their impact on the game throughout their 20s and 30s.
As usual the truth is somewhere in the middle. A lot of these old heads got their start when they were still getting report cards and the new school could learn a lot from their elders’ mistakes if they spent less time trying to force their retirements.
It’s become easier for young aspiring rap artists to throw their hat in the ring and release a rap record with the advancements in technology and social media, but there was a time when it was significant for a wiz kid to come into the rap game. Making a classic record, and being able to hang with and, in some cases, outdo grown women and men who were searching for that elusive hit that would guarantee their spot within hip-hop is no small feat. Making timeless music before being old enough to legally get into a nightclub or buy a drink has turned a few tykes into legends throughout hip-hop’s illustrious history. Here are twenty rap phenoms that placed their stamp on the rap game before they could even vote.
1. LL Cool J – “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”
Born: January 14, 1968
Released: October 6, 1985
Will Smith may be known as The Fresh Prince, but rap’s young heir to the throne was James Todd Smith*, better known to the world as LL Cool J. Catching the attention of Def Jam Records after Beastie Boys member Ad-Rock came across his demo-tape, LL Cool J was 16-years-old when he signed to the house that Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons built, releasing his debut single, “I Need A Beat” in 1984. But it would be a song from his debut album, Radio, that would truly stamp his arrival.
Titled “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” the B-Boy-inspired cut, which saw LL professing his love for his trusty boombox, was the lead-single released from Radio, which touched down in November of 1985, two months shy of the rapper’s eighteenth birthday. Reaching the No. 15 spot on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” would become a classic due in-part to that iconic scene in the 1985 faux-Def Jam biopic, Krush Groove, and was the first of many highlights in LL Cool J’s career.
2. Group Home – “Livin Proof”
Released: November, 21 1995
Being the proteges of one of the greatest hip-hop producers and rappers of all-time would be a god-send for any young artist and Lil Dap and Malachi Da Nutcracker of Group Home were afforded that opportunity during the mid ’90s. With Malachi Da Nutcracker having met DJ Premier during their time living in the Bronx and Lil Dap being among the vast clique from East New York that Guru ran with during their heyday, the two teenage knuckleheads were disciples of the Gang Starr Foundation and groomed by the famed rap duo. Malachi and Lil Dap’s rap aspirations were tempered, to say the least, but an ultimatum from a judge ordering Malachi to record a rap album under Gang Starr’s supervision or be incarcerated was the birth of Group Home.
The duo’s debut album, Livin Proof, was released in November of 1995 and caught flack for Malachi and Lil Dap’s pedestrian rhymes, but was lauded for DJ Premier’s immaculate soundscapes he blessed his proteges with. One of those tracks was the album’s title-track, which peaked at No. 26 on the Hot Rap Singles chart, but made a Top 5 showing on the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales chart as well. Malachi Da Nutcracker and Lil Dap may have been the most privileged duo in rap history in terms of resources, but “Livin Proof” is an undeniable classic and one of the most potent Premo productions of all-time.
3. Special Ed – “I Got It Made”
Born: May 16, 1972
Released: Early 1989
The 1980s were rap’s formative years and may have been a grown-man’s game upon its inception, but the decade also saw a number of young upstarts crash the party, one of them being Special Ed. A native of the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, Special Ed would hit it big in 1989 with his debut album, Youngest In Charge. Working under the tutelage of legendary producer “Hitman” Howie Tee, Special Ed would pen one of the greatest rap songs of all-time in “I Got It Made,” an uptempo track that saw the Brooklynite flexing his nimble flow and paying homage to himself and his lavish lifestyle. Peaking at No. 9 on the rap charts, the single would help push Youngest In Charge past the half-million copies sold mark and establish Special Ed as the game’s resident wiz kid. While he would go on to release three more albums, he’s still known by most post-“I Got It Made” for his appearance on the Crooklyn soundtrack cut, “Crooklyn Dodgers,” and his Brooklyn recording studio the Dollar Cab Lab. Nevertheless, Special Ed will forever be remembered as one of the most astute young guns to ever rock a mic with a timeless record to his credit.
4. Kriss Kross – Jump
Christopher “Mac Daddy” Kelly – Born August 11, 1978
Christopher “Daddy Mac” Smith – Born January 10, 1979
Released: February 6, 1992
Age(s): Mac Daddy (13), Daddy Mac (13)
It’s hard to picture now, but Atlanta owes much of its dominance in hip-hop to two little kids wearing their clothes backwards. The duo Kriss Kross, comprised of James Christopher “Mac Daddy” Kelly and Christopher “Daddy Mac” Smith, would help lead the charge that would culminate in Atlanta’s takeover of the rap game. Discovered by Jermaine Dupri in an Atlanta mall, the rising producer and aspiring mogul would take Kriss Kross under his wing, securing a deal with Ruffhouse Records and releasing their blockbuster debut, Totally Crossed Out, in March of 1992.
The album would yield multiple hit singles, but the biggest of them all was undoubtedly the rowdy party-starter “Jump,” which shot all the way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, securing the slot for eight straight weeks. Recorded when “Mac Daddy” was 12 and “Daddy Mac” was 13, “Jump” would go on to become the third best-selling single of 1992 and Totally Krossed Out would move more than four million units, all the while making their penchant for wearing their clothing backwards the hottest trend in hip-hop among kids and adults alike. Kriss Kross would have an uphill battle shedding their kiddie-rap stigma, but their place in history can never be questioned, as “Jump” still gets listeners amped up today.
5. Antoinette – “I Got An Attitude”
A number of female M.C.’s made a name for themselves during the ’80s, but few were as impressive with the rhymes as Antoinette. Born Antoinette Jailene Williams in 1970, she would make her first appearance on wax on producer Herbie “Luv Bug” Azor’s 1987 compilation, Hurby’s Machine, on the track “I Got An Attitude.” The song, which sees Antoinette flexing her adept rhyme-style and flow over an enticing beat, instantly got listeners attention and marked her as one of the top ladies on the mic to watch out for. Antoinette’s two albums, Who’s The Boss, and Burnin’ at 20 Below, would fail to make an impact on the mainstream, but was noted for helping play-out the rift between her and MC Lyte, who took umbrage to “I Got An Attitude” and responded with “10% Dis,” sparking their legendary war-of-words.