By the 19-naughties hip-hop had opened its doors to a wide array of sounds, techniques and styles, both mainstream and underground. While the boom-bap New Yorkers were taking back the rap reins from their West Coast counterparts, the emerging alternative hip-hop collectives on both coasts were laying a foundation for the underground circuit. One of the areas in which rap began expanding was the art scene. Open-mic nights at local cafes and clubs became a hotbed for raw, unadulterated talent, and unknown artists were given the chance to showcase their work to an audience of other young and aspiring lyricists. Like poetry reading circles or songwriter sessions, rappers were organizing themselves in these collective workshops, honing their craft like true artistsâ€”true professionals.
On the West coast, the open-mic nights at the Good Life CafÃ© became the breeding ground for some of the most impressive lyricists ever caught on wax. One of the acts to emerge from amateur night at Good Life CafÃ© was the criminally underrated Freestyle Fellowship, frontrunners for most talented rap group of all time (but they warrant their own piece altogetherâ€¦ hint: stay tuned).
In New York, however, there was no Good Life CafÃ©, nor was there a Freestyle Fellowship. Instead, there was the East Coast equivalent to Good Life, a tiny studio apartment on Lower East Side Manhattan which acted as a workshop for artists, new and old, known loosely as the Lyricist Lounge. Founded in 1991 by Anthony Marshall and Danny Castro, the Lyricist Lounge became a hit in the underground New York City circuit, a popular place and hangout for young artists to share their music on the open-mic stage.
Fast forward to the new millennium. It was the year 2000, and the Lyricist Lounge had just gained enough of a followingâ€”after a compilation album and two separate tours involving artists from Mos Def to KRS-One to Slick Rickâ€”for a television series. Thatâ€™s right, MTV agreed to a proposal by Marshall and Castro to bring the Lounge on airâ€”only, a twist of humour would be added to tie the rap acts together. And with a diverse cast of underground rappers and comedy actors, music producers and comedy writers, the first ever hip-hop sketch comedy was born, dubbed The Lyricist Lounge Show.
To those who remember watching the show, it was groundbreaking in its demonstration of how hip-hop could be used as a viable musical media. Most episodes comprised a series of often hilarious sketches, featuring characters conversing only in rapped dialogueâ€”most of it written, some of it even freestyled to a live studio audienceâ€”over minimalist and non-invasive background beats. The three artists especially instrumental to the showâ€™s creative direction were Wordsworth, Master Fuol, and Baby Power, all members of the ensemble cast and writers of the show. Frequent guest appearances were made by fan favourite Mos Def, as well as Q-Tip, Cee-Lo, Common, and Erykah Badu, among others. The strong cast of lyricists and All-Star rappers made each episode not to be missed.
Yet sadly, The Lyricist Lounge Show failed to survive beyond two seasons, and like our other favourite hip-hop show Yo! MTV Raps, the program was promptly canceled (another reason to ignore television beyond HBO, Showtime, and the occasional NBC Comedy). Conflict between MTV and the showâ€™s producersâ€”no doubt a creative difference between network and creatorsâ€”coupled with high production costs and a deflating audience, resulted in the shows termination. In short, we fans were screwed out of what could have been a hit television series, and the first of many forays of drama into hip-hop. I remember staying up late as kids with my older brother, watching Mos Def trade rhymes with characters like â€œMayor Fuoliani,â€ just soaking in all the music with our young ears glued to the tube. For years we wondered where the show had gone after it left the air. I have yet to see another hip-hop based musical production add the same amount of depth and versatility to its lyrical content, while matching the biting wit of The Lyricist Lounge Show.
Today, the Lyricist Lounge has evolved into a rappersâ€™ showcase. An always-changing cast of emcees from all over the hip-hop world, both unknown and established, tour through various venues across the United States to perform live shows. Sponsored by a wide array of companies and hosted by many respectable rappers, these live performances are all we have left after the termination of The Lyricist Lounge Show.
In 1998 before the show was created, members and affiliates of the Lyricist Lounge released a compilation album featuring various artists including Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Ras Kass, Words, Saul Williams, and Jurassic 5, titled The Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1.
The Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1
1. Wise Guy- â€œStreet Promoters (Skit)â€
2. De La Soul & 88 Keys- â€œIntroâ€
3. Cipher Complet- â€œBring Hip Hop Backâ€
4. Diaz Brothers with Matrix & Abutta- â€œKeep Pouringâ€
5. Sarah Jones- â€œBloodâ€
6. Q-Tip, Mos Def, & Tash- â€œBody Rockâ€
7. Hazadu, J-Treds, Thirstin Howl III, Kwest, & I.G. Off- â€œBathroom Cipherâ€
8. Punch & Words- â€œDa Cipherâ€
9. Word Aâ€™ Mouth- â€œFamous Last Wordsâ€
10. Prime- â€œNo Materâ€
11. Ras Kass & O.C.- â€œAction Guaranteedâ€
12. Mike Zoot- â€œAll in My Ownâ€
13. Wiseguy & Words- â€œThe Phone Call (Skit)â€
14. -Black Thought, Common, Pharoahe Monch, & Absolute A.K.A Xtra Kredit- â€œLive From the D.J. Stretch Armstrong Show With Your Host Bobbito the Barberâ€
1. Saul Williams- â€œOhmâ€
2. Kool Keith & Sir Menelik- â€œIntroâ€
3. Natural Elements- â€œMaydayâ€
4. Talib Kweli (Reflection Eternal)- â€œManifestoâ€
5. Bahamadia & Rah Digga- â€œBe OKâ€
6. A.L.- â€œLyricsâ€
7. Talib Kweli, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Wiseguy, Building Blocks, Mr Metaphor, & Lil Sci- â€œOutside the Loungeâ€
8. Lord Have Mercy More & D.V. Alias Khrist- â€œHoly Waterâ€
9. Jurassic 5- â€œJayouâ€
10. KRS-One, Zack De La Rocha, & The Last Emperor- â€œC.I.A. (Criminals in Action)â€
11. Problemz- â€œSocietyâ€
12. Indelible MCs, Company Flow, Juggaknots, & J-Tred- â€œWeightâ€
13. Words, Rise, Punch, Jedi, & A.L.- â€œAfter the Showâ€
During the showâ€™s run, a Lyricist Lounge Vol. 2 was released, featuring more established rappers of the game. It is worth a listen, though it isnâ€™t quite as strong as the first album. Much of the Lyricist Lounge flavor is missing from this set, as the CD tries to cross over into a mainstream sound, probably in anticipation of a growing audience.
Not to be confused as music used on the show, both of these albums were showcases of the diverse talent found in hip-hop, while still leaving fans hungry for more of the actual television seriesâ€”which, of course, no longer exists.
The Lyricist Lounge Vol. 2
1. Notorious B.I.G.- â€œ16 Bars (Live at the Lyricist Lounge)
2. Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, & Nate Dogg- â€œOh Noâ€
3. Q-Tip & Words- â€œMakinâ€™ It Blendâ€
4. Cocoa Brovaz- â€œGet Upâ€
5. Beanie Sigel- â€œGet That Doughâ€
6. Royce da 5â€™9- â€œLetâ€™s Growâ€
7. Mos Def & Ghostface Killah- â€œMs. Fat Bootyâ€
8. Redman & Saukrates- â€œW.K.Y.A.â€
9. Talib Kweli & Dead Prez- â€œSharp Shootersâ€
10. Kool G. Rap & M.O.P.- â€œLegendary Street Teamâ€
11. Big Noyd & Prodigy- â€œThe Grimy Wayâ€
12. Erick Sermon & S. Scott- â€œBattleâ€
13. Da Cipha, Punch, Cobra Red, Planet Asia, Guilty, & Phil Da Agony (Consequence & Menace)- â€œInterludeâ€
14. Big L. & C-Town- â€œStill Hereâ€
15. Dilated Peoples- â€œRight and Exactâ€
16. The Last Emperor & RZA- â€œHe Livesâ€
17. Master Fuol, J.T. Money, & Pastor Troy- â€œWatchaâ€
18. Macy Gray, Mos Def & Gang Starr- â€œIâ€™ve Committed Murder (Remix)â€
19. Q-Tip- â€œOutro Live at the Loungeâ€
Now wherever you may be at, take a few minutes, sit back, relax, and check out these clips from the show:
Enjoy these old clips. If anyone has old episodes of The Lyricist Lounge Show taped anywhere, please feel free to post them in the comments or on the forums, so other readers can experience them too.
â€” Teddy C.D.