I recently sat down with hometown emcee Gist The Essence to talk growing up in the 90s, the magic of ‘Ye and MJ, and the importance of empowering young girls.
Kanye West- All of the Lights
I think this is an amazing record. It’s very inspirational. I go through a lot with this music industry, and when I’m listening to this song I can’t be in a bad mood. It makes you want to get up and do something. Kanye’s an artist, much more than a rapper. Subliminally he did something for hip hop with his new record. He upped the bar. On top of the incredible beats and hooks that are pretty good, he didn’t slouch on any lyrics. We’re getting tired of people getting by. It took someone in the light to stand up and do it.
Renee- Lost Boyz
Renee. Renee. “Renee” takes me back to very early junior high school. The Lost Boyz was something epic in Queens. They came on the scene when the world only knew Queensbridge. After A Tribe Called Quest it was like Queensbridge was the only part of Queens. These guys became hometown heroes. My homeboys would be like, “I saw the Lost Boyz on Jamaica Ave.” It’s another side of a love story that was dope. A hood love story with a drastic end. You can’t really place them, and I would love to bring that feel to my music.
Bruno Mars- Just The Way You Are
First of all I think Bruno Mars is dope. I think his voice is so him. He can do no wrong with me. I want to thank B.O.B. truthfully for making me aware of who he was. It’s one of those songs that you can play for your girl when you want her to feel good about herself. It’s a great song, for when things are getting hairy, before Valentine’s Day, and it’s great when she’s pregnant.
Carimi- Are You Ready
I definitely didn’t expect to hear any kompa! Me and kompa have a very interesting relationship. My father is a Haitian musician, and he was always going to the studio when I was hella young, I’m questioning if I was even in school. I love kompa. I’m Haitian, there’s no escaping it. I never want to lose my culture. I’m looking at this record of my father’s band. He had a big song in the late 80s that played on the Haitian radio station.
Notorious B.I.G.- Sky’s the Limit
This video was one of the first ones that came out after he died. Sky’s The Limit. I didn’t appreciate this song until recently, in doing what I’m doing. Christopher Wallace was ahead of his time. But this song, its musicality, the way it’s structured, especially what he’s saying about his daughter: Get my daughter this college plan/ so she don’t need no man. That whole song sits really well with me. He talks about being rejected from the beginning of the song but not losing sight by the ending. B.I.G.’s spirit is very much still alive. You know how older people ask, “Where were you when JFK died?” We all know where we were at when we heard the news that B.I.G. died. I don’t think I could remember anything as vividly. If you’re a musician and you’re not touching generations, you’re getting in the way.
Marsha Ambrosius- Far Away
I say this all the time. There are four people in this world who when they sing I get the chills– just looking at Marsha I’m starting to get the chills. Her, Lauryn Hill, Cocoa Sarai, and Stephanie Mills. She’s amazing. I used to say I’d do a song with her, during the Floetry time, before she did songs with Nas and Game. I think she’s what a great musician is because she can reach people. I hope she does cheat on me with a basketball player!
Kris Kross- Jump
I just tweeted about this the other day: Breaking news: Inside out is wiggedy wack. This is one of the first albums that I had. They were rappers our age. And parents didn’t have to like rap but they were ok with buying a Kris Kross CD. Before them, rap was such a grown man’s sport. Soon after Shyheim was the dopest cause this kid was raw from NY. I remember being in catholic school and wearing my pants backward on Dress Down days. One of my teachers asked, “How are you gonna use the bathroom?” Kris Kross and Bow Wow are gems to the industry. They could teach young artists what they know about how to make it work. They could develop, coach, and do a lot with young talent.
[NY Radio Station] Power 105 still plays this at night in their rotation. I think back to when I was little and I used to be a singer. I was a dumb boy, man! I could have used my powers for good! I love this song. I know it line for line. I think it’s great for men because you live through this: Girl when I ask you to trust me, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna cheat on you. Women twists our words, it’s so true. It helped me understand that women are going to hear what they want to. Musically this song is amazing. The beats, their voices, their harmonies. When’s the last time we had a good r&b group?
Jimi Hendrix- National Anthem
My interpretation of this song is that it was so against conforming. For years musicians were playing it one way. Then someone, an African American, came and played the hell out of this. This is genius to me. I love anybody who can make their music their own. He wasn’t cookie cutter.
Loungin’- LL Cool J feat. Total
This was a dope song. I really remember being in junior high and I had this crush on this one girl. This song and “Hey Lover,” by LL Cool J and Boyz II Men, they were just like my anthem. LL was Queens so I loved him from the jump. He created the lovey hip hop song. The bridge that Total crushes: Whoooo do you love/ are youuuu for sure? This is taking me back and making me remember how we had the Helly Hansen and Columbia jackets.
Are You That Somebody- Aaliyah
I think this is one of the first videos that I thought was sexy. I remember the exact moment when she winks and says: “Sometimes I’m goody goody, right now I’m naughty naughty.” That was sexy, look at her stomach. She was great. You can’t help but have somber feelings because we lost her. How would we have an artist like Ciara without Aaliyah?This is one of those songs, the baby crying, that was so unorthodox. I love the other rappers version [Danja Mowf]. The testament of music, it hits people. I know she influenced you. If there was no Aaliyah, would you be doing what you’re doing? She spoke to a lot of girls.
Don’t Stop You Til Get Enough- Michael Jackson
I’m looking at the video, but this is a great song within itself. I’m more of a Thriller album fan. My favorite song of all time is “Rock With You.” The coolest thing about Michael is that when you talk about him you’re gonna start a conversation about his greatness, his vision, and you’re going to start dancing. I remember channel 5 [Fox] on Sunday nights when the “Remember The Time” video premeired. As an artist, you’re lucky if you get on 106 & Park or MTV. But with MJ, it was an event.
Can’t Knock the Hustle- Jay-Z
This is probably in my Top 10 list of Jay-Z songs. Jay & Mary’s chemistry was amazing. They are the best together, way better than when he collaborates with his wife. This song is one of my favorites on Reasonable Doubt, along with “In My Lifetime” and “Feelin It.”
Footsteps In The Dark- The Isley Brothers
The Isley Brothers are the forefathers of hip hop. If you don’t think of this song when you hear “Today Is A Good Day” then you don’t know anything about hip hop. The Isley Brothers, Isaac Hayes, James Brown, they made some incredible music, musical magic. Songs like this distinguish good producers from bad producers. Bad producers will just use the first seconds to sample, but good producers listen to the whole song, and find that one part that just works perfectly.
Whip My Hair- Willow Smith
She’s an amazing spirit. Before I knew this was Willow Smith, I thought it was dope and thought, “Rihanna got a banger!” I love that my niece loves this song. Children of color have music that’s their own. They have Hannah Montana bookbags and now they have their own idol they can relate to. Whether it’s long, short, whip your hair. It’s important for young black girls to feel good about their hair. Sesame Street had a great clip, “I Love My Hair,” with a little girl singing that her hair is beautiful. It’s a serious issue among girls. “Whip My Hair” is empowering. Don’t get me wrong, I love gangsta music. But I’m very into empowering impressionable children. It’s hard for little girls. I love women. I only have sisters. I learned a lot about women at a younger age. Your hair being short or its texture is why you’re beautiful. But really, bringing a child into the world is why you’re beautiful.