Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
Though the exact timetable is open to interpretation, most seasoned and sentimental hip-hop heads identify the six-year period between 1987 and 1992 as the music and culture’s so-called golden age. But a convincing case can be made that a second exalted era of hip-hop’s evolution occurred in the ensuing four or five years, from 1993 to 1996 or 1997.
Admittedly, hip-hop attained unprecedented heights of worldwide commercialization during the mid ‘90s, as preternaturally gifted artists like Dr. Dre, 2Pac, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., OutKast, and the Wu-Tang Clan helped transform the genre from a creative force with potential to a bona fide financial juggernaut that finally rivaled pop, rock and country in terms of chart and sales supremacy.
In parallel, however, hip-hop’s independent movement and underground spirit continued to thrive in exciting ways as well, with a handful of artist collectives championing the cause. Most prominent and prolific among these were the Bay Area’s Hieroglyphics crew comprised of Del the Funky Homosapien, Souls of Mischief, and Casual among others, and the Brooklyn-based Boot Camp Clik which featured the likes of Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun (a.k.a. Cocoa Brovaz), Heltah Skeltah, and Originoo Gunn Clappaz (O.G.C.).
If you’re like me, from the moment you first heard Black Moon’s Ronnie Laws indebted debut single “Who Got Da Props?” in late 1992, you were hooked and craving more from the then-obscure trio. Fortunately, much more arrived in early 1993 in the form of the group’s enveloping masterpiece of an inaugural album Enta Da Stage. Produced by Da Beatminerz, the long player introduced the template for the Boot Camp Clik’s uniquely balanced convergence of lyrical acumen and dense, dark soundscapes with melodic, sample-driven flourishes.
The Boot Camp Clik formally came to fruition two years later on Smif-N-Wessun’s excellent 1995 debut album Dah Shinin.’ A handful of tracks featured Black Moon’s Kenyatta “Buckshot” Blake, the late Sean Price (a.k.a. Ruck) and Jamal Bush (a.k.a. Rock) of Heltah Skeltah, and the trio of Jack McNair (a.k.a. Starang Wondah), Barret Powell (a.k.a. Louieville Sluggah) and Dashawn Jamal Yates (a.k.a. Top Dog) of O.G.C.. The memorable posse cut “Cession at da Doghillee” marked the first time that the entire Boot Camp Clik appeared on wax together.
Bolstered by Duck Down Music, the management company turned record label that Buckshot and Drew “Dru-Ha” Friedman founded in 1995, the Boot Camp Clik have curated one of the deepest and most consistently high-caliber discographies in hip-hop history. The enterprise found early success with the 1996 releases of Heltah Skeltah and O.G.C.’ debut LPs—Nocturnal and Da Storm, respectively. And over the next two decades, Duck Down extended that success with the steady proliferation of top-notch efforts from each of the aforementioned groups and group recordings by the Boot Camp Clik brigade, as well as solo and collaborative joints by Buckshot, Sean Price and others. In the more recent past, Duck Down has expanded its repertoire to releases from non-Boot Camp Clik colleagues including De La Soul, Pharoahe Monch, B-Real (of Cypress Hill fame), Kidz in the Hall, Blue Scholars, Marco Polo, and Statik Selektah, among others.
With so much material to sift through, creating this latest Boot Camp Clik themed ‘Portrait of the Artist’ tribute playlist proved both a challenging exercise and a labor of love. Stream the expansive 90+ track mix below, and be sure to celebrate pure hip-hop in all of its rough, rugged and raw glory by delving deep into the Boot Camp Clik’s prolific discography, when you have the chance.