• Ashley Raymond

20 Years of Bars: Papoose

Consumers of Hip Hop often conflate relevancy and popularity with talent and diligence. Label heads, executives and media magnates enforce this misconception by focusing more on generating revenue through illusion. Exorbitant amounts of time, money, and energy spent on a façade instead of intentional development and management leaving us with clones, physically and musically. Everyone selects the same fighter and the only difference is the color of their attire. We are unmoved by politics at Bars on I-95 because it distorts the connection between artistry and the ways in which we engage with it. It sends a false message, it leaves a false impression, but the “damage” reverberates through every layer of the industry leveling careers and livelihoods like tectonic plates colliding within the Earth’s crust.

Papoose is the artist we honored for this cardinal episode of “20 Years of Bars”. His impact on the culture is undeniable as is his ability to construct a spirited verse with masterful precision and depth. It was an overcast yet slightly humid Saturday afternoon when the Bars on I-95 team arrived in Manhattan at Volume Studios. We wanted to create a more immersive experience for our viewers and brought in 10 fans to be a part of the first live audience episode. Pre-production began around 12 with all of us moving at warp speed to set up lighting, sound, and seating. There was an air of novelty in the room; we were curating an experience in a way we had yet to explore. Our operations for the day were slightly unorthodox but we chose this moment to create the first of many vignettes into the life and career of veteran artists that are still with us today.

The seismic pitfalls of the industry continue to push prodigious artists into undeserving obscurity. Papoose was graciously candid about his experiences throughout his 23 year career. The space between being a mainstream artist and remaining underground fluctuated for him as Hip Hop became prone to more destruction of its integrity. This genre was birthed from a place to connect and create through musicality and lyricism yet, the margins accrue talent that could only be found if you cared enough to dig and look into these artists yourself. Papoose explained how these shifts alter our understanding of the art of rapping and the way we measure quality and talent. He went on to say that “when it comes to the ‘top [five] list’, they be trying to sound cool...so they name drop certain artists that they don’t know nothing about” aka politics. These are the moments where it’s more than imperative to recognize what we uphold as a representation of this art we admire. Papoose frankly states that the lists are superficial and the creators of these “top” lists show no true interest in these artists as well as lacking knowledge in regards to their catalog—“anybody on my top list, I most likely can recite their whole album to you, word for word.”

His most renowned record, “Alphabetical Slaughter”, flows through each letter of the alphabet with agility like a cheetah pursuing its prey through the Serengeti. Inspired in his youth by Malcolm X, who while incarcerated, read the entire dictionary during his sentence. Papoose followed suit and knew in his youth that he was made to be an emcee. 23 years later and now a veteran of his own right, he reflects on the disconnect between younger and older artists. Echoing similar sentiments from our last piece, he recognized that “some of the younger artists...when they get challenged the first thing they do is pull the age card” and that’s not completely anecdotal. We remember those interviews where new artists insinuate how there’s no space for seasoned artists or certain traditions like freestyling fresh off the dome, see: Lil Yatchy or Lil Uzi early on in their careers. What younger artists fail to realize is those who came before them are the entire reason they can show up as they do now. There is space for teaching and understanding, but their audacity precedes them and now they have lost a resource and a potential ally. The maintenance of this mutual respect preserves the quality and caliber of Hip Hop at an elite level.

The room grew increasingly still as we all became flies on the wall, attentively listening to the ways Papoose remained unrelenting in the pursuit of his dreams. The adversity he faced within himself and within the industry provided the fuel to his fire, however, there were times this left him singed with anger and frustration. He recalls the moment when he received his first major deal offer and how swiftly he accepted it. Record label executives recognize the hunger permeating from the underground and use that to leverage unsuspecting and naive artists into shoddy deals and heavily restrict ownership and creative control.

In hindsight, Papoose realized the mistake he made accepting that offer so quickly. He was working independently with DJ Kay Slay when he started receiving multiple offers. He explains how “Def Jam offered a deal...Atlantic came in with an offer, Interscope. Jive came in 1.5 [million]...as soon as [he] signed with the label, that shit slowed [him] down.” Slightly remorseful, he took accountability for making that decision based on that offer and followed up explaining how Jive refused to let him create in the ways he envisioned and wouldn’t tolerate anything other than that.

Papoose kindly opened up his world to us at Volume Studios divulging insight into the new music he’s made. A father, businessman, husband and emcee, his new music is reflective of these aspects of his person as they simultaneously exist. He continues to rise to the occasion and challenge himself with lyrical exercises similar to “Alphabetical Slaughter”, hitting freestyles using the names of cereal or NBA teams. Papoose is quite serious about his title as an emcee but there is always room for play as well. These freestyles are wildly imaginative and unheard of by anyone else. For every month this year, he’s released a corresponding project and it’s this innovation that put him in position to become the person we saw that day sitting in front of us. It is also this innovation that generates the energy necessary to keep Hip Hop alive and well. Some of his final words before we wrapped up were to let us know that “platforms like this are very important because you’re not sitting up here doing the political shit.” We honor our mission in all that we do from our team down to our guests. Papoose is a student and a master of the art of Hip Hop. His contributions are present and felt by those who appreciate the skill and intention behind the work. Thank you Papoose for 20 Years of Bars.