Couldn’t let 2020 end without fitting in at least one more Sound 4 Sound column. We still have over a week before the arrival of the New Year, and I’ve got some downtime to knockout. Another one very well could drop.
A couple of newly released projects featured records with bars featuring some slick mentions of boxers. Thanks to emcees such as Roc Marciano and Ransom, we have our latest constant reminders that extends the unyielding relationship between two types of closely related solo performers. The emcee and boxer. The two aforementioned East Coast emcees recently mentioned champions, and fellow Olympians, Errol Spence and Pernell Whitaker on new records. Legends never die.
Of course the boxer and the emcee both enter the ring and the booth alone in order to do their job. However, they are backed by small vitally important teams. The emcee typically works with a talented producer who provides the artist with a raw song that encompasses the current vibe of the culture. The emcee then pulls from their current experiences to convey their personal response to various stimuli to listeners. The boxer goes through an 8-10 week training camp to receive and be drilled on their trainer’s game plan to defeat a particular opponent.
In the middle of a pair of newly released albums, the worlds of the emcee and the boxer collided yet again.
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Roc Marciano, a Long Island-based emcee who handles his own production, has been at the forefront of New York’s burgeoning indie, or underground, scene for the past decade. On November 16 he added his latest album, Mt. Marci, to his ground-breaking catalog. Marciano’s discography boasts of more than a dozen solo projects. Marci features 16 tracks, “Steel Vagina” kicks off the LP’s second half, and it also speaks to the growing popularity of current IBF and WBC Welterweight champion Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr. (27-0, 21 KOs). In the first verse the former member of Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad details how he blows off steam when he’s away from his grind.
I guess it’s common sense right? (Sense right)
While we’re sipping pina coladas in Nevada watching the Errol Spence fight (Yeah)
Pinch my side, we ringside
I ain’t know I can fly, it was a con, I just improvised
I learned on the job how to work the jar (Whip it)
Circular motions made the work hard (Whip it, N—a)
Word to God (Yeah, Word to God)
Now I’m swervin’ in a German car (Skrrr)
Spence’s last fight just happened on December 5. But the location wasn’t Nevada.
Spence handily took apart two-division champion Danny Garcia in the main event of a Fox Sports PBC Pay-Per-View event held at AT&T Stadium. A limited hometown crowd for Spence, a Desoto, Texas native, watched the southpaw retain his titles behind a commanding 187 to 117 margin in punches landed, according to CompuBox. The decisive victory was Spence’s return from a 14-month break in which the 30-year old spent the better part of recovering from injuries sustained in a single-car accident in October 2019. He was ejected from behind the wheel of his Ferrari, during the early morning high-speed accident, as the vehicle flipped over multiple times.
For over year, a myriad of questions loomed concerning Spence’s health, and the champion shared his thoughts after his exceptional 12-round performance had already produced a miraculous reveal.
“The moment is surreal,” said Spence. “Coming back from the accident, I feel like I looked pretty good tonight. All training camp I felt good. I told people I didn’t want a tune-up fight. I proved to everyone that I’m the best 147-pound fighter in the world.”
New Jersey’s Ransom Returns In Dominant Fashion, Still Praising The Sweet Science
Prior to 2020, Ransom’s last album dropped in November 2017. That project was preceded by another release, 1%, earlier in February.
Just like a boxer, the Jersey City native, born Randy Nichols, returned this year with a new trainer, I mean producer, in Montréal, Quebec’s relatively unknown Nicholas Craven. On March 9 -ironically the 23rd anniversary of the murder of hip hop legend Notorious B.I.G. in 1997 – the odd couple released the first of their three-scene Director’s Cut series. Scene Two arrived a little over a month later, and like its prequel the project contained a short tracklist with song titles named after prominent films – most came from the horror genre.
Listeners quickly started taking notice of the return of Ransom’s masterfully woven rhyme schemes which covered current events in sports, politics, and even the year’s protests aimed at social justice and police brutality. He also addressed the legitimacy of the ostensible claim to the throne by many of today’s most popular artists. For the truly observant, Craven’s adroit crafting of the series’ sound ushered in a fresh spin on chopping up amazingly textured soul-drenched samples. In fact, the production of the series seemed to be in the same family as the sound fueling the movement for which Marciano receives a great deal of credit as a leader. For me personally, hip hop is best served when some New York faction is creating East Coast-sounding hip hop.
The same goes for all of the other regions.
Ran and Craven hit their new fans with Scene 3, and its 10 songs, in mid-August. They returned with a spin-off, Deleted Scenes, in mid-November. And, they just gifted their fans with seven new songs with the arrival of Crime Scenes on December 18. Boxing references spanned the five related projects, often used as analogies to punctuate Ransom’s worldview that’s been influenced by wins and losses in the streets and at least one stint incarcerated behind the wall.
The combatants from the biggest pre-COVID-19 fight, Deontay Wilder and WBC Heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, were mentioned almost immediately into Deleted Scenes. On the EP’s opening song “Deliver Us From Evil”, Ransom slickly spit, “Told my mother we cursed and it got her teary/Not a theory/’Could bet on ya life that I got it near me/I get leery when n—-s get wilder/You see the fury, need the jury…” The double-double entendre hints at the boxing he’s enjoyed during his busy get back year.
I have to note well-chosen audio snippets appear on projects, and iconic scenes regularly surface in Ransom’s lyrics.
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Apparently Ransom and Craven, a seemingly prolific beatmaker, couldn’t relent with their pressure they applied to the game over the past nine months. Crime Scenes represents a change-up from thrillers and horror (and some sci-fi) as the source material, to a move towards songs bearing the titles of movies about ambitious hustlers and street crime. On the EP’s fifth song, “The Rite (Ft. Stove God Cooks)”, Ransom worked in an homage to one of boxing’s G.O.A.T.s in defensive wizard Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker.
We’ve all experienced exactly how foul a year can get in living through 2020. But in July 2019 the boxing world was hit hard when 1984 Olympic gold medalist and four-division champion Whitaker, at just 55, was struck and killed by an automobile. Ransom paid his respects on “The Rite” with:
Yeah, I give ’em hell preachin’
Make sure that they ain’t sellin’ shit on your corner
That’s the Odell treatment (haha)
That heroin, I used to sell frequent
It had some evil aura, I didn’t do well sleepin’ (Nah)
Nightmares of me up in a cell weepin’, woke up to a swell weekend (We up)
My life is sweeter than Pernell’s defense, yeah
Boy, in this hood, I swear I did it all
I’m lookin’ like that n—a that beat up Dough ’cause of Ricky’s ball
Whitaker, a first-ballot 2006 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, reigned as The Ring’s No. 1 Pound-for-Pound boxer from 1993 to 1997. He won the WBC Welterweight title in March 1993, and the WBA Super Welterweight title in March 1995 for to become champion in his third and fourth divisions, respectively. The Virginia native finished his career with 40 wins, 4 losses, 1 draw and 1 No Contest. He shared the ring with boxing greats such as Félix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Julio César Chávez and Azumah Nelson. The lone stoppage of his 17-year career came in his final fight at the hands of Carlos Bojorquez in 2001.
There aren’t too many more vulnerable performers than the solo emcee and the boxer. Both show their brilliance when their skills are paired with rhythm. Both have to be mentally sharp and tough as hell, they’re only as good as their last performance, their wins are the results of being judged and many of the greatest are their only real competition. Another ugly truth is, once the music stops and their run is over, they often find themselves all alone and forgotten.
The boxer and the emcee often rise up out of the exact same meager beginnings. Individuals capable of excelling in the face of moments filled with real truth are difficult to be built just anywhere. The fact that the life cycles of boxers and emcees are so closely related is natural. And, since so many fighters are accompanied by rap music through their grueling training and into the fights that make them so memorable, it’s only right that the emcee serves as the steward of those memories once the boxer can fight no longer.
All photos by Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions
All lyrics taken from Genius.com
Ransom & Nicholas Craven. “Deliver Us From Evil.” Deleted Scenes, Presidential/Momentum, 2020.
Ransom & Nicholas Craven. “The Rite (Ft. Stove God Cooks).” Crime Scenes, Presidential/Momentum, 2020.
Roc Marciano. “Steel Vagina.” Mt. Marci, Marci Enterprises, 2020.