Once upon a time, in the house that Run built, there was an MC whose skill among his contemporaries was fairly superior. He possessed every single tool you could imagine an emcee having. Street cred? Check. Not in the selling drugs, busting gats fairytale way. In that sort of “if I catch you talking about me and mine on a record I will fuck you up sort of way. Yes, that actually happened once or twice.
He had that hood voice. Not up stairs looking out the window at the hood, hood. On the corner doing chin-ups on the traffic light hood. He had the look. The muscles. The tattoos back when having tattoos was a big deal. The menacing glare that made soft cats tuck those chains. He had his own style of fashion and for Christ’s sake, a chain around his neck for the homies on lockdown and a machete. In an era when everyone was wearing army fatigues, this guy really looked like he was ready for war.
Then there was the industry cosign. Redman, lyrical god? Check. Tupac, rebel without a cause? Double Check. Her royal highness, the Queen L-A-T-I-F-A-H in command? Riding and dying with him. This is all in place before we even examine his skill.
There is a ton of one trick pony emcees. Club banger emcees. Anthem making emcees. Punchline emcees. Underground Emcees, etc. He was efficient at many of those avenues, both lyrically and technically. Normally, when you heard a rapid-fire emcee in the 90’s it was generally innocuous. You didn’t take the Fu-Schnickens seriously. You took Das seriously for those first two until they got bitten so much they were caricature. You didn’t take Twizta seriously while he was Tongue Twista. Kane, Ra, and G.Rap were on the decline by then but they have a lifetime trinity exemption. KRS was on his own planet. When you heard this emcee go hard, your ears were either glued to the speakers or you were forced off your seat and waving your hands.
His style was copied, both with and without his consent, and while his group created hit after hit and sold records in the millions, making some of the most fun Hip-Hop of all time, he stood at the center, famous as hell but a phantom menace on the mic. If you haven’t guessed by now, we’re talking about the unsung hero, and an emcee that is always forgotten when people are making their lists but one who has done more during his run musically than most of the rappers commonly named. I’m talking about Treach from Naughty By Nature.
Count the hits that he’s had.” Hip-Hop Hooray.” “OPP”. “Uptown Anthem.” “The Craziest.” “Feel Me Flow. Treach could go rough and rugged or melodic and sing-songy, yet lyrical far before Ja Rule and 50 ran that into the ground. If you can’t hear him in Latifah’s flow in “Latifah’s Had It Up To Here” then your ears are numb to the drum.
Aside from all the anthems, Treach was one of the few emcees that didn’t glorify the ghetto, but also painted a picture of urban blithe without making it into a horror film. “Ghetto Bastard” didn’t make you want to come see Trenton and East Orange out of curiosity. It made you take his word for it. Don’t ever come to the ghetto? You got it Treach.
Need some raw lyricism? “Check Hot Potato”, the duet with Bumpy Kuckles. Check “Yoke The Joker.” Check “Guard Your Grill.” Peep “Hood Comes First.” Aside from his own work, he hopped on D-Nice’s solo joint for the remix of the single “Time To Flow” and flat out demolished it. Treach was in many videos back then, but was so fearsome on the mic that he rarely did collaborations outside of family because not many rappers wanted that problem. On a side note, his shout to Grand Puba at the end of “Guard Your Grill” was both a nod to Hip-Hop history, a big up to a fellow rapper and just flat out class. You didn’t see a rapper extend that kind of courtesy to a rapper not in the same crew.
On stage, Treach was one of the better Hip-Hop performers. Besides having songs so infectious that everyone in the audience knew the words, Treach had tremendous stage generalship, great energy, and the breath control to go with the fast flow. He was the total package as a rapper.
If Treach had a flaw, it was that he succeeded at things his way for so long that he never updated his style. When the bleak, post-Illmatic world arrived, and the gritty rhymes took precedence, no one wanted anthems anymore, they wanted war stories. It wasn’t enough to actually be hood. You had to project the Apocalypse and as most real tough guys, Treach wanted no part of the fake gangsterism. While not quite a dinosaur, Treach and Naughty, with a little help from Kaygee’s departure, lost their career momentum and took hiatus.
So next time someone asks you about who’s the best emcee, just don’t default to Biggie, Jay-z, and Tupac. There are some really great emcees in the history of Hip-Hop. And when you stop to think about them, remember the forgotten emcee. One with the skill, the swagger, the track record and the music to back it up. Remember the Treacherous MC. Hip-Hop hurray!
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