I've written a bit about my deep and abiding love for Memphis rap from the 90s, but have never explained from whence that love comes. Growing up in the Cleveland, OH exurb of Wooster in the nineties, you quite literally couldn't get into the car of any "cool" kid without hearing Bone Thugs n' Harmony. Now, I've discussed at length in the past about how I'm quite the contrarian when it comes to everything and if everyone else likes something, chances are I'm gonna find a reason to be a hater. Of course, it's never that simple. Having done a 180 on enough artists who I couldn't stand to only realize I couldn't stand life without, I wasn't exactly surprised by the time I got to college and found myself crying one afternoon to the beauty that is the song "Crossroads" (I mean, how can "I miss my Uncle John" not elicit all the tears in the world?)
Of course, I had already been listening to Three Six Mafia for a few years beforehand, though I was slow to really put one and one together and realize how similar the flow of Bone Thugs was to, say, the late Koopsta Knicca and a shitload of other Memphis rappers. I also didn't realize there was considerable beef between the groups and their fans, with at least one knuck'n'buck occurring outside a show. Now, I think we can all agree that while Bone Thugs could easily have stolen certain cadences and ideas from Memphis Rap, they also put their own decidedly unique spin on the sound and by the time we got to A$AP Ferg's first album, it seemed like the two sounds could now coexist in harmony.
But Bone Thugs was just one rap group singularity in an otherwise unremarkable Northeast Ohio rap scene. What was going on in Memphis was decidedly more underground, DIY, and, well, better (sorry, Ohio, my ears have no local allegiances). From the massive amount of tapes produced to the number of artists floating around, the sound of Memphis contains endless vicissitudes and nuance. One undisputed kingpin of the sound and scene was Tommy Wright III (aka the one Memphis rapper besides Juicy J that most white kids claim to know). But what is less written about is the number of absolutely blazing female MC's that were in action at the time, be it Lady Jay, La Chat, or my personal favorite, Princess Loko. In a Twitter exchange with Tommy last year, he made a comment that led me to believe that Loko is currently locked up or out of commission while also hinting at a planned comeback. Well, if and when that day comes, you can be your ass I'll be first in line to get a ticket and will totally soil myself if I were to get to see "Loko 4 Real" live.
Why? Well, let's start with that beat. The cavernous, more epic than epic synth chords that open the song are cleverly swiped from the martial "Tony's Theme," written by Giorgio Moroder for the Scarface soundtrack. And look, I'll be the first to admit that when I saw it was a Scarface sample, I was a bit disappointed as there's just no other 90s-era rap song that quite matches "Loko 4 Real" in its dramatic energy (and thus I hoped learning of the sample would turn me onto some Tangerine Dream b-side or the like). It's the type of song that grabs you by the pubic hair and dares you to look away. Also, how no other producer has sampled the track in quite the same way is a testament to Tommy's prowess as a beatsmith; he untethers the chords from their rhythmic backbones to create something that sounds like it's coming from the heavens and from six feet under. The way the song begins, with Loko talking about not taking shit while Tommy cheers her on casts their relationship in an almost brother-sister dynamic; two absolute beasts on the mic, game respecting game. Hell, just listen to the way she bodies him on his own "Still Pimpin" if you're doubting what I write. Over the song's five minutes, the undisputed highlight of the Wanted: Dead or Alive tape by the erroneously-named Ten Men, Loko effortlessly switches between choral chanting and versatile verse science, the samples crowd cheers speaking to the stadium-sized beat that crumbles beneath her. She doesn't even really start 'rapping' in the non-repetitive sense until close to the second minute and trust when I say you won't even notice. Though her lyrics will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, both out of respect and fear as this princess isn't going to be rescued by any busta-ass plumber bros. It's truly one of the most triumphant songs I've ever heard and the morbid cover art of Tommy resting in an open casket simply reminds me of the fact that this is probably the song I'd want to be played at my funeral. LOKO 4 REAL.