The instrumental for Young Jeezy’s “Go Crazy”, is playing at small-animal-deafening levels on infinite repeat, with the horns billowing through the halls of a Lower East Side studio called The Cutting Room. DJ Kay Slay, the iconic Hot 97 radio personality, mixtape DJ and “Drama King” is talking to someone about the $700 pair of pants he just bought and saying how for that much paper, “The pants better get up and walk themselves to the fucking cleaners.” Playing the wall in the studio, Brooklyn MC Papoose has a flat-brimmed fitted cocked over one eye and he’s nodding to Don Cannon’s beat, his lips moving slightly, making out bars-to-be.
Over the next hour or so, he’ll lay down a chorus over the beat, shouting, “Shoot em up,” over and over. He’ll drop a series of buzz saw bars about knocking dudes over onto the ass of their Evisu jeans. He and his manager will even hop in the booth together to adlib assorted Oh!s and What!s.
Papoose mostly keeps to himself, responding when people talk to him, but not initiating much conversation. He obliges a request to do a drop for a DVD magazine by saying, “Fuck mixtape artist of the year, I’m the mixtape artist of your motherfuckin life!” Then he quickly retreats back within himself. In 2005 mixtapes are a gift and a curse—and being the mixtape artist of someone’s motherfuckin life even more so.
In some way Papoose is a quick-draw expert in the day of biological warfare; someone who’s talent doesn’t quite jibe with the reality of today’s market. He posits himself as a “lyrical assassin,” and there are probably dozens of crushed egos in New York that belong to those on the losing end of battles with Pap. Beyond the battles and mixtapes, Papoose is signed with Kay Slay’s Streetsweepers Entertainment, and he plans to release his debut album Nacirema’s Dream (that’s “American” spelled backwards) independently.
Pap’s blank demeanor hides the beast he lets out in the booth. With a nasal pitched voice—not unlike that of the late Big L—and lyrics laced with 10-cent words, he relentlessly deals out ferocious boasts and threats like a middleweight throwing stinging jabs. “I am the streets/ Look both ways before you cross me.” That’s the kind of couplet that gets the denizens of hip-hop message boards and other rhyme aficionados hot and bothered. And those kinds of lines litter Pap’s catalog. But they don’t say much about him, and as Jay-Z has mentioned in the past, one hot line does not make a hot song. Lyrics of fury on another dude’s beat can give listeners a cheap thrill, something that gets heavy iPod rotation. But mixtape cuts rarely make the impact, or are crafted with the care, of a song destined for an album. Pap acknowledges the limitations of 16-bar freestyles and $5 mixtapes as well as the consequences of being known as a mixtape artist, but defiantly suggests that he’s not a one-trick MC. “I can put out numerous mixtapes and my album is still gonna be incredible,” he says. “Some guys lack talent and they air themselves out on a mixtape. When it comes to do their album they can’t deliver.” Kay Slay, talking about the one-dimensional quality of mixtape rappers, puts it more succinctly, “You can’t kill the block but so many times. You kill the block on four records…everybody’s dead now. Put the gun down. Take ’em to the hospital.”