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The best kept secret in music



May 2006
South Bronx hip-hop giant AG expands his crate ... in California.

Andre Barnes (a.k.a. AG) no longer lives in the Patterson Houses-where he saw Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizzard Theodore scratching in the park as a small child, and scribbled the impeccable rhymes on Showbiz and AG's impossibly mature Runaway Slave LP as a teenager-but he's still very much a part of the tapestry here.

"These are quiet projects, but you wouldn't believe the violence that goes on here at night," notes the diminutive rapper as he enters the South Bronx housing complex, stopping to chat with some old friends. Across the street, a mural promoting his 1999 solo debut, The Dirty Version-and also paying homage to each of his fellow soldiers in the legendary Diggin' In The Crates crew-remains intact along the side of a Chinese restaurant, six years later. "People always want to put posters there but the owner always says, 'You gotta call AG.'"

While he now lives across the borough, on a typical day you'll find AG at his boy Woo's place, indulging in his favorite vice: playing sports video games with friends for bragging rights and money.

"Competition is big in the hood," AG says. "It gives you an opportunity to show how good you are-people here don't often get those opportunities. So we take this shit serious. We've played for around $500 a game-not against each other, 'cause the arguments get out of hand, but we'll go play five guys in another building."

Harnessing that competitive energy while a student at DeWitt Clinton High School in the late '80s, Andre The Giant-the moniker's a reference to his lyrical vastness (eventually shortened to AG)-entered the harsh world of Bronx freestyle ciphers, where he battled and immediately befriended DITC founder Lord Finesse. Through Finesse he met Showbiz and, finding chemistry with the MC/producer, the pair quickly took matters into their own hands, self-releasing their Soul Clap EP in 1990. They sold the EP out of Show's trunk before signing as the first act on Payday Records. The result was the visionary Runaway Slave (1991) and its back-to-basics follow-up, Goodfellas (1995). But in 1998, around the time of Show and AG's Full Scale, and his own The Dirty Version, AG says he found himself falling back.

"Whether I didn't like where hip-hop was going or I didn't like dealing with the phony people in this business, I just did the music and let other people do the rest," he admits. "That's over with now. Lyrically, I'm at m prime and I'm out to let people know that. There's a purpose for me, after 17 years, to still look and feel young; to flow like this. I have to show the people that reason, feel me? It's like I've been resurrected."

For his latest project, the soon-to-be-released Get Dirty Radio, AG stepped away from the Bronx (for the most part, although Finesse and Show each contribute a beat) and headed to California, where he hooked up with Look Records' DJ Design. At the Look office in San Francisco, Design introduced AG to producers he'd heard about, like Madlib and J Dilla, and ones he hadn't, like Dabrye and Madlib's brother, Oh No.

"When I got these beats, it just took me back. I feel producers like Madlib [and] Dilla are an extension of Diggin' In The Crates. It was like putting something that people know from Diggin'-myself-and mixing it with people that were influenced by Diggin' and making one package."

As Design puts it: "AG was someone who all the producers running the underground now grew up listening to. I thought if we could put him together with this new wave of producers, it would bring AG a whole new audience, bring about some interesting collaborations, and be a good opportunity for my label. Everyone I talked to immediately wanted to be on this."

The only guest voices on Get Dirty Radio's 17 filler-free tracks are those of DITC's Party Arty; Lil' Rose, a 13-year-old family friend embarking on a rap career; and Aloe Blacc, who adds a pair of hooks on "Take A Ride" and "Hip Hop Quotable." Cross-referencing AG's previous solo effort, The Dirty Version, the title refers to a back-to-basics, DITC-inspired approach to hip-hop. "Hip-hop isn't meant to be clean,' says AG. "It's for the artist that has a nasal problem, or doesn't look so cute. Hip-hop started 'cause no one was listening to us kids in the Bronx. It was saying, 'They wouldn't let me in anyway so I want to go further to the left.' Now our music is blending in with clean music-that has me upset. If we keep making music in that direction we'll have no culture left for the people who want to say 'Fuck America.' Not saying I want to say that, but there's a bunch of kids here that need to let the world know what's going on. And if they clean the music up, you'll never know." - XLR8R


Selected Discography:

1992 Showbiz & AG- Party Groove/Soul Clap EP- London/Payday

1992 Showbiz & AG- Runaway Slave LP- Payday

1995 Showbiz & AG- Goodfellas LP(featuring "Next Level")- Payday

1999 AG- The Dirty Version LP- Landspeed

2000 Tony Touch- "The Club" feat. AG

2001 O.C.- "Weed & Drinks" feat. AG

2004 Handsome Boy Modeling School- "A Day In the Life" feat. AG, RZA, and the Mars Volta- Elektra


Feeling a bit camera shy


Both New York and San Francisco have professional sports teams named the Giants. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that legendary MC AG—aka Andre the Giant—recorded his latest album, Get Dirty Radio, 3,000 miles away from his South Bronx birthplace, in California. What is a surprise, however, is that while longtime collaborators Lord Finesse and Showbiz appear on Get Dirty Radio, the majority of the tracks were crafted by producers the rapper’s never worked with before, including Jake One, Dabrye, Tommy Tee, Oh No, Look Records head honcho DJ Design, and—representing somewhat of a hip-hop head’s wet dream—Madlib and J-Dilla.

“That’s gonna let em know right there,” AG predicts. “Those are two guys who carried the tradition of digging in the crates, and DJ Design linked me up with them, so it’s like the old legend with the new kings … The album is crazy.”

On the Madlib-produced “Frozen” (the album’s first single), AG proves he’s still got the verbal skills that made him a legend: Niggas say we real cause the way we got down/ From the streets to the industry locked down/Plot now on the world that’s the next stop/ Ladies listen cause I’m known to hit the wet spot. The DJ Design-produced “Triumph” bears much personal significance for AG, who’s overcome many trials and tribulations in his life, from a murder charge (since overturned), industry-related politics and the tragic death of his good friend Big L. On the track, he pays homage to his fallen comrade, declaring Big L will never be forgotten, then goes on to say, the Big Apple, I eat it rotten/ Just to keep it poppin’. Another unquestioned highlight is one of J-Dilla’s last production credits, “Hip Hop Quotable (feat. Aloe Blacc), a brilliant track which traces the history of hip-hop through its more memorable lyrics over the years, and finds AG up in the lab, stabbing that pad with a pen again.

Get Dirty Radio’s emphasis on lyrical skills, classic concepts, and innovative new music might just change people’s minds about the current state of NY rap, which in recent years has followed trends more than it has set them. “If music is pumping, Imma get into it,” AG says. “But the message, the lyrics, and the content are horrible right now.”

The album marks not only a return to form for East Coast-style rap, but a new beginning for AG, a member of the fabled Diggin’ In the Crates (DITC) crew, still fondly remembered by hip-hop heads for such classic tracks as “Soul Clap,” “Runaway Slave,” and “Party Groove.” AG says making Get Dirty Radio “revitalized” him as an artist, to the point where he feels he’s at the “peak” of his game, 17 years after releasing his first record. “If I’m gonna be in it, I gotta live it,” he explains. “And Imma a live it to the fullest.”

Growing up in the South Bronx’s infamous Patterson projects, AG was exposed to both street life and hip-hop at an early age. He remembers excitedly watching parties thrown by the likes of Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, and the Cold Crush brothers, and being introduced to freestyling by his cousin, LB (currently a graffiti artist and graphic designer with his own clothing line.) While in high school he battled metaphor/punchline master Lord Finesse; the two hit it off, and after meeting producer/DJ Showbiz, he became a full-fledged member of DITC, along with Show, Big L (R.I.P.), Finesse, Buckwild, Diamond D, Fat Joe, and OC. Show and AG’s first EP came out in 1990; an LP, Runaway Slave, followed in 1992; both are hailed as Golden Age gems which currently demand a pretty penny on eBay.

Unfortunately, Show & AG’s 1995 album Goodfellaz got caught up in industry politics after their then-label Payday was bought by Universal. “The people in charge didn’t know anything about music,” he explains. “They didn’t do music, they didn’t live in the clubs.” Despite the setback, which cooled their momentum considerably, AG and his brethren continued to make records. 1998’s independently-released DITC album, Full Scale, moved a reported 30,000 units on vinyl and was hailed by the Source as one of the top underground albums of that year; in 1999, AG dropped his first solo album, The Dirty Version. Since then, the rapper has been sought out for guest verses on records by Dilated Peoples, Blacksheep, DJ Greyboy, Casual, and Handsome Boy Modeling School. He’s also toured numerous countries, including Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Japan. “I’ve been overseas a lot,” he says, noting that he’s been embraced by international audiences who appreciate hip-hop culture beyond just the current fad or trend. “They keep the real movement alive.”

In 2002, AG came across DJ Design backstage at a show in Germany. This was the first time the two reunited since 1994, when Design promoted a show in Seattle headlined by none other than Show & AG. The two discussed working together on an AG solo album, and soon after that, the rapper flew out to San Francisco to write what would become Get Dirty Radio, stay