It is important to understand, for those unfamiliar with the city and its Hip-Hop scene, that Beanie Sigel is Philadelphia. Named after a notorious street in South Philly, Beans’ criminal stylings and never polished public face reverberate strongly in a city packed to the brim with killers. Escaping the wretched humidity, my friend and I would often abscond to his roof on Girard Avenue. From that vantage point, we would smoke Philly blunts and crack beers while playing our favorite game, “Guess the Gunshots.” We would identify the orchestral array of staccato sounds of violence on a hot summer night.
Sigel is just plain hard; hard as the city he comes from and hard as the scene he presides over. Philadelphia is the birthplace of gangster rap, before LA made it cool for white kids like me to listen to. Rappers like Schoolly D laid the ground work, painting wax with blood and extending the primal, visceral power of Beautiful Violence that had been expressed before him by the likes of Amiri Baraka. Philadelphia’s underground scene still trades primarily in death threats and murder brags. Fearsome mob scenes, bandanas, Phillies fitteds and Philly blunt smoke are all prerequisites for an underground video; Batcave radio and Gillie Da Kid are still more important to the city than Roc-A-Fella or Jay.
So it came as no surprise when Sigel was the toughest thing going on Jay’s label. Eventually joined by Freeway, Peedi Crakk and the rest of State Property, it seemed like Philadelphia Hip-Hop was ready for a rise to prominence. The commercial success of “Roc the Mic” and “Flipside“–a Philly party anthem to this day–pointed to more mainstream respect on the horizon. And then it all disappeared, in a haze of industry sniping and federal weapons charges, not to mention an attempted murder rap he was acquitted of and tax evasion charges he plead to.
Beanie and Free still made music, of course. They were still everywhere in town, either physically (a girl of mine got hit on by Freeway at King of Prussia Mall) or in the air (“Beans knocked Cosmic Kev out on South Street!” my track coach said one day, breaking in to chuckling fits over the course of practice as he reconstructed the alleged incident in his mind). Yet despite a recent renaissance, Sigel still remains somewhat under the radar, for a rapper of his stature. It is this factor that makes him a must listen on those rare occasions where he does come roaring back to the surface.
Sigel’s other nickname, “The Broad Street Bully,” is one of the more apt in rap. It comes from the 1970’s Philadelphia Flyers, a creamsicle colored bunch of ornery bastards and downright dirty fuckers whose overwhelmingly physical brand of hockey pushed the NHL further to bloodsport and garnered two of the most ill-gotten gained Stanley Cups in history. Like those Flyers teams, Sigel pulls no punches and is not afraid to pick fights with his competition, of which it is doubtful he considers he has. His muscular, intimidating flow and persona back him up; he can be somewhat up and down–the verse on Game’s “Heavy Artillery” is as bad as his “Roc the Mic” turn was excellent–but through it all few can channel the hot, sticky, washed out grime of Philadelphia better then Beans.
Channeling those hockey goons from the Orange and Black’s halcyon days, Sigel completely bodies his freestyle on French Montana’s Shot Caller. Harry Fraud’s mournful horn line and simple, slate hard beat call directly back to Beans’ own glory days as well. He can seemingly smell it, flowing like his old self and infusing Montana’s soft original with the sense of street credibility that Sigel has made a career out of. He is back in attack mode; the aforementioned run in with the Feds lends a hint of acerbic irony to bars predominantly about packing heat on tour.
The difference between the original and the freestyle can be summed up in their introductions: Montana opens the song with “Shorty got potential/I could be her sponsor/ Met her backstage at a Summer Jam concert,” pointing out to you a particularly alluring girl; standard, if non-confrontational, fare.
Sigel’s salutation? “Sitting with my pistol/The four pound llama/Strapped on stage at the Summer Jam concert.”
Download Beanie Sigel’s “Shot Caller Freestlye” here.
After review, “Shot Caller Freestyle” receives a PARLÉ