For those unfamiliar with the Golden Era of Hip Hop in the 1990’s, here is some more background about that time period which fixates most Hiphoppas. One thing that really epitomized the time was something called Shades of Hip Hop video mixtapes. Now to some, that might sound self-serving, but in 1997 when Shades of Hip Hop debuted, there was no category of video mixtapes, Shades of Hip Ho created it. Not only did these tapes tap into the zeitgeist of the Hip Hop entrepreneurial spirit, but they embraced the concept of reality video everyone would come to love on a daily basis. Back then, the idea of Hip Hop reality video was rare and practiced mainly by a few technology geeks who were in to video. Most people didn’t want their random moments of life recorded and then broadcast to the World for anyone to see. Rappers wanted it, but most people aren’t rappers. Fortunately for us as video geeks, absorbing new technology as it changed from analog to digital, we happened to be around at a good time in Hip Hop.
The level of creativity, passion, and sincerity of the average emcee at the time, was much less based on pre-planned gimmicks and more about proving one’s worthiness. Mixtapes in general during the 90’s, were the backbone of the culture. The revolutionary technology of CD duplication with computers and digital imaging with inexpensive inkjet printers, opened up the entrepreneurial spirit of Hip Hop. The 90’s were a time of “blowing up” and you could get there out of the trunk of your car. Many people told the tale of being able to independently produce their own mixtapes and go from hood to hood peddling their goods like crack to fiends, if they were lucky. That transfer of creativity from one hood to the next, was the equivalent of the hood internet before so-called Black people started going on-line. The bootleggers who sold mixtapes in barber shops, beauty salons, bodegas, the corner store or even record stores, which have all but died out completely now, provided hood dwellers with the trends and culture of the day. The culmination of the attitudes presented on those mixtapes and bootleg movies, was like the consciousness of the hood. You could tell what the people in that area were about, by the types of mixtapes being bought and sold.
The distinguishing feature which made Shades of Hip Hop a mixtape that was set apart from anything else were several. First off, Shades of Hip Hop unlike most mixtapes at the time was on video, not audio. And although it featured exclusive performances and rhyme cyphers, the bulk of the material was interviews and behind the scenes footage. It was reality TV before people fell in love with it. Still, it also contained some of the more exploited aspects of the culture that later became commonplace. First there was the incessant cursing or use of profane and/or obscene language. Like Noreage said on CDS, “I curse too much to try to be edited,” which is the reason Shades never tried to edit rappers talking. That was the first change made to the Hip Hop mixtape format. Now, its funny to see how much so-called profanity has seeped into regular conversation. Now mainstream Americans talk more like Hiphoppas than they used to.
Profanity was just the beginning to the negative impact of Shades however. Because we were video geeks, many of us had a vice for sexy women on video and liked to show it to our friends. We did that on Shades to the point that, the best rating we could attempt to place on our covers was NR for Not Rated. Subsequently, when Shades of Hip Hop first came out, it was in the documentary section of the video store, with “Faces of Death,” because of the language and sexual content alone. Usually the scenes were from “Lock Door” parties where strippers would do XXX-rated shows, like the infamous condom on the foot lock door from Shades:Time to Shine. We also just had voyeuristic footage of the Black Greek Fest weekends and Black Bike weekend motorcycle rallies up and down the East coast, that added to the sexual content because of the way we mainly showed shots of sexy women’s asses.
Further passed that, Shades began a trend of artists smoking weed on camera. From the first time such a scene aired on NJ cable in 1996 with Patra, on the roof of the Sony building, rolling up and smoking weed was a regular sight on a Shades tape. It was like showing artists in their natural state, even if they were on the block actually peddling crack to fiends in between takes. Our raw form videos would take place anywhere Hip Hop conversations took place which usually meant on the street. While we didn’t set out to promote a drug-dealer lifestyle, some of our best footage is a grimy, unscripted, uncensored look at life from the perspective of the average hood dweller.
Shades of Hip Hop: Controlled Dangerous Substance was the fifth installment in the series of video mixtapes which introduced us to Noreaga as he finished up his debut solo album N.O.R.E at the Hit Factory in NYC. Jay-Z, also made an appearance with Memphis Bleek, Sauce Money and Dame Dash live on stage for some exclusive video remixes laced with contemporary footage from the hood like we mentioned above. Plus the first exclusive interview of the legendary group Onyx, prompted rapper Sticky Fingaz to leap onto the table as he spit his rhyme. Also captured during this time were Kid Capri, Jadakiss and Sheik Looch of the Lox, Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz, Consequence, Cee-lo Green, and a young 50 Cent before he got shot.
The video mixtape CDS, stands the test of time from it’s first released in 1998 until today, almost 16 years later. The whole volume can be viewed on-line through the shadesradio.com Video Vault/Archive. There you can find CDS and other exclusive clips by browsing through the video library. To find Shades of Hip Hop: CDS go to the folder marked MIXTAPES