DMX, Big Pun and Mos Def are all New York legends who rose to prominence during the 1990s. With DMX and Big Pun originating from the Bronx and Mos Def from Brooklyn, they all had their own distinct cadences and flows, making themselves instantly recognisable on records.
DMX was known for his aggressive style and provocative lyrics. The rapper (real name Earl Simmons) was an unstoppable force in his prime who seemed able to make anthems with ease, and from ‘What’s My Name?’ to ‘Where the Hood At?’, the New York rapper was an unparalleled hit-maker.
Arising during the late ’80s, DMX was scouted and managed by Ruff Ryders Entertainment, who promised they would provide him with success. In fact, the company tried to launch DMX in 1992 with the single ‘Born Loser,’ but distributed by Columbia Records, it went nowhere. DMX’s breakthrough came with his smash hit ‘Ruff Ryders Anthem’. Under the management of Ruff Ryders Entertainment, Simmons met two young, talented producers the firm also managed. One would go on to produce his ‘Ruff Ryders Anthem’. Swizz Beatz.
To begin with, Simmons wasn’t interested in recording the Ruff Ryders beat. Still, after much grovelling, Swizz convinced him to do it, and it paid off, becoming the lead single off his debut album, which went to number one in America, selling over four million copies.
Although they both started out in the Bronx, unlike Simmons, Big Pun came from the inner city projects of the Castle Hill neighbourhood. As one of the most prominent Puerto Rican rappers of the early ’90s, Big Pun tracked down Fat Joe, also a Bronx native, and alongside a group of friends, one of those being rapper Cuban Links, he waited for Fat Joe outside a bodega.
When Fat Joe exited the Bodega, Pun asked him if he could rap for him, which he did, and, as the head of a crew, Joe made Pun the face of the Terror Squad. Both Pun and DMX have passed, but their legacies live on. However, Mos Def is still alive, although many believe he was blackballed within the music industry as a result of his infamous song ‘The R*pe Over’.
‘The R*pe Over’ was pulled from Def’s album without his notice. The song (which is a cover of Jay-Z’s ‘The Take Over’) contains lyrics such as, “Old white men is running this rap sh*t, corporate force is running this rap sh*t, some tall Israeli is running this rap sh*t, quasi-homosexuals is running this rap sh*t”. The song, which speaks on corporate ownership of rap and sends direct shots at Lyor Cohen, got Def snubbed by every major record label.
Dropping the Mos Def moniker in the early noughties, the rapper moved to South Africa permanently and started going by the stage name Yasiin Bey. The rapper, who has always had strong opinions and politically charged music, still uses his voice for activism. He has blasted the concept of American exceptionalism on many occasions and has continued to speak up against police brutality.
Irrespective of their predicaments now, these three are all legends. Watch this rare footage of them freestyling in a cypher alongside Canibus, Mic Geronimo and John Forte from the ’90s.