4. Tragedy Khadafi
From: Queens, NY
Signature Song: Tragedy Khadafi "Arrest the President" (1990)
Queensbridge-based Tragedy Khadafi has been in the industry since the mid-1980s, and has collaborated with many artists who found considerably more mainstream success and/or critical respect. Hamstrung by bad luck and perpetual recidivism issues, Tragedy still receives attention from fans of Queensbridge hip-hop and European record collectors, but otherwise doesn't get the props showered on many of his peers.
He debuted on 1985's Super Kids single "Go, Queensbridge" with DJ Hot Day; this drew the attention of Juice Crew producer Marley Marl, who made the rapper (then known as MC Percy) a 'junior member' of the crew in 1987. After a robbery conviction sent him to the sidelines, he returned with a new name and a newfound interest in Five Percenter ideology. Calling himself the Intelligent Hoodlum, he released a self-titled album (produced by Marley Marl and Large Professor) that was full of energized, politically excoriating hip-hop that captured the sound of a more conscientious era. "Arrest The President" was a clear standout.
His second and final LP as Intelligent Hoodlum, Tragedy: Saga of a Hoodlum, found the rapper reaching for a more diverse, modern sound, thanks in part to production from underrated beatmaker K-Def. Among the highlights were "Grand Groove," which re-incorporated the same sample as DJ Hot Day's "Hot Day Master Mix," (the Super Kids had appeared on the b-side back in 1987) and the "Grand Groove (Bonus Mix),", a powerful, elegiac reflection on mortality.
The rapper had evolved, becoming more reflective and worldly. But his explicit political consciousness passed once the artist started recording with Capone N Noreaga in the late 1990s. Although he's only credited as a guest artist throughout the record, the rapper was a driving force behind the group's seminal 1998 debut The War Report; Capone, who was incarcerated midway through the recording process, has less airtime on the record than the newly rechristened Tragedy Khadafi.
Khadafi appeared on eight tracks, and the record became a seminal event in the revitalization of New York gangster rap during the late 1990s. Khadafi continued to record after a falling out with Noreaga, first as a member of the Iron Sheiks alongside friend Imam T.H.U.G., then solo. His later records slid further from recognition, but tracks like 2003's "Neva Die Alone pt. 2" proved the rapper still has a striking gift for narrative that many of his contemporaries couldn't match.