Looking back at the lifetime and legacy of a uniquely brilliant and divisive rapper.
Written by J-Zone (@jzonedonttweet)
You really think that you can rhyme?/Well come and get some of this loaded tech nine!/Buck, buck, buck, shots are cold gunnin', and you'll really be 100 Miles and Runnin/You wanna play? Go ride on a sleigh/I'm so large I fucked Michell'e. In the bathroom—we was boning/You should've heard how the bitch was moanin!"
The first time I heard that shit I was 14 years old. I'd taken the Metro North train to 125th Street in Harlem to buy bootleg rap tapes, African medallions, and a pair of Patrick Ewing kicks, all three of which were the rage in the summer of '91. Metro North trains back to Westchester came once per hour, so you usually had to mill around on 125th for a bit before the next one came.
That dull act of killing time quickly became a moment I'll never forget when a Jeep pulled up at the corner of Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and threw its hazards on. The Jeep was your standard drug dealer means of transportation in all of its kitted-up glory, but when I heard those words bumping out of the Alpine speakers, they grabbed me by the throat and tried to choke the shit out of me.
The bassline was so fucking thunderous it probably moved the curtains at the Apollo Theater up the street. The incendiary, hilarious rhymes sounded like they were directed at N.W.A., but in the moment I wasn't totally sure. The voice and tone were reminiscent of what'd happen if D.West from The Maury Show and Mr. T decided to make a record. There was too much alpha male, New York testosterone surging onto Adam Clayton Powell during that moment to get a handle on it all, and crime-spiked, Dinkins-era New York was the backdrop that made the song feel like it was made specifically for a movie about the very time, place and moment I was standing in. Tip-toeing the line between being utterly fascinated and petrified, I approached the motorist to get more info on this mysterious song. He didn't seem thrilled to answer a question that didn't pertain to him making money, but I had my answer, nonetheless. Tim Dog. "Fuck Compton." Got it. I saw it written up in The Source shortly after that, and a month later I was back on 125 buying the cassette single with my pops. We played the song 11 times on the way home that day. Utterly shocked. Hysterically laughing. Anticipating the album. Life would never the same.
The album, Penicillin on Wax, was a Christmas gift a few months later. And as my teenage mischief skyrocketed during my freshman year of high school, Penicillin on Wax became the soundtrack for every single fucked up adolescent experience I endured during that period—it paid a mortgage in my Walkman for three straight months. There was the time I was chased out of a housing project in seven degree weather wearing nothing but a t-shirt, nylon jogging suit pants and a Starter jacket I borrowed from a friend. Apparently you can't visit girls in the projects unless you know people there. I turned on my Walkman and ran for my life in the Arctic weather to catch the last bus home, but nearly missed it because I was laughing too hard. You every try to sprint and laugh hysterically? You can't. Tim Dog nearly got me killed. The "Michell'e Conversation" skit, son. You can't run and listen to him talk about fuckin' a bitch with a pussy like velvet with "harrrd strokes" at the same time. The beats were apocalyptic. The general theme of the album was be hard or die. But you can count on one hand the moments you're not cramped up laughing over the course of the album's 61 minutes.
As I grew out of teenage mischief and into artist territory, Tim Dog became a prime influence. One of few artists who managed to pepper prototype rap machismo, threats and boasts with side-splitting humor (others were Schoolly D and Tim's arch-nemesis, N.W.A.), Tim Dog showed me early on that conveying multiple sides to one's personality makes an artist exciting. For all the classic songs and skill associated with rap's Golden Era, few artists back then were ever able to balance everything and cram it into one LP. Rakim was serious. Mob Style were hard. Kwame was light-hearted. Biz Markie was funny. But Tim Dog was one of the first to bring us the tough guy who killed cops, beat the shit out of soft rappers, then ended his day jerking off to porno magazines and fantasizing about urinating on members of En Vogue. Hardness and candor were concepts that rarely integrated back then. To marry the two took vision and a whole lot of balls. He also taught me that pure rapping skill does not make an artist—if you can't entertain, you're useless overall.
To folks who were around to witness his debut album's release, the word "swag" sounds like a foot fungus. To kids who use the word swag today and fight to attain it, Tim Dog was the old rapper guy who scammed the three women and ended up on Dateline, if they were even paying attention. But whether any of us know it or not, Tim Dog was one of the earliest pioneers of what's referred today as "swag." You know, when a rapper may not have Joe Budden's arsenal of lyrics, but has personality and character by the boatload. The entertainer rapper, the superhero. He may not be Rakim, Kool G Rap, or Joell Ortiz, but he left an impression that will never be forgotten and made an album that entertained from end to end. That's no easy feat. Ask your favorite lyricist with shitty beats and boring songs. And I always felt that beyond the Dateline dating site Ponzi scheme fiasco and being one of the earliest rock-throwers in the East Coast-West Coast beef (both of which will be brought up numerous times today and onward), Tim Dog was a trailblazer. Someone who made rap fun and entertaining while still living up to a serious, professional hitman profile. I'd never heard anything like Penicillin on Wax and haven't since.
Tim Dog guided me through adolescence and my artistic endeavors. It impacted my dad, too. People in their mid 60s don't typically like rap music, but my pops has Penicillin on Wax on his iPod. He fired up "Bronx Nigga" in his stereo system after we talked about Tim's passing last night. It's our favorite rap album of all time. That's impact.
Tim Dog, Rest in peace.
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