Label: Sugar Hill Records
Killer Cuts: "Street Wise," "What's Going On Black?," "Another Contract"
See Also: MobStyle The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

If you've seen Paid in Full, you know Azie Faison's story. Ditto if you've read his interview with F.E.D.S. Magazine. It bears mentioning, because at a time when New York City had little in the way of gangster rap to speak of, these guys were pioneers. Not only did they diss N.W.A. (on "Don't Dis Nobody"), but they became an inspiration to hundreds of rappers, from AZ (who used A.Z.'s name) to Raekwon (the remix of "Rainy Dayz" actually uses the same Harold Melvin sample as A.Z.'s "What's Goin' On Black") to Roc-A-Fella (Paid In Full). You may have heard that old canard about how not very many people bought Velvet Underground albums, but everyone who did ran out and started a band. Consider A.Z. and his group MobStyle New York's gangster rap Velvet Underground.

J-Zone, is his essential Ego Trip MobStyle appreciation post, discusses how they also pioneered the independent model at a time when every New York rapper seemed to know a major label A&R. So not only were they musical pioneers, but they were business pioneers as well. But even more importantly, the group made great music; A.Z. might not have been the most skilled technician, but he was clearly a craftsman who cared about the art he was creating. In true gangster rap tradition, he transformed his own reality into an artistic cautionary tale on "What's Goin' On, Black," the video for which is essential viewing. Other tracks on this release—which came out only on cassette, and features some tape hiss like you ain't never heard—are also worthy of attention, particularly the sleek scene-setter "Street Wise," and the bass-driven noir of "Another Contract."