November 20, 2011

Silver Anniversary Series - An Intelligent Tragedy?

In this edition of the series, I’m going to shine the spotlight on an emcee who has been in the game for so long, has done so much, but seen so little success when compared to his peers, partners and accomplices.  I'm talking about Intelligent Hoodlum aka Tragedy Khadafi aka Jayski!!!!

We all know that Tragedy Khadafi originally went under the name Intelligent Hoodlum when his debut album (of the same name) dropped in 1990.  But not so many know that 5 years before this, he went under the name Jayski and was one half of a duo who called themselves the Super Kids?  The other half of Super Kids was DJ Hot Day.

Super kids dropped several 12”s in 1985 and 1986 when Tragedy was only 14 years old (although when listening to these tracks now, you would be forgiven for thinking that he was a bit younger)! Still, these early self releases on the classic Nia record label caught the attention of Marley Marl.  Marley recruited Tragedy as a junior member of the Juice Crew and then featured him on several of the tracks on his 1988 In Control – Vol 1 album and again on the follow up album (In Control – Vol 2) released in 1991.

Unfortunately, the name Tragedy was an unintentionally prophetic one, as it seems that his life was to be full of turmoil and misfortune.  Before Marley’s first album was released, Tragedy was convicted of robbery and sent to jail for 3 years, so he never got to enjoy his success.  This probably also explains why he never blew up like all the other members of the Juice Crew, their prime years were mainly 1988 to 1990.  By 1990, hip hop had moved on dramatically and he was effectively starting from scratch (again).

Despite the unfortunate start to his music career, he more than made up for lost time when he dropped his debut album Intelligent Hoodlum in 1990. With Marley on production, and additional input from Large Professor, this was destined to be a gem and an instant classic.
This album is not under review right now so I’m not going to dwell on it, but it’s interesting to note that track 3 is called Trag Invasion and track 12 is titled Your Tragedy.  So a theme for the use of the term ‘tragedy’ was already emerging.

By 1993, the title of his 2nd album Tragedy: Sage of a Hoodlum was showing the final stages of transition to his new moniker, Tragedy Khadafi.

Now, let’s step back to 1986 and his first singles as part of the duo Super Kids.  The first of those singles was called Go, Queensbridge and was the one that caught Marley Marl’s attention.  The second was called… wait for it…. The Tragedy (Don’t Do It).
This second single was produced by Marley, so he clearly didn’t waste any time taking Tragedy under his wing.  It’s not the best Marley Marl production from that time, but it’s fairly typical of the era.

In the same vein of many records from this era, it’s a story of a kid who uses cocaine and loses everything before ultimately losing his life.  Then his brother follows the same path and finally commits suicide.
Interestingly, at the end of the song Tragedy rhymes “The tragedy, won’t happen to me” in reference to him not taking cocaine and going the same route.  Well that might be true, but instead he ended up selling the stuff and in 2007 he was sent to prison for four years.  He was released last summer and has already made guest appearances on a couple of singles, but there is no confirmation of a future album at this time.

It wouldn’t be a complete Silver Anniversary review without dropping some nerdology about our man Tragedy.  Well, Tragedy’s most notable work (from a commercial perspective) is probably Capone & Noreaga’s debut LP The War Report released in 1997.  Although Tragedy wasn’t an official member of Capone & Noreaga, he actually makes a greater appearance (and many would argue a greater contribution) than Capone!!!  He features on more than half the album, as well as producing several of the tracks himself.  He also pulled in his friends Marley Marl, Imam Thug and Mobb Deep to help out on the project.  He was essentially the backbone of the project and a large contributor to the success of the album.
Tragedy and CNN parted ways after the release of the album and it’s fair to say that CNN have never come close to replicating the success of their debut.

He also starred in a documentary about his life, entitled Tragedy: The Story of Queensbridge.  Released in 2005, the film gives insight into his life, upbringing, career and his convictions, but it's also like an unofficial biography of the evolution of Queensbridge hip hop.  It also documents the reunion of Tragedy with Capone & Noreaga. I'll provide links to this documentary in the next few days as it's definitely worth watching.

For me personally, I would dearly love to see the recently freed Tragedy make a return to Marley’s banging production accompanying the insightful and provocative type of lyrics that made his debut LP such an underground success.  This was a perfect blend of raw, uncompromising hip hop without feeling like it had deliberately been kept underground to avoid commercial attention, which is the most difficult balance to strike for any true emcee.

Although Tragedy is long over due some major success and greater recognition, I think it’s the fact that he’s been denied this that has kept him so ‘real’ and appreciated in the eyes of his fans (in much the same way as Craig G is). Had he become a shining star like the prominent members of the Juice Crew, he would probably have faded into the background many moons ago like most of the others did (Masta Ace being the most notable exception!).

So let's have a listen to that 2nd 12" released under the Super Kids moniker The Tragedy (Don’t Do It) which is produced by Marley Marl .

Mike Check

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