By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
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To Rhymes, these words "connect to all segments of life. A lot of people who do music have fantasies that they're putting out there, but in the same sentence, they're telling you to keep it real. So I just think that's misleading if you're telling people this is the way you're really living and you're not living that way at all.
"There can be fiction in nonfiction, so I don't stick only to what I see in reality; I imagine things that I would wish to be. It could be my own little vision--that's what entertainment is. But I try to walk a thin line where what I'm talking about has something to do with what's real and isn't just a bunch of bullshit. With some motherfuckers, you're getting the truth in some ways but bullshit in a lot of ways. But I try to keep it real all the time."
Rhymes links his allergy to falsity to his upbringing. He was born in Brooklyn and relocated to Long Island twelve years later. Once there, he quickly became involved in the lip-synch contests and rhyming challenges that are still ubiquitous throughout the area. At one such match, he met and befriended Charlie Brown, a rapper two years his senior. After teaming up, they came to the attention of Public Enemy producers Eric Sadler and Hank Shocklee. Before long, they'd joined forces with two compatriots--Dinco D and Milo in De Dance--to form Leaders of the New School. The four-piece signed to Elektra Records (still Busta's label) in 1989. But the platters put out under the Leaders' moniker failed to lift the performers to the national stardom for which they lusted, in spite of generally positive reviews and the support of famous friends. Prior to The Coming, in fact, Rhymes was better known for his cameo appearance in A Tribe Called Quest's saucy cut "Scenario" and his association with Mary J. Blige and TLC than for anything put out under the Leaders' umbrella.
Nonetheless, Rhymes remains true to his School. "Keep It Movin'," from The Coming, serves as a Leaders reunion, and Rhymes confirms that he hopes to participate in a new project by the group after his current promotional tour has run its course. He's also busy with his own production company, the Flipmode Squad, where he's working to develop a cadre of artists, including Rampage the Last Boy Scout, Lord Have Mercy and R&B vocalist Mika. In addition, he's already at work on his second solo manifesto. That's a load for even a hyperactive sort like Rhymes to carry on his shoulders, and he concedes that there are times when he feels overburdened. But he can't slow down. After all, as he shouts in his song "Everything Remains Raw," "there's only five years left."
This reference, Rhymes divulges, is to the end of the millennium, a date that concerns him just as much as it once did the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. But while the Purple One was content to stave off the apocalypse by partying like it's 1999, Rhymes prefers a nose-to-the-grindstone approach.
"I don't think people really understand the intensity of that whole change," he allows. "In a lot of ways, we're not going to know what's next, because we can't dictate what takes place. But you can bet there'll be some weird shit coming down. Time is precious, and before you blink a couple of times, you'll be in a whole new thousand-year period. And those motherfuckers who think they know everything may find out they're wrong. There are going to be changes, and we don't know if the changes are going to be for the better or for the worse. I look at it this way: Change means building and destroying, and in order to build certain shit, you've got to destroy certain shit. A lot of things are going to have to be eliminated before change can occur, and for all we know, we might be the targets for what might have to be eliminated for these changes. And I don't want to be that motherfucking target."
So Rhymes plans to keep working and rapping and running until he's breathed his last. "Even though I've been contractually signed to Elektra since 1989, I'm only doing my first solo album in 1996," he says. "So despite my doing this shit for going on seven years, I'm only now getting my chance. I'm only 24, so that's not so bad, but I'm still like, 'Damn, man, I've got so much shit to do.'"