This or That? Herb Mcgruff vs. Lil’ Herb
Herb Mcgruff got the short end of the stick. As a member of the mid-90s rap group Children of the Corn, he rapped alongside Big L, Murda Mase and Killa Kam (later known as Cam'ron) but never saw his career blow up like theirs. In truth, it was really Bloodshed, the most unknown rapper in Children of the Corn, who got shafted, as he was the only rapper in the group who didn't get a label deal, but he's sprawled all over the group's one official release, 'Collector's Edition,' from 2003. Mcgruff appears a measly three times across 21 songs.
Mcgruff met Big L in Harlem, where they would convene at 139th and Lenox, the spot that eventually gave birth to the NFL (N--gaz For Life) crew that gets shouted out across 'Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous.' He often sounded like Big L on the mic, especially in the cadences he'd use, and he even had a vocal resemblance to QB's Nature at times, but when you revisit forgotten East Coast gems of the '90s, Mcgruff's contributions are among the best. In 1994, he got together with Godfather Don, the legendary MC/producer who released a slew of classic singles and beat tapes on Hydra Entertainment, to record a four-track demo that eventually found limited release on One Leg Up Records. The EP never gets old and even includes goodies like the original version of '8 Iz Enuff,' produced by Buckwild and featuring both core and ancilliary members of C.O.C.
In 1998, Mcgruff dropped his major label debut on Uptown called 'Destined To Be,' a cruel joke of a title given Mcgruff's relatively smalltime fame in the wake of the other superstars born out of C.O.C. He wanted to maintain the underground sound of cult favorites like 'Harlem Kids Get The Biz' and 'Dangerzone,' but in '98, Harlem and Puffy were blowing up with the Harlem World movement, and the label seemed to want to glom onto that hype. It didn't work - neither Mcgruff's rhymes nor his image were flashy enough to market like the babyfaced Mase, and Uptown knew it, abandoning promo efforts for the album and Mcgruff out in the cold. It is the only album he's ever released as a solo artist.
Today, there's a Herb with a lot more commercial promise than Mcgruff, as unlikely as it seems. He's known as Lil' Herb, or G Herbo, and he's come up alongside Lil' Bibby in Chi Town's oversaturated Drill scene. The two of them first made noise with 'Kill Shit,' the 2012 song that Drake was filmed rapping to in the lead up to 'Nothing Was The Same' (Drake loves nothing more than being "the first guy" up on new rappers). The footage gave the duo more exposure than ever before, and this year has seen both artists release their own solo mixtapes -- Bibby with 'Free Crack' and Herb with the superior 'Welcome to Fazoland.' The tape, dedicated to his deceased friend Fazo (whose death propelled him to take music seriously), is a barrage of street tales, told with the desperation of a kid who's rapping to save his life. His flow, which has seen some adoption in recent months, barrels straight ahead, baring down on you like a snubnose to your forehead. Drill is maligned by many for its grueling beats and violence-laden lyrics, but those are only two of many sides to Herb's music. If Public Enemy was the CNN of the ghetto in the late '80s, Bibby and Herb serve the same function in 2014. A trace of pain laces songs like 'Mamma I'm Sorry' and 'Still F--ked Up' as Herb recounts his life in an embittered, battle-weary tone. The problems in Chicago are much bigger than rap; through music, artists like Bibby and Herb are trying to escape a fate they may have been dealt at birth.
Herb's latest foray into popularity came alongside Nicki Minaj, who enlisted the rapper's guttural voice for 'Chiraq,' one of many recent street singles building up to Nicki's next album, 'The Pinkprint.' It was the Chicago rapper's biggest look to date, at least until Nicki brought him out at this year's Summer Jam in NYC, where he was introduced to a gang of listeners that might have never even heard his name. An interview on Sway In The Morning (where he told Russell Simmons he could get kidnapped in the Chi), an appearance in WorldStarHipHop's 'The Field' documentary and a recent profile by The Fader have also boosted the 18-year-old's profile, as he seems one of few primed to capitalize on the somewhat already-crested wave of Drill music. His next moves are crucial.
Herb Mcgruff is a legend, though in honesty he's respected more for his membership to Children of the Corn than he may be for his solo work. Lil' Herb has proved he's not just a flash in the pan over the last two years, but only time will tell what his legacy his. S--t, he's only 18. What teenager worries about their legacy at all? Drill has chewed rappers up and spit them back out as the rap media tenderizes upcoming acts like rotisserie chicken, and together with Bibby, Herb seems ripe for poaching. Besides Chief Keef, a Chicago star is yet to emerge on a larger platform, though Lil' Durk could snatch the spotlight when Def Jam decides to push the button. Herb has peoples attention now, and while he doesn't need to rush it, he does need to maintain the same quality control that 'Welcome To Fazoland' displays, or risk losing the faith of contemporary ADD-riddled listeners.
Essentially, the towns these guys hail from will always have their backs. Chicago rap fans will continue to shed light on and show love to younger artists struggling to transcend the city's plague of violence, while trust New Yorkers can be trusted to dig into their Jansports and uncover old '90s relics at any given time. Mcgruff's vocal influence is even evident in Meyhem Lauren, who veers dangerously close to the Harlemite's style. The new and the old are part of the same continuum. Even herbs get their place in hip-hop history.