The corner has long been a landmark element of rap music. Street corners are frequently mentioned both as a familiar fixture in the neighborhood as well as intersections of different directions. People meet on corners, but they also turn corners, potentially entering a new area that can vary considerably from the one they are putting behind them.
BK-born, ATL-based beatmaker Raticus aims to pay homage to rap’s street corner tradition and enlists a number of familiar names to help him create “Street Corner Diaries”. He sets the tone with an instrumental intro that is notable for sampling N.W.A’s MC Ren, which doesn’t necessarily take listeners old enough to remember but still shows the range of influence the producer could be drawing from.
Despite putting an emphasis on Brooklyn with his choice of guests (as well as loose Cannibal Ox connections), the first to be called to the stage by Raticus is Guilty Simpson. “Evergreen Rd” features the stoic observations you’ve come to expect from the Detroit veteran. It’s always a task to get him to sound interesting, and while he’s engaging lyrically (“Walk with me / That corner felt like a small city”), empathic even (“Coulda been a Michael shootin’ at his rivals / until they left him stretched with his eyes rolled / back, all for the love of the scratch / Thugs hug the corner that won’t hug ’em back”), the set-up of one verse having to stand up against a fully furnished track makes Guilty’s raps appear even more forlorn than they already are.
“Street Corner Diaries” is ambitious because it asks rappers to deliver something substantial in relatively short spans and to do so in the presence of strong drums and all kinds of sonic requisites like the yelling voices that you hear at the junction between “Evergreen Rd” and “Kingston Ave”, where Ruste Juxx welcomes you with tourist information straight from the shoulder:
“Kingston Ave got some stories I can’t write about
You gotta visit to see what all of the hype’s about
But not without a tour guide who’s fully connected
Even then you’re not a 100% fully protected”
When it comes to concise soundbites, Juxx always delivers, but other modes of expression also have their place on the project. Manhattan’s Milano Constantine paints a Wu-esque canvas to nocturnal, nervous jazz on “Central Park West”. Further uptown Vast Aire overviews decadence and decay on the festive “Harlem Blocks”. While Detroit’s MarvWon is in full storytelling mode on “Joy Rd” as he witnesses an altercation from a safe distance, admitting to be glad that the bus arrives to take him away from the scene. Sadat is also witness to violent acts on “Utica Ave”, lamenting “another case of bad-aimin’ New York niggas / increasin’ the murder rate and risin’ up the figure / Shootin’ in the crowd is fuckboy style / You gets no points for hittin’ a child”.
Fresno’s Planet Asia is boom bap’s token West Coast cameo for twenty years running, but he brings unimitable local flavor to “Pottel Block” [sic]:
“Every day is like a Pottle Block auction
Over here we got it poppin’
What you need, mountain bikes or weed?
Holla at me, god, you got options”
Whereas Kil Ripkin has fond memories of “Dean & Underhill” despite performing with a somber tone in a similarly gloomy environment, towards the second half “Street Corner Diaries” begins to decline into stereotypical street fare with violent and criminal first-person accounts from the likes of Jamal Gasol and Realio Sparkzwell. When Big Twins shows up on “41st Side”, you’re reminded that the latter had an entire album dedicated to it in 2001. And frankly as one of the longest-serving Queens representatives Blaq Poet isn’t the guy to offer any new insight on “QB Blocks”, given how often these premises have been the topic of rap songs.
Raticus has quite a history in recording New York rap, having been in the studio when Heltah Skeltah recorded “Magnum Force” or when Masta Ace tweaked his classic comeback “Disposable Arts” – and before that even getting his then-name Rick Rat on a 12″ in 1996. Eventually focusing on his own musical output, he single-handedly produced Ruste Juxx’ “King of Crime Heights” two years ago and later convinced elusive MC’s Mooch and Al.divino to work with him on individual full-lengths. “Street Corner Diaries” is ostensibly made with love and has a relatable concept to it, although the soundscape is yet too cluttered and muddled to evoke deeper emotions. As a quick fix for your hunger for chopped samples, heavy drum presence and just generally music that tries to recreate the hustle and bustle of the inner city, it gets the job done. Raticus may have turned a few corners in his life, but the advantage of having been around the block is that eventually you will find back home. “Street Corner Diaries” gives the impression that this is exactly what Raticus wants to do, and for that we can only applaud him.