Taking hip-hop production and, more importantly, hip-hop music light years beyond anyone’s wildest dreams on at least two Public Enemy albums, The Bomb Squad will forever be etched in hip-hop’s memory as one of the best production crews to ever bless the boards. Sadly enough, after the critical acclaim they garnered for records like “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” and “Fear of a Black Planet”, the collective underwent significant changes. Subsequently, their presence wasn’t as strongly felt on the following “Apocalypse ’91… The Enemy Strikes Black”, which they only executive-produced. Instead, they began building their own label, the S.O.U.L. imprint on MCA Records. There they stunned the hip-hop world with two releases: Son of Bazerk’s “Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk” and the Young Black Teenagers’ debut album.
While the former was pushing musical boundaries in best Bomb Squad tradition, it was mainly the latter that stirred some of the controversy Public Enemy records were known to cause. Because these so-called Young Black Teenagers were actually white. As akward as the whole concept seemed to be, at least YBT were able to shake any Vanilla Ice comparison. Being quite serious about this rap shit, they came back for seconds with 1993’s “Dead Enz Kids Doin’ Lifetime Bidz”. In the same year, The Bomb Squad produced yet another young black teenager who happened to be white, Chilly Tee, also through S.O.U.L./MCA. If memory serves me right, this was the last time The Bomb Squad ever claimed a full album’s credits. However, a closer look at these credits reveals that only Keith Shocklee and Gary G-Wiz were involved in the actual production process. Names that for some people don’t yet constitute The Bomb Squad.
But the musical aspect aside, what’s really freaking me out about this LP is the fact that Chilly Tee was the son of Nike CEO, chairman and co-founder Phil Knight, who to this day does business with contractors in Asia and Latin America that exploit child labor. This man sees nothing wrong with having children sewing his expensive shoes and soccer balls together for low wages. Yet when his own son asked him, “Daddy please, can I make my own rap album? Oh, and I wanna have Bomb Squad production, too,” he willingly dished out the money, because after all, this hip-hop thing was one of the reasons everybody started sporting his sneakers, right?
It may be unfair to attack Chilly Tee in such a way, but back then these facts were largely unknown. To the unsuspecting customer like myself, this was just some guy called Travis Knight who went by the rap name Chilly Tee and amazingly had The Bomb Squad producing his entire album. Being the huge rap fan that I am, I’m quick to congratulate anyone who decides to pick up a mic. But there’s a line to be drawn somewhere. Imagine Chilly Tee selling millions of records just because of his daddy’s name. Would that have been fair? I’d rather have Vanilla Ice sell another billion copies of “To the Extreme”.
The only way to redeem himself would have been for Travis Knight to deliver with dope skills and a noteworthy message. Arguably, in that regard, “Get Off Mine” can’t be dismissed as quickly. But if you obey your killer instinct, there’s a lot of evidence to be used against him. Let’s have a look:
A) Double Standards?
“Get Off Mine” contains 1 ‘bitches’, 1 ‘fucking’, 2 ‘shit’s and 4 ‘dick’s, yet it comes without a ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker. How is that? Could it be that it would have looked a bit funny if listening to the record of the son of a Fortune 500 guy would have requested parental advisory?
B) Don’t Worry If I Write Rhymes, I Write Checks
Chilly Tee employs ghostwriters. Seven out of nine lyrics are co-written, two of them by Young Black Teenagers member Firstborn. To Knight’s credit, there is only one song he wasn’t involved in, and the two he wrote by himself (“On the Outz”, “Krisis of Identity”) may just be the lyrically most advanced.
C) Paid in Full
For all we know, Travis Knight could have been the child of divorced parents. Or something like that. He might have had it really hard. Growing up under a strict, demanding father. Or he might just have been one of those neglected kids whose parents never cared about their son because they were too busy building a clothing company. After all, his dad’s success is pretty much self-made, maybe he was thrown out at 16 and told to get a job. What I’m getting at is: coming from the ghetto, hip-hop isn’t rich people’s music. It talks about having nothing and getting something. Which I don’t think was young Travis’ main concern. Yet and still, he goes ahead and makes a song out of a quote that like no other stands for the bleak prospect that rap music is able to penetrate like a beam of sunlight. The chorus of “Thinking of a Master Plan” sees him repeating Rakim’s opening statement from “Paid in Full”: “Thinking of a master plan / cause ain’t nothing but sweat inside my hand.” In the original song, the broke Rakim collects his rhymes, hits the studio and gets paid. In real life, Travis Knight’s dad controls the world’s leading sports apparel company. Think his pockets were ever empty?
D) It’s Where You At
Beaverton, Oregon. The Nike headquarters. Most likely also Chilly Tee’s residence. At least he mentions Oregon a couple of times. Not exactly a place known for its burgeoning hip-hop scene, not in 1993. So Chilly Tee had to work extra hard to make it as a rapper:
“Now way back when, I’m meanin’ a couple of years ago
I wanted to rock the mic but I didn’t have the flow
I put the pen to the paper, tried to spark some ideas
I turn on The Box and I then I tune in the ears
and every station that I turned to seemed to have nothin’
cause where I’m from in Oregon they frontin’
Niggedy-no hip-hop and niggedy-no fly beats
niggedy-no fly rhymes and no music for the streets
I had to break loose and reach out far
to get what I wanted and to become a star”
Again, there is nothing wrong with Travis Knight wanting to be a rapper. To make it in this business, you have to put in a lot of work. And Chilly clearly had some serious odds stacked up against him: he was white and he was from Oregon: “Had to push real hard in order to win / I kept gettin’ the runaround for the color of the skin.” But when he continues, “Yo, the fam looked out when I was stuck in the struggle / I stayed away from guns and the drugs and the trouble,” all you gotta do is imagine that his dad was one of America’s richest men and you’ll realize how absurd that statement is. “The fam looked out when I was stuck in the struggle”? Way to put it, dude. Throughout “Get Off Mine” there are dozens of such expressions that are just too ghetto to appear on an album with this background.
E) Just Do It
There is no denying that the famous Nike slogan ‘Just Do It’ is a positive, meaningful motto that does not only apply to sports but practically every challenge humans may face. Hopefully, it has inspired many people to just go ahead and try their best. As expected, it also rubbed off on Chilly Tee:
“A message to the wise to keep in your head
and this is one thing that pop dukes always said:
Just do it, you gotta just do it”
But when it came to the actual feat of Chilly Tee getting a recording contract and Bomb Squad production, I am sure that daddy’s money was involved just as much as Chilly’s willingness and ability to ‘just do it’.
F) Born to the Establishment But Fightin’ the System
Ironically, there are other segments where Chilly freely admits to having a wealthy background:
“See, they call me the Tee, in ’86 it was Trav
If you need to get in touch you can catch me on the ave.
I got the Nike wears, head to toe with the trim
the BMW I drive is the color of my skin
I’m in it to win it, I got the skills and the status
You wanna know why? My pockets are the fattest
Not takin’ what’s given cause see, I didn’t fit in
just gimme the mic and a rhythm, that’s how I’m livin'”
This is basically Knight’s defense against these rich-kid allegations: he doesn’t fit into the wealthy world he was born into. He claims that “By any means necessary” is one of his favorite quotes, obviously referring to Malcolm X. On another occasion, he mentions his blue eyes and fair skin tone, adding, “but no, I’m not a devil.” He continues:
“So here I come to save the day, yo, Whitey Mouse is here
with Nike kicks I dips Cross Colours gear
higgedy-hat Low Pro, down low so you know
Figgedy-fee-fi-fo-fum, pump the biggedy-bass drum”
You sense that he’s trying to get the two opposites to work together, trying to match daddy’s Nikes with the black-owned Cross Colours clothing line. Here’s another quote that supports that notion:
“I like to wear a hoodie, then I hang with the hoods
but me I’m not a hood, so I’m not misunderstood”
Which is kind of honest. He’s clearly into hip-hop and related issues, but at least he’s not out there portraying the pimp or the gangster:
“Gold like Goldie, gee, but see, I’m not The Mack
I don’t do stick-ups cause I’m not a thumbtack…”
Reading all these excerpts, you maybe wonder how anyone could ever take this Chilly Tee guy serious with lyrics like these. You have to remind yourself that they are very much influenced by the Das EFX school of rhyming, especially when it comes to all those iggedy-interjections. Rap lyrics used to be a lot more free-form back then, often delivered in a slightly clownish manner. His label, his producers, his ghostwriters and certainly Chilly Tee himself wanted to fit in with the times. Yet when he pens his own lyrics, he suddenly sounds much more golden age, with a fast, dense delivery, spitting well constructed verses that are a 180 degree turn from the carefree comedy of “I’m scoopin’ up, swoopin’ up skins in a car / then the skins stick to me like a booger in a honey jar.” There’s “On the Outz”, a tale of a young ghetto resident going in and out of jail. Here, Chilly Tee rehashes the conspiration theories about crack and AIDS that had already been discussed by other rappers. It certainly is no coincidence that he chose The Bomb Squad, gunners for hip-hop’s most militant group, to work with. He concludes:
cause they want to eradicate the black population
establishing a menacing white Aryan nation
Another holocaust is what I’m talkin’ ’bout
And they clout without a doubt
will keep a brother from bein’ on the outz”
So what’s the deal with this Chilly Tee guy? One song ought to clear it all up. In “Krisis of Identity” (the other song exclusively written by him), he eloquently denies any identity crisis on his part. It’s the other way around, he says. Those who say that hip-hop and black culture are not for him are the ones uncertain of themselves. For white middle and uppper class kids into hip-hop, this had been the argument for a long time:
“Born to the establishment but fightin’ the system
goin’ to they schools but attainin’ mo’ wisdom
Educated by self and the wealth of my mind was built
What you hear is not a product of white guilt
but genuine concern for a race of human beings
You see my face, you can’t believe what you’re seeing
I may be controversial but my motives ain’t commercial
cause the message that I’m sendin’ out is far from universal”
This is all fine and dandy, but when you stumble upon a line where he says that “it’s vital that you’re militant / the only distinction is a donkey and an elephant,” referring to Republicans and Democrats, yet in another song, one of his ghostwrites puts the words “on election day I cast a Democratic vote” in his mouth, you can’t help but notice the severe identity crisis Chilly Tee was in, torn between Bomb Squad mystic and nine-trey flava, ghostwriters and his personal experience, Nike and Cross Colours, etc.
To wrap it up, yes, there may be too much slang on this album. There can never be too much hip-hop on a hip-hop album, though, and arguably sometimes it’s hard to keep the two apart. Without any doubt, “Get Off Mine” +is+ hip-hop, hardly different from hundreds of other records that came out ten years ago. For better or for worse, this kid loved hip-hop, he studied it, he came up with a decent flow and he was able to convince quite a few people to invest time and money in his rap career. Despite what has been said, I could never call Chilly Tee or his album wack. He just happens to be the victim of this hostile review because of his background. If he would have been a regular kid, most of this wouldn’t have even been an issue.
Finally, there is yet another way to look at it: to actually infiltrate the establishment to the point where they made a rapper out of Phil Knight’s son, may have just been the most spectacular stunt Hank Shocklee and company ever pulled. Think about it. Ultimately, however you look at it, “Get Off Mine” is part of the many outrageous and amazing things that can happen in rap.
As for Chilly Tee’s further vitae, here is what I was able to find: In 2002, Phil Knight gained control over the Portland-based animation company Vinton Studios after being a minority shareholder for four years. Travis Knight has been a Vinton animator for the past few years, reports The Oregonian…