Who are the Monsta Island Czars?
Mysterious. Enigmatic. Underground. Emcees of the most traditional order - musicians existing on the fringes of the music industry, releasing projects to little fanfare. Formed by MF Grimm in 1997, and named for the legendary monsters of Toho’s Kaiju pantheon, MIC are nothing if not bombastic. Imposing aliases such as Rodan, Gigan, Jet Jaguar, King Ghidra and Megalon conjure images of mortal threats and unstoppable antagonists. The relentless onslaught of Rodan’s flow and the legendary wordplay of Ghidra’s verses live up to their powerful namesakes.
The most famous of the Czars is King Geedorah, an alias of the now-legendary MF DOOM. DOOM solidified his place as a legend of the underground with a spate of releases including King Geedorah’s Take Me To Your Leader, Viktor Vaughn’s Vaudeville Villain and finally, Madvillain’s Madvillainy, perhaps the greatest underground rap record ever released. These records presaged DOOM’s departure from MIC, whom he derided as “midgets into crunk” on his 2005 DANGERDOOM track, “El Chupa Nibre.”
Nonetheless, DOOM gave his peers notoriety through generous features - Geedorah’s Take Me To Your Leader features mighty contributions from MIC members Rodan, Gigan and Jet Jaguar. It’s no secret that DOOM affiliates are oft-mysterious underground figures - Mr. Fantastik, a rapper who appears on both Mm… Food and Take Me To Your Leader, remains anonymous over a decade after his incredible verses sparked online investigations. DOOM’s lesser known MIC colleagues are less deliberately obtuse by equally as scarce, their LPs often difficult to source and identities often difficult to uncover. MIC is a collective in flux, with members moving in and out of the group at will. There’s no exhaustive list of members, the clique instead defined by loose affiliation and general collaboration.
The internet is largely devoid of any comprehensive account of MIC’s output, and the uninitiated will have a hard time navigating the Czars’ patchy discographies. Coming of age in an era adjusting to the advent of the internet, efforts have faded away to whispers, uncatalogued and scarcely available online. With this unavailability comes a very real threat - a loss of information that could be devastating to the New York underground, and to rap as a whole. Therefore, I present to you this: a collated, non-exhaustive list of MIC’s most potent emcees, along with a glimpse into their vague, impenetrable catalogues.
Rodan is a legendary figure in the Toho pantheon. A pterosaur, his 1956 debut was the first Kaiju film shot in colour, and he’s since appeared in ten films, fifteen video games and countless novelisations. His history as an emcee is equally as chaotic.
Rodan - real name unknown - was a member of NYC rap trio KMD. He joined in 1988, when the group also practiced graffiti art and breakdance as well as emceeing. Rodan left the group before their first album to finish high school. Whilst in the process of completing their second album in 1993, KMD frontman Subroc was killed by a car on the 878 Nassau Expressway. A combination of this untimely death and the incendiary content of the sophomore record led to it going unreleased. KMD were unceremoniously dropped from their label, leaving young artist Zev Love X destitute. He then vanished from the hip hop scene, only to reemerge in 1998 as the mask-clad villain, MF DOOM.
It was on DOOM’s debut - Operation Doomsday - that Rodan resurfaced, this time alongside his newly-assembled Monsta Island Czars collaborators. “Who Do You Think I Am?” finds Rodan spitting alongside Kong, Megalon and X-Ray, a combination which makes for a highlight on the acclaimed album.
Escape from Monsta Island!, MIC’s first full-length album, was released in 2003. It featured Rodan on nine of the twenty tracks, making him the most pervasive member across the entire record. Escape from Monsta Island! remains the groups only LP, though persistent rumours of a follow up have circled for over a decade. An elusive, difficult to find record titled The Next 1,000 Years was unofficially released, though it’s not considered a canonical effort by fans.
Rodan’s accessibility spiked with “No Snakes Alive,” a track off King Geedorah’s 2003 debut. He featured alongside MIC colleague Jet Jaguar, an alias of the low-key legendary MF Grimm. The record received rave reviews, and is generally considered to be amongst DOOM’s most consistent and impressive output. The assists provided by his MIC collaborators were invaluable in crafting such a diverse, engaging record.
His debut EP, 2002’s Flight Lessons, contained a number of songs that would eventually make it onto his first full-length album. That debut LP - Theophany: The Book Of Elevation - was largely produced by MIC member X-Ray. Released in 2004 to little reception, it’s an 18-track collection that cements Rodan as one of MIC’s most accomplished talents. A record you won’t find on your friendly neighbourhood streaming service, it’s worth seeking out for a fierce and dynamic listen.
A bonus CD, included with some early sales of 2004's MM... FOOD, contained three Rodan tracks - "Mineral Kingdom," "Witchcraft 2" and "Ruler Of Day And Night." The latter features DOOM behind the decks, and ranks amongst Rodan's best output - not only is it a great track, it's also a fantastic backronym for his alias.
Rodan slowly faded into complete obscurity, the truth behind his identity vanishing with him. He appeared on Stronghold’s Mixtape Vol. 2 in 2006, when MF Grimm included him in the short-lived ‘Strong Monstas’ clique. He made a more recent appearance on King Cesars' 2016 record, which also revived Monstas such as Kong, Speiga, Megalon and Kamackeris.
A 2013 mixtape entitled AmeriKKKan Inquisition went unreleased, only to be leaked on a YouTube channel by user ‘RONOMICAL’. Little is known about the reasons for the project’s abandonment and the user who ultimately leaked it, which only adds to the sense of mystery that swirls about the rapper.
Since then, Rodan’s been dormant. Though Warner Brothers have teased their Rodan’s return in Kong: Skull Island, the emcee seems to have ceased terrorising guest verses, posse cuts and curiously verbose solo records.
Gigan, an alias of NY rapper Zymeer, is equally as enigmatic. He’s named for a half-monster, half-mecha alien - one of Godzilla’s fiercest foes - who has only appeared in three of Toho’s 29 Godzilla films. As an emcee, Gigan is similarly elusive.
Gigan is primarily notable for his feature on Geedorah’s “Krazy World,” which finds him performing the entire track with a production assist from the artist himself. It’s this generous feature that’s solidified Gigan’s legend amongst DOOM fans, and it’s no surprise - outside of this verse, Gigan is incredibly scarce. He’s appeared on MIC’s Escape From Monsta Island! as well as the group’s unofficial debut, The Next 1,000 Years.
The Gigan EP - released in 2002 - is the only glimpse of the rapper in his element. He didn’t make an appearance on King Cesar’s 2016 MIC-uniting LP, and Discogs.com lists an appearance on a German non-label rap sampler as his only other non-MIC output.
Another MIC member who trades in mystery, Megalon - also known as Tommy Gunn - has released a single solo album. Gunn's Kaiju alias is shared with a legendary Beetle-like adversary who takes on both Godzilla and Jet Jaguar in 1973's Godzilla vs. Megalon. One commenter claimed that, though sourcing Gigan’s EP proves difficult, it’s nothing compared to sourcing Gunn’s The Nickel Bag. As of publication, I’ve yet to hear it.
Much like Rodan’s debut EP, Megalon’s Black Jesus contained a swathe of tracks that were eventually included on his 2004 LP, A Penny For Your Thoughts. The 22-track record is gangsta through-and-through, building on the base he laid with “Rain Blood,” his contribution to Grimm’s The Downfall of Ibliys: a ghetto opera.
Megalon’s other notable appearances are on Operation Doomsday’s “The Finest” and Gigan’s “Power.” He also appeared on 1995 Def Jam single “Bomdigi” by Erick Sermon, contributing featuring vocals to the track’s remix, included as a b-side.
Much of his catalogue on discogs.com is logged in error - he seems to share his name with a dubstep producer, whose minor hit “You Make Me Say” appears on a swathe of 2012 compilation albums.
Better known as MF Grimm, Jet Jaguar is the most famous non-DOOM member of MIC. This is due, in part, to his early collaborations with the now legendary villain - the MF EP, a dual EP split between Grimm and DOOM, fostered ideas of an unbreakable link between the two artists. Whilst the pair were close in the late 90s and early 2000s, their vicious falling out is documented in Grimm’s “The Book Of Daniel,” the scathing diss track that closes out his 2006 triple-album American Hunger.
Grimm is the most accessible and critically appreciated Czar, mainly due to his slightly larger fanbase and less mysterious career trajectory. His MIC alias - Jet Jaguar - makes reference to a heroic robot introduced by Toho in 1973's Godzilla vs. Megalon, which pit Jet Jaguar and Godzilla against Megalon and Gigan. Even outside of his alias' on-screen exploits, Grimm’s story is a remarkable one, immortalised in an award-winning comic book, Sentences.
As a child, Grimm - real name Percy Carey - was a child actor on Sesame Street, a gig set up by his then-neighbour Morgan Freeman. He set his sights on becoming an emcee at age 14, and was soon expelled for beating up his school Dean for owed drug money. In 1994, having survived an attempt on his life eight years prior, Grimm was attacked by a gang of rival drug dealers. Shot seven times, he slipped into a coma, losing his vision, hearing and the ability to move from the waist down. His brother Jay was killed. Lucky to survive the attack, he eventually recovered his sight and hearing but remained confined to a wheelchair.
When he woke, his nearly-completed record had been pillaged by colleagues who believed he’d never wake up. It wasn’t until 2005’s Scars and Memories that a bulk of these tracks were formally released.
Turning back to drug dealing to support his music career - which included supporting his newly formed collective, Monsta Island Czars - he was eventually apprehended and sentenced to life in prison. Uncertain of his future, he posted bail, linked up with DOOM and recorded The Downfall of Ibliys: a ghetto opera. The critically acclaimed record was intended as a last ditch effort at creation, though Grimm continued to release records from prison until his early release in 2003. Since then, releases such as American Hunger, The Hunt For The Gingerbread Man and Good Morning Vietnam 2: The Golden Triangle have cemented Grimm as a staple of NYC’s underground scene; a versed veteran of both the old and the new.
Outside of his solo material, MF Grimm has appeared on tapes by German producer DJ BK and legendary scratching progenitor DJ Premier. He guest starred on the remix to KMD’s “What A Nigga Know?” as well as on Operation Doomsday track “Tick, Tick...”. Despite founding MIC prior to his sentencing, Grimm didn’t appear as Jet Jaguar on Escape From Monsta Island! due to his incarceration. He was credited as an executive producer, and appears on “Run The Sphere (Remix)” a track included on the MIC compilation Monsta Mixes Vol. 1. He did release a single album as Superstar Jet Jaguar - 2004’s Digital Tears: E-Mail from Purgatory, written in prison and dropped following Grimm’s early release.
The consistency Grimm brings to efforts such as The Downfall of Ibliys and American Hunger make him the most unfairly maligned of MIC. The critical appreciation levelled at Grimm cannot compare to his relatively low-key commercial successes, which are perhaps exacerbated by his esoteric stylings and counter-mainstream content. His discography is nigh-flawlessly catalogued on Spotify, where he maintains a modest-yet-impressive following.
X-Ray / King Cesar
X-Ray - real name Raymond Davis - is MIC’s most prolific producer, working alongside Geedorah to produce all but six tracks on Escape From Monsta Island! He’s also the only member of MIC to be nominated for an Oscar - his soundtrack for the 1999 documentary On The Ropes also won an award at Sundance Film Festival.
X-Ray released an instrumental hip hop album, Excessive Heat, in 2016. Sold primarily off his bandcamp page, all tracks are untitled and none run longer than three minutes. An earlier instrumental record - 2009’s The Ear Hustler - completes his scarce solo catalogue. He also produced the majority of tracks on both Monsta Mixes Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, records which serve as a compilation of MIC members’ solo outputs.
He’s one of the few members with dependable output, producing a 2017 single for NYC-based rapper Conway. A string of production credits on work by underground artists includes records by MF Grimm and Tommy Gunn, or MIC’s Megalon.
Interestingly, his emcee persona is the ever-present King Cesar.
King Cesar is named for a lion-like Kaiju who debuted in 1974's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Cesar appeared on MIC’s Escape from Monsta Island!, rapping on tracks “WitchCraft,” “Out My Mind” and “Make It Squash.” X-Ray brought out his rapping chops on Monsta Mixes Vol. 1, spitting on “Run The Sphere (Remix),” and again on Vol. 2, contributing bars to MIC posse cut “Evacuate The Club.” His 2013 debut, All Hail The King, features an assist on every track. Guest spots from Kong, Megalon, Spiega and Kamackeris keep the MIC spirit alive, as does DOOM-produced posse cut “Alfa Murda 2.”
His sophomore effort, 2016’s All The King’s Men, keeps the crew together with 9 MIC-supported tracks. The elusive Rodan makes an appearance on “Crowd Around,” whilst mainstays Kong, Megalon and Spiega also contribute. The nigh-mythical presence of Monsta X, a MIC member with little more than a name, makes this record one for those wanting a contemporary MIC experience.
It’s not hard to imagine that X-Ray’s role as a producer has allowed him to form friendships and working relationships with the disparate members of MIC, some of whom have likely spent little time collaborating with each other. X-Ray’s key role - producing most of the groups tracks, and working on much of their solo output - has allowed him to build an impressive roster of underground NYC talent. There’s not better exhibition of MIC talent than King Cesar’s two LPs.
In addition to these already-productive ventures, X-Ray is the production half of Queens-based hip hop duo Darc Mind alongside rapper Kev-Roc. The duo released two albums in 2006, with the only MIC feature coming from Kamackeris, or Kwite Def.
Known as Infinit EVOL outside of MIC, Grimlock is named for a character from the Transformers universe. One of the few names taken from outside of Toho’s Kaiju canon, Grimlock is the leader of the Dinobots, a fan-favourite sect of the Autobots who have the ability to transform into mecha-dinosaurs.
EVOL has kept his non-MIC output far from the clutches of the Czars - both his LPs are completely devoid of any MIC input. The first, Adamantium Lyrics, was a 13-track, non-label record split into two chapters - ‘Evol’ and ‘Love’. The second was 2004’s The Professor and The Mutant, a collaborative LP with elusive producer B Will. Curious fans can seek out this album on both YouTube and streaming services, though Adamantium Lyrics remains more difficult to source. Those who uncover The Professor and The Mutant will find aggressive lyricism underpinned by smooth East Coast beats. MIC are nothing if not decentralised, and each artist’s individual output is shockingly unique.
EVOL also plays a supporting role on CX Kidtronik’s Krak Attack 2: Ballad of Elli Skiff, a feature-packed 2013 record released through Stones Throw. Familiar names such as MF Grimm and King Geedorah also crop up - hardly surprising, seeing as DOOM remains signed to Stones Throw. EVOL also makes a single appearance on MF Grimm’s acclaimed triple-album, American Hunger.
Unknown to many, King Kong is a member of Toho’s kaiju pantheon. Incorporated into the mythos well after he originated in the 1933 film, he starred in Toho’s 1962 crossover film King Kong vs. Godzilla.
Kong’s alias is taken from his full non-MIC pseudonym, Kongcrete. His 2008 debut, Shackles Off, is awash with familiar names. Guest verses from Megalon, Spiega, Monsta X and MF Grimm provide glimpses of an MIC throwback, complete with scathing accounts of what MIC members perceive to be DOOM’s betrayal. The songs titles - “Black Blood” and “Weasel” - let on their critical content. A 2004 EP, suitably titled Gorilla Warfare, pads out his catalogue.
He’s otherwise featured on both volumes of the Monsta Mixes compilation series as well as Escape From Monsta Island! and The Next 1,000 Years. He’s a member of MIC affiliate The Reavers alongside Spiega, appearing on their 2005 debut, Terror Firma, and their 2006 effort, New York Times Mixtape.
Kwite Def named himself for a more esoteric Toho kaiju, choosing Kamacuras, a praying mantis-esque creature that first appeared in 1967’s Son Of Godzilla.
Musically, Kamackeris has a single non-MIC LP to his name - 2007’s Artz And Craftz. In classic MIC fashion, the album repurposes many tracks from his 2004 EP, An Eye For An Eye. The record is produced by X-Ray, who released it on his label, Mindbenda Records. X-Ray also appeared as King Cesar, his emceeing pseudonym, and again as one half of Darc Mind, featured on the track "Check The Jewlz."
Named for the English translation of Kumonga, Spiega is a giant spider kaiju who made his debut alongside Kamacuras in 1967’s Son Of Godzilla.
Spiega, like Kong, is a member of both Monsta Island Czars and The Reavers. He joins his derived colleague on both the latter’s efforts, Terror Firma and New York Times Mixtape. He makes four appearances on MIC’s Escape From Monsta Island! and appeared on both volumes of Monsta Mixes. He contributed seven guest verses to Kongcrete’s 2008 debut, Shackles Off, as well as appearing on both of King Cesar’s more recent LPs.
He’s included on Kamackeris’ sole LP - Artz and Craftz - as well as Kong’s 2004 EP, Gorilla Warfare. His continued presence of MIC-affiliated records is a testament to both his formidable talents and presumably his temperament, seeing as he’s become a mainstay in an oft-divided collective.
Though searching for Monsta X will turn up thousands of results for a K-pop group, MIC’s Monsta X predates them by at least ten years.
Little is known about Monsta X, whose real name is supposedly Karamba Sise. A member for roughly five years - between 2005 and 2010 - he still has a MySpace page you can check out. In fact, one of his top ten is MIC member Kong. Despite his short tenure and seemingly minor impact, Monsta X appears on King Cesar’s All The King’s Men and Kongcrete’s Shackles Off. His only solo release is a collaborative LP with DJ Iron Lyon, titled X Factor.
Despite his inclusion in the clique, Gabara has no presence on any official MIC release. This is due, in part, to his joining the collective after their most productive and focused era, though he only appears on a select few of the more recent MIC-affiliated projects. Gabara contributes the sole guest verse to minor MIC member RAVAGE the MeccaGodZilla’s Erroars, as well as appearing twice on Monsta X’s debut, X Factor.
As Junclassic, Lewis has released ten LPs in as many years - only three of these are collaborative records, whilst the rest are solo endeavours. Junclassic has also appeared on notable records such as Billy Woods’ History Will Absolve Me.
Gappa and Biollante are two very different beasts - whilst Gappa are prehistoric birds-turned-kaiju, Biolante is a mutated rosebush infused with Godzilla’s DNA. Though both seem to be minor Godzilla foes, this MIC member assumed a new alias at some point during his tenure.
One of the more legendary emcees to come out of MIC, Biolante is a Puerto Rican/Cuban rapper from NYC. Known as Kurious outside the Czars' domain, he was a member of the short-lived MF DOOM outfit The Constipated Monkeys. His debut album - also titled A Constipated Monkey - dropped in 1994, and has since become something of a minor East Coast classic. It features MF Grimm as The Grimm Reaper, an early variation on his pseudonym.
His sophomore project dropped in 2009, an incredible 15 years after his major-label debut. It featured contributions from 88-Keys, MF DOOM and Max B. In the interim, Kurious contributed to mixes by DOOM and Jamiroquai as well as appearing on KMD’s Black Bastards, DOOM and Grimm’s Special Herbs + Spices and Gravediggaz’ legendary 1994 debut, 6 Feet Deep.
A 2003 appearance on King Geedorah’s “Fastlane” marked his last MIC contribution, with the track being Kurious' only presence on any official MIC project. It was included on the X-Ray curated Monsta Mixes Vol. 1.
Like The Monstas Of Old...
What makes a collective like Monsta Island Czars so special?
In an era of nigh-infinitely immediate information, the MIC crew have remained an important but seldom discussed footnote in hip hop history. Their affiliation with DOOM gives them popular appeal, but their wide range of underground projects makes them a formidable force in their own right. Their identities are obscured, their releases seldom heard, sometimes even unobtainable for those outside their immediate circles.
They’re a relic of old-school sensibilities - figures from a time when mixtapes were regional offerings, not internet-ready .zip files. Their viral marketing only extended as far as their records could physically travel, their promotions nothing more than hushed word-of-mouth in an underground scene. Their largely-independent releases fell at a time when independent was truly that - no Apple Music deals could elevate the unsigned artist to celebrity status, and no single radio station had the power to christen a star from the dungeons of rap.
Monsta Island Czars may be a footnote in the history of hip hop, but their gimmick-free output cements them as emcees in the purest sense. Far from the material excesses of Kanye, Jay and the new breed of hip hop megastar, MIC were artists on a creative grind, pushing the limits of NYC hip hop for little more than the pay that sustained them.
Though the Monstas are now largely dormant, their reign of terror will no doubt endure.
Special thanks to rateyourmusic user Vocab and Reddit user u/magikarpower for their useful guides to MIC materials. For more information, see Vocab's 61-record breakdown of MIC-affiliate projects as well as u/magikarpower's chronologically ordered MIC member discography. I highly recommend checking them out!