Percy Chapman is Tragedy Khadafi. Percy Chapman is Intelligent Hoodlum. It would be amiss, however, to say that Khadafi and Hoodlum are one and the same.
Intelligent Hoodlum is just that: a young poet with the spirit of rebellion running through his raps, whether they’re preaching the value of afrocentrism or deriding discriminatory American policy decisions. Hoodlum’s spectacles, the focal point of his self-titled album art, are a unique identifier for the young emcee: they suggest refinement and intellect, two qualities Hoodlum aspires to throughout his debut.
Percy Chapman didn’t just wake up as Intelligent Hoodlum sometime in the late-’80s: the transformation came about over four whirlwind teenage years. He formed Super Kids, a Queensbridge-based hip hop duo, in 1985. Alongside his childhood friend Craig G, he honed his rhymes atop production from DJ Hot Day. The group came to the attention of fellow Queensbridge musician Marley Marl who, through his relationship with radio DJ Mr. Magic, had become a talented tastemaker. Marl produced the group’s 1986 single, “The Tragedy (Don’t Do It).” It was the beginning of a short and tumultuous friendship.
In 1987, the very same year that Chapman appeared on “Juice Crew All Stars,” he was arrested on robbery charges. Seeing as Chapman was just 16 years old, he was sent to Elmira Correctional Facility, a youth-oriented maximum security prison in south New York. Whilst in prison, the tenets that underscore Intelligent Hoodlum started to reveal themselves: Chapman became a Five Percenter and started concerning himself with socio-political issues.
Following his release, Chapman appeared on Marl’s In Control, Volume 1, holding down solo tracks “The Rebel” and “Live Motivator.” These would be the last tracks credited to Percy, who soon thereafter adopted the Intelligent Hoodlum mantle and started working on his first album. “Black & Proud,” his afrocentric debut single, dropped on May 24, 1990. The resultant record was Intelligent Hoodlum, the first of two LPs credited to the alias. It ran 12 tracks long and featured Marl’s production on every one. Each and every bar flowed from Chapman’s heady pen, his craft a scattershot of mournful reflection (“Intelligent Hoodlum”), explosive upheaval (“Arrest The President,” “Black and Proud”), righteous indignation (“No Justice, No Peace”) and carefree celebration (“Party Pack”).
Though it would be years before Chapman adopted the moniker of Tragedy Khadafi, the word “tragedy” itself was a staple of his pen game. It first appeared way back on Super Kids’ debut single, “The Tragedy,” where it referred to a life of addiction and poverty, but by 1990 it had become his alternate moniker. Though still Intelligent Hoodlum, as outlined in the album opener, Chapman calls himself “Tragedy” or “Trag” on every Intelligent Hoodlum track except “No Justice, No Peace.” Even “Intelligent Hoodlum,” the only track on the record that mentions the moniker, is struck with Tragedy: it takes just four bars, or ten seconds, for Chapman to self-identify by the name. Intelligent Hoodlum is definitely more a state of mind than an outright persona, a mission statement instead of an act.
In celebration of excellence, and as a part of our ongoing Juice Crew retrospective, we’re breaking down the samples and discussing the artistry on Chapman’s little-heard 1990 debut!
The only track on the album that mentions the titular alias, “Intelligent Hoodlum” is something of an informal origin story. Our protagonist is adopted by Michael Chapman, though he soon died at just 18-years-old. As he fell into the same trap of drugs, violence and prison time, Percy decided to put his pain into words, eschewing a violent life for the path of societal enlightenment. He does it for his friends, who “didn't last this long,” channelling Twain and Shakespeare into his socially responsible messages.
The sole sample - yes, that’s a pun - that underpins the title track is courtesy of Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Though the group existed in varying forms from 1962 onward, only two records were credited to that specific variation of their name.
“High As Apple Pie-Slice II” was included on 1970’s Express Yourself, the title track from which is the band’s signature N.W.A-flipped hit.
“Back to Reality”
Chapman’s second single, “Back to Reality” is amongst the most accessible tracks on the record. It finds the emcee reflecting on his childhood years, recalling the summer of 1984 and the escapades that helped make him a poet. The single art shows Chapman channelling Malcolm X’s repose, complete with a prominently-displayed ring of the Nubian Islaamic Hebrews, a religious sect to which Chapman belonged.
The distinctive guitar lick that plays at the open has also proven a favourite amongst producers, particularly in the ‘90s, where the two different versions were flipped on songs by Biggie, Snoop, Pete Rock and Dre. Marley himself actually helped break the sample on MC Shan’s “Kill That Noise.”
Founded in 1970s LA, Lafayette Afro Rock Band only really hit their stride when they relocated to Paris, France in ‘71. Their African-infused rhythms caught the attention of record executives, but their efforts - eight records over five years, under various monikers - went largely unnoticed until they were revitalised by crate diggers.
The central refrain - “back to reality” - is courtesy of Carol Wheeler, a vocalist best known for her collaboration with Soul II Soul, of which this 1989 hit, “Back To Life,” is one. It proved to be the British R&B outfit’s only Top 10 Billboard hit, peaking at #4 in December 1989.
At 2:19, Hoodlum interpolates elements of William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful for What You Got,” the title track from his 1974 debut. The D.C.-born drafting technician wrote the song in ‘72, and its runaway success convinced him to quit his job and become a full time artist. After he failed to replicate the success, DeVaughn returned to the same job.
Gassing himself up in the third person, Tragedy lets us know just how drastic his arrival is: it’s an invasion, so to speak. The final two bars encapsulate the entire track’s contention: “I'm more than amusin’, Trag is amazin’ / You better watch out, it's the Trag Invasion!”
Large Professor sources two phrases - “do it!” and “the tragedy” - from a 1986 Marley Marl/Intelligent Hoodlum collaboration. “The Tragedy” was one of just three tracks recorded by Super Kids, a hip hop trio of which Hoodlum - then just Percy Chapman - was a member.
Chapman was credited as ‘Tragedy’ on Marl’s subsequent solo debut, 1988’s In Control, Vol. 1, but adopted Intelligent Hoodlum in the late ‘80s.
The huskier, more mature vocal that enters at 0:09 is courtesy of Hoodlum’s Juice Crew colleagues Kool G Rap and DJ Polo. “Poison” was the first single from the duo’s acclaimed debut, Road to the Riches, a battle-heavy record instrumental in the development of mafioso rap.
The sampled phrase, though largely undecipherable on “Trag Invasion,” is simply the word “fatal” scratched in and out of the cut.
The guitar lick at 0:17 is sourced from an unorthodox track. It’s not that Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” is obscure - it’s one of the most recognisable breakbeats of all time - it’s just that the track is infrequently sampled for specific instruments, particularly the guitar.
Of the 550 samples accrued by the 1973 cover, almost all are flips of the distinctive drumming patterns throughout.
“No Justice, No Peace”
The only track on the album without a Tragedy name drop, “No Justice, No Peace” is a politically volatile curio. Steeped in the custody death of Richard Earl Luke, a 25-year-old Queensbridge resident, the track takes a critical look at effects of racist drug policies and violent policing. It’s the second verse that’s truly incendiary: Hoodlum goes off on a tangent and decries abortion in no uncertain terms. It is, put simply, a strange song.
A real microsample, Marley Marl flips an ad-lib from James Brown’s 1971 single “Hot Pants Pt. 1 (She Got to Use What She Got to Get What She Wants).” Brown ad-libs are themselves a staple of hip hop, with varying exclamations being regularly pulled from cuts such as “Funky Drummer” and “Think (About It).”
Whilst it’s not the most famous Brown sample, “Hot Pants” has been flipped over 200 times.
The instrumental sample throughout “No Justice, No Peace,” Brown’s “Nose Job” was included on 1970’s Ain’t It Funky. Five of the seven tracks on that LP were instrumentals, including “Nose Job” and the frequently sampled “Give It Up or Turnit A Loose.”
If there was any conclusion, the song definitely does away with it. “Tragedy, he’s the party animal,” loops the repetitive vocal refrain, broken by his largely reflexive verses that characterise him as a - you guess it - animal for partying. There are samples in here, but between me and WhoSampled, we can’t work out what they are. Still, we got pretty good coverage throughout, so this one can remain a mystery…
“Black and Proud”
It’s unsurprising that “Black and Proud” is the lead single from Hoodlum’s debut: it’s a relentless Afrocentric explosion that name checks Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela in the first verse alone. Sonically, the track makes use of two particularly prominent ‘90s samples, featuring a wailing guitar that’s reminiscent of The Bomb Squad’s confrontational style.
The first sample we hear is a pitched-up flip of Wilson Pickett’s “Get Me Back On Time, Engine Number 9,” a frequently-sampled 1970 soul song. It’s the pitchy guitar wail that runs dominates the track’s sound.
The titular refrain, “I’m black and I’m proud,” is taken from James Brown’s likeminded 1968 hit, “Say It Loud - I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
The crowd vocals were recorded in an LA suburb using 30 children from Watts and Compton, and the song’s otherwise significant insofar as it’s the first Brown track to feature prominent band member Fred Wesley. It’s since been sampled a fair 220 times, which is par for the course with JB.
At 0:17, a familiar voice chimes in with “can’t stop the bumrush.” It’s none other than Big Daddy Kane, battle rap legend and fellow Cold Chillin’ signee. Whilst Marley Marl might have produced all the cuts on Kane’s debut album, the roster for his 1989 sophomore effort was more varied: “Warm It Up, Kane” was actually self-produced.
Notable no wave outfit ESG are relatively unique amongst hip hop sampling staples insofar as they emerged alongside the now-dominant genre. Hip hop first impacted wax in ‘79, and ESG soon followed in 1981, the Brooklyn-based five piece debuting with “UFO,” which would become one of the most sampled tracks of all time.
If “The Message” was the first socially conscious rap song, then “No Sell Out” - released just over a year later - was one of the genre’s first politically-infused jams. Though it courted controversy, largely because it was composed by white artist Keith LeBlanc, the track was the first to repurpose Malcolm X’s speeches over a hip hop beat.
The track has only been sampled thrice: once by UK group Gunshot, and again by Germany’s LSD.
Far slower than the track that precedes it, “Game Type” presents a distressing story about a woman who played Trag. It’s fairly standard fare: rapper dates woman, showers her in opulence, turns out she’s a gold digger, rapper is mad. It takes a turn into darker areas when Trag follows the girl, who’s cheating with her friend, and produces a gun, but he’s stopped in his tracks by DJ Fatal, who reminds him they have a show to play. “I thought, go to jail for her?,” raps Chapman. “Hell no!”
The understated bass line that provides Hoodlum with the funky bedrock is the handiwork of The J.B.’s, James Brown’s backing band. As well as acting as a backing band for many of Brown’s affiliates, The J.B.’s also acted as their own group, recording eight studio LPs during their original ‘70s run.
One-two, microphone check! So begins “Microphone Check,” another slow cut. Tragedy mentions DJ Fatal, King Solomon, Marley Marl, Mr. Magic, Samson, Ed Special and Spartacus, all whilst owning up to his lack of sporting talent. Whilst references abound, this is a fairly standard jam about rocking the mic right.
“Microphone Check” is composed atop a single loop of The Temptations’ “What Is It?,” a track included on 1972’s Solid Rock. That record was the first recorded without the input of Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, both of whom were founding members of the lauded soul quintet.
Whilst Williams departed for medical reasons - he committed suicide not two years later - Kendricks left due to disagreements with Norman Whitfield.
We’re back to kinetic beats laced with era-appropriate piano licks. Seriously though, the keys on this track are very interesting - I’m not sure exactly what it is about them, but they’re vaguely reminiscent of the instrumentation on Madonna’s “Vogue,” also released in ‘90. There’s something about their clear sheen.
Marley Marl’s fondness of James Brown breaks is well documented, to say the least. On “Keep Striving,” the man flips the break from “Give It Up or Turnit A Loose (Remix),” included on the breakbeat-ready 1986 compilation, In The Jungle Groove.
A personal favourite, “Party Pack” is two parts Lyn Collins and one part Rakim. That’s a pretty great recipe: Collins is one of the most sampled artists of all time, thanks largely to “Think (About It),” and Rakim is the God MC, arguably the greatest to step to the mic. Though Trag lets us know that it’s a “party pack,” he’s not afraid to “drop science” throughout, something he’s already done on “Microphone Check.”
Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It)” is about as close to a James Brown song as you can get without putting on the godfather himself. The song was written and produced by Brown, who issued it as a 7” single on his People Records label in ‘72.
Following its inclusion on UBB, “Think (About It)” brought forth two popular samples: the main break and the “woo! yeah!” break, which makes use of ad libs from Brown and Bobby Byrd.
Collins’ “Fly Me To The Moon,” a rendition of the Bart Howard-penned jazz standard, was included on 1972’s Think (About It). Though a strange name for a studio LP, Brown frequently named seemingly slap-dash efforts after the hit single that immediately preceded them.
“I Know You Got Soul” is a particularly notable title in hip hop: it refers to both Bobby Byrd’s oft-sampled funk track of the same name and Eric B. & Rakim’s Byrd-sampling single. The third single from Paid in Full, an incredibly influential record, the track is also famous for Rakim’s stone cold delivery of “pump up the volume!”
Eric B. & Rakim’s track has actually eclipsed Byrd’s, accruing 300+ samples against a respectable 150.
“Arrest The President”
Though it might seem likely, the track doesn’t sample the popular breakbeat from The Honey Drippers’ “Impeach The President,” a funk single released at the height of the Watergate investigation in 1972. Nixon resigned before he could be impeached, and Bush Sr. certainly evaded arrest throughout his single-term administration, but the prescience of Ice Cube’s recent single, “Arrest The President,” remains to be seen.
One of Tragedy’s passing phrases - “poetical prophet” - foreshadowed the formation of a Queensbridge hip hop duo of the same name. They were featured in The Source’s Unsigned Hype column in ‘91 and, one yet later, the pair signed with 4th & B’way. They changed their name to Mobb Deep, and the rest is history.
“Arrest The President” is primarily driven by kinetic drums and a wailing siren sound effect. The former asset is the work of Clyde Stubblefield, one of the most sampled artists in the history of popular music. Stubblefield worked as James Brown’s drummer in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, his propulsive funk drumming quietly invaluable.
Stubblefield was known as the ‘funky drummer’ due to his legendary playing on that very song.
Before Marl established his legendary relationship with Cold Chillin’ Records, the Queensbridge producer released a number of singles through NIA Records. NIA was founded in ‘79 and folded a decade later: in that time, it put out tracks from Sparky Dee, Red Alert, Captain Rock and MC Shan. It was on this label that Chapman made his debut as one-half of Super Kids, a Marl-produced teenage duo.
This one’s a cover, but in an interesting way: as a member of Super Kids, Percy Chapman - that’s Intelligent Hoodlum’s real name - wrote and performed the original 1986 single. He did so alongside fellow Juice Crew member Craig G and DJ Prince A.D.
Though Marley Marl is credited as the producer-at-large for the entire record, there’s some who take issue with that. Let’s look at what we know, and what we don’t: first up, let’s talk about the credited co-producers.
Intelligent Hoodlum features two assists from a then 17-year-old Large Professor. Prior to his appearances on this record, Large Professor had accrued credits on Kool G Rap & DJ Polo’s Wanted: Dead or Alive, and whilst he produced cuts on Eric B. & Rakim’s Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em after the sudden death of his mentor Paul C. McKasty, their contributions went uncredited. The second co-producer, Joe Burgos, is better known as DJ Fatal, a disc jockey who linked up with Chapman after his prison sentence.
It’s Burgos who makes further claims about Marl’s involvement. In a 2007 interview with unkut.com, the DJ put forward a sobering assessment of the legend’s credits: “let’s say an album has thirteen tracks on it? Marley did three.” Burgos described this a “paying dues,” currying favour with the noted career-maker in exchange for an eventual credited appearance. It’s key to remember that golden age production credits are a fickle thing: Marl himself has staked claim to producing “Paid In Full,” whilst Eric B. has maintained that, whilst the track was recorded at Marl’s house on Marl’s equipment, it was him who assembled the iconic instrumental.
Irrespective of who penned what, Intelligent Hoodlum was a mild success. It peaked at #52 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, with singles “Back To Reality” and “Black and Proud” landing at #10 and #29 on the Hot Rap Songs chart, respectively. Though he was already referring to himself as Tragedy, Chapman wasn’t quite done with the mantle of Intelligent Hoodlum, releasing another album under the name in ‘93. Titled Tragedy: Saga of a Hoodlum, it contained single “Grand Groove,” which landed at #1 on the Hot Rap Songs chart in September ‘93. Not only was this Tragedy’s one and only solo chart topper, but it represented the last time the artist broke into the top 30 unassisted.
On album opener “Shalom A Leck,” Chapman gives a shoutout to one “Nasty Nas,” who he lists amongst “other brothers coming out live.” It’s no surprise that Chapman, himself a Queensbridge native, was gassing up the young emcee off the strength of his guest appearances - notably, “Live At The Barbecue” - and early Illmatic single “Halftime.” It’s hard to imagine that Chapman had any idea just how big a deal Nas’ record would be when it released nine months later.
Included on that album was “The Posse (Shoot ‘Em Up),” a cut recorded as the title track to Mario Van Peebles’ 1993 revisionist Western, Posse. Though this proved to be Intelligent Hoodlum’s highest-profile gig, it also proved to be his last: when he returned on Capone-N-Noreaga’s two ‘96 singles, “Illegal Life” and “L.A., L.A.,” Chapman was going by Tragedy Khadafi. He appeared on more than half the tracks on Capone-N-Noreaga’s The War Report, a seminal hardcore hip hop record that helped revitalise post-mafioso gangsterism. It wasn’t all love, though, as by the time Tragedy got around to releasing his third record in 2001, he was dissing Noreaga over an alleged jacking of his lyrics.
In the years since he debuted as Tragedy Khadafi, Chapman has been less focused on the plight of institutionalised racism and the tenets of Five-Percenter philosophy and more on the stories of the street. He continues to write and perform today, a true underground veteran with more than a few records under his belt. Though his place in popular culture has slipped, Chapman is an important figure in hip hop history: as a member of the Juice Crew and an early Queensbridge-based emcee, he helped cultivate a culture that brought about East Coast staples such as Nas, Mobb Deep, AZ and Capone-N-Noreaga.