Commentary: 5 Favorite Carolina Hip Hop Releases Of The Last 5 Years (2008-2013)

Nanci O Is Hip Hop Logo

This past Saturday June 8, 2013 my blog turned five years old. On Sunday June 8, 2008 I wrote my first blog post. Shawty, I was so good and terrible at blogging back then. When I look at some of those early posts, I cringe. I was just so excited to have an opportunity to talk about hip hop and technology. During the first two years, I was doing weekly radio shows on WXDU 88.7 FM Durham, WXYC 89.3 FM Chapel Hill, and Soul 104.5 FM Fayetteville (at the same d*mn time!), blogging here AND working a full time job. It was truly the definition of doing too much. Over the years though, I eventually found the chill button and learned how to better balance everything plus find a niche to blaze and refine. It’s been a growing process. I’m on a mission to learn and build even more.

Traveling throughout both NC and SC over the years, there have been a lot of artists to come and go. I’ve made a habit of keeping every piece of Carolina hip hop paraphanelia received. I know it’s a popular thing among folks to attend an event, receive a CD, toss it out on the interstate on the way home and then brag about it on social media (wack sauce).

When I began documenting hip hop culture in the Carolinas, I made a conscious decision to keep every CD, promo item and dope flyer received. Hip hop culture in the Carolinas is unique and I believe what we have is special. The game is so digital right now and there are many artists who have never released physical product, or if they have had a release, will never release physical product again. Technology is only going to get more sophisticated and hip hop culture will certainly be impacted by that. Other genres of music preserve music artifacts for future generations and hip hop should be no different. We outta appreciate the contributions of our artists (even the wack ones, bless they heart).

Anyway, in this post I’m going to highlight five of my favorite Carolina hip hop releases from the past five years. Selecting only five was pretty tough. Branding, marketing and promotions aside, there has been some great Carolina hip hop released in the past five years that’s not even on this list. The five following projects however, were extra special for various reasons.

I tell y’all every time I do a list that they are never in any particular order, so the same rule applies here. The following are five of my favorite Carolina hip hop releases from 2008-2013. Consider it one of my salutes to Carolina hip hop culture.

Phonte (@Phontigallo) Charity_Starts_At_Home

1. Charity Starts At Home (Album)

Artist: Phonte Coleman (@Phontigallo)

Release: September 2011

Hometown: Greensboro, NC

Phonte is in my top five dead or alive rapper list. I’ve been a fan of his rhymes since before Little Brother’s early days. I remember the first time ‘Te slayed a crowd and started winning. It was way back in 2000 during a Dual Of The Iron Mics contest at The Cat’s Cradle down in Chapel Hill (The Cradle is in Carrboro now). Phonte’s crown, the crowd’s accolades, and money was sealed with this liner:

You don’t understand my onomatopoeia/ If I was a d–k/I’d squirt in your face/ and give you gonorrhea.

The crowd went wild as if Holyfield had just won the fight. Real talk, I don’t even think some of the heads in attendance even really knew what the word onomatopoeia meant. For the most part though, folks understood the definition, made the association and from that point forward, it was a wrap.

Charity Starts At Home was Phonte’s debut solo rap album. The project is grown people hip hop without being old school and sounding dustry. The production is flawless from top to bottom. 

Favorite bar and liner from Charity Starts At Home:

Cause we go hard, I mean macro hard, not Microsoft/ party time excellent n*****, I might go Garth …. / Yeah I go off, Negro spirtual rap/ slave to the rhymthm/ looking like I might go North.

— ‘We Go Off’ featuring Pharoahe Monch.

Carolina on my mind like Steve Spurrier.” — ‘Not Here Anymore’ featuring Elzhi.


2. My Well Smokes Good (Mixtape)

Artist: Oxymoron (@OxyXMoron)

Release: May 2011

Hometown: Bamberg & Florence, SC

Oxymoron is a three man group composed of Pedro English, MENT Nelson, and Tony London. At the top of Summer 2011 they released My Well Smokes Good, a title that was creatively illustrated by the mixtape artwork. Do not fooled by the title or the artwork, this project is not all about weed and the joys of smoking it.

What struck me about My Well Smokes Good is that it covered such a wealth of topics. Not only that, there was a lot of insight. I later learned how old Pedro, MENT and Tony London were –late teens– when it was released, which I found even more fascinating. Here were some super young cats, rhyming about topics many fellow young folks go through, but you rarely hear covered in depth and clarity within Carolina hip hop music.

The subject matter on My Well Smokes Good included love, friendship, good times, weed stories, breakups, depression, suicide, enjoying life, feeling good, and being yourself. Back then I considered it a complete release, in that there’s coverage of just about every emotion and reaction to it that a young person experiences as they’re coming into their own.

There were several head bopping jams on this project. “#ThatLife” and “Must Hate Money” are two. A great reflective track is “Devil Inside Of Me“. There were no features on the mixtape and production was handled exclusively by Danny Dee and Joel Brown out of Florence, SC. I jammed this mixtape so hard the Summer of 2011, at many cookouts and in the whip. I still play it regularly two years later as well.

Standout tracks on My Well Smokes Good:

“Free” (Produced by Danny Dee) —

“Closer” (Produced by Joel Brown) —

Tab-One The Tabloids

3. The Tabloids (Album)

Artist: Tab-One (@Tab_One)

Release: September 2009

Hometown: Burlington, NC

The Tabloids was Tab-One’s debut solo effort. It was a traditional effort, in the sense that a member of a rap group releases a solo project in order to showcase their microphone magnetism as an emcee. In an alternate rap universe, it would not have been necessary for Tab-One to even do a solo album, especially considering that each member of Kooley High that rhymes is a skilled lyricist in his or her own right.

What I loved about The Tabloids back then (and now) is how laid back it was. Tab-One’s flow was so smooth, it sounded as if he wasn’t even trying hard to rap good. He made it all sound so easy. The sampling, keys, horns, guitar, and bebop production of Foolery, Ka$h Don’t Make Beats and Napolean Wright III, along with DJ Ill Digitz’ scratching throughout the album, made the project an excellent mash up of hip hop and jazz. Raleigh’s Napolean Wright III also sang on two of the tracks, which gave The Tabloids great R&B flavor.

Favorite tracks from The Tabloids:

“The Revival” (Produced by Foolery) —

“You Got Me” featuring Napolean Wright III (Produced by Napolean Wright III) —


WarrenJae What Dreams May Come (Mixtape)

4. What Dreams May Come (Mixtape)

Artist: warrenJae (@warrenJae)

Release: December 2009

Hometown: Low Country, SC

What Dreams May Come was warrenJae’s second mixtape. It wasn’t just warrenJae being a dope rapper that made What Dreams May Come so good, the arrangement (done by Sam King), marketing, promotion and production played huge factors as well. Listening to the mixtape back then and even now, it’s clear that both warrenJae and the mixtape was A&R’ed (groomed), which many Carolina artists are not, even in 2013. No shots, but most just grab a pen, a pad and then jump in the booth and start rapping. There’s no development or thought into the artist’s total brand and presentation.

Between 2009-2011, warrenJae was working with Randy Roper, who during these years was Music Editor of Ozone Magazine. Back then, Ozone was the #1 hip hop magazine in the South and Midwest. The publication also had a heavy presence on the West Coast. I believe the role that Randy had as a music journalist, working in the industry, living in Atlanta and being familiar with the business of music helped give What Dreams May Come an extra edge and take it to a different level. The mixtapes’ features included a “2009 Who’s Who” of both Carolina hip hop (Shelly B, Gemstar Da Golden Child, Snook Da Rokk Starr) and Atlanta hip hop (Playboy Tre). In 2009, each of these artists had heavy regional buzzes of their own.

For What Dreams May Come, warrenJae also had the complete creative team that an artist needs to win. Clevis Harrison provided the visuals. Bank! and Sam King provided the production. Fast forward to 2013, Clevis is now Trey Songz’ photographer/videography and Randy Roper manages producer Honorable C. Note (Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka, Akon, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Flo-Rida and the list goes on).

“Dear Jasmine” was the lead single off What Dreams May Come. Model and Columbia, SC native Jasmine Saunders was the love interest and also starred in the “Dear Jasmine” video. Less than a week before the video dropped, Jasmine was spotted dating Chris Brown and then warrenJae’s video got posted on Necole Bitchie’s blog. In turn, the timing of these events lead to even more interest in warrenJae’s brand and more downloads for What Dreams May Come.

Outside of all of the industry polish though, What Dreams May Come was a great mixtape from beginning to end.

“Dear Jasmine” (Produced by Sam King) —

Dirty Dave 1000 Ways To Get Paid

1. 1000 Ways To Get Paid (Mixtape)

Artist: Dirty Dave (@DaveDaFlyGuy)

Release: March 2012

Hometown: Charleston, SC

No top 5 list of mine would be complete without something from the streets. 1000 Ways To Get Paid is not just for the streets though. It’s for the trappers, rappers, ratchets, boughettos, corporate thugs, and college kids too.

1000 Ways To Get Paid was Dirty Dave’s 2nd mixtape release and it was hosted by industry veterans DJ Scream and Bigga Rankin. The project marked the first time in history the two DJs had ever collaborated on a project.

Dirty Dave’s marketing campaign for 1000 Ways To Get Paid was bananas. In 2012, outside of Toro Y Moi and a couple of other artists, Dirty Dave was one of the few Carolina artists making waves in other states beyond the Carolinas. The “1000 Ways” tour touched down in Kentucky, Cincinnati, Texas, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee and more. Dirty Dave went into the hoods and touched the people. And he brought along a videographer to document every step of the journey and prove it, releasing the “1000 Ways” tour vlogs throughout the campaign.

1000 Ways To Get Paid is your requisite street rap mixtape. It was packed with hard beats (courtesy of Charleston,SC producers Twin D 1st Century, Delly D and BB Slimm), heavy basslines, lots of talk about money, hoes, dope, clothes and hustle. There were also a couple of radio ready records in heavy rotation throughout South Carolina.

I ran my first half marathon in November 2012 and listened to 1000 Ways To Get Paid back to back for the first 8 miles. Y’all remember how Jeezy’s early projects such as Thug Motivation: 101 and Can’t Ban The Snowman made you want to work harder at whatever you were doing? That’s what 1000 Ways did, Carolina style.

It was also not lost on me that there was a book, first published in 1936, titled One Thousand Ways To Make $1000. It has been credited as motivating Warren Buffett to become a trazillionbillionaire. Now how clever was it for Dirty Dave’s version to play off of that same concept?

Standout tracks on 1000 Ways To Get Paid:

“I Got A Sack” (Produced by Young Mercy) —

“They Like It” (Produced by BB Slimm) —


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