What would happen if the lyricism of Rakim was combined with the vivid street tales of Kool G. Rap and the style of a young Snoop Doggy Dogg?
The outcome would be one Ricardo Brown, better known to the world as Kurupt.
Uniting the mic-ripping skills of the east coast with the street swag of LA, Kurupt embodied the best of both worlds. An argument could be made that he was the most lyrical member of the vaunted Death Row roster, an emcee’s emcee whom Charlamagne tha God has called “one of the most underrated lyricists ever.”
Born and raised in Philadelphia, he moved to the opposite coast as a teenager, where he soon became known for his ability to rhyme. It was this unique combination of influences from both coasts that undoubtedly led to Kurupt’s unique style and delivery. With these two halves of himself, “he bridged the cerebral, technical detachment of the East Coast with the West’s gangster swagger and confrontational demeanor.”
Or, more simply as Kurupt says himself, “I’m a mixture between B.I.G., Snoopy, and Jigga.”
He met his big homey on the field of battle: “Snoop’s Long Beach crew and Kurupt’s South Central crew got to talking, and then battling. As Snoop looked on, Kurupt slayed his opponents. ‘This n—a was serving all my homies, like a Chinese karate movie,’ Snoop remembered. Eventually Snoop and Kurupt went at it, and their epic battle lasted for maybe forty-five minutes. They fought to a draw, and vowed to stay in touch.”
They did much more than that. He was soon brought into the fold and Kurupt, along with Snoop’s cousin, Daz, formed Tha Dogg Pound and were there for the rise (and fall) of Death Row Records, G-Funk, the East-West war, and the permanent changes they wrought.
Looking back now, Kurupt is like the Forrest Gump of the venerated hip-hop of the 1990s. He’s on classics that not only dominated the game, but also defined a sound. The first six albums released by Death Row (and 12 of the first 14) all feature his ferocious flow. The (misunderstood) reaction to a solo cut of his led to a shooting and ratcheted up the East Coast – West Coast rivalry (and even led to the beef between Jay-Z and Prodigy). He also had a front row seat at one of the most infamous nights in hip-hop history, the 1995 Source Awards. He has appeared in numerous films and TV shows. He was once engaged to both Foxy Brown and Natina Reed, and he engaged in a war of words with plenty of others, including Mobb Deep (“NY ’87“), DMX (“Callin’ Out Names“), and even his old pals Snoop and Daz (“I Didn’t Change” / “No Vaseline [Part 2]“).
Kurupt has been there through it all.
Kurupt was also an original. His style was unique. No one sounded like him. He tirelessly stacked his rhymes and often went long beyond the standard 16 bars. In short, “Kurupt is one of the unheralded heroes of 90′s rap. He had a merciless approach that sounded more meticulous than anyone before him, and the way he built words on top of one another was like watching the construction of a rhyme fortress in real time.”
He stood out on The Chronic not only because his ferocious flow was such a contrast to the smooth, relaxed delivery of Snoop, but also for his lyrical gymnastics. He kicks off the classic cut “Stranded on Death Row” and, long before Big Pun, utilizes repeated internal rhyme to great advantage: “I’m stackin’ and mackin’ and packin’ a ten so/When you’re slippin’, I slip the clip in, but ain’t no set trippin’.”
He would continue to show off his verbal prowess on subsequent Death Row releases – Snoop’s classic Doggystyle, the Above the Rim and Murder Was the Case soundtracks, 2Pac’s epic All Eyez on Me – before the label collapsed.
Of course, he brought the heat on Dogg Food, he and Daz’s debut. For example, on “A Doggz Day Afternoon,” he spits: “I’m dat n—a like Daz, crooked as scoliosis,” referencing rhyme partner Daz Dillinger’s original sobriquet [Dat N—a Daz] before comparing his own departure from the straight and narrow path in life to that of the condition that causes a severe curvature of the spine. It seems like a simple line, but still needs to be untangled by the listener to fully understand it.
Out of the ashes, Kurupt ambitiously sought unification of both the culture and his own biography by dropping a double album for his debut – one disc for the West Coast, one for the East – full of a variety of producers and guests from both sides that had some stellar highlights but was not his best effort.
His best solo effort came a year later when he returned to his DPG roots with Tha Streetz Iz a Mutha, full of artwork splashed in blue (IYKYK), plenty of beats supplied by Daz Dillinger and Soopafly, and featuring old friends Snoop, Daz, Dre, Warren G, Nate Dogg, and more. The album kicks off with “I Call Shots,” a prototypical Kurupt verse featuring those trademark stutter-stacked rhyme schemes – “Psychosomatic, automatic static/Catatonic, supersonic, bubonic chronic addict” – and then adds some alliteration on top – “In the depths of the dungeon, dangerous, dastardly.” The album also the single verse ferocity of “Trylogy,” which earned him The Source‘s “Hip-Hop Quotable” of the month for the second time in his career. The following two years, he continued in this vein, appearing on three tracks on Dre’s 2001 (including “The Next Episode“) and performing on the legendary Up In Smoke Tour.
In the two decades since, he’s become a respected vet, releasing four more solo albums, as well as collaborations with DJ Quik, his brother Roscoe, and the supergroup HRSMN (a/k/a The Four Horsemen with Ras Kas, Killah Priest, and Canibus), and, of course his Dogg Pound family, Daz and Snoop, yet he remains underappreciated: “You might not realize it but Kurupt might be the MVP of some of your favorite rap songs ever…Kurupt’s elastic flow and car-bombing lyricism make any verse of his a must-hear for hip-hop fans.”
It’s unfortunate that some only know him for his loud interviews or reality show appearances, but true fans recognize greatness. Simply google “Kurupt underrated” and you’ll be presented with a multitude of Reddit threads, opinion pieces, and chat forums asking why he doesn’t get the recognition so many feel he deserves.
His prolific output is also not fully appreciated. In addition to his well-known collaborations with Snoop, Dre, and ‘Pac, Kurupt The Kingpin has been featured on literally hundreds of songs by the likes of Gang Starr, Slum Village, Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz, E-40, Lil Wayne, The Game, Jay-Z, Schoolboy Q, Heavy D, Jodeci, Pete Rock, Beanie Sigel, and so many more.
Hell, his unreleased songs with Dr. Dre alone – “Puffin’ on Blunts and Drankin’ Tanqueray“; “Every Dogg Has His Day“; “Real Hip-Hop” – would serve as a greatest hits set for most rappers.
Whenever he’s featured on a track, he unleashes his trademark style again – “I’m the militant military/Bald eagle, squeezer, Caesar, Ebenezer” – and again – “I’m tactical tech technical techniques/Torturous technician pirates.”
In the end, perhaps the ultimate proof of Kurupt’s importance and impact is how the other greats revere him:
- Jay-Z mentioned Kurupt as one of the artists that inspired him when he was inducted into the songwriters hall of fame
- The Notorious B.I.G. said he was the best freestyler he had ever witnessed
- Eminem called him out in his list of greatest MC’s on his cut “‘Till I Collapse”
- Kendrick Lamar, a fan since childhood, paid homage by adopting his style on a song called “Kurupted” and was actually quoting Kurupt with his infamous “King of New York” line in his classic feature on Big Sean’s “Control”
The list goes on.
He may not have the crossover appeal or worldwide recognition of some of his contemporaries, but practically anyone that has listened to hip-hop in the past thirty years – in the car, in the club, in the house – has almost certainly heard the brilliance of Kurupt, even if they didn’t realize it.
He’s been there this whole time.
And he’s still here.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.