Cam'Ron Is The Rap God

Words by: Ernest Baker

My generation has a special relationship with Cam'Ron. He’s made great music, but he’s also inspired an everlasting lifestyle. Everyone has their own moment when they realized that Cam’s influence was unprecedented. For me, it was during my first year of high school. I’ll never forget walking the halls and seeing men, who, weeks prior, had rejected anything slightly emasculate, wearing pink in droves. Guys were forming crews called Dipset, thousands of miles away from New York, with no relation to Killa himself. None of it was surprising, though. The Diplomats were our Wu-Tang Clan, and since their emergence, their impact has endured.

Cam’Ron’s first wave of music didn’t affect us in the same way. I mean, it was cool. I remember watching 'Horse & Carriage' on the BET Top 20 countdown. My cousin had a 'That’s Me' CD single. But it was a couple of years later when 'Oh Boy' hit that the movement truly began. Jay Z, Nas, and Eminem were still everything to us, but there was a desire to latch onto something new. It’s the same reason we recreated Clipse’s “Grindin” beat on lunch tables and classroom desks for at least an entire year. “Oh Boy” had that incredible Just Blaze beat and verses that incorporated the vocal sample and made it a pop hit, but they were selling more than a song.

Sportswear as fashion was at its peak and, in the 'Oh Boy' video, Dipset was draped in Mitchell & Ness gear that you couldn’t get at Foot Locker. Cam was speeding through the hood in a Lamborghini, and in the Midwest a hood like Harlem seemed lightyears away and so advanced. The affiliation with Roc-A-Fella was huge. Plus, Cam had a crew that held their own with rhymes and personality. It all happened at a time when a lot of us were just starting to care about those aspects of the music. I never even realized that the kids in Jay Z’s 'Hard Knock Life' video were sitting on a Rolls-Royce or that Puffy was driving a BMW backwards in Biggie’s 'Hypnotize' video. I knew they were nice cars, but I was just a kid. By the time I started about noticing the details and perceived affluence, Cam’Ron was asserting his dominance over the rap game.

The streak that began with 'Oh Boy' continued for quite some time. 'Hey Ma' was a jam, and the video gave us another inside look at Dipset’s lifestyle. Class clowns were trying to emulate Freekey Zekey’s reactions to the busted girls in the video. Beyond clothes, and cars, and rap deals, the way Cam’Ron and his crew carried themselves made them the coolest. When Diplomatic Immunity dropped the next year, it was on sale at a lot of Best Buys for like $8, which, at the time, seemed like such a steal for a double disc. It was the type of album that stayed in your skip-proof Walkman for months. Cam’Ron was putting his crew on and they proved to be just as awesome. Heatmakerz beats were a more aggressive, grating version of the sped-up soul sound Kanye West brought to Blueprint, and they soundtracked the transition.

'Dipset Anthem' was such an effective primer that Juelz Santana’s debut, From Me to U, arrived just a few months later to much fanfare. Even though it didn’t sell well, it meant a lot to us. The effect of a video like 'Santana’s Town' can’t be measured by Soundscan. Cam’Ron counting money in a pink du-rag next to an elderly white man isn’t about Billboard. While Jay Z certainly sent kids into a frenzy with The Black Album and had people trading throwbacks for button ups around the same time, Cam’Ron was the nucleus of a projection of a different type of style, and it was on a level that we haven’t seen since. There was the entrepreneurial aspect of their empire, exemplified by the short-lived Sizzurp liqueur. Slang like “no homo,” however offensive, proliferated mainstream culture. Cam’s breakthrough turn as an actor in Paid in Full broadened his horizons, as well. Outside of more traditional mediums and outlets, a constant stream of mixtapes and Smack DVDs kept us immersed in their world.

That first wave of Dipset mania laid the foundation laid for more to come. Purple Haze was a triumph of an album. Cam’Ron was briefly vice president of Roc-A-Fella and the drama it ignited brought his stock to new heights. He launched a formal feud with Jay Z and the list of reasons for it at the beginning of “You Gotta Love It” is legendary. The reign continued with Killa Season. Whether it was because of perennial oral sex anthem 'Suck It or Not' or the album’s hilarious, low-budget accompanying film. He beefed with 50 Cent next, and from their on-air dispute on Hot 97 to the “it’s gonna be a hot summer video,” Cam’Ron was still producing moments that shook us. He made scenes that you discussed at length with your friends. He always maintained an underdog status, yet his moves resonated with the weight of those with far more resources. This is a guy who got shot and drove himself to the hospital in a blue Lamborghini. He’s a legend.

With so many relevant moments outside of music under Cam’Ron’s belt, one can almost forget how central the records themselves are to his legacy. Cam’Ron consistently released music and dropped lyrics that captivated us. He had the knack for multisyllabic rhyme schemes of more celebrated wordsmiths, but often included a self-aware playfulness for added charm. Lines like “I get computers ‘putin” or “next stop, start trouble inside the Waffle House” are still referenced. He’s a permanent part of our musical fabric. That’s why Cam’Ron is still viewed as a nation treasure. He’s done too much for the culture to ever be forgotten, and he still has our attention. We saw it yesterday when he dropped a new song with A-Trak, but notice that the cover art features Cam in one of his most famous outfits from over a decade ago. He doesn’t ever have to reinvent himself. What Cam’Ron’s already accomplished makes him an icon forever.


Look At This:

Search IllRoots