This past Wednesday, Eminem singlehandedly revived a ghost of culture's past that had died too young: the third greatest hip-hop TV show of all time (peace to Uncle Ralph and Yo! MTV Raps), BET's iconic video mixshow, Rap City: Tha Basement. The show originally started in 1989, helmed by Chris “The Mayor” Thomas for the first two years. Later, a colorful Big Lez would hold it down from 1994 to 1999, alternating as host with Joe Clair during those same years until Big Tigger came onboard before the millennium. When he became host, Rap City became Rap City: Tha Basement, and it was the physical demarcation of the booth as the place where rappers would freestyle that sparked the segment’s popularity.
Whether it was with Freestyle Fridays or Rap City, BET had a solid grip on what their audience wanted around the turn of the millennium. (Freestyle Fridays even spawned a Ruff Ryder signing in the Chinbese-American rapper, Jin.) Sure, you could see Eminem or Nelly or Busta on TRL, but they wouldn't spit an exclusive verse like they would in The Booth. Before the Internet popped off, rap fans now in their 20s remember rushing home from school to catch whichever artist was on that day deliver their freestyle at the end. Timing was crucial! If you didn’t get home in time, you might never see that segment again. Some rappers would drop sly disses, others would actually come off the dome. One Harlem hero even wore all pink and counted stacks of money while he spit. Time stood still in that neon-lit recording booth.
Now the show is gone. Cancelled in leaving only a ghost of it’s memory in the form of the Backroom freestyles on 106 and Park. Eminem took us back to the times of guest DJs and animated freestyles this past Wednesday. (Much like he did for Relapse back in 2009.) But that wasn’t enough for us, so we excavated footage of the most timeless Rap City Freestyles of all time to keep the nostalgia flowing. The parameters are simple: writtens can’t be avoided, but verses from album cuts get no shine. Basically, if you've heard the lyrics elsewhere, we (mostly) didn’t include it. So excuse Big Tigger's soggy cereal bars as we rewind our VHS tapes and reminisce about the good ol' days with The 20 Best Rap City Freestyles of All Time.
Written by Max Weinstein (@dubmaxx)