Thursday, March 17, 2016


"100X is...a whole lot of things but mostly known as a crew from North Philly that was prone to fuck shit up on a regular basis. It all began with The Untouchables, who dropped a single in 1988 on the Solid Ground label (MC Killin' bw/ Death Wish) with an unusually hard sound for the era. The Untouchables were Magnificent Mar (aka Lamar Supreme), Round Mound (aka Are Em) and Dangerous Daryl with Lord Lee (aka LE Square) on production. They had all come up under the tutelage of two North Philly Hip Hop icons, Poison Ladd S.L.R. (Supreme Lyrics Rockwell) and Extortionist B (aka Beats In General) who had put out a single the year before on the same Solid Ground label.

The Untouchables were a short-lived crew with Dangerous Darryl leaving to pursue other interests and LE Square and his younger brother Are Em arguing over the groups production and particularly its lack of sampling, which was just starting to come into vogue and appealed to the younger brother more than his older sibling who was still stuck in the keyboard/808 past. But circumstances shortly brought them back together as they still had to live in the same house and the younger brother's prescience was rewarded when LE Square decided to fully embrace the new sampling sound. Rather than forming a new crew, they decided that they would be a loose confederation of solo artists all produced by LE and calling themselves 100X, an abbreviation for their 10th & Oxford neighborhood that they had used previously on their 12" as The Untouchables.

As the eighties wound down and a new decade appeared on the horizon, the crew went through a period of expansion. The first addition was a kid named Bad Newz whom LE Square met at a block party after he had witnessed the kid devour the cipher earlier in the day. A lyrical man-child, Newz seemed a perfect fit for the new direction LE wanted to take the crew, which he envisioned as a Juice Crew-inspired stable of talented MC's around himself in the Marley role. An ambitious goal to be certain, but soon he added Lightin' Lex (aka Lex Ruger), an established house party MC who knew how to get a crowd going. Are Em roped in a fiery up-and-coming MC by the name of Mal Black who hailed from the notorious Richard Allen Housing Project a few blocks south. The last piece of the puzzle proved to be multi-talented lyricist Mustafo, who was introduced by LE's friend Pud, a barber from across Broad Street who would continue to play a role in the development of 100X.

They were now seven members deep (6 MC's and 1 producer) and it was decided that the group had reached its final form. They shopped a demo, making trips to New York to visit Def Jam, Elektra and the other major players of the day. Naturally, they also called on Ruffhouse who had the apparent benefit of being Philly-based and in search of local talent. The group was known and respected by some who worked there but Chris Schwartz made the decision to pass on the group, despite acknowledging that they were seriously dope. Ultimately, no one wanted to take a chance on a large crew with a reputation on the streets that was well deserved (Lex Ruger was now locked up). Wu-Tang had not yet dropped their debut and all the label bigwigs had entrenched and archaic notions about what a rap crew should be. But this lack of vision on the part of the execs would only fuel the group to work harder and record more music.

Are Em blossomed as a producer after a pep talk with his mentor Poison Ladd S.L.R. (known as Rockwell to his friends). He proved a natural and was good enough for Rockwell to end up using two of his beats on his next record, the now highly coveted Another 14U2NV EP (1991). 100X began to garner respect throughout Philly for rocking spots like Club Rhythms where the owner, Tony, introduced them to a young sax player from New Jersey named Greg Osby who had a contract with Blue Note. Greg was unusual on the Jazz scene because he was young and influenced by Hip Hop, a genre of which the older players were either afraid or contemptuous. Greg recognized the possibilities of a Jazz Hip Hop fusion project, a sound that had been pioneered by groups like Gang Starr (Jazz Thing, 1990) and A Tribe Called Quest (Jazz (We've Got), 1991). Greg and the crew clicked immediately, recording many tracks together over the course of 1992 and Blue Note released the 100X-laden 3-D Lifestyles a year later. However, Blue Note was unsure as to how to market the record and it fell between the cracks. To Greg's credit, he recognized the commercial viability of such a fusion project well before groups like US3, Digable Planets, Guru's Jazzmatazz and The Roots really capitalized on the idea.

Despite the lack of commercial success, the group really enjoyed the experience and a few of the members (Are Em, Bad Newz and Mustafo) even got the chance to travel abroad and perform in front of huge crowds with Greg. But they also had to tone down the hardcore style they had been nurturing so as not to upset Blue Note. Some of the songs that made the 3-D Lifestyles album were stripped-down, sanitized versions of tracks the crew had recorded two years prior. Suffice to say, when the situation ended with Greg and Blue Note, the crew was more determined than ever to show the world what they were really about and hence came back harder than ever.

By late 1992, Rap was getting increasingly dark in reaction to some of the candy-assed artists that had taken over the airwaves. The crew's supergroup structure allowed the members to feed off each other and they began venturing further into the darkside as they attempted to trump each other lyrically. The arrival of a young kid from the hood by the name of G Masica (never an official member despite his appearance on more than a few tracks) further galvanized their gritty sound. None of the members of the crew wanted to be outshone by this young kid whose lyrical artistry was beyond dispute. This incredibly productive period (1992-1993) saw them record some truly ground-breaking music on a regular basis and it is obvious that they crew felt at home in the basement studio of the house Le Square and Are Em had grown up in. In early 1993, they recorded the track Horrorcore, from an idea that Bad Newz and G Masica came up with to describe their increasingly violent lyrical content. Though this sub-genre of Hip Hop is now widely regarded as beginning with Esham's Boomin' Word From Hell in 1989 (and continuing with the Geto Boys, Gangsta N-I-P and Insane Poetry), there is great dispute over who coined the term and it should be said that 100X used the term more than a full year before the Hip Hop media would begin to use it to describe, particularly, The Gravediggaz and The Flatlinerz, but also certain tracks by artists like Big L.

Pud from the barbershop up on 16th & Susquhanna, whose clipper skills made him the barber of choice to an increasingly high-profile clientele, made a connect on behalf of the crew when All-American running back Blair Thomas heard an exclusive tape of their latest tracks. Blair was the second pick overall in the 1990 draft and was still with the New York Jets at this time in early 1993. Blair asked Pud to set up a meeting and quickly signed the crew, setting them up in a huge warehouse studio in North Philly with top-of-the-line equipment. Blair used his influence to set up a number of meetings for the crew, one of which was with Parrish Smith of EPMD. P loved the music and the image but was also not willing to take a chance on a group of this size. Like everyone before him, P tried to sign certain members but the crew refused to be fragmented. Unfortunately, these disappointing meetings were starting to get to the crew and to Are Em in particular. An emotional and intense individual, he was beginning to get disillusioned by the machinations of the biz and decided to take part in some dirt with a few cats from around the way. The poor choice landed him upstate for the next 5 years where he missed out on a very prolific period of recording with the crew.

By early 1994, the crew had their first record has 100X out on Blair's X-Calibre' Street label. Beyond The Door contained 4 tracks in all, two versions of the title track plus Death 2 The Radio and the aptly-titled Fuck. The single made some noise in Philly and those who didn't know 100X already came to respect them from exposure on the radio and performances at various local venues. One of the crews they performed with frequently at this time was The Roots, who had just released their sophomore LP on Geffen. The Roots then Jazz-inflected sound was something 100X had already explored with Greg Osby and thence discarded and so the two crews did not consider each other to be competition and, instead, recorded tracks together. 

The Beyond The Door single had exposed the production talents of LE Square and now everybody in Philly was coming through to the house at 13th Street looking to record. Suddenly, artists all over the city were embracing a rawer and darker sound, of which LE was usually the maestro. But Blair and the crew failed to follow up the success of their debut 12" and left the heads for fiending for too long at a critical time. The public would have to wait two full years to be treated to a follow up, 1996's Fast Loot Tactics. In the interim, conceptual raps had been gradually replaced by more street-oriented lyrics. This was a direction that some of the members of the crew had been adapting to with great ease, they were veterans who had witnessed many of the changes in the game and they were, after all, from the streets. When Fast Loot Tactics did finally drop, it's 5 cuts were well received, particularly the remix of the title track, and it garnered radio play throughout the city.

However, some of the members were less enthusiastic about the new direction. Lamar Supreme began to faze himself out, citing both added responsibilities that come with growing up and an increasing frustration with industry bullshit. But he was also more partial to the conceptual style that had been their hallmark and achieved them initial popularity. Bad Newz was also more at home with creative and conceptual lyrical content. Around this time he created an alter-ego he called "Dhey Fear" which allowed him to explore his more creative side and remove himself from the mainstream sound. The rest of the guys were happy to embrace the street sound that, with the influence of Jay-Z's debut LP in 1997, was clearly here to stay. But once again Blair and the crew failed to follow up the success of their hot single with anything new and their relationship with Blair and X-Calibre' Street came to an end.

But life ebbs and flows and as one relationship ended in disappointment, another one emerged, once again through the connection of Pud. Philly's own Rasheed Wallace stopped by for a shape up and was blown away by some exclusive 100X shit Pud had blaring on the barbershop sound system. Sadly, this would be Pud's last favor to the group. He died of a fatal asthma attack shortly after introducing Rasheed to the crew. Once again on a professional athlete's label, the crew was asked to move its operation to North Carolina to record at a state-of-the-art facility. Now, in 1998, with Are Em fresh out of prison and back in the rap game, emotions were running high, but Rasheed's decision to relocate proved fatal to the chemistry of the group. Forced to live on a per diem of $200 a week in a new city, Mal Black and Bad Newz quickly grew tired of the arrangement and headed home. It wasn't long before the other members followed. But perhaps more disappointing to the crew was the decision from Rasheed's money people to pass on dope LE Square produced bangers in favor of expensive outside productions that aped contemporary trends in the music. This is the period that saw the release of Thug Bowl, records that none of the members of the crew are proud of. Back at home, the members each went their own way and for the first time in over 10 years, rap was no longer the dominate factor in their lives. But true to form for all real Hip Hoppers not one of them stopped doing what they loved most -- remaining creative and expressing themselves through the music. Maybe not for hopes of a contract or of being the next big thing but because that's just what they do, that's just who they are. 100x is... my all time favorite rap group."

Biography by Master Sihn & Ed_Catto 
Courtesy of DWG Forum  
Props to Dj Scaramanga for the Mix

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