Saigon: the name alone invokes images of war-zones and brutal footage of that fiery city where brothers fought and vice thrived during the Vietnam War. Years after those flames were quenched, another Saigon burns strong, spitting poetic fire on the mic as he verbally stomps the competition into submission.

"Rap music has slowly become a minstrel show," declares New York based rapper Saigon who adopted the name after reading Wallace Terry's classic 1985 Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War. A stirring non-fiction book about Black men fighting in that unjust war, it's one of the many books that has influenced the rapper's journey. "Hip-hop has become everything our parents told us not to be."

Not known for biting his tongue, Saigon is no stranger to dropping science. On his much-anticipated debut album, The Greatest Story Never Told, the skillful rapper is about to change the world with his poetic flair and wild style. 'I refuse to be a cookie cutter artist." he states.

Originally, signed to Atlantic Records, Saigon quit the business when he felt the label was trying to comprise his artistic integrity. "I'm the boss of my music now," says Saigon, who like the best artists has his own vision that he combines with street knowledge, hip-hop swagger and uncanny intelligence. Currently signed to producer Just Blaze's recently launched label Fort Knocks Entertainment, in partnership with Abandoned Nation/Suburban Noize, he is more than ready. Indeed, even before his official debut has dropped, Saigon already has a following of fans who have heard him on various mixtapes including his street classic Abandoned Nation, a collaboration with DJ Whoo Kid and Just Blaze.

The Greatest Story Never Told was produced primarily by Just Blaze, the talented producer behind smash hits for Jay-Z, Eminem and T.I., the disc also contains contributions from Kanye West, and Buck Wild. In addition, the stunning rapper also collaborated with various artists including Jay-Z & Swizz Beatz ("Cmon Baby"), Faith Evans ("Clap") and former Floetry member Marsha Ambrosius ("It's Alright).

Documenting his world from an unbalanced childhood in which he moved constantly to the six years he spent in jail to his stint on HBO's critically acclaimed Entrouge, every facet of his life has been transformed into poetry on The Greatest Story Never Told.

Although Saigon made a name for himself on mixtapes and doing shows, including a recent hit performance for X Games held at the Staple Center in Los Angeles, nothing could compare to the boost his career was given when appearing on the HBO show, Entourage. "TV is TV, but real life is crazy. For me, being on that show was both a gift and a curse. There was a lot of pressure on me to ride the wave and release the album prematurely. Others thought that Saigon was a fictional character. The show made my name big, but I really don't think many people know what I look like."

As for his rap style, Saigon reflects, "I try to talk about what is real without romanticizing any aspects of it. There are rappers who have never been locked-up, yet they try to glorify prison. Well, I was there for real and I know there is nothing glamorous about being in jail." Having as much in common with textual rhyme slingers contemporaries Lil Wayne and Drake as he does with his friend Jay-Z, Saigon's words are powerful without being preachy.

The official first single from The Greatest Story Never Told is the rock influenced "Bring Me Down." A head-banging track where Saigon verbally slaps the competition, he says, "I felt like when I was going through my problems with Atlantic Records, so many folks were hoping that I would fail. I'm just so happy to still be here and to be stronger than ever."

Locked-down when he was 15-years-old and later transferred to an adult prison, Saigon spent much of his jail time feeding his mind with books. "In the beginning I was reading Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim, but then I got put on the path of reading history and philosophy. In reality, prison is designed to drive you insane. I vowed to be smarter and try to spread some of the wisdom I picked-up. I didn't want bragging to be the only thing I had to offer."

Saigon was introduced to Just Blaze by a friend when the famed DJ was looking for artists to lace his mixtapes. Finding himself at Baseline Studios, the gritty sound factory where Just Blaze constructed tracks that were hypnotically hard and sonically perfect.

As a team, Saigon and Just Blaze share a perfect balance that is reminiscent of dynamic duos Gang Starr and Pete Rock and CL Smooth. After forging a friendship with Just Blaze, the young rapper began spending all of his free time at Baseline; last year, the legendary studio closed it doors. "That was my other home. It was also after the reign of the Roc-A-Fella era, and that's where I met Jay-Z. I would talk to Jay-Z and just thought he was the smartest guy on the planet. It was an education."

Sparking the track like a Brooklyn mack, the king of Marcy guest stars on "Cmon Baby." Laughing, Saigon remembers when he told Jay-Z he thought he was an alien. "It's just that the man has so much wisdom and is so well-versed in everything, it's hard to believe that he's real. Jay-Z is going down in history with Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley."

On "The Invitation," a song where Saigon rocks the boulevard with Q-Tip, the two created an anti-gangsta track that is straight gangster. "Working with Q-Tip was such a pleasure, because he is truly a musical genius," says Saigon about the Tribe Called Quest lead MC and sometime producer. "He has a sense of music that surpasses the knowledge of many rappers."

Perhaps the most timely song on is the track "Preacher." In the age of hypocrites like Bishop Long serving in the pulpit, "Preacher" calls out the fake prophets of Christianity. "A lot of preachers have no problem pimpin' their congregation," Saigon says. "I believe in God and I believe in the church, but I don't believe in ministers taking advantage of their positions."

In addition to being a winner in the studio, Saigon is also putting much effort into his foundation called In Arms Reach/Abandoned Nation. "It's always been my dream to help kids who can't help themselves. Right now, we have partnered with another company and we are working on acquiring government grants. Kids are being swallowed by these streets and they need our help. I want to motivate these youngsters who have nothing; there is so much work to be done in our community."

Coming correct with sharp skills and provocative poetry, The Greatest Story Never Told is destined to be a rap classic. With Saigon rocking the mic, this is the shot of sonic energy that is needed to wake-up Planet Hip-Hop. "I have a voice and I'm just trying to say the right thing," he says. "This is all part of my mission."

Tate Kobang

Tate Kobang confidently calls his approach to rapping "upfront"—and you hear that as soon the East Baltimore rapper attacks the elastic bassline and pulsing beat of his rising hit "Bank Rolls."

"Bitch I’m from Baltimore, you say you was? I never seen ya," the battle rap-brewed MC begins his boasts, adding his own spin on Baltimore rapper Tim Trees' 2000 song "Bankroll" (produced by Bmore club legend Rod Lee), an iconic local hit that Kobang has turned into a national hit by sheer rapping alone, no pop-savvy crooner on the hook or a hook at all to help him out. As Complex declared, "his song is catchy despite its lacking a hook."

Kobang learned this kind of dogged self-determination early. As a teen, he lost his mother and father within a few months of each other, making him responsible for his siblings. "Going through pain is what put me in the mind frame of, 'I’m gonna talk some real shit,'" Kobang told Noisey. "Everybody don’t got my story. It might be bits and pieces of mine in other people’s stories, but it’s still mine. I’m a give it to them real." Having to be a responsible young adult and put his familial obligations before everything else also pushed him to take his rapping talents more seriously. For the older brother turned father figure—and father to five himself—music became a way to delivering truth and a create a better life for his family.

It was family who got him into rapping in the first place. Kobang's uncle, a Baltimore rapper named Killa Q introduced Kobang to rapping early on. Along with influences such as his uncle, MCs such as Mr. Cheeks, Method Man, and Cassidy as influences, Kobang credits his broader arts and music training for his attentive approach. He was in the choir in church at the age of 5, and later on learned to play the saxophone, piano, and read music. Music training taught him "how to put together music" and explore "certain cadences [and] different melodies," which indeed, are what make his breathless tracks so compelling. "Actually listening to music and having an ear for it definitely helps," he says.

Like Kobang's flow, the construction of "Bank Rolls" was effortless. "I actually did it last year," Kobang says, "I had it in the stash." He recorded a version—which first popped up as a non-album teaser for his April 2015 release Live Hazey—on a whim really. Mostly because a few other locals MCs had tried to over take the Trees classic but none of them really worked. "I didn't like them," Kobang admits, noting that he wanted to "do the song justice." Then he adds, "And that's just what happened."

The hypnotic appeal of "Bank Rolls," a combination of clever song construction and high-energy spitting, is no surprise to those who have been following Kobang's career over the past few years where projects like 2012's Book Of Joshua, 2013's Hitler Hardaway, and 2014's Crown Of Thorns proved a penchant for cohesive projects.

"A project is basically supposed to be a story or audio documentary," he says. "You got to have the mindset and the ear to put everything together perfect—it ain't ever perfect but you can come close."

For the "Bank Rolls" remix, which added a verse to add more depth to the song that Noisey had already called "an undeniable hit," and give it a bit more time to catch radio listeners' ears, Kobang didn't want to change much. "We didn't want to over think it, I didn't want do too much," he says. "I'm big on bars and metaphors and everything but I just wanted to give something real like Freddie Gray reference—something that everybody can relate to."

Meanwhile, a poignant reference to the late Baltimore club DJ K-Swift, who died in 2008 surrounds the original Baltimore references to streets like Pennsylvania Avenue or the Alameda and local HBCU Morgan State University and neighborhoods like Woodlawn and shuttered clubs like Hammerjacks. An attentive listener could unearth Baltimore city history by exploring Kobang's regional references and stump friends whose knowledge ends with The Wire.

The success of "Bank Rolls" comes at a time when all eyes are on Baltimore due to recent unrest which the remix addresses (Pitchfork recently said of the remix, "Perfect rap songs don’t magically cure a broken city’s ills, but they do make living in them a hell of a lot more fun") and also because Baltimore hip-hop, which has teased mainstream viability here and there (from B. Rich's 2002 hit "Whoa Now" to more recent acts such as Blaqstarr or Future cosigned Test) seems to be on the verge, on its own terms. Kobang and his Fader-approved "irresistible singsong flow" currently lead a group of artists with national buzz such as King Los, Lor Scoota, Young Moose, and more.

"We never really had this many artists at the same time," Kobang says. "And I was just talking to somebody else about the same thing: how the city was all gangs and different drug groups, and now everybody is making the transition to the arts, a big transition to something that's definitely good. Now we got the eyes and I want to capitalize."



MC from Baltimore. COMP stands for "Clever on Many Perspectives”.

Ace Cannons



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