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Where Camp Lo Were Coming From

On The Bending Of Language In ‘Uptown Saturday Night’

On April 25, 2019

In May, members of Vinyl Me, Please Rap & Hip Hop will receive an exclusive reissue of Uptown Saturday Night, the debut LP from legendary Bronx rap duo Camp Lo. On blue and yellow vinyl, this is the first color vinyl reissue of the album.

You can read details about our reissue here, and sign up to receive it here.

Below, read an essay on Uptown Saturday Night by our rap staff writer.

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How much fly shit can two Bronx brothers tuck into an Uptown flow? Concerning the syllabic acrobatics of Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba: known and revered as Camp Lo, two rhyme technicians with an immutable sense of history and an ineffable knack for coding life behind the bars. In less pretty words: They walk through the past to the future, even when we don’t fully know what the fuck they’re talking about. And therein lies the first concern: the ‘We’ of the whole thing, decades removed from shiny suits with no socks and Moet on tap. If we speak on ‘We,’ clearly we — the folks reading this preview — ain’t the ‘We’ these brothers designed the game for. Camp Lo’s comprised of two slick-tongued Bronx cats trapped in a Blaxploitation flick, indulging themselves in every way the world bends to their words, this superpower throwing an Uptown NYC life into colors unseen before they entered. The ‘We’ they know takes the 2 train every day, runs amok at the park jam, perhaps pulls off the common diamond heist? A member of the Uptown We got the Roberta Flack on slap as they swoon with a lover, herb crumbled into the Vega. Or, somewhere in the Swiss Alps, frolicking in debauchery.

All that to say… whether commoner or hustler, you can’t peep the game if the ‘We’ is whatcha ain’t.

Camp Lo thrives on that dangerous line, their experiences gliding through exuberance in the manners most elusive. They were knuckleheads with a keen sense of self, speaking toward a future in the literal sense, detailing places and spaces they’d yet to go (and many of which they did, eventually). It was Ski’s idea to unite the MCs; Camp Lo’s initial demo tape landed them a deal at the label Profile. Their debut single “Coolie High” came in ’96, netting a placement on The Great White Hype soundtrack and positioning them for an opener slot in support of De La Soul after the release of Stakes is High. After a slight bubbling on the charts and many months in the Ski Beatz thinktank — a studio apartment where everyone from a young Shawn Carter to the Children of the Corn huddled up to work on records — Uptown Saturday Night was born from the fire. Unbeknownst to anyone sardine-packed into the workspace, a classic came rumbling quietly from the ether.

In 1997, the brothers Camp were neither overspending on maximalist blockbusters nor too engulfed by a debt to the past that’d soon confine their potential. Uptown paints a thorough shade of New York that blindsided the game by priding itself on going as left as possible, Geechi and Sonny always sticking to characters that radiate a rugged aura without surrendering to the prevailing hardcore posturing of the era, regardless of coast. It didn’t sell anywhere in the ballpark of the major releases of that year, and as Profile fell victim to the paperwork shuffle, Camp Lo’s momentum dampened in a five-year drought following the classic that still rings off 20 years past its prime. Nevertheless, the timelessness jumped out: the street knowledge never misses a step, and the freakiness leaps out the creases, indeed. Our narrators are not only reliable, but well-acquainted with pretty things and primal instincts, dressed in Ski Beatz sample chops and otherworldly rhythmic performances. It’s an enchanting experience, reeling with a nostalgia of the members’ formative music tastes and their forward-lean toward a Black future not too unlike this one, but with decisively more Amaretto to pour up.

Returning to the idea of what ‘We’ know: How does one describe “Luchini (This is It)” at this point of the timeline? It’s the most ‘We’ radio rap record of all time, both riding the conventions and finessing them with all their might? An unnerving lyrical exercise masked as a party-rock joyride? Some of the waviest shit you’ve ever heard, even if you’ve never heard where they’re comin’ from? Geechi and Sonny get busy, wedging every premeditated flex into a triumphant soul palette ripped fresh from the score of a dollar theater high-speed chase. It’s image after reference after slang after slant rhyme, barraging the brain with Black cool overload. Or, simplified once more: It’s first-person fly shit, straight outta the Boogie Down Bronx. Distill this feeling into 54 minutes and you’ve got Uptown Saturday Night: a masterwork that honors and extends many Black musical traditions by pushing the oddities of the spoken word to its fringes.

Profile Picture of Michael Penn II
Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.

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