Let veteran MC Saigon tell it and Hip-Hop was never intended to be politically correct. A statement backed by history: Hip-Hop was born from struggle and oppression. Its music’s purpose: rebellion; be oratory opposition to the conditions that oppress African-Americans and Latinos. Saigon feels that the Bronx-born culture, now in its mid-thirties, has strayed from its essence, so offers a realignment of priorities with his latest album The Greatest Story Never Told 2: Bread and Circuses.
The album title’s extension borrows from the Latin-rooted phrase panem et circenses, which notes the attainment of public approval and popularity by way of superficial distraction. The Brooklyn-born, Spring Valley, New York raised rapper feels these diversions pose an even greater threat to rap listeners because in an American economy that has even less to give to its disenfranchised, the poor literally can’t afford to be deaf, dumb and blind anymore. With his sophomore effort, Saigon puts the responsibility of refocusing Hip-Hop on he and his colleagues. Problem is he sees today’s rapper as more ringmaster than master of ceremony. Bread and Circuses aims to expose MCs ignoring their civic duty. “There are wars that are about to go down that the public doesn’t even know about because we’re so entertained by sports and the Grammys and the VMA’s being year-round,” says the artist born Brian Daniel Carenard. “But what are we music artists doing with our voice for the Black community? It’s like the popular rapper is just adding fuel to our fucked up fire.”
In the spirit of rap revolutionaries like Chuck D and Gill Scott Heron, TGSNT 2: B&C (co-executive produced by Hip-Hop producer extraordinaire Just Blaze and MTV and Sirius radio host Sway Calloway) aims to enrich the non-rich with jewels on issues that have plighted brown America for centuries. Black-on-Black genocide is addressed over sinister keys on “Ghetto,” clarity is given to the difference between reality and entertainment imagery on the Just Blaze produced “Rap vs Real” and “Blown Away,” is as courageous as it is strong with its message of what it means to be a true rebel. “I think we don’t have any real strong leadership today because history shows us that if someone makes too much noise and goes against the establishment, something always happens to them like assassination or untimely death,” says Saigon, alluding to fallen generals such as Malcolm X, Bob Marley and Tupac. “I feel we’re in an era where courageous men aren’t bred anymore. But we still need manly men. Who’s gonna protect the women?”
The guest list on TGSNT2 is short in quantity but tall in quality. The Jay-Z of Christian rap LeCrae visits “Best That I Found”; Marsha Ambrosius soars throughout the “Game Changer” and fellow upstate NY native Styles P teams up with Sai over infectious gospel keys and menacing drums to separate rap’s tried and true from the rest on “Not Like Them.”
Saigon hasn’t been this artistically free since being released from prison in 2000––on an assault with a deadly weapon charge. It was Napanoch’s Eastern Correctional Facility where the son of black and Haitian parents found his passion for penning rhymes and author Wallace Terry’s book Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans (hence his professional moniker). Upon his release, his devotion to becoming a force in the rap game would lead to The Source magazine joining him with greats like Eminem, The Notorious B.I.G. and Common as a subject of the publication’s coveted “Unsigned Hype” section. A few more years of mixtape grinding would earn the attention of the aforementioned Just Blaze, who while at the height of his Jay-Z fame signed the self-proclaimed “Yardfather” to his Fort Knox imprint and eventually to Atlantic records. Subsequently, the ex-con with the penchant for potent poetry would see his profile grow exponentially with the catalyst being his reoccurring role in season 2 of the HBO hit “Entourage.”
Unfortunately while the world anxiously awaited Saigon’s debut The Greatest Story Never Told, Atlantic records wasn’t ready to deliver. They demanded a few “radio singles” be added to Sai’s debut. A creative tug-of-war ensued between label and rookie––despite the release of a compromised single “Pain In My Life” featuring a little known Trey Songz––ultimately shelving the album for years. Once TGSNT finally saw the light of day, it was 2011 and an independent release courtesy of Saigon’s new recording home Suburban Noize Records. As a non-major, the album moved an impressive number of units, fueling its author to pour more blood, sweat and tears into its sequel. “Atlantic didn’t believe in it, but a lot people supported.”
Now with “Sai-giddy” in complete control of his music, he’s able to birth potential hit records organically. Prime example: “RelaFriendship,” a tune about the invisible line between best friend and girlfriend that’s as smart as it is catchy. The difference between Saigon’s music and that of many of his peers is that when the masses fall under the spell of his music, it’s not a distraction, instead a refocus and clearing of optics and ears to receive what Hip-Hop USA has been deprived of far too long: the truth.