Every successful rapper has an equally talented underground counterpart—emcees they are compared to for sharing some common history, creative influence, social inspiration or rhyme style—who, for varying reasons, never attain the same level of notoriety. Regardless, some maintain rewarding independent careers, trading fortune and fame for modest but loyal cult followings, often enjoying more longevity than the average mainstream artist.
Then there’s that special brand of underachiever—the extremely gifted kind whose talent and originality should help them easily break through the monotonous hordes of dime-a-dozen spitters, but inexplicably remains in relative obscurity, perpetually slept on, despite their undeniable skill.
Then again, not every emcee shares the same ideal of success. Some, as Al-Shid told Guerrilla Grooves Radio last year, don’t need fame; they “just want to be felt.”
In the roughly two decades that Shid’s been in the game, he’s never released a proper studio album. Although he did drop a couple of mixtapes with his Sound Bar Recordings crew in the mid 2000s, he’s mostly known for his earlier work with rapper, producer, and breakbeat aficionado J-Zone—the super powered sample chopping wizard with an ingenious, albeit oddball musical aesthetic.
In fact, the majority of Shid’s available catalog is limited to guest appearances on Zone’s eccentric, sometimes straight-up ridiculous, but always inventive and masterfully produced projects—often appearing as the sole rapper on full songs, as opposed to just spitting single verses. Incidentally, his imaginative concepts, hard-to-catch punchlines and long-running multiple entendres have always left fans hoping he’d release his own full-length LP (preferably Zone produced). “As a producer I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a lot of great MCs, but Al-Shid is the only one I still have recordings of verses he left on my answering machine in 2001,” Zone posted on Facebook earlier this year. “By far my greatest musical chemistry ever with an MC and in my personal top 10 MCs of all time.”
Most of his fans were probably introduced to the Roosevelt, Long Island rapper on Zone’s 1998 debut, Music For Tu Madre. Both SUNY Purchase students, Zone met Shid in college and featured him on two tracks off his senior project turned first album—“So Pretty” and “S.H.I.D.” Reportedly written when he was only 17, the latter was the initial installment in a series of songs designed to showcase the MC’s lyrical prowess—on which he revealed that the hyphenated section of his name is actually an acronym for “Still Holdin’ It Down.”
Shid has appeared on almost all of the rapping producer’s projects since, originally as part of the somewhat mismatched Old Maid Billionaires crew (alongside over-the-top Old Maid Entertainment founder Zone and offbeat label mate Huggy Bear). On their early records, Shid’s distinguishing cadence, effortless flow and complex wordplay stood out, often requiring back-to-back listens to catch every clever line. Take, for example, his solo offerings “Recess” and “The First Day of School” off Zone’s second album, A Bottle of Whup Ass, released in 2000.
Although clearly sharp-witted, Shid wasn’t known for social commentary or particularly thought-provoking content, however. In those days, the depth of his lyrics tended to lie in their construction, rather than the ideas they conveyed. Like a less flossy Big L or Eminem minus the temperamental introspection, Shid relied mostly on shock value and, of course, his verbal dexterity to turn heads. “Al-Shid was there to knock somebody out, to let them know we weren’t a novelty act,” Zone explained to the A.V. Club.
Shid was always a consummate storyteller, though, evident in songs like “190”—another track off Zone’s sophomore LP, on which he accounted some of the problematic outcomes of alcoholism.
Around that time, Shid joined Zone on tour in Europe, performing for only $70 here and (at most) $200 there. Regardless, rocking with Old Maid overseas became one of his fondest musical memories. “We were sleepin’ in promoters’ cribs [and] these small ass hotel rooms, doin’ these little small venues,” he told TheBeeShine. “It wasn’t the best financial situation, but it was the greatest experience I had in hip hop — ’cause that’s when I felt like, you know what, I’m doin’ it.”
In 2001, Zone dropped his third project, an Old Maid label compilation of sorts called Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes, which included the fifth installment of “S.H.I.D.” The fourth was released on the b-side of the album’s first single, “Live From Pimp Palace East,” while parts two and three were presumably never put out.
Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes was significantly well-received, especially considering its 9/11 release date (which impacted the crew’s ability to properly tour the project). It even garnered the attention of Atlantic Records, who allegedly intended to re-release it. Zone, however, doubted the likelihood of their proposed plan and opted to remain independent—claiming they “weren’t sold” on Shid or Hug, despite their interest in the LP.
It wasn’t until early 2002 that Shid dropped his first solo 12”—a tongue-in-cheek cut titled “Ign’ant,” featuring Zone’s dynamic production. With razor-edged bars—like his assertion as the “hottest thing to hit the streets of New York since Building 7” only months after September 11—the song was a strong demonstration of the artist’s abrasive wit. It was on the single’s b-side, “Fight Club,” that Shid delivered some of his most elaborate puns, however: “I symbolize for simple eyes that can’t see the meaning / For coke heads that’d rather sniff lines than read between ’em / Your brain’s like a uterus, I provide the semen / Which means I’m fuckin’ with your head ’til you start conceiving.”
Shid really shines on his conceptual tracks, though. Later in 2002, for his second solo release, the rapper expertly employed mathematic terminology to berate gold diggers and the men that succumb to their seduction on “M.A.T.H.”—another b-side, and one of his most popular songs to date. Unfortunately, it would be his last Old Maid 12” record, as the trio amicably parted ways to explore other musical avenues soon after.
Although Shid would appear on Zone’s next two LPs—Sick of Bein’ Rich in 2003 and A Job Ain’t Nuthin’ But Work in 2004—by 2006 he had established his own clique, Sound Bar Recordings. Together, the “SBR Animals” released a little-known, short-lived mixtape series ironically titled Fly Rap Money.
Besides guest spots on Zone’s Chief Chinchilla: Live at the Liqua Sto in 2008 and Peter Pan Syndrome in 2013, Shid hadn’t put much out since he dropped Fly Rap Money II: The Compilation a decade ago. That is until 2015, when he resurfaced to release a collaborative mixtape with lifestyle brand This Respek Wear (which became well-known for challenging Cash Money Records founder Birdman’s infamous use of the term a year later). They also shot a couple of videos to accompany the project, one of which was for Shid’s “Black Kings” song with Super Scott and Sound Bar affiliate Big Apple.
In 2015, Shid also dropped “Shotgun,” an ambiguously produced digital single featuring Zone’s drumming. Though still riddled with his trademark wordplay, both songs were a departure from Shid’s earlier music. “Black Kings” explored sociopolitical subject matter not typical for the emcee, while “Shotgun” was significantly more contemplative and introspective. For fans of his work with Old Maid, however, the absence of Zone’s distinctive production was brutally apparent. Still, Zone assured more music from the unofficial duo to come on Twitter—but did not specify in what form.
Unfortunately, they did not end up dropping a full-length Shid project, besides a catalog album of their previous collaborations, but they did still make good on the promise. Later in 2015, Shid released a familiarly braggadocios and punchline-heavy Zone-produced single, “Clubba Lang”—at the end of which Zone jokingly referred to the song as “‘Still Holdin’ It Down Part 47,’ [or] something like that.” “Clubba Lang” would also be featured on Zone’s 2016 Fish-N-Grits LP, along with a secondary track by the pair called “Dreamcrusher.”
Most recently, however, in the wake of the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of law enforcement, Shid released a poignant song about police brutality titled “Fire In My Heart;” once again straying from the formula of his early work.
Over the years, Shid has proven himself an increasingly well-rounded emcee who has yet to lose his integrity or artistic edge. Although he’s regrettably never been the “center of attention like the letter n,” contrary to his claim on the original “S.H.I.D.”—in regards to sheer lyricism, he has always managed to hold it down.
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