H.O.G. (Strange Music)
Years before Tech N9ne became internationally known, before his Strange Music empire dominated Kansas City hip-hop — and the hip-hop label world in general — there were the 57th Street Rogue Dog Villains. Big Scoob was the group's “street-hustler,” his fellow rapper Txx Will told The Pitch in 2002.
H.O.G. — “hand of god” — is Big Scoob’s third album (after 2009’s Monsterifik and 2011’s Damn Fool), and he wears that hustler persona naturally and vividly: It’s in his brawny delivery and in the fiber of the album.
In songs with titles like “Do Better,” “Don’t Ease Up,” “Warrior’ and “Barely Missing Prison,” he is a driven, un-flashy rapper who exemplifies a persistent push to survive and get ahead.
Born Stewart Ashby Jr., Big Scoob has been in and out of hip-hop since the late ‘90s. In a trailer promoting H.O.G., he explains the title by saying, “Throughout my hectic life, for some reason, I keep coming back to this music.” In another trailer, he words it in a more revealing way: “I had to step back and get my real life in order so I could come back to music.”
If real life is what has kept him from devoting more time to music, it’s also clear that for Big Scoob, real life and music are never all that separate from each other. H.O.G. bears the marks of a rapper trying hard to put his life experiences into recorded form.
I’ve been selling dope since the 10th grade, is how he starts perhaps his most hook-driven anthem, “Bitch Please,” which is also the first single.
That song features two Bay Area rappers who have also been around the block: E-40 and B-Legit. H.O.G. is loaded with featured guests, especially at the front end. This seems less about covering for deficits in Scoob's rapping than about making an album that bangs hard start to finish, that stands as a complete experience.
Three-fourths of the way through, “Soul Muzik” is a tribute to the pleasures of music — hip-hop and beyond — which conveys a spirit that drives the album’s construction. The song paints a picture of Big Scoob creating cross-genre playlists for his friends and family. It's light in tone, but says a lot about the cohesion and personality behind H.O.G.
Same goes for the questioning, sort-of philosophical “Quasars” and the political “A.B.N.” (it stands for “America’s biggest nightmare”). If these songs feel like outliers, they’re also key to understanding Big Scoob and his music. When he joins Bumpy Knuckles and Killer Mike on “A.B.N.,” it's a revelation that sets Big Scoob among rappers with a similar ability to root rebellion in the streets, to smack you up the side of your head with their ideas and experiences.
He seems to know it, too. In December 2015, Big Scoob tweeted that his last two albums were “mediocre” because he was listening too many people about what the albums should be. “NOT THIS TIME!!!” H.O.G. seems true to that intention. Its seamless blend of styles and approaches helps Big Scoob project his viewpoint on life and music in a fuller, more lasting way.