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Rap fans coming of age today may consider Chicago a hotbed for hip hop. But, two decades ago, the city's buzz amounted to a blip on the radar. Prior to Common dropping the "Sense" from his name and releasing his breakthrough single, "The Light," in 2000, The Windy City was far from established within the rap world. The biggest rap single The Chi had produced was "Po Pimp," a song from Do Or Die featuring Twista, which skyrocketed to the top of the rap charts in 1996. While Do or Die and Twista's initial reign atop the charts was a short-lived one, little did fans know that it would play a pivotal part in opening the flood-gates for rap coming out of Chicago.
Beginning his career in 1991 as Tung Twista, he first made waves after being named the fastest rapping emcee in the Guinness Book of World Records the following year. The first artist to release an album on Loud Records, Twista's 1992 debut, Runnin' Off at da Mouth, failed to make a considerable impact. So, he was dropped from the label, making him the first major Chi-Town rap artist to sign and lose a major record deal. In 1994, he would release his sophomore album, Resurrection, independently. But, due to controversy over the album having the same title of fellow Chicagoan Common's own sophomore effort, Twista's was only released locally.
However, on the heels of that setback, Twista's aforementioned show-stealing performance on "Po Pimp" gave his career newfound life with Atlantic Records inking the lyrical speedster to a record deal; through Big Beat and local Chicago label, Creator's Way. Releasing his Atlantic debut, Adrenaline Rush, in 1997, Twista's career continued on the incline with the album yielding two hit singles and earning gold certification. That same year, Twista was tapped to appear alongside Puff Daddy on "Is This The End," a song from the impresario's blockbuster debut, No Way Out. This thrusted him even further into the spotlight.
As the slick-tongued spitter's star continued to rise, so did his hunger to grow into a CEO and producer of talent. This resulted in Mobstability, his 1998 collaborative album with The Speedknot Mobstas, which garnered Twista his second gold plaque.
Just when it appeared Twista had gotten over his career hump, a dispute between the rapper and Creator's Way CEO The Legendary Traxster led to Twista forming his Legit Ballin' label. Releasing the mixtape Legit Ballin' in 1999, Twista spent the year 2000 slaughtering a succession of high-profile features. This earned him credits alongside JAY-Z, Trick Daddy, Trina, and Swizz Beatz. After releasing 2001's Legit Ballin' Vol. 2: Street Scriptures, Twista was hit with a lawsuit by Traxster and Creator's Way for copyright infringement because the producer argued that Twista's tracks were unauthorized releases. The legal battle impacted his ability to capitalize on his streak of guest spots, putting his career in limbo. The lawsuit was ultimately settled in June 2001 with Twista being extricated from Creator's Way and signing a deal directly with Atlantic Records.
First announced in 2001, Kamikaze -- Twista's third solo studio album -- was initially slated to be released during fall of that year with Dr. Dre and Kid Rock slated amongst the guest appearances on the album. The album would then suffer various push-backs with Twista giving an adjusted release date of February 2003. The promotional single "Tattoo (Remix)" was revealed, as was a collaboration with Lil Kim ("Thug Love"); and guest spots from Ludacris, Eightball, Too $hort, and Freeway. On the production end; Jazze Pha, Kanye West, and Timbaland were among the boardsmen who had contributed to the project. However, Kamikaze would live in purgatory for yet another calendar year. That is, until Twista's connection with Roc-A-Fella Records proved timely.
After appearing on numerous Roc-A-Fella cuts including "Is That Your Chick (The Lost Verses)," "Champions," and "Poppin' Tags," Twista's talents were highly sought out by The R.O.C. with the label's mouthpiece Dame Dash recruiting him heavily. While he never officially took Dash up on his offer, the camaraderie between fellow Chicagoan and Roc-A-Fella producer-turned-rapper Kanye West, and himself manifested in the biggest song of Twista's career. In late 2003, "Slow Jamz," a song combining Twista with West and comedian/actor-turned-singer Jamie Foxx, hit the airwaves and quickly became the hottest song in the country. Produced by West, the song sampled Luther Vandross' "A House Is Not a Home." It peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and created heavy anticipation for Kamikaze, which had a release date of Jan. 28. at this time.
Upon its release, Kamikaze exceeded expectations by reaching the summit of the Billboard Albums chart with 312,000 units sold in its first week. Many attributed this success to the cultural phenomenon that was "Slow Jamz," which is highly plausible. But, it doesn't account for how Twista didn't wilt beneath a monstrous single. Instead, he turned in an album that catapulted him into stardom. Running 16 tracks in length, Kamikaze saw the rapper taking an all hands on deck approach, enlisting some of the biggest stars in the game to help him round out the album. However, Twista was more than equipped to hold his own, as he did on "Get Me," Kamikaze's soul-stirring intro. Rapping "Put Chi name on records in the East, put Chi name on records in the West/Put Chi name on records in the South, bitch how you gon' open your mouth," Twista stakes his claim as a pioneer in his hometown by turning in an explosive offering that instantly grabs listeners' attention.
Aside from the subsequent track "Kill Em All," the rest of Kamikaze is dominated with high-powered pairings, the first being "Pimp On" featuring 8Ball and Too $hort with additional slick talk from Bishop Don Magic Juan. "Still Feels So Good" is another early highlight, as Twista kicks game to the ladies, a theme that's prevalent throughout the album and accounts for its finer moments. Twista's ascent may have been powered by "Slow Jamz." But, he proves he's no one-hit wonder, as Kamikaze is littered with syrupy radio hits. On "So Sexy," the Speedknot Mobsta collides with fellow Chi-Town native R. Kelly, while "Sunshine" pairs his rapid-fire musings with soulster Anthony Hamilton's gritty vocals. Other cuts that stand out are "Snoopin," a guitar-driven track featuring Death Row Records castaway Danny Boy; and the original version of "Hope," which includes vocals from CeeLo Green -- as opposed to Faith Evans -- who is featured on the version that appears on the soundtrack to the 2005 film Coach Carter.
Kamikaze has its fair share of blemishes; including ill-advised inclusions like "Badunkadunk," "Higher," and "Like a 24." But, those transgressions can be forgive in light of the masterpiece that is "Overnight Celebrity." Produced by West -- who also appears on the song -- "Overnight Celebrity" is built around a sample of Lenny Williams' 1978 classic "Cause I Love You." This gives the song a soulful feel similar to "Slow Jamz." The song captures Twista attempting to take a beautiful woman under his wing with promises of enhancing her lifestyle and elevating her profile. A major crossover hit, the track climbed all the way to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100; and kept Twista's voice in constant rotation on radio, as well as his face on TV.
Within months of its release, Kamikaze was certified platinum. This made it the one and only album of his career to reach that plateau. In addition to its commercial success, the album also received critical acclaim for its singles with both "Overnight Celebrity" and "Slow Jamz" receiving Grammy nominations. "Slow Jamz" would even take home the award for Best Rap/Sung Performance. In the aftermath of its release, Twista continued to make an impact, as The Day After -- Kamikaze's follow-up -- debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and reached gold certification. Since then, the rapper has kept his name abuzz with a string of singles and projects, a testament to his resilience. For all of its accolades and fanfare, fifteen years later, Kamizake is symbolic of perseverance, and laying the foundation for a successful and sustainable career; which Twista did while mapping the road to its release, one brick at a time.
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