My rap and hip-hop consumption has been rather low over the past few years. I can count all the albums from the genre I’ve purchased in the past year on one hand with a pair of CDs in Dr. Octagon’s Dr. Octagonocologyst and Jurassic 5’s Quality Control, as well as cassette copies of Grandmaster Flash’s The Source and Arrested Development’s 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life of.. that I grabbed on a whim. Hardly cutting-edge artists, I realize, with a couple of which that are likely unknown to today’s breed of rap and hip-hop fans. I’m a bit particular about the rap and hip-hop that I like. If I don’t like a rapper’s voice and swagger, or their beats, production, and the general music mosaic over which they rap, I don’t seek it out. That’s what kept me from listening to guys like Eminem or Drake (yes, I know they are drastically different performers) and a good chunk of modern mainstream performers. It could explain why I’m so slow to learn about ones that interest me, and not many in my social circles listen to it, so I get little exposure that way.
That’s enough apology for not listening to enough hip-hop, so on with what I’m here for. Let’s discuss some 29-year old trading cards, shall we? The delay in writing this third purchase of a bigger haul of cards (the previous ones are here and here) could be explained by most of what I’ve stated above, but I’d like to bring it to your attention nonetheless. Completing my jump back to the past of what music trading cards had to offer (pending further purchases down the road), here is 1991’s Premier Rap Pack.
This set was manufactured by Premier Cards, Inc. in 1991. I can’t really find any information about this company other than the contact information on the back of the pack (P.O. Box 30284 in Middle Station, Philadephia, PA 19103). There was a company which shared the same name and city of operation that was listed as part of a fraudulent business scheme in 2012 that appears to have sold business cards. However, this appears to be a different corporation entirely. Premier should also not be confused for being affiliated with one of the several card sets that used a similar name, such as the much sought-after O-Pee-Chee Premier hockey cards of my childhood, or the cards featuring the football league of the same name. A generic as hell name, so shame on them for not having the foresight to have an easily searchable name on Google. The Rap Pack name, if I can venture an obvious guess, seems like a play on The Rat Pack collective that featured the talents of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. among others.
There are a few things that the front of these cards triggered memories of. My primary thought was of those Starline sports folders and posters that I’d commonly spot at dollar stores years after the featured players were traded or had retired. You basically get a picture of the artists accompanied with their name printed in a block-letter font and the obligatory set branding in one of the corners. While the concept was a pretty typical choice for lots of sports cards I’ve seen from the era as well, there’s not a specific set that matches these ones too closely that I can immediately find, but I know they exist somewhere. The photo quality varies from card to card, some of which are unedited while others make use of either a plain backdrop or some other graphic enhancements. I tend to prefer the photos that use the original backgrounds, as seen in the Gang Starr card below, over the lazer light show that a pre-Wu Tang Clan The Genius (aka GZA) was forced to maneuver through. I did get another card of his, but he looks like he’s modelling for a J.C. Penney catalogue in that one. It’s hard to tell if this one is an improvement or not.
The layouts on the back of these cards is reminiscent of a set of cards I previously discussed, Brockum Rock Cards. There must have been some association between the card manufacturers because the similarity is too eerie. I’m not sure if it was the lettering or just a ‘90s thing, but you be the judge. Maybe I should consult with my font-obsessed sister on that one.
The Most Popular Record portion is rather interesting, but seems to be used as a tool of promotion for their most recent release instead of being based on the consensus of critics or fans. In some cases it has no significance at all because the recording mentioned is the artist’s only release. The four-photo collage I find rather pointless as well given the repetition of the same image with different photo-editing tweaks, but I’m guessing they were aiming for that Andy Warhol pop-art style. The style gets abandoned for the most part on cards featuring multiple people.
The entire set is structured in alphabetical order based on the artist’s names, with the occasional person crammed into the incorrect position. As much as I enjoyed opening a rather “cool” pack featuring two different Ice Cube cards and a single Ice-T, I got as much of a kick when I’d see artists that I had no idea existed. This gave me an opportunity to sift through some early-1990’s rap artists that were never on my radar, or at least those whom I’d never heard since that time.
The four below intrigued me for different reasons.
The first two at least tie together nicely. The Boys (a group of literal boys) and Twin Hype both feature brothers that make music together. That makes me wonder what I would name a hip-hop duo with my twin brother. Double Trouble would work, but was already taken by some blues guy. White Bread, because we are two identical ends of a sandwich? Natural Clones (Clonz)? Two of a Kind? Reflections? Okay, you get the idea…
2 Black 2 Strong sound bold for two reasons, their use of two-2s in the name, and in having a name that sounds almost like it’s trying too hard to be controversial. That name seems to be just John Mars’ alias, with the card seemingly implying it was the entire group’s name. 2 Black 2 Strong, with his backing group Militant Manhattan Gangsters (MMG), only released one full-length album in Doin’ Hard Time on Planet Earth, but it received high-praise at it’s time of release. Jimmy Z stood out like a sore thumb being the only white artist I found in my packs, and a white artist that looks far closer to belonging in Kenny G’s band than with G-Unit. Jimmy Zavala was never exclusively a hip-hop artist, with other collaborations in his career spanning from Rita Coolidge to Ringo Starr.
Variety being the spice of life and all, it’s nice to see legendary performers like Professor Griff (ex-Public Enemy), Grandmaster Flash, and Easy-E, mixed in with Redhead Kingpin and Yomo & Maulkie among the others falling on the more obscure side. Some may take further interest, as I did, in the sizeable amount of female rap artists that cropped up in the cards I pulled. And as an example of what I was able to learn of the artists in this set, did you know that MC Peaches (one of the set’s featured women) had a take on The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” before Puff Daddy got his hands on its catchy chorus? This fact wasn’t mentioned on the card since “I’ll Be Missing You” was years from being released, but curiosity did help me stumble across it. Sweet Tee, Harmony, Spinderella (of Salt-N-Pepa), and MC Lyte are among the other female representation I obtained from this set.
Each pack also contained a sticker of graffiti art accompanied by a brief description of the lettering itself and the location photographed. It looks like a typical card from the set, but the “This card is printed on peel and stick material” makes their purpose clear. To keep in spirit with the theme, it would have been interesting to have stickers that looked more in line with a portion of the street artwork they depict so that their application onto your surface of choice looks more authentic. I suppose you always have the option to take scissors to it to trim off the words, or you could always buy some paint and quite literally go to town as a budding artist yourself (NOTE: I’d probably advise against the latter).
The main set also includes a number of other artistic renderings depicting various cultural aspects that can be found in the hip-hop community. Their backs explain different aspect of rap, ranging from DJing to music videos. The card below features an illustration credited to C Traze (who does most of the art cards in the set), with a brief synopsis of how hip-hop broke through to the mainstream. I’m wondering if this is the same artist/graphic design company as the C-Traze Studios that is credited for the art direction for Do You Want More? By The Roots.
Eight different cards in the set were made based on different record labels that released rap and hip-hop albums. The only one I was able to find in my packs was Tommy Boy Music. The cards of this nature feature the label’s log front and center, with a very brief outline of their history. It seems like in the case of this card that there was plenty of wasted space that went unused. Somewhat of a deeper dive into the label would have been appreciated. In the case of Tommy Boy, it could be the less said the better if you’re to take De La Soul’s word for it. Nice logo, though!
Two separate promotional forms were also encased in each pack. First, we have one from (or for) the Pump It Up Posse.
I’ve never heard of the “hypest hip hop show” of which they speak. Do they mean Pump It Up or Slammin’ Sounds? And is that a TV or radio show? Either way, this may have been the best way for me growing up to get my hands on some fresh medallions. Those participation ribbons I routinely had pinned to me as a kid weren’t exactly making my friends green with envy, so that and all this other Posse swag would have done wonders to help me level-up my status. Then there’s the giveaway on the back. It’s incredible how the times have changed because people in general now view being handed a stack of CDs as a nuisance. I’d need to consult with the youth of today out there as to what equivalent giveaway in a modern context would be enough to pump them up.
The insert that intrigued me the most of the two ads is this next one. There’s a magazine subscription form listing not one, not two, but three different hip-hop publications.
The Source I am definitely familiar with, but never owned an issue. I’m not sure if it’s still going strong (the magazine game is tough), but it is still going. The other two (Word Up! and Rap Masters) are foreign to me. If kids were like me, they would have thrown out these advertisements and viewed them as disposable as the card wrapper. In the case of this one, I appreciate it since I love looking at old music magazines, and this raised awareness of a few of them. The card also lists the ability to order a poster that has the complete set of cards printed on it. I used to own a hockey card collecting kit that came with a similar collage poster, but there were at least cards from different sets pictured to show some variety. I think I’d rather have an enlarged version of one of my favourite cards on my wall instead of one with dozens of miniature images. For instance, the Ice Cube picture on the cover of The Source made for one of the best images in the entire set.
The Rap Pack are cards that aren’t always the easiest on the eyes, but are still very fun to flip through. I could talk of each of the cards I found in these packs as well as others in the set, but check out all 150 of them to make your own judgement.