I…listened to all that Death Row stuff….and Lords Of The Underground, Busta Rhymes, Redman and Keith Murray, where your takes had to be so clean and ill to get off the phonetics that you were dropping. Your lines had to be crisp. Other cats don’t come from that school. It took me studying Redman, Method Man, Keith Murray and Wu-Tang. Listening to Kurupt, Daz, Jay-Z, Biggie and Snoop Dogg over and over again.-Bishop Lamont @ XXL

West Coast rappers do not listen to The Lords of the Undergrounds, let alone name-drop them as primary influences. LA is 2Pac country: rappers south of the 10 emulate him, Beverly Hills Persian kids blare “How Do U Want It,” from BMW's, at Venice Beach, illegal sidewalk vendors sell-out of 2Pac-as-martyr towels and t-shirts. I blame the song “To Live in Die in LA.” We Angelenos are fiercely loyal to only two things: ourselves and songs written about the city of Los Angeles. If Roman Polanski had written “I Love LA,” we would've welcomed him back with open arms.

I have nothing against 2Pac. He's better than his detractors think but not nearly as great as his iconographers would love to believe. In and of himself he's fine, but his long shadow has cast a pall over a million knucklehead copycats who think being “thugged out” is an adequate substitute for being a good rapper. Then again, I can't blame them. Being a West Coast gangster rapper is a potential cash-cow. Ice-T wrote the blueprint. N.W.A. mastered the art of turning controversy into sales, 2Pac perfected it and in this millenium, Dr. Dre and his proteges, Eminem, 50 Cent, and The Game, turned it into a well-oiled machine.

Which brings me somehow to Bishop Lamont. In all honesty, I didn't even know who the guy was until he dropped the Caltroit mixtape two weeks ago. And I only downloaded the tape in the first place because of its producer, the Fat Beats-signed, Motown-based, Black Milk, who in addition to being a flavor of Nestle's Quick, might just be the rightful heir to J Dilla's departed throne. As for Bishop, I didn't even know that he was a rapper. I'm pretty sure that I thought he was the mixtape DJ, with a name inspired by the Bishop Magic Don Juan. Anyhow, Caltroit ended up on my iPod and I ended up in the gym, listening on shuffle, doing my best to ignore Fabio doing bicep curls right next to me. This is 100 percent true. The now-aged and equine-looking Euro actually works out at my gym. Yes, I know, it's really fucking strange.

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Suddenly, “Goatit” slashed across my headphones, making me completely forget the surfeit of “I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray” jokes cackling through my head. Minus Lamont, “Goatit” would still be a great song, Milk supplies a stomping, Dilla-haunted beat full of December Detroit grime, heartless organs and wailing gospal peals buried under layers of dirt and ice. Phat Kat, an Xzibit sound-a-like is up first. A veteran of the Detroit underground for a decade, only now is Phat Kat getting a real chance to shine and he pretty much kills it with his first verse. Next, Elzhi from Slum Village acquits himself nicely.

But when Lamont gets his chance, he doesn't as much rap over the beat, as sprint across it like he's fleeing a collapsing bridge or Vince Coleman stealing bases in RBI Baseball III. It's not a particularly easy track to rhyme over either, with a bass line snapping like a rubber band and muffled pounding drums that leap at weak rappers like hurdles. Yet it seems almost too easy for Lamont, he taunts it, he pokes it in its flabby stomach and makes it cry out “do not hit me I am full of chocolate.” He drops King Hippo, Mr. Roboto, Death Star and Souls of Mischief references. It sorta' reminded me of an early Canibus or Capitol Punishment-era Big Pun, or the pre-Slim Shady Eminem. The thing is, you probably don't know who Bishop Lamont is yet, but you will soon. Once I got home from the gym and searched around, I found out what I probably should've already known, that Lamont has the next big record slated to drop on Aftermath.

His debut is slated to drop in the first quarter with production from Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, Lord Finesse and Madlib (if you're to believe the wikipedia, which you probably shouldn't.) But who knows with Aftermath? They're like the Bermuda Triangle of record labels. Lamont is also rumored to be all over Dr. Dre's Chinese Detox-cracy, but who knows if that'll ever come out either. Not to mention the fact that fellow Aftermath signee Joell Ortiz is probably supposed to factor somewhere into this equation too, especially considering it's tough to imagine Dre released two records in '08 from raw, technical, throwback rhymers with little commercial potential. Maybe Dre's had enough. Maybe he surfed Myspace and saw the army of 2Pac and 50 clones and realized that maybe it's time for a new direction. I can't blame him. The West needs guys like Bishop Lamont. After all, there's only so long many times you can hear the song “How Long Will They Mourn Me” before wanting to shout back “too long.”

ZIP: Download the Entire Caltroit Mixtape (left-click)

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