A film about Northwest hip-hop from 1998
Full Time Soldiers
In 1996, Jeru The Damaga teamed up with DJ Premier and dropped a searing critique of ’90s gangsta rap music. The track was called “Ya Playin Yaself,” and the lyrics broke down the risks associated with the art form. Jeru was borderline incredulous as he rapped, “I never knew hustlers confessed in stereo or on video, get caught you’ll know who turned state’s evidence, murder weapon, confession and fingerprints. Mama always said ‘watch what comes out your mouth,’ tight case for the DA from here to down South.” Tupac, possibly the world’s most famous gangsta rapper, was killed in Las Vegas that same year, and Biggie was shot dead in Los Angeles in 1997. What was the future for gangsta rap in 1998? Seattle rap group F.T.S. decided to show us with their self-titled album Full Time Soldiers on Street Level Records.
F.T.S. started when MC/producer D-Sane met fellow rappers Smoke Dog and J-Dub. Along the way they added Villain, Drama, Brokedown, and Brazy-J for a total of seven members. By 1998 during the recording of Full Time Soldiers, Brazy-J and Smoke Dog had left the group and a new MC named Madd Dogg had come aboard, putting the group at six people. The first half of the album contains tracks which document the gangster lifestyle of hustling, revenge, and maintaining status. Violence is the predominant language, and F.T.S. position themselves as a mafia-style crime family. “Jackin Season” is typical, with lines like, “We hit the scene, kick the door in, the bullets start flowin, n****s droppin like rocks, the getaway car is stolen…Licked em up like some stamps, lit two cops up like a lamp.” At the end of “Jackin Season” a voice says, “The stories you just heard are based on factual events that have occurred.” Another song called “8-5 Dippin” tells a similar story of desperation, “n**** tried to…hate on me and grab my crack sack, but fuck that, I bust back, with the all-black mini-mac strap and the hundred round clip.” In “Situations Get Thick” there are graphic scenes of gunfire, and the last verse menacingly reminds the listener, “When the shit pops it’s unexpected, undetected, fuck with the F.T.S. this shit gets hectic.”
It’s not all gangster life on Full Time Soldiers, the second half of the album brings that weed smoking and partying side of things. Songs like “All My Bitches Left Me,” “Let’s Get High,” and “Who Can Hustle?” provide a lighthearted break from the shoot-em-up tales. There are several moments where members of the group question their choices which have led them into a life of crime. “Can’t live and die by the gun, gotta get a million dollars before my life is over and done,” goes a standout line on “Million $ Dreams.” The ubiquitous blunts and cognac/40s in many of the tracks serve to numb the pain that comes with street life.
In 2023, activists in the US Congress and many individual states are trying to pass laws which prevent District Attorneys from using rap lyrics in court proceedings. Rappers like Georgia’s Young Thug want impunity to describe their crimes, but don’t want to face any responsibility in cases where they have literally confessed on tape. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis explained the heart of the matter in a mid-2022 CNN interview, “I believe in the First Amendment; it’s one of our most precious rights. However the First Amendment does not protect (rappers) from prosecutors using (lyrics) as evidence if it is such.” Would a group like F.T.S. be found guilty in court based on their lyrics? Regardless of the answer, the group established itself as true ambassadors of the Seattle gangsta rap genre. The album was re-released in 2018.Written by Novocaine132