papoose.jpgEven before DJ Kay Slay and Busta Rhymes agreed in early 2006 to co–executive produce his debut album, The Nacirema Dream, Papoose was hailed as the savior of true New York hip-hop. The two-time Justo Mixtape Award winner was seen as the MC who would return lyricism, and even social commentary, to rap.

Nearly two years later, Nacirema has yet to see the light of day. But even as another tentative release date passes, Papoose is patient. “I’m not frustrated at all,” he says. “We was ready to put it out from day one. But when you have people like Scott Storch and Jazze Pha asking to be involved, you’d be an idiot to say, ‘I’m done already.’”

Pap’s top-shelf production team and heavy-hitting co-signers are a result of a highly successful, long-running underground career. He first came to the attention of the rap cognoscenti as a teenager, in 1998, when he appeared on Kool G Rap’s DLMR Records album, Roots of Evil. The next year the Brownsville, Brooklyn, neophyte released his debut single, “Thug Connection,” which featured the concept record “Alphabetical Slaughter” on its B-side. The lyrical acuity Pap displayed on “Slaughter”—going through the alphabet, spitting lines, composed entirely of words beginning with one letter—immediately endeared him to fans of literate rhymes in hip-hop.

In 2003, Papoose came to the attention of DJ Kay Slay, who signed the MC to his Street Sweepers Entertainment management firm. Since then, the two have collaborated on 19 mixtapes (the latest, Already a Legend, dropped in September), and Papoose has distinguished himself as one of the most intricate and political wordsmiths in rap, speaking on such diverse topics as Hurricane Katrina and the death of the unarmed 23-year-old Sean Bell at the hands of NYPD last November. “Hip-hop is the voice of the streets,” he says. “If we don’t speak out, who’s gonna let people know? Kids in the streets don’t listen to speeches by George Bush or Minister Farrakhan, but they might listen to Papoose.”

As Pap continues to workshop The Nacirema Dream, he continues to attract an impressive coterie of collaborators. In addition to Storch and Pha, the album is slated to include beats from DJ Premier and Kanye West, and Jadakiss, Bun B, Chamillionaire and Jim Jones have already contributed guest verses. And while declining sales figures have had a chilling effect on the releases of even established superstars, Papoose is paying attention to an entirely different bottom line. “In the NBA, when you on the court, it’s not about how much money you make,” he says. “It’s about talent. Hip-hop needs to be like that again. The wrestling matches—I don’t pay attention to that. My motto is simple: All lyrics, no gimmicks.”