Tragedy Khadafi is a Queensbridge legend. He started from humble beginnings and overcame struggle to become the icon he is today. He inspired so many rappers through tough love and his unique style. He contributed a style and sound that hip hop artists respect and often duplicated over time. When he dropped Intelligent Hoodlum as Intelligent Hoodlum I was an instant fan. He was bold and uninhibited in his music. His songs didn’t just stir up controversy, they were thought-provoking. Tragedy is still reppin’ the culture heavy. He took time to build with us about his career and a few other topics. It’s truly an honor to hear his feedback.
Tell us about growing up in Queensbridge
I moved from Southside Jamaica at 5 years old. We came from being a family who owned our homes to living in the projects. It was a culture shock. In Southside Jamaica, my grandmother had nine children. My cousins were my friends. When I moved to Queensbridge, I was like wow what I am going to do out here? How do I fit in? At that time, shortly after, I was introduced to hip hop. It spoke to me from that point on. I knew I had to be a part of it in some capacity. At that time, Marley lived there, Shan, Larry Panic, Hot Dave. I knew I needed to get with people like them to learn the ropes.
Things were hard for me, being the oldest. When we can’t find that nurturing, we run the streets. I feel into pitfalls and I felt like nobody was looking after me. I had to look after everyone else.
You inspired so many rappers. What inspired you to start rapping?
I have a lot of influences. My primary influences were LL Cool J and Rakim on the hip hop side at the beginning. As my goals expanded, I had other influences outside of being an MC like, of course, Russell, Jay, 50, even Nas. They kinda shaped my direction.
LL inspired me. When I tell people that they be like, “word?” When I heard “Rock the Bells”, the original version, that did it for me. I thought it was ill. Everybody else rapping was like “aHaha”. LL was different. I was like wow… you can say that shit? You can be aggressive like that? Me being an intelligent street dude, I accredit that to LL. He taught me how to enunciate and still be fly with it. I was like I can be a manipulator and narrator in my raps? LL was definitely a pillar in my foundation.
How did you come up with the hit “Arrest the President”?
I was like, when I did some bullshit in the streets, I was arrested and they took me down. If I’m responsible for my actions in society, why wouldn’t the President, who is the Chief Commander be accountable for his? This was me at 18 years old. It seemed like common sense to me. I was like, if he’s the leader of our nation, he’s responsible for the ups and downs and ills. Everything that goes on, he’s responsible for. At that time, crack was destroying our communities and I felt like if this was orchestrated by the CIA then he gotta get arrested now. He was responsible for a genocide. I would get arrested for snatching a chain. Why wouldn’t he get arrested for crimes that major?
The Crack Era was heavy back then. How did it affect the community?
We watched our aunts and uncles go out bad on crack. Enough for us to stay away from using it. But we were selling it as a means to make money. I remember when I first had a pack, I had 100 vials of crack. I know it’s fucked up and sounds crazy, but crack kept a lot of us from starving. Even though it had a negative impact, it took a toll on the community. It also helped some families stay afloat.
What do you think of the transition of hip hop from when you started ok comparison to now?
It’s definitely different. I mean where it’s come to from now. I have to be fair. I’m from a different time and my standards are high. I see musically it needs more creativity, more identity, and more power behind it. You got a few exceptions. These little beloveds missing out on so much. We had Public Enemy, we had NWA. I don’t think they are getting the full experience we had in our time. Now it’s just a subculture. People come along and keep breaking it off into all these categories to fit their sound. I’m like, why can’t it just be hip hop? Why does it have to be chopped down, cloned, and grafted?
Who are you currently listening to?
I fuck with Meek Mills. I like where he’s coming from with it. He’s now, he’s young. I wish him a lot of success. I rock with Chris Jones K Shooter. They might not be dropping conscious stuff, but I feel their energy. I listen to Westside Gunn.
Why isn’t authentic hip hop dominant in award shows and/or radio as it should be?
Let’s stop looking to them for love and acceptance. Let’s create our own award shows. We keep knocking “let us in, let us in” looking for acceptance. If they do, they will only devalue what we bring to make their shit look bigger. I don’t need them to validate, certify, or solidify what I love and appreciate .
Who would you like to collaborate with?
I’m trying to work with anyone doing innovative creative things . I’m talking marketing, film, business. Doesn’t have to just be music. Hip hop is more to me than making a song. They are so many realms and lanes with it. We need to diversify and branch off into other avenues. I’m willing to collaborate on many levels.
Can we expect new music? Upcoming shows?
I’m in the studio right now making music. I just took a break to make some steak. I’m going to stay doing that. That’s one of the platforms. I have a podcast too called Drive Bys with Chris Castro, which I’m a co-host and executive producer of. We’ve been making interesting episodes weighing in on culture vultures and various topics surrounding our lifestyle. We’re touching on a lot of different things.
Follow Drive Bys with Chris Castro on Instagram
Let’s form a supergroup. Who are you selecting?
I would say: Me, Meek Mill, Nas, Planet Asia, Ghost.
Weekly Rap Gods would like to express much gratitude to Tragedy Khadafi for his many contributions to hip hop. We look forward to new music and other ventures you have in the making. Your music is timeless. You have great energy and vision required to catapult the culture forward in all avenues. You are truly a Rap God.
For more about the life of Tragedy Khadafi, check out this raw documentary!
And the list goes on…