Growing up on Chicago's West Side, Carl Mitchell viewed, first hand, what a hard life was really like. Influenced by his surroundings and the great heavyweights of rap music, Mitchell began making a name for himself in Chicago in his late teens for his speedy rapping style and ability to rhyme faster than anyone else he knew. Calling himself Tung Twista, he recorded his first album, aptly titled Runnin' Off at da Mouth in 1991.
By 1992, the young rapper had developed a rapping style so quick he was actually coined the Fastest Rapper in the World by the Guinness Book of World Records. He picked up his speedy delivery early on after endless rap battles at school. "I got into hip-hop really early on, when I first started watching old hip-hop movies, like Beat Street and Krush Groove," Twista told YM. "So I started beat boxing and rapping on the corner with my buddies. We'd have rap battles in the schoolyard and do a whole lot of talent shows. That was the thing to do. So as I started rhyming more, I just tried rapping faster and faster each time. Once I wrote a whole song like that and saw how fluid I could still kick it. That's what made me realize that I had a pretty good speech thing going on."
After shortening his handle to Twista, the young MC laid some rhymes on Chicago group Do or Die's underground single "Po Pimp." Music wasn't quite making money yet for Twista, so he worked as a telemarketer in the afternoon. However, his cameo on "Po Pimp" did gain the rapper enough attention for independent label Creator's Way to sign him for the release of the 1997 album Adrenaline Rush. While the record stayed on Billboard's charts and became an underground classic, Twista was still known more for being a regular guest star on R&B and hip-hop albums including ones by Jay-Z, Ludacris, Timbaland, P. Diddy, and Lil' Kim.
In 1998, Twista hooked up with hip-hop group Speed-knot Mobstas for the joint venture Mobstability. Twista wrote and recorded more than a dozen street hustling songs with MCs Mayz and Liffy Stokes before parting ways with Creator's Way. In 1999, Twista started up his own label called Legit Ballin' and released an album with the same name. But getting out of his deal with Creator's Way proved to be a difficult maneuver when the label sued Twista for copyright issues. He remained in legal limbo for some time, and the suit even messed up a supposed potential deal with P. Diddy's Bad Boy label. After Twista finally settled with the label, he was able to sign a deal with major label Atlantic Records.
Twista soon recorded a collection of songs for his Atlantic debut, but the label rejected it along with several other earlier versions. The label was waiting for a powerful potential hit single, and waited almost two years to get it. "Slow Jamz," a collaboration with fellow Chicago musician and producer Kanye West and actor/singer Jamie Foxx, turned out to be that song Atlantic was waiting for.
In late 2003, mainstream radio put "Slow Jamz" on heavy rotation. With the mix of Twista's swift delivery, West's catchy production, and Foxx's smooth R&B crooning, "Slow Jamz" became an instant smash hit and a number one on the Billboard charts. The album Kamikaze was released in January of 2004, and since its sales got a heavy boost from "Slow Jamz," Kamikaze became a number one record. More than a decade after he started rapping, Twista had finally made it.
Critics began taking pride in Twista's long-respected underground status that was now popular. In a review of Kamikaze, Vibe magazine called Twista, "your favorite rapper's rapper," while other hip-hop artists respected Twista for keeping at the game so long. On Kamikaze, Twista had the opportunity to play the other side of guest vocalist and ask artists he had worked with in the past to guest on his album. Guest vocals by R. Kelly and Ludacris among others helped make Kamikaze a blend of varying styles, something Twista worked hard to do. "I want people to hear that I can bring it any type of what that I want to bring it," Twista said in his official biography. "I don't really have to pop it fast, but I know that that's what people want to hear. But at the same time, I want to make tracks where people can like my other stuff. It's about creativity."
Kamikaze got another extra boost when Kanye West released his debut album in February of 2004. West's record, The College Dropout, had another version of "Slow Jamz," a track that earned Twista one of two Grammy nominations later that year. People's Chuck Arnold called the track, "one of those singles that grabs you by the ear the first time you hear it."
Kamikaze struck gold again with the single "Overnight Celebrity," a track inspired by what some saw as Twista's overnight stardom, which in actuality was over a decade in coming. In it, he poked fun at himself and artists' 15 minutes of fame. "I represent for the MCs that have skills, not just make music for the hell of it," Twista stated in his biography. "I take the time to concentrate. I represent the artists that keep it true to what really is, to be able to make rappers want to write.
Runnin' Off at da Mouth, 1991.
Adrenaline Rush, Creator's Way, 1997.
Mobstability, Creator's Way, 1998.
Legit Ballin', Legit Ballin', 1999.
Kamikaze, Atlantic, 2004.
For the Record …
Born Carl Mitchell on November 27, 1973, in Chicago, IL.
Began rapping under the name Tung Twista and released Runnin' Off at da Mouth, 1991; entered the Guinness Book of World Records as Fastest Rapper in the World, 1992; signed to Creator's Way, debuted as Twista with Adrenaline Rush, 1997; signed with Atlan tic Records for breakthrough album Kamikaze, 2004.
People, February 16, 2004, p. 40.
Cleveland Scene, http://www.clevelandscne.com/issues2004-05-12/music/music.html (March 15, 2005).
"Twista," YM,http://www.ym.com/stars/bandofthemonth/apr0104.jsp (March 15, 2005).
Twista Official Website, http://www.twista.net (March 14, 2005).
Vibe,http://www.vibe.com (March 15, 2005).
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