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Analogous to mixtape kingpins 50 Cent and Papoose, Saigon rose to prominence within hip-hop's top ranks, particularly in New York, on unofficial singles and mixtapes alone. Politically conscious and street-smart, the rapper became a formidable force when he was taken under the wing of Roc-A-Fella Records' in-demand producer Just Blaze, who shared his passion for early-'90s hip-hop.
Born in Brooklyn but raised in Rockland County, New York, Saigon (aka Brian Carenard) developed his deft rhyming skills during his seven-year stint in prison, where he also earned the nickname "the Yardfather." Only a teenager, he spent much of his time delving into politics and black history, educating himself on topics like the Vietnam War and Toussaint L'Ouverture, but he identified primarily with the history and background of Malcolm X. After his prison release in 2000, he established the company Abandoned Nation, which was partly a nonprofit foundation to provide support for the children of incarcerated parents, but also helped him and associated artists to pursue their music careers. His first important musical contact was DJ/producer Mark Ronson, who gave him studio time and access to other valuable contacts. The rapper later left Ronson's company, on good terms, in order to explore better options.
Saigon began producing mixtapes in 2002. It didn't take the raw lyricist much time to gain a sizable fan base with songs like the political "Shok TV," the street gang-focusing "The Color Purple," and the alliterating exercise of "The Letter P," one of his first tracks with Just Blaze. Blaze was looking for an atypical rapper with whom he could start his new Fort Knocks imprint, and after hearing Saigon, he signed him almost immediately. To say Saigon became just a promising up-and-comer is an understatement. Saigon was listed on tons of "Artists to Watch" lists (including in Time magazine) and graced the covers of many hip-hop publications throughout the early to mid-2000s. His songs found their way onto the mixtapes of many reputable DJs, like DJ Kay Slay, DJ Whookid, and DJ Drama. Meanwhile, his own mixtapes, including the Yardfather volumes and Warning Shots (2004), sold very well. By 2005, the MC was signed to Atlantic Records via Blaze's imprint and had landed a recurring role in the HBO hit series Entourage. However, his official Atlantic debut album was constantly delayed, causing his buzz in the industry to subside slightly, but still leaving many in anticipation.
Just months after signing, Saigon began working to obtain his release from Atlantic, claiming artistic differences, and even announced his retirement in 2007; finally, he was released from the label in 2008. Although very little official material emerged -- just a few singles -- he released mixtapes and other unofficial albums prolifically, including two further volumes of his Warning Shots series (which had debuted in 2004). Finally, in 2011, Saigon released his first official album, The Greatest Story Never Told, via Suburban Noize Records and Just Blaze's Fort Knocks. Produced primarily by Just Blaze, the album earned strong reviews and sparked Saigon to talk about recording a new album soon. ~ Cyril Cordor
- Brooklyn, NY
- 13 Jul 1977
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