Tragedy Khadafi: The Life of an Intelligent Lyricist… So Far
by: Desiree Salas
“I always knew I was intelligent, and I came from something greater than what the schoolbooks taught us… I wanted to inform people like me about what I learned. That's why I will always relate my music to a hood perspective. It's for those kids in the dark like me. I have an obligation to reach those kids. I am of you, you are of me. I keep in tune with them. You shouldn't get to a point where you forget them. I'll never forget the pain of being physically hungry and doing things out of straight desperation.” – Tragedy Khadafi, Village Voice interview
That quote pretty much sums up what the artist formerly known as Intelligent Hoodlum is all about. But that’s not all there is to the man – he’s as multifaceted as a superbly cut diamond.
Let’s take a closer look at “one of the last of a dying breed” of hip hop artists who’s influenced a good number of other artists and rappers like Mobb Deep, Cormega, Nas, and Capone-N-Noreaga.
Percy Chapman IV came to this world on August 13, 1971 in Queens, New York. He is eldest of 5 children, son to a heroin-addicted mother and a father who’s been absent for most, if not all, of his life.
From an early age, he had to find ways for him and his siblings to survive. “I had to feed my siblings because my mom was a heroin addict. I had to get out and get money,” Trag said in a previous interview.
His efforts to help his family thrive involved activities that were against the law, aside from tending to a fledgling career as an MC. Ultimately, at 16, he got detained upstate for a robbery charge.
It was during his stint at the Elmira Correctional Facility that he acquired this “knowledge of self” that he refers to every so often. It influenced his music and lyrics, including his own name.
Image courtesy of Mashable and Jay Shells
Previously, he broke out into the hip hop scene when he was 12 or 13 years old as MC Jade and the other half of Super Kids. His first single. “Go, Queensbridge,” was released in 1985 and got the attention of producer Marley Marl, who produced the Super Kids’ next single “The Tragedy(Don’t Do It)” in 1986.
“I did the song ‘The Tragedy’, which was like an emanation of my life at the time, growing up with my parents being on drugs and so much of that being a part of my culture, in terms of growing up in Queensbridge. I depicted the story as if it was someone else, but it was really myself,” he revealed in a 2010 interview with Unkut. It was this song that also influenced him to later name himself “Tragedy.”
From there, he started becoming part of the Juice Crew, which consisted of the likes of Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, and MC Shan. With his participation in the group, Tragedy became “one of the youngest MCs ever” at that time. “I was the first kid rapper! A lotta people don’t know I was the first kid MC – before Kriss Kross, Bow Wow, Lil’ Romeo and all that,” Trag declared in the same Unkut interview.
Indeed, it seemed that he was destined for great things in the world of hip-hop. But his upward trajectory got cut short by his robbery conviction at age 16.
While in prison, he thought of never coming back home and making music again because he was “bitter with the game.” But it changed when he heard Big Daddy Kane came out with a solo album and became successful with his solo venture. He describes this moment with the following statement:
“I see all this success, and I’m like, ‘Damn, man! I fucked-up! I shoulda listened to Marley.’ Marley kept telling me, ‘Chill, chill. Stay out of trouble’, but it was hard for me to concentrate on music when I’m like 14, 15 years-old and I don’t have no place to live. I’m basically living everywhere – anywhere I can lay – I don’t have no money. It was hard for me to concentrate on music without a stable home. So now I’m away and I see all my friends – they getting big record deals. I see Kane on the cover of Long Live The Kane and he’s got the Roman Caesar garb on, he’s got the women feeding him grapes, and I’m like, ‘Damn, he did it!’
When he ended his incarceration, he got back with Marley Marl and Joe Fatal, who he credits as putting back that “spark” for hip hop music and performing in him. He then went on to record through the 90’s, named himself “Intelligent Hoodlum,” and became a Five Percenter.
It was in 1997 that he changed his name to Tragedy Khadafi, the last name referencing that of the infamous Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Trag, as he is also called, continued to work with other hip hop artists and mentored a few others well into the 2000’s. He recorded “L.A L.A” with Noreaga, Mobb Deep, and Capone in response to Dogg Pound’s “New York, New York.” He also collaborated with good friend and fellow Queensbridge resident Michael Butler, also known as Imam T.H.U.G.
Tragedy released a number of albums, such as Against All Odds, Still Reportin’…, Thug Matrix, Blood Ballads, and Thug Matrix 2 in 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2006 respectively. He also released an album as part of Black Market Militia in 2005.
Late in 2007, Tragedy was incarcerated again for selling narcotics. His original prison sentence of 4 years was later reduced to 3 because he got a grant for early parole. He was released in June 2010.
In 2011, he churned out a digital version of Thug Matrix 3. This year, 2013, he released Golden Era Music Sciences with hip hop group 7 G.E.M.S.
Currently, Tragedy Khadafi is back in the game and rolling out new music like he used to. Will he be able to notch that success he’s seen his former peers achieve? Will he be able to avoid personal landmines that have kept setting him back from the commercial acclaim this rhyme master deserves? Only time can tell. At present, his life story is still unraveling through his unique brand of lyricism and musicality.