Years before the names Dipset and The Diplomats became synonymous with gritty New York hip-hop, there was Calvin Byrd, a young Harlem cat barely in his teens and enamored by the local battle emcees that chose the streets over the studio. Spurred on by indelible memories of street rappers getting their rep up, where the only prizes were pride and local fame, Byrd would eventually grow into 40 Cal, one of
hip-hop’s most promising emcees.
“I used to see Big L battle people on the block,” he recalls of the emcee who many call one of the greatest
of all time. “If you ever saw a hood star, that’s the only idols n***as got to look up to. [Michael] Jordan
wasn’t coming to the hood.” Seeing the shine L and other rappers got, Cal started battling as a teenager
for one simple reason: “I wanted to get my hood fame up.”
As the emcee slowly built his name up as one of the fiercest on the block, he graduated from the street to
the ring, winning eight straight Fight Klubs, the prestigious battle rap competition. The event proved so
popular that MTV2 picked it up, showcasing Cal’s triumph over emcee Cardi in the pilot episode.
It’s around this time the rapper hooked up with NYC hip-hop collective Dipset, led by his neighbor and
fellow rapper Cam’ron, and made his recorded debut with the song “40 Cal” on 2004’s Diplomatic
Immunity, Vol. 2. It’s here we should probably address the elephant in the room given the group’s muchpublicized
squabbles. No, Dipset have not broken up. Yes, Cal is still very much a member. While the
rapper is understandably reluctant to delve into details, he addresses any issues on the opening lines of
Mooga, his debut full-length due out this July.
“Dear Dipset, the G’s not eatin’/Somebody tell Cam and Jim to please stop beefin’,” refers to an ongoing
alleged dispute between Cam and fellow Dipset member Jim Jones.
One listen to Mooga and you’ll immediately recognize Cal’s ability to flip creative verses regardless of the
beat. To get such a varied sound on Mooga, the emcee and his crew solicited beats through Myspace and
other social networking sites. After receiving thousands of submissions from producers around the globe,
18 tracks made the final cut.
“My Gmail was full of producers that sent me beats,” says Cal. “My team and I went through peoples’ beats
like an American Idol panel. I just wanted everything different and when you hear all that versatility, it’s
From the cold, hard beat of “Shooters on Deck,” (Which samples a gun getting cocked as the anchor for the
beat,) to the horn-drenched strut-funk of “Grown Man Bills” to the reggaeton influence on “Cuarenta,” Cal
lives up to his idol Big L in his ability to rhyme over anything and kill it.
Lyrically, the emcee splits the difference between his battling days and his studio role, creating song
concepts and hooks while incorporating some of his more classic battle rhymes (On “Rewind That,” he
boasts, “I’m spellin Iverson when the beef all done/’Cause you’ll be on I.V. in the E.R., son.”)
40 Cal has long held his “hood star” status through countless battles and mixtapes. Now it’s time for
Mooga, the debut full-length and natural progression for this gifted emcee. And don’t be surprised if in
the future, you hear about an up-and-coming emcee inspired by seeing 40 Cal do his thing on the street,
on the track and on the stage.