Special One, a rapper in the East Oakland hip-hop duo the Conscious Daughters, passed away on Saturday. Initial reports say the woman born Karryl Smith was found dead at her apartment by her rhyming partner CMJ (Carla Green); according to Green, the cause of Smith's death is still unknown.
Breaking through in 1993, the Conscious Daughters endeared themselves to the rap world with their debut album, Ear To The Street. Spearheaded by the singles "Somethin' To Ride To (Fonky Expedition)" and "We Roll Deep," they showcased a smoothed-out, funky sound; the project was as content to hook tracks around loops of Marvin Gaye, Lonnie Liston Smith, and the S.O.S. Band songs as much as West Coast sample staples like Parliament.
The success of those first Conscious Daughters singles was helped by the hip-hop climate at the time: Coming off the back of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's synth-heavy G-Funk template, the Daughters' melodic grooves were well-received. But Special One and CMJ also possessed real-deal rap skills: "Princess of Poetry," which opens their debut album, is a ferocious statement of intent, while on "Da Mac Flow," they vow to "hold the pop tip/Hold the 2 Legit crossover bullshit." It's a promise they stuck to throughout their career.
Ear To The Street was released on firebrand Bay Area rapper Paris's Scarface Records. According to rap lore, Smith and Green scored their deal after palming Paris a demo tape while running into him in a club. It's a relationship that endured until recently, with 2009's The Nutcracker Suite also seeing release on Paris's Guerilla Funk enterprise (featuring their then label boss on the track "Raid"). These local links ran strong throughout the Conscious Daughters' music -- the video for "We Roll Deep" featured Special One bigging up the East Bay Dragons motorcycle club.
Following her on her rhyming partner's death, Smith posted the following tribute on her Facebook page:
Thank you to everyone for your prayers I need them. I am sick over the loss of my sister. The cause of death is still unknown, but I will try to share info when I get it. Pray for me and Karryl's other sisters Jessica and Tonya. We are all together trying to get through this.
Earlier this year, the Conscious Daughters signed a distribution deal with Sony. At the time of writing, the future of that planned project is unclear, but Special One's rap legacy is well served by the music she left behind.