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Doc Gooden was laughing at me. From across the space-time continuum—1986, to be exact—and the back of a 12-inch single, Dwight "Dr. K" Gooden was chortling as my jaw hit the floor. With his short-cropped Jheri curl and his gold-crowned tooth, decked out in thematically appropriate scrubs and leaning against some primitive medical equipment, you could tell that the Mets' ace knew something I didn't. And then Lloyd "Shaker" Moseby (outfielder, Blue Jay) in his cable-knit v-neck and gold chains, surrounded by fawning children, chimed in, chuckling as my mind reeled. I'd spent years constructing a narrative about the birth and evolution of Nashville's long-underappreciated hip-hop scene—and as it turned out, these two ballplayers held the distinction of making Music City's first two rap records.

It was a dark, overcast January day. You know the ones, the really depressing days right before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, before hope springs anew. I was killing time in Cool Stuff, Weird Things, a barely heated junk shop on the west side of Nashville. It never sold anything particularly weird or cool—it's the type of place that charges eight clams for a beat-up Loverboy album and manages to stay in business by selling overpriced "vintage" clothing. (Fifty bucks for an I.O.U. varsity jacket? For real?) The same block had better thrift shops, but I had already drained them of 99-cent Italo-disco records and mid-century dentistry textbooks. Cool Stuff, Weird Things was just a placeholder to keep my brain busy between writing rap reviews and picking up my wife from work.

It was the last place I expected to find Nashville hip-hop's missing link.

Nashville's hip-hop scene has existed for a long time, although even the city itself seemed unaware until recently. The city rebranded itself as the Country Music Capital of The World in the 1960s, right around the time urban renewal and freeway construction gutted historically African-Ameri...