How can you not be frustrated as a fan of hip hop after 2007? In what I would consider as a historically light year of quality hip hop records was only further hurt by somewhat-typical controversies--those that always arise out of a conservative, deliberately-naive media base always out to steer attention away from real issues (like, I don't know, a war?).
It's the politicizing of music just so politics can happen. If 2 Live Crew made Nasty As They Wanna Be and there wasn't a Tipper Gore around to hear it, was it really offensive?
First to take the dive was Don Imus who could've simply made a mistake, but then he throws it back at hip hop, not blaming it necessarily, but stating that rappers call women "worse names than I ever did." The media then first calls Exhibit A and B in Mims and Unk. Yep, Mims and Unk. Two days later it's almost directly Mims and Unk's fault that Imus slipped. Let's not lose sight of the truth: Imus is a bigot. It's just that more people know that now.
And what I think is the most frustrating part of all of this is that it again stirred up this dialogue that had been fairly absent (thankfully) for the last few years. You know, old white men talking about rap like they care when they're 1) not the target audience, 2) not even buying the records anyway and 3) using a blame of the rap industry merely as easy moral fodder that, hopefully, will help lasso a larger television and/or radio audience. I'll admit, it's easy to blame the industry. I agree, some of the language is offensive. I'll also agree that children probably shouldn't listen to rap. But let's not blame rap for bad parenting. O'Reilly's just pissed because when it's not the rap industry, he's trapped into blaming Kool Aid for the world's moral problems.
Well, also that Ludacris can say whatever he wants and make millions, but the second that Bill opens his mouth to a female employee about his fantasies and what he would do with a loofah if he was alone with her, he gets hit with a lawsuit.
Then you got Glenn Beck who, almost perfectly in all ways, personifies the bored cable television whistle-blower who, depending on how much segment time he has left over will take stray and reckless shots at the rap industry. This dude's a sucka who is just looking for someone to take a swing at. In an interview with Al Sharpton, Glenn states:
"According to the Associated Press, after 30 years of growing popularity, rap music is now struggling with an alarming sales decline and growing criticism from within about the culture's negative effect on society. Rap sales slid a whopping 21 % the past year, and for the first time in 12 years, no rap album was among the top 10 sellers of the year. A recent study by the Black Youth Project showed a majority of youth think rap has too many violent images. In a poll of black Americans by The Associated Press and AOL-Black Voices last year, 50% of respondents said hip-hop was a negative force in American society. I don’t think all rap/hip-hop music is bad. But there are definitely some cancerous elements within it. The good news is that our society is now addressing it. And wouldn’t it be ironic that the violent strain in rap is headed for a slow death itself? Let’s hope so."
Yeah, rap might have been down 21%, but the industry was down anywhere between 15% and 20% so those numbers are not that significant. Country music was down 30% as of October. Personally, I find that an encouraging number. There are actually two rap records in the top 10 year to date. That might be a timing issue, though. And if only 50% of respondents said that hip hop was a negative force in American society, I'd be surprised. I would've thought it be more around 70%. Not bad. I'd see that as an improvement on our favorability. Glenn, I think you're hopeful that "society is now addressing it." But I don't think they are. Besides, if society is actually has the capacity to investigate and solve their own issues, what in the hell do we need you for?
In another segment, Glenn says, "Rap music is enslaving our kids." He continues after airing a clip of Cam'ron, hip hop's spokesman, speaking about "stop-snitching" sensation that somehow blew up this year:
"Now, it may be harsh, but when a few privileged people--white and black--are making money off the backs of others--white and black, by spreading the glorification of crime, sex and death throughout our community, that sounds like exploitation that borders on slavery to me. The chains of drugs, and violence and ignorance are just as real as the ones forged in steel. And we've got to stop it. Rappers and record executives are encouraging a culture where it's all about money and fame. If you want to put the Virginia Tech tragedy into some sort of context, this is it. Money and fame. It's everywhere in our culture...When rap stars start to preach this message to our communities, they--and the companies that promote them, and the parents that do nothing to stop this poison from entering their kids' system--are enslaving an entire generation of kids to a life of poverty, crime and death. The executives at the companies that release this garbage are modern day slave traders. You know, what Imus said, what Imus said is like Dr. Seuss compared to some of the poison that's being poured out into our neighborhoods, right directly into our kids' ears, all across the nation."
Glenn's sensational language is nothing new and the "slave trader" comment is a common tactic employed by Glenn to startle his easily-startled audience. You can almost hear the gasps from millions of living rooms across America. Well, maybe not millions. Reality is there's more kids seeing it on broadcast television, hearing it at schools from their peers, seeing it on the large screens of movie theaters across the nation than that are hearing it off of rap records. Reality is that rap music has so very little to do with it anymore. Oh yeah, and the Virginia Tech shooter's favorite band was reportedly U2 but was also observed downloading heavy metal music. Just want to clear rap from any blame for that tragedy. Might want to be careful when you talk of "putting into context" because some might think that you're actually blaming rap for school shootings.
Look, the world is a bizarre and scary place sometimes. Tragedies happen for, sometimes, no visible reason or without any evident influence. Glenn and the media (left or right) just need an object, person or industry to point a finger at because it makes, for at least a period of time, us feel like we found the man behind the curtain, the hand on the strings. Because, let's face it, "I don't have a clue why people do stuff like this" kills your credibility with your audience.
So, to the music. The Wu Tang album sucked and Ghostface outdid himself with Fishscale and More Fish last year. Jay's American Gangster wasn't that great and Kanye put out his most incomplete and loosely assorted album of his career. Chamillionaire decided to clean up his act to prove a point and ended his career. Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas apparently can do wrong. This year sucked. Of course, there were some bright points. I would say that the El-P record was very satisfying. Include the Aesop Rock None Shall Pass record in with the Definitive Jux discussion. Super Chron Flight Brothers was the dopest thing I've heard in ages. Percee P, Lupe Fiasco, Marco Polo, Brother Ali. How about those three Atmosphere EPs and the absolutely free Strictly Leakage? There were some good records. But some of them just good.
To me, this was the year of the throwback. I'm mean, f'real. That Zune is like the freaking fountain of youth for me. It's like I'm swimming in that pool from Cocoon. I feel like I'm at least ten years younger. I don't think, "Why in the hell am I wasting time listening to all these old records?" I think, "Why would I waste my time on any recording from 2007?"
I was listening to Public Enemy's "Revolutionary Generation" tonight as I drove home from dinner with my lovely wife and I just started nodding my head uncontrollably. I just kept thinking to myself, "They just don't make it this way anymore." The drums, the layers and layers of fuzz, noise, keyboards, screams, Flav's "Yeah, boy!" The politics, the anger, the movement, the momentum, the passion--shit, this is what those radio stations wanted to keep from me when I was 13?! Man, this is what I needed when I was 13.
Back in Lubbock as a kid, I remember stations saying, "All the hits and no rap." You know, like rap was some sort of disease that America's heartland was trying to stamp out one station at a time. Funny how they didn't have any problem playing Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. Yet, Public Enemy was somehow potentially harmful. Whatever. Seriously, though. Pick up Fear of a Black Planet and play it from front to back. 17 years later helps one realize how far ahead of its time it actually was. I mean, the production and the verse on all of Fear is unrivaled in modern music of any genre. I'm listening to the title track right now. You'sa fool if you think you can trump Fear of a Black Planet. Last week, 79 people in America purchased Fear of a Black Planet. God bless 'em. Seriously.
Maybe Glenn Beck is right--maybe the rap game is a "slavetrade" of sorts, but maybe it's the rappers that are slaves and the label's are the slaveowners. I don't know. Maybe it's more pimp/prostitute sort of relationship. Maybe that's why 2007 was the year of the quick-burn single by a debut artist because established artists don't fall for the labels' bullshit anymore. Like the prostitute has become the pimp and dude's like Jay, Nas, Fiddy, Em and them are telling the labels what to do while kids like Hurricane Chris, Unk, Playaz Circle, Plies, Soulja Boy, Mims, Rich Boy and Kia Shine are the only suckas that will fall for their tactics. I don't know--maybe it's just perception.
On a somewhat unrelated note, I heard Sonnie Cheeba from Camp Lo on some kid's record named "Pittsburgh Slim" and I couldn't help but think, "Will anyone even know who in the hell Camp Lo is in ten years? Does anyone even know now?" They might be like the Strawberry Alarm Clock of the hip hop generation. Does that make Das Efx the Dexy's Midnight Runners? I don't give a good damn anyway. I'd rather listen to Das Efx than Akon any day of the week, month or year because Dead Serious was just ill as hell. When I was in Dallas over Christmas, I saw this dude buying Das Efx's Dead Serious and Black Moon's Enta Da Stage and I said to him in disbelief, "I know you ain't buying Dead Serious." He whipped around and we immediately began a fueled and furious dialogue about 1992-93 era hip hop. It lasted for only about two or three minutes as we waited in line, but at the end, there was a unspoken understanding and respect. He ended by saying in frustration, "I don't listen to the new shit because the new shit sucks. It ain't even hip hop no more." I hear ya. It was almost like I needed someone else to say it so that I felt like it just wasn't me that was losing my mind or losing my taste.
You know Traffic Entertainment held it down again this year. Besides reissuing Biz Markie's Diabolical and Goin' Off, Kool G. Rap's Dead or Alive and Masta Ace's Take a Look Around, they repressed 12"'s by everyone from Pharcyde to MC Shan. Traffic's holdin' it down, I'm tellin' you.
And if it wasn't old hip hop I was listening to, it was all those funk reissues coming down from Light in the Attic (Betty Davis, f'real, recognize), Numero Group (dope, dope, dope), Now Again/Stones Throw (as always)--with all this old music getting refreshed, remastered and released, there's no shortage of ill shit out there. Demand your local record store stock it. People need to hear these records. Maybe I'll just do a list of essential reissues.
I don't even know these kids anymore. It's just a bunch of no-namers who scan between 9,000 and 15,000 a week. I don't know where people are hearing it. How do they even know when these albums are coming out with street date pushes being so rampant? We're probably lucky that the rap industry can sell anything with so much media hate and, add to it, a host of industry-related issues with getting product out. Hell, rap interest might actually be flat when you consider that it's really no further down in physical sales than the rest of the industry and those numbers don't include the rampant downloading which has plagued rap/hip hop much more than other genres and it doesn't include, obviously, those stout mixtape sales that go unaccounted for at Soundscan.
Maybe my sulking is a result of my inability to find value in today's hip hop. It could be that I've just lost my ear for it and, instead of just admitting I'm "out of touch," I blame everyone else for putting out bad product. Could be, the product's getting better and better, I'm just getting older and older. It's tough to admit because I always liked being the source for the ill material, but man, when you ain't got it, you ain't got it.
I kinda like my new robe anyway. I don't, so much, mind being the old head listening to funk records and MC Shan. Someone said to me the other day, "I wouldn't take you for a hip hop guy just looking at you. You just don't look hip hop." Well, truth is, I don't feel very hip hop either.
So here it is: my Top 30 Recordings from 1979-1987. I'm doing so as a protest to how much hip hop sucks in 2007. Well, I say that, but maybe the truth is that it's less a protest and more a simple proclamation. I don't care if you read it. I don't care if you read it and you hate it. I don't care if you read it, hate it and never visit again. I can't write anything compelling about 2007, so I'm gonna turn it back 20 years and see what I can find. Here it is. Bored with 2007 hip hop? Yeah, me too. Check out these instead and recognize.
"Human Beat Box
Soon to be known as the Fat Boys, Disco3 blew the doors open like the Big Bad Wolf behind the dynamic beat-boxing of Buffy the Human Beatbox. This beatbox anthem, while primitive and a bit juvenile, is a perfect account of a young hip hop beginning to feel out its boundaries and then flying through them as it moved from the dance floors to the headphones. Someone find a towel to wipe off the mic with.
To any real head, it's probably one of the most recognizable drum patterns in hip hop history. Driven by a chopped-up beat from the Honeydrippers' "Impeach the President" (classic material), "Top Billin'", in its construction, is a simple headnodder from the beat to the rhyme pattern. But what it represents in the hip hop's history is the shift, like the Disco3, to less danceable compositions--in this case, dominated largely by a whiney vocal and a broken beat. While Audio Two would never quite match their impact left from "Top Billin'", Milk Dee would get his cash after producing Eamon's "F*ck It" which would go on to sell close to 600,000 copies. Top billin', ya'll.
"Cold Getting Dumb"
Just-Ice's legacy, unfortunately, might go relatively unrealized in the grand scheme of things, but dude was dope. For me, the difficulty at this juncture in Just-Ice's career (with three records under his belt) is not answering the question, "Was he dope?" but rather, "What was his dopest recording and where does it stand on this list?" I selected "Cold Getting Dumb" which, I'm sure, could be disputed, but this 1986 jam is a slick party-starter that brings together both that LL mic-tenacity and a slew of cowbells and chimes over a wall of bass-laden drums. It's a sometimes clumsy song that's left without a fitting ending, but it still stands strong as one of Just-Ice's greater contributions. Plus, the use of "cold" as an adverb is so nice.
Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde
"Genius Rap" is a bit of a misleading title only because what was "genius" in 1981 is not necessarily so in 2007. What's "genius" about this, however, is it would be the first of many recordings using the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love"--later to be sampled by everyone from Funkdoobiest to Mariah Carey. Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, too, through the recording push the "back-and-forth" style where two rappers converse within, not only the same verse, but in the same line. Respect to "Genius Rap."
"Pump Up the Volume"
Yeah, I might catch a little flack for throwing M.A.R.R.S. up here because, well, they're from the UK and "Pump Up the Volume", in most corners, would be considered more "house" than "hip hop." But what M.A.R.R.S. accomplished with "Pump Up the Volume" is an trans-Atlantic echoing of U.S. hip hop culture through a wall of samples--many of which are considered cornerstone in early days of hip hop. It's like hip hop's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. M.A.R.R.S. samples the Bar-Kays, Kool and the Gang, the J.B.'s, the Jimmy Castor Bunch, the Last Poets, Graham Central Station, Trouble Funk, Bobby Byrd and, of course, the great Rakim all in one song and the result is probably the most listenable blending of standard UK-house and US hip hop in history. And if you front, I'll kick you in the teeth.
Long before "Just a Friend" and Celebrity Fit Club, Biz was drenching mics with his saliva on the 1987 album Goin' Off. His goofy antics and unconventional and often sloppy beatboxing ("convention" being Doug E. Fresh) made him an instant personality and, on record, the dude perfectly blends comedy and uber-dopeness. Goin' Off is probably the most comprehensive collections of Biz's talents as he intricately melds together beatbox and lyric into the same phrasing. From the classic "Nobody Beats the Biz" to "Pickin' Boogers," Biz's clowning style and personality on Goin' Off would serve as a blueprint for hip hop's more lighthearted recordings.
Ah, yes, the Fearless Four and their endless use of Kraftwerk's "The Man-Machine." I've always been gravitated to "Rockin' It" and I still can't explain why. It's a rare example of how early hip hop blurs the line separating "fantastic" and "annoying as hell." Depending on what day of the week it is, it's either #24 on this list or nowhere to be found. Obviously, today is one of those days. "Rockin' it, rockin' it, yes, he is rockin' it. Tito! Rockin' it, yes, he is rockin' it. Mike C! Rockin' it, yes, he is rockin' it. Peso! Rockin' it, yes, he is rockin' it. We're all rockin' it, you should be rockin' it. Rockin' it. Rockin' it!" Yeah, it's like that. Cuz' that's the way it is.
One of hip hop's greatest cautionary tales, "White Lines" is a 7-minute dance-listen-and-learn party jam which rather clumsily mixes hard dancefloor/disco rhythms with shocking drugged narratives courtesy of Melle Mel. "Higher, baby. Get higher, baby. Get higher, baby. And don't ever come down! Freebase!" Yeah, I know it's corny, but back in 1983 when your projects are being rotted out by crack cocaine, a danceable, message-heavy drug-detering hip hop song could have saved the world. Unfortunately, it didn't. While it failed stateside, it did manage to make quite a run up the UK chart probably more because of its danceability--tragically proving that, in the end, message doesn't really matter. Heads just really like the beat.
"Apache (Jump on It)"
As easy as it is to appreciate the song "Apache (Jump on It)" and Sugarhill Gang for bringing probably one of the greatest dance tracks to record, let's come clean here. Sugarhill Gang really didn't do much except sample the shit out of Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache." Of course, many would say that Sugarhill didn't do much in their whole career except pimp a culture--the Choco Taco of hip hop. We'll say for the sake of this entry that Sugarhill was dope and "Apache" was a remarkable achievement in hip hop. But really, Sugarhill sucked and "Apache (Jump on It)" was a remarkable achievement in sampling--especially back in 1981. Sure, they weren't the only ones to sample that lucious break in the middle, but Sugarhill used it most prominently. Go find the Incredible Bongo Band's version and blast it everywhere you go. I hope those dude's got paid like mad.
LL Cool J
"The Do Wop"
It would've been easier to defend "I'm Bad" as my favorite track from Bigger and Deffer, but I gotta be real--"The Do Wop" is up there in my top three Cool J tracks ever. It's a lesser-known song, but the greatness of the beat and LL's typical "hard-as-hell" delivery showcases his ferocious rhyme ability at only 18 years old. It's like the Ice Cube "It was a Good Day" of 1987 with LL waking up "at 9:30 on a Saturday morn" and then rolling through a sort-of Wonderland flexing and yapping about how bad-ass he is. "Some smile, try to call LL a hoodlum at times / But he don't know my autograph's on his wife's behind / LL has iced all the washed-up slobs / Vigilante of rap, so to hell with the mob / Don't run from the cops, makin suckers jock / And I'm only 18 makin more than your pops." Say it with me: Damn.
This, N.W.A.'s earliest recording, is an explicit (even by today's standards) account of the dicey and dangerous crack game in the mid-80's. It's difficult at times to identify whether N.W.A.'s account is one of celebration or damnation--at times it seems like both. But one thing is true, the greatness of this track is Ice Cube's insane two verses in which he describes, with his signature assault of one-liners, a day in the life of the Dope Man over one of the hardest beats to be brought to record by 1987. Soon to be later, remixed and re-released on N.W.A.'s classic Straight Outta Compton, the original is less the gloss, twice the grit and just as dope.
As most know, before the Beastie's were the saving countries and monks from ruin and even before they were "rhymin' and stealin'", they were were a punk outfit that used to prank call Carvel asking to speak to ice cream cakes named "Cookie Puss." Such is the case here, in their first single, in which the Beasties are in transition from punk to hip hop--the beat is laced with handclaps and a grinding bass line and is delightfully headnodding. It might serve more as novelty now, but "Cooky Puss" is still fresh.
"Brooklyn Rocks the Best"
I'm going deep for "Brooklyn Rocks the Best" by Cutmaster DC. But as the earliest usage of ESG's "UFO" for a sample (so far as I can tell), it certainly deserves a mention on the list. "UFO" has to be the nicest sample in history of hip hop. You probably won't find anything else worth nothing off of "Brooklyn Rocks the Best," but what more do you want--it was the first to sample "UFO." Man, ya'll are hard to please.
Doug E. Fresh featuring Slick Rick
"La Di Da Di"
Speaking of oft-sampled recordings, I present one of the finest truly acapella recordings from hip hop's history--"La Di Da Di." Featuring a young and green Slick Rick over Doug E. Fresh's fully-able beatboxing, Slick Rick essentially spits a verse of a million soundbytes. I'll play it and just list the artists that I know off the top of my head that have sampled this single verse by Slick Rick: Naughty By Nature, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince, Black Sheep, Snoop Dogg (of course), De La Soul, Notorious B.I.G., Common and, eh, Color Me Badd. Yeah, it's a rare recording in that sense--it's like the samples just oozed from Slick Rick's verbals. It amazes me how people had to have listened to the song's four and a half minutes and thought, "Man, we should sample those two words right there." And those two words are "like this" and "hit it." When you think of it, this has to be Slick's highest profiting recording (certainly Doug E. Fresh's) because of the royalties it's collected for relatively no investment.
Double Dee & Steinski
"Play That Beat (Lesson 1) b/w Lesson 2 (The James Brown Mix)"
In one of the earliest manifestations of the super-DJ recordings where the focus of the record is DJ with serious mixing/matching abilities, "Play that Beat (Lesson 1)" and the B-side "Lesson 2 (The James Brown Mix)" is a schooling of early DJ trickery and the marvelous world of sampling and remixing. The songs are actually two separate remixes of G.L.O.B.E. and Whiz Kid's "Play That Beat, Mr. DJ." The collaborative effort was the result of a solicitation from Tommy Boy to the DJ community as a promotion to remix the hit record. The result of the remixes are two dynamically different recordings--"Lesson 1" being very close to the original with clever inclusions of some popular breaks that, more or less, just add to G.L.O.B.E. and Whiz Kid's version where as "Lesson 2" dilutes the original into a sea of samples and breaks and even borrows the B-Boys' "Rock the House." In the end, "Lesson 2" just completely re-writes the song. The influence these two "lessons" would have over the next twenty years is evident--most prominently honored through the work of DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist who would later record their own "lessons"--4 and 6, respectively. You've just be schooled.
Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo
"It's a Demo"
I don't care what you say, back in 1986, there were only three rappers: LL Cool J, Rev Run and Kool G. Rap. Kool G. Rap was sick. He was Rakim before there was Rakim. He was Big Daddy Kane before there was Big Daddy Kane. While "It's a Demo" was his earliest recording, it still smokes the best by your favorite rapper. Kool G. Rap, homie. Recognize.
"Can U Feel It?"
Short-lived but often included on compilations of the "old school" nature with this track, Original Concept made their impact originally back in 1985 with this, the B-side to the bizarre, "Knowledge Me." It was later released on Def Jam and members Doctor Dre and T-Money would find themselves vaulted onto TV courtesy of Yo! MTV Raps. "Can U Feel It?" is a blasting DJ track which finds the Jackson 5's "It's Great to Be Here" as the central driving force behind some of the earlier appearances of the trunk-rattling bass patterns. Another group that is completely invisible in the abridged history of hip hop, but certainly important with their limited contributions. And while, "Can U Feel It?" lacks that over-the-top WOW effect that most DJ tracks of 1985-87, it still holds its own and deservedly takes the #14 slot on this list.
Boogie Down Productions
"The Bridge is Over"
In one and a half verses, KRS-One done squashed MC Shan and Marley Marl. Taking objection to the claim that hip hop came from Queensbridge (as MC Shan proudly proclaims on the "The Bridge"), KRS col' blasts back with "The Bridge is Over" with some of the most scathing (and, in some cases--the most juvenile) lines that would ever come from the Blastmaster. But, in the end, we had one of the first record-based battle. Sure, we had Dana Dane and Roxanne Shante, but here we have KRS vs. MC Shan in a classic battle of both turf and pride. Like KRS ain't holdin' no punches. Dude, calls them out by name twice in the first five lines. Dude's these days are too scared to put names into diss records just so when a crew shows up at their pad ready to whoop some ass, they can bust the "Who said I was talking about yo boy?!" routine. KRS don't give a good damn. Dude's like, "I'm talking about Marley Marl and MC Shan. That's who."
"Small Time Hustler"
Staying on the subject of beef in 1987, we come to the Dismasters and their headbanger, "Small Time Hustler." Here, the relatively unknown Dismasters make clear distinction between the "small time" and the Peter Gabriel "big time." Until I actually began compiling the recordings which I have emassed over the past two months, I came across the gem just by chance, really. Driven by the uber-ill Chuck Chillout beat and the off kilter, spitfire delivery of the group's Mike Ski and Raven-T, "Small Time Hustler" is a rare achievement when you listen to other recordings from the same era--especially coming from, otherwise, a relatively unknown crew. Seems that it would be a dose of irony for Dismasters because, well, their career would be "small time"--only recording one album and then disappearing for good. I gotta feeling it had something to do with the fact they were always seen posing in loin cloths, peep it: http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?what=R&obid=438549 .
Yo! Bum Rush the Show
What can I say, I love Public Enemy, but really do not enjoy this record. That being said, it still is better than all but ten recordings from 1979-1987. It's an accomplishment in the sense that it would be the first time we'd get to hear Chuck's booming poise and the Shocklee's production prowess, however, it's not a perfect product until It Takes a Nation of Millions drops. There are some definite highlights ("Public Enemy #1," "Miuzi Weighs a Ton"), but the rest is pretty forgettable. Just remember, a lackluster debut record from Public Enemy is still better than that new 50 Cent Curtis album.
LL Cool J
Another album that I had no appreciation for until I began listening again (in the case of Radio, for the first time in completion). This thing is a freakin' metal record! And, at the center of it, is a mean-mugging 17 year-old LL Cool J flexing his little junior-high-weight-room biceps. His aggressive delivery, his chest-beatin' persona and his cocky rough-side-of-town swagger helps make this album one of the doper albums from hip hop's first ten years. And the 7-minute "Rock the Bells," without a doubt is a definite highlight that cemented LL's place in hip hop even after just one record as a punk-ass teenager.
Eric B and Rakim
"As the Rhyme Goes On (Pumpin' in Turbo Mix)"
Eric B had some mad drums. I'm talking maaaaaaaaaaaaad drums. This remix of what was already a solid deep album cut on a already a classic album (Paid in Full) was fantastically improved with Eric B bringing in bonus beats, a few more breaks, a beatbox, more Beastie Boys and then just drenches it in cuts and scratches making it one of the very definitive remixes of all hip hop. Yep, I said it. It just begs the question: if the remix is better than the original, why does the original make it on the final record while the remix gets the B-side?
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
I wouldn't put anything on here because it's simply reverred as "classic," however, one would accuse me of such for putting "The Message" at #8. Look, Old j3 would've said, "Yeah, I hear ya, 'The Message.' It's aight, but nothing I'd listen to twice in the same year." New j3 says, "It's like a jungle, sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under." Altogether, "The Message" is in the same vein as "White Lines" in the sometimes cheeky blend of message and danceability. Again, we find Grandmaster Flash et al going to the costume party less as McGruff the Crime Dog and more as Travis Bickle on the verge of goin' off on some mohawking hail-of-bullets insanity. It's depiction of inner-city dissension and frustration is an exaggerated, but epic five-verse account. It's importance in the young infantile stages of hip hop of moving away from simply dancing your ass off and rather using the vocalist as a vehicle for "content" instead of just shot-calling is unmeasurable but nonetheless evident. What's funny to hear are the blantant insensitivities towards homosexuals with two uses of the word "fag." Some message, Melle Mel.
In what was originally the B-side to "My Adidas," "Peter Piper" would eventually leap from the backside of "My Adidas" to lead off the classic Raising Hell. I gotta tell you, as a kid, hearing those first words: "Now Peter Piper picked peppers and Run rocked rhymes!" acapella was like the first time you chugged a glass of wine as a young tike. And when those Bob James chimes come roaring in, you're almost short of breath. It's that excitement like you know your life is probably not going to be the same by the end of the song. "Peter Piper," probably more than any other hip hop song, has remained its listenability year after year, decade after decade. It's almost the perfect hip hop song. At the end, you're looking for your first pair of white shell-toed Adidas and a black leather jacket.
Eric B and Rakim
Paid in Full
Popularly held among the greatest hip hop recordings ever, Paid in Full is well-deserving of this top spot and, depending on what day it is, it could be closer to #3. It's a lucious, thick and moving recording that shadowed every other duo at the time. Rakim's furious delivery and flexing behind Eric B's incredible abilities as a producer/DJ. And when I say "behind Eric B," I'm serious. Only on Paid in Full is Rakim actually taking backseat to Eric B. The tracklisting alone almost comprises a definitive hip hop collection--"I Know You Got Soul," "I Ain't No Joke," "Paid in Full," "As the Rhyme Goes On," "Eric B is President"--they just don't make 'em like they used to.
Boogie Down Productions
Boogie Down Productions' Criminal Minded is a beast. In fact, BDP would set the mark so high with Criminal, that not only a hardcore KRS-One could exceed it with his illustrious and durable solo career. Criminal Minded is just one of those records where the talent is natural and poignant as KRS and Scott La Rock are just one of those kindred duos where it's a perfect musical, spiritual and political match--La Rock's boom bap and KRS's knowledge on the mic. And, as lo-pro as the album can sometimes sound, it's primitive construction leaves everything in the right place and not drowned out by the other.
Probably the very first records to "represent"--the proverbial territorial pissing. "I'm from here and this is what we do here." But MC Shan takes that structure one further saying that hip hop, essentially, the birthplace of hip hop. No matter KRS's accusations or insults in "The Bridge is Over," "The Bridge" as a proclamation rather than a battle-cry is the ultimate in claiming your own. I imagine when that record was pressed back in 1986 that Queensbridge took Shan on their shoulders like Stallone in Rocky V after he busted up Tommy Morrison. Even if it didn't happen that way and he was later clowned by KRS, MC Shan got his shine on "The Bridge."
Licensed to Ill
Licensed to Ill is one of those records tragically dismissed as being a novelty record that, beyond the ability to bring back memories of junior high and, perhaps, serve as good material for a party mix. The truth is (yes, the truth) that Licensed to Ill is probably one of the most sound and cohesive hip hop records from 1979-1987. The Beasties were unlikely heros--white/Jewish punks from Brooklyn who, to this point were as little hip hop as Barry Manilow. But, with the help of Rick Rubin and a few gimmick tracks ("Girls," "Fight For Your Right to Party," and "Brass Monkey"), Licensed to Ill would prove that if they packaging, the performance and the production were sound, history could be made. I'm not saying the Beasties are great lyricists, in fact, I don't know if this record's greatness really has anything to do with the Beasties themselves, but it works. It works really well. "Paul Revere," "Slow and Low," "Time to Get Ill" and "Hold It Now, Hit It"--if you put those on top of "Brass Monkey" and you got yourself a classic record. Don't ask me about Paul's Boutique, I ain't there yet.
Eric B and Rakim
"Paid in Full (Seven Minutes of Madness Mix)"
Way I see it, there is no original edit of "Paid in Full." There is only the seven-minute version. I mean, put the seven-minute version against the album version and just try to tell me it doesn't matter. It does matter because the seven-minute version trumps everytime. Interesting fact about the remix (in case you didn't know), it wasn't remixed by Eric B, but rather by UK electronic duo Coldcut. Nonetheless, it's a phenomenal remix that proves that, sometimes, seven minutes just isn't enough.
From the first eight years of hip hop, there is simply no greater record than Run DMC's Raising Hell. From front to back, beginning to end, Raising Hell is a tyrant of a record. In fact, like LL's Radio, it's as much a metal record as it is hip hop--due in large part with the prominent use of rock samples, rock drums and the loud and deafening rhyming of Rev Run and DMC. Both in the popular realm and critical circuit, Raising Hell left an impact that would be long lasting. It pioneered the producer-oriented album versus the typical DJ-rapper model. It perfectly blended rock and rap--a blurring that would later be recognized in the late 90's with the introduction of Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock. And after two records already, it marked the true arrival of Run DMC as a crew you just ain't wantin' to mess with. Raising Hell is one mean record and the best from 1979-1987.
Next year, we'll tackle the Golden Era: 1988-1990. Holla. Happy New Year's. Call a designated driver and request they play Raising Hell for the ride home.