Straight from the stable of the great 45 King comes Lakim Shabazz in his earliest recording. The beat's one part Hall and Oates, another part James Brown, another part corny house music, but it all works. Lakim would go on to a rather forgettable career save a couple of solid full lengths. His affiliations with Five Percenters dominated his recordings and, his two full lengths are monumental in the surge of Five Percent hip hop. Just check out the threads! "Pure Righteousness," the lead single from the album of the same name is just that--pure righteousness.
Another 45 King gem, Latifah (the "Queen" still used only occasionally), came onto the scene as a confident, driven and sasssy 18 year-old and blazed competition with this banger. I always hated the chorus, but the verses are insanity. Man, what was I doing at 18 years old? Oh yeah, I was working at Dairy Queen pushing hamburgers and Blizzards out of the drive thru. I can tell you this, I wasn't dropping 12"'s with legendary producers nor was I signed to freaking Tommy Boy. Latifah was nice, though and "Wrath of My Madness" is a proof that before all this Hollywood crap happened to her and she started poppin' up in Loreal commercials, the girl was a rhymeslayer and had more flow than dudes ten years her senior. Don't get it twisted, girl dropped gems. These are like those cafeteria raps: "So release all your shyness, call me your highness and dare to feel the wrath of my madness." Word 'em up. You don't want that.
History will show that Ice-T's second record, Power, wasn't his masterwork, but it certainly holds its own as a key moment in T's rise to infamy as well as critical acclaim. So often, T's recordings have been dismissed as "gangsta rap" when, in reality, they're primarily cautionary tales of the dangers of the street game. Perfect example is "I'm Your Pusher" which describes the harmful effects of prolonged drug use while using his music as a metaphor for cane. As crafty and as responsible as "Pusher" is, there's "Girls L.G.B.N.A.F." which shamelessly invites girls to take their clothes off and have reckless sex with T. Deep album cuts like "Grand Larceny" and the Edwin Starr-driven "High Rollers" help solidify this record on the list. His sophomore record, like most, is an improvement on his debut, but unlike his comrades, he wouldn't peak until his fourth record. That's 1991, homie. Come back in 2010.
Philly on the map! Tuff Crew was the City of Brotherly Love's first true crew. Their breakneck delivery coupled by their sheer musicianship and understanding of hip hop's context is evident. From the getgo, their recordings were always much more complete and accomplished. Danger Zone, the Crew's second record, shows monumental growth from their first outing just a year earlier and, like T, doesn't even reflect their creative peak. "Open Field Attack" and "My Parta Town" lead the way with their balance of both lyric and the turntable wizardry of DJ Too Tuff. Don't sleep. Tuff Crew were the real deal.
CHILL ROB G
MC Shan is the very meaning of "swaggah." Dude just had it. Once again under the careful ear of the great Marley Marl, Born to Be Wild is Shan at his very finest. And that's saying a lot considering that he broke the market with Down By Law. With cuts like the title cut, "I Pioneered This" (geez, talk about claiming your own) and "Juice Crew Law" (who didn't sample "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" in 1988?), Born to Be Wild is among the finer and deeper albums of 1988. Sure, it won't be mentioned alongside the top albums on this list, but there's no mistaking Shan's place on this chart and his notch in history. We'll forgive Shan, however, for producing "Informer." Geez, bro. Why?
Girls, I got 'em locked? C'mon, guys, you're fooling no one with them high-top fades. All that aside, Girls I Got 'Em Locked is a decent offering from the short-lived duo. Driven by the title cut, the party-anthem "Super Nova" and the corny but dope "Girls Act Stupid-ly" (mainly dope because of it's prominent Commodores sample), Girls, like Rob Base and EZ Rock is predominantly a party record, but can't be entirely discredited simply for being a party record because it's damn good too. It's drips breakbeats and is always worth of party mix consideration. Super Nova Cee and Casa Nova would sphinctor off one more EP before falling off forever, but their finest moments on this full length cemented their place in one of hip hop's greatest years. Golden Era Classic!
This is that b-boy ish right here. Every track on this beast will pack the parquet with toprockers in seconds. The Masters of Ceremony, featuring the talents of a still-young Grand Puba Maxwell, were a potent crew of sound ninjas who were simply on point. Their sound and compositions were exact and perfectly produced. Dynamite is a funk-filled masterpiece which borrows from all of the best (Mandrill, JBs, Parliament, Wilson Pickett's "Engine Number Nine") and rocks harder than almost any other crew record from 1988. Geez, how many dudes were in Masters of Ceremony? I'm counting six on the cover. I don't know if there's limitations on how many "masters" can be in one crew. Fellas, you can't all be masters. You're nice, but not that nice. If you were so nice, you would've managed to record more than one record. Despite that, Dynamite's slammin'. Definitely worth coppin'.
Go Stetsa! In Full Gear is a snapshot of one of hip hop's greatest groups at their crest (not to be confused by groups at their crust). Orchestrated primarily by the great Prince Paul before he started producing De La Soul records and making serious cash (the rest produced by tastefully as well by Daddy-O), In Full Gear is a fun-loving record that boogies and backspins for well over an hour and satisfies with every listen. Driven commerically by the housey and extremely timely "Talkin' All That Jazz," this misstep was corrected with bangers like "This is It, Ya'll," "Rollin' Wit Rush," and the beatbox anthem "Stet Troop '88." The greatest aspect of this recording is the opportunity to hear a young Prince Paul make final adjustments to his game before hitting a four-year stride beginning only a year later with De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising. Puffy white jacket not included.
Frozen Explosion was practically D.O.A. back in 1988, but this rare banger, is a turntable anthem. Almost every record back in the day had at least one turntable feature on it. Frozen Explosion's "Mac Knife" highlights the talents of the DJ by the same name. While he probably won't get mentioned on any DJ lists, "Mac Knife" is a kitchen-sink assault of breaks and samples. (I think I hear Prince's "Starfish and Coffee" in there!) When you think of cats like Mac Knife hiding in every crew, it certainly makes your respect the lost art of the DJ. Here's a crew that will probably be noted for nothing else in hip hop, but save "Mac Knife" because this track is straight illin'.
Man, when this is your #13, you betta step it up for the rest of the list. I'll do my best. This, the debut of arguably one of the finest emcees ever, Long Live the Kane drips with Kane's smooth yet fiery delivery and offers up classic after classic. "Ain't No Half Steppin'," "Raw," "Set it Off" and the Mister Cee feature "Master Plan," Long Live is official. From the top of "rappers steppin' to me, they wanna get some," the now-legendary verses flow from the mouth of Kane with little effort and optimum effectiveness. It's an essential record for any kid wanting the infalliable hip hop collection. Not only that, plenty of deaf morons have sold it back over the years so you can find it cheap and plenty. Their misunderstanding and shortcomings are your gain. Go get it.
Maybe a surprise at #13, JVC Force with their debut Doin' Damage is as good a listen as you'll get from debut artists for the year. Definitively 88, it's 100-120-beats-per-minute pacing and marvelous sample selection and usage pours on the charm. What's great about Damage is the pure innocence captured in the recording. Just three dudes ready to get down. There's very little trickery or gimmicks--just straight forward b-boy anthems and party raps. While, in the context of 25-plus years of hip hop, JVC would easily end up in the pile of throwaways, but 88 was their year and this is a well-earned place among the greats. And thanks to the guys at Traffic who reissued this beauty (along with many other from this list).
STRAIGHT OUT THE JUNGLE
Before the Native Tongues were the Native Tongues, there were the Jungle Brothers. And this, their debut, was like the constitution of what would become the Native Tongue Crew. It's blending of party vibes, consciousness, gentleness and, even at times, animal sounds (yep) set it apart. Their soulful yet mindful approach to their compositions was certainly a step in another direction. While so many were focused on trash talk and one-upping the next man, Jungle Brothers spoke of unity, positivity and didn't dumb down material for the masses. Straight Out the Jungle is among the more significant recordings in hip hop's history in the way that it took the current path (at the time) of hip hop and redirected it only subtly. It wasn't a huge departure, but it was noticeable. I love this freaking record. Without Jungle, De La might have not had any place in the market. It was instrumental in carving out a small corner of the marketplace for like-minded hip hop artists who didn't rhyme about the constant and tiresome objectifying of women, drugs, crime and cops. Dope record.
One of the earliest recordings on the now famed and historic Rap-a-Lot Records out of Houston, Def IV's Nice and Hard is an interesting piece because it really has no fit in what is known or believed to be true of Houston hip hop. These dudes danced, rocked the party, smiled, flexed and sampled KC and the Sunshine Band. Regardless of the origin, though, Def IV rocked it either way. Dripping in excitability and uncontainable energy, Def IV prove that not only the east coast can get down. It's interesting too in the way that with the nation being divided into regional sounds and sensitivities, the Def IV were fine with just emulating what had already proven to be successful. If someone said to me, "Check this out, it sounds like EPMD and Kane," I'd most likely reply with, "Dope, I like EPMD." This record is really surprisingly dope. I encourage the hunt. It's quite rewarding.
Anyone that ever heard those early NWA recordings knew that the "Most Likely to Succeed" Award was split between two honorees: Cube and Eazy. Eazy was first to blow when he stepped off to drop his first solo record and, without question, his most impressive outing. Eazy's wisecrackin' but tough as nails delivery made him an instant magnetism for attention. Eazy Duz It is an absolute beast that features a kid quite ready for the jumpoff. His abilities as an emcee are only overshadowed by this veteran-like confidence over a track. It's like he never has any question what to say, when to say it and how to say it. Eazy's an old pro. Listen to "Nobody Move," "Eazy-er Said Than Dunn" and "I'mma Break It Down," and his technical and stylistic understanding of the responsilities of a emcees are far beyond his years on this recording and the quality of the record (while shamelessly violent and excessively sex-obsessed), is on a new level for gangsta rap records.
The day I have a kid that grows to the age of, say, five or six (that's an arbitrary number, really), he gets this on wax and is forced to listen to it daily. There's a few reasons why. Firstly, it's content, for the most part, is void of any real explicit content (except for an embarrassing slip-up from a live recording by Fresh Prince where he jokingly begs for "all the homeboys that got AIDS be quiet!") and it's still def as hell. It just oozes with coolness. Fresh Prince's agility and pure talent as an emcee is on full display. Safe to say that his accomplishments on this record annihilate any of his later work under his God-given name. The second reasons why I would let my kid have this at such an early (yet purely arbitrary age), is that it represents the blueprint for all quality (Golden Er or otherwise) hip hop recordings where the DJ is as much of a star as the emcee. It's a perfect balance maintained from track to track. Jazzy Jeff, unlike most other hip hop records, doesn't get just one track to flex on, he flexes on almost four or five tracks almost solely and if he doesn't get his own spot, he's killing it between almost every lyric. Very little hip hop records come close to adhering to such a balance between players and maybe it would only be possible by these two. Such is communicated in the title of the record: "He's the DJ, I'm the rapper." I still jam this record because it's so freakin dope.
As heavy as 1988 was with classic recordings, very few left as much of a deep impression on the game as the last three recordings starting with Ultramagnetic MCs Critical Beatdown. Led by the searing delivery of Kool Keith's prose in his first full length appearance and the spectacular production of almost always underrated Ced Gee, Critical Beatdown is almost an encyclopedic guide to Golden Era hip hop. Tracks like "Ego Trippin'," Give the Drummer Some" and "Funky" are instantly recognizable to even new heads because of their deep influence on future hip hop. It's so often cited because it's so representative of a time and a place in hip hop's history and, while, it would never get a mention outside of the hip hop community, what it did from the inside is difficult to capture in here. All the ingredients that made a great record are tripled by Ultramagnetic on Beatdown. It took almost almost three years to make which, back then, was an entire career. Hell, it still is. And such would become problematic for Ultramagnetic then taking close to four years for a follow-up. That lapse back in 1988 meant your career and, essentially, the same was true for Ultramagnetic. By the time their second record dropped in 1992 on Mercury, they were long forgotten. There was a slight resurgence when they joined Wild Pitch to release their Four Horsemen, but nothing would come close to the original: Critical Beatdown.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
If you saw this album cover in 1988, pretty safe to say that not only your year was about to take a wild turn, but you might be affected for the rest of your life. A brutal assault of street prose and bruising production, Straight Outta Compton was the record that mainstream media loved to hate and kept parents up all night wondering why little Bobby won't dropped the F-bomb at dinner. If "gangsta" had a "pop" record, this was it. And that's certainly not to discredit the album, but it's true of its path to middle-America. With no radio play (c'mon, really? NWA?) and very little attention initially, it started poppin' up like little street gangs in every city in America. Next thing you know, it was on and "F--- tha Police" was hitting anthemic levels while deep album cuts like "If It Ain't Ruff," "Dopeman" (which makes its second appearance on record here as a remix) and "Gangsta Gangsta" solidified the crew as one of significant talent and that there was no gimmick here. Dude's could really rock a record. Unfortunately for NWA, the song that was the biggest depature from theme would also be the biggest song on the record, "Express Yourself." There's no real fit for the positivity and optimism of "Express Yourself" on Straight Outta Compton, but that aside, it still is an incredible song. Think about what comes together on this record...it's the first time the country heard Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube and they're all on the same record. It's the first time that people really became afraid of hip hop and its uses as a weapon, it's ability to express displeasure with social ailments that surrounded you, it's ability to represent your neighborhood with bullish pride. Straight Outta Compton is not only essential from a hip hop aspect, it's required for its influence on popular music and inner city cultures.
IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS TO HOLD US BACK
When PE hit the market in 1987 with Yo! Bum Rush the Show, they were still a little ahead of their time and their debut would become largely forgotten. But, when a year later, they returned with their sophomore effort, everything flaw was fixed, every emotion was intensified, every sample and break was cut with unprecedented precision and PE turned up every track to full blast so that, this time out, they would rattle heads from New York to LA. While I'm still a bigger fan of their next record, Nation of Millions (or simply Nation as it's commonly referred to as) is as complete and as satisfying as any hip hop record from prior to 1990 as you'll find (many would contest that it's the best hip hop record ever recorded). It took everything that was right about hip hop and its culture to that point and crammed it into this small explosive space for a listen that is as jarring and discomforting as anything up to that point. For years, the Bomb Squad's production has driven and inspired producers, boggled diggers and frustrated heads to giving up and taking that day job. Chuck's furious verses revolutionized the emcee to less shotcalling and more of a ministry--using the mic to voice dismay and, what's more, drive effective action. I'm listening to this record right now and it's almost too much for one sitting. It's just incredibly effective in all ways. It's as much a metal record as it is a hip hop record. The samples are used with blinding dexterity, Chuck's language and words are presented with such urgency and panic. If there was an musical equivalent to, say, an air raid alarm, this is it. "Night of the Living Baseheads," "Black Steel," "She Watches Channel Zero?!," "Show 'Em Whatcha Got," "Rebel Without a Pause," "Louder Than a Bomb" and (geez, how could I forget) "Don't Believe the Hype," good Lord, man. That's as good as a Public Enemy greatest hits collection! Get up from your seat, you lazy ass, and go directly to the store and buy this right now. It'll get your head straight.