Thursday, January 01, 2009

BRINGIN' 88 BACK: HIP HOP'S GREATEST 1988 RECORDINGS

Either deliberately or as a product of immersing myself into 1988 hip hop and doing mixes of old De La Soul records, I heard less new hip hop in 2008 than any year prior, without question. I think that, for me, it's an aging process. I can barely hear the new stuff. I remember hearing Q-Tip's new record and thinking that it might as well be a polka record because I had as little connection with it. Like why should I have to force myself to keep up with a music that I've long since abandoned? Hip hop is just whack these days. Labels have abandoned it. Radio has bailed on it. Fans are turning on it. Read these year-end lists that are out there. Hip hop gets very little mention at all. Gone are the superstars. We got a bunch of young-buck A&Rs, executives and, yes, artists trying to keep this thing afloat and it just ain't happening. The majors are just shook when it comes to hip hop. With the exception of T.I. and Lil Wayne, you could hear a pin drop this year in hip hop. A couple of years back, I remember listening to a supposed "underground" rapper talk about how lame hip hop had become and I was sitting there thinking, "Get over it, bro." Now, I'm realizing how difficult that is to do. What am I hanging around for? A new MF Doom record that'll never come out? Another rapper to die so we can realize his genius after he's gone? A proper Jean Grae release? I'll keep my correspondence to a strictly "need to know" basis. I'm getting too old to get giddy over every Babygrande promo that hits my desk.

And, yes, that's just an aging head's bitchery--not elitism. I know that Babygrande still puts out some heat. I'm just sayin. Another year over 30 and I'm publicly abandoning one of the only things that was keeping me young? Yep. I guess so. But it's not really a revelation, but rather a recognition of my reality. My world just doesn't revolve around it. That new Kanye record sat on my desk for two weeks before I even put it in. And, when I did, I took it out after three songs. I'll still defend hip hop in the public sector, quote Lil Wayne whenever I have the opportunity and even take in a few shows from time to time and shop the merch table. But I need a break. I have enough sources to put me on to the new ish that I'll never be far away.

That being said, I'll still be pumping 1989 like it's brand new this next year. 1989 is a huge year in the history of hip hop. There's classic records releasing almost every week in 1989. This is gonna be a dope year.

Ha, man on CNN says that sludge slide in Tennessee makes water "undrinkable." Bro, I think it's always been undrinkable. Ask the only two teeth you have left. Surprised he can even speak without whistling.

For all intents and purposes, 1988 was probably my birth year in hip hop. I remember sitting in the back of the bus listening to an Eazy E tape on a little jam box. It was a kid named Aaron and his buddy George. Ah, the words I learned on those trips. Amazing that when I go back now and listen to "Nobody Move," it's mind-boggling that I turned out how I did. I mean, not in jail with a steady job and a lovely wife that loves me. I was on a road to nowhere. Owen and I were talking the other day about how frankly and casually, Eazy E speaks of straight-up rape on the last verse of that song and, to young ears, you wouldn't even know the difference. It's like we were listening to an Andrew Dice Clay record.

And it's really no surprise why so many people reflect on 1988 so fondly. The whole nation begins to buzz with hip hop. It's starts booming in the trunk of cars at traffic lights much to the despite of local law enforcement. Cable television begins catering to the growing trends and there's a revolution in the programming. "Yo! MTV Raps" makes its debut in August and becomes a promotional vehicle for not only the music but the entire culture. BET becomes a prominent player and just a year later, they respond with "Rap City." It was also the first year that Rap went POP in the form of this cat from Philly named the Fresh Prince. Yeah, he makes an appearance on this list. C'mon, that album killed. It never got soggy. If you disagree, you're just hating mercilessly. Get over it. In fact, thanks to Fresh Prince, The first Grammy-nominated rap record came from 1988. And, while the East Coast was still the epicenter of hip hop, the brushfire began to take hold in cities like Miami with their Bass movement, Houston with the development of Rap-a-Lot Records, Bay Area began to blow up. Seattle, fueled behind the talents of Sir Mix A Lot and others begins to pop. It was starting to move from just a regional buzz to a full-fleged sensation.

Media scrutiny of hip hop and it's content begins to swell and artists like NWA, Public Enemy come under fire from the mainstream. Concerned parents start policing their kiddies' headphones like never before. With the celebration of this new artform in communities across the nation came also a fear of how to control it and govern its content. Certainly, such wasn't helped by the recordings of 2 Live Crew whose Move Somethin' began to set a precendent for hip hop of a more adult orientation. That next year in 1989, it would come to a head in a very visible court case which could almost be summarized at THE AMERICAN FAMILY ASSOCIATE v. 2 LIVE CREW.

For better or for worse, hip hop had finally arrived at the mainstream. And while the mainstays like Run DMC, Boogie Down Productions, MC Shan and others began to dim, upstarts like EPMD, De La Soul, Public Enemy and NWA started to blow up.

There was that feeling like what was happening was only going to get bigger and better. So many recordings from 1988 were better than the earlier recordings, but not as good as the years to follow. This was the year that creative forces started coming together and the recordings became so thick and imaginative. The Golden Era of hip hop (as it's commonly known) had commenced. That's 1988, folks.

I remember watching as NWA break into middle-America and the lyrics from "Straight Outta Compton" and "Express Yourself" burned themselves into my psyche forever. I didn't really meanmug yet, but I started hearing these tales of places I didn't know. It wasn't like you could go to the east side of Lubbock and experience what you heard on records. The neighborhoods in these songs were like hell. Like the last chamber in hell. Right before decapitation. The songs struck fear, but equal curiosity. I got bit and it broke out immediately. For a kid with no money and means to travel off the block, these rides to school would be my window into the culture of rap music and would ultimately lead me to a lifelong connection with the music. When you think about your life path, it's strange how things like that cassette with the voice of Eazy E could have such a lasting impression. Aaron probably stole it from his older brother and here, on the back of the bus, ten to fifteen kids are being converted...changed. Some of them forever...from just one listen.

Luckily for me, I've had the pleasure to go back and revisit those old recordings to once again discover that appeal. For some recordings, they didn't age so well. Others, got even better. Over the last year, I've poured through countless records from 1988 and, I have to tell you, year by year this gets more rewarding. Who in the hell needs 2008?

To hear a young Eazy in his prime. Or hear Kool Keith before he fell the hell off. Groups like the Masters of Ceremony featuring a young cat named Grand Puba. When a queen named Latifah showed us the "wrath of her madness." The first time you bopped your head to "Lyrics of Fury" or the first time your jaw dropped when you heard EPMD. If 1987 was like the first time a girl winked at you, 1988 was like your first tongue kiss. F'real.

So, now with no further delaying (because, c'mon, you've already waited twenty years), THE 30 BEST HIP HOP RECORDINGS OF 1998...
30
LAKIM SHABAZZ
"PURE RIGHTEOUSNESS"
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.







29
POSITIVE K
"A GOOD COMBINATION"
Positive K's most popular recording would be the uber-gonzo "I Got a Man," but dude was forgotten after that train passed and this, his first effort, was completely buried. "A Good Combination" is an early glimpse into an emcee with swagger and poise. His delivery is a lazy, but confident drawl and his flow is that of an early Grand Puba. Obviously, as history would later be written, K would turn out to be no Puba, but his 1988 debut is as good as any early 12" on the market. Co-produced by the Audio Two of "Top Billin'" fame, "A Good Combination" is a sparse listen at first, but is carried from the from the 1:20-mark by Positive's evident skills for no-frills raps. Straight-up headnodding music right here.



28
QUEEN LATIFAH
"WRATH OF MY MADNESS"
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.
27
ICE-T
POWER

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.
26
THE 45 KING
"THE 900 NUMBER"
Mark the 45 King's biggest contribution to hip hop might be also be his most effortless. Pulling a four-second sax loop from Marva Whitney's "Unwind Yourself" and then looping it for a seemlingly endless six minutes, "The 900 Number" is perhaps one of the single greatest beats in hip hop history. It's perfect in so many ways and represents the very essence of beatmaking. Sometimes you just don't have to overthink it. Dude takes two bars, loops it for six minutes and makes history. What this beat did for MTV (see the Ed Lover Dance) and what it did for DJ Kool later with "Let Me Clear My Throat", "The 900 Number" can not be understated. All these young producers are slaving for days over one beat when back in the day, the 45 King kills it with two bars. If you ever wanna see a party ever explode it's "The Humpty Dance" or "The 900 Number." B'lee dat.

25
TUFF CREW
DANGER ZONE
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.





24
ROB BASE & DJ EZ ROCK
IT TAKES TWO

It's place in the history of hip hop is questionable, but it's place in 1988 was among the top with little debate. Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock were, at best, a party act with skills. They were like the second coming of Audio Two. You ain't really listening for message or direction, you just wanna get down and this record forced you to do just that. It Takes Two is so much deeper than just the title cut. "Keep It Going Now" and "Make It Hot," both in the vein of the title banger are still worthy of party mix inclusion. Be careful of discarding It Takes Two as just a pop record. It's actually damn good. Man, I hope Lyn Collins got paid in full for that sample.


23
CHILL ROB G
"DOPE RHYMES"
Original member of the famed Flavor Unit, Chill Rob G partnered with (read the label, kids) DJ Mark the 45 King to bring us his debut 12", "Dope Rhymes." Damn, that's four appearances for the 45 King so far. Chill Rob G's performance on "Dope Rhymes" sounds dated when I listen to it today, but dude held it down back in '88. His skill and flow was almost limitless and the B-side, featuring "Chillin'" and "Wild Pitch" almost trumps "Dope Rhymes." Definitely a 12" worth pursuing. He would later get robbed by Snap! for his "Let the Words Flow" on their song "The Power (I've Got)" which was re-recorded by some moron named Turbo B. Makes me wonder what would've happened to Chill Rob G had he been asked to rhyme on that record. Guess we'll never know.
22
MC SHAN
BORN TO BE WILD
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?




21
SUPER LOVER CEE + CASANOVA RUD
GIRLS I GOT 'EM LOCKED
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!




20
THE MASTERS OF CEREMONY
DYNAMITE
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'.

19
STESTASONIC
IN FULL GEAR
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.

18
SLICK RICK
"MONA LISA"
Besides being one of those the definitive Slick Rick records, "Mona Lisa" is one of those songs in the history of hip hop that just never goes away. Slick's prose is as intricate and dizzying as anyone out there and his mastery of the "conversating overdubs" is on full display on this recording. Some like "Children's Story," others are more the "Treat Her Like a Prostitute" type. I'm a "Mona Lisa" cat.






17
FROZEN EXPLOSION
"MAC KNIFE"
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'.





16
THE KROWN RULERS
PAPER CHASE
Hailing from Jersey, the little-known and even lesser-appreciated Krown Rulers came as fast as they went. But what they left behind in Paper Chase is a rich and rapid b-boy classic. It's breakbeats and seering vocals from another Grand Pubah were a devastating combination. And, for all you kiddies, this record boasts the original "B-Boy Document" later to be revelled in Philly's High and Mighty's remake on Rawkus more than a decade later. Yeah, this right here is the blueprint. And, along with others in 1988, the "power duo" as a concept begins to make a rise.








15
CASH MONEY AND MARVELOUS
"UGLY PEOPLE BE QUIET"
DJ Cash Money had been making his mark for years prior to probably his biggest hit, but 1988 would be the year that he broke open with the shotcall of his trusty sidekick begging crowds for all the "ugly people be quiet!" Borrowing a break from from Tears for Fears and then assaulting the audience with a sequence of scratches and bass booms, "Ugly People" was orchestrated specifically for hyping up the crowd. Even tastier is the remix which doubles the breaks resulting in triple the "ahs." Cash Money and Marvelous' Where the Party At? killed it, but it was this track that put it on the map. People who think this record absolutely kills, be quiet.



Yeah, that's what I thought.


14
MARLEY MARL
IN CONTROL VOL. 1
Marley Marl's contributions to the game are hard to be summed up in one record. I mean, the cat's a legend and has worked with some of the meanest emcees ever to grace the mic. To think that In Control does this guy any justice is absurd, but let's pretend, for a moment that putting him in the middle of this list and not at the very top is not a comment on his abilities and rather an assessment of this record and this record only. Marley's production strengths are on full display on Control and, if for no other reason, by this record for the unquestionable classic, "The Symphony", which is still unbeaten as the definitive posse cut featuring Big Daddy Kane, Craig G, Masta Ace and Kool G. Rap. Knowing that your head just exploded at the thought of those four on the same track, go clean up your brains and proceed to the next selection....pupil.

13
BIG DADDY KANE
LONG LIVE THE KANE

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.
12
JVC FORCE
DOIN' DAMAGE

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).


11
EPMD
STRICTLY BUSINESS
88 was a year instrumental for young talent. The changing of the guards was evident and duos like EPMD who had the swagger of a vet, but the energy of rookies broke through the static with their debut classic Strictly Business. What I've always loved about EPMD is that everything was so beautifully crafted, every snare, scratch and sample is in the right place. From the jumpoff, these dudes were the sickest because of their commitment to quality tracks. They weren't the best emcees, but they more than made up for it in character and their signature stylings--the little back-and-forths, those small but dramatic pauses between words, that booming low-end, those scratches across every refrain. Quality products everytime. EPMD were just serious. You don't wanna play.

10
BOOGIE DOWN PRODUCTIONS
BY ALL MEANS NECESSARY
By 1988, BDP had already established themselves as one of the most talented and illin' crews in hip hop. With the unfortunately killing of DJ Scott La Rock, though, KRS was left without his musical force. He did what any young buck in hip hop does, get up and keep swinging. In just a year, though, since they're debut Criminal Minded, KRS moved away from the almost mockingly "criminal" elements of their first recording to more conscious raps. And without La Rock, he took production into his own hands and faired more than respectably. While sparse at times, the production fits and KRS flows endlessly. Through the one of the earliest of hip hop's senseless tragedies, KRS went into survival mode and kept it moving. In the end, he conquered the game and came out victorious. Oh yeah, "Illegal Business" is my jam. Hands down. Fresh, for 88...you suckas.

09
JUNGLE BROTHERS
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.

08
ERIC B. AND RAKIM
FOLLOW THE LEADER
Like BDP, '88 found another power duo coming back for their second record (I just love how dudes would release a record a year back then--and not just records, but classics). Follow the Leader helped prove for Eric B and Rakim that Paid in Full was no fluke. The compositions are tighter, thicker and faster. And while "Microphone Fiend" seems as the popular standout, the jam is "Lyrics of Fury." Even the title track smears almost anything on the market today. Most dude's will kill a vagrant to have three tracks that would be remembered 20 years from now. Eric B and Rakim had three on one record. Safe purchase. Let the wallet open wide.



07
RUN DMC
"BEATS TO THE RHYME"
A few harsh truths brought to you by yours truly: after Raising Hell, I didn't like anything else Run DMC did except for this banger which, to me, is the single greatest Run DMC track ever recorded. Yes, even better than "Peter Piper." "Beats to the Rhyme" is the quinessential Run DMC track. Do the math, son. And, to make the track greater (like the Bob James "Nautilus" sample isn't good enough, bastard), all of the vocals were scratched into the song by Jam Master Jay. The vocals were put onto wax and then JMJ mixed them into the track. That takes more talent than anyone can even fathom this day in age. I will never let anyone front on "Beats to the Rhyme" until the day I die. Those grunts and shouts of James Brown just layered into the track, those breakbeats between the verses, those horns. Geez, I need to take a break. This is killin' me all over again.

06
DEF IV
NICE AND HARD

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.
05
EAZY-E
EAZY-DUZ-IT
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.

04
DJ JAZZY JEFF & THE FRESH PRINCE
HE'S THE DJ, I'M THE RAPPER


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.

03
ULTRAMAGNETIC MCS
CRITICAL BEATDOWN

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.

02

NWA

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.

01

PUBLIC ENEMY

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.

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