Monday, September 10, 2007

Three New Mix CDs: Postscript (Two Lists)
Soon after publishing this post on my three new mix CDs, it was suggested to me that my opinion as to the exact location of rap music's golden age might be somewhat unconventional, if not unique. Shortly after that, this Woebot post appeared, linking to this discussion and this list. Validating stuff for an early-90s rap fan, you'll agree.

Of course I don't limit myself to the 91-93 period as strictly as these folks but the point remains - while the critical consensus pretty much writes off 90s rap, there are plenty of informed folks who see the early 90s as hip-hop's golden age.

So lets tackle the main objections to 90s hip-hop, which seem to be:

(i) It was more conventionally musical than what came before and after and was relatively uninteresting sound-wise, compared to what was happening in other genres at the time.

Hip-hop beats in the 90s are certainly more musical and less noise-based than they have been in other eras but the musical material deployed by 90s producers like DJ Premier and the Rza was often distinctly unconventional - modern jazz and library music breaks detuned through lo-fi sampling keyboards. The resulting instrumentals were rich, dissonant and distinctly odd.

Perhaps what makes this music sound less overtly "futuristic" than the work of Timbaland or the Neptunes
(not to mention 90s drum'n'bass and IDM) is its relative rhythmical straightness. This was probably a necessity give the off-kilter nature of the samples used and the fact...

(ii) ...that 90s hip-hop is willfully obscure, having little or no relation to pop music and being overly reliant on abstract lyrical flows that are all-but incomprehensible to outsiders.

This is fair enough but really, who can give rats ass about the concept of "pop music" in these diffuse days? Is the idea of pop music as a positive cultural force really relevant in the Internet age? And are catchy hooks really a necessary part of people's musical experience these days - particularly people who read blogs about obscure music? Seriously: discuss.

Anyway, the uncomfortable fact is that hip-hop really doesn't have much to do with pop music - not because it's too "real" or underground for pop but because it's a distinctly different musical paradigm. In fact, it was rap music that made me realize that it was actually possible to have a distinctly different musical paradigm. It's really not too much of a stretch to say that, without this era of hip-hop, I wouldn't be listening to, writing about and making experimental music today.

Thinking about this and reading other people's recommendations really made me want to collate a list of my favourite 90s rap LPs. And that got me thinking that I'd also like to compile a more comprehensive list of my favourite UK post-rock records, to flesh this out. Well, the post-rock list will have to wait because I have a lot on my plate but the time seems just right for the hip-hop list, so I'm going to go for it.

No commentary on these but I've marked any album that's a particular fave with an asterisk. Additions are welcome in the comments box. Also, this whole experience has made me realize how many classic 90s rap albums I've never actually heard, so I've also collated a substantial "to hear" list.

My Favourite Rap Albums from the 1990s
Alkaholiks - Coast II Coast
The Beatnuts - The Beatnuts
Black Moon - Diggin' in da Vaults*
Black Moon - Enta da Stage
Black Sheep - A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Brand Nubian - Everything is Everything
Busta Rhymes - The Coming
Cypress Hill - Cypress Hill
Cypress Hill - Black Sunday
Digable Planets - Blowout Comb
Eric B and Rakim - Don't Sweat the Technique
Gang Starr - Hard to Earn*
Gang Starr - Daily Operation
Gang Starr - Step in the Arena
The Goats - Tricks of the Shade
Goodie Mob - Soul Food
Gravediggaz - Six Feet Deep*
GZA/Genius - Liquid Swords
Jeru the Damaja - The Sun Rises in the East*
Lords of the Underground - Here Come the Lords
Lost Boyz - Legal Drug Money
Method Man - Tical*
Mobb Deep - The Infamous*
Keith Murray - The Most Beautifulest Thing in This World
Nas - Illmatic*
Nine - Nine Livez
Onyx - Bacdafucup
The Pharcyde - Bizzare Ride II The Pharcyde*
Raekwon - Only Built for Cuban Linx*
Redman - Whut?
Redman - Dare iz a Darkside
Smooth da Hustler - Once Upon a Time in America
Souls of Mischief - 93 'Til Infinity
A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders*
A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory
UMCs - Fruits of Nature
Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers*

Classic Rap Albums from the 1990s That I Haven't Heard
The Beatnuts - Intoxicated Demons
Blahzay Blahzay - Blah Blah Blah
Boogiemonsters - Riders of the Storm
Brand Nubian - One for All

Del - No Need for Alarm
Diamond and the Psychotic Neurotics - Stunts Blunts and Hip-Hop
Freestyle Fellowship - Inner City Griots
KMD - Mr Hood
KMD - Black Bastards
Main Source - Breakin' Atoms
Masta Ace - Slaughtahouse
Method Man and Redman - Blackout
Organized Konfusion - Organized Confusion
Pete Rock and CL Smooth - Mecca and the Soul Brother
Showbiz and AG - Runaway Slave

Phew! Looks like I've got some record shopping to do.


mark RRR said...

ok, straight to the meat...

Top 5 (or so) DITC releases/related
1.Showbiz and AG-Runaway Slave

this is the absoulte pinnacle in the entire DITC catalogue. Madlib pretty much does what amounts to a cover of 'Fat Pockets' on his Quasimoto masterpiece, Further Adventures...
Think I saw a copy on LP at Beatstreet.


2.Diamond D and The Psychotic Neurotics-Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop

Diamond had pretty much just kept to producing (with the exception of the Ultimate Force LP from 1988 that ended up unreleased...until this year!) and made rare guest appearances on the mic on various DITC related albums. This needs to be sought out at all costs. It's kinda funny listening to it now and hearing how many samples have been bitten from this perfect album.

3. Big L-Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous

One of the wittiest MCs to grace the mic during the tale end of the golden age, which is saying a lot, I know. you just have to hear him for yourself. L made appearances on the above 2 records and this debut also feature a very young Jay-Z. Unfortunately, Illmatic was released months before and completely overshadowed this album. Another must have

4. Fat Joe-Represent

You may laugh at this one, but it is seriously great. Featuring production from most of the DITC crew, its not a perfect album but some of the best beats to come from the crew appear on this album. Don't sleep on it.

5. Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth-Funky Technician

The album that pretty much started it all, FT was an instant classic (in much need of a proper re-issue)that had production from some soon to be heavyweights: DJ Premier, Diamond D, Showbiz and, of course, Finesse himself. Bootleg copies are rampant and shouldnt be too hard to track down. I would actually be surprised if you hadnt heard of this.

6. OC- word...Life

Once an associate of Organized Konfusion, OC struck out on his own with this mostly Buckwild produced debut. More of a storyteller than a boaster, OC was one of the more thought-provoking MCs in the crew.

7. Maestro Fresh Wes-Naaah, Dis Kid Can't Be From Canada
Not sure if you are familiar with this but it IS the greatest Canadian hip-hop record of all time (not saying much, I know, but it HAS to be heard to be believed). I sincerely doubt that it will ever be topped. Produced by all the regulars of the DITC.

hope this sheds a bit of light on the greatest (and most underrated!!) crews of the 1990s. A lot of them had decent follow up records that are all worth peeping but these are pinnacle and NEED to be in the collection of any serious head.

Ok, enough DITC lets get to my picks of early 90s must-haves that DO NOT appear on your list...

1. Organized Konfusion-Extinction Agenda
I see you have their debut on yr list, which is arguably a record that is as great, but I prefer the follow-up. Featuring even denser rhymes and beats so colossal that it's worth it to find an instrumental copy of the record. Pharoah Monch and Prince Po could (and didnt) do no better. FUCKING ESSENTIAL.

2.EPMD-Business As Usual AND Business Never Personal
Not sure why these guys are off your list but they are critical. Probably my favourite hip-hop duo of all time (sorry Gangstarr, Eric B and Rakim) and the greatest Jersey export that hip hop had to offer. Introduced the world to Redman and Keith Murray (Sermon produced most of both of their debuts)

3.Kool G Rap and Dj Polo- Live and Let Die

One of the other great hip-hop duos, this was to be their final album and their last great statement in hip-hop. Another Cold Chillin' classic.

4.Jeru The Damaja-The Sun Rises In the East

A Premier discovery and also his greatest achievement outside of Gagstarr.Oh yah, Jeru is super talented too.

5.KRS-One-Return of the Boombap

Shedding the BDP moniker and making his last great statement before, well, Sprite commercials.
Featuring the classic, Sound of Da Police.

6.Ice Cube-Predator

Ok, he has said some questionable things in the past and has starred in worse movies than Will Smith (lately, anyways) but this is THE soundtrack the the LA riots (the man even predicted them on Death Certificate).The first "scary" hip-hop CD I ever owned.

7.Tie: Kam-Neva Again AND Da Lench Mob-Guerillas In Da Mist

Both protegees of Ice Cube and featuring his production (mostly), Kam and Da Lench Mob were the voice of black LA pre and post riots (Kam released his jsut after the riots in early 93 and DLM released theirs just pre-riot). They both have the hard hitting sound that typified Ice Cube's albums of the same era (Predator and Death Certificate.

8.Raw Breed-Lune Tunz

Pretty similar to Onyx in their assualtive lyrical flow but with choruses that will get caught in yr head for days.

9.King Tee-Tha' Triflin' Album

Overshadowed by The Chronic, King Tee quietly released his 3rd album to little fanfare. Unfortunate, because it's one of the the West COasts greatest from the era.

10. Ultramagnetic MC's-The Four Horeseman

Featuring Kool Keith just entering his more esoteric phase of lyricism. A trend he would perfect on Dr.Octagon.

There are plenty more i could add to the list but I would be getting into albums of less importance.

I like your early 1990s list and own 95% of them (missing the Nine and Smooth The Hustler albums) and agree with your favourites. Have fun trying to find some of these but please download until then.


Biggie Samuels said...

Wow, when you told me you were going to post a comment on this one, you really meant it. The level of my ignorance about one of my favourite eras of music is really starting to astound me. Perhaps you are the one who should be making the mix CDs.

In my defence, that Jeru album is totally on my list and is even starred as a particular favourite. Also, I meant to put that KRS One album on the list. Did that also have "Rappaz RN Dainja" on it?

I definitely have to pick up the following three albums, at least...

Diamond - "Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop"
Show and AG - "Runaway Slave"
Main Source - "Breakin' Atoms"

Biggie Samuels said...

Whoo-hoo! I just bought the Main Source LP on eBay!

Mark RRR said...

if you had gone (did you go?) to the record show yesterday you woulda been able to pick up the Showbiz and AG LP for $12.00.

Biggie Samuels said...

Fuck! I was totally in that part of town yesterday but I couldn't make it to the record show because of prior commitments. You see, this is why so many record collectors choose not to have a social life.

Biggie Samuels said...

Beatstreet does indeed stock a vinyl re-issue of Runaway Slave. They don't have it in stock right now but I have special-ordered it from them.

Now, how am I going to get that Diamond LP?

Mark RRR said...

man, that could be tough. I can honestly say that I have never seen it on wax. Heck, a cd version is hard to come by, too. Hah, now that i'm thinkin 'bout Diamond D, i'm reminded of his beats on the second House of Pain album, 'Same As It Ever Was.' That album, wow! Seriously good. All kinds of DITC beats on there. Check it out...really!

Biggie Samuels said...

Actually, there are a couple of copies of it up on eBay right now. You can bet I'll be bidding!

Biggie Samuels said...

Guess who just won that Diamond D album on eBay? Thirty US dollars, which is pretty much thirty Canadian dollars, right now.

Okay, I can't buy any more of this stuff. It's getting out of hand.

In other news, though, Lim recommended Fear Itself by Casual from the mighty Souls of Mischief. I haven't actually heard any of Casual's solo stuff but his album He Think He Raw has probably my favourite album cover of all time. Do a Google image search - you won't regret it.

Biggie Samuels said...

So, I just found a copy of Runaway Slave at Vinyl. The people at Beat Street (which is on the next block) were nice enough to let me cancel my special order, so I picked it up.

You've got to love record stores.

Biggie Samuels said...

Just got my Main Source LP in the mail. A UK re-issue, it seems.

Goooood times.

Biggie Samuels said...

Wait a second! Large Professor was in Main Source? Who knew?!

Mark RR said...

Dear lord! Of course Large Professor was in Main Source!! AHHH!! Apparently, (I cant remember if i mentioned this to you) Nas makes his debut recorded appearance on the album! Album highlight:Looking At The Front Door. Un-fuckin-beatable. There is a second Main Source album called Fuck What You Think but I have NEVER seen it. Supposed to be underrated.
You should, while i'm thinkin about it, download a copy of the Big L album I recommended. He does what any great MC should do, which is make me laugh. All of my favourite MCs have that ability. Big L was one of the greatest in that category. Peep it.

Never really got into Casual but rank the Souls Of Mischief debut up there pretty high on the early 90s list. Must investigate the debut. Thanks for the tip.

Biggie Samuels said...

Told you I was ignorant. Isn't there also some Canadian connection with Main Source? They big up Dream Warriors on the album cover!

From the evidence of the tracks I've downloaded Big L is great but Lord Finesse is even wittier.

Generally, I find the rapping on the early '90s stuff a bit plain and lacking in personality compared to what came just a few years later. Compare Large Professor's rhyming on the Main Source album to his appearance on Midnight Marauders. More to say about this at a later date.

Still the earlier stuff does contain the occasional really startling line, line when Extra P says "death is my antonym" on "Peace is Not the Word to Play".

Biggie Samuels said...

Actually, that line is from "Just a Friendly Game of Baseball".

MarkR said...

Lord Finesse is definitely witty, but Big L has a lot more passion in his flow and is also one of the mid-90s best freestylers. i picked up a copy of his freestyles he did in his early years and they are mindblowing. It's pretty awesome hearing him drop a line that causes everyone in the DJ booth to crack up. The compilation is just called the Early Years. Should be able to download it somewhere.

Biggie Samuels said...

Y'know I was just listening to a Big L song this morning and thinking that I'd been way too hasty, damning him with faint praise the way I did. Respect due.