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.