Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blockhead - The Music Scene

Another master class in DJ-ing by one of the world's finest.  The follow up to Ninja Tunes Records' Blockhead's classic Uncle Tony's Coloring Book sees him keeping up the quality on this release as well.  Using samples of classic Soul, Eastern-Asiatic music, Electronics, and pretty much any genre the producer could get his hands on, it's another album that can be put on for nearly all occasions.  It's simply mesmerizing, and easy to listen to.  Nothing aggressive or annoying hereI can see any of the tracks on this album being used as a soundtrack in a movie.  I highly suggest this album to fans of the genre, though it doesn't top Uncle Tony's Coloring Book, which is his best to date.

Rating: 8/10

The Music Scene
It's Raining Clouds
Only Sequences Change

Alberta Cross - Broken Side Of Time

Though this is an Americana tinged record, it's members are Anglo-Swedish and the sound does represent this.  Filled with blues folk and classic rock riffs, mixed with garage-rock distortions and drum beats it's definitely a revelation in sound.  But too much emphasis has been put on the guitar, so often enough the bass finds itself drowned out in the mix, save for a few tracks.  Basically the only way to describe it is if Jack White (White Stripes) had a love affair with Neil Young.  So in essence, it sounds quite a bit like early Kings Of Leon.  But not so fast you Sex Is On Fire loving bastards, I meant the early stuff, like Youth and Young Manhood territory.  Though it does sometimes have that all too radio friendly blandness.  I can see a few of these songs charting succesfully in the UK, but it's hard to imagine the same in North America.  The slower tracks are the highlight of the album, and the Swede's voice comes off las if I'd just hoofed Ryan Adams' country twang square in the nuts.  A hit and miss album, but it's really hard to hate, some tracks are undeniably catchy, just try not to let his voice get on your nerves too much.

Rating: 6.5/10

Leave Us Or Forgive Us
Taking Control

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Top 20 Greatest Classic Hip Hop Albums

Welcome to the first in my series of classics that every fan of the genre should own.  If you haven't owned or at least thoroughly listened to a dozen of these, well, then you have no right to debate rap/hip-hop with any credibility.  I'm sure there are a few omissions that will lead to debate, such as Notorious B.I.G's Ready To Die.  Reviewers who've made such lists have included the album in their Top 5, though in my list I don't believe he could crack  the upper tier.  It could make it in the 15-20 portion, though from 15 on it's pretty much all even.  As culturally important as the album was, it's just not one that I rocked to as much as the 20 listed here.  I've enjoyed ATLiens far more than I did Ready to Die.  Same thing for early Geto Boys albums.  That being said, the albums between 4 and 8 are all interchangeable, as well as 9 through 20.  In between those, it's nearly impossible to say that one is better than the other.  Also to keep in mind, it's not a list of the most culturally important, or which was more influential to the genre.  It's quite simple... These are the absolute best that Rap/Hip-Hop had to offer up until 1999.  Why 1999?  Because there's no 50 Cent, Soulja Boy, Lil Wayne, or Kanye (though his first two were dope)

Under each entry, three or four tracks are listed.  Take any of those 60 or so songs, and put them on a playlist and you got yourself a killer mixtape.  Which I highly suggest doing.

Notable omissions/ Honorable Mentions:
DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince - He's the DJ, I'm The Rapper
Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die
Geto Boys - Grip It! On That Other Level
Eminem - The Slim Shady LP
MC Hammer - Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em
Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt
Boogie Down Productions - By All Means Necessary
Cypress Hill - Black Sunday
Mobb Deep - The Infamous (If only for Shook Ones Pt. II)

20. Outkast - ATLiens (1996)

"Throw Yo Hands In the Ay-air, and wave 'em like you just don't Cay-air!.." Back when Outkast used to deliver the best flows the south had to offer.  The direct descendents of the Geto Boys, I listened to this extensively in my teens, and I still do to this day.  Big Boi's flow on Jazzy Belle is one of my favourite of all time.

19. Common - One Day It'll All Make Sense (1997)
Choice Cuts: Reminding Me (Of Sef) -- All Night Long -- Invocation

I got introduced to the Chi's finest later than I should have, but this album has so many smooth flows and beats that make it one of the most chill records I've heard.  It was made an instant favourite, and a constant to my playlists for years to come.  Listen to All Night Long and tell me you don't feel like gettin' down with your lover... Didn't think so

18. LL Cool J - Radio (1985)
Choice Cuts: I Can't Live Without My Radio -- You Can't Dance -- I Need Beat

I've never listened much to this album as it's way before my time, but the few times I have, it struck meas phenomenal.  Beastie Boys and Rick Rubin made this guy's career, and they were right to do so.  One of Def Jam Records' first artists, this album has many classic tracks, and was one of the most influential of all time.  I still rock a few of these tracks once in a while, and they always bring a smile to my face when I do.

17. Eric B. & Rakim - Paid in Full (1987)
Choice Cuts: Eric B. Is President -- I Ain't No Joke -- I Know You Got Soul (I love the Jackson 5 sample)

One of the most quoted and sampled rap albums of all time, this classic brought forth so many classics.  It also revolutionized the genre in a way that I still notice their influence on many new artists.  This release made them stars and introduced Eric B. as one of the premier DJ's and most influential of his day.  They also had enough bling to make Mr. T jealous. I'm very proud to rock the "I nominate my DJ for president" T-Shirt.

16. Slick Rick - The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick (1988)

La-Di-Da-Di, We like to party!  Ricky D, a.k.a Rick the Ruler is the greatest storyteller there is, and Children's Story, his most recognized track is a clear indication of that.  I still can't get enough of this record.  I feel like I haven't explored it fully even after many times listening to it.  What an album, what an MC!  The only one to wear bling on a jaunty eyepatch.

15. A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)

I listened to these guys until I had a headache.  That's how much I love Tribe.  I couldn't say enough to praise Q-Tips rhymes and flows, and Dj Ali Shaheed Muhammad's beats which were some of the best ever conceived.  These guys ruled the scene before the advent of Gangsta Rap.  Bonita Applebum is still one of my favourite rap songs from my favourite Hip Hop crew.

14. Big Daddy Kane - It's A Big Daddy Thing (1989)

The great Marley Marl's protegé...  I'm not even going to write anything on this guy.  I'm just going to show y'all a video that says everything I could write, from his influence on modern rap, to his world class flow. Watch 'til the end! Kane kills them young'uns (Still gives me goosebumps watching this.).

13. Mos Def - Black On Both Sides (1999)
Choice Cuts: Speed Law -- Ms. Fat Booty (Storytelling at it's best) -- Brooklyn

Another joint I listened to until my ears ached with the buzz of the bass.  It barely makes the requirements for this list for being released in 1999.  One of the last of the "nice" rappers, his clever, thoughtful rhymes about various subjects not common to hip-hop and classic beats from an all-star cast of DJ's make this another of my favourites.  I had these tracks on mixtapes long before I owned the album.

12. N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton (1988)

There's not much to say that you haven't already heard before on this album that brought us the beginning of Gangsta Rap, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E.  A straight up classic, this is definitely not for everyone, but it's still a seminal album that changed the face of music on it's release.  It's influence knows no bounds and is truly one of the greatest of all time.

11. Snoop Dogg - Doggystyle (1993)

Long before he was the godfather of potheads, LBC's finest released one of the best hip-hop records.  Dr. Dre introduced us to this Crip gangsta on The Chronic, and then produced this album filled with West Coast G-Funk hits.  My sister introduced it to me when I was a young'un, and I understood right away at a young age how important and how insane this album truly was.  Pushed by crazy videos, his appearance on Dre's album and the media coverage of his murder charge, he became instanly famous and never looked back.  This is D-O-double-G at hist fucking best.

10. Run DMC - Raising Hell (1986)

This speech is my recital, I think it's very vital 
To rock a rhyme, that's right on time 
It's Tricky is the title, here we go... 

It's Tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time 
It's's Tricky (Tricky) Tricky (Tricky) 

Fucking classic! Another boundary smashing album from a group no one is about to forget.  It's filled with tracks that anyone that's ever been in a club knows, if not by heart.

9. Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

Not one of my favourites, but it's power is undeniable.  Flava Flav might be fucked in the head, but he kills throughout this album.  But not as much as Chuck D who rocks the mic with force.  The cultural impact of this record is massive, and can still be felt to this day.  There's a lot of classic joints on this that are still sampled today.  And Hey, anyone that makes a jam with Anthrax is cool in my books, even if they look like an idiot with a big clock on his chest.

8. Beastie Boys - Ill Communication (1994)

The fucking "Scientists Of Sound" in full effect!  I had issues in placing this in a Classic Hip Hop countdown, but fuck it, after listening to it again, I had to.  It's more Hip Hop than Punk or any other genre they might mix on their album(s).  The Jimmy Smith samples are priceless on DJ. Mario C.'s mixes, and make this album.  The lead single might have been the rockin' Sabotage, which is not Hip or Hop, but if Q-Tip and Biz Markie appear on this cut, it renders any argument moot.  The only white boys on this list created one of the craziest records of the 90's without having their race even discussed.  This album would show up in a top ten of just about any list I can think of.

7. Tupac - All Eyez On Me (1996)

Who else could have so much impact in a five year career?  It doesn't feel like five years because the dude is still having albums released post-humoustly.  His life has been so well documented, I just don't feel like indulging you any further on his body of work. Hell, if you're reading this list you know all about it, if you don't know, read a fucking book, or just listen to this album fool!  Hell, kids today are still rocking California Love and remixing the shit out of it.

6. Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star (1998)

This ain't no time where the usual is suitable.  Tonight alive, let's describe the inscrutable.  
One of my all-time bests, shit, I still stop in my tracks everytime I hear this.  Some of best rhymes ever written. Listen to the lyrics in the three tracks listed above and you'll see what I mean.  Dj Hi-Tek provides the dope backing these two master lyricists needed, and complements the flows to perfection. RE: DEFinition displays that, but Thieves in the Night gives us some of the best written rhymes you'll ever find.  I highly recommend it!   This is good from top to bottom, start to finish.  My love for this album is endless, and it'll be one of those I will still listen to well into my old age.  (Seriously check out the lyricism on Respiration and Thieves In The Night

So much on my mind that I can't recline
Blastin holes in the night til she bled sunshine
Breathe in, inhale vapors from bright stars that shine
Breathe out, weed smoke retrace the skyline
Heard the bass ride out like an ancient mating call
I can't take it y'all, I can feel the city breathin
Chest heavin, against the flesh of the evening
Sigh before we die like the last train leaving

 5. De La Soul - Three Feet High And Rising (1989)

Choice Cuts: Eye Know -- Plug Tunin' -- Me Myself and I (Check this video to better understand what they're all about.  Pay attention son!)

Along with A Tribe Called Quest, this is another entry from members of the Native Tongues Posse.  DJ Prince Paul became a beat legend after producing this album, and made De La Soul one of the premier Hip-Hop groups of the day.  Masterful rhyming from all three members with lyrics lacking in profanities, are clever and very well delivered.  A classic amongst classics.
"It's consistently placed on 'greatest albums' lists by noted music critics and publications. Robert Christgau called the record "unlike any rap album you or anybody else has ever heard." In 1998, the album was selected as one of The Source Magazine's 100 Best Rap Albums.(Wikipedia article)"

4. Dr. Dre - The Chronic (1992)

You have to be deaf or dumb to never have heard of this.  This album catapulted Dr. Dre to the top of the rap game, as a producer, lyricist and MC.  Along with everyone associated with this record.  Arguably the most influential rap album of all time, it helped launch Death Row records as the premier west coast rap label.  A must have in any hip hop fan's collection.

3. A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991)

The second entry on this list for A Tribe Called Quest is for their best album.  As the name would suggest, this is a very bass heavy album, the type that will shake the pictures clear off your walls if turned up loud enough.  Considering how predominant the bass is, it contains ridiculously simplistic arrangements.  It again features a lot of jazz samples that are the hallmark of the group.  This landmark album features the top charting hits of the band's career, without the swagger of the posturing gangstas that were charting urban radio at the time.  A truly legendary collection of songs.

2. Nas - Illmatic (1994)
Choice Cuts: Halftime - The World Is Yours -- Memory Lane (Sittin' in da Park) -- One Love 

"Check me out y'all, Nasty Nas in your area.  About to cause mass hysteria" 

An columnist described Nas as a "genius introvert who rose out of the rubble of Reagonomics to bless the mic with a forward brand of introspective, redemptive street poetry".  The columnist also wrote "[his] narration glorifies the emergent poetic self as the embodiment of an elevated creative state that is potentially attainable by most any ghetto child ... [His] narrative voice swerves between personas that are cynical and optimistic, naïve and world-weary, enraged and serene, globally conscious and provincial ... a most worthy candidate to craft a palatable and subversive message for the rotten apple's disenfranchised youth. He was young and observant enough to isolate and analyze the positively formative moments of a project childhood while unflinchingly documenting the tragedies" (article referenced).  An analysis I couldn't formulate any better.  Though it took a long time for it to get recognition as a quintessential rap recording, it is now regarded as a landmark album.  It's a shame his following efforts weren't as great as Illmatic, but trying to live up to such a phenomenal debut is a near impossible task for anyone.  To this day, The World Is Yours floors me any time it comes on my MP3 player.  

As great as it is, there is only one album in my opinion that tops this one in terms of originality, timing of it's release, lyrical skill and style, and that would be:

1. Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)

"From the slums of Shaolin, Wu-Tang Clan strikes again.  The RZA, the GZA, Ol Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghost Face Killer and the Method Man."

The definitive hip-hop album, responsible for the so-called "East coast renaissance".  It changed hip-hop forever, with it's simple grimy menacing beats, the mix of Martial Arts movie and classic soul music samples as well as the various but always agressive rhymes from all 9 members.  The majority of this album's jams can still be heard in clubs, on urban radio, and music television channels. It was, and still is hardcore rap at it's finest. It also launched succesful solo careers from nearly all of it's members, and RZA as an A-list producer.  

The first time I heard 36 Chambers was on my sister's old ass walkman before going to bed, and I never looked back.  Along with Doggystyle, it's the first rap album I ever listened to from start to finish, and holy shit, did I ever play the hell out of it, much to the annoyance of my 13 year old self's parents.  They still can't stand either of these albums, and it spawned their intense hatred of the genre, which instantly makes it great in my book.  I only wish every kid at that age could go through a musical revelation of such proportions, and if I had to recommend a record to someone who's never heard of hip-hop, this would be it.

Well, that's it for the Top 20 Greatest Classic Hip-Hop albums.  I thank you for your attention, and I hope I schooled all y'all on what made rap what it is today, though it doesn't explain Soulja Boy, or Kriss Kross for you old timers, and I don't feel like doing it either.  I'd probably have to chain smoke a pack of smokes and take a couple valiums just to not flip out.  There's not much good hip-hop on the airwaves these days, and maybe that's why I'm so nostalgic writing this.  If you're looking for today's good Hip-Hop albums, do me a favor... for fuck's sake don't look at what's playing on MTV, BET, MuchMusic or whatever the fuck TV, or radio is playing round the clock.  Let go of that Top 40 Billboard bullshit.  Look underground, look for J-Live, Kool G Rap, R.A. The Rugged Man, Aesop Rock, Definitive Jux records.  Take the Classic Cuts I listed here today and make yourself a bitching, jammin' mixtape.  Go old school, you'll appreciate.

Or else you'll turn into a Soulja Boy fan... 

(Debate/Bitch me out below)