One of the few benefits of moving approximately fifty times by the age of 18 is the fact that I was exposed to several distinct cultures along the way. This fact of my life also coincided with the rise of what was now obviously the golden age of hip-hop and rap in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was during this time that the burgeoning form of music experienced acceptance into the mainstream through the transcendent work of some of its best artists. Since that time the music has changed, and I’m just going admit that I am repeating a cliché in saying that much of today’s stuff is shit.
That said there are plenty of people out there today who for some reason (Dorrough) or another (Soldier Boy) who refuse to give rap a chance. I am of the opinion that broadly denouncing any form of music without providing at least some exceptions is counter productive and silly, as you can almost always find at least one artist or one song that you can listen to without losing your mind (haters of Country Western need to Google “Johnny Cash” before they start spouting shit). In that same spirit I give you ten songs that I think can convince someone that rap has something to offer even the most hating of haters.
Big Daddy Kane: Warm It Up, Kane
Big Daddy Kane can be played at any party in 2012 and outshine the likes of Lil’ Wayne or virtually any MC out there today. I discovered this song myself in Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” (which also introduced me to Cymande) and I fell in love with the simple yet fantastic baseline and occasional record squawks behind Kane’s machine gun like delivery. If you like this you should also check out “Smooth Operator” and “A’int No Half Steppin”.
Eric B. and Rakim: Don’t Sweat The Technique
Rakim is god. His solo stuff today is decent but I’m still obsessed with all of his work with Eric B, where the duo borrowed heavily (as you can tell from this song) from jazz records in order to create their (at the time) unique sound. If you like this you should check out “Paid in Full” (possibly the most sampled hip hop song ever) or the scarily prescient anti-war song “Casualties of War”.
Gang Starr: Mass Appeal
I discoverd Gang Starr in 2002 while listening to “Robin Hood Theory” on the alternative college radio station out of Troy (upstate NY) in 2002. I soon found out that literally EVERY SONG that Guru and DJ Premier created are amazing. Seriously, check out “Code of the Streets”, “Jazz Thing”, “Above the Clouds”, or “Moment of Truth”. It is ALL GOOD. Guru (and his uniquely awesome delivery) are no longer with us, but DJ Premier is still out there producing the consistently best beats in rap today.
Black Moon: I Got Cha Opin
I found Buckshot and Black Moon courtesy of another Spike Lee movie as there prime was largely obscured in the 1990’s by Biggie and the other plethora of prominent east coast acts during that period. However today I still listen to this group consistently more than probably any other group on my well worn IPod. You also need to check out “Buck ‘Em Down”, “Reality”, or any of Buckshot’s solo work with 9th Wonder.
Smif N Wessun: Shinin…Next Shit….
In the vein similar to Buckshot and Black Moon a fan who enjoys jazz based beats could fall in love with Smif and Wessun. They recently released a record with Pete Rock, and it sounds great. In case you are bored at this point by 1990’s East Coast Rap I have to apologize as this is most of what I listen to.
Wu Tang Clan: Bring da Ruckus
In my mind (even today) there is the Wu Tang Clan and then there is everything else. They still tour today even with most of the members of the group mainly doing their (excellent) solo projects. Wu’s first album, Enter the 36 Chambers, is still the gold standard for what rap should sound like. The best solo projects come mainly from Ghostface Killah and Raekwon. I also hear that they give great financial advice.
Public Enemy: Shut’em Down
No one has ever paired the political sound inherent in rap with transcendent lyrics as well as Chuck D. Unfortunately most people probably only know of this group today because of Flava Flav’s reality show, which is a real shame given the fact that PE is as relevant today as it was in the 1980’s. If you are a metalhead you should also check out their collaborations with Anthrax, especially “Welcome to the Terrordome”.
A Tribe Called Quest: Electric Relaxation
Drew Magary over at Deadspin joked recently that Tribe’s popularity amongst white people means that member Q-Tip has “rapped in front of more Bowdoin graduates than any other human being in history”. This may or may not be entirely accurate statement but Tribe’s crossover appeal, but it should nevertheless not diminish from the mark that this trio left on the music. Frankly we need overtly positive rap to balance the sometimes overly cynical nature of the harder stuff or the overly stupid party music which dominates today’s zeitgeist.
Geto Boys: Mind Playing Tricks On Me
The South has always had something important to say about music, and the Geto Boys represented Houston with an earnest ferocity and level of sophisticated observation that put the rest of the country on notice. Without the Geto Boys you can argue than none of today’s southern rap would be around, although most of today’s stuff should have probably never leave the Atlanta strip clubs where they are first exposed to the public. You are also safe listening to virtually anything that UGK and Outkast put out, and Big K.R.I.T sounds promising as well.
Reflection Eternal: Just Begun
Okay I chose this one because it allows me to cheat a bit in introducing several artists at once. The members of Blackstar (Mos Def and Talib Kweli) are still producing today’s consistently best rap, and Jay Electronica from New Orleans is the best lyricists I have heard since Obama was elected. All of these artists collaborate frequently with Common and MF Doom, producing a movement which carries the metaphorical flag of what this music should sound like.
So that is my quick introduction for haters of this music. Obviously there are some major oversights (the lack of women on this list should provoke a swift and deserved ass-kicking against me in the comments) but I feel that it is a pretty decent introduction to the few hold-outs who insist that the art doesn’t speak to them. Please PLEASE add any additional songs or artists who you think non-rap people should hear before deciding that Lil Wayne and the myriad of even worse rip-off’s of Lil Wayne are the only things out there.