Posts tagged ‘rap’

The Re-Ups: Rap in the 90s Vols. 1-3

Rap in the 90s

Rap in the 90s

This should go without saying but – in case it’s not abundantly clear – these compilations are intended as samplers, designed to generate interest in and real-world sales for the artists featured. So, if you hear any stuff you particularly like on these comps (and you will), please do the right thing – support the artists by purchasing their work, preferably on vinyl.

One of the (many) great things about classic 90s hip-hop is that a lot of it has managed to stay in print on vinyl and CD. Presumably, paid downloads are also easy to come by. So there’s really no excuse, is there? Get downloading, have a listen and then go shopping!

Rap in the 90s Vol. 1

Rap in the 90s Vol. 1

Rap in the 90s Vol. 1
1. KRS-One – “Sound of the Police”
2. A Tribe Called Quest – “Award Tour”
3. Digable Planets – “Jettin'”
4. The Pharcyde – “Soul Flower (Remix)”
5. Souls of Mischief – “93 ‘Til Infinity”
6. Jeru the Damaja – “Mental Stamina”
7. Gang Starr – “Blowin’ Up the Spot”
8. Mobb Deep – “Shook Ones Part Two”
9. Black Moon – “Buck ‘Em Down (Remix)”
10. Gravediggaz -“Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide”
11. Wu-Tang Clan – “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber, Part 2”
12. Nas – “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”
13. Goodie Mob – “Cell Therapy”
Click here to download Rap in the 90s Vol. 1

Rap in the 90s Vol. 2

Rap in the 90s Vol. 2

Rap in the 90s Vol. 2
1. Ol’ Dirty Bastard – “Brooklyn Zoo”
2. GZA/Genius – “Investigative Reports”
3. Capleton & Method Man – “Wings of the Morning”
4. Method Man & Redman – “How High?”
5. Keith Murray – “Get Lifted”
6. Busta Rhymes – “Whoo Ha! Got You All in Check”
7. Smif-N-Wessun – “Bucktown”
8. Black Moon – “Reality”
9. Craig Mack – “Flava in Ya Ear”
10. Blahzay Blahzay – “Danger”
11. Onyx – “Slam”
12. Smoothe da Hustler – “Murdafest”
13. Nine – “Any Emcee”
14. Brand Nubian – “Word is Bond”
15. Lost Boyz – “Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless”
16. Channel Live – “Mad Izm”
17. Tha Alkaholics – “Contents Under Pressure”
Click here to download Rap in the 90s Vol. 2

Rap in the 90s Vol. 3

Rap in the 90s Vol. 3

Rap in the 90s Vol. 3
1. Eric B. & Rakim – “Mahogany”
2. Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth – “Funky Technician”
3. Main Source – “Vamos a Rapiar”
4. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – “They Reminisce Over You (TROY)”
5. Redman – “Blow Your Mind”
6. Diamond and the Psychotic Neurotics – “*!*! What U Heard”
7. Showbiz & A.G. – “Represent”
8. Das EFX – “Krazy wit da Books”
9. Lords of the Underground – “Here Come the Lords”
10. Brand Nubian – “Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down”
11. Artifacts – “C’mon wit da Git Down”
12. Fu-Schnickens – “Breakdown”
13. Ahmad – “Back in the Day”
14. Big L – “Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous”
15. Raekwon – “Ice Water”
16. Funkmaster Flex – “Nuttin but Flavour”
17. Frankie Cutlass – “Puerto Rico/Black People”
Click here to download Rap in the 90s Vol. 3

November 13, 2010 at 10:00 am 7 comments

Gang Starr – Hard to Earn (Chrysalis) 2LP

Gang Starr - Hard to Earn

Gang Starr - Hard to Earn

Gang Starr’s fourth album, Hard to Earn was released in 1993. While Daily Operation, the album that preceded it, is generally considered to be Guru and DJ Premier‘s master-work, Hard to Earn is surely the duo’s most ambitious set.

Guru is not exactly what you might call a “whack emcee” but – as he basically admits on one of  Hard to Earn‘s lesser cuts – his appeal is “Mostly tha Voice”. That richly textured monotone delivery is certainly appealing enough but his writing has always been fairly pedestrian. The fact is, you don’t really listen to Gang Starr for the lyrics.

What you do really listen to Gang Starr for is Premier’s production. And Hard to Earn sees the man at the peak of his powers – a level of prowess he managed to maintain into ’94, when he co-produced Jeru the Damaja’s classic The Sun Rises in the East.

It’s easy to see why people like Daily Operation so much. That album represents a quantum leap in the sophistication of Primo’s beat science – ditching straight soul and funk loops in favour of micro-edited snippets of moody modern jazz and soundtrack recordings. (This development was somewhat akin to My Bloody Valentine’s transition from Ecstasy & Wine to You Made Me Realise). But it was on Hard to Earn that he took this sound to its logical extreme. Here, the drum tracks are militarily clipped and and terse and the sample loops are boiled down to hermetic cells of sound.

The type of “true school” ’90s hip-hop that Hard to Earn seemingly epitomizes is often derided by critics for being too self-consciously “musical”. But tracks like “Tons’o’Guns” and “Brainstorm” pretty much jettison harmony and melody in favour of dizzying barrages of abstract sound. Essentially, what Primo does on Hard to Earn is take The Bomb Squad’s rhythm-and-noise approach and shoot it full of holes – creating plenty of dub space in which the whirring, whining noises can breath (DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill was doing something similar around the same time).

It should be noted however, that this album certainly does not skimp on the funk. “Code of the Streets” lays an irresistible up-tempo beat under lush descending strings, while “Blowin’ Up the Spot” reanimates a truly fabulous Clavinet-fuelled groove to righteous effect.

Hard to Earn is over-long – it starts to tail off about three-quarters of the way through – but the bulk of the album is truly astonishing and quite removed from anything Gang Starr has done before or since. Daily Operation may be the fan favourite but Hard to Earn is a record everyone needs to pay respect to.

February 1, 2010 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Black Moon – Diggin’ in dah Vaults (Wreck) CD

Black Moon - Diggin' in dah Vaults

Black Moon - Diggin' in dah Vaults

Black Moon’s Enta da Stage is the mighty Woebot‘s favourite ’90s rap record, so you know these guys are worth the time of day. Enta da Stage certainly makes an impression – it must be one of the darkest hip-hop albums ever released.

Early on, Black Moon had some sort of association with Mobb Deep. Both crews certainly espoused a similarly bleak worldview but whereas Mobb Deep wrapped this worldview in all sorts of half-baked Social Darwinist rhetoric, Black Moon seemed to simply accept their harsh ‘90s reality, no questions asked. They weren’t interested in self-justification – which somehow made them even scarier.

Diggin’ in dah Vaults is a compilation of singles, B-sides and outtakes, released some time after the Black Moon crew’s 1995 break-up (they later reformed but never quite managed to recapture their initial spark of inspiration). For the most part, it reprises songs from Enta da Stage, adding lusher production and more sophisticated, melodic emceeing.

While Enta da Stage is a devastatingly effective statement of intent, lead emcee Buckshot and producer Evil Dee both reached peak form on these later tracks. Buckshot’s voice had, by this point, taken on a unique, insinuating rasp and a lilting singsong cadence. Evil Dee, meanwhile, was draping woozy, menacing soundscapes over crisp, minimal beats.

“Buck ’em Down (Remix)” is exemplary – replacing the original version’s stark, staccato sound with something at once breathlessly psychedelic and utterly merciless. “Ack Like U Want It (DJ Evil Dee Remix)” and “Murder MCs”, meanwhile, are prowling, deep and subtly dissonant.

This is nasty, nasty but utterly seductive stuff. It’s hard not to feel like a voyeur listening to these tales of inner-city brutality. It’s also hard to shake the feeling that you might be the next victim.

And yet Diggin’ in dah Vaults is a deeply rewarding listen. In the final analysis, it seems like a heartfelt attempt to find some oblique kind of beauty in the midst of incredibly dark circumstances.

Looks like you can buy Diggin’ in dah Vaults from Amazon.

September 7, 2009 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Antipop Consortium – Fluorescent Black (Big Dada) 2LP

Antipop Consortium - Fluorescent Black

Antipop Consortium - Fluorescent Black

The power that received opinion continues to have over music criticism is really incredible. You’d think the Internet would have caused unconventional and iconoclastic viewpoints to proliferate. In fact, the Web has merely provided more efficient ways for narrow-minded dogmas to gain utter hegemony over the critical discourse. The major print publications and Web portals can  pigeonhole an artist on Monday and by the end of the week, the whole blogosphere is parroting the party line.

This is more than mere consensus building – it’s the reconfiguration of musical reality from the ground up. Case in point: post-rap pioneers Antipop Consortium. Over the course of two albums, APC proved themselves to be one of the most inventive, exciting and downright funny groups working in any genre. But because of their association with experimental music and the deathly unfashionable indie rap movement of the early ’00s, APC have found themselves universally branded as po-faced pedallers of fun-free obscuritanism.

Here’s where the reconfiguration of reality comes in. Just about anything you’ll read about APC will tell you that their songs don’t have hooks. In fact, at least half of their tracks have choruses that range from pretty catchy to maddeningly memorable. Perhaps that’s what you get for calling yourselves “Antipop Consortium”. Still, this case really goes to show how people will toe the critical line in the face of massive contradictory evidence.

Antipop called it a day six years ago. The crew’s individual members went on to pursue a range of rather unsatisfactory projects before deciding to reform a year-or-so ago. The upshot of this most welcome reformation is APC’s third album, Fluorescent Black. So is the magic still there?

Well Fluorescent Black is certainly Antipop’s weakest full-length. It’s a sprawling, uneven affair that can’t decide whether to settle on the spooky experimentalism of Tragic Epilogue or the avant-party vibe of Arrhythmia. It contains some pretty major misfires too, including a few highly jarring bursts of heavy rock instrumentation and a slightly embarrassing cameo from Roots Manuva – who just can’t keep up with Beans, Sayyid and Priest’s galloping rhyme-flows.

But when Fluorescent Black is good, man is it ever great! On the whole, it works best when going way out on a limb. The descriptively named “Timpani” consists of little more a kettle drum loop, a few dark atmospherics and some seriously munted vocal samples.  Oh and an italo disco outro. “Get Lite”, meanwhile, is based around some dizzying synth arrpeggios and more-than-usually breathless rhyming. It’ll make you lite headed.

Antipop’s LPs tend to be growers. Fluorescent Black could easily end up being one of the albums of the year. Don’t listen to the critical consensus, this is some serious fun!

Fluorescent Black will be released by Big Dada on September 29th.

September 3, 2009 at 6:02 pm 2 comments

Big L – Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous (Columbia) LP

Big L - Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

Big L - Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

And where – you might be forgiven for asking – is the hip-hop? Well, first of all, we try not to call it “hip-hop” too much around here. Hip-hop is an aerobics class you can take at some yuppie gym. What we’re talking about here is rhyming, emceeing… rapping. And few have rapped better than the legendary Big L.

Big L was arguably the most talented emcee in producer Diamond D’s perennially (commercially) underachieving Digging in the Creates posse (D.I.T.C.) He first came to the rap world’s attention with a guest spot on “Represent”, the stand-out cut from Runaway Slave, Showbiz & AG’s classic 1992 album. On this track, L fairly bursts into life: “Yo, on the mic is Big L, that brother who kicks flav’, God/Known for sending garbage emcees to the graveyard.”

While L’s considerable talent was immediately obvious to anyone who heard the opening lines of “Represent”, he didn’t get to release his own solo album until 1995 – right at the tail end of hardcore hip-hop’s early-’90s golden age. Sadly, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous ended up being his only proper full-length release – he died in 1999, leaving the follow-up uncompleted.

What’s so great about Big L, then? Well, to really understand that, you first have to look at what’s not so great about Big L. The thing is, perhaps more than any other emcee, Big L represents the central conundrum of rap music: how can such ugly sentiments be expressed so beautifully? On “Da Graveyard” L spits: “I make a duck shed much tears/I buck queers/I don’t have it all upstairs/But who the fuck cares?”

So, the sentiments expressed on Lifestylez… are ugly, even by the standards of mid-’90s rap. In particular, L’s homophobia is utterly rancid and unforgivable. He rhymes about his professed love of murdering homosexuals on just about every cut – to the point that it gets a little ridiculous.

And it’s that very ridiculousness that contains the seed of Big L’s salvation. See, while the gritty street tales of Lifestylez… go out of their way to “represent the real”, as all hardcore hip-hop lyrics must, L had a tendency to blow things way, way out of proportion. At one point, does he really rap about killing his own momma for small change?

Big L instinctively understood that emceeing is all about elevating boastfulness to a high art. Unlike a lot of emcees, though, he also understood that you have to make that shit funny and – above all – musical. “M.V.P.” may just be the high-water mark of funny, musical boasting in rap music: “In a street brawl I strike men/Quicker than lightning/You seen what happened in my last fight, friend?/A’ight then!”

“Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous” is not only the album’s title track, it’s also the perfect summation of Big L’s lyrical aesthetic, containing classic couplets like “Yo, I admit I’m a sucker/A low down dirty, sneaky, double crossin’, connivin’  muthafucka/Breakin’ in cribs with a crow bar/I wasn’t poor, I was po’/I couldn’t afford the O.R.” and “Some say I’m ruthless, some say I’m grim/Once a brother done broke into my house and I robbed him!”

Like all D.I.T.C. releases, this album has fantastic beats – eerie, inventive and dangerously funky. But it’s Big L’s prodigious lyrical talent and his ability to charm the listener against all odds that make Lifestylez… such a stand-out classic.

It’s hard not to feel that the ruthless, homophobic psycho Big L portrayed in his lyrics was merely the creation of a very smart artist, who new how to play up to the very specific demands of hardcore hip-hop’s core audience, while subtly subverting those same demands with wit and sly self deprecation.

On other albums from this period, the token “conscious” track can sound very contrived. But the conscious  single from this album, “Street Struck”, sounds incredibly heartfelt. Knowing that L had two brothers who did time in prison puts real emotional weight behind lines like: “I’ve seen a lot of my peers/Give up their careers/For some fast money/They could have been boxers, ball players or rap singers/Instead they bank robbers and crack slingers/Hey yo, they used to be legit kids/Now they corrupt/They had dreams but gave ’em up/’Cos they street struck .”

Big L’s death was a pretty sorry affair. In fact, the story of L’s demise reads like one of his own sick jokes. He was shot and killed in an apparently senseless incident – a tragic crime that remains unsolved to this day. The best the cops could figure it, he was killed as revenge for something one of his brothers did in jail.

Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous seems to be in circulation as a vinyl LP, which you can obtain via Discogs marketplace.

September 1, 2009 at 9:00 am 1 comment

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