Friday, October 29, 2010

Hip-Hop's Greatest Album Cuts, Pt. 5

The final five.

5. "What a Mess" Xzibit Man vs. Machine
Xzibit has great songs. They're just spread out over all of his albums, hiding behind songs that aren't very good, unlike this one from "Man Vs. Machine." The X-man's collaboration with DJ Premier is a state of the union for hip-hop in 2002 and reminds us all that rap music has been a mess for a long, long time. X's justifiable anger and frustration are amplified by Primo's production, chock full of shredded samples and funky breaks.

4. "I Inherited The World" Mad Skillz From Where???
This song (from "From Where.") isn't some "I Am Legend," last man in the world-type stuff, as the lyrics would lead you to believe. I hear a young artist, a long way from home and wondering what's next as he began his new life alone. The Sean J. Period-produced track fuels this song about trappings of success, which keeps some people chasing their dreams and others running in the other direction.

3. "Shabba Doo Conspiracy" Chino XL Here to Save You All
Chino XL's "Here to Save You All," is an album littered with pop culture references that aren't as cool or clear as they were in 1996. But this gem of a track with Kool Keith has aged gracefully. Overflowing with vulgar punchlines and wicked wordplay, Chino and Keith curse the artistic corruption of gangsta rap using the career of dancer/actor Adolfo Quiñones as a metaphor. Unlike some of the rappers who have songs on this list, Chino and Keith still haven't gone pop.

2. "Standin' on the Korner" Young Black Teenagers Young Black Teenagers
Yeah, there was a lot wrong with the Young Black Teenagers concept. They weren't teenagers, they weren't black. But they could rap. The YBT used old school vocal techniques on this track and surrounded them with Bomb Squad production, elements I'm equally partial to. If Cold Crush had been steady making music into the 90's, it might've sounded something like this.

I'm still lookin' for a clip of this one.

1. "Gutfest '89" Digital Underground Sex Packets
Shock G voices three characters on this song (none of whom wear a prosthetic nose) and convincingly carries on a conversation with himself over manufactured mayhem. The song might be based on a fictional event, but the music is as real as good hip-hop it gets. Tommy Boy had the nerve to leave this off the initial CD release of "Sex Packets."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hip-Hop Greatest Album Cuts Pt. 4

6. "What's the Difference" Dr. Dre The Chronic 2001
Critics of Dr. Dre say his sound is dependent on the contributions of others, like this Mel-Man-assisted track from his 1999 comeback album. But whatever Mr. Young does in the studio, whether its sequencing, tweaking, filtering or straight jacking, it works. Mid-way through his sequel to his best-selling debut, Dre dishes on his personal relationships with The D.O.C., Easy E and presumbably, Ice Cube over a thick bassline and fractured horn hit. After a misstep with The Aftermath compilation, this song helped make the difference for The Doctor.
We're almost done counting down the songs that make good albums great and terrible albums almost listenable.

7. "She Watch Channel Zero" Public Enemy It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Back in the days when albums had sides, it was important to sequence songs carefully to prepare the listener for what's next. After the sonic onslaught of this song from "It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back," you were prepped for the second set of Public Enemy's greatest work. This little number is an indictment television's influence on society atop a Slayer sample and a James Brown beat.

8. "Children's Story" Black Star Black Star
Heeere we go. One of the many shining moments on the sole Black Star album, Mos Def flips Ricky Walter's script about a kid gone wrong to fit his tale of a rapper gone pop. A rare rap remake that builds on the legacy of the original.

9. "Oodles of O's" De La Soul De La Soul is Dead
De La Soul resurrected themselves with this song's hypnotic bassline, quirky samples and Trugoy's uncoventional flow. "Oodles," introduced "De La Soul is Dead," a record that redefined the Long Island trio's career, signaling the end of the daisy age and the death of innocence.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Best Hip-Hop Album Cuts, Day 3

My run down of the best hip hop album cuts of all time continues.

10. "Black Woman" Jungle Brothers Done by the Forces of Nature
In 1989, the Jungle Brothers released this valentine to African American woman. It's hard to hear this record without thinking about your moms, your wife, your girlfriend or the cafeteria lady from high school. The JB's were unashamed to offer women praise and adoration while their peers degraded them with and name-calling and cheap insults.

11. "MC Lyte Likes Swingin" Mc Lyte Lyte as a Rock
Even before he produced a group called De La Soul, it was clear Prince Paul wasn't a typical rap producer. This track begins with a sample that sounds like an interlude from a 70s game show and quickly morphs in to a hip hop delight, with upstart spitter Lana Moorer going for broke over a delicious break beat. Swing on this: Like 'Good Vibrations', I'm like Sunkist/The rap is smooth, 'cause it's sealed with chapstick/Not gonna say that I been rappin' since the day of birth/But I've acquired the knowledge like Ms. Butterworth.

12."Sons of 3rd Bass" 3rd Bass The Cactus Album
If you mistook Pete Nice, MC Serch and Richie Rich for Def Jam's replacements for the Beastie Boys, this song showed you how wrong you were. The three decimated the party boys turned art rappers with poetic put-downs and and verbal affrontery. The song let it be known that the trio would have much more than to offer on "The Cactus Album" besides their exciting first single.

13. "Just About Over" Goodie Mob Still Standing
After hearing this, it was clear that not only was Cee-Lo the best rapper in the Goodie Mob, he was something else entirely. Appearing on a single verse and the hook of this rocking guitar-driven track, he narrates an stirring meditation on fear and loneliness. All the other guys had to do was show up. Just about over? More like just getting started.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

25 Choice Cuts, Day Two

The list continues.

14. "Please Listen To My Demo" EPMD Unfinished Business
Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith shared the story of their humble begininings over a breezy loop that was a stark contrast from the hardcore sound of "Unfinished Business." Rappers don't always tell the truth, but this song has a degree of validity and humility that's audible.

15. "Grand Puba, Positive, & L.G." Brand Nubian One For All
This track is so infectious and funky there was no need for a clever title. Grand Puba shines on this cut from the street classic without his Brand Nubian brothers. Positive & L.G. filled in nicely and had you wishing more songs were a lot like this.

16. "Represent" Nas Illmatic
The centerpiece of one of hip hop's greatest albums. Nas conveys of the harsh realities of urban life over DJ Premeir's trademark boom-bapstic production. With casual references of rap beefs ("Before the BDP conflict with MC Shan/Around the time when Shante dissed the Real Roxxane") Nas pulls you into his state of mind and doesn't let go.

17. "Drink Away the Pain (Situations)" Mobb Deep feat. Q-Tip The Infamous
An jazzy ode to alcoholism disguised as just another street story from the Queensbridge duo, taken from "The Infamous." Q-Tip shares production credit and offers a artful verse that appeals to both the fashion conscious and criminal minded. "Daney take me away, Daney take me away."

18. "So Far To Go" Common featuring D'Angelo Finding Forever
Produced by the late J. Dilla, this track is a welcome shift on the Kanye West-dominated "Finding Forever." I'd like to pretend this song proves the reclusive R&B singer featured on the hook still has it, but the track was several years old when it was released here. It's timelessness is a testament to the extraordinary talents of the producer and the artists.

19. "Thirtysomething" Jay-Z Kingdom Come
The former Def Jam CEO birthed adult contemporary rap with this track from "Kingdom Come." Over a Dr. Dre beat, Mr. Carter welcomes the wisdom that comes with aging and makes it sound cool to be older that Lil' Wayne. A bold stance to assume in the face of hip hop's relentless youth movement.

Monday, October 11, 2010

25 Choice Cuts, Day One

"There used to be pride in the album cut ... " - Chuck Creekmur CEO, of

I've been holding on this post for the longest. I thought I better let it go before someone else does it better. Here are 25 of the greatest hip hop album cuts, some are parts of classic efforts, others are forever trapped among the duds of a wack release.

I'll be updating this list airday this week.

20. "Story Of My Life" The Marxmen (M.O.P.) Marxmen Cinema
The aggressive energy of the Mash Out Posse is contagious. Not even the R&B chick who sings the hook on this guitar-driven track, "Tanya" is immune. By the end of the number she's cursing along with the duo and nearly takes over this mixtape track. M.O.P. has perserved in an industry that doesn't seem to have a place for them and that's their story.

21. "The Doo-Wop" LL Cool J Bigger and Deffer
What was it like to be LL Cool J back in 1987? Mr. Smith breaks down the lifestyle of a rap star atop a Platters' loop and Cut Creator's scratches. The song takes us through a day in the life of the young, black and fabulous: wearing Devon cologne, eating cornflakes, wham-bamming freaks with minks and making more money than your Dad. The song ends with a unexpected moment of humility as Cool James admits it was all a dream.

22. "I'm Only Out for One Thang" Ice Cube & Flavor Flav Amerikkka's Most Wanted
Perhaps the first clue to the general public on how wild Flavor Flav really was. Turned loose on a Bomb Squad track with South Central's illest, Flav sounds like 90s era Donald Goines without the subtlety. This shade of Flav closed the first side of this record and confirmed that Ice Cube's debut as a rap landmark.

23. "Kick in the Door" The Notorious B.I.G. Life After Death
The late Christopher Wallace wore suits and rhymed over R&B loops, but his street cred was never in question. Songs like this one are the reason why. Biggie eclipses the rappers that inspired him with ferocious wordplay and DJ Premier's prodigious production. The music starts after the skit, around 1:14.

24. "Word From Our Sponsor" BDP Criminal Minded
This track follows "Wadadang," one of the first hip-hop songs to show a strong jamaican influence. That songs' patios and Krs-ONE's attempt at singing were a bit of jolt, but after a few seconds of "Word From Our Sponsor," you were reminded that you were listening to something special. KRS takes a trite phrase from the early days of television and makes it an anthem for his life and mission.

25. "On the DL" The Pharcyde
The title of this song reminds us all how the media destroyed a perfectly good catch phrase when they gave it a slightly different meaning. We all have our secrets, but the Pharcyde's confessions are just unlikely and unusual as their debut, "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde." J. Swift's jazzy production is perfect landscape for the group's secret shames and dark desires.

Stone Cold Rhymes

The new Son of Bazerk and No Self Control album is out. I'm looking forward to a physical copy, but itunes or Amazon will do for now.