Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive right now, end of. His brilliant third album To Pimp a Butterfly (more here) has been the biggest and best thing in hip hop in ages and the first video to drop since it was released in march is now here, a glorious love in to the west coast he reps so brilliantly, tying in with the languid Dre and DJ Quik infected beat he rides in the song itself.
Low riders, check. Gangsters decked out in colours, check. Wife beater vests and ridiculous booties, double check. King of Hip hop? You know it.
Got sent the promo to the next EP on SoSure Music from Rucks recently, and it’s lovely emotive deep house. You can see a preview of it up above, with a voiceover that if I’m being honest, does grate a little. Don’t let that put you off when the EP drops in November though, because if you like New Jersey garage influenced house it’ll be right up your street.
This is DOPE. Illmatic is certified hip-hop royalty, arguably the finest album the genre has ever created, and this is a full length demo version of outtakes and tracks not used. It’s heavier on guest verses, with QB thoroughbreds Cormega, Screwball and of course AZ, with old school heads MC Serch, Kool G Rap and Biz Markie spitting too. It’s bloody great.
There’s a lot of repetition lyrically of what Illmatic’s lyrics would become, Back to The Grill flips a lot of the lines used in Represent and Nas will Prevail would go onto become ‘IOt aint hard to tell’ (and might have been better keeping this more subtle nod to MJ). But listening to this you can imagine this would still have seen Nas elevated to the upper echelons of rap had this appeared in the stead of Ilmatic.
Vocabulary spills he’s ill.
1. Understanding 0:00
Featuring AZ & Biz Markie
2. Life Is Like A Dice Game 3:12
3. Just Another Day In The Projects 5:51
4. Déjà Vu 9:04
Produced by Chris Winston
5. Back To The Grill 12:51
Featuring MC Serch feat. Chubb Rock & Red Hot Lover Tone
Produced by T-Ray
6. Everything Is Real 17:53
7. I’m A Villain 20:09
Produced by Large Professor
8. Number One With A Bullet 24:31
Featuring Kool G. Rap & Whiteboy
9. Nas Will Prevail (It Ain’t Hard To Tell Original) 28:47
Produced by Large Professor
10. On The Real (Original) 33:45
Featuring Akinyele, Screwball, & Cormega
11. Live At The BBQ 37:13
Featuring Fatal & Akinyele
It’s a sad week for Boston. Whilst the city is reeling in shock from the marathon bombings it’s also the anniversary of one of their strongest musical exponents death this week, and more precisely today. Three years ago rapper Guru, one half of legendary group Gang Starr, died.
As well as that Keith Elam pioneered jazz focused hip-hop even more with his Jazzmatazz projects, as well as the occasional guest verse proving his clout over and over again. It’s only right that the monotone master gets some five for the funk love. Roll up…
This was the first song that really got me into Gang Starr. They were on my radar as a teenager but this video was a permanent fixture on MTV Base in 1999 when sciving school was a necessity so I could stay up all night watching hip-hop videos. The cameos in the video, the shout out to Big L (again someone who I was just abotu to discover properly), and Guru
I copped the album shortly afterwards as well and realised the full scope of the group’s longevity and ability. I’ve been head-nodding to them ever since.
‘DWTYCK’ ft Nice & smooth
Lemonade is a popular drink and it still is. That’s all.
Gang Starr’s early work in particular was very much focused on exploring old jazz, both from a sample perspective and the way DJ Premier approached his production ethos. Along with the Native tongues crew they were repsonsible for the re-appreciation of the genre in much the same way the music of three to four years earlier had grinded out the funk licks of James Brown and Amceo Parker. Gugu took the ideology one step further though with a number of high profile cooloborations with high profile jazz musicians on the Jazzmatazz projects.
Digable Planets were another crew that dug jazz, and this remains one of Guru’s dopest guest verses. Rhymes and rhymes and rhymes, this is a great smoky hip-hop joint.
‘You Know my steez’
Whilst Guru could do aggression he was best when mellowing it out, and even better when he was doing the former by being the latter. And it doesn’t get much better an example of that than this absolute gem. A hallmark Premier production, the melancholy melody sounding butter over the splurging bass, was met by a lyrical masterclass from Guru.
There’s gems everywhere, from the way “Dropping lyrics that be hotter than sex and candle wax, while one dimensional emcees can’t handle that” shows how to be about one thing yet in style the same minute he dismisses emcees for lacking his intelligence, the whole thing is perfect.
Hip-hop have had few as great in an understated manner.
In two weeks time Liverpool is going to get schooled by the don. Big Daddy Kane is coming to town and you better believe it. Alongside the likes of Kool G Rap, Rakim, Slick Rick and Biz Markie, Kane is part of the pantheon of truly great late eighties solo rappers. Everything about him is iconic, from his ultimate braggadocio rhymes to the ridiculousness of his garbs, he had it going on.
Any rapper stunting owes him so much, Biggie’s avuncular arrogance, Kanye’s fashionista flyness, Jay-Z’s smooth swagger – Kane paved the way for all this and much more. In fact Jigga’s debt stretches further, with his early 90s pre rocafella days spent acting as an intermediary hype man for Kane at his shows. His first two albums are absolute classics, and there’s the fact that Rakim, RA FUCKING KIM, cooled the prospect of beef with him. You know when the God thinks twice about entering a battle with you, you’re pretty good.
While primarily a record in the classic Big Daddy batting off all competitors mould, he does deliver a few bars implying his acumen with the females, but it’s not as much as the title would have you belive. It’s less of a response to the anti-male diatribe of the same name from Sade than you might initially think, particularly as alongside the MJ Girls there’s samples from two of Marvin Gaye’s sexjams (‘Lets get it on’ & ‘Sexual healing’). Instead it’s just Kane doing what he does best, holding court like the don he is.
This is the ronseal of 80s hip-hop. Marley Marl’s splicing of James Brown and Bobby Byrd just about manages to avoid being dated and Kane just goes, as you’d expect, raw. He’s an absolute animal on the mic in this, just a relentless barrage of skill that is the calling card of one of the greatest. An absolute monument of the genre.
As posse cuts go this is up there with the best of them. The roll call features people who earned their stripes repping verse after verse in the Juice Crew, Tribe Called Quest and Grand Nubian, all coming together to show that they don’t need to swear to keep it going. It was of course an answer to the proliferation of Parental Advisory stickers which were rampant in hip-hop in time. It’s not the greatest 8 bars from Kane in his career, but he’s still smooth as ever and the track and video are amazing. Heavy D also looks ridiculous in prison style pyjamas, what’s not to love about that?
What marks Kane out from some of his peers is how graciously he’s aged. No rapper can ever maintain a scintillating appeal, but some slip from world domination to head in hands moments quicker than most. I’m looking at you KRS and Rakim. Kane however, has gone down the Slick Rick route of touring off the back of a legendary status and the odd track since his heyday and this gem from 2003, produced by DJ Premier, proves his mettle.
He’s still nice on the mic but rather than being on that arrogant tip here he is slipping into the paternal figure of hip-hop a man of his status should do. And his voice fits Preemo’s as ever on point production perfectly. The two recently joined up again for a nike commercial with the brilliant 28 bars, which features the genius closing gambit “I went on 28 just to raise the bars”. Don’t doubt this an emcee still with it.
Still the one. This is just a relentless surge of look at me I am boss; put-downs, big me-ups, the lot. From a lyrical point of view it’s hard to think of many songs that deliver an aura of greatness quite like this, and the calling card ‘I’m awesome’ records of rappers, be them Biggie’s ‘Unbelievable’, Jay-Z’s ‘So Ghetto’, Big L’s ‘Flamboyant’ and so on, all stand behind this. Everyone is a butter knife compared to Kane’s machete faced with this.
The video is gloriously lo-fi, a reminder of the lack of real money in hi-hop at the time, when you get the impression that the combined cost of the tracksuits worn by Kane and his dancers probably outweighs the overall budget. That’s not to say he isn’t looking hella fresh, with a chain that probably cost the GNP of an eastern European country and a general persona that is dripping swag. The iconic BDK tune.
Most importantly though, 1999 was the year hip-hop got good again. Really good. Slick Rick did what the likes of KRS-one and Rakim had been incapable of in recent years, return with a scintillating degree of relevancy, the dirty south started to get really hot with the help of Mannie Fresh and an upstart from Detroit proved being melatonin deficient wasn’t a guarantee of being poor. That rapper in question, a certain Eminem, also brought with him maybe the most important development in hip-hop’s post millenium popscape… the return to prominence of Dr Dre. But most of all the music was just fantastic.
I recently linked to the Czarface album as they heralded the year as a golden age for hip-hop and whilst there’s better points historically for sure, this definitely stands up as one of the finest 12 months the genre has ever seen. Here’s five of the choicest cuts from that time period, and apologies in advance for the andre heaviness.
Few rappers go onto live up to their earlier work a decade afterwards. Nas did so last year with ‘Life is Good’, his second best album after Illmatic, but 1999 was a time when two of the biggest forces in late eighties rap appeared from the doldrums to capture the critical consensus once more. The first was golden age icon Slick Rick, who’s ‘Adventures of Storytelling‘ is an absolute classic. Peppered with star turns from big hitters of the time such as Nas, Raekwon and Canibus, it brought his sinister sense of humour back to the forefront alongside that butter flow. One of the standout tunes was Big Boi returning the star turn Ricky gave on the remix of Outkast’s song of the same title, with the glorious Street Talkin. So, so good.
From 1993-1997 Wu Tang were flawless. Raekwon, GZA and Ghostface delivered classic debuts, whilst Method Man and ODB managed to put forward compelling visions of their personality which if not classic were still very good, not to mention a litany of guest appearances across albums from 2Pac, Mobb Deep and Biggie. Of that five only one managed to deliver on their sophomore, in fact he went better on it. Ghostface.
Supreme Clientele is the greatest non debut Wu solo album ever, no question, and I’d probably say it was the best solo joint full stop. RZA tearing through awesome beats, Ghostface’s patented gibberish and this record, an example of how to go R&B and stay grimy. U-God putting a ruff rider on his dick and busting right through them vying for Tony Starks and that dressing gown for the finest jaw dropping moment in the three minutes of bliss, as the Wu shows Bad Boy how to take an obvious disco sample and keep it street. Jiggy Y2K style.
Slick Rick was the hot rapper from the 80s to come full circle, but undeniably Dre was the producer. Part of the story of how he clambered back to the forefront comes in lieu of this record…
Slim Shady had caught the attention of the underground with a runners up slot at the rap Olympics, a slew of underground bangers with Rawkus and the catchy ‘Just Don’t give a Fuck‘, but he really blew up with what seemed like a novelty single in the shape of ‘My Name is’ in early 1999. Dre produced it and has since said the plan was to make it as annoying as possible to ensure the word was out and follow it up with Eminem showing his true class. It was a tactical masterclass Jose Mourinho would be proud of and this record, the two of them sparring together on record, was the first of a series of relentless OMG moments from Slim.
The good/evil combination isn’t exactly original but the way it’s played out certainly is, Dre suddenly being reinvented as a paternal figure and then Eminem exposing the hypocrisy of ‘Mr NWA/Mr AK’ dishing out advice. If it had been a diss record it would of been a milestone, but for it to be something that he convinced Dre to do (and almost certainly ghost-wrote the lyrics that he responded with) it shows so much about the level of trust and respect Dre had gifted his protege at such an early stage, and the start of a glorious two years of shared creativity. It also shows as much as Em was a savagely humorous extortionist of questionable subject matter, he also utilised balance in his yarns, even if through the voice of overs. This would reach it’s staggering apex with Stan – incidentally introduced to the Slim Shady entertainment world in the second verse.
That subject matter was as disgusting as Eminem would become known for, advocating under-age rape, armed robbery and murder (even if done with delicious humour – the way he berates Dre’s explanation with ‘slipped, tripped, fell, landed on his dick’ a prime example), but at the time it was ridiculously exciting, unquestionably. Music fans very rarely get to live through super-stardom in real time (the percentage of Beatles fans on the planet around at their peak must be minuscule) but Eminem’s finest three years I lived through every step of the way and watched how the music only a few people in my school liked suddenly became omnipresent.
The Doctor again. Dre was ‘back’ through working with Eminem but he was doing so through the medium of a white trailer trash kid from Detroit and with a poppier focus; the next dawning of g-funk wasn’t hinted at yet. 1998 saw a blistering Dre production creep under the radar with the shape of old sparring partner Kurrupt on ‘Ask yourself a question‘ but one record snapped into focus and threw up the dubs. When ‘Bitch Please’ appeared on Snoop’s ‘No Limit Top Dogg‘ as one of three Dre productions, you knew this shit was back on.
Everything about this joint is perfect. When the beat kicks in with the drums and the low end rumbling it was seismic, I remember hearing this for the first time better than most milestones in my life. Xzibit, at that point an underground emcee with plenty of heat and no dodgy MTV show, drops the verse of his life which is littered with quotables, referencing his likwit connections, slick rick and Canibus in 24 breathless bars. He would go on to tread water for the majority of the rest of his career, but this was the reason why.
It was also the point where Snoop realised his future career, hot singles where the focus was on how he sounded over a ridiculous beat. His delivery here is this out there hybrid of crooner, pillow talk and street slang, completely alien to anything else and tailor made for the Dre sonics. And if that wasn’t enough Nate Dogg decides to turn up at the end and say ‘hey oh’ in the most amazing fashion. All four protagonists deliver resoundingly for what is a beyond brilliant masterpiece.
Pharoah Monche ‘Simon Says’
That riff. Those drums. The four note sample from Godzilla was inspired, and Pharaoh drifting brilliantly between his usual cerebral self and straight up club thug stance made the whole thing so much more accomplished. The added whut-whuts on the chorus deliver a broad chested swagger (that’s already evident in spades) and the lyrics flip between self-deprecating humour (“you sold platinum round the world, I sold wood in the hood”) and the clever way both verses end with 2if you holding up the wall then you missing the point” meant an emcee known for technical genius could dumb down with the best of them whilst still having that lyrical subtlety. This is a cat remember that no less an authority than The Alchemist cites as the greatest of all time.
The impact of the record was so much certain commentators even labelled it as the beginning of the end for Rawkus who suddenly saw a product rather than an artform, which is a delicious irony considering the impact it has when it sounds. It’s just brasher and louder than everything else going, M1 & Stic-Man aside. Big and clever? Only in the hands of the Pharoah. An anthem of epic proportions.
Don’t worry, none of the ones here are included at FACT (although artists and directors are, creativity in the realms doesn’t appear to be that spread out) and I’ve also thrown some love to one or two that aren’t particularly arty. And one that is just awful. Enjoy!
Whilst director Michel Gondry is rightly lauded for his masterpiece effort on Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’ (featured at FACT), he took the same principle of focusing on the components of a dance music record to create this lush video for Star Guitar. The terrain and passing vehicles are among the visual juxtapositions that reference each introduction of sound the record weaves in.
It’s a delightfully subtle counterpart to the Chem’s stage shows of blistering audio-visual bombast as well, reflective of the fact the track itself was much more languid than their previous offerings. A thoroughly hypnotizing opus that flips the challenge possessed in visualising instrumental music.
Taken from round about the same time as Star Guitar, this riotous slab of loon-house simply wouldn’t have worked with a subtle and deft video. So they go for an absolutely nuts one, involving the fusion of pop stars with monkeys to create a musician/hominoid abomination. You could argue there is a meaning to all this as some critique of the music industry, but the best thing to do is just watch it and embrace the madness.
This is never going to win any awards, either as a record or as a video, but this sums up the mainstream Ibiza experience of the 90s in a nutshell. A scantily clad Morales boards a train on which he sees Sonique and Judge Jules, and then proceeds around the island via villas, couples kissing on the beach and, of course, DJing at Pacha. The track is just incessant sunshine as well, not as raw as ‘The Bomb‘ but an undeniable summertime anthem. But he’s running a lot? What is it about dance music videos and running?
From the sublime to the insane and the feel-good, to the just downright horrendous. I’ll admit it, as an eighteen year old slowly putting puberty behind me I loved this record, but even then I was pretty baffled by the video. We see a DJ with terrible hair and even worse headphones sitting off by a public landmark, one can only assume this is pop-trance maestro Darude. Then a girl runs out with a silver briefcase clasped in her hand, only to be chased by a bald man and another woman. They all look like they’re dressed like lifeguards.
The chase goes on, occasionally interspersing the shots with barking dogs, Darude looking cool inside a car with some lime green wraparound shades and a series of brilliant slow motion snippets of them jumping. None of it ever relates to any rhythmic structure of the music, they do slow down slightly in the breakdown only to start running again before the beat kicks in again, and finally the bald man catches up his prey only to be double crossed by his partner who leaves him for dead on a train track. There’s always people running as well; why?
The two women skip off, yes skip, together hand in hand to be met by Darude at a private yacht, where they are seen lounging back with him in a brief pimp like clinch. Is the briefcase Darude’s record collection? The cure for cancer? Marsellus Wallace’s soul? Nope, it’s just evidence of electronic music’s capability to occasionally avoid creativity.
When this was originally released on Soma records in 1995 few would of predicted the position we would be in now, where a 13 second loop and a photo of two helmets can send the internet into raptures. However Daft Punk and of course Virgin behind them clearly recognised the bigger picture when installing Spike Jonze to direct this video accompaniment to the tough as you like house hip-hop hybrid. In the process, they’ve created arguably the greatest video accompaniment the most visually entrancing electronic music act ever made.
What makes it so enduring is the almost complete irrelevance the music plays to the track. The only link is the fact it’s playing from the boom-box of the protagonist, a human with a dog’s head called Charles. Said radio prevents Charles from following a potentially romantic get-up with an old friend he meets in a shop, but the total ambiguity about what it represent symbolises that even at an early stage, Daft Punk understood that restraint was the best way to create mystique – leaving a sea of questions rather than shaping the answers. Take note Darude.
Dave Seaman and Steve Parry are launching a brand new record label entitled Selador, with music forthcoming from Samu.l, Shall Ocin and Bushwacka!’s new alias Just Be, among others. Promising upfront house and techno across the spectrum, the debut release from Samu.l is a dreamy slice of deep house goodness complete with recognisable sample, which shows a very modern and dynamic twist for the music you might usually expect from Parry and Seaman.
What’s really exciting though is the way they are funding the first compilation release; via Kickstarter. The above video explains how to get involved, but essentially you put in for a project with differing levels of involvement. The more you pledge, the more you get out, but if they don;t secure the moolah needed the project never gets off the ground, so you only get charged if it goes ahead. Although this has been pursed in other angles of the music business, this is the first time it’s been put to the test in dance music.
With mix compilations not only under threat from piracy but the abyss of internet available DJ mixes clouding the market, it’s a measure which could change the make-up of the way this concept develops, or even add longevity to a market that is no doubt struggling in recent years. Head here for details on how to pledge.