Wow, just wow. King Kendrick’s third album has had me more excited than any other release I can think of in recent years, and the best part is the anticipation wasn’t even half the fun. The end result is ridiculous, hugely ambitious, varied in sonic scope and just all round boss. Even the 2Pac interview, which I wasn’t sure on at first, might even be an artistic merit. I wrote a review for Skiddle, but elsewhere the internet lost it’s shit in many ways, as the below video from Complex outlines.
As recent as September 13th I wrote on this site about how 2Pac had never created a ‘classic’ album, and that was after a jaunt through his old material. Whilst that statement still holds true in light of the bloated but at times brilliant All Eyez on Me many hold up as his ultimate classic, I must have been in a pretty bad mood when I reappraised one of the ultimate listens from my teenage years. That was his follow up under the Makaveli pseudonym, The Don killuminati – I got to grips with it again about a fortnight later and put simply it’s one of the most surprisingly well aged and era defining acts of bravery any rapper ever committed, and the ultimate gesture in me putting forward the case for Shakur as more than a posthumous bastardisation.
To really appreciate this album you need to view it in the context it was released in. The aforementioned All Eyez on Me was more of an event than an album, Shakur’s iconic pairing with Death Row that signified hip-hop as a huge, pop music revolution. It brought in the era of two disc opuses, which for all their problems (essentially loads of filler alongside the killer) was what every rapper or group, from Scarface, Wu, Bone Thugs and of course Tupac’s sparring partner Biggie, aspired to in the late nineties. It was the dominant sound of hip-hop’s new cultural centre, Los Angeles, reigning down on high. This album was a complete departure in so many ways, Pac ripping up that formula mere months later with an album recorded in a week (his vocals took an astonishing three days), light on guests and at just twelve records long. It was also the first to drop on Death Row without their production figurehead Dre; everything about it was Shakur flying in the wind.
The album is cohesive from start to finish, showcasing the much maligned emcee at his best, a contemplative, passionate and rounded rapper that was entering his prime. Never the greatest lyricist, what Shakur does is put heart and soul into every lyric, and his delivery on this album is world class. It’s also a hugely brave record as well, no Snoop, Dogg Pound or star studded guests (only Outlawz and Badass offer any bars other than Shakur, with a very brief cameo from lady of rage and Danny Boy’s wailing on Toss it Up the only Row presence), and it could of very easily included the vitriolic ‘Hit Em Up’ as well to bolster it, but that grinded against the album’s mission if certainly not its message.
That message is the full force of his personal paranoia and hate, and any hip-hop fan will know that makes for fantastic source material in a genre existing within a moral vacuum. Even on the supposedly accessible tracks the venom is marked. Toss it Up, this album’s equivalent to the nasty sex classic How do you Want it, drifts off into a diatribe of the hate figures Tupac was squaring up against, notably Dre, Bad Boy records and various other east coast figures. A sex jam featuring high profile R&B singers mutating into a diss record? If ever a single record could distil the essence of hip-hop’s most complex ever figure this came close. Not even the feel-good ‘To Live & Die in LA’ can finish without a Dre slur, showing that Tupac was a man completely consumed by hate.
The production is also different, less G-Funk and more driven by bass guitars and even Latin flourishes, a Californian album through and through but squarely different to the prism Dre and Death row had patented, already showing Shakur’s work rate in looking beyond his days as Suge’s west coast henchman. And if All Eyez on Me made every one desperate to make huge collections, this album was markedly more subtle in its influence. Jay-Z jumping on the metaphors of ‘Me and My Girlfriend’ is well known but equally the feel of this album is splashed all over Eminem’s debut ‘Slim Shady LP’ – even Lauryn Hill’s meshing of guitars, hip-hop and soul sounds similar to what Pac brought here. And the likes of DMX, 50 Cent, Ja Rule and even Lil Wayne owe much to 2Pac’s appeal and relentless work ethic, not least the entire cult of Shakur which was fostered for better or worse by the rumours about his death this album stoked.
It’s clear this was an artist trying to create a legacy, aiming to break new ground and fashion a brand new identity for himself and temporarily Death Row, in the process creating the label’s one and only classic that wasn’t powered by Dre. Of course the wheels would come off, the album was released posthumously and Death Row collapsed to never once again reach the heights. But here’s there’s a glimpse into what might have been, and the final, essential opus from an artist who, love him or hate him, no-one can deny shaped the face of hip-hop inalterably in life and death.
I’ve mentioned earlier going to University changed the way I listened to music, and it also introduced me to people I’d never heard of previously, even in the realm of hip-hop where I rather naively considered myself a bit of an oracle (I most certainly wasn’t). One album soundtracked those years like no other, and that was DJ Shadow’s awesome masterpiece.
Hip-hop without a rapper seemed a bit pointless, but DJ Shadow threw that idea to the cleaners. Shadow teased the emotion and soul out of samples slowly and subtly, creating gorgeously haunting tracks that showed that music could retain the drama and allure without 16 bars spat out ferociously. His expert creativity managed to paint vivid stories and pictures that emcees could never do over a career, gifting hip-hop one of its most melancholy moments and a pointed reminder that this was an artform that was created by a DJ, not a chatterbox microphone wielder.
It broke earth shattering ground, the first album to ever to be solely constituted of samples. Glance on the above Wikipedia page to really see the depth in Shadow’s listening material and his attempts to very mindfully push the genuine agenda of hip-hop back into the mainstream rather than the dominant commercial sound he felt it had become. If the Bomb Squad and Prince Paul were using old Funk and Soul breaks as a means of reaffirming black history to their listeners, Shadow’s sprinkling of a similar resource alongside Golden Age hip-hop beats and rhymes ensured he let rip his own identity.
I mentioned the influence of Paul’s Boutique earlier, well this was the next stage, the birth in album format of the DJ as artist. The central figure in hip-hop’s revolution was now finally considered a worthy enough protagonist in the ultimate form of artistic expression, and whilst nothing of this ilk has ever come close since you could argue this as one of the five most influential records the genre has ever seen. More pertinently, in my eyes at least, it’s one of the best as well.
This weekend I am rocking up in London for Pump up the Volume, alongside headliner Tayo for the final set of the night. It’s a 90s revival party and it’s fancy dress, it will be beyond ridiculous and now there’s a natty DJ mix from the PUTV crew to promote it which you can stream below.
I’ve got my first London gig in just over five years on Halloween weekend, playing for 90s party-starters Pump up the Volume. It’s the fourth time I’ve played for PUTV, doing two festival gigs last year for them at Latitude and Isle of Wight last year and one show in the Shipping Forecast for them in march this year. But this will be me coming to their London centrepiece, and I’ll be alongside Tayo, main resident Wang Chung and Toby Williams. Facebook event details here.
I may even (gulp) record a mix to promote this gig, but I did get together a Spotify playlist chart based on my festival performances last year. Stream that below.
The utterly brilliant Complex Mag is pretty much an essential read for hip-hop fans, and in amongst the articles worth checking is this one from nearly 18 months ago which focuses on the 50 greatest beef songs in hip-hop. All the usual suspects are in here, 2Pac, KRS, LL, Eminem, 50 Cent and Dr Dre, and it’s difficult to agree with the top slot really for what is one of the greatest attacks of savagery on a career ever. Despite what popular opinion stateside may ahve attributed the winner of that beef to. Dig in here.
Last month I mentioned I was compiling a playlist for the Font and here is the final edit. There’s 150 tracks of pure aural goodness on the go, the thinking the same as last year in that it’s designed with a student friendly bar in mind. There’s a definite influence from Breaking Bad prevalent – as I’ve been a late comer to the series and completely engrossed by the music involved. Alongside that there’s everything from bass heavy hip-hop from Tyga and The Pack over to music raided from some of my favourite albums of the year so far – Jessie Ware, Frank Ocean, Justin Martin and Nas.
It’s also a bit more ‘current’ – the last one was much closer to the classic records that had been part of my DJ sets over the years whereas this is definitely more of a home listening experience with some slabs of bass music form Bondax, Disclosure and Last Japan all freshening up the student indie disco vibe, and things get a bit noisy towards the end as well. It’s tailored to fit a full day in the bar, so it’s a bit weighty to get stuck into but go for it anyway. Or just rock up to the gaffe and experience it in the environ with a pint of Liverpool Organic for yourself.
Today marks the sixteen year anniversary of the death of one of the most topical figures music, let alone hip-hop, has ever seen – Tupac Shakur. Loved by many and castigated by others, I’ve recently been revisiting his back catalogue and although he never made an absolute stone cold classic, none of the albums he released before his death either (including the Thug Life group he formed) are bad, and the one that immediately followed his passing, under the Makaveli pseudonym, is also solid. Posthumously of course he was nigh on horrendous but you can’t hate on him for that. Here’s the post I did on his Birthday where I tried to defend his legacy. He made great feel-good RnB inspired music, aggressive political full speed records with the Bomb Squad behind him and street focused wistfulness, all long before he met up with Suge Knight and Death Row Records or did a debut with Elton John from beyond the grave. If only more people knew about that side of his career.
What people also forget that on the exact same date, two years earlier, his rival and the man who he is always compared to, the Notorious B.I.G, released his debut album Ready to Die. Although at times flawed this was what Shakur never achieved, an absolute milestone in hip-hop and an album that still makes the hair stand on the back of my neck with some of the lyrics. Biggie was an absolute poet, no question, the opening salvo to ‘Warning’ is beyond brilliant and perfectly endemic of just how awesome he was an emcee. “Who the fuck is this, paging me at 5:46, in the morning crack of dawning, now I’m yawning, wipe the cold out my eye. See who’s this paging me, and why”. Seriously that is up there with William Blake.
Anyway, pay your respects to two of the most important figures in the music who are always inextricably linked even down to the finer details. And check Nick Broomfield’s documentary on their death if you haven’t already.
Today marks what would of been the 41st birthday for Tupac Shakur. As an actor, rapper and, originally with Digital Underground, a dancer, 2Pac as he later became known, was one of, if not the loudest, voices in hip-hop in the early to mid nineties. Everything he did, from arguably one of the greatest hip-hop based performances on celluloid of all time in Juice, up until his untimely death in 1996, screamed for attention. For better or worse he was an icon of the times, constantly provoking discussion and debate, love and hatred. He live, and died, by what he stood for.
Now now. We know his music has been overdone since his death. We know he wasn’t one of the most quotable emcees of his time. But I’m gonna stick my neck out here and say 2Pac was mad underrated. He’s done a few albums that stand up well, Makaveli, Thug Life and especially Me Against the World. Even the magnum opus on Death Row, All Eyez on Me, counts as something of a classic if you shredded it down a little bit. But becuase teengae fanboys revered him after he died (I’m gonna admit I was one circa 1997-2000) hiphop heads never give him his dues. So I’m gonna plead the case for his legacy to be re-appraised slightly. Through the power of five songs…
Seriously, is it possible to dislike this record? Shakur is just straight up clownin with the Digital Underground and singing about shagging loads of birds. But it’s playful misoygny (by Hip-Hop standards at least) and just loads of fun. Love, love, love it.
Yowzers. This is probably the most distilled record of hate ever made. It even trumps Bob Dylan. It’s venomous bile of a different kind, and pretty uncomfortable listening at times. It’s not the most skilful or important diss record ever (KRS stand up), but it is one of the best. Sadly indicative of a man about to be engulfed by the themes he rapped about, it’s nevertheless a fascinating piece of music.
“Before the BDP conflict with MC Shan, Around the time when Shante dissed the Real Roxxane”. So begins Nas on the final verse of his iller than ill ‘Represent’ track, painting a picture that is pure homage to the old school pioneers. One year later though and Pac went one further and delivered this classic tribute to the forefathers of hip-hop. Shakur knew his onions, and this is reverential to a point that his west coast partner Snoop never quite managed with Lodi Dodi and Vapors.
Pete Rock & Cl Smooth’s ‘TROY’ is the quintessential ‘dead homie’ record in hip-hop, but this languid effort from 2Pac’s Thug Life group is a worthy addition to the canon. Such was Shakur’s conviction to his cause that his body was the ultimate outlet for his branding of his ideas, quite literally, with his tattoos. Body art in music was certainly no new thing, but Shakur gave hip-hop it’s first real beyond the wax militant, worthy in dedication if not necessarily in cause to his Black Panther ancestry. Also if not in name but definitely in spirit, ‘Pain’ by 2Pac and Big Stretch, is probably the other timeless Thug Life record, lifted off the Above the Rim Soundtrack.
Still an absolute anthem! This is all about Dre in the last stand of g-funk, the final apocalyptic record he gave Suge and Death Row, but Shakur came out banging heads with a brutal call to arms verse that would characterise his violent, combustible and musically hit and miss stay on Death Row. This song and this video, which featured cameos from Chris Tucker and George Clinton with a brilliant nod to both The Warriors and Mad Max, should of started what was Death Row’s second golden age. Things sadly didn’t work out that way, but this is the sound of hip-hop taking over the world. That it didn’t quite happen for another four years is irrelevant, because this was the sonic boom bap that announced the music was going to top the charts across the planet.
That opening slavo, ‘Out on bail fresh out of jail, california dreamin’ is still up there in hip-=hop entrances. And one of the first records I truly, truly loved in the genre; if it had been a Soundgarden or Smashing Pumpkins song that had made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as a thirteen year old I might not be writing this blog today. And he did get that bomb beat from Dre and serenade the streets of LA.
Paid in Full was a movie from 2002 that looked at the crack epidemic in the mid 80s from a dealers point of view, funded by Rocafella records which, so the legend goes, were funded by similar japes during their inception (claims which have recived a little more coverage recently with this news about co founder Kareem Biggs).
Although the acting credits are bolstered by 8 Mile’s Mekhi Phifer and Wood Harris (better known as the improbably lithe drug kingpin Avon Barksdlae in the Wire and going further back as Motaw, the sidekick of Tupac Shakur’s Birdie in Above the Rim – pictured), they also feature a pretty solid performance from at the time Rocafella recording artist Camron. Considering his rap career consists of one decent song with the Magnum theme tune and somehow managing to make Ma$e look good in a supergroup this decent enough and watchable film is probably something he has a lot to be proud of. Oh and digging the colour purple.
I’ve been getting back into hip-hop themed films again a lot recently (Belly, Menace II Society et al) and for fans of the genre this is certainly appreciative. And Harris is genuinely one of the best people around to play intelligent drug dealers from the ghetto; his gangly swagger just as evident on this as in the Wire.