I do love a fun filled European rave extravaganza, and this Sunday I have quite the party lined up for me in Madrid. Home of arguably the most amazing ice cannon in the world, I’m told Fabrik is up there with the finest clubs on the planet and naturally I’m exceedingly excited about what is in store for me. Delve onto their Facebook page to get the green eyed monster in you frothing.
The below vid isn’t the greatest in quality but does give you an insight into the impressive cannon!!! Full review to follow next week on one of the sites I write for…
An absolute gem of an article, dealing with the fallout from the Jimmy Saville scandal and in particular it’s significance in the history of the role of the DJ. Greg pulls no punches about the implications for another much loved former BBC DJ unaccountable for his misdemeanour’s in death, John Peel, and drops some measured input on the historical assertions Saville made about his pioneer status alongside the likes of Kool Herc, Franics Grasso and many more. Bit of a long read butt essential anyone with any kind of interest in DJ culture.
The next guest selector is Bido Lito scribe and Liverpool DJ the Mighty Mojo, a jock who was an institution in Bumper for a few years and now lays down beats in heebies on a Saturday and Santa Chupitos on a Sunday. I’ve chewed the fat with Mo about hip-hop at a ridiculously high amount of after-parties over the years so he was a natural choice to contribute… even if he took a bit more coaxing than I expected after he believed his choices would be too similar to the earlier ones made by Darren Williams.
Which was odd, because I didn’t consider Darren’s selections to subscribe that readily to the classic hip-hop canon (No PE, Dre, De la for example) and what Mo mustered equally only paid lip service to a few of them. Anyway; I’ll let the man himself breathe his voice, and be sure to check out his weekly discourse on his blog The View from the Booth.
To distill all of hip hop down to 10 albums is very tricky for me, and not just because I’m an indecisive bastard. A lot of my favourite hip hop artists never quite nailed it over a full album, hence the likes of Nas, Redman, NWA, Roots Manuva and A Tribe called quest aren’t represented. There are some obvious choices in here, but that’s because the main criteria is which albums have given me the most joy down the years. I accept that I could wake up tomorrow with a very different list, but right now, these are the pinnacle.
10. Labcabincalifornia – The Pharcyde
I discovered this off the back of the best video of all time (c) for Drop, and realised there was so much more to be had. Most people I know prefer the cartoon energy of Bizarre Ride, but to produce the difficult post-fame 2nd album they had to freshen up their style a bit. Songs like Something that means Something and the peerless Runnin’ are testament to how well they did it.
9. The Grey Album – Danger Mouse
Controversial! I know there are people who will never acknowledge the creativity necessary to produce an album like this, but as a man who has attempted to do something similar, I can tell you it takes a truly deft hand. The way he twists the Beatles’ work into a hip hop template while retaining a lot of the original melodies is remarkable. I like that I can still tell which Beatles song was used, and there isn’t one single track on which I prefer the original production. The Black Album is probably Jay’s most consistent set, but he could be singing nursery rhymes and I’d still love this album.
8. Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030
This was a straight toss up with Dr.Octagon, but due to consistency across the whole album Deltron takes it. Dan the Automater, Del tha Funkee Homosapien & Damon Albarn may have received more praise (and pounds) for their Gorillaz work, but this is their best collaboration. The murky atmospherics are the perfect background for Del’s flow as he weaves his way through complicated themes of space and oppression. For some they may take the space opera bit too far, and they probably didn’t need 9 skits, but when they set about making tunes, they don’t fuck around.
7. Blow your Headphones – The Herbaliser
Some may argue against The Herbaliser’s hip hop credentials, but even a cursory listen would knock those complaints into a cocked hat. The best example of female MCs outrhyming their male counterparts, even the idea fragments such as More Styles are fantastic. Had more plays than every album on this list bar the top three.
6. Quality Control – Jurassic 5
A lot of people prefer the J5 LP, but to me that’s more of an EP, as there’s really only 6 songs on there. Plus Concrete & Clay is much better than Concrete Schoolyard. Quality Control is when they were at the top of their game, taking 4 MCs and making them sound like 1. Like Mos Def, the Jazz influence is integral to what makes them great – Jurass Finish 1st, Monkey Bars and Swing Set is the kind of hip hop your parents can tolerate, but isn’t Will Smith.
5. When Disaster Strikes – Busta Rhymes
I almost didn’t put this in once I’d seen Darren’s selection, but it would do a great disservice to a hitherto criminally underrated album. Despite greater chart success later on, this was when Busta was at his peak. The strength of Album tracks like Survival Hungry, There’s not a Problem my Squad can’t Fix and Rhymes Galore makes a mockery of the quality control of most modern LPs.
4. Doggystyle – Snoop Doggy Dogg
Over the course of my DJ career I have played every single track on this album, at least once. There is no other record I can say that for, of any genre. Probably in the collection of every single hip hop fan. Even those who detest what Snoop has become can’t deny the laid back genius at play here.
3. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 chambers) – Wu-Tang Clan
There is nothing new to say about this album, except to tell you that it was the catalyst for my introduction to a whole new world of raw, abrasive, discordant hip hop. And for that I am eternally grateful. Oh yeah, and GZA’s verse on Protect ya neck is probably my favourite in hip hop history.
2. Black on Both Sides – Mos Def
One of the best records of all time regardless of genre. Mos Def comes on like a cross between Marvin Gaye & Chuck D, intelligently dissecting the troubles of today’s society in a way that makes you want to move. I even love the OTT thrash-out at the end of Rock’n’Roll, although I’d be interested to see if his stance on the Rolling Stones has changed since he worked with the Black Keys…..
1. Hello Nasty – Beastie Boys
I could have picked ill Communication and/or Check your head for this list, but for sheer blow-your-balls-off impact, on it’s release and since, it has to be Hello Nasty. The depth and variety is pretty stunning, and I have played this album in full at many parties without ever needing to reach for the skip button. Super Disco Breaking, Just a Test, The Negotiation Limerick File, Remote Control, 3 Mcs & 1 DJ – so many straight up bangers, which contrast brilliantly with the poignancy of I Don’t Know, or the Beasties Britpop of Song for the Man. This isn’t a sentimental vote in honour of MCA – no other hip hop album has given me as much joy as this one.
Honourable mentions also go out to Outkast’s ‘Stankonia’, A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘The Low end Theory’, Kool Keith dropping weird science with ‘Dr.Octagon’, West coast polar opposites in Cypress HIll’s ‘Black Sunday’ and Ugly Duckling’s ‘Taste the Secret’ and finally, UK hip-hop selections from Braintax & Skinnyman with ‘Panorama’ and ‘Council estate of Mind’ respectively.
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.
Lovely, lovely house music from Leeds based robotic funk experts Audiojack, particularly ‘Tunnel Vision’ which maybe latching onto the oh so now Hot Creations vibe but an extremely well produced one as well. Available for purchase now as well.
To counter the indulgence currently being wacked out by my drawn out saga of releasing my top 25, I asked a few others to contribute their top ten. Darren flips the script not only in his choices, but also in our usual blogging techniques by offering a great selection brilliantly streamlined in comment.
10. 6 Feet Deep – Gravediggaz.
Perhaps the most surreal concept album ever conceived in Hip-Hop, but also one also producing some of it’s most highly creative beats.
9. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West.
Is he a member of The Illuminati? Why is the Album Art bizarre? Elton John’s on the record..!! Despite all these interesting questions, it will be remembered as one of the greatest artistic works in Hip-Hop history.
8. Illmatic – Nas.
Nas’ first ever long player has, due to the total brilliance, become something of a curse for his career as with each proceeding album leaves aficionados disappointed. Sort of how Wayne Rooney has never topped his début for Manchester United.
7. Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest.
Deliberately recorded from Midnight till 6am, the result was a unique sounding album that captures the collective at their zenith. Wide awake when the majority of their counterparts where sleeping.
6. When Disaster Strikes… – Busta Rhymes.
This album can only be described as perfect Saturday Night Warm-Up Music, ready for before the adventures begin. It’s just fun; something that’s sadly in very short supply within the genre & the lifestyle.
5. Doggystyle – Snoop Doggy Dogg.
Long before the Adidas contract & numerous other endorsements that he now promotes turned him into a brand, Snoop Doggy Dogg was a youngster with the aim of being the No. 1 on the Mic. When this came out he most definitely was.
4. Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill.
This entire album was in-fact intended to be the demo version, yet it was decided that it’s rough gritty sound perfectly suited the lyrics. At times, the imperfections are better.
3. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) – Wu-Tang Clan.
It simply should work having that many members then including tooo many samples from badly dubbed 1970’s English Kung-Fu Films.
An Aggressive but also silly combination, yet one executed perfectly.
2. Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde – The Pharcyde.
A group of four very young 20yr old stoners from Southern California that have concerns about women, marriage & weed make a masterpiece without realizing. It doesn’t matter it you’re from Los Angeles or Leeds, you’ll instantly connect with this album as it’s about the Human Experience.
1. The Score – The Fugees.
Inspired by the later work on Bob Marley, it impressed both the ghettos & the suburbs across the globe.
According to urban-myth, for some reason the album directed connected with the Chinese Population making it currently the most bootlegged album in history.
Agree or Disagree with my selections? Send me a Tweet at @DazAltTheory using hashtag #GJHH25
Although hip-hop was in the midst of a global boom and the UK scene was pretty thriving, Roots Manuva’s ‘Witness’ aside there had been no mainstream acknowledgement that we could do something positive with the genre on our own terms since the early nineties. Mike Skinner aka The Streets changed all that.
Original Pirate Material is an absolute gem of an album that is so inherently British and brilliant you can’t but help fall in love with it. A gorgeous melting pot of garage, house, hip-hop and much more, it even manages to make you fall in love with Skinner’s at first grating delivery and voice as he showcases a rather deft lyrical ability and wicked observational humour, in the process creating something that was a truly unique manifestation of the UK take on hip-hop not seen since ‘Blue Lines’.
He attacks the contradictions of our alcohol focused culture in the brilliant ‘The Irony of it all’, explores the macabre influences that make mischief makers of men on ‘Geezers need excitement’ but better yet, gorgeously sums up the appeal of ecstasy and club culture on ‘Weak Become Heroes’, a record which would also brilliantly benefit from an Ashley Beedle re-rub.
The same formula would also be applied to his sophomore effort to devastating effect, particularly the way ‘Blinded by the Lights pre-dated the current pop-dubstep craze AND summarised the process of taking ecstasy in one of the finest drug observations ever made, but it was this début which still sounds perfect a decade on. Arguably one of the greatest British pop albums ever made.
Paid in Full is the only album on this list that is quite flawed. The production is at times dated, Eric B’s turntable skills weren’t even particularly impressive at the time let alone now and the sound is often amateur in feel and a relic of hip-hop supposed golden age. The reason it’s in here above complete masterpieces and other unsullied collections of music? The presence and lyrics of Rakim.
Even if you’ve never heard this album you have heard the lyrics. If James Brown’s breaks and funk licks are the most sampled backbones that make their way, Rakim’s lyrics are the ones scratched and sampled by DJs and producers and the one’s paraphrased by everyone from Nas, Jurassic 5 and Jay-Z. Even now, 25 years on, they are breathtaking. He brought the concept of internal rhymes to hip-hop (dropping a rhyme mid sentence), applying the freeform spirit of jazz to the way he constructed them with one of the most scientific flows and deliveries hiphop has ever seen.
Every other rapper let the words hang off the end of drum kicks, affecting each part of the rhyme and made sure you saw the process behind why it happened, working with the production. Rakim threw the rulebook out and created some of the deftest lyrical manoeuvres that subverted the very idea of hip-hop’s braggadocio. Everyone else told you how nice they were, with Rakim if you didn’t get it you were like everyone else, beneath him. And this is the way his lyrics made me feel when I really took time to listen to them in 2001. I can’t even fathom how jaw-dropping it would of been at the time.
So if anything, the skeletal and at times questionable production simply enhanced what Rakim was all about. Had he been riding shotgun over the frenetic energy of the Bomb Squad his innate subtlety could of been lost. And the production on the record wasn’t all bad, the title track was a gloriously languid shuffle for Rakim to again rip up the rulebook. The song is a classy break, a bit of a discussion about what to do and one verse. A single verse and not even a chorus! One of the most influential hip-hop records of all time is essentially a Dennis Edwards bassline and 24 bars; the ultimate exercise in hip-hop minimalism.
It’s a formula repeated on the rest of the album, not least ‘I know you got Soul’, ‘My melody’ and ‘Eric B is President’. It’s also, in my eyes, the first full length player hip-hop delivered that stands up as more than just a crucial moment in the history of the genre. Run DMC were important but their music, delivery and power seems at best quaint in 2012, where as Rakim’s crushing lyrical ability still stands up. He was an emcee who elevated the power of the rapper simply by the style and delivery they did, not based on look, subject matter or vibe, simply on how good you were. pretty much everyone has been playing catch-up since.
I’ve never been that massive a fan of the Beastie Boys in all honesty, but this record is just awesome. The ultimate exercise in sampling, it’s one of the few hip-hop albums where a production outfit not only adds to the sonic palette of an artist, but they enhance the very personality of what they’re about. Furthering the Bomb Squad’s approach of throwing everything into the mix this album also helped pave the way for instrumental hip-hop and turntablist albums from the likes of DJ Shadow, The Avalanches, X-Cutioners and even Jurassic 5’s dj enhanced releases, marking it not only the best Beastie’s cut but also probably the most influential, especially considering the path Mixmaster Mike would go on.
The result is a ridiculously madcap, off kilter and wondrously weird pastiche of near enough every musical genre under the sun. The rowdy frat feel of Licensed to Ill is replaced by a much more endearing, humorously woven together masterpiece that most Beasties fans would agree is their best album. Of course it bombed commercially, but it helped set them up for the alternative role they would fulfil in the wider world of music up until MCA’s death last year.
There’s always something very brave about artists who rip up the rulebook when dealing with success and this is one of the best executions of doing so (see also De la Soul and 2Pac with Makaveli), and hip-hop at it’s most irreverent and fun. It has to be listened to as a whole opus as well, somehow cohesive despite the madness.
As a teenager the world of UK hip=-hop wasn’t something I delved into particularly deeply, but I can remember Roots being on the cover of HHC around the time I regularly started buying it in early 1999. The reason was this album, and in the midst of one buying surge at HMV based on some kind of offer like 3 for £20 (there was always a second tier of needed albums which only got bought if they made it to this area, £14+ was the cost back in these days) it landed in my ownership.
I was impressed, the use of strings at various junctures made it extremely atmospheric and ‘Motion 5000’ peppered one of the many tape compilations I made for me and my mates at that time. Albums for us then were resources for said tapes, very rarely anything to listen to in full, and this opus to my ears sounded like something a bit different for the continued process of one-upmanship that these tape exchanges were, but not much more. Then I went to university.
Uni changed the way I listened to music, mainly because I had more free time and but also because I wasn’t always in control. Very few of the gangster dominated songs from Tupac, Biggie, Scarface and so on was getting a chance and seeing as there was no tape players I couldn’t revert to the tried and tactics of wowing them with a rare Yukmouth stomper. This was one of the albums that I managed to coerce in, and when I did I realised the languid glory of it. Undeniably British, roots’ created a mellow masterpiece that is the perfect blend of Caribbean culture and the black British experience so redolent in Bristol and London, which although still pretty far from my middle class white Midlands existence was still closer to my mindset than the gang soaked streets of the states.
It’s near flawless (‘Dem Phonies is an aberration), gorgeously cohesive and a record that breathes with humour and individuality at every stage. It makes sense at 3am in the morning smoking and letting it absorb your eardrums, or lazily caressing your ears of a weekend whilst doing the housework, and has some absolute monster records alongside the strings of ‘Motion 5000’ such as ‘Inna’ and ‘Juggle Tings Proper’. The influence of dub as well, weaving a tapestry of sound underneath, means the space of the record is brilliant and the juxtaposition of all these disparate influences makes for a beguiling album that is still unique nearly fourteen years later.
Roots would go on to smash out the indomitable Witness and create a glut of albums that have made him one of my favourite rappers ever. He’s also perhaps behind the greatest live performance I’ve ever seen, his gig at the Lomax in September 2001 when he was accompanied by a string quartet was nothing short of sensational and, despite it following ‘Run Come Save me’, was mainly made up of tracks from this album. I’ve heard some people say ‘Awfully Deep’ is his true masterpiece but for me this one will always ring true.
Is this a hip-hop album? In my eyes yes; whilst what followed from Massive Attack and erstwhile member Tricky would go onto become the fabled trip-hop movement, this offering was probably the first ever truly great UK album that existed outside yet still belonged to the underground hip-hop scene. Sample led, bolstered by rap turns that welded British slang and Caribbean patois and very much born from the Streets of Bristol, ‘Blue Lines’ is undoubtedly carved in the same spirit of musical expression that exploded from the Bronx in the early seventies, reflective more of our mongrel culture of integration as opposed to the US’ segregated values (although the subject matter would delve into the class divides).
Deliciously short it’s near perfect, featuring some delectable soul turns and in ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ one of the most heartfelt and beautiful pieces of music ever made, and certainly the most emotionally wrought use of a cowbell ever. The video also ingeniously transported singer Shara Nelson to South Central Los Angeles, the vanguard region for hip-hop at that time, before the other members of the band joined her. This was famously homaged or pilfered, depending on your viewpoint, both musically and visually by The Verve with ‘Bittersweet Sympathy’, and the influence of the band saw the album acclaimed by the wider music press. The other four videos that sprung from the album were also pretty special.