This might come as a galloping shock to you, but I, Fred, born into the sun-baked black cotton soil of the K’Aketch Clan of Uyoma Katweng’a, is a late bloomer. Now, I wouldn’t know the difference between rap and hip hop if the two of them walked right up to me and introduced themselves. Yeah, Yeah, I know you going to tell me that Rap is the music and Hip Hop is the lifestyle. There’s a video clip floating around on YouTube in which Afrika Bambaataa knocks my socks off, saying that Rap as a form of expression goes back to ancient biblical times. He swears that back then, when God spoke directly with people as he did when handing over the 10 Commandments to Good Old Moses, they were not speaking like you and I. They were, wait for it, rapping! I nearly choked on my cereals. Afrika Bambaataa is telling you that Sir God himself spit the first ever recorded rap verse in history and judging by the surging sales over the years, His must have gone triple platinum and will handily win the most (mis)quoted and re-mixed album in human history. Obviously, Bambaataa’s approach to rap & hiphop is… er, more spiritual than mine.
Growing up in Bondo Town and coming of age when Slick Willie was getting entangled in a blue dress, you could say that I had more immediate problems and to that end, Rap IS an acquired taste. I could be remembering this incorrectly, but I think I fell in love with Rap Music right around the time I had a crash on Lucy Caroline. It must have been around ’99 or 2000 and Extra Musica’s État Major was the rave of town. It was a bright sunny mid-morning, the kind that comes after a night storm. I was walking through the gates of one of my High School friends when Biggie’s Hypnotize came through the Airwaves. There are no words in this world, or the next that could possibly do justice to the genius of this song, except to say that its like a run away train that does not quite gather speed because Christopher Wallace’s intention seems to be roping you in and not letting go for the nearly 4 minutes that he has your ear.
I am not setting out to give you a list of the most consequential or even influential Rap Albums of all time. I am hardly qualified to do that; I will leave that to HipHop Historians and to the anonymous Online Keyboard Gangstas of today. Mine is a simple list of the sounds that defined my youth and continue to give me immense pleasure…pleasure? Satisfaction is the word am looking for – so much so that I am willing to folk out 9 Euros on iTunes to own them. Yeah, I am cheap like that. Here’s my list with a few pedestrian observations of my own. This list is not in any order.
- The Black Album – Jay Z
OK, I have to admit that I was torn between this Album and Jay’s debut ‘Reasonable Doubt’ . Jay himself admits that its his best album, something to do with his hunger for success. You’d be hard pressed to argue with that – its packed with critically acclaimed tracks like ‘Can’t Knock the Hustle’, Dead Presidents, Can I live, and the less noticed 22 two’s. Hold on…Wait..**scratching my head**…ok, I am still going to go with The Black Album. In my opinion, this is the most complete Album from Hov to date. It lacks the insecurities of his previous albums. He is at the top of his game and he knows it. He effortlessly switches from being laid back in ‘Change Clothes’ and ‘Allure’ to multi-layered in ’99 problems’.
- All Eyes on Me – Tupac Shakur
Can I take a personal privilege to say that ‘Old School’ from ‘Me Against the World’ is one of my favorite rap songs? Now that we have got that out of the way, for me at-least, this 2 disc album does it for me. Released after being released(see what I did there?) from Prison and signing on to Suge Knight’s DeathRaw record, Tupac packed(I did it again) a massive 27 tracks on this one. Sometimes it almost feels like he is in a huge hurry to get back at the world, he doesn’t not have any qualms about calling out his enemies, real or imagined, but mostly, he is busy trying to live. ‘Ambitionz az a Ridah’, ‘2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted’ and ‘Heaven Ain’t Hard to Find’ are some of my best tracks from this Album.
- Illmatic – Nas
‘I rap for listeners, blunt heads, fly ladies and prisoners…’. Perhaps Raps’ greatest Writer, Nas has often been described as a ‘ City Street Poet’, a characterization that the Queensbridge Emcee used to wholeheartedly embrace but has lately tried to distance himself from, noting, as he did during an interview with Charlie Rose, and am not quoting verbatim here folks, that, ‘Poetry sounds so…refined, so..not raw, illmatic was the furthest thing from polished’. Earlier on, I said that my list was not necessarily about the most consequential Rap Albums. ‘Illmatic’ was as consequential as it gets. It landed on the rap scene with a big bang and put East Coast Rap scene squarely in the middle of inner city(some might say Ghetto) narrative. Nas takes you on a journey through the gritty streets of his beloved borough. Listen to ‘Memory Lane’, ‘Represent’and ‘It Ain’t Hard to Tell’ and thank me later.
- College Dropout – Kanye West
Show of hands… Who misses the soulful Kanye of a decade ago? Kanye West did to HipHop what Sergey Brin and Larry Page before him did to the business world – Made Nerds look cool again. Kanye hit the much needed ‘re-set button’ on the rap scene with this Album. I think he is the first Rap artist I ever saw to come on stage in a long sleeved shirt and not an over-sized t-shirt or a shiny vest. He brought back biting social commentary to the rap game that had been briefly lost in the very lame trumped up beef between Ja-Rule and 50-Cent. Tracks like ‘All Falls Down’, ‘We don’t Care’, ‘Through the Wire’ and the genius that is ‘Jesus Walks’ are breathlessly devoid of guns, hoes and cars.
- Ready to Die – Notorious BIG
I got a story to tell…
“I kick flows for ya, kick down doors for ya,
Even left all my motherf***n hoes for ya,
N**as think Frankie P***y whipped, n**a picture that
With a Kodak, Insta-ma-tak…We don’t get down like that…”
In my opinion, hands down best story teller and the greatest lyricist to ever grace the Mic. Some of my favorite Biggie tracks are not even found on this Album. Just one thing…OK, two things that I would like to say..One, if you are under 30,here’s a ‘Warning’ (see what I did there?),skip the end of ‘Respect’. Thank you.
If you are just getting into Rap music and would like to know the essence and soul of this genre, I would recommend you listen to Biggie Smalls seminal ‘Juicy’. This is the track that encapsulates the dreams of the Inner City black man(and woman) and best describes the aspirations of a disenfranchised youth during Biggie’s time and today.
This is my list. Care to share yours?