Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hypestyles' Top 25 Hip-Hop LPs
(circa 1980 – 1995)

In a recent Rolling Stone article, there was a feature with Chris Rock’s Top 25 hip-hop/rap albums of all time. For whatever reason, it inspired me to come up with my own.

I usually try to avoid ‘Top (fill in the blank)’ lists. For one thing, I’m usually at a lack for words to defend my choices other than to say "I just dig it". I’m not the best debater, and when it comes to my own personal tastes, I have little interest in trying to be. As the saying goes, I may not know art, but I know what I like. I’ve tried to select LPs where I’ve tended to listen to them all the way through, or at least 90%. I’ve also tried to keep things to one LP per artist, wherever possible, though a few double-entries may have slipped through. I’ve also put a specific time frame on the entries. Hip-hop’s ‘golden age’ varies from person to person. For my purposes, I’d place it from roughly ’84 to ’94, as my own tastes in hip-hop were pretty much cemented by ’95 came around. Sure enough, there have been albums and artists I’ve enjoyed since then- Jay Z, Nas, DMX, and Eminem come to mind—but for whatever it’s worth, I feel that this earlier stuff clearly helped set the foundation for the rap to come from ’95 – 2005.

This was the cassette-in-a-boombox-or-Walkman era, so tapes were the default way that most people my age tended to listen to music, unless you were a neighborhood DJ of some kind. At the time, I had a small but functional boombox, and by my senior year in high school had a double-cassette deck stereo. I didn’t have the money to just buy LP tapes on a whim, though—most often, I tried to get copies dubbed from friends or my cousin Scott in Detroit, who was usually up on newer stuff before I was. I spent most of my summers up there, while my school years were in Gary, IN- about as far from New York or L.A. as you could get, and almost totally off the radar as far as hip-hop concerts were concerned. We just didn’t have the promoters, and for the most part, the venues- the much-vaunted Genesis Convention Center, which opened in 1980, was regularly criticized for bad acoustics; in years to come, a local rental hall, McBride’s, seemed to be the main/only hip-hop dance event in town.

So here they are, in semi-alphabetical order. In the years since these records have come out, I’ve moved on from cassette copies to CD copies. Who knows what’s next, but I’m hoping it’s not expensive.

Addendum: All of these albums, especially the original studio LPs, need to be re-released as deluxe editions. Unfortunately, most of the major record labels have not yet seen fit to treat their hip-hop catalogs with as much respect as their backlog of recordings for various other genres (pop, jazz, rock & roll, etc.). I'm convinced that plenty of the higher-ups at these labels just don't care about their older rap catalog. Another concern is that when much of this material was first released, sampling laws were not as clear as they are now-- The labels are scared silly at the notion of any retroactive lawsuits pertaining to any uncleared samples, so classic albums are allowed to languish out of print (or at best, the original unrevised album may remain, while a bevy of potential bonus material, i.e., 12-inch alternate takes, remixes, live tracks, remains uncollected).

Bigger and Deffer- Ooh. I don’t know how much I was hip to LL Cool J when his first LP Radio came out. Again, my street-radar wasn’t that far-reaching; but I remember seeing the movie Krush Groove with my mother (this was our second movie of the day, at a time before the megaplex when you could pay to see one film and more or less sneak into seeing a second; in any case, Mom fell asleep about halfway through), and I was feeling somewhat cool that I was seeing an R-rated film at age 11 (such films were normally off-limits for me, though my peers enjoyed a regular cinema diet of slasher/shootout films well before we hit high school). But I digress- LL’s cameo was cool- though I had no idea who he was at the time—I think a few months later I saw an episode of Soul Train where he performed "Rock the Bells"; between that, classmate gossip and skimming through fanzines like Right On!, I finally got in the know; I was getting ready to graduate 8th grade when I heard "I Need Love" on the radio, and LL did a cameo at the 1987 Soul Train Awards where he did a rap about the voting process ("Price Waterhouse put the ballots in, now you can’t get mad if you don’t win"). Heading up to Detroit a week or so after school got out, turns out Scott already had the 'BAD' album (as we called it), and I dubbed his copy before I left for home at the end of August. I really wanted "Go Cut Creator" to be a single & video, after seeing him perform it on American Bandstand and Saturday Night Live.

Criminal Minded- KRS One’s (and Scott La Rock’s) first classic LP. I wasn’t aware of the group when they first came out, though. Its exact release date escapes me-- I guess it had to come out in late ’86 or early ’87. I remember being up in Detroit for Christmas vacation, and Scott was like "There’s this rap group with a guy with my name!" I don’t think he had their tape yet, though. They weren’t really on the radio near us, unless it was one of those ‘late night weekend mix’ shows. I have a dim memory of seeing a Criminal Minded poster in a record store, but I don’t think it was until the summer of ’88, when By All Means Necessary came out (I can remember a radio jock misidentifying "Stop the Violence" as being an Ice-T cut), when I really got hip to BDP. Of course, by this time, Scott LaRock had been killed, but the fact that the two lead guys were named Kris and Scott had become a source of pride for me and Scott, and we informally adopted their stage names. The LP became notoriously hard to find after a while, and I didn’t get around to copping my own cassette copy until ’91, when Sugarhill Records (!) somehow picked up the catalog rights. I’ve since bought maybe two or three CD copies (including when one got stolen), including the instrumental version of the LP. Traffic Records has the catalog rights now- there’s a double-disc version with the vocal and instrumental versions together, and there’s a Best of B-Boy Records version which has the original LP plus the now-obscure 12" singles that preceded it.
Fat Boys (self-titled)- When it comes to props for "old school" acts, the Fat Boys are rarely mentioned, for some reason. These guys were my favorite rap group for several years, until Public Enemy and BDP became prominent. As a big kid, I guess I identified with the idea that it could be me up there. Actually didn’t own any of their CDs until 1987’s Crushin’, and as much as I enjoyed that at the time, it was clearly their most pop-friendly effort. I copped a vinyl copy some time in the mid-90’s; the first LP, produced by Kurtis Blow, had most of the key early hits; it was only seven cuts deep, but several songs went on for 5 minutes and beyond, with extended verses and instrumental breaks. The title cut, "Human Beatbox pt. 1", "Don’t You Dog Me", "Jailhouse Rap"; you can’t beat it. Between them and Doug E Fresh, they had everybody trying to beatbox. I never got to see them in concert, though, and of course, Buff is deceased now. Their three album run on indie Sutra Records has been out of print for well over 10 years now (I’ve seen foreign import editions on Ebay going for $40 or more—forget it), and their 3 LP run on Mercury is only slightly easier to find. Rhino Records has a greatest-hits CD that’s now out-of-print, though it’s limited to the radio edits. I also feel compelled to mention that Markie Dee put out two solid but underrated solo LPs in the 90’s, and Buff & Kool Rock put out the new-jack-swing heavy Mack Daddy in ’91.
Amerikkka’s Most Wanted- I can remember a few album cuts being played on late-night radio on the Chicago-based stations I listened to. Everybody was buzzing before this came out; I think NWA’s 100 Miles & Runnin’ EP beat it to stores by a few weeks, not to mention Above the Law’s Livin’ Like Hustlers; but it was over when AMW dropped. The ongoing beef between Cube & the Ruthless camp added to the mystique. The album was fire from start to finish, though you might be led to think it was just mellow, based on "Who’s the Mack", which I think was the one video that the LP birthed. The intro was like a movie, with "Switch!" segueing into "The Nigga You Love to Hate" with a version of the bassline from "Gangsta, Gangsta". The Bomb Squad, Cube & Sir Jinx collaborations continued a tradition of East-West cooperation that sadly got derailed a few years later. My favorite cuts were "You Can’t Fade Me", "The Bomb", "A Gangsta’s Fairytale", "Turn off the Radio", and of course "Tales from the Dark Side" with Chuck D; the locker-room raw "Only Out for One Thang"—with Flavor Flav would never have gone over on a Public Enemy LP, though.
The Geto Boys- I figured I had to include a Geto Boys record, somehow- this 1990 release seems to fit best. Apparently, Rick Rubin heard their 1989 LP Grip It! On That Other Level, signed them to Def American, and remixed the LP for a self-titled re-release. I know that 1991’s We Can’t Be Stopped was their crossover breakthrough, but I think the previous album really set the template for their future work. I have dim memories of hearing the Making Trouble LP on a bus trip with a bunch of other kids—of course, that album had a lineup that involved rappers Johnny C and Sir Jukebox, and Bushwick Bill was just a dancer for the group back then. I remember seeing the revised version of "Do it like a GO" on the Video Jukebox back in ’90; I think that was the first time I realized they had a midget in the crew. In Gary, there was a local high school basketball team (led by future NBA star Glen Robinson) and the "Geto boys, Geto boys!" refrain from "Assassins" became their unofficial theme song. In the summer of ’91 I saw Willie Dee’ s first solo record, Controversy, in a store for cheap and I copped the tape: it had the original version of "Do it Like a GO", and other hard cuts like "F*** the KKK", "Put the F’in Gun Away", "Trip Across from Mexico", and "Welfare Hoes".
Great Adventures of Slick Rick- When I went to see the Run-DMC movie Tougher than Leather—by myself—my mother, who had planned to see another film at the theater, ended up coming here, maybe about 20 minutes in; shortly afterwards, there’s the nightclub scene where Rick is performing "Treat ‘em like a Prostitute"; between that and the rest of the film, ‘aghast’ would probably be an understatement to describe her reaction. But Rick's album was great, from start to finish-- with production by the artist, his DJ Vance Wright, Jam Master Jay, and the Bomb Squad, from start to finish it had something good to offer, in spite of the occasional diversions into juvenilia and sex-themed narratives. "Children's Story" offers a cautionary tale about a juvenile delinquent, "Teenage Love" is a self-explanatory ballad about youthful lovers, and on "Hey Young World" Rick tells his audience "get ahead and accomplish things".
Fear of a Black Planet- I didn’t have cable at home, so I think the first time I saw the video for Public Enemy's "Brothers Gonna Work it Out" was on the Fox-TV rap show Pump It Up. "Terrordome" had already made noise back in the fall of ’89, and I was hyped for this. During a radio station call-in, I won a copy of it, but—well, we had no family car, so I had no way to get to Chicago. Dang! So, I just enjoyed listening to the singles and watching the videos on Pump It Up. Anyway, I was definitely feeling the album when I eventually copped it on my own about a year later. "Burn Hollywood Burn" was of course, the joint, with the Ice Cube cameo and Big Daddy Kane. I was disappointed that Griff ended up leaving, but hey, he dropped an album that year, too.
Iceberg/Freedom of Speech- I don’t know when I first heard an Ice-T record. If Scott had his first LP, Rhyme Pays, I never got around to hearing it. I do remember us looking at the album cover in a record store, marveling at his girlfriend Darlene. When I spent a week at a basketball camp one summer, I remember a couple kids—some white cats—down the hallway at the dorm I was staying in had a bunch of rap tapes—Ice T, Just-Ice. By the time this third album came out, I would listen to the singles played on Chicago’s WGCI FM on their weekend rap shows. "Lethal Weapon", "You Played Yourself", "Peel their Caps Back", "Freedom of Speech". I ended up copping OG before this, but I think this one really solidified Ice’s sound and themes.
In Control, Vol. 1- Hey, one of the first DJ/Producer-centered hip-hop albums. Marley Marl's airplane-captain themed cover was certainly different. Again, it would be a few years after its 1988 release before I got the chance to cop it, but it was well worth it. I can remember seeing the video for "The Symphony", and being amused by the cowboys-in-a-saloon motif (except, of course, for Big Daddy Kane, who I guess was too smooth for that). Just about all the cuts are fly here; the great LP opener with Heavy D and Biz Markie, where Biz sings Barry Manilow; Tragedy’s early fire can be witnessed here, as well as Craig G and Master Ace; "Duck Alert" has some out-there Star Trek samples (Marley’s a Trekkie? Neat!). Among the lesser cuts are when Roxanne Shante’ disses JJ Fad on her showcase here, and MC Shan’s "Freedom". I still get goosebumps when I hear that classic "Symphony" piano riff.
License to Ill- "Indiscreet". That was the word that earned me 2nd place in the county-wide CYO spelling-bee competition in 8th grade (I spelled it ‘indiscrete’). Anyway, Mom said she’d do something nice for me, so we went to K-Mart and I got a cassette of License to Ill. I’m not sure when I found out they were white guys, but soon after it wasn’t a big deal, as they and Run-DMC were the kings of rap. "Paul Revere", "No Sleep Til Brooklyn", "She’s Crafty" were all the joints, but my favorite was "Fight for your Right". In retrospect, clearly this was something meant for rock-pop radio; I don’t know how many kids in the hood bothered to listen to it, but I was open for it. Those guys seemed to be having so much fun, I think I probably fantasized about hanging out with them more than even Run-DMC; I think King Ad-Rock had most of the best lines, and his wacky voice probably helped. Circa 2000 I came across a bootleg of the ‘Def Jam Master Demos’ which had an extended version of "Fight.." and other cuts not on the official album.
The Very Best of Big Daddy Kane- It was the spring 1988 issue of Word Up! magazine (I think it was a quarterly at the time) where I saw an ad for a rap LP, Long Live the Kane, from a brother calling himself Big Daddy Kane—decked out like an ancient Greek—with the added gold chains—and being offered fruit by a handful of pretty girls. A blurb read ‘The Freshest Rap Album on the Planet’. Vainglorious, but anyone who listened would probably find it hard to disagree. Marley had been producing cuts for MC Shan and Roxanne Shante’ early on, but really hit his stride with Kane: "Ain’t No Half-Steppin’", "I’ll Take You There", "Raw" kept the party jumping. The ladies used to debate whether he or LL was cuter, and the guys debated whether he or Rakim was the top God on the mic. Still, I never got around to copping a Kane tape until 1990’s A Taste of Chocolate—on here, Kane was drifting further into smooth-R&B territory, and had the pioneering duet with Barry White, "All of Me". I also got the two follow-ups (Looks Like a Job For was mad underrated), but The Best of.. is, for me, a must-get since it covers most of the key Kane tracks, most heavily from the first LP, and also from It’s a Big Daddy Thing, with "I Get the Job Done", "Smooth Operator", and "Rap Summary (Lean on Me)". The only thing really missing here is the first "Symphony".
Mama Said Knock You Out- I bought this at a Deroit area Musicland while in town for Thankgiving vacation, my senior year of high school. Walking with a Panther had hit stores the year before (and I had copped an edited version from Zayre's, a K-Mart-type store—hey, edited was all they had), but LL was being dissed by urban fans as well as other artists at this point. I didn’t quite understand it—I would have killed to see him perform (I’ve still never seen him live). Apparently he felt a makeover was in order. I listened to it from start to finish nearly every time I put it in my walkman or stereo. Mama ended up being his most enduring work in terms of radio singles. Marley Marl was definitely the producer to get at from the East Coast at this point- the remix of "Jingling Baby" and new song "Illegal Search" started the momentum going. The radio version of "Boomin’ System" lifted the same James Brown loop as was used for En Vogue’s "Hold On"; it was received as a fly move rather than blatant biting—and the album version featured a slightly altered reworking. I especially dug "To da Break of Dawn", which first appeared on the House Party soundtrack—LL laces into Kool Moe Dee, Hammer, and Ice-T, and it was clean enough for the radio. And of course, the title track was the bomb, though one version of the video’s a little confusing with the spliced-in footage of the Michael J. Fox movie "The Hard Way".
Nation of Millions- I was asleep at the wheel during the initial run of Yo! Bum Rush the Show. I may have seen it in stores, but I probably wasn’t paying attention. Chicago radio wasn’t pushing any singles, either. What finally got my notice was in the spring of ’88, when I had bought a copy of Word Up with Run DMC on the cover. It had a picture in there of Professor Griff of Public Enemy. The caption beneath said "Flavor Flav", but I would eventually find out who was really who. Griff’s paramilitary outfit had fascinated me, and I found myself drawing lots of pictures of it (I was an aspiring artist/animator at the time). I still had no idea what songs this guy did, though. Early on during summer vacation, I asked Scott who Flav was. He played me "Rebel Without a Pause" which he had taped from the radio. From that point, it was on for life. Since then I've copped all of their albums, plenty maxi-singles, and other ephemera-- but for P.E. beginners, definitely get this first.
Paid in Full- Eric B. got first billing, so at first, I thought he was the shorter dude that was rhyming. I found out better by ’88, but back in the summer of ’87, I had a good dub of about 60% of the Paid in Full tape—you see, I had recorded LL’s Bigger and Deffer on all of ‘Side One’ of my blank tape, and part of ‘Side Two’. I squeezed in what I could of Paid..., including "I ain’t no Joke", "I Know you got Soul", and my favorite cut by the duo, the slow-flowing "My Melody". Rakim's slow-as-molasses flow fit the beat perfectly, and I really wish they had done a video for this song. The 2-CD deluxe edition with the remixes is probably the best buy.
Paul’s Boutique- I remember seeing this in record stores in the spring of ’89.. also, the Chicago-area weekend radio mix show I listened to was spinning "Shake Your Rump" for a little while.. But beyond that, I remember there was virtually no buzz when this album dropped. The rap-friendly pop station in Detroit I was listening to that summer was pumping some of the jams, but by then almost everyone in the "Rap Class of ’85 - 87"- seemingly all the Krush Groove artists—were persona non grata in hip-hop. 3rd Bass had become the white boys of choice—on Def Jam, no less—and of course, they were dissing their predecessors. Ah, well. Of course, this LP caught fire as a cult hit, and I finally copped a tape in ’96, after renewing my Beastie license with Check Your Head a few years earlier. It’s probably correct that all the sampling done here likely couldn’t be done today. "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun" is probably the sole nod to hard-rock here, as the rest relies on heavy funk, soul, and psychedelia. "Shadrach", "B-Boy Bouillabaisse", "Droppin’ Science", "Hey Ladies"; all gems. All too bad that the guys had a falling out with Rick Rubin—and Russell Simmons—and left for Capitol records, who apparently under-promoted the album—and I don’t think they bothered to tour that year, either. In the short run, it cost them, but now some people—especially younger fans—say it’s a better LP than Licensed… I disagree, but definitely cop this if you’re Beastie-down.
Road to the Riches- I agree with the folks who say that Kool G. Rap came off the best on Marley Marl’s posse cut "The Symphony", with Kane, Craig G, and Master Ace. In the summer of ’89, somehow Scott had a dubbed copy of this LP, and I dubbed it from him. The title cut, "Poison", "Cars" (with the Gary Numan sample!), "It’s a Demo", were really classic stuff—It’s too bad that Kool didn’t really get on the radio at all until "Streets of New York" the next year, and of course, the Live and Let Die LP got the boot from Warner Bros. after the "Cop Killer" scandal, and ended up being an indie release. In any case, I think this is his best showcase; he had plenty of street rhymes while rarely cursing, and his ‘ghetto Giancana’ persona hadn’t become the dominant theme of his LPs yet.
Rock the House- So Bow Wow thinks of Will Smith as a ‘bubblegum rapper’ (in a recent interview in XXL Magazine)? isn’t that a case of the pot calling the kettle metallic? In any case, he’s not the only younger person who probably thinks Mr. Smith’s rap career didn’t get started until after the TV show. 1987’s Rock… was just a great hip-hop debut, full of solid production by the duo—if memory serves, much of it was recorded in the UK. Jive Records owes a big part of their legacy to Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. I couldn’t get over the I Dream of Jeannie sample on "Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble"; it was so left-field it was genius; I don’t think it got much radio beyond the regional level, and the album didn’t go gold until it was re-released in ’88 after He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper became a smash. Fresh Prince was a great storyteller on "Girls Ain’t Nothin..", and "Just One of Those Days", and the title track had Ready Rock C beatboxing "Sanford & Son". He even had the ‘answer’ record to "Girls" on this LP. This was at least a 3rd generation dub I had made from Scott’s copy in the summer of ‘87, so the sound was hardly the best, but still funky. "A Touch of Jazz" remains my favorite cut here, one of the first ‘DJ spotlight’ records that has virtually disappeared from rap albums today. A lot of people assume that He’s the DJ... was their first work, but they should check this out first.
Sex & Violence- This was apparently a turbulent time for KRS-One when he dropped this LP in February of ’92. West coast rap was gaining momentum, and had become a legitimate rival to the New York-centric rap scene. The gangster-rap genre which he inadvertently helped to co-inspire was quickly becoming the default worldview reflected in rap records. Soundscan had taken effect back in ’91, and so you saw some rap LPs debut high, but then fall sharply. His lectures were polarizing affairs, inspiring charges of hypocrisy, and new beefs came to a head when his New-Age inspired humanist views were critiqued by black nationalist-leaning rap acts. Then of course, was the infamous confrontation with PM Dawn at a birthday party for MTV’s T-Money. On the personal side, he had apparently gone through a divorce from Ms. Melodie, D-Nice stepped to do his own thing, and a former manager sued him, alleging he deserved half the group’s fortunes. KRS took vague swipes at them in the liner notes, and on the album further venom was obliquely directed at Ice Cube, X-Clan, and Poor Righteous Teachers. I just know I really enjoyed this record, from "Duck Down" to "Drug Dealer" to "Build & Destroy", "Who are the Pimps", the title cut, and especially the "We in There" remix, which I tracked down for years. "13 and Good" had a great twist ending, but KRS caught flak for allegedly sympathizing with the guys when it comes to statutory rape.
Sex Packets- It was late summer of ’89, Scott and I were on a family trip to an amusement park when we heard Digital Underground's "Doowhatchalike" on the radio. We thought it was cool, but the DJ must have been playing the extended mix, which seemed to go on for like, eight minutes. By that fall, I forget what the next single was, but when "Humpty Dance" dropped, it was bananas. "Packet Man", "Underwater Rimes", "Freaks of the Industry" were all tight. It almost seems hard to imagine now, but this was a west coast group who weren’t really gangsta-oriented. Of course, ‘Pac hadn’t gotten his time to rhyme until "Same Song" from This is an EP Release.
Straight Outta Compton- I thought homeboy’s name was Ice-Q. when I first heard this. I’m thinking it was December of ’88, and I was already familiar with Eazy E and his first LP; I vaguely knew that he had a crew, but I hadn’t heard any of their early singles. When NWA dropped this LP, Scott and I were at a friend’s house, and he had a copy. I can remember high school classmates debating witch each other on who in the group actually participated in gang warfare—of course, none of them did, but the idea of it added to the mystique of the group. These guys were cursing more than any rap act that I had ever heard before-- though, to be honest, I didn't even own that many studio cassettes back then; my frame of reference was mostly radio singles, which I would tape. I can remember getting a classmate, Dave, to dub a copy for me, and I enjoyed the album tremendously, even though I had to only listen to it at low volume or with headphones. Ice Cube was my favorite rapper in the group, and at the time I think there was a genuine debate over whether Cube or MC Ren was the best. By my senior year in high school, I approached the same classmate to simply buy his cassette copy from him (by then he had drifted into heavily listening into alternative-rock) He sold it to me for $2. Barely a few months later I ended up lending it to another classmate, but we had already graduated and lost touch before I could ask for it back (enjoy, Joe!).
Strictly Business- EPMD's first LP was ten cuts deep and this was definitely one of the must-have LPs of 1988. I can remember people remarking that Erick & Parrish rhymed kind of slow, but in any case, they had mad respect by the end of the year. "You Gots to Chill" set off a never-ending stream of records that sampled "More Bounce to the Ounce". "Strictly Business" may have been the first rap to sample Bob Marley and Eric Clapton at the same time. "It’s My Thing" was, what, six minutes long or better? Hip-hop records weren’t afraid to go for length at this time. My favorite record was "You’re a Customer", with the slow, simple bass riff (lifted from ZZ Top!?) and the vocal snippets of Steve Miller and Kool & the Gang.
The Low End Theory- I had just started my freshman year of college when this album dropped, and this was all over the campus—all the jazz-driven rhythm tracks "(We've got the) Jazz", "Scenario", "Check the Rhime", and the thoughtful rhymes that didn’t depend on thug swagger. I don’t know if it officially went platinum, but it should have.
Tougher than Leather- I was enthralled with Run-DMC along with every other rap music fan. I’m thinking Dee was my preferred MC, if only because he wore glasses like me (though I’m sure I couldn’t afford Cazals). I didn’t own Raising Hell until about two years after it came out; a classmate sold me his tape. By this time, Tougher... had come out a few months ago, and I remember being amped when I first saw it in record stores. Scott wasn’t as enthused, though- I think his response was a cool "Yeah, its about time they finally put it out". That summer, the Run’s House tour was in effect, and I remember we were in downtown Detroit, and people were passing out flyers about the show. Scott made a remark about people not really wanting to just go see Run-DMC anymore, but gave props to EPMD and whoever else shared the bill (Public Enemy?). I spent a week at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor for a basketball camp, and one of the kids at the dorm room next to me had a copy that they were playing almost every day, and there were a few other kids who had it as well. Despite going platinum, heads seemed to feel they threw a brick with this one, which I didn’t understand. It would be over 10 years before I got around to getting my hands on it—in 1999 when Arista bought out Profile and re-released all the studio LPs. Song for song, I felt this had aged better than Raising Hell- at least in my mind. The guitar-driven records like the title track, "Soul to Rock & Roll" and "Miss Elaine" are top-notch (though I’m thinking most of the brothers were fast-forwarding); they did a nod to reggae and ragtime; as a Monkees fan, I was all into "Mary, Mary"; I still hit ‘repeat’ upon listening to "Beats to the Rhyme".
Unfinished Business- This was just a great album from start to finish. "So Whatcha Sayin’" (the slowed-down Funkadelic sample), "Get the Bozack", "Jane II", "Please Listen to my Demo".. the video for "The Big Payback" had NWA guest-starring. "Knick Knack Paddy-Whack" had the dope introduction to K-Solo where he kept rhyming until the track faded out. I really enjoyed the rock flavor on "You Had Too Much to Drink", and of course the video had a cameo from LL Cool J.
Whodini’s greatest hits- As much as I enjoyed Whodini’s records on the radio, I never got around to copping any of their studio LPs. Plus, they had rolled snake-eyes with the Open Sesame LP back in ’87, and more or less went MIA for years after that. One of my first CD purchases was their greatest hits compilation in the summer of ‘91, and it’s got all the essentials: "Freaks…", "Friends", "One Love", "Escape", "Haunted House of Rock", and some unreleased stuff that’s still worthy. Coincidentally, they had an attempted comeback LP that year, Bag-A-Trix, released on MCA, that basically bombed.
Rise of the Dirty South & are Hip-Hop 'Girl Groups' a Thing of the Past?

Watching this year’s Vibe Awards, I was reminded of something- I really don’t relate very well to the current generation of rappers and R&B singers.
Most of the rappers in attendance- Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Young Jeezy, Lil’ Wayne, etc., were from the south. After years of neglect, southern hip-hop can claim dominance over both coasts. It’s great that hip-hop’s regional diversity hasn’t stalled. Still, I can’t front, I really don’t buy much southern rap at all. As much as I love the now old-school Geto Boys, they’re almost the only southern rap act I’ve really latched on to over the years. Fellow southern rap pioneers 2 Live Crew had any number of street hits, but I never bought a record from them—but I do have a copy of Luke’s Uncle Luke CD that I literally found discarded on the streets. Out of all of Outkast’s LPs I only have Speakerboxx/Love Below. If Goodie Mob has a best-of set, I might cop that.
David Banner has a college degree, but during his set he has all the dancing girls in aerobics leotards (like a certain Mr. West’s "Workout Plan") while he runs through "Play". Dave—unlike Kanye, you’re the college graduate—you don’t need to ape his routine!
On the R&B front, as cute as Keyshia Cole and Ciara are, I’m not really into their music that much. When it comes to the current generation of teen-idol type guys- Omarion, Mario, Marques Houston, etc., I’m generally under-whelmed. The older, ‘neo-soul’ leaning guys- Maxwell, D’Angelo, Kem, Musiq, are fine enough to listen to on the radio, but I’m just not a neo-soul dude in terms of being interested in buying their records.
So what is it that I don’t like? Is it the southern twang? Maybe partly—but in all fairness, plenty of Midwestern and West coast rappers have a similar semi-country cadence, only more pronounced. On TV, to hear some of these guys talk in interviews—gah! I’d like to think if they took out the chandelier fixtures in their mouth they’d sound better, but who knows (I was at one of Russ Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summits last year—please, no one put Lil’ Scrappy on a roundtable panel ever again!). On top of that, most of southern rap—like rap in general, really—has focused on themes of the thug-player-hustler lifestyle, with guns, haters, strippers, gin, juice, weed, syrup and rims in tow. I’ll have to remind myself to check out Little Brother, since it’s said that they’re a step above the average. I still don’t think I’ve heard them on the radio, though.

according to All, Florida rapper Trina has a sitcom confirmation on the Black Family Channel. As attractive as she is, I’m not really a fan of most of today’s female rappers. I think the last LP of original material I got from a female rapper was Lauryn Hill. In one of Chuck D’s recent Terrordome editorials, he laments the lack of female rap groups in today’s scene. I feel the sentiment, though I’m not sure exactly how many genuine female groups were doing their thing back in the so-called ‘golden era’ of the mid-80’s to the early 90’s. Chronologically, I guess the short-lived Sugarhill Records act Sequence counts as the first to do hip-hop on wax; then there was Sha-Rock in the first multi-gender crew on wax, Funky 4+1 More. Fast forwarding to the mid-80’s, obviously Salt N Pepa were the first female group to hit it big on the urban radio and pop charts and have enduring success. But if memory serves, most of the female acts to come out in their wake were basically solo. Roxanne Shante’, Real Roxanne, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, MC Trouble, Isis/Lin-Q, etc. There were only a handful of lady groups I remember having impact:
To start, JJ Fad and Oaktown’s 357—I think the Supersonic LP may have gone gold on the strength of the single, but I don’t think the follow-up LP went anywhere, and I think JJ Fad broke up shortly afterward. I enjoyed all the early singles from Hammer’s girls 357- "wild & loose", "juicy gotcha crazy", "here we go", etc. But I’m thinking when the 2nd LP came out, it didn’t catch on with radio & video like before. I do have some threadbare memories of the Cookie Crew- at least, seeing some of their 12" singles in stores- some other female rap acts, like Wee Papa Girls, She-Rockers, I have no audio/visual memory of at all. Ooh, a few more just came to mind- Silk Tymes Leather, who I think were the first group that Jermaine Dupri produced; I think they came and went after their first LP; and then there’s the gangsta-bi*ch groups, who its fair to say are the thematic predecessors to, well, most of today’s female rappers- BWP and HWA.
The Bi*ches With Problems made one album (on Def Jam!) and the Eazy-E affiliated Hoez With Attitude made one album and an EP. In the case of both acts, they failed to get any mainstream urban radio attention, and the thug-broad & strip-club chick aesthetic lay in direct contrast to the more balanced female rap portrayals of the time. In the mid-90’s, I don’t remember there being much out there in terms of female rap acts- I do remember seeing an LP from some Ruthless act called MenaJaTwa (or something to that effect), and seeing what was I guess their first video on The Box. Oh, and there was this Motown (!) signed act, 69 96. UNLV- Unfortunately No Longer Virgins (hello!) came out on Ichiban circa ’94 (this is not to be confused with the early proto-Cash Money group of the same initials- but presumably a different meaning). Paris came out with the Conscious Daughters in ’96, and it looks like they’ll finally come back sometime next year on his label, as well as having a guest-spot on the Rebirth of a Nation LP.
around '97, there were two girls who did a cover of "The Breaks", Nadanuf; around the same time, there was this Southern Bass cut, "Shorty Swing My Way", by KP & Envy.. Oh, and Columbia/Sony briefly had a similar group on their hands, Dis N Dat. I think the one hit they had was "Freak Me Baby"..
As I’m writing this, I may very well be missing out on various regional acts that have cropped up to drop singles, EP’s and LPs over the years- scholars on those scenes can feel free to chime in.
I’m not sure of all the reasons why there are not really any female groups representing now. Of course, the music biz has been traditionally a boys’ club, and usually there’s some type of male producer/manager in the mix whenever a solo or group female act comes out. So that’s one obstacle. Lack of female label execs with the power to greenlight female rap acts is another problem (of course, depending on their personal/professional philosophy, many might not consider it ‘their job’ to bring out a female rap act for its own sake, and just seek to stay afloat by following current trends—but alas, that’s hardly a gender-specific trait). Another issue, and at the risk of stereotyping- nowadays, would a female rap group even get along well enough to maintain a career? Judging on certain interviews, plenty of today’s female MCs are quick to say that they don’t really hang with chicks too deep or roll with a female crowd on the regular, for the usual jealousy/hater concerns. Going for dolo is kind of the default steez for any double-X chromosome party looking to spit rhymes for a living. Also, just look at how many male rap groups splinter after one or two LPs. And looking at the R&B/pop world, it is rife with female acts splitting up, for various reasons, external and internal. Not everyone’s meant to be a Diana Ross, but damn it if they ain’t gonna try.
I do know that Jean Grae is much lauded in underground circles—over the years, I’ve been somewhat neglectful in picking up indie rap—I’ll have to check her out.