Many of my WFNY bretheren have already weighed in with their Rocktober selections, discussing why they love the music they love. Now it is my turn.
A quick background on me. I am a 35 year old white suburban raised guy. My father had a crazy collection of albums that he used to spin on our record player in our family room. He also loved the 45. We had an old jukebox in our basement that played them. But back in the late 70’s and early to mid 80’s when the jukebox still worked, it was pop music we listened to.
I remember Prince’s “Purple Rain” 45 was actually purple. Other staples in the juke included “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, “Cool it Now” by New Edition, and “She’s Fresh” by Kool and the Gang, among others.
My earliest memories of musical influence with me was watching a video tape of The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” movie, which I would come to learn later on was a cinematic failure. Not that it mattered to me – that movie hooked me on The Fab Four.
But as my youthful years went by, my musical taste went a completely different direction.
In 1987, I heard my first hip hop tape – “Criminal Minded” by Boogie Down Productions. I don’t know what it was, but the beats, the lyrics, and the style of lyricist KRS One had an effect that changed me forever. Little did I know what was coming next.
BDP’s second album, “By Any Means Necessary” produced a track that would become an alltime hip hop classic, “My Philosophy.”
BDP was one style of rap – more of a conscious vibe that preached about positivity and awareness of what was going on in the African-American community. There was a message there. In my formative years of listening to hip hop music, I tended to lean more towards the East Coast artists like BDP, Gangstarr, Eric B and Rakim, and Big Daddy Kane.
But then I heard NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton,” and a whole new style came to light for me. The West Coast was known for the “hardcore,” emanating from South Central Los Angeles. Released in 1988 (I was 12), Straight Outta Compton became the most influential rap album of its time. If BDP and the East Coast was more about the lyrics and the message, NWA was steeped in their own reality.
The direction of hip hop was about to change towards glorifying the violence they saw in their community every day. Perhaps their most famous/infamous track was “F*** tha Police.” ‘Gangsta, Gangsta” was another hot track that couldn’t be missed. But perhaps my favorite track was “I Ain’t the One,” Ice Cube’s ode to the women who are trying to get at him for his fame.
“And after the date, I’mma wanna do the wild thing, you want Lobster? I’m thinkin’ Burger King.”
Straight Outta Compton’s success spawned a launching pad for three of NWA’s members who would go solo. Eazy E’s first release “Eazy Duz-It” came out a month later and would end up being another hip hop classic. Ice Cube left the group to become one of the most successful and influential artists of his genre. The beat master of the group, Dr. Dre, would release his first solo project “The Chronic” in December of 1992. It is known widely recognized as the “Sgt Peppers” of hip hop music; a masterpiece that may never be topped. It also launched The “G Funk Era” which changed the styles for so many artists, including kick-starting the career of another one of my favorite artists, Snoop Dogg.
Here is the track that started the whole G. Funk Era, “Deep Cover” by Dre and Snoop.
While all of this was going on out West, the East Coast was putting on a movement of its own. “The Native Tongues” were staking their claim, all about positivity. The groups involved were De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, Black Sheep, Leaders of the New School, and most importantly, A Tribe Called Quest.
Tribe dropped their first album, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” in 1990, with a number of hot tracks. Their influence was 70’s soul and jazz music. Their sound was unlike anything else in hip hop and was universally loved from the jump.
The yin and the yang of the groups two voices – Q-Tip and Phife – worked in perfect harmony. It would be blasphemy to say they are like the Lennon and McCartney of hip hop, but in terms of a duo of lead voices in a group, its the best comparison.
While tracks like “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo,” “Bonita Applebum” and “Can I Kick It were well received, the band didn’t get their due until the release of their second album, “The Low End Theory.”
This is where my love for Tribe really kicked into gear.
Released in September of 1991, this music masterpiece was probably jammed in my CD player every single day for three years. There isn’t one bad track and is a timeless piece that is up there with Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” in terms of hip hop prestige. The smoothness of tracks like “Jazz,” “Vibes and Stuff,” and “Show Business” is just too good to pass. But the track of all tracks on this album is “Check The Rhyme.”
And if “The Low End Theory” wasn’t good enough, Tribe released an album two years later that received almost equal acclaim, “Midnight Marauders.”
In hip hop it is rare for a group to come back with a follow up album that can match the quality of their first big success, but Tribe managed to do so.
The signature track on this CD, “Award Tour received commercial success. Its one of those tunes that even non hip-hop fans recognize. As good as that track is, nothing can top “Electric Relaxation,” in my estimation the greatest Tribe song of them all.
I literally could write a book on the hip hop artists that shaped my love of the genre. All of the above went down during middle school and high school for me. In college, while Tribe and the G Funk Era artists were still in heavy rotation, Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac took over. These are two artists that have been talked about at length.
Everyone remembers the East Coast/West Coast battle that turned violent and resulted in the deaths of these two great artists. They both lived that “Thug Life” as 2Pac called it, and both died that same way.
I think the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie also signaled the death of really great hip hop music. Sure, there are a few songs and artists I like here and there that have come out since the turn of the century (50 Cent has a ton of hot tracks, Eminem, Nas, Jay-Z), but I think the genre has taken a big step backwards. I sound like a baby boomer, protective of classic rock. But its true.
To me, “new rap” as I say is garbage. The rise to prominence of a guy like Lil Wayne, to me is completely bizarre. I find him to be a no-talent clown. Yet, he is the biggest in hip hop. Rick Ross? Please. Kanye West? He may be a great producer, but he also may be the biggest D-bag in the game. Guys like Chuck D, Rakim, or Erick Sermon have to be shaking their heads.
The old school lives on with me, and so many others, thanks to Sirius/XM’s amazing channel “Backspin.” I still bump it in my car every day. So yes, I am an old school hip hop head. Just another white kid from the suburbs. With that, here is my list of the greatest old school hip hop tracks of all time in no order.
“I Got it Made” by Special Ed
“They Reminisce Over You” by Pete Rock and CL Smooth
“A Roller Skating Jam Called Saturdays” by De La Soul
“My Mind’s Playin Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys
“Electric Relaxation” by A Tribe Called Quest
“My Philosophy” by Boogie Down Productions
“Paid in Full” by Eric B and Rakim
“Sometimes I Rhyme Slow” by Nice and Smooth
“Don’t Believe the Hype” by Public Enemy
“I Went For Mine” by Diamond D