Monday, July 25, 2016

Take Five: Hip Hop Albums

by Da CogNegro

Outside of Jazz,no genre of music has shaped my existence more than Hip-Hop.My way of dress, speech and even belief system was at one time or another dictated by this brand of music. That is why I am so protective of it. Especially if it falls into the wrong hands and used for nefarious purposes. Even if it never returns to its' days of glory , will always have these albums to provide me with  pats of nostalgia and jolts of inspiration!

Honorable Mention: Camp Lo Uptown Saturday Night

Release Year: 1997
High Point(s): Black Connection, Luchini, Sparkle
Low Point(s): B-Side to Hollywood (Some Rather Silly Lyrics)

Why it Almost Made the List: One of the most underrated albums, produced by one of the most underrated acts in hip hop, Camp Lo's Uptown Saturday Night was simply too ahead of its' time to be fully appreciated at the time of its' release. Geechi Seude's razor sharp delivery along with Sonny Cheeba's charmingly perplexing aura serve as a great introduction to one of hip hop's most unique parings. I was introduced to Camp Lo in college and to this day, at least a quarter of this album stays in heavy rotation.

5.Lupe Fiasco's Presents The Cool

Release Year:2007
High Point(s): Hip Hop Saved My Life, The Coolest,  The Game
Low Point(s): Gold Watch

Why it Made the ListSooooo I'm going to cheat and steal my commentary right from my Take Five: Lupe Fiasco's Albums entry, which can be found here. Shhhh, don't tell anyone; When the only flaw on your album is the pitch of a sample ( Gold Watch) then you really are looking at an unprecedented opus! Lupe demonstrated that he not just merely attempts a type of song, but  could also master it as well! You want a crossover hit that will be used in countless commercials? Well here's Superstar! Want a pulse pounding rock song? Enter: Hello Goodbye. How about a whimsical tale peppered with social commentary? Well I guess you Gotta Eat. A song that is too "gangsta" to show remorse? Boom, Put You on Game. And the list goes on and on! On top of that, this album  also contains a conceptual  narrative, one in which I won't spoil.  The Cool successfully weaves the abstract with the accessible. Are there some intricate moving parts here? Absolutely! But you  will realize that  finding the pathway to understanding isn't as murky as his latest album. Also, Lupe is able to evoke great emotion and empathy from the touching tale of Hip Hop Save My Life  to the cautionary anecdotes of Intruder Alert. The album accomplishes what every artist seeks to achieve: balance! Such a feat has positioned The Cool as not just the best Lupe Fiasco album, but the best hip hop album in the last fourteen years!

4. Nas- Stillmatic

Release Year: 2001
High Point(s): One Mic, You're The Man, Rewind
Low Point(s): Bravehart Party

Why it Made the List: Yes, I just heard a collective gasp from all you Hip-Hop purest out there. If a NAS album was to be apart of someone's top five, how could it not be Illmatic? Well, truth be told, I was only 10 when Illmatic came out and my limited rap references, at the time, were lmited to such such "safe" acts as Arrested Development and Kriss-Kross. By the time my ear was mature enough to grasp more complex, interwoven and profanity laced hip-hop, NAS was on the decline with such misses as I AM and Nastradamus. However, even though his material was not at the top of my playlist at the time, I knew that NAS was an MC that was resilient and could survive the onslaught that was known as Jay-Z's Takeover. And sure enough, despite the claims of all of my dorm mates and co., NAS not only survived but underwent a resurgence that is rare in the realm of Hip Hop! From that battle, we received Stllmatic. For the first time in years, NAS crafted an array of songs that covered a wide variety of topics. Not only did  it include the incendiary ETHER: a comeback diss record of epic proportions, but arguably one of NAS most powerful signature songs in One Mic. Tracks such as Rewind showed his knack of creatively telling a story while RULE and My Country proved that NAS was quite cognizant of world affairs. Since the release of this album, NAS has reclaimed his spot atop  Hip Hop's Mount Rushmore and continues to show that he's still Illmatic.

3.Eminem- The Marshall Mathers LP

Release Year: 2000
High Point(s): Stan, The Way I Am, B**** Please Pt 2
Low Point(s): Amityville- One word: Bizarre. Ugh! His attempts at shock value were appalling and anemic!

Why it Made the List :Junior year of high school was a pivotal turning point in my life. Often referred to as 'The End of Innocence, the staunch bubble that had protected me from the world's temptations and ills had been shattered with the knives of a 1,000 throwers. Anger, confusion, heartbreak, and hopelessness had taken over and no relief was in sight. Everything in my life I began to question and the beliefs that had been firmly planted into my solid ground had now been violently uprooted and dissected on the operating table belonging to internal bedlam. Who knew that a bleached blond white boy from Detroit would be my saving grace. The Marshall Mather's LP was  at times vile, unapologetic and shocking. Yet, the pain, angst and disregard that Eminem was projecting spoke to me like no other collection of work had done before . Listening to that album wasn't just a passive exercise, it was my auditory therapy session that allowed me to vicariously strike back at all that was battling me .  Underneath the vitriolic content lied a soul who had been tossed aside by society. Such emotion is clearly evident in tracks such as STAN and The Way I AM. Not only did this album provide a relief from a listening standpoint,but it also heavily influenced my writing and set into motion a transformation of what was once a frivolous  pastime  and allowed it to become  a component of my very being. In closing, progress without pain is often stagnate.

2.Mos Def Black on Both Sides

Release Year: 1999
High Point(s): Umi Says, Know That, Mr. Nigger
Low Point(s): Habitat. Not a bad song but it just comes off as repetitive after  the superior Brooklyn.

Why it Made the List: Somewhere between Puffy's shiny suit and the Ruff Ryders dirt and grim era, a small corner of hip hp was designated for the crown jewels that was produced from a the independent label called Rawkus Records. Rather than depend on bombastic production and gritty or braggadocios lyrics, the artist of Rawkus focused more on the craftsmanship of words and oftentimes, socially conscience material coupled with pulse pounding earthy production. One artist , and album, in particular was able to accomplish this more than others. Mos Def's Black on Both Sides is an achievement in music, not just hip hop.This album showed me how malleable this art-form could be. When I hear songs like Umi Says and Climb, it shows the versatility that Mos utilized to stretch the boundaries of this genre. And when it came to subject matter, sheesh!!  Everything from the true origins of rock and roll down  to the essence of love is covered.This guy even has a track about water... and it wasn't whack! I'll drink to that!

1.Jay-Z- Reasonable Doubt

Release Year: 1996
High Point(s)Dead Presidents II, Can I Live, Feelin It, 
Low Point(s)Ain't No N**** (At least it isn't Sunshine right?)

Despite the way I may feel about this current incarnation of Jay-Z, the introductory version of the self proclaimed God MC was him at his finest. Sure he has produced a bevy of instantly recognizable and classic songs but there was a polished rawness on this album that was undeniable. Not to mention, this offering  possessed some of the most crisp and infectious production ever gathered on one disc. Everyone had an adopted an Italian Mafioso persona during the mid nineties, we can give thanks to Kool G Rap for that, but Jay had perfected it on his first outing. He possessed a brash but crafted delivery and his presence demanded attention without being overbearing. Plus, the flashy and hedonistic tales coupled with stark and harsh realities made for one hell of a listening experience.I dare you not allow your mind to take you to another place when you here the piano keys of Dead Presidents II, or not brace yourself for something epic when Brooklyn's Finest makes it was to your ears. And the list goes on and on when it comes to the memorable tracks on Reasonable Doubt. Jay said that this album was his best because it's the one he had prepared all of his life for. I agree with him.  Yes,I agree with him ...without a reasonable doubt! -CgN

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