From its underground beginnings, rap music has long surpassed rock n' roll to become the representative soundtrack for the last few generations of kids. Even people who might not like it have already been immersed in it by default through commercials, television show bumpers, movie themes etc. You would think this kind of pop culture besiegement would crank out rap aficionados en masse. Nope.
What should've been a deluge of posts, tweets and uploads this past January 1 saluting Tha Alkaholiks' song "2014" was instead the cyber equivalent of tumbleweeds rolling. OK, so it wasn't the album's single when it came out back in 1995 but Coast 2 Coast, the album it was on, did crack the Billboard Top 200 peaking at #50. That's respectable, right? That was also 19 years ago and you would think that 19 years would be enough prep time for New Year's folk to have it on deck of every stereo system when the clock struck midnight. Nope.
We only had to wait for 17 years to play Prince and go ape-shit crazy when the ball dropped on January 1, 1999. How many people waited to be raptured when "Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss was played the night December 31, 2000 turned into January 1, 2001? Sure they were infinitely more popular tunes but that's what made "2014" by Tha Alkaholiks all that more notable because 2014 is such a specific and insignificant year to choose than more charming ones like 1984, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2012, 2020 and, of course, 2112.
It wasn't that nobody cared about the song, it was that nobody knew the song.
I can't turn anywhere without rap music blaring into my ears or log onto to any site without a mention of either Kanye West, Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg (Lion) or Drake. The constant feed about these gentlemen borders on sick obsession yet dig one layer lower and you get nada.
Before hip hop got elected into popular taste to a level where it's now synonymous with pop-culture, there was an era that preceded this current one that might be doomed to obscurity. Some may use A Tribe Called Quest's "The Love Movement" or D.I.T.C.'s first album as the swan songs to the era. And if a tight jean-wearing rocker, like myself, who eats sweet potato fries, drinks carbonated water and listens to Pussy Galore, The Hellacopters and Motorhead, has to be the one to serve up a mixtape to self-professed newbie rap-aholics and bring them up to speed then so be it.
Mind you, this list isn't for real hip-hop heads and can easily be substituted for 16 other songs by 16 other rappers. It can't be definitive either since I'm anything but a hip-hop head. I'm merely addressing all the people who simultaneously let rap music permeate their lives while registering only slight awareness when legendary names like Grandmaster Flash, Chuck D, Adam Yauch, KRS-One, Schooly D, EPMD, De La Soul and Big Daddy Kane get mentioned. Their world is a world where Puff Daddy is more known than Biggie Smalls, kinda like if John Kalodner was more famous than Steven Tyler.
Smoothe Da Hustler - Broken Language
Easily one of the greatest rap songs ever recorded if not one of the greatest songs ever. No chorus needed just straight up braggadocio at master levels.
Big L - Ebonics
Flow is required, voice is necessary but one's lyrics must be incredible too. Mourning for Tupac and Biggie is continual but Big L should be put on the same pedestal.
Masta Ace Inc. - Slaughtahouse
How this album was slept on when it was released is downright criminal. Its title track is a masterpiece.
Black Moon - Slave
Enta Da Stage, the album that yielded this song was criminally overlooked and Slave's inclusion on this list is a stab at reversing the misdeed.
Mountain Brothers - Galaxies
Emphasis is placed more on rap skills than weak posturing on this easy and smooth track.
Blackalicious - Swan Lake
An incredible song and a fitting delegate for hip hop music.
Digable Planets - Dog It
This band was always cool like that but this song is an unbelievably lost gem.
Maestro Fresh Wes - Check My Vernacular
Everyone identifies Maestro with "Let Your Backbone Slide" -- naaah, this is his best song.
Kool Keith - Get Off My Elevator
How can anyone not love Kool Keith? Oh yeah, the hip hop community, that's who. Kool Keith is a legend, a visionary, ultramagnetic and a personal inspiration.
Blahzay Blahzay - Danger
This song is an anthem for some. I am in their camp.
Company Flow - Collude/Intrude
Contains a beat that can't keep your feet still...and I don't dance. You've been warned.
Boss - Process Of Elimination
You couldn't mess with Boss and any doubters need only listen to this to understand why.
Nine - Whutcha Want?
Laid out by a voice that can sand down sandpaper.
Cru - Pronto
Don't know much about these guys but I liked this song a lot and it still hits me.
The Beatnuts - Yeah You Get Props
I could've chosen any song off of "Street Level" because it's near-perfect. I chose this song because it's where my finger landed when I closed my eyes to pick.
Goodie Mob - Decisions Decisions
Cee-Lo always stood out in Goodie Mob but this song (easily switched with "Cell Therapy") is their Voltron-stroke with all members equally upping the ante on each verse.
Nas' track, "Where Are They Now," on his 2006 album, Hip Hop Is Dead fittingly touched on the high turnover and shallow nature of rap music by listing off forgotten hip heroes like Fu-Schnickens, K-Solo, Def Jef, Pharcyde and Black Sheep, despite his remarkable 20-plus years in the game. It's the perfect song as hip hop careens towards middle age. Constantly demanding that things stay "fresh" has left most rappers with paper-thin discographies and birthed the patronizingly labelled sub-genre -- "old-school." It's at this point that hip hop should take a cue from rock music.
I'm fortunate enough to play rock music for a living, made up of a crowd that healthily reveres nostalgia and never forgets while simultaneously foraging for new bands. Of course, the comfortable impulse to settle with the same bands ad nauseam has plagued the genre and deservedly garnered criticism for its "Classic Rock" tendencies. I counter these inclinations by sitting bands like Graveyard next to Grand Funk Railroad on record shelves and personal playlists.
Here's hoping rap can finally realize, during its unwavering drive to be "fresh," it had long created music without an expiry date. Only then can Tha Alkaholiks' forecast for 2014 materialize:
"...I knew hip-hop would never be gone/ 500 hip-hop deep/Yo we cool in 2014/ Alkaholiks still rulin"
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