Archive for March, 2010

The Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of All Time

Posted in music, top 10 lists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on Tuesday, 2010 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Narrowing down the Best Hip-Hop Albums of All Time to ten is a challenge. If you search the internet and ask all your friends, you will likely get a lot of similar lists (but there will always be differences and debates). In fact, there could probably be a great top 10 list of incredible rap albums that were left off the list below (hence the 15 honorable mentions). Choosing only ten was difficult enough, so these are not ranked and appear chronologically.

Public Enemy – It Take a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
Please disregard any list of the best hip-hop albums of all time if this isn’t on it. Nothing ever sounded like this before, and only a few imitators and some other Public Enemy albums sounded like it after. “Bring the Noise” wasn’t just a song title, it was a mission statement. The music, the lyrics, the message, Chuck D’s clear delivery: this was an album that simply couldn’t be ignored.

De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
While Buhloone Mindstate or Stakes Is High might be their “better” album, there’s a reason “3 Feet High and Rising was and still is hailed as a classic. They made it cool to be peaceful and artsy. For better or worse, they practically invented the hip-hop skit and certainly broke ground by sampling off the beaten path stuff like Steely Dan and French language instructional tapes.

A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (1991)
Straight-up beats, rhymes, and life propel this jazzy masterpiece into almost everyone’s Top 10. Often imitated but never matched, this is the kind of album that even impresses people who think they don’t like rap.

Nas – Illmatic (1994)
Perhaps the undisputed classic rap masterpiece. Expert beats and production from DJ Premier perfectly showcase the lyrical fury and on-point delivery of a young Nas on his incredible debut.

Gang Starr – Hard to Earn (1994)
A bit of a hidden gem here, though most hip-hop fans are down with Gang Starr (Guru and DJ Premier). They had several good albums, but this one is a real standout.

KRS-One – KRS-One (1995)
KRS-One probably deserves his own list collecting his Boogie Down Productions albums with his best solo stuff. Most lists usually have BDP’s By Any Means Necessary, and rightfully so. But this one is the true banger.

GZA/Genius – Liquid Swords (1995)
One of the first and best solo albums from the extended Wu-Tang Clan family. While it’s certainly hailed as a classic in the hip-hop community, this is the needle in the haystack that the masses have never heard of.

OutKast – Aquemini (1998)
The pre-cursor to their future classics like Stankonia and Speakerbox/Love Below, this one has all the elements and was so original and so perfectly executed by Andre 3000 and Big Boi. It not only put the South on the hip-hop map, it pushed the envelope of what rap music could be.

The Roots – things fall apart (1999)
It’s so hard to pick just one album from the Roots, and since their live show is so legendary, they aren’t usually found on lists of the best rap albums of all time, but they should be. “Illadelph Halflife,” “Game Theory,” the eclectic “Phrenology,” or raw “Do You Want More” could easily make this list. But “things fall apart” was hip-hop artistry from a band just hitting their stride.

Mos Def – Black on Both Sides (1999)
Mos Def’s collaboration with Talib Kweli (Black Star) could be in this spot, but Black on Both Sides gets the nod. It’s sprawling yet consistent, lyrically driven but very musical and textured. This is another great album that may have slipped through the cracks of the collective (un)consciousness.

Honorable Mentions:

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die
Dr. Dre – The Chonic and Chronic 2001
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
Wu-Tang Clan – 36 Chambers
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
Black Star – Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Boogie Down Productions – Edutainment and By Any Means Necessary
Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx (and pt 2)
Jay Z – The Blueprint
Run DMC – Raising Hell
EPMD – Strictly Business
Redman – Doc’s Da Name

Generation X: the Last Cool Generation

Posted in essays, misc.blurbs, music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on Wednesday, 2010 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

There’s been much ink spilled (back when ink and paper were still widely used) about Generation X (my generation, born in the mid-60s thru early 70’s). And then I think they named the next one Generation Y (or Generation Next or The Millennials), and now they’re up to Generation Z, or the iGen (ugh, talk about forcing it).

But long after Douglas Coupland’s novel of the same name put “Generation X” on the map, I’d just like to say: We are the last cool generation. For many reasons.

We remember life before Xbox and Wii. I played freakin PONG with two "paddles" (lines on the screen) hitting a "ball" (a dot) back and forth. That was it. That was the whole game. Now, just the commercials for video games look better than the movies we grew up on.

Not only did we wait for our favorite song to come on the radio, but we did so with our cassette players setup to record and then tried to release the Pause button right away to tape the song. In fact, I used to blast records through an old stereo, with a boom box sitting in front of the speakers so I could copy it to a tape.

We wrote letters on paper and sent them through the mail to be read three days later. We used phone books. We used payphones. We used maps. We had to research our school papers at the library, with encyclopedias. We had to look shit up in books. The internet didn’t exist or was still in very early infancy when we were in college. We weren’t sitting around in class with our laptops.

We watched three TV channels plus PBS and waited until the 11pm local news sportscaster came on to show us highlights, until, if we were lucky, we had parents who could afford cable if and when it was finally available in our neighborhood. And we were already 12 by then.

So yes, we are the last cool generation. And all the little whippersnappers who followed us think they are the cool ones.

They can kick our ass at Playstation but they never played outside in the yard until it got dark enough that you could only see the ball when it was in the air. They make fun of clunky out-of-date CD players; I actually owned an 8-track tape player. They started drinking coffee when they were 15 and now they think drinking crappy beer like Pabst Blue Ribbon is cooler than being accused of being a “beer snob.” They think everything is overrated, underrated, or just totally random.

And of course they only like bands you’ve never heard of.

I think it’s funny how all these emo hipsters love to love anything that’s underground indie lo-fi crapola and it’s cool to say U2 sucks or Radiohead’s not great anymore or the White Stripes aren’t cool cuz Jack White’s gone Hollywood and sold out cuz he’s done a film soundtrack and been in a movie with The Edge.

Meanwhile, all these crappy bands sound like early U2 (but not as good) or wanna-be Radiohead or minimalist retro White Stripes. Ironic. Oh, wait, but being “ironic” is the coolest thing, right? I don’t know, I’ve lost track.

They cry and cry and cry that "oh you should check out THIS band and too bad THIS band isn’t as famous as Coldplay!" But then soon as 42 other people start agreeing and liking that band, they jump ship cuz "they suck now."

You suck. Go fix your eyeliner.

And now’s the part where I end the rant and you fill up the comments section (or the emails you use to forward this to your hipster buddies) saying how I’m just a bitter old man who doesn’t get it and I’m a hypocrite cuz I wrote a condescending blog post admonishing the cooler-than-thou people who do stupid shit like write condescending blog posts. That’s cool. I know I’m gonna drive home in my Honda from my day job and probably just go to sleep early. And you’re gonna peep your iPhone for some new App that plays old games like PONG or helps you organize all your stuff that makes you uniquely you. Just like everybody else.

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