Thursday, November 03, 2005

Redeaming my Youth - 98-99 Hiphop appreciation (part 2 completion)

Finally, the long awaited conclusion to my Hiphop memoirs.

Eminem – The Slim Shady LP

What I thought then: OMGSOMEONEUNDERSTANDSME

What I think now: This seemed a whole lot better back then…but it’s probably because I was 15.

Analysis: Teens love swearing. It’s a fact. And they love wiseasses that swear, get away with it and offend adults while looking smart. It’s the principle that gave careers to Alice Cooper, Guns N Roses and of course, Eminem. Truth be told, there were many good reasons to like his debut album The Slim Shady LP in 1999: the stories told within were humorous as sin, the beats were sparse and funky and Eminem had a magnetic personality that was just on the right side of self conscious. No one questioned Eminem as a lyricist in 1999 as he was probably in the top 5 pure emcees at the time: like a white, skinny Big Pun he was ripping syllable after syllable (which was important back then!) and even better, he made funny songs out of it. The beats meanwhile heralded the return of Dr Dre to top level status after an embarrassing attempt at cheesy sophistication from 96-98. Still, unlike the superb 2001, this was clearly an emcee driven affair and Slim Shady became a hero to millions of disillusioned white kids angry at the world but too young to figure out why yet. While Eminem’s anger would eventually cross the line into seriously corrosive and moronic territory, it’s still fairly benign here which makes the public outrage over it that much funnier: who the hell could take this stuff seriously enough to get MAD at it? A lot of people apparently and while it’s kind of hard to listen to ANYTHING Eminem related nowadays, I’d still rather pop this in the ol’ CD player than say…a Fred Durst album.

Verdict: Harmless juvenile posing mixed with quality battle raps. Gimmicky and of it’s time sure but not bad at what it does in the slightest.

Method Man and Redman – Blackout

What I thought then: These guys are really cool!

What I think now: It’s a miracle I only started smoking weed years after I heard this.

Analysis: Blackout is a much underrated album in my opinion. A fun, no frills tag team effort from Red and Meth, it doesn’t pretend to be anything more or less than a punchline fest with big wild-out hooks and grimy deliveries. One of the first albums I picked up with my own money (as opposed to hearing the single on a dub), Blackout had all the qualities I required from rap as a 16 year old: the rappers were as cool as cool gets, they were witty and smart and they were rebellious and slightly threatening. The marijuana aspect didn’t really affect me at the time for some reason. I had smoked weed a couple of times back then but I didn’t get into it heavily and this CD did nothing to encourage me. It’s really great listening when stoned anyways considering it’s the rowdier and more energetic side of Red and Meth that’s on display here anyways. Nowadays, the album stands up because it’s surprisingly raw and uncompromised compared to the stuff that gets released today. Def Jam would NEVER put major marketing bucks into an album of non-gangster, eastcoast boasting and weed smoking. I mean, there’s hardly a song about ANYTHING here much less the required murder, club, lady and R&B joints. The underground meanwhile would fare well to examine the formula here: it’s unpretentious and fun to listen to unlike the heavy ass self-important “art” albums peddled by Def Jux and Rhymesayers. All in all, classic true-school Hiphop years after its era was supposedly “over”.

Verdict: If only stuff today sounded this good.

Funkmaster Flex and Big Kap present: The Tunnel

What I thought then: Hmm, this seems like it has a bunch of popular rappers on it…

What I think now: Hmm…that thing had a bunch of popular rappers on it.

Analysis: I picked this up as a Christmas present for myself in 99. It was either this or Jay-Z’s Volume 3 but I heard the latter at a friends house and declared that it sounded “weird” and darker than my beloved volume 2 so I went with this instead. Looking back it’s a pretty entertaining collection of “exclusives” by everyone who was anyone at the time. As a label issued compilation, it also stands as a testament to how dope Def Jam’s lineup was in 99: DMX, Method Man, Redman, Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel, LL Cool J and their respective crews were all signed to the label and were making some of the best eastcoast Hiphop music that money could buy at the time. Come to think of it, all of those guys are astill on Def Jam only they kind of suck now. Sad. In addition to Def Jam signees, the album featured Eminem, Dr Dre, Prodigy, Kool G Rap, Snoop Dogg, Biggie, 2pac, Raekwon, Cash Money, CNN, The Ruff Ryders and Mary J Blige. Put 2 and 2 together and that’s one hell of a lineup. Of course there’s always more potential than execution in one of these things but it’s not nearly as bad as say…the average movie soundtrack and the beats by Funkmaster Flex and Rockwilder hit far harder than average. Indeed, the album took its soundtrack to the grimiest club in NY mission seriously and things are a lot harder than what’d you’d expect out of something like this in 2005. Probably of limited interest to all but the most nostalgic or completionist rap fans nowadays but still not without value.

Verdict: Ever wanted to know what rap was like in 99?

Wu-Tang Clan – The RZA hits

What I thought then: This thing is recorded weird…

What I think now: The gateway drug to my favorite albums ever.

Analysis: There’s not much to say about RZA hits other than it collects the “hits” from The 36 Chambers, Tical, Return to the 36 Chambers, Only Built for Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords and Ironman plus narration by The RZA and the song Wu Wear to promote their clothing line. In short, it was meant to hook people who knew nothing about Wu-Tang and that was me at the time so I guess it did its job. As a compilation, it doesn’t dig too deep concentrating mostly on Method Man, ODB and Raekwon’s singles from their solos along with group material from the debut. Gza and Ghostface get surprisingly downplayed meanwhile with Liquid Swords, All that I got is you and the possee cut Winter Warz being the only selections from their albums. That’s probably one of the reasons I didn’t think of Ghost as a top tier Wu emcee until a couple of years later. Then again, only the most prescient saw Ghost as a genius before Supreme Clientele. The RZA narration between songs is relatively interesting with a weeded RZA in full on spiritual mode ranting about the group’s success but really it’s not something you’ll want to hear more than once. I’m glad I copped this considering it lead me on to bigger and better things, but at this point anyone with p2p can make a quick instant-wu disc that’s equally as concise and twice as in depth.

Verdict: Buy every solo album mentioned in the above review instead.

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