Saturday, 6 November 2010

Middle class white boy discusses music from da streetz

First blog in a little while and I'm going to keep on with the Five choices format. Today's choice reveals me as a massive cliché but so be it.

Hip Hop

I'm well aware that arguments continue to rage over whether a distinction exists between rap music and hip hop music. For the purposes of this blog there isn't - as you will notice from my choice I am far from a purist in this area and will happily embrace the mainstream when the results are good. I won't divert to a tangent but quite honestly I haven't heard a genuinely exciting mainstream hiphop album for as long as I can remember. Not even the return of Jay-Z has challenged my view that the genre is in a rut as despite good moments even the 'greatest of all time' has failed to recapture the brilliance of times gone by. In light of this my choices may appear a little dated and undoubtedly reflect a time when hip hop was far more prominent in my musical consciousness than it has been in recent years.

Fu Gee La by The Fugees
This is where it all began for me. A football mad, Oasis obsessed early teen sat down to watch a basketball show and was blown away when NBA 24/7 spent five minutes focusing on a trio of rappers who were making waves in the states. The track they focussed on was Fu Gee La and I was immediately hooked. I remember chatting excitedly at school to my good friend Joe who had long since embraced the hip hop/basketball culture and was good enough to humour me as I rambled on about my 'discovery.' Everything about this song is exciting - the subdued intro crashed into by Wyclef demanding attention, the simple yet hypnotic hook, the complimentary yet dramatically different lyrical delivery and of course THAT chorus which once in the brain never lets go. The crucial element of any rap song is the lyrics and it was the subject matter that most excited this thirteen year old British white boy from a northern backwater. It is safe to say that Brit pop tales of Mancunia or Essex surburbia never included lyrics like 'Stevie Wonder sees crack babies becoming enemies of their own families.' The confirmation that this discovery was going to have a huge impact on musical palette was my Dad's furious reaction when I put The Score on in his car. I am proud to have inherited my Dad's musical taste and was fortunate to have a musical upbringing of Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Despite this though every teenager is keen to find their own identity and distinguish themselves from their parents - Lauren, Pras and Wyclef had shown me the way.

Brenda's got a Baby by Tupac Shakur
As any self respecting teen rap fan it was natural to gravitate towards the big two - Biggie and Tupac. Many a dull technology lesson was spent debating the conspiracy theories that 2pac was definitely alive and I even pathetically dismissed Biggie for many years due to my allegiance to the West side. I'm sure it was of great comfort to Suge Knight locked up in prison to know that the Kendal mafia had his back. It might be frowned upon today but I have great affection for Tupac and feel that unlike many of his contemporaries he was a true superstar. The brilliance of Tupac was how comfortable he was in producing party jams like California Love whilst at the same time writing personal, socially reflective odes like Dear Mama. My choice is one from the latter group, a brilliantly composed narrative tale of a young girl's struggle which is genuinely reminiscent of the masterful Village Ghetto Land by Stevie Wonder.

Break Ups 2 Make Ups by Method Man feat. D'Angelo
I've got a bit of a confession - I've never been that big a fan of Wu Tang. Don't get me wrong I still listen to Enter the Wu and when on form they could be magnificent but I always tended to find their solo projects to be more interesting. Arguably the most commercially successful has been Method Man and although far from the greatest lyricist I have always been an admirer of his flow. He has a delivery which never fails to make a connection with the subject he is focusing on. It is no surprise he is often in demand for guest raps as he has lifted many an otherwise forgettable track (Got My Mind Made Up with 2pac springs to mind). The track I've chosen is a laid back collaboration with D'Angelo which really shows off his talents. Enjoy.

Oh No by Mos Def feat. Pharoah Monche and Nate Dogg
Three of my favourite artists collaborating on one track was always going to end well and this is a classic slice of Rawkus records at their finest. This was featured on the second volume of Lyricists Lounge and was the pick of a very fine bunch. Special plaudits have to go to Pharaoh Monche who lifts a good track to greatness with a quite brilliant verse. So much of rap is polluted with lame verses about how great the rapper is but when PM takes this approach so sharp is his flow and lyrical composition that you can't argue with his claims that he's untouchable.

What more can I say? by Jay-Z/The Beatles produced by Danger Mouse
If you are unfamiliar with The Grey Album by Danger Mouse I urge you to do something about it. In a way this album is a fitting example of how my love of hip hop has developed as a few years ago the idea of splicing Jay-Z with Lennon & McCartney would inspire outrage and cries of sacrilege. I am an unashamed admirer of Danger Mouse and he doesn't disappoint as his love and respect for both artists shines through. I'd go as far as to say this is one of the finest albums of the last decade and I've chosen this track as it beautifully uses one of my favourite ever Beatles songs to make Shaun Carter sound better than I thought possible.

That's your lot, please comment whether praise or criticism.


  1. It’s easy to forget how big the Fugees were, and how good The Score is. Perhaps The Score is the Hip Hop equivalent of Appetite for Destruction? I’ve still got the cassette copy I made from Oxley’s CD, as well as a tape copy of Biggie’s Life After Death, which I mistakenly handed to Mrs Rutter thinking it was my oral French homework tape. Happy days.

    (BTW Tom, you’ve embedded the Method Man video twice.)

  2. Duder.

    Really good blog. Totally agree about modern hip-hop. People have been crying about the death of hip-hop since the mid 90s but there was actually a really good underground revival in the early 2000s lead by Rawkus and Def Jux. Both of those labels are fucked now and nobody has taken their place. Hip-hop is now either R&B with rapping in it or really dull underground rap. There's probably some good stuff left but who can be arsed to find it? MF Doom's last album (Born Like This) was pretty good but even that was nowhere near his 2000-2005 golden era.

    I remember seeing Fu Gee La on NBA 24/7 as well. I wasn't really that in to hip-hop then myself. The Score opened the door for me. After that is was all about buying shit gangsta rap from Our Price until I got on the internet and discovered Undergroup Hip-Hop.

    Fortunately, there was so much quality put out between '88 and '95 that I'm still discovering new groups now.