Some of my favorite hip-hop groups
I thought about coming up with some type of quantitative criteria for evaluating my favorite hip-hop groups, but this is not the time of the semester for that. If I did manage to come up with some decent categories, then I would have to use them. I don't have time for that right now. As with my list of best albums, I plan to come up with some criteria, but I haven't really sat down to think about what I think the most important elements are. All that notwithstanding, I know who I like, and I have a general idea as to where they fall for me. Because I'm not sure who I would rank number one, though...forget that. That's the whole point of making a list. So here we go. Umm, wait. Are there 10 hip-hop groups I like? Guess we'll have to see. 10. Black Star Even though they only put out one album together, Mos Def and Talib Kweli demonstrated an extraordinary cohesiveness. Their rhyme styles complement each other well. If they hade some more albums, they would probably go higher. Favorite songs: Brown Skin Lady Re:Definition Thieves In The Night 9. The Roots On the last list, I kinda slept. I don't know if I think any of The Roots' albums belong in my top 10, but the thought should have crossed my mind. As a group, though, it's a no-brainer. Black Thought is definitely one of the most underrated MCs in the game. The fact that they have a live band just makes it even better. I always liked the concept of having a live band behind an MC, from way back when the Brand New Heavies dropped "Heavy Rhyme Experience." I have read conflicting reports of whether those sessions were actually live, but it was a good idea. The Roots delivered on that promise. Favorite Songs: What They Do Thought @ Work Clones 8. EPMD Back when they first came out, I didn't like 'em. I thought they couldn't rhyme in general, and Erick's mushmouth flow was absolutely disgusting. Then came "Business As Usual." Business As Usual wasn't their best albums, but on two back-to-back songs, they had their two best guest appearances. On track 2 was the first appearance of Redman. Following that up was one of the best verses L.L. ever spit. Because of those two songs, I finally gave EPMD a real listen. When I did, it was over. As is still the case, I was a sucker for a funk track, but when I actually gave them a chance, Erick and Parrish weren't that bad. The tracks put them over the top. The fact that they consistently churned out hot albums puts them in my top 10. Favorite Songs So What Cha Sayin Who Killed Jane You Gots 2 Chill 7. Run-D.M.C. They should probably be in the top 5, just based on the influence that they had on all the rap groups that followed. There really aren't any minuses to them. They had the classic formula of frenetic and ice cold personalities and they had Jam Master Jay (rest in peace), who was arguably the best DJ of all time. Favorite songs Rock Box Raising Hell My Adidas 6. N.W.A. It cannot be overstated: Niggas Wit Attitudes changed the course of hip-hop. They didn't invent 'gangsta' rap, but they did define it (on 'Gangsta, Gangsta.) That's not even the angle I'm taking with this, though. Due to business differences and disputes and soforth, the group didn't quite live up to its promise, but I keep trying to tell people, N.W.A. was the prototype for the Wu-Tang Clan. Look at this starting lineup and their season averages: PF- Ice Cube - 25 pts, 10 rebounds, 12 assists (it's the ghostwriting for Eazy-E) SF - The D.O.C. 22 pts, 6 rebounds, 5 assists C - Dr. Dre - 12 points, 18 rebounds SG - MC Ren - 18 points, 6 assists PG - Eazy-E ...well, he gets credit for getting the group together. Plus, every once in a while, he managed to come off. Favorite Songs Gangsta, Gangsta Approach 2 Danger The Grand Finale (on the D.O.C.'s "No One Can Do It Better.") 5. Wu-Tang Clan I tend to remember where I bought each of my CDs, which is saying something given the size of my collection. There are some records that I have a crystalized memory of buying. I know where I was, what time it was, what was on my mind, everything. Enter the 36 Chambers is one of those. I paid for it with a gift certificate to the mall I had gotten from my job at the time. As soon as I put the disc into the player, it was over. I wish I had some letters I wrote from that winter because I think I told everybody except my mother about that album. They had everything: the beats, the rhymes, the personalities, everything. Right from the get-go, my favorite was Ol' Dirty Bastard. I thought that was the dopest psuedonym I'd seen anybody use. And then on "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'," when he was like, "...dirty ol gettin' low wit the flow..." I was sold. Favorite Songs Bring Da Ruckus Reunited 7th Chamber pt 2 3. (tie) Public Enemy At this point, ranking is hard. All the groups from here on rate 100s from me, but it's just a matter of how long they kept it going. Public Enemy was the group that really got me into hip-hop. I had been listening to rap records (and tapes) for a few years, but starting in late 1987 and continuing on into 1988, my attention was focused mostly on jazz. I was trying to learn how to play the piano (being sabotaged by my practicing habits) and my music teacher, who thought I had some real potential, wanted me to listen to Oscar Peterson. Once I heard Oscar Peterson, I wasn't the least bit concerned with some dude rapping. I didn't lose consciousness of hip-hop, but I wasn't buying any records either. Then, in January of '89, at a wrestling meet against Central at Central, I heard "Rebel Without A Pause." I will never, ever forget that day. Never. Put it like this: I didn't know how to do the free interchange from the Broad Street line to the El and the cashier in the subway wouldn't let me back in, so I had to walk all the way from Center City to West Philly. And I didn't even care. I was literally blown away. I didn't necessarily agree with Chuck's politics, but I couldn't not-listen. And that was just off of "Rebel," which I must've listened to about-- not being hyperbolic here-- 50 times that day. After that, the dude who let me hold the P.E. tape (although I don't thnk he knew I wasn't planning on giving it back) made me a copy of "Nation of Millions" with some other assorted tracks like "My Melody" by Eric B. & Rakim. I didn't stop listening to jazz, but I was sold on hip-hop. Favorite songs Rebel Without a Pause Welcome to the Terrordome Miuzi Weighs a Ton War at 33 1/3 3. (tie) A Tribe Called Quest They just made consistent, quality records. They get some credit for helping to bring the jazz element into hip-hop production, but it really boils down to the fact that they just kept making good records. "Peoples Instinctive Travels..." was nice, but it was no preparation for The Low End Theory, which was just about as perfect a record as ever was. Then they followed that up with Midnight Marauders. A classic followed by what some would argue was an even better record. They fell off a little with Beats, Rhymes, and Life, but it still had a little heat. (I met them at the book store in 30th Street Station the summer that Beats, Rhymes, and Life (a wonderful album title) came out.) My feelings were hurt when they broke up. Favorite songs Scenario God Lives Through Check the Rhime 2. De La Soul. I wanted to make this a tie, too, but my number 1 group has 5 straight, while De La has four straight, one lapse and one recovery. Let me put this out there right now: if there was a 64-man rap tournament, both of the MCs in De La could make it to the Sweet 16. Posdnuos would probably make my Final Four, to tell the truth. Now, one of the elements that made De La so great was Prince Paul's production, so I have to include him. I'll tell the truth, though, I think 3 Feet High and Rising was a good record, but I just don't feel it like I do the others. I mean, I like "Jenifa Taught Me" and of course, "Potholes In My Lawn," and the "Buddy" remix was nice, but I wasn't so into them. In fact, I really didn't start sweating De La until "Stakes Is High" (?!). I remember telling myself for years that I was going to start buying De La records, but I just never did. Once I bought the first one, though, the others came quickly. I don't know if I can honestly name a favorite. I love De La Soul Is Dead, but Buhloone Mind State, with what is for me the song that defines De La, I Am I Be, is just...I don't know. That Tribe and De La put out classic records at nearly the same time is just incredible. Just look: Low End Theory came out at the same time as De La Soul Is Dead. Then, a couple years later, they followed those albums up with Midnight Marauders and Buhloone Mind State, respectively. Those are four of the best hip-hop albums of all time. And then, with the album that puts them past Tribe, De La came out with Stakes is High in '96. I think I listened to the title song from Stakes is High about 15 times a day for the first two months I owned it. Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump wasn't bad, but since it was following four classic albums, it seemed worse than it really was. That would've been a good album for most groups. They bounced back well with Bionix, though. Mosaic Thump was an abberation. Bionix wasn't quite at the same level as the first four, but it 's still a quality album, with "Trying People," which is the son of "I Am I Be." Favorite Songs I Am, I Be Bitties in the BK Lounge Stakes Is High (album and remix) Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa 1. OutKast Until they make a wack record, they keep the title. They can make two or three wack records and still keep the title. What puts them over De La is the simple fact that De La came out smoking and stayed at about the same plateau. OutKast just keeps getting better. Every album they make is better than the last one. I remember we Stankonia came out, the reviewer in the Philadelphia Inquirer said it was the hip-hop "Songs In the Key of Life." For a Stevie fan such as myself, that's putting a lot of pressure on an album. They did it, though. One of the many traits that I think OutKast and De La share is that they represent the full spectrum of humanity. They're not gonna come off like some goody-two-shoes, but they're introspective and they're willing to question their own actions as well as the actions of people around them. The theme I take from their records is always, 'I may never be perfect, but I'm trying to get better.' And then there's the fact that none of their albums sound the same. And again, following the pattern set by Run and DMC and Chuck and Flav, Big Boi and Dre represent two totally different personalities that combine to form a cohesive unit. Like I said, they just keep on getting better. As much as I want De La to be number one for sentimental reasons, OutKast just beats them to the punch. "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa" was sad but "Toilet Tisha" is tragic. There's a reason there's a crown in OutKast's logo (look at Southernplayalistic...) Favorite Songs Git Up, Get Out Spottieottiedopalicious B.O.B. I'll Call Before I Come That's it. Maybe there will be some honorable mentions later.