Kurtis Blow, The Breaks
With Tuesday Jazz taking a little breather for a few weeks, we’ve turned our attention to great raps from back in “the day”. Back when rapping was just another form of gorgeous beat poetry, and rappers were perfectly at liberty to go shirtless underneath their suits. Great times. Take it away, Mr Blow!
Main Source, Looking at the Front Door
Everyone needs a holiday, especially at this time of year when boiling hot rays of sunshine create a nationwide urge to down big icy bottles of brewski, roll one trouser leg up, and listen to some excellent raps. Hence Tuesday Jazz has been given the rest of the Summer off, and from now on we’ll be bumping metaphorical fists with some great hip hop from way back in the olden days. To kick things off, here’s Main Source, our number one Rap Group.
Oh dear, an uncomfortable meal…
It’s always brilliant to hear from an important member of the luxurious Interestment family, so we punched fists, spat on the ground with glee, and mumbled ‘sup? when Hip Hop Sam piled onto the scene brandishing a funny album cover. He had this to say…
Ghostface Killah‘s album cover for Bulletproof Wallets depicts the aftermath of the most embarrassing moment in hip hop history. Raekwon the Chef, fresh from his three mile morning jog has popped over to his best friend, Ghostface Killah’s house for a spot of breakfast, a girly chat and a nice big glass of freshly squeezed OJ. But, sadly, his timing couldn’t have been more appalling. Judging by the awkward look on Raekwon‘s face we can only assume that he’s just caught a glimpse of Ghostface Killah‘s morning penis “popping out” of his loosely tied dressing gown. Gutted. Here’s a track from the album…
No room for this gentleman…
In tragic music icon terms, Michael Jackson actually lived a fairly long and prosperous life. He made it to half a century, which isn’t bad at all. Elvis only got as far as 42, John Lennon made it to 40 before taking four bullets in the back, and Michael Hutchence was still a fairly youthful 37. Keith Moon and John Bonham made it fashionable for great drummers to die at 32. Then, of course, you have all of the rock stars who couldn’t make it past 27 – Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison. Gram Parsons was even younger at 26, as was Otis Redding when he died in a plane crash. Tupac was 25, Notorious BIG 24, Ian Curtis 23, and Sid Vicious and Eddie Cochran were barely grown ups at just 21. In fact, the list of tragic early deaths is relatively endless. So with that in mind, we thought it high time to select the four most unfortunate, as decided by us…
1. Jimi Hendrix, 27
It was a very sad day for music in 1970 when Hendrix apparently lay on his back, choking on his own sick, thanks to a few too many red wines. The whole thing still smells a little bit fishy, with rumours floating around that it might not have simply been the innocent death of a drinker. Either way, it robbed the world of a fantastic music man, who managed to mix rock, soul and psychedelic stuff really really well. He keeps the likes of Steve Marriott, Janis Joplin, Marc Bolan and Phil Lynott out of the top four, and, to really put things in perspective, without Hendrix we probably wouldn’t have Prince. What kind of rubbish world would that be?
2. Minnie Riperton, 31
One of the great female soul singers, Riperton died of the damn cancer when she was 31. But what a 31 years. She’ll always be remembered for Lovin’ You, a slightly drippy love song, but we’ll forever love her for the rock/soul numbers she did with Rotary Connection, Les Fleurs, and the rather graphic sex song, Inside My Love. With so many excellent soul singers to choose from, she has achieved the remarkable feat of keeping Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke out of the top four. That’s a very big score for the sisterhood.
3. Keith Moon, 32
There were a few decent dead drummers to choose from, but Keith Moon just beat Dennis Wilson and John Bonham to grab a place in the top four. He edged it for being more of a total maniac. Famous for driving cars into pools, flushing explosives down toilets, and for being a completely brilliant drummer in The Who, he died after taking too many anti-alcohol pills in 1978. He’d just been out for dinner with Paul and Linda McCartney, which presumably had nothing to do with the overdose.
4. Big L, 24
The rap game has seen lots of premature deaths – Easy E, Big Pun, Tupac, Scott La Rock, Jay Dee, Biggie Smalls, Jam Master Jay, Ol’ Dirty Bastard. But the one that really makes us slam our fists and weep up to the heavens screaming “why?” is Big L‘s. We honestly think he could have been the greatest rapper of all time, but instead he took seven bullets to the head and chest one evening in 1999. The murder remains unsolved, which makes it double annoying.
Some very sassy ladies didn’t make it…
Regardless that when you break it down, rapping is just poetry recital in front of your friends, there has been a serious shortage in female rappers over the years. The ratio of men to women is probably about fifty to one. Being very serious about our beliefs regarding equality, we would like to see this change. We want to live in a world where Jay Z is a woman, Snoop Doggy Dogg used to be a beautician, and Eminem has the most wonderful bikini body. Even so, choosing the four greatest female rappers was very tricky indeed, with MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill and Lady of Rage all falling at the final hurdle…
1. Roxanne Shante
Not to be confused with The Real Roxanne, Shante was party to one of the original hip hop beefs when she became caught up in the infamous Roxanne Wars of the mid-80s. Thankfully this was before the days when problems were solved with bullets, so she lived to rap another day. Our number one girl, she was famous for being a brilliant freestyle rapper, and as an affiliate of the Juice Crew (with Marley Marl, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap etc…) her legend is set.
2. Queen Latifah
The Will Smith of female rap, Latifah is now a cheerful tubby woman who crops up in films like Chicago, and is more likely to sing from the classic American Songbook than actually rap. But, there was a time when she was a serious MC, from her early days as a beatboxer with Ladies Fresh, to her decade long career as a Tommy Boy rapper. She’s a whole beautiful mountain of woman.
As conscious female rappers go, Bahamadia is the best. Her 1996 album Kollage was produced by the peerless DJ Premier, and she’s got a monotone, fluid flow that drips like syrup into a mixing bowl. If that makes any sense. The thinking man’s choice, she keeps Lauryn Hill off the four.
4. Jean Grae
Named after a character in the X Men, Jean Grae is possibly the best lady MC currently working. That she’s worked with the likes of Talib Kweli, The Roots and the legendary Masta Ace tells you everything you need to know. One heck of a gal.
Aww, who’s that little cutie?
Say what you like about Eminem, but in 8 Mile, he taught us that if you embarrass yourself first, no one will ever be able to embarrass you again. It was a clever move, turning his rap attack on its head, making that other guy look like a chump. That’s why we always do something enormously humiliating first thing in the morning, just to make sure that the day can’t get any worse. We might deliberately trip up at the bus stop, or accidentally (on purpose) walk back from the office toilets completely naked. It works. So good for Eminem. Good for him. But, actually, he wasn’t the first rapper to gently mock himself, back in the early 90s a young rapper called Nasty Nas unlocked a painfully humiliating box of childhood snapshots, and hung them on a washing line for everyone to see. By which we mean he put a picture of himself as a child of the cover of his amazing Illmatic album. Look at him, staring out at you, a seven year old child, he looks lonely and frightened. And yet, when you hear him rapping as an adult he’s street tough. What a glorious juxtaposition! It made for a much better cover than the original idea, which was to have the rapper wrestling Jesus. Here’s a track from the album…
G is for Gangsta
For a time, Ice Cube looked set to become the original Will Smith. But no. He might have been a better rapper, but all of his songs were odes to shouting things about bacon at hard working police officers, or calling his girlfriend a bitch. He should have stuck to Smith style ditties about church garden parties and the benefits of a nice early night. Regardless, Cube turns 40 today, we thought we’d get him a nice gift, so we drove slowly around town in one of those bouncy car things, listening to Snoop, smoking the chronic. It boiled down to a toss up between a really lovely porcelain duck, or a clip of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street showcasing some mad rapping skills. In the end we got him both. Happy Birthday Cube, hope today is a good day!
Say ‘sup to some genuine tough guys
It’s always a total joy to hear from one of the beautiful members of the Interestment family, so when Hip Hop Sam strode up wearing enormous trousers, brandishing an album cover review, we slapped five and took a mighty gulp from his gigantic bottle of lager. He had this to say…
Vincent van Gogh was a poor downtrodden artist, and nobody liked his childish oil paintings until he cut his ear off – probably following a Stella/Fosters binge drinking mix up. This led to instant respect in the art world, with experts referring to his Chair and his Sunflowers as “brilliant” and “very sexy indeed”. In much the same way, the Geto Boys were the outcasts of gangster rap, with their songs about necrophilia, killing people, and wearing Nikes frowned upon by beard twiddling hip hop bureaucrats. That was until one of the band members, a rapping dwarf called Bushwick Bill, drank a bit too much on a date and stupidly shot himself in the eye. Fortunately for Bill, every cloud has a silver lining, as the startling hospital scene made for the beatiful cover of We Can’t Be Stopped. Their ode to not being stopped. Great cover, excellent record. Here’s one of the tracks from it…
Be afraid, hip hoppers…
By the early 1990s, rap album covers went in one of two directions: guns or pastel colours. The guns signified hardcore raps about killing people and then having sex with someone, whereas the pastel colours meant that some social issues were going to be covered. Perhaps using humour as a tool. We prefered the conscious pastel coloured rap, especially as some of the guys with the guns had sparkling jheri curls, which just made them look like violent grandmothers. A silly look. But that all changed in 1993, when the Wu-Tang Clan came along, and suddenly the trannies with uzies looked almost kindly and adorable. These guys – Raekwon, ODB, Method Man, Ghostface, GZA, Scarecrow, The Face Man, BA, Murdock, and Ringo – were terrifying and mysterious, taking their style from obscure martial arts films. It was totally thrilling, and the sleeve found them kitted out like demonic ninjas prowling stealthily in a strange part-dark/part-shiny room with a massive curtain at the end. Was this one of the chambers? The 36 chambers? What are the chambers of death anyway? A fantastic record. Below is one of their classic tracks…
Kanye West and the tough guys…
As everyone knows, rap music is about posturing, looking mean, showing the next crew that you’re the best. No one can stop you. It’s also about wearing tight animal print trousers, carrying dinky little suitcases and feeling a bit tearful sometimes. Observe (above).
Some big names missed out…
It is with an enormous dollop of joy that we welcome excellent contributor Hip Hop Sam back into the fold. He’s been away for a while, rifling through his rec-rec-records, trying to figure out who the greatest rapper of all time might be. He had this to say…
Top four rappers? This is a difficult question as rap music, in itself, is terrible, and can barely be described as music – its monotonous beats sound like broken robots having violent sex, and as for those IDIOTS with their so-called hats on backwards talking in childish rhymes about who they’re going to kill, it’s simply… awful. Just kidding, I totally love it, as everyone should. So who is the best of this bad bunch of musicians?
KRS-One is a brilliant rapper. He’s released loads of excellent albums, especially with his posse BDP (every good rapper should have a posse). He’s had plenty of club bangers (songs that are popular in nightclubs). He’s been involved in some pretty exciting beefs (disagreements with other rappers) which he’s then squashed (made friends again). He’s pioneered both gangster, and intelligent conscious rap. He’s thrown PM Dawn off a stage. He’s worn some lovely tracksuits. He’s quite simply Mr Hip Hop – the best rapper ever.
A long time ago, the pinnacle of lyrical brilliance in hip hop involved matching the word hop with stop. Rakim is credited with introducing complex and intelligent rhyming patterns, alongside articulate metaphors. After Will Smith and, of course, Abs from 5ive, he’s every MCs favourite rapper. He’s also the coolest man ever to have walked the earth in a leather tracksuit, whilst simultaneously carrying a ridiculous amount of gold around his butter smooth neck.
3. Kool G Rap
Can you imagine what would happen if you combined the poetry of Keats, Milton, or Roald Dahl with the street savvy and gangster naughtiness of Nick Cotton, Dave Courteney or Danny Dyer? Of course you can’t. You’d have to borrow Jeff Goldblum’s machine from The Fly to achieve such a mix. The result, however, I assume, would be Kool G Rap. A magnificent rapper whose tongue twisting lyrical dexterity and story telling genius made everyone else look rubbish. Completely rubbish.
If you were to ask a posse of hip hop aficionados “hey guys, what’s the best hip hop album ever?”, they’d all shout “Illmatic”, and then take their tops off, start high fiving each other, and do that foot kicking dance that Kid n Play used to do in the House Party films. Despite this strange behaviour, they’ve got the album right. Illmatic is as close to hip hop perfection as you can get, and despite never being able to live up to the greatness of his debut, Nas definitely deserves a place in the top four.