Coney Island Discs #2: ’90s Hip Hop

An unashamedly late ’80s, ’90s New York-centric best of Hip Hop. On vinyl only of course…


Much like all rock inevitably leads to Led Zeppelin, any hip hop collection without Public Enemy is Jimmy without the Page, Malcolm without the X, Def without the Jam… Tough call between this, Yo! Bum Rush The Show and Fear of A Black Planet. Shuddering Terminator X beats, genuine social commentary and authentic polemic. Do believe the hype.


EPMD stands for Erick and Parrish making dollars. Funk fuelled, sample heavy (its the golden age of the unlicensed sample) including highway robbery of Clapton’s I Shot The Sheriff for track Strictly Business. On Sleeping Bag records, almost slurred Big Apple drawl over everything from Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle, Kool & the Gang’s Jungle Boogie and ZZ Top’s Cheap Sunglasses.


Before embracing molten hip-hop ballad cheesiness, LL Cool J was the definitive self promoting, ladies loving Floyd Mayweather of B-boy, blending ultra-slick pared down production, ballistic beats and ego-centric rhymes. Features his eulogy to the beatbox I Can’t Live Without My Radio and club classic Rock The Bells. It is acceptable to listen to this on a suitably oversized, turbo-powered boombox, preferably (as my) JVC (vibrates the concrete).


Rivals Ill Communication as the definitive Beatie Boys album. After their brat-pack debut and cartoon posturings, the Beastie Boys nearly split up but emerged mostly unscathed with this bouillabaisse of sample heavy tunes, and a grand departure from Licensed to Ill. Critically revered but clearly less commercial. Claim to fame – Paul’s Boutique is the last ever album to use unlicensed samples.


Less bombastic, simply fantastic. Tribe Called Quest’s debut is a melting pot of lyrical inventiveness, clever laid back tunes, witty lyrics, eclectic samples and jazz-influenced beats. Along with spiritual fellow travellers De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers, Tribe were movers and shakers in the Native Tongues Posse, purveyors of positive-minded, good-natured Afrocentric hip hop.


Hip Hop is a form of poetry, and Pete Rock (decks and producer) and rapper CL Smooth are arguably the Laureates. Mecca and the Soul Brother, alongside The Main Ingredient are the Godfather 1 & 2 of smart, lyrically gymnastic, philosophical, soul and jazz meets block rocking beats. Pete Rock became uber-producer to a who’s who of hip-hop. Save the mystery … for Agatha Christie


Run DMC’s third album was a commercial, triple-platinum triumph that established hip hop as a blockbuster chart-topping musical genre, with the inspired Walk This Way bringing Big Apple hip hop to teenage white America. Arguably the first great hip hop album and the reason Chuck D signed with Def Jam, cementing Russell Simmons’ label as the definitive hip hop ‘Factory’. To be listened to wearing Adidas Superstar shell toes.


Brand Nubian hailed from New Rochelle, New York, starring Grand Puba, Sadat X and Lord Jamar. Debut album One for All is a rightly acclaimed alternative hip hop album loaded with socially conscious and politically charged militant Five-Percenter rhetoric. Over rinky dinky dancey beats and melodies. Didn’t unduly trouble the charts despite singles Slow Down, All for One, and Wake Up being big Billboard Rap chart hits.


So we leave the East Coast for South Central LA, home to the Pharcyde and definitive debut album. Inluential beyond pure record sales, Bizarre Ride II features Passin’ Me By and Soulflower, the latter previously recorded live with The Brand New Heavies. Light-hearted, semantically innovative cartoon hip hop that isn’t a joke, although you get some great Mum cussing on Ya Mama.


Thinking of a masterplan, with nothing but sweat inside my hand… I start a mission leave my residence, thinking how can I get some dead presidents. Slam dunk benchmark album on 4th & Broadway starring Rakim’s template laconic free-rhythm verbal delivery (earning comparisons to Thelonious Monk) and Eric B’s stripped down beats. recorded in less than a week at  Manhattan’s Power Play Studios in 1987. Paid in Full, I Know You Got Soul and Eric B For President… if it only had three tracks it would still be a defining moment.


Blending old school hip hop and electro funk beats, Mantronix was the baby of DJ Kurtis Mantronik and rapper MC Tee, citing leftfield influences as far afield as Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Yellow Magic Orchestra. Completely sample free, In Full Effect used polyrhythmic, almost African drum fused with synth basslines and synth/vocoder vocals, was the first $7-figure record deal for a hip hop artist and claims to be the first ever album mastered via DAT.


Most hip hop is derivative in some shape or form. Not De La Soul. Not 3 Is The Magic Number, not Me Myself & I, not Eye Know, with samples as diverse as Hall & Oates and Steely Dan. Kicked off the Daisy Age retort to the dawn of gangsta rap and spawned a phlanx of remix collaborations with UK remixer CJ Mackintosh. 3 Feet High & Rising suffered from dodgy production, in keeping with the homemade ethos. Described by Macy Gray as ‘the Beatles of Hip Hop’.

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