Sunday, August 12, 2007

Redressing a gaping hole...

I've recently received some correspondence from a couple of readers of Machines Against the Rage who, amid several pages of glowing praise, suggested that doing something to increase the variety of artists and genres dealt with here might be of some benefit. So naturally I trawled throught the collection and dug up some of the finest examples of hip hop from the past 25 years in order to present for your edification:

The bluffer's guide to hip-hop.

It all started in 1982, with The Message. While hip-hop had been around on he streets of New York and LA for years, even decades, springing out of blues and funk, the vocal stylings driven by lack of instruments, as was the tendency to 'sample' other artists tunes, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (and yes, I realise there are seven people on the cover) were the first of these to make it to vinyl. The Message is an important milestone in the history of rap, setting the standard for lyrical dexterity and beats garnered from forgotten funk records. Just as importantly, though, was the overt political message, paving the way for many of hip-hop's greats, before the political MO of rap was stolen by pretenders of the gangsta-rap ilk.

Four years later, thanks to Run DMC and The Beastie Boys, not only had rap become socially accepted across the US, but three white Jewish boys from New York were setting the standards, releasing Licensed to Ill in 1986, skillfully blending rock and rap and opening up barriers for available subject matter. The success of 'Fight for Your Right' led to the album becoming the highest selling hip-hop record of all time to that point. One year later, Run DMC appeared in a film clip with Steve Tyler, covering 'Walk This Way', and bringing hip-hop squarely into the mainstream.

Then along came Public Enemy, and in the space of two records, 1988's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet two years later, hip hop experienced arguably its finest hour. The strange, squeaking sample on Nation..., the brutal, explosive lyrics and the non-stop sound and fury, so intense that the record needed numerous instrumental interludes to offer the listener a breather. The follow up, the most wildly non-commercial record to dominate the charts in rap's history, attacked white musicians, while spitting venom across the world, all to a funky beat, a wild departure from the Run DMC-styled rock-driven rap, paving the way for a hybrid of all three in Rage Against the Machine. And all this while The Fresh Prince was on top of the charts with his utterly inoffensive commercial pap.

Following that came one of the more underrated bands in early '90s hip-hop: Arrested Development. Unashamedly activist and pushing a uniquely positive message of self-respect and brotherhood, some of the smoothest rhymes in the business merged flawlessly with a surprising lack of samples, while also recalling everyone from De La Soul to Sly Stone in what was the first ever example of Southern hip-hop, to be followed (eventually) by Outkast.

A complete contrast to that, and the evolutionary pinnacle of the rap-rock pioneered by Run DMC was Rage Against the Machine's debut, self-titled record. Never have extreme politics and vicious, angst driven venom combined so perfectly with mainstream middle-class white boy affections. But even now, the violence, urgency and relevance of Rage remained unmatched.

In 1993, Snoop Doggy Dogg's debut record, Doggy Style, appeared on the scene, bringing gangsta rap screaming into the mainstream with the stomping single "What's My Name?", and the album itself was a classic example of what hip-hop was to expect for much of the next decade. Samples from Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton and a series of other funk and soul legends abound, crammed into the record with multicoloured brilliance. It's a shame that the album's successors failed to live up to the potential of this one.

Many years later, the southern rap milieu recovered with the release of Outkast's Stankonia, fusing Hendrix, gospel, southern deep fried rock, RnB and soul in a blazing flare of creativity, to be followed a few years later by the squillion-selling Speakerboxx/The Love Below, which featured the mammoth hit "Hey Ya".

And of course, Eminem. With The Marshall Mathers LP, The Slim Shady LP and The Eminem Show, the 'new Elvis' redefined what a white rapper could do, weaving words together with wit and humour not witnessed since Bob Dylan was at the top of his game. With Dr Dre sitting in the producer's chair, Eminem was the only name in hip hop before wis woeful Encore and subsequent retirement in 2005.

Common was a widely reputed rapper well before he released Like Water for Chocolate and Be in 2000 and 2004, and represented the combination of Arrested Development's concientiousness and the RnB club sensibilities of their northern cousins including Snoop Dog, Dr Dre and Ice Cube. Common, however, rested on an entirely separate plane, rhyming at times breathtakingly complex rhymes with positive affirmations of self-respect and mutual love that stood out like a sore thumb in the hip-hop climate of the time.

Screaming into the present, in 2005 and 2006, two artists announced their presence in the most clear way possible. Kanye West, already with a killer record under his belt in The College Dropout released what he certainly believed to be the best record of 2005, Late Registration. Already a renowned creative force as a producer, West's skill in tinkering with samples, twisting, stretching and scratching them to suit his needs, became the new normal, and "Gold Digger" and "Touch the Sky" made him the new main man of hip hop, but it's the dazzling, Shirley Bassey inspired "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" that sets new standards for top level hip hop. Then, the next year, a young Muslim who had guested on "Touch the Sky" released HIS debut, and Lupe Fiasco's Food and Liquor, with it's youthful exuberance and delight in creating new sounds, is the true sound of the future.
So there it is, the history of hip hop in under 1000 words, and, yes, I have left out numerous examples that have littered the last 30 years and achieved great distinction, but, too bad. For those who previously couldn't name one rapper after Eminem, you now have the tools to pass yourself off as at least a passing fan of urban grooves.
Good luck!


Post a Comment

<< Home