hip_hop_albums_w1

(Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII)

We’ve reached the medal round. The Top 3, where I’ll crown the bronze, silver, and coveted gold albums of my hip hop life. One would think choosing between the top three would be extremely difficult, but it was actually the easiest rankings on my list. I knew my top 2, then I just had to pick which would be third.

Speaking of third place, let’s get into it. Out of all the artists on my list, this guy is by far the most polarizing. People love him, people hate him, and people simply think he’s an asshole. Some see his outlandish antics as a complete turn off. They can’t see past his exterior and take a deep look deep into his music. Others are such fanboys that they call every musical note he touches, “genius.” Some, like myself, just love his music. I can’t really stand his out-of-album persona, but I don’t let that get in the way of what’s really important: the music. As much as some people hate to hear it, he’s truly a one of a kind ARTIST. He pushes the boundaries of what’s popular and has helped shape pop culture far more than most musicians in the 21st century.

He’s got a big ego. He’s a household name. And he likes fish sticks…

 

…you think I’d go an entire top 10 hip hop list and not include Yeezy?!?!

 

 

Number 3: Kanye West – Graduation (2007)

Graduation

Yes. Graduation. Kanye West has four A-level albums, IMO. I was only gonna include one of them on my list, so I had to make some decisions. I eliminated Late Registration right off the bat. Great album, but not classic status. Then it got real hard. We have his debut album, College Dropout, which came out when I was in middle school and really helped me get into hip hop ALBUMS as a whole. Although it’s very nostalgic for me, I didn’t feel it had the musical longevity to be number 3 on my all time list. Plus, I think there are a few too many skits for my liking. So it really came down to Graduation and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I wrestled back and forth with my decision for weeks, knowing that only one would land in the top 10. After much deliberation, the choice became clear to me. When I’m looking for a full ALBUM to put on and enjoy from front to back, Graduation ever so slightly edges out MBDTF. And I do mean slightly. Here’s why…

While MBDTF is certainly an incredible accomplishment for Kanye West himself, I don’t think it had the impact on the rest of the hip hop (and music) world that Graduation did. It’s almost like comparing Lebron James to Michael Jordan. Lebron James might look bigger, stronger, faster, and have better stats. But Michael Jordan changed the game of basketball forever and paved the way for guys like Lebron and Kobe to become the worldwide mega stars they are. MBDTF is four years fresher in our brains. It’s the sexier album. It’s got an insanely epic and cinematic feel to it. It might go down as Kanye’s best album ever. But let us not forget the album that changed the game for all of hip hop. Graduation was the first album from a big hip hop artist to really break away from boom bap-centric drums and experiment with pop synths and dance music. It paved the way for artists like Drake, Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky, and Kid Cudi to explore unique sounds that most hip hop artists were previously too gun shy to try because it sounded too “soft.” Although we didn’t realize it at the time, Graduation symbolized an end to the gangster rap era that started way back at the end of the 80s and lasted almost two whole decades. Popular hip hop was now open to a much lighter and pop-friendly sound, all because of this one album in 2007.

Intro tracks. Intro tracks. Intro tracks. Sick of hearing me talk about how much I love them yet? Well, Graduation has one of my favorite intro tracks of all time in “Good Morning.” It’s a minimal, dreamy track with a hypnotizing beat and a killer vocal melody. It closes out with a one of my favorite samples ever when Kanye uses his mentor Jay-Z’s line from his own intro track on The Blueprint), “Hustlers that’s if ya still livin’ / get on down / Get-Get on down.” The great opener is followed by what I consider to be the most underrated track on the album, “Champion.” I never hear anyone talk about this being one of the best cuts on Graduation, but it’s one of my personal favorites. Kanye’s flow over the sped up Steely Dan sample is top notch and the female vocals on the bridge add just the perfect amount of culture. Tons of energy on this one.

Speaking of energetic tracks, perhaps the biggest single on the album is next. “Stronger” was Kanye’s first real jump from hip hop to dance pop. He slowed down the Daft Punk sample and laid a driving kick under it. Add in some of the album’s signature synths and a pinch of Yeezy swagger and you have a recipe for one of the biggest hits of Kanye’s career. While I point to the whole album as being a turning point for hip hop music, “Stronger” is really the track that sparked it all. It left real hip hop heads, indie hipsters, and house music ravers in agreement – this was a hot track. But not to be outdone by “Stronger,” Kanye followed it up with the upbeat, feel good track appropriately titled, “Good Life.” While the instrumental, with those big layered synths and high-pitched “P.Y.T.” sample was great, this track was a hit because of the chorus. I can’t tell you how many parties I went to (humblebrag), where smiling people would be singing along with their hands in the air saying, “Now throw your hands up in the skyyyyy.” It’s one of those generational anthems that everyone can get down to and is universally liked, something that Kanye has made a habit of throughout his career.  If you weren’t hooked by the end of “Good Life,” Kanye hits you with the lead single, “Can’t Tell Me Nothin.” I remember my friend playing this song for me for the first time and both of us just sitting there like, “Damn. Kanye done did it on this one.” Like much of the album, when you sit back and really listen to it, it’s a very dreamy beat that is super easy on the ears. One of my favorite Kanye lines comes from this track…”So if the devil wear prada / Adam Eve wear nada / I’m in between but way more fresher.” Flamesssssss. It’s just another example of Kanye maturing as not only a producer, but a lyricist on this album.

Ok, so I’d be lying if I said the album didn’t slow down slightly in the second half. Most of the big bangers are layered on the top half, but it’s not like the second half is a slouch. “Barry Bonds” was hailed as an underwhelming collab with Lil Wayne (who was at peak stardom when this album dropped). For some weird reason, I really like the lo-fi feel of it. It sounds like an unmastered demo but I think it works. “Flashing Lights” was a giant single and one of the most brilliant fusions of orchestral strings and modern synths. The juxtaposition between the two in the chorus over a simple vocal sample made for one of Kanye’s most timeless hits. My man DJ Premier makes an appearance on “Everything I Am,” which is a much more soulful and slowed down version of his usual production. It doesn’t hit you in the face and scream “PREMO,” but once I found out it was produced by him, I could hear the sample chopping. We also get the Chris Martin feature on “Homecoming.” This song doesn’t get enough credit for its bravery. I mean, can you imagine 5 years prior, in 2002, one of the top 5 biggest rappers doing a song with Coldplay?! It’s the ultimate soft move, but somehow Kanye and Chris Martin make it fit perfectly into the album and it ended up being one of the more memorable moments in Kanye’s career. His analogies about Chicago, which are very prevalent in his entire discography, are at their best in this track. Truly a classic and a genre bender.

This is my third favorite hip hop album of all time, but did I think there were any weak moments? Sure. “Drunk and Hot Girls” was disappointing. When I saw there was a Mos Def feature I expected better. “The Glory” and “I Wonder” are good tracks but don’t stand out. “Big Brother” is a great tribute to Jay-Z and how he’s helped Kanye, but I think his previous two albums had better closers. But the rest of the track listing stands out so much that it makes up for a few duds.

As I always do with these reviews, I want to talk about the legacy of Graduation. It might actually be the most influential album on the list (sans Illmatic). I feel like I’m the perfect age to talk about this album’s influence. I was 18 when it came out. I was in my prime years of consuming the newest mainstream artists. And honestly, at the time, I didn’t realize how big Graduation was. I listened to it, liked it, and figured it was just another good Kanye album. It was only his third solo album and I didn’t know he’d go on to become the icon that he is. I liked it, but didn’t LOVE it. Now, 10 years later, I can tell you that I do in fact LOVE it, and it’s one of the easiest listens on my office Sonos. The songs have aged very well, and when you take a glance at the current sound of the hip hop landscape, you realize that Kanye’s Graduation was a landmark moment in the history of hip hop. It gave rappers the freedom to make music that wasn’t so street-oriented, and allowed hip hop artists to take more pop-friendly risks. It’s less about the lyrics, and more about the beats. It’s a production juggernaut.

Whether you like him or not, Kanye West will be a very important part of pop culture history. He’s been actively challenging popular music for almost 20 years. When he does something, people listen up. I think he may have climaxed on MBDTF, but I’ll listen to every Kanye album for as long as he makes them. Graduation is a pinnacle moment in Kanye’s career, hip hop history, and my personal life. I love it, and that is all.

hip_hop_albums_w1

(Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI)

Only four more albums to go. That’s where we’re at now. It’s the dog days of the countdown season and we’re pushing through to the finish line with four more classics. Any one of these albums could easily take the top spot. But decisions needed to be made and rankings have been set.

At number four we have one of the most universally loved and appreciated hip hop albums ever. And rightfully so. It’s easily one of the best combinations of raw lyrical talent mixed with incredible beats created by some of the best producers of all time. I mean, seriously…the production roster on this thing is wild. This guy was blessed to get so much love from some living legends on his first EP. Everything came together at the perfect time to make this album such a classic.

He’s my personal favorite rapper, and this is his best album.

I present to you, the one and only…

Illmatic.

Number 4: Nas – Illmatic (1994)

Illmatic

 

Unlike most of the other albums on this list, I don’t have a special story for when I first heard Illmatic. I just heard songs in pieces until I realized they were all from the same album. So, back when CDs were a thing, I went out and bought the CD because it felt like the right thing to do. To own a piece of history from an artist who was quickly becoming my favorite rapper.

If I could describe Illmatic in two words, they’d be: Quality and Consistency. It’s a “short” album, meaning it’s not 20 tracks long with skits and fillers. No, it’s essentially 9 very good – great hip hop songs, structured in a way that makes for an extremely smooth and enjoyable listening experience. I don’t count the intro track (“The Genesis“) as an actual song because it doesn’t involve Nas rapping. It’s just a beat (a good one at that) and Nas/AZ giving shoutouts. Although I’m not considering it as a key component of the album, I still never skip it. It’s a great tone setter for the New York imagery you’ll hear throughout the rest of the tracks. Once your ears hear the dark boom bap drums of “New York State of Mind,” it’s smooth sailing from front to back.

New York State of Mind,” is a great place to jump into discussing the unparalleled production credits on Illmatic. Never in hip hop history has a debut album had the Murderer’s Row type production roster that Nas was blessed with. The kid could rhyme, that’s for sure. But he also was aided with some of the best beat-makers we’ve ever seen. My personal favorite, DJ Premier, came through with three heaters. “NY State of Mind” is for sure the best of the three. It’s where we’re first introduced to the microphone skills of young Nasir Jones. His lyrics take us on a voyage through the crime-ridden underbelly of New York, and Premier’s creepy piano samples are the perfect first mate. We get more Premo halfway through the album on track 6 with “Memory Lane,” which is a 180 from the bleak subject matter of NYSOM. Premo’s silky smooth keys and vocal samples take us all back to our childhood summers, running around in parks and simply enjoying youth. Premier appears for the third and final time toward the end of the album on track 9, “Represent,” which is a much more upbeat hype track than the previous two. The gang chorus shouting “REPRESENT-REPRESENT!” will make anyone feel like a gangster. This album, in a weird way, is a microcosm of DJ Premier’s capabilities as a producer. He’s able to slow it down and get real muddy and grimey (NYSOM), smooth it out with some heartfelt soul samples (Memory Lane), and hype it up for the crew (Represent). Still waiting on that Nas/Premier full length project to drop. Anytime guys…

The man who discovered Nas also had a big footprint on the production of Illmatic. New York legend Large Professor produced three tracks for his young protege on his debut, including the first two singles. Halfway through the album on track 5, we first hear from Large Pro on the appropriately titled, “Halftime.” The track is carried by the fun and funky bass line along with the mariachi-esque horn sample in the chorus. The second single, “It Ain’t Hard To Tell,” has a very similar sound. Large Pro comes through with one of the most recognizable saxophone samples we’ve ever heard (“T.R.O.Y. and “Rumpshaker are two others that come to mind), and Nas drops some of his most quotable lines. His third contribution, “One Time 4 Your Mind,” is the weakest track on the album, in my opinion. It’s the only song that feels useless in the track list. There’s nothing memorable about it and at times it feels juvenile compared to the rest of the tracks. It’s really my only criticism of Illmatic. It’s not a bad song by any means, but when it’s sandwiched between 8 classics, it feels a little lackluster.

If three tracks each from DJ Premier and Large Professor weren’t enough to get you excited about this album, fear not! I see your Premo/Large Pro and raise you a Pete Rock/Q-Tip combo. Pete Rock comes through with one of the best works of his career (see “T.R.O.Y.” above) on “The World Is Yours.” Picking a favorite song off Illmatic is nearly impossible. But…gun to my head I would probably say “The World Is Yours.” Even DJ Premier himself has said he came to the Illmatic sessions with a bunch of beats to play for Nas. Then when he walked in and heard Pete Rock playing “The World Is Yours,” he scrapped his entire catalogue and went back to work. That’s how exceptional this track is. It forced a legend to work harder than ever. Not to be outdone by his peers, Q-Tip rolls through with his signature sound on track 7, “One Love.” The upright bass and jazzy instrumentation stand out from all the other tracks that have a more standard New York street feel. Q-Tip’s production perfectly matches the subject matter in Nas’ storytelling and makes for one of the more unique songs on the album, and a personal favorite. Finally, I have to mention the smooth and sultry, “Life’s a Bitch.” While producer and childhood friend of Nas, L.E.S., doesn’t have the giant catalogue or legendary status that the other producers on Illmatic have, check his production credits. He’s been behind some classics. “Life’s a Bitch” holds the only feature on the album, introducing us to a rapper by the name of AZ, who drops arguably the greatest guest verse of all time (Nas himself may have something to say about that with “Verbal Intercourse“). Nas’ own father, Olu Dara, plays a beautiful cornet solo as the song fades out. It’s a unique production on the track listing, and it holds up against all others.

The beats are all amazing, but let’s give credit where credit is due – there is no Illmatic without Nas. You could assemble the same producers and the same beats for any rapper, but a very, VERY few could turn them into the masterpieces that Nas did. It was a young, talented New York rapper at his most raw and hungry. There was no big marketing scheme behind it. No videos with girls, and no love songs for the ladies. It was just Nas, in the flesh, hitting you with BARS. He packed so much lyrical content into every single line. It’s truly incredible when you go through the lyrics and break it down. He made what many consider to be the greatest hip hop album ever without a single catchy hook. Seriously, listen to all the songs. There’s either no chorus at all, or just Nas repeating the name of the track in spoken word. The exception to this, and what would be considered the closest thing to an actual hook, is “Life’s a Bitch.” Besides that, maybe “Represent?” The point is, most rappers rely on catchy hooks to get radio play and sell records. They need those few lines that stick in your head to stand out over the rest of the track. With Nas, it’s the exact opposite. He avoids choruses of any kind because they’d take away from what he’s saying in his verses. I can only imagine how much hardcore Nas fans cringed in the late 90s when he dropped “Oochi Wally.” The man simply doesn’t need to sell out like that, and he still hasn’t. 27 years later and Nas has rarely compromised his artistic and lyrical integrity in an attempt to sell records (“Oochi Wally” notwithstanding). It’s something you just have to accept and respect about the guy, and if you can’t get down with it, then take a walk.

The legacy of Illmatic has been written about and documented thousands of times. At this point, there’s not much you can say about it that hasn’t already been said. So what does Illmatic mean to me?

Well, I think Illmatic is the perfect hip hop starter kit. It’s what I’d recommend to someone who’s never listened to hip hop, or has reservations about the genre. It’s a bullet-proof record. You can’t not like it. Even the most heavy metal, rock-centered people will find themselves bobbing their heads along to the music. And even if you don’t have the trained ear to keep up with each and every lyric, you’ll be able to pick up on a few standout lines that you’ll find super clever when they click in your head. A lot (and I mean A LOT) of hip hop can rub people the wrong way, but Illmatic lives in it’s own zone that’s impervious to hate and negativity. It’s like the Sweden of music. Completely neutral to other genres, and beloved by it’s own people.

There are a lot of places you can start your hip hop consumption, but if you ask me, there’s no better place to pop your cherry than Illmatic.

 

Fuck. I really don’t like when these young meddling kids make me chuckle. But when they do, I have nothing to do but tuck my old, grey, geriatric tail between my legs and tip my foam front/webbed-back AARP trucker hat to them. And that’s exactly what I’m doing for this video.

It’s just such a simple prank. Tricking people into doing something stupid with their eyes closed and walking away. Genius. There’s no big reveal or master trickery going on. No shock value. No one having to scream, “CHILL DUDE IT’S JUST A PRANK!” like some kind of asshole. Nope. This was just pure, goofy, innocent fun. And you can tell it was legit, too. It’s not something so out of this world that you’d HAVE to get people in on it to pull it off. You just convince a stranger that you’re practicing to be a street magician, and boom. You’re in.

Is it the funniest prank I’ve ever seen? Definitely not. But it’s refreshing to see a harmless gag from a young prankster. Even in the Jackass movies, sometimes the simplest pranks made me laugh the most.

 

 

 

 

I’m not joking when I say that was legitimately a good NBA fight. It’s 2017 and beggars can’t be choosers. Did anyone actually connect on their punches? No. But at least they got after it a little. This qualifies as a Donnybrook by basketball standards.

As much as we all love Ron Artest for being a lovable lunatic, you can give him a big thanks for the Pussification of Basketball. Since the Malice at the Palace, the league has raised suspensions (without pay) and fines for fighting to such ungodly levels, most players won’t even bother throwing hands strictly for the financial reasons. Then, add to it that they want nothing to do with the potential internet humiliation of losing a fight on national tv, and you get the bitch made NBA we have now. Shit, guys won’t even go up to challenge a dunk anymore out of fear of being posterized. They sure as shit aren’t gonna have the balls to square up and fight another man.

But just remember, even the great Heat/Knicks brawls of the mid-90s had whiffs like we saw tonight. And with bigger stars than C-listers like Serge Ibaka and Robin Lopez. Never forget…Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson.

 

 

 

 

 

hip_hop_albums_w1

(Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V)

Can you believe it? We’re halfway through the countdown! There’s so many exceptional works of art that we’ve already had the pleasure of discussing, I’m beyond excited to dive into the Top 5. This is the cream of the hip hop crop. These are the albums I can listen to front to back, no skips, any time, any place, and enjoy the hell out of them.

Number 5 brings us to our most recent album on the list. It came out in 2012 and helped push this artist into the upper echelon of the rap game. He became well-respected not only by his fans, but his peers. He proved that he was much more than “just a rapper.” This album showcased his incredible storytelling abilities. He made a legitimate concept album, which is something super rare in the hip hop genre.

Today, if you ask any real HipHopHead who the best rapper in the game is, you’ll of course get a variety of answers. But any list that doesn’t include this man in their top 5 can be immediately thrown in the trash. His talent level is so clearly above 99% of the rappers out there that he needs to be referred to as simply, an artist.

He’s Kendrick Lamar, and this is Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.

Number 5: Kenrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012)

Kendrick

Man, I was late on this dude. In past reviews I’ve been late on albums because they came out when I was a little youngin’ and I didn’t start digging into hip hop until I was 15. But for Kendrick, I have no excuse. By 2012 I was deep into the game and listening to new music weekly. I’d heard about him from a few different friends who swore he was dope, but for some reason I never took the time to dig into his stuff. I think it was his voice. It was initially a turn off for me. It didn’t sound like a normal rap delivery. But one day in the summer of 2013 when I was driving around exploring my new city of LA, a Kendrick track came on my shuffle. I got deep into the lyrics and all of the sudden, boom. It was a hip hop epiphany. I finally understood why Kendrick was getting the hype from all my respected hip hop sources. I was finally ready to sit down and listen to Good Kid, M.A.D.D City.

Almost all of the albums on this list have exceptional intro tracks, which I’ve made clear I’m a fan of. This intro track, “Sherane,” doesn’t have the juice that some of the others do, but it’s a nice setup for the story that the album follows. We’re introduced to a teenager in the city of Compton (presumably a young Kendrick), who’s trying to get with a girl named Sherane. It all seems innocent enough. Just a young guy trying to get his sex life into gear. But the eerie, ambient echoes give you an uneasy feeling. You can sense that this isn’t going to be a typical teenage summer love story. A skit (tons of very important and storytelling skits on this album), warning Kendrick to stay off the street and finish school seamlessly transitions into the first hit from the album, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” The silky smooth guitar sample layered over bumping 808s works in perfect unison with the laid back chorus lyrics. It has a breezy, beachy feel to it. One where you can close your eyes, release all of the stresses in your life, and tell off anyone who tries to fuck with your vibe. Within the story of the album, it puts our subject in the shoes of a typical teenager who just wants to live life and not be bothered. We all remember the feeling. Can’t nobody tell you nothin’. Kendrick puts you back in the shoes of your teenage self. This young and chill Kendrick then transitions into the loud, aggressive, and braggadocios Kendrick on “Backseat Freestyle.” The setting is exactly as the title suggests. Kendrick is drinking and smoking with his friends while driving around LA. They’re bumping music (and I mean BUMPING) and spitting rhymes about how badass they are. It’s yet another great representation of teenage life in the city. Young Kendrick is starting to get that liquid courage that lets him show off to his friends. This track goes almost as hard as any Kendrick track ever. Almost (just wait for it).

Then, after two songs where Kendrick sounds like he owns the world and can do no wrong, we peel back the outer layer of his personality and realize that it’s mostly a front. “The Art of Peer Pressure” is one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s where the young Kendrick first reveals to the listener his introspective side. He’s just a young man trying to figure out life on the fly. He’s really not into the drinking, smoking, and gang banging. He just does it because he’s “with the homies.” The second half of the track follows Kendrick and his homies running up on enemies, robbing a house, and dodging the cops with vidid imagery. Another skit transitions into the trippy “Money Trees,” a track that on the surface might appear like a standard rap song about “gettin’ money.” But a deeper look into the lyrics within the context of the album’s story shows that young Kendrick, although aware he’s gang banging mostly out of peer pressure, knows that it’s one of the only ways he’ll ever get the money he dreams of. Skip ahead to the Pharrell-produced “Good Kid,” and we’re back to the Kendrick with a good soul who’s stuck at a crossroads between good and “madd.” He talks about life being a tale of “Red and Blue,” and getting beaten for being affiliated one way or the other. Cops harass him because he fits the gangster profile, and he’s looking to faith for guidance in the middle of this war he finds himself in.

Then we get to what I consider to be the climax of the album. There’s not a song in recent memory that made me lose my shit as much as “M.A.D.D City” did the first time I heard it. It’s the penultimate BANGER that I can think of off the top of my head. It. Goes. So. Hard. And Kendrick just rips the beat to absolute shreds. It’s one of those rare instances when the perfect beat meets the perfect rapper, with the perfect lyrics and the perfect delivery. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the nod to one of the old school west coast legends MC Eiht on the second verse. This is an all-time track that will be remembered way down the line. Next up is the biggest single from the album, “Swimming Pools,” which is a unique, introspective look at the affects of alcohol, but masked as a club hit. On it’s surface it sounds like another song about poppin bottles, but the verse lyrics reveal somewhat of an anti-drinking message. Yet another instance where Kendrick takes a typical rap subject and flips it on its head to have a positive message. We’re then treated to the epic, 12 minute long “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” This was the first track I heard from the album and it really stuck with me. Kendrick again raps with vivid imagery and describes an almost certain and peaceful death in the streets. The track then has a brief intermission with a skit where Kendrick declares he’s, “tired of fuckin runnin,” and decides to seek revenge. The music changes from a peaceful guitar melody to creepy choir hymns and dark distorted drums. The track ends with Kendrick’s grandmother giving the young, angry men a calming talk and leading them in prayer. It’s an amazing story within the novel that is the album.

Young Kendrick seems to come to terms with himself in “Real,” where he celebrates the person he is and not the fake one he thought he was. “Compton” isn’t a bad song, but it felt forced. It seemed like an excuse to fit Dr. Dre on the album where he really didn’t have a place. Also the beat sounds like Just Blaze got lazy and tweaked “Exhibit C” session template, which kind of annoys me. I also didn’t mention the Drake feature, “Poetic Justice.” Again, it’s only because I feel like it’s forced simply to have a big name included on the album. I actually like the song a lot. I’m glad Kendrick did the chorus, and Drake was perfectly fine on it. It’s just inserted into the album at such a key moment where the story is really hitting it’s stride and kind of hurts the momentum, IMO.

Good Kid, M.A.D.D City is a special album by a special artist. If the last 5 years are any indication, Kendrick Lamar is gonna be around for a while and will go down as one of the most talented hip hop artists of all time. 2015s To Pimp A Butterfly solidified him as a true artist in a generation of rappers that struggle to create meaningful music. Nowadays it seems like you either dumb down your content for commercial success, or keep your artistic integrity and struggle as an underground artist your whole career. Kendrick Lamar has proven that trend wrong, and Good Kid, M.A.D.D City is the album that launched him into what should be a long, prosperous career that blesses us with a number of projects of the same quality. Fingers crossed!

 

It’s a cool Wednesday night in mid-March, and our country is in a brief lull. It’s the calm before the storm. The sleep before the show. The bubbles before the squirts. We’re all taking one last breather before we embark on the greatest annual sporting tradition in our great nation: The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. For the next three weeks we get treated to 63 games of emotional, passionate, and nail-biting basketball. Like clockwork, this tournament takes the nation by storm and seemingly never fails to be loaded with dozens of dramatic finishes that any sports fan will appreciate.

But why is that? Why is it that this specific sporting event, amongst all the other great ones our country has to offer, always lives up to the hype? It’s really the only one that does so every year. The Super Bowl is the most-watched sporting event, but there’s only about a 50/50 shot the game itself is actually entertaining. A lot of Super Bowls are unwatchable after one team seizes control. The NBA and MLB championships are seven game series and rarely get to a winner take all Game 7. Same with hockey. The only other major sport is College Football. We’ve been lucky enough to have a few great championship games lately, but overall the final game tends to lack the drama and quality of play that was built up by the media.

So to me, what makes March Madness consistently great is easy: the players. We know the numbers because we see the commercials for it every year. 99% of these kids don’t go on to play pro. So this is really it for them. It’s the highest point of competition in their athletic careers. There’s approximately 750 players in the NCAA tournament when it starts, and there’s 60 picks in the NBA draft. About half of them will be foreign. So even if every college player drafted is playing in the NCAA Tournament, that’s only about 30 out of the 750 total that will go on to the NBA. It’s an insanely small number when you really think about it. But it’s what helps make this tournament so great. There’s no tomorrow for these kids.

I think this feeling of, “Oh shit, this is what I’ve been playing for my whole life,” gives the players an extra boost of adrenaline that brings all everyone to a relatively even playing field. Yes, the higher seeds still have more talent, but these lower seeded teams loaded with juniors and seniors get that adrenaline boost and bring their game to a whole new level. It’s like those urban legends of mothers who gain super human strength and are able to lift cars if their child’s in danger. The low seeds know this is their last chance to do something memorable in their competitive athletic career. Good luck getting pumped up for a rec league game at age 30. Not gonna happen. They end up playing out of their minds and before you know it, there’s 2 minutes left and they’re leading by 3 with the ball. They start believing they can pull off the upset because it’s been long established that every year upsets do happen. Once they truly believe they can do it, the upset manifests itself. They all know there’s gonna be a Cinderella Story, it’s just a matter of who it will be.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for this weekend. It’s the best four days of sports in the calendar year. Basketball games on four different channels from noon to midnight, all having equal importance. It’s a special feeling seeing that first buzzer beater. The pure joy and elation on the winning side, contrasted by the dejection and tears from the losers. It’s as cinematic as sports get. At this time tomorrow, 16 games will be in the books and we could be saying the same thing we say almost every year…

Was that the greatest first day in NCAA Tournament history?

Probably not. But one thing’s for sure – March Madness never disappoints.

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Oh, how time flies. Can’t believe it’s already been 1,973 years since the great Julius Caesar was betrayed by Brutus, Cassius, and their fellow rebels in front of thousands of blood-hungry Romans cheering them on in the Coliseum (that might be some #altfacts I just made up there but I like to imagine the assassination happening that way). I feel it’s only right to give a hat tip to one of the great JC’s of all time on the Ides of March.

Just a quick reminder – the death of Julius Caesar actually resulted in the start of the Roman Empire. Many people think he was a great Roman Emperor. #AltFact. He unified Rome through victories as a civil war general and was appointed Dictator for life (hence, the murder). Once he was killed, there was another civil war and his adopted son, Caesar Augustus, became the first emperor of what we all know as the Roman Empire. Boom. Droppin’ straight knowledge bombs on y’alls asses.

P.S.

A complete list of other great JC’s, according to one of the greatest JC’s, below…

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(Source) –  Canada’s Carleton University removed the weight scale from its campus gym after several students complained about being “triggered” by it. A sign has been put up in place of the scale, explaining that the decision to remove it is “in keeping with current fitness and social trends.” The school’s manager of health and wellness programs, Bruce Marshall, told the school newspaper that focusing only on weight had a negative impact when it came to fitness and athletics. “We don’t believe being fixated on weight has any positive effect on your health and well-being,” he said to the Charlatan. “The body is an amazing machine and even when we are dieting and training it will often find a homeostasis at a certain weight.” He added that it can take a long time for anyone to notice a change in weight, so there was no point in obsessing about it. Marshall may have a point that measuring the circumference of your girth can be a more effective indicator of fitness than a number on a scale. However, removing the weight scale will only make it more difficult for students who want to lose or gain weight to track their progress at the gym. After all, being overweight or underweight is a major health concern. The scale is also important for athletes who rely on those measurements to gauge their weight class in sports like boxing and wrestling.

Several students were completely onboard with the decision. Per the Charlatan, one student named Samar El-Faki said it was a good call that accommodated people with eating disorders.“Scales are very triggering,” she said. “I think people are being insensitive because they simply don’t understand. They think eating disorders are a choice when they are actually a serious illness.” But she was in the minority, as many other students criticized the college for pandering to special snowflakes. “Next it will be the mirrors,” wrote another student on Facebook. Speaking to CBC, Marshall says that the school will reconsider its decision to remove the scale due to the backlash. “We shouldn’t remove something because some people abuse it,” said Marko Miljusevic, a second-year student. “If they can’t handle the number that shows up on the scale then don’t step on it.”

Lol. Fuckin Canada. What a bunch of pussy hosiers. Can you imagine this happening in the great U-S-of A? Not a chance, bucko. In America we eat scales for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We’re not gonna let no scales tell us how to live. Nope. Not no way, not no how. I dare a scale to try and make me feel bad about myself. I’ll put on weight just to break that shit. Slavery is illegal in this country and we sure as hell ain’t gonna start being slaves to no dumbass scales. Not now, not evah. We don’t bow to scales and we definitely don’t bow to triggered snowflake PC millennials. The day that happens is a sad day for America.

I guess Canada forgot the good ol’ correlation between weight and wealth. What happened to the days when the Skinnys used to gaze with endearment at the Fats with envy? When 5’5 250 lb men were swimming in it with the finest wenches in the kingdom? When being covered in grease and hot oil was a luxery, not a slight toward kitchen workers and mechanics? Those were the days, man. All fat people had to worry about was keeping a large geographical distance between themselves and the other 95% of the population that were carrying life-threatening pathogens. Now they’re subjected to constant scrutiny from peers, doctors, and the “beautiful” – or “malnourished,” as I like to call them. It was a more simple time, and now, it’s ass-backwards if you ask me.

Fat pants = Fat wallet. Always has, always will. The sooner those syrup suckers up north realize that, the sooner they’ll be as great as America.

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(Source) – A new app listens in on women’s conversations with men, providing data about how many times they’ve been “manterrupted.” Developer BETC São Paulo claims that “manterruption” is “one of the types of violence against women.” To help stop it, women can download the app for free, calibrating their voices in its system. Then, using a phone’s microphone, the app listens in on conversations, analyzing them for interruptions and factoring in which voices are likely male. The app doesn’t store recorded conversations, but it does provide real-time data about the number of interruptions and their duration, BETC São Paulo says. The app also stores this data, which it will use to determine which places globally women are most frequently interrupted, and at what times “manterruption” most often occurs.

The Woman Interrupted app, developed in Brazil, operates in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The Woman Interrupted website cites several studies, including a Journal of Language and Social Psychology report that found men interrupt women 23 percent more frequently than they interrupt other men, as well as a Columbia University study that found female students are frequently interrupted in class. The website also features “portraits of silence,” inviting app users to submit art depicting manterruption to “promote the fight against Manterruption.” So far, two of the three reviews for the new app are from men. “YES, it can be used by either men or women,” wrote one male reviewer. “I consider myself very good at allowing women equal space to speak, but it’s helping back up my self-assessment with an objective one.”

Yes! Finally, an app that tracks how much more girls talk than guys. Whether directly or indirectly, that will be the end purpose of this app. To provide solid data supporting how many times men need to stand up for themselves and butt in to a conversation just to get their voice heard. It’s long overdue, really. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out at a bar and been stuck talking to a girl that goes on and on and on about her trip to Africa when she was 23 and how she’s completely woke to her western caucasian privilege. That’s wonderful, sweetie. But what about me? Maybe take an interest in my life for once. I’d love to tell you about the rec league basketball playoff thriller I played in last week, but you won’t give me the chance to speak.

So yes, I’m very glad this app is finally hitting the streets. My only complaint is that it doesn’t record and store the conversations. Bull corn. That would be the icing on the cake. “Oh honey you never listen to me…” Really? Let’s take a look at how many times this has happened…

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When I really wanted to do this…

 

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(Part I  |  Part II  |  Part III  |  Part IV)

Editors Note: I started writing this blog a week ago. It just so happens that the last blog I wrote before I finally finished and ended up publishing this was a blog DJ Premier. Music, man. Mahalo. 

Last week we talked about a conscious rap record that hit the streets in 1998, and we won’t veer too far away from that description as we get into my number 5 pick. This album was also released in 1998, and also featured a duo. Except this duo was the classic rapper/DJ combination. One man on the mic and the other on the 1s and 2s. As hip hop as it gets.

By the time they released this album, they had quite the lengthy discography. They’d been on the grind for over a decade, consistently producing quality hip hop without ever achieving mainstream success. But their music helped shape the sound of New York hip hop for an entire generation.Which is kind of funny considering neither of them are from New York (Rapper from Boston / DJ from Houston).

This album is revered as a late career classic for the group. Everything is on point. Everything was elevated. But as the intro says….it’s still Guru and Premier. Gang Starr.

Number 6: Gang Starr – Moment of Truth (1998)

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I got high before school ONE time in my life. I was a junior in high school (prime pothead year if you haven’t noticed), and my neighbor who used to drive us to school told me we were gonna take a detour before going in. We picked up two girls I knew and rolled a blunt. As the blunt was burnin’, one of the girls put on a cd. It had this raw street beat with these jazzy, chopped samples. Then this unique, raspy voice came in and started rapping. It was so freakin cool. That’s the best way I’d describe it. “Cool.” I’d never heard anything like it, and I had to know who it was. She said, “Dude you’ve never heard Gang Starr? Holy shit I’m burning you this CD after school.” Well, she did. And I had in my possession an album that put me on to my favorite hip hop producer of all time.

You know what, I’m gonna do something totally different with this review. Something I have’t done/won’t do with any others on this list. Moment of Truth doesn’t really have a concept to it. It doesn’t have a special ebb and flow to the tracks. It’s simply the best collection of tracks the greatest hip hop producer of all time put together in his long, illustrious career. It’s just track after track of Tom Hanks stuck on an island by himself screaming Fire flames beats. So I’m gonna do a Top 10 within the Top 10. I’ll rank my favorite tracks on this album from 10-1. Leggo…

 

10. “My Advice to You” 

 

Smooth. Heartfelt. Guru spitting knowledge per usual. Telling the youngins about what’s really important in life. His plea to the kid to strive for better than what the streets offer. The last line in the chorus, “You need to stop, before you get caught again / before you get shot and I lose another friend.” Damn.

 

9. “Betrayal”

 

This is a smokers beat. Premo samples some beautiful, trippy keys that sound like bells. And anytime you can get a Scarface feature, it’s usually top notch. This is no exception. Scarface’s old, wise-man style matches Guru’s, but his delivery is much more in your face and bassy. They both trade tales of street friendships that went sour. Also, the same samples were used on one of my favorite Mac Miller tracks, which is always dope to hear them flipped differently.

 

8. “Work”

 

Definitely one of the more braggadocios tracks on the album. Guru steps away from his normal street knowledge rhymes and talks about the glamorous life. My buddy and I used to laugh at the line, “Your bitch don’t really got no ass, she just poked it out.” That line couldn’t be more true than in today’s social media world where girls find the perfect pose to maximize their “curves.” Also one of the most energetic beats on the album. Fun track.

 

8. “New York Straight Talk”

 

This is Guru and Premier’s ode to the city the Big Apple. The city that gave them the opportunity to become the legends they are. There’s really nothing special about this track and whenever I tell people it’s one of my favorite Gang Starr songs, I get crooked looks. I just like the simple bass line. It’s so fun and playful. Premier’s beats are sometimes so gritty and dark, it’s funny to hear one that’s the total opposite.

 

6. “What I’m Here 4”

 

Ugh…the piano samples in this track are so freaking beautiful. I had one of those special high experiences the first time I heard this song and it’s always held a place in my heart. Beautiful. That’s the only word to describe it. ‘Nuff said.

 

5. “JFK 2 LAX”

 

A story of Guru getting arrested and incarcerated, sprinkled with knowledge that was so uniquely Guru. The ending rhyme perfectly sums up what Guru was as a man and rapper. “Read, study lessons and build your inner power ’cause the next level doesn’t tolerate cowards.” He was a spiritual man and a teacher. Someone who always tried to better others lives. Sad that we lost him so early.

 

4. “Royalty”

 

Premier is so, so good at sampling keys. Similar to “Betrayal,” this song samples keys that sound like bells and really put you in a trance. You rarely hear sung choruses on any Gang Starr tracks because Premo is usually scratching samples. But 90s legends KC & JoJo provide the perfect R&B vocals here. They don’t overdo it by any means and fit seamlessly with Guru. Also, the drum breakdown at the end is so hip hop it hurts.

 

3. “Above the Clouds”

 

Man, these last three could all be number one. This track features the criminally underrated Inspektah Deck. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sub-par verse from him. He just brings it every time. Obviously the asian-sounding sample is what makes this track stand out as unique, but the intro manages to sample JFK and Jerry Seinfeld back to back. Pretty unreal stuff from Premier on this one. One of the more universally loved tracks all time by HHH’s.

 

2. “Moment of Truth” 

 

To me, this sounds like the track you’d hear walking through the gates of hip hop heaven. It’s very angelic. The strings, the bells, the piano. Everything just gives me the feeling of peacefulness. Like I’m…ABOVE THE CLOUDS! Lol suh. But on the real, this song has always been one of those tracks that I just close my eyes, nod, and say “yes” to myself when it comes on. The fact that Premier can make beats as dark and gritty as “NY State of Mind” and “D. Original” then make a song that sounds as heavenly as this one does, really speaks to his versatility within his little niche.

 

1.“You Know My Steez” 

 

Y’all should know by now how much I love a good intro track. This is one of the best ever. The second the beat comes in and you hear “The reallllllll / Hip Hop / MC’in / and DJ’in.”
Ugh. It gets me hyped just thinking about it. This was the first Gang Starr track I heard on that fateful morning blunt ride, and it’s stuck with me as the best on the album. I’ve never met anyone who isn’t totally blown away by how jazzy it is. It’s one of those tracks that I’d put on a mix CD to introduce non-hip hop fans to real hip hop. It’s the art in its purest form. Premo scratching, Guru spitting, and a beat that’s infectious. Impossible not to love this track. I dare you to tell me different.

 

That was fun! A little different than I’ve been doing, but nice to change it up a bit. Amazingly, we’re halfway through the countdown. Next week we enter the top five. As if the first five albums on this list weren’t great enough, the next five are even better, and they cover a wide range of years. Pumped to get into it.