Category Archives: Hip-Hop

“Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)”

honest
Future w/ Andre 3000
Honest, 2014

As long as we’re being honest … I’d be okay dropping Future from his own song. Sorry Future, but you’re getting in the way of another terrific post-Outkast verse from Three Stacks, and I take those wherever I can get them. Considering the reunion was just for money and the rumored solo album is approaching Detox-levels of delay, moments like these matter more than ever. And it is a truly notable verse, even if Andre’s sounding bored again. Ya’ll just gon’ have to make amends, I guess. Props to Future, however, for keeping the Dungeon Family flame burning in the modern era. And for picking another terrific Mr. DJ beat.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/11%20Benz%20Friendz%20(Whatchutola)%20%5Bfeat.%20Andr%C3%A9%203000%5D.m4a]

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“#CAKE”

palaces
Shabazz Palaces
Lese Majesty, 2014

I read a quote once — but wait, there’s more! — and it went something like this: “All the best novels teach you how to read them.” I found that pretty intriguing, because A) what the hell does that really mean, honestly? and B) whatever it was supposed to mean didn’t really seem to apply to the book it was referring to. I’ve since forgotten which book that was, but in scratching and crawling, kicking and clawing, I think I’ve grasped some semblance of meaning in the years since. Whatever effect a work of fiction works on you — it can only be whatever it is. Any relevance divines itself. And maybe, just maybe, incoherence can be a means to that end. Is Shabazz Palaces some of the best music? Well, the answer is subjective. But I don’t think anyone can deny that this is music without precedent. No one can tell you what to do with this, because nothing like it has really existed before. And whatever you can take from it is going to be valid, if only for you. No one’s gonna hold your hand on this one.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/12%20%23CAKE.mp3]

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“Int’l”

classic
M.E.D.
Classic, 2011

Pitchfork opened their review by calling M.E.D. “the rap equivalent of a middle-relief pitcher asked to go eight innings,” and while I get the sentiment I think it underestimates both the artist and the hunger fans feel for music like his. It’s true: there’s nothing surprising or cutting-edge about this record, but in an era where Iggy Azalea and Meghan Trainor are afforded commercial and sometimes even critical cred for high-flash cultural appropriation, the M.E.D.s of the world matter all the more. Somehow along the way it became cool for white journalists to dismiss hip-hop traditionalists, but in 10 years I’m still gonna be listening to this shit and blog monsters will forget they ever pretended to find “Fancy” amusing. Suum clique pulchrum est maybe, but I question the allegiance of any hip-hop fan who can’t find something of value here. Medaphoar will never be major and your mom will never know his name, but the Stones Throw MC puts in the work and he does it with real skill. Classic was aided and abetted by none other than the legendary Madlib, and for my money (and hopefully yours), the material edges close enough to its title to earn more than grudging respect.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Int’l.m4a]

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“Massive Attack”

nicki
Nicki Minaj (feat. Sean Garrett)
Single, 2010

Fuck it.

Listen, it’s not like everything you do is perfect either.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Massive%20Attack%20(feat.%20Sean%20Garrett).m4a]

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“Motivators”

Beats-Rhymes-and-Life-Cover
A Tribe Called Quest
Beats, Rhymes & Life, 1996

Before the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s final album, 1998’s The Love Movement, rapper/producer/majordomo Q-Tip promised nothing less than hip-hop’s Dark Side of the Moon. That prediction seemed remarkably off-base upon release: even with the breakup hype, the record was not a smash, and in the years that followed most die-hard Tribe fans chose to remember the group’s first three albums as the pinnacle of the band’s career, if not hip-hop in general, while ignoring their later work. But listening to Beats, Rhymes & Life today — the album that first signaled a break from the old ways — I think I understand what Tip was going for. On a cultural and commercial level, of course, there is no reasonable comparison to be made. But sonically it’s a different story. There’s a consistent, subtle energy to Beats that finds its way under the skin over time, not unlike those better Floyd records. The music molds itself to Q-Tip’s mellow, laid-back persona. BPMs stay steady from track-to-track, samples are filtered well below the rhythm section in the mix and the energy never flags. This is hip-hop reimagined for rooms: dense, ambient, sophisticated and above all extremely well-considered. What seemed cold in ’96 strikes me as nothing less than prescient today.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Motivators.mp3]

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“Coming Back”

jay stay paid
J Dilla
Jay Stay Paid, 2009

Got a quick one today, but it’s one of my favorite Dilla beats ever. There’s not much left to say about the Detroit hip-hop legend that hasn’t been said better elsewhere, so I’ll skip the myth-building and get right to the music. Just like with Dylan, the best way to acquaint yourself with the work of an acclaimed artist like Dilla is to simply find a song you like and go from there. Sequenced by Pete Rock, posthumous collection Jay Stay Paid is an ideal way to do this, as it features beats from every era of his work. If you’ve any interest in hip-hop, at least a few should stick with you. “Coming Back” is a standout, a straightforward loop of an obscure soul track (Brother to Brother’s “The Affair”) that seems so mind-blowingly simple once you’ve heard the original sample, you realize only a producer of Jay’s caliber could’ve put it together. Listen on repeat!

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/26%20Coming%20Back.m4a]

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“The Jig is Up”

el-p
El-P
Cancer 4 Cure, 2012

I would not wanna spend a day in El-P’s head. The Brooklyn-born underground hip-hop icon has built an impressive career out of oppressive materials. His dense, obsessive, caustic production has been a fixture on the scene for close to two decades, so singular I can honestly say I’ve never even heard an imitator. That goes for the wordplay too: agitated and rife with sci-fi paranoia, he belongs to that rare breed of hip-hop lyricist devoted almost exclusively to world-building. As in all art, it’s hard to tell where the persona ends and the person begins, but I suspect “The Jig is Up” betrays more than a hint of autobiography. “Why don’t you just admit the truth/That you’ve been trained to withstand pain/And that’s the only way my crazy is not killing you,” he pleads with a would-be lover. “I wouldn’t wanna be a part of any club that would have me/You must out of your goddamn mind.” If you think consuming an entire album pitched at this same level of self-loathing is too much to ask, imagine what it feels like to live there permanently.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/08%20The%20Jig%20Is%20Up.m4a]

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“Bite the Thong”

jj doom
JJ DOOM
Keys to the Kuffs, 2012

Some days you cry in the car, some days you “bite the thong.” I’m pretty sure Robert Frost said something similar once. The underthings supplicant in question here is MF DOOM at his MF DOOMiest, spitting slow over a nauseated soundscape from TV on the Radio collaborator Jneiro Jarel. DOOM’s been exiled in England for years thanks to some unidentified immigration drama. In 2012 he funneled his frustration into a full-album collaboration with Jarel, and it’s arguably the strongest thing he’s done since Madvillain. JJ’s synth-heavy, future-fearing production proves to be a worthy match for hip-hop’s weirdest vocab whiz. For maximum impact, see also: “Gov’nor,” “Rhymin’ Slang” and “Winter Blues.”

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/04%20Bite%20The%20Thong.mp3]

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“3000”

droctagonecologyst
Dr. Octagon
Dr. Octagonecologyst, 1996

No measure of backstory can prepare you for the first time you hear Dr. Octagon, the time-traveling surgeon and “lady doctor” from another dimension. The debut album from one of the many outlandish personas of rapper Kool Keith pairs scatological, rapid-fire non-sequiturs with Dan The Automator’s stellar old-school-as-new-school production. Groundbreaking for its time, Dr. Octagonecologyst is credited in part with helping popularize the underground hip-hop movement, paving the way for the MF Dooms and Tylers of today. And even though it’s been nearly 20 years, shit still sounds like the future.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%203000.m4a]

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“Long Burn the Fire”

hot sauce
Beastie Boys
Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, 2011

Look, it’s the Beastie Boys, which means for the most part the rhymes here are a solid B. You know that going in, you deal with it. Occasionally on Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, the group’s final album, you hear a line that makes you want to hit rewind — and usually it’s Ad-Rock — but for the most part we’re dealing with the typical off-time brags and boasts here. But that production, man. Holy shit, is this album underrated. Handling behind-the-board duties themselves, the Boys found a way to successfully update their sound for the 21st century: keyboards that crunch and slip out of meter, samples that enter the bloodstream, mics that distort without warning and killer guest appearances from Nas and Santigold. And yet after decades as hip-hop royalty with a commercial track record, nobody paid attention when the album came out. Nobody. Of course the public spoke up when MCA passed a year later, but Hot Sauce remains the least-respected record in the band’s storied career. Long burn the fire; reappraisal is due.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/08%20Long%20Burn%20The%20Fire.mp3]

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“Progressive Three”

vince
Vince Staples
Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, 2014

What impresses me most about Vince Staples’ music is Vince Staples himself. The 21-year-old L.A. rapper isn’t just fierce on the mic; he demonstrates wisdom and substance that put most of his elders to shame. I was particularly affected by a recent Pitchfork profile where he went on record against the glorification of violence and commercialism in hip-hop culture: “A lot of music comes from a selfish place, but there’s no sense of self within it.” That same sophistication is evident not only on quote-unquote conscious material like recent single “Hands Up.” It’s just as obvious on low-profile mixtape cuts like “Progressive 3.” As a blog-buzzed, much-hyped Odd Future associate, Staples could be spending his moment trying to shock or stun the audience into submission. That he’s chosen to spend his capital building something more is inspiring.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Progressive%203.mp3]

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“Me Yesterday//Corded”

flylo
Flying Lotus
Until The Quiet Comes, 2012

Flying Lotus, a.k.a. Steven Ellison, is hands-down my favorite producer right now. His work touches on multiple, seemingly disparate corners of the exploratory musical universe: the bass and drive of post-Dilla hip-hop; the energy and fuck-it attitude of free jazz; the precision and programming chops of IDMers like Aphex Twin. “Me Yesterday//Corded” opens with muffled vocals, plodding keys and what sounds like a hydraulic chassis for a drum bed. At the halfway point, the whole thing explodes into the kind of woozy, beautiful beat science Ellison built his name on. As in his best work and that of the artists who’ve inspired him, any semblance of coherence is an afterthought.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/17%20Me%20Yesterday__Corded.m4a]

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“Rock and Roll”

edanbeauty
Edan (w/ Dagha)
Beauty and the Beat, 2005

I can honestly say I’ve never heard another record quite like Beauty and the Beat. Released in 2005 to great acclaim but almost totally forgotten nine years later, its colorful collision of psych-rock and hip-hop sounds as unique today as it did then. To date, no artist I’m aware of has attempted to build on the achievement, including Edan himself. Some things are best left as-is. “Rock and Roll” is the record’s most anxious moment, a fog of feedback set to a loping backbeat Hendrix would’ve destroyed. Fittingly, Edan shouts out a decade of classic-rock trailblazers in tribute before turning his ire toward none other than Lenny Kravitz. As if you needed another reason to listen.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/09%20Rock%20And%20Roll%20(featuring%20Dagha).mp3]

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“Gross”

jonwayne
Jonwayne
Cassette on Vinyl, 2014

“I worry.” So confesses the soulful vocal sample at the heart of “Gross,” a 2012 cassette mixtape standout from L.A.-based rapper/producer Jonwayne. It could also double as his thesis statement. While his work thus far has leaned heavily on El-P-seasoned anxiety and apocalysm, there’s enough personality in ‘wayne’s music to suggest it’ll one day be its own touchstone. Until then, the buoyant simplicity of a track like “Gross” is more than sufficient. It’s just been remastered and re-released as the leading track on Stones Throw’s Cassette on Vinyl compilation. Rawness intact.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Gross.mp3 ]

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“Let’s Move”

foreign-exchange-connected
The Foreign Exchange
Connected, 2004

If you’re looking for the perfect hip-hop addition to your Disneyland Matterhorn Spotify playlist – and really, who isn’t? – you’ve come to the right place. Producer Nicolay speeds up Bing Crosby’s “A Gal in Calico” and powers it right past the 21st century, leaving plenty of room for Little Brother compatriots Big Pooh and Phonte to ruminate on fame, family and struggle. The Foreign Exchange origin story got a lot of press 10 years ago: Nicolay and Phonte created the album before they’d ever met in person after connecting intercontinentally on the Okayplayer.com message boards. While time hasn’t been as kind to the group’s later, R&B-slanted material, Connected still sounds like the product of a future Fantasyland.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/05%20Let’s%20Move%201.mp3 ]

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“Iambic 9 Poetry”

Squarepusher_-_Ultravisitor
Squarepusher
Ultravisitor, 2004

Who or what exactly is Squarepusher? After 20 years, the question is more open now than ever. The UK’s Tom Jenkinson first stood apart from his ‘90s IDM peers by virtue of musicianship – he didn’t just program acid-house drum breaks, he played them live. That skillset leaves Jenkinson a lot of rope at times, but also allows for moments like “Iambic 9 Poetry,” a track I’d file under “truly sublime.” Keep in mind that everything you’re hearing here – drums, bass, keys and whatever else – is being played by the same guy, essentially jamming with and against himself. The end result is a musical masterclass in building and sustaining mood.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Iambic%209%20Poetry%201.mp3 ]

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“AUDITORIUM”

mos-def-the-ecstatic
Mos Def w/ Slick Rick
The Ecstatic, 2009

My favorite track off 2009’s criminally overlooked The Ecstatic; a return to form for The Mighty Mos Def (now Yasiin Bey) after years in the wilderness. Fans weren’t expecting much from the rapper/actor after the disappointing decade following ‘99’s classic Black on Both Sides, but the album – and this track in particular – proved worth the wait. “Auditorium” follows the Stones Throw template of its surrounding songs, engaging a classic Madlib loop off the Beat Konducta in India compilation with a sample that only gets better the more you hear it. I’m not exactly sure what Slick Rick is talking about here – something about ending conflict in the Middle East with a hot verse? – but he’s a good fit for the track. In 10 years we’ll remember this as a classic.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Auditorium%20(feat.%20The%20Ruler).mp3 ]

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“SOUPA”

blu_york_jdj

Blu
NoYork! 2013

While you may not know the name, L.A. underground M.C. Blu has developed one of the strongest voices in hip-hop over the past decade, following his internally-rhyming muse for better and worse through any number of abrupt stylistic turns. Here we have him diving headfirst into a gorgeous Samiyam beat: asphalt-radiant and shimmering, “even when the sunshine dies.” He’s equally at home over classic soul, half-baked home tapes and West Coast beat-scene freakouts. “Soupa” splits the difference to divine something fierce and new.

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