Things Done Changed: Hip-Hop In 1989
Written By grYmes
As we approach the end of the 80’s, hip-hop has officially shed its “fad” label. Corporate America is beginning to take notice of the genre (for better or worse). Yo! MTV Raps gives the nation & beyond a window into the urban world. The artists during this time are probably more diverse as there ever had been before or since. The golden era of rap is in full swing at this point.
Top Ten Rap Albums
Youngest in Charge- Special Ed
At 16 years old Special Ed was on the path to rap stardom. No kiddie novelty act here, as Edward Archer made the most of his budding rap skills. The ensuing album was one of the more pleasantly surprising releases of the year. Packed with the classic song “I Got It Made”, which would help propel it to gold status. The influence of established legends like KRS, Rakim & Kane are there lyrically with Ed. Not to say he’s anywhere near them skill wise, but there’s gems here and there. The R’s presence is felt strong with “Think About It”. Paying homage with the “Microphone Fiend” sample was a nice touch. The first half of the album is strong with battle raps. The production however bogs this album down a little. Tracks like “Club Scene”& “Ak-Shun” sound boring & were a chore to listen to. Ed makes up for all this with his witty wordplay & upbeat delivery. Overall there’s more hits than misses with this. Special Ed if only for a brief moment had his seat at the table of hip-hop respectability. Sadly as the 90’s begun his run like a slew of other 80’s rappers was already near the end.
Life is… Too $hort- Too $hort
What would the West be without Too $hort?
What would hip hop be without the word b*tch? Divisive as it is, we have this man to thank for it’s incorporation lyrically. Todd Shaw was already a Oakland legend by this time. Having dropped 4 previous albums which include the underrated Born to Mack (which I covered in 1987). Now with distribution from RCA/Jive Records, he drops his biggest selling album to date. The 2x platinum Life is.. Too $hort. Funk riffs & bass heavy production carry this album. Too $hort’s delivery works well when he’s in his storytelling form (“Life is… Too $hort”, “Oakland”). Tho at some points this album felt every bit of its 29 years of age. His straight forward, raunchy rhymes may turn some off (“Don’t Fight the Feelin”, “Pimp the Ho”), but that’s homies appeal. Too $hort will never steer ya wrong with mixed signals. His brutal honesty of his environment is genuine. This album is a testament of that near 40 years of longevity.
It’s a Big Daddy Thing- Big Daddy Kane
BDK continued his reign as one of the top MCs in the game with this joint. Like his peers before him he manages to drop a sophomore album that rivals & in ways surpasses his debut. He comes out swinging from the get go lyrically & for the most part he doesn’t let up. Containing some of the most vicious battle tracks in his discography (title track, “Mortal Combat”, “Wrath of Kane”, “Warm It Up Kane” The beats are stepped up as well thanks a who’s who of producers (Marley Marl, Mister Cee, Prince Paul, Teddy Riley, & Kane himself). With a wide range of upbeat jams, funky R&B loops & slowed down smoothness which Kane handles with ease. Showing even more versatility, Kane goes for his on the black power tip (“Young, Gifted & Black”) while proving the supreme ladies man with classics “Smooth Operator” & “I Get the Job Done”. While at 17 tracks it’s lengthy by 1989 standards. It is however, Kane’s magnum opus. Truly certifying his place among rap gods & influencing those who follow.
Unfinished Business- EPMD
It was like EPMD figured many would peg them to have the sophomore jinx. Making the opening track “So What Cha’ Sayin’” all the more savage. Of course it wasn’t meant to be. PMD & E Double are at the top of their game. With Unfinshed Business to tend to & another gold plaque to eat off of. It feels like they picked up where Strictly Business left off. “Strictly Snappin’ Necks” & cashin checks lyrically. All behind dope sample heavy beats. Misadventures galore in “Jane II” help build upon the legendary mythical female. Only skippable track is the stuck out like a sore thumb “You Had Too Much to Drink”. An confusing attempt at humor/PSA that’s kinda a mess. Other than that, top notch production & wordplay equals another jewel in the groups duel crowns.
Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop- Boogie Down Productions
The teacha’ has a new curriculum for ‘89. Coming after a highly successful second semester in the wake of Scott La Rock’s passing. Ghetto Music dives deeper into KRS-One’s philosophy. With a wide range of topics being discussed. From the lack of real black history in the schools (“You Must Learn”), to dealings with the cops (“Who Protects Us From You”). Things that still matter as of today. KRS of course still has some words for all the sucka MC’s (“Breath Control”, “The Style You Haven’t Done Yet”) & he’s still makes his presence felt on that regard. The production for me isn’t flawless like the previous two efforts. Though the glaring missteps are few and far between. Regardless, it’s still another solid volume in the BDP library.
Road to the Riches- Kool G Rap & DJ Polo
The innovator of mafioso rap, Kool G Rap is one of the most underrated lyricists of all time. The multi-syllable rhyme style & gritty street tales influenced generations of MCs to come. Along with DJ Polo (who linked up with G Rap by way of Eric B.) the duo recorded the straightforwardly titled “It’s a Demo” for Marley Marl & were Juice Crew members from then on. An ill verse on legendary posse cut “the Symphony” left much anticipation for an album. The title track is a glimse of things to come as G Rap weaves a tale of the peaks & vallys of a street hustler. Its easily the best cut off the album. After this what we get is ready to rumble rhymes as he proves no slouch on the battlefront. “Men at Work” & “Trilogy of Terror” could be put up there with any battle cut from the more recognizable greats of the era. G Rap delves into other topics that aren’t orginial but thanks to his unique flow & rhyme style he makes em work (“Cars”/“She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not”). Marley Marl handles production duties & delivers another mighty effort. G Rap is great on the mic but is not at his best. In subsequent albums he more than proves his worth. This was only the beginning for this Cold Chillin’ legend.
Grip It! On That Other Level- Geto Boys
The Geto Boys & Rap-a-Lot helped laid the foundation for Southern Hip-Hop. They definitely opened the door for many southern greats to follow. The original line up went through several changes & released a debut album a year earlier. Soon after it’s failure another shuffle took place which added Willie D & arguably the best southern MC ever, Mr. Scarface. Their follow up album achieved much better success. Earning a gold plaque & proving that rap acts from the south can sell albums on a national scale. Quality wise it was a huge improvement. In a lot of ways they are the southern N.W.A with they’re own original flavor. Shedding light on life & times in the 5th Ward. Scarface even early on was a special talent lyrically & it shows here (“Scarface”/“Life in the Fast Lane”). Willie D & Bushwick Bill are as rounchy & violent with the best of em (“Gangsta of Love”/“Let a Ho Be a Ho”). Never a dull moment on this album, with funky production mostly from not often mentioned fourth member DJ Ready Red. It’s not their best or most celebrated work but that will come in the next few years. At this point, it’s the Geto Boys at their rise to the top.
No One Can Do It Better- The D.O.C.
One of the eternal “What If” questions in rap history is the career of The D.O.C. He was closely associated with N.W.A in the mid-80’s. Signed to Ruthless & making memebrable appearances on Straight Outta Compton & Eazy-Duz-It, his debut was highly anticipated. It lived up to the hype and then some. The punchlines & spit-fire flow along with Dr. Dre’s production made this an instant hit. It’s notable that D.O.C didn’t curse or use violent lyrics. Given a parental advisory sticker more for his N.W.A ties if anything else. His signature track “It’s Funky Enough” is a classic song that’s won a new generation of fans over the years on sports video game soundtracks. “The Formula” is another hit that’s smoothed out & knocks in the system. Each song honestly felt like it could of been a single for the album (with exception of the “comm.” skits). You can feel that Dre & D.O.C. was in the lab for a minute making this. The final track, “The Grand Finalie” features all of N.W.A & everyone goes off on the mic. Perfect ending to a classic, & yet a sad one. The album dropped in August. Three months later The D.O.C is involved in the infamous car accident that damaged his vocal cords. While he’s made his presence felt behind the scenes, writing on some of the greatest albums of all time (Nig@z4life, Chronic, Doggystyle, 2001). His career on the mic never recovered. Still tho, salute to him for making a solid classic that still holds up today.
Paul’s Boutique- The Beastie Boys
In 1987 the Beastie Boys were arguably the biggest rap group on the planet not named Run-DMC. Licensed to Ill was at that point the biggest selling rap album ever. The groups mix of top notch rap/rock production & fun accessible rhymes appealed to everyone. However in the next few years changes happened that would derail most groups. They had a falling out with producer Rick Ruban & left Def Jam for Capital Records. Most in the industry labeled them one hit wonders thinking they wouldn’t have the same success without Ruban. All the naysayers would be proven way the hell wrong with their sophomore effort, Paul’s Boutique. The Dust Brothers provided perhaps one of the best production effort of the year. A eclectic mix of samples from all kinds of genres of music. The amount of production credits on this album is staggering. Many music critics say this album is the “Sgt Peppers” of hip-hop & it’s clearly the case. The Beasties of corse come correct on the mic on this effort. Their humorous delivery & party lyrics mesh so well with each track. Of course there isn’t a lot of thought provoking lyrics here, but in this case it isn’t necessary. This album is a masterpiece behind the boards. The Beastie Boys would continue to have a sensational career after this but wouldn’t come close to matching this home run.
3 Feet High & Rising- De La Soul
The Native Tongues are back at it again. This time with the group of all groups, De La Soul. Dave, Maseo, & Posdnuos make up a legendary crew. Who’s unique brand of rhymes, style & subject matter can never be duplicated. Prince Paul is the architect behind the boards. The funky samples & multi layer production is a staple of everything he’s involved in. The game show skits throughout the album are a nice touch & a little cheesy (which is fine). At 24 tracks it’s the long album but worth the listen. As De La preaches peace, love & positive vibes without sacrificing creativity. “Eye Know” is just a chill out type song that encompasses all that. “Me, Myself & I” is their signature jam that lets the world know they ain’t hippies & are every bit apart of hip-hops melting pot. The crazy pose cut “Buddy” featuring Jungle Brothers & Q-Tip is eternally dope (tho I prefer the video version). The rest of ur album is interwoven with dope mini-songs & skits. “Cool Breeze On the Rocks” has a shit ton of samples just in 48 seconds & it’s awesome going back and catching each one. De La’s debut is influential for not just alternative rap but hip-hop as a whole. One of those albums you listen to while cleaning the house on a Sunday afternoon. That’s how you know you have timeless material.