PROUDFLESH: A New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness
Retrospect for Hip-Hop: A Golden Age on Record?
The Sugar Hill Gang made the first popular Hip-Hop record just twenty-four years ago. Since then rap has seen its progression and regression, its open-armed acceptance and outright denunciation. Hip-Hop serves as the rebel teenager of music – wildly and fervently accepted by its friends and admirers, yet seldom understood by its detractors and uninformed bystanders. Bill O’Reilly, a conservative right-wing extremist and television journalist for FOX News, recently declared (on his O’Reilly Factor) that “Hip-Hop will be extinct in twenty years.” Nevertheless, this fledgling art form continues to expand in popularity and now has both a weathered past and bright future. What would Afrika Bambaataa think of the acts of violence that have tainted Hip-Hop’s history? Could Run-DMC have imagined such advancement in lyricism? From its earliest days in house parties to its current status as commercial magnate, exploited art, and underground pariah, Hip-Hop has both trudged and skipped on a remarkably contorted path in just under a quarter-century. Perhaps this art form is too young to have seen a golden age; however, as with all genres of music, critics and fans alike argue over which period comprises its ultimate epochs, the finest eras of renaissance-like quality and influence. From 1993 to 1994, four albums helped push rap beyond its boundaries into different worlds of creative expression and technical mastery. The status of these four albums may forever be debated and challenged, but their influence and raw expression deserve retrospection and remembrance. Thus, the two-year period that birthed Enter the Wu-Tang, Illmatic, Resurrection, and The Sun Rises in the East may not serve as the preeminent era of Hip-Hop for all; but, without argument, these albums revolutionized both the technical and aesthetic aspects of the youthful art form of Hip-Hop forever.
Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang: The 36 Chambers (1993)
From the onset of this groundbreaking album, sharp sword-like samples from a martial arts film cut through your tensions; they prepare you for a truly belligerent and unsympathetic but, more importantly, expressive experience. Enter the Wu-Tang: The 36 Chambers exhibits a raw style – crude rhymes and aggressive deliveries, assertive and emotive production, and an overall street vibe. The Wu-Tang Clan consists of nine original, immediate members who have varying rhyme styles and personalities, marked by the diverse qualities and aliases each member assumes. The anchor and president of the group manifests himself in rapper/producer The RZA. RZA, along with fellow group members The GZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, founded the Wu-Tang Clan in the early 1990’s. The rest of the Clan consists of Inspectah Deck, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God, and Masta Killa.
When Enter the Wu-Tang: The 36 Chambers first graced the pages of rap lore in 1993, Dr. Dre's funk-filled, West Coast gangster rap dominated the business. Though this initial dominance was difficult to overcome, Wu-Tang still managed to carve out a piece of rap history. Displaying a raw form of Hip-Hop never seen before, they won over fans everywhere from New York to L.A. “Shaolin shadow boxing and the Wu-Tang sword style? If what you say is true, the Shaolin and the Wu-Tang can be dangerous.” This quotation from an old Chinese martial arts film (featuring the original Wu-Tang) begins the first track and sets a gritty tone for, arguably, the best Hip-Hop album of 1993. RZA handles production on the entire album and spawns a true masterpiece with each track. A lack of funds actually assisted them with the sound of the album. Because they didn’t have the best mixing or recording equipment, the album is wrought with a “dirty” quality – the drums have more bass and are more hard-hitting than they are crisp and clean; the samples have an eerie, almost haunting type of echo; and the vocals, because each member’s voice is already aggressive and gritty, perfectly match the production. There is no better word to describe this overall sound than hardcore. Listening to this album, you feel like you’re in an alley in Staten Island and the Wu is rapping with extreme passion right in front of you, slapping trash cans for beats. No song illustrates the benefit of this style of mixing more than “Ain’t Nuthin Ta Fuck With.”
An incisive sample begins this song: a dubbed voice from some Chinese martial arts movie chants “Tiger Style.” RZA joins the sample, gnarling his vocals and chanting “Tiger Style” with the fierceness of a tiger’s growl. Then, in his best impersonation of a throat cancer-ridden wolverine, RZA screams with a coarse and angry voice, “WU TANG CLAN AIN’T NOTHING TO FUCK WITH!” The energy builds as RZA begins chanting this chorus; then the rest of the Wu joins in creating a fury of aggressive force. The chorus abruptly stops as RZA begins his battle verse. Next, out of nowhere, RZA stops his train of thought and in one swift motion comes in with a new verse as an infectious and equally gritty bassline takes over the track. This battle song is one of the best ever; it even features a beat change segueing into one verse, before another martial arts string sample that stops the track and segues out of that verse. When the head-nodding bassline bursts back onto the track, you can’t help but start chanting the chorus along with the Wu! The song is far from lacking in lyrical prowess. Inspectah Deck, also known as The Rebel INS, perhaps the most gifted lyricist in the group, exclaims, “Now why try and test, The Rebel INS? Blessed since the birth, I earth-slam your best, Cause I bake the cake, then take the cake and eat it, too, with my crew while we head state to state!” The “poor” quality of the mixing aids the song in attaining a rough sound – a sound from the streets.
Because the first four songs on this album are battle songs, one might assume violence and hostility comprise the gist of the album. However, “Can It Be All So Simple?” quickly refutes that idea. A sample of beautiful singing from Gladys Knight’s hit, “The Way We Were,” along with two deep basslines and a very haunting, flute-sounding sample, create a grave or melancholy atmosphere. Raekwon and Ghostface Killah rap about friends in prison, the struggle with drugs, chasing dreams, and other somber life issues. “Yeah, my pops was a fiend since sixteen, shootin’ that (That's that shit!) in his blood stream,” rhymes Raekwon, setting up the end to his grim verse which mostly focuses on drugs, specifically crack cocaine – an epidemic in Black ghettoes. “Now my man from up north, now he got the law. It's solid as a rock and crazy salt. No jokes. I'm not playin’. Get his folks, Desert Eagle his dick and put 'em in a yoke. And to know for sure, I gotta wreck and rip shop; I pointed a gat at his mother's knot.” In this excerpt, Rae explains that his best friend has teamed up with the police to protect himself as he snitches; so Rae essentially shoots the snitch’s friend and his mother. (The verse ends with voices screaming, “No! Don’t do that shit, Rae!” Then gunshots with Raekwon saying, “Fuck It.”). Ghostface handles his poignant lines in a different manner. His verse concentrates on all his dreams. He describes the prosperity he wants, but comes back to the reality of ghetto life. “I wanna have me a phat yacht. And enough land to go and plant my own cess crops. But for now, it’s just a big dream ’cause I find myself in the place where I'm last seen.”
Every song on this album is replete with completely fresh and innovative styles. Whether the style concerns the flow of one of the many talented rappers’ voices or the evocative samples that exude a rawness only matched by the rhymes of the group, this album features a remarkably accurate sound of Wu-Tang surroundings. It went on to influence a slew of other artists who also came from the streets and gave these artists a foundation to build on as they further developed this sound. Enter the Wu-Tang: The 36 Chambers encompasses the pain and attitude of millions of people who have also struggled in the same environments. At the same time, it created an identity for all these people, many of whom are aspiring artists themselves. Very few rap albums can claim the same amount of influence effected by Enter the Wu-Tang. From the standpoint of production – the hard drum tracks and sharp and gritty martial arts samples – RZA and the Wu almost created a new genre within Hip-Hop, although they were not the first to attempt or execute a coarse sound. From the standpoint of lyrics and deliveries – the purposefully emotional fluctuations in voice and the battle rhymes, along with raps portraying lives wrought with poverty and twisted morality – rappers all over New York’s five boroughs and beyond strained to outdo the Wu by attempting to rap with even more gumption, about even tougher subjects. However, few have matched the illustrious level set by the nine hungry, determined artists of Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers.
Nas – Illmatic (1994)
There have been a plethora of rappers whose debut albums have been highly anticipated. Still, for all the emcees who’ve created a buzz about themselves by appearing on street mix-tapes or releasing a single or two, very few continue the fanfare and respect beyond their first album. Nas, or “Nasty Nas” as he was known then, was deemed the next great rapper, an emcee in the mold of the legendary Rakim. He’d featured his array of skills on the microphone with various guest appearances on other rappers’ records and albums. He wowed everyone with his smooth delivery which was highlighted by one of Hip-Hop’s most memorable voices. His voice overflows with emotion and expression, accentuated by a slight raspy edge that, even when he spoke softly, revealed a profound intensity. Lyrically, Nas was versatile. His verses were replete with an in-depth imagery of the streets, lasting metaphors as well as smooth multi-syllabic rhymes. As he traversed his way from radio shows to album appearances, his name and reputation grew tremendously. Soon he was touted as the best up-and-coming rapper, first in the Queensbridge Projects, where he was born and raised, then all over New York. Illmatic documented Nas’s meteoric rise in the hearts and minds of many true Hip-Hop heads. The album was never popular in stores and only reached gold status after his later albums helped him gain access to fans across the country and beyond. Nevertheless, Illmatic displayed a melding of immaculate production, street-scene imagery, and soulful flows by he who would be the next king of New York. Nas beat the naysayers and produced a masterpiece that would confirm and preserve his legend.
Appropriately, a sample from the acclaimed Hip-Hop film Wild Style begins the introduction to Illmatic. In the background of the sample, a recording of Nas’s guest verse from Main Source’s album Breaking Atoms conveys some of the forthcoming brilliance. “Verbal assassin, my architect pleases. When I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus.” An accordion-like sample and hypnotizing break-beat segues into random dialogue by Nas and his friends. In a chaotic discussion, the friends clarify what the album will entail. From the onset of the album, Nas represents the ghetto where Hip-Hop was born and every young person is imbued with the Hip-Hop culture. They cover topics like the “bullshit on the radio,” what they’re about to drink and smoke, the way in which their money should be sorted and how, “regardless of how it go down,” they’re going to keep it real. The first song, a classic of the highest order, immediately involves and enthralls the listener. “N.Y. State of Mind” intensely thumps and bumps your speakers after the introduction. The song, produced by one of Hip-Hop’s greatest DJs and beat-smiths, DJ Premier, seems to take on the challenge of opposing the aforementioned “bullshit on the radio.” Nas serves any challengers with sublime boasts in his verses; in addition, he intertwines lucid imagery of the streets and ghettos similar to the ones he grew up on, creating stories within stories. Indeed, when listening to this song, one should read between the rhymes. After accomplishing the task of supplanting the quantity of bad taste spewed from mainstream radios, Nas tackles his next concern: trying to escape life’s hardships by getting intoxicated by alcohol and weed. In “Life’s a Bitch,” Nas’s best friend at the time, AZ, almost outshines the featured rapper with a stunningly heartfelt verse about the type of stressed mindset which the current money-driven world can create. Nas continues with a tale of his 20th birthday, chronicling the happy memories that led up to this point, but then brings the listener back to reality. “Now it’s all about cash in abundance. Niggas I used to run with is rich or doing years in the hundreds. I switched my motto. Instead of saying, ‘Fuck tomorrow,’ that buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto.”
In appraising the quality and importance of “Memory Lane,” the song might simply be regarded as a quintessential representation of Hip-Hop. Again produced by DJ Premier, the song is so mellifluous and melodic that it uplifts one’s spirits from the second it begins. The production, accentuated by an infectious organ loop, vocal sample, and synthesizer-like pads in the background, places your mind in a cheerful, reminiscent, mood. Nas proceeds to rap about his environment, recounting stories of the past and more recent memories of the present time. “It's real, grew up in trife life, did times or white lines. The hype vice, murderous nighttimes, and knife fights invite crimes. True in the game, as long as blood is blue in my veins, I pour my Heineken brew to my deceased crew on memory lane.”
Because each song is fantastic in its own right and brings something new and innovative to the album, a critic could write a thesis on the brilliance of Illmatic. A substantial reason for its phenomenal quality and diversity can be attributed to three of the most accomplished and consistently excellent music producers. The Large Professor, Pete Rock, and DJ Premier grace Nas with a flawless combination of styles and tones on their respective songs. Of course, Nas matches the genius of the production with his own intellect and personality. Pete Rock offers “The World Is Yours,” a beautiful piano-driven beat on which Nas rhymes about ridding himself of complacency and all the obstacles many people face in his environment. “I need a new nigga for this black cloud to follow, ’cause while it’s over me it’s too dark to see tomorrow.” The Large Professor provides the album with three songs sure to evoke the rhythm in your body; with these stimulating beats, the Large Pro handles the responsibility of producing Illmatic’s three essentially braggadocio songs: “Halftime,” “One Time 4 Your Mind,” and “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” affirm Nas’s lyrical prowess. Yet, as skillfully as Nas delivers his metaphors with unbreakable flow, he continues to interweave elements of his environment and the street life with intense imagery and palpable experience.
Illmatic combines every element necessary for it to qualify as a classic album and be regarded as possibly the greatest album Hip-Hop has ever spawned. Not only is the production flawless, but Nas also showcases his refined ability with words and vocal delivery. On other albums, seemingly great beats fail to match or appropriately blend with the style of the emcee, and vice versa. By contrast, Nas and the music of each song on his debut album form an undeniable chemistry. Indeed, Illmatic kindles all the aural taste buds with the precise recipe of b-boy rapping, street tales, and melodious production.
Common Sense – Resurrection (1994)
Emcees embody two specific talents that separate them from other types of vocal artists. They write lyrics specially designed to rhyme to the rhythm of the beat of a song. In addition, they must formulate a unique delivery that matches the rhythm and captures excitement and emotion. Common Sense (now known simply as Common) exemplifies these talents as the archetypal rapper. He exhibits a multitude of deliveries. His vocal fluctuations match his unfailing sense of rhythm and at times he will half-sing and half-rap a line, showing his musical awareness of harmony and euphony. He effortlessly changes speeds in his flow, yet never rhymes too rapidly. Common never sacrifices substance for style; instead he delivers both impeccably. He has a unique voice which also wavers in sound: at one point, it can have a raspy, nasal quality which complements a rough, brash sounding voice on top of Resurrection’s jazz-flavored production. One can compare his voice to a saxophone leading a jazz ensemble. At other times, he can sound smooth and even use his voice to express a controlled power and passion. In all, Common’s voice is itself a musical instrument.
Lyrically, Common may have never been surpassed, though he has had many challengers. He masters every aspect of rhyming. Technically speaking, he revolutionized and became the undisputed paragon of multi-syllabic rhyming. He will start with a phrase, and then rhyme each and every syllable of that phrase in order. While he did not “invent” this technique, he did develop it by adding to his complex rhyme schemes equally intricate and inventive word play. On the title track, Common (born in Chicago as “Lonnie Rashid Lynn”) stakes his place in Hip-Hop as a most cunning and gifted linguist. The beginning of his verse is written as a statement declaring his supremacy in elaborate rhyme patterns. “I stagger in the gatherin’ possessed by a patter-in, that be scatterin’, over the globe. Will my vocals be travellin’, unravellin’ my abdomen? It's Lon that's babblin’, grammatics that are masculine.” Shortly thereafter he displays more intriguing and brain-teasing word play, exclaiming he “went against all odds and got a even steven,” and that his “style is too developed to be arrested. It's the freestyle, so now it's out on parole. They tried to hold my soul in a holding cell so I would sell. I bonded with a break and had enough to make bail.” “Watermelon” also demonstrates his effortless combination of word play and polysyllabic rhyme schemes. “I express like an interstate, hyper when I ventilate. My word pieces penetrate and infiltrate your mental state.” Later he exclaims, “I stand out like a nigga on a hockey team. I got goals; and I can like a pop machine.” He raps with a myriad of flows that keep the listener entertained throughout the album and with complex, witty (yet never arcane) rhymes that keep the intellectual listener laughing with amazement.
Common does not only cover the technical facets and cleverness of rapping. He extends his repertoire by delving into more serious subject matter. “I Used to Love H.E.R.” is seemingly a description of a lover’s moral and spiritual decline, a ballad paying homage to one of the most important women in Common’s life. He talks about growing up with her and watching her blossom into a woman through all her various predicaments and joyful moments. He tells us of his love for her and leaves no doubt in the listener's mind that his affection is nothing but true. An adept listener ultimately realizes who the focus of Common’s lament is. Using extended metaphor, or personification, he starts the song by saying he “met this girl when I was 10 years old; and what I loved most she had so much soul. She was old school, when I was just a shorty. Never knew throughout my life she would be there for me.” He goes on to express his regret at the path “she” or Hip-Hop chose. “Now I see her in commercials. She's universal. She used to only swing it with the inner-city circle, stressin how hardcore and real she is. She was really the realest before she got into showbiz. I did her, not just to say that I did it. But I'm committed, but so many niggas hit it. But I'm a take her back, hoping that the shit stop. ’Cause who I'm talkin bout y'all is hip-hop.” Common shows poignant remorse that Hip-Hop had declined; in particular, he addresses “gangsta rap’s” preoccupation with sex and violence, as Resurrection came out during a period when West Coast gangsta rap had reached its peak of popularity. A smooth and emotive piano loop compliments Common’s moving delivery.
Common continues with rhymes of pertinent, conscious content. On "Book of Life," he offers commentary on trying to keep it together in a society that has seemingly lost all traces of sanity. He chronicles current problems with the fast-food lives people are leading, the excess and waste that defines “America.” He reveals his own weaknesses, the manner in which he tries to escape his problems through intoxication; the way his education never prepared him for his true interests and intelligence. The song recounts what all people go through at one point or another in their lives – a struggle to decipher their respective identity, to truly know themselves. In the body of his social discourse, Common still manages to entwine his grave sermon with witty word play. “They say, ‘Become a doctor.’ But I don't have the patience (patients). Adjacent to that situation, I want an occupation that I'm into. ’Cause yet if I begin to live up to my potential, I went to school for fourteen years and my best teacher was experience.”
It is this noteworthy marriage of substance and style that propels this album to classic status. No I.D. handles the production on this album very ably, inspiring Common and his listeners with beautiful jazz rifts and other melodious loops. Most of the songs have a very laid-back vibe, a soothing sound that never overwhelms the listener. The beats match Common’s delivery well, as he plays off the euphony of the different samples and loops by using his voice as an instrument to harmonize with the music. You will hear Common excite previously untouched nerves in your brain with capable vocabulary and cognition; then suddenly he will rouse your most primal understanding of music by simply humming to No I.D.’s offerings or mimicking instrumental sounds and fluctuating his pitch. The range of Common’s skills is impressive and stays in your mind as you rewind your favorite verses, or ones you just want to listen to again to catch word play, or metaphors that before went unnoticed. Although the production would stand out on most any other record, Common’s ingenuity is too brilliant to drift away from it.
Jeru the Damaja – The Sun Rises In the East (1994)
On The Sun Rises in the East, Jeru the Damaja, an Afrocentrist and Rasta, educates listeners from start to finish. He starts class with his assistant, DJ Premier, who handles the production on the album and provides the blueprint for each song with a unique sound befitting Jeru’s respective lessons. Over a classic break beat and haunting harp-like loop, Jeru begins his lecture: “Life is the result of the struggle between dynamic opposites. When the pendulum swings in favor of one, it eventually swings in favor of its opposite. Thus the balance of the universe is maintained.” The introduction reveals the theme of the album. It is impossible to shut out the domineering, bass-heavy voice of the professor, who enunciates every word with ease and force. His DJ associate hypnotizes all students in a particular manner according to the song. He creates masterpieces with Jeru, producing a complete sound that exudes knowledge and wisdom.
“D. Original” paints a more vivid portrait of Jeru the Damaja. He explains his background and professes his talent and power. He also clarifies one of his most pertinent issues: injustice. “Dirty, because of the skin I'm in. The fact I have melanin automatically makes me a felon. Even though I'm righteous, rotten's what you're yellin’. But I'm not chain-snatchin’, or drug-sellin’. According to your books, you said I would be damned like Ham, scoundrel opposite of the king that I am.” He likens himself and his people to those who should be living like kings and queens, but who are instead living in housing projects as in his Brooklyn home. DJ Premier involves the listener’s brain with a cacophonous piano loop and hook, exclaiming Jeru is the “original dirty, rotten scoundrel.” He proves he is the anti-hero, the truth-speaker who rejects a glamorous façade to convey a more significant and honest message.
“Brooklyn Took It” quickly becomes the anthem for Jeru’s hometown. Flipping a sample of a rhyme from the original preacher/teacher, Krs-One, DJ Premier takes what was originally a less-than-complimentary line and pushes it into a new context. “Brooklyn keeps on taking it” suddenly suits a braggadocio ballad for Brooklyn, rather than against it, as Jeru describes how his home is “back on the map” and assumes the role of the new leader of the infamous borough. Premier continues his spellbinding method, engaging all students with a deep melodic sample offset by a recurrent high-pitched piano strike.
Next, Jeru introduces his teaching assistant, Afu-Ra, a fellow Brooklynite himself. After the introduction, they display their verbal and intellectual prowess on “Mental Stamina.” DJ Premier seems to push selected nerves in your brain with his unique concoction of samples that harmonize in a chaos. He perpetuates and perfects the sound of the constant “struggle between dynamic opposites” Jeru detailed before. Lyrically, Afu and Jeru test the limits and strength of the listener’s brain, cogently juggling polysyllabic words without sounding awkward. Jeru declares his “psychokinetic forces proceed to smash in your cerebellum. Phoenician with more stamina than a Christian...”
Professor Damaja proceeds to draw a distinction between “sweet,” “genuine” women and more “underhanded” women with ulterior motives on the next song, “Da Bichez.” He starts his lecture with a key disclaimer, “I’m not talkin’ ’bout the queens, but the bitches; not the sisters, but the bitches; not the young ladies, but the bitches.” Jeru discerns the different ways in which women of various intentions treat his fellow brothers. He focuses on the certain women (or “bitches”) who use men for their wealth or other material assets, and the coinciding gullibility of these men. He speaks of the general fashion in which these characters unremorsefully take advantage of them. He offers a personal experience regarding his best friend who falls victim to the mysterious powers of this kind of female persuasion. DJ Premier sets the proper mood with a crooning trumpet and smooth bass line.
“You Can’t Stop the Prophet” resembles a more complicated, adventuresome “I Used to Love H.E.R.” Jeru uses extended metaphor and personification to poetically paint a panorama of pedagogical themes – the battle between polarities that always ends in a tie or equilibrium. On this track, Jeru transforms into “The Black Prophet” and narrates his own melées with the following enemies: Ignorance; his army, which includes Hatred, Jealousy, Envy, Anger, Despair, Animosity; and Deceit, his wife. Jeru details his journey for justice as he travels through Brooklyn: “I met this chick, she said she knew where Ignorance was at. I said, ‘Where?’ She said, ‘Downtown.’ He had babies havin' babies - and young niggas sellin’ crack.” At one point, DJ Premier aids Jeru on his mission when the prophet is surrounded by Anger, Animosity, and Despair. Over chaotic samples, he uses his turntables as weapons, scratching “Can’t a damn thing stop me!” Jeru swerves past further diversions but when he gets past Ignorance’s henchmen, Ignorance poisons him, leaving the story to be continued.
The Damaja pulls away from his story and begins another lesson. “Ain’t the Devil Happy?” chronicles the various problems among his community. Though it is never said outright, it is implied that Jeru refers to white people of power when speaking of the devil. “Look to the sky for your savior. He won't save ya. He didn't save your forefathers. Why bother, brothers? You must discover the power of self. Hating thyself, killing thyself, while he collects the wealth that you sit back and murder for… Ain't the devil happy?” Premier brings a grim reality, the poverty and injustice non-whites face, to your aural sense with evocative violins.
Jeru finishes his forty-minute session with three songs affirming his lyrical mastery and forceful flow, sandwiched around “Jungle Music,” a wry affirmation of his heritage. On “My Mind Spray,” Jeru brags and boasts but keeps himself in perspective as he rhymes, “I'm not a sexist. Don’t have the power to be a racist.” “Come Clean,” deemed by many Hip-Hop aficionados as one of the greatest produced Hip-Hop songs ever, features an incredible loop by DJ Premier that resembles different pitched sounds of water dripping from a leaky faucet. “Jungle Music” opposes the growing popularity of lyrics centered on materialism that began to plague rap and formed the basis for continued stereotypes of Hip-Hop and Black culture. Jeru recounts the different aspects of African ancestry that should be cherished. “My style survived slave ships, whips, and chains, hardships. But they conceal the drums of evil; my royal lineage; king of kings; god of gods. We went from pyramids to the ghetto.” The final song, “Statik,” describes Jeru’s “electromagnetic” powers which account for his energy and power. All in all, The Sun Rises in The East presents a message: live in balance with others and within oneself. Jeru champions many virtues, exposes several socio-economic predicaments, and denigrates ignorance. He rejects materialism, instead opting for introspection with each track. Philosophy permeates this album in many forms, yet never seems over-the-top in its stance. Jeru wages war on the industry of unenlightened Hip-Hop factions, while re-invigorating New York's subterranean "scoundrels." DJ Premier was the perfect comrade for the job, called upon to provide an impeccable and b-boy oriented sound. Overall, Jeru and Premier jab the audience with stand-offish diatribes, heart-pounding bass and Twilight Zone-esque piano loops.
The time period from which all these albums arose, 1993-1994, can arguably be labeled a “Golden Age” in Hip-Hop. Three of the albums were released by New York urbanites, and this is no coincidence. Because Hip-Hop was born in New York, artists from New York had more time to refine a classic sound. Each year, Hip-Hop produced more intricate songs that were nonetheless far from pretentious or abstract. This development also created a perhaps-too-general distinction between the “old school” sound – simplistic rhyme schemes, straightforward messages, relatively toned down and uncontroversial personalities, and sparse songs with few samples – and a “new school” one. Of course, more than a few artists could be dubbed “ahead of their time,” rappers and producers who undoubtedly influenced every artist mentioned in this paper. The emcees of these four fantastic albums climbed the mountain from where the older school left off, ultimately reaching the peak. They created a bridge to the “new school,” which would, for many, eventually fall weak in the knees at the sight of materialistic riches and superficial imagery. Unfortunately, even a few of the artists who helped make these timeless albums have since stumbled down the mountain they climbed. The aforementioned artists enhanced the art of rapping; and, just as importantly, they worked with producers who had equally upgraded with the times. The DJs and beat-smiths, ranging from The RZA to DJ Premier to No I.D., soaked in the various styles and sounds preceding them and spawned special blends of break beats and samples, creating a prototypical Hip-Hop sound with the original, definitive formula. All in all, Hip-Hop has never again to date witnessed such a phenomenon as the near consecutive releases of these four albums. The Wu-Tang Clan brought nine charismatic, energetic attitudes and an infectious aggression never, ever seen before; Nas became the speaker for the streets as the first “thug poet,” so to speak; Common catapulted rhyme skill to a new pinnacle, compelling emcees to try to match his inventiveness; and Jeru the Damaja assumed the role of the “prophet,” providing social commentary, relevant messages, and traditional battle rhymes, all with a powerful voice. For years to come, these works will inspire artists who are themselves attempting to craft classics of their own.
1993 Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers (RCA)
1997 Wu-Tang Forever (Relativity)
2000 The W (Sony)
2001 Iron Flag (Sony)
1994 Illmatic (Sony)
1996 It Was Written (Sony)
1999 I Am…The Autobiography (Sony)
1999 Nastradamus (Sony)
2001 Stillmatic (Sony)
2002 Lost Tapes (Sony)
2002 God’s Son (Sony)
1992 Can I Borrow a Dollar? (Relativity)
1994 Resurrection (Relativity)
1997 One Day It’ll All Make Sense (Relativity)
2000 Like Water for Chocolate (MCA)
2002 Electric Circus (MCA)
Jeru the Damaja
1994 The Sun Rises in the East (Full Frequency)
1996 Wrath of the Math (Full Frequency)
1999 Heroz4hire (Knowsavage Records)
2003 Divine Design (Ashenafi Records)
Copyright © 2004 Africa Resource Center, Inc.
PROUDFLESH: A New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness: Issue 3, 2004