Last Thursday was the 10th anniversary of the release of Jay-Z’s “The Black Album,” one of the greatest and most iconic hip-hop albums of all time. If you didn’t listen to hip-hop before, you got your taste of it when this album was released in `03, because within days of release the infamous intro to “99 Problems” was ingrained in everyone’s head. For some reason, I have the 10th anniversary of this album marked as an event in my calendar. I’m not exactly sure when or why I added this to my phone, but I guess it’s for the same reason I have his birthday listed as an annual event: I’m paying tribute.
I’ve been listening to rap since I was about seven years old, and when I say I “listened to rap,” it was whatever people at school were listening to (50 Cent was pretty hype in fifth grade) and whatever my brother had lying around, some Blackstreet and Outkast. I didn’t truly discover the genre of hip-hop until the summer before my senior year of high school, and when I did, it was like an entire new world had just opened up. (I felt a similar way when I discovered the beauty of country music two summers ago). Hip-hop spoke to me the summer of 2009 when my friend and I were in a five-week language program in China. We were staying in the old part of Dali, a small city in the Yunnan Province. At night we would venture out to our usual bars to drink and play pool, and it was at one of these bars that I had my first taste of Gang Starr and Mos Def. The bar was playing “Above the Clouds” and “Ms. Fat Booty,” and that marked the beginning of my hip-hop enlightenment. Later that summer, we traveled to Beijing to stay with my friend’s brother and two of his college friends who were all working in Beijing. I told one of them that I had just recently started listening to Mos Def and Gang Starr and we immediately became friends. He taught me about the history and evolution of hip-hop and about all these great artists of whom I had never even heard before. Later, when we returned to the States, he gave me about 40 albums from various hip-hop artists, and ever since then I have become a (slightly pretentious) hip-hop aficionado. So this 10-year anniversary has reminded me that, in the midst of all the songs that are playing on the radio, all the new artists who are being uploaded and written about on goodmusicallday.com and earmilk.com, and all the Macklemore and Schoolboy Q you’re listening to, you need to pay tribute to the greats. Below I have included a map of my music expansion, starting with my top five favorite hip-hop artists; it is a list of artists who made me love and appreciate hip-hop, and a list of people that I strongly believe anybody who listens to rap music ought to know.
Gang Starr: Gang Starr is what made me start probing into hip-hop of the 90s, a decade I believe truly encompasses the heart of hip-hop. Everyone should be aware of the brilliant music produced by DJ Premier and Guru, the duo that combined to make up Gang Starr. Bottom line, Guru was an absolute mastermind. Favorite songs: “Above the Clouds,” and really everything on the “Moment of Truth” album.
Mos Def: He’s the second hip-hop artist I discovered. He just has a smooth voice, and his raps are smart and thought-provoking. I think his best album is “Black on the Both Sides.” He’s the Mighty Mos, enough said. Favorite songs: “Ms. Fat Booty” and “Auditorium.”
Jay-Z: Who you know fresher than Hov, riddle me that. Jay-Z is my favorite artist of all time. The ways in which he has influenced the genre of hip-hop is immeasurable. The illustrious king has released more than 12 albums throughout his 17-year career, and his style and influence on other artists is apparent through the likes of Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Drake, J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar and so on. Hands down, his best albums are “Reasonable Doubt,” “The Blueprint” and the “Black Album.” Favorite songs: too many to name, really, but I think I will always have a soft spot for “Heart of the City.”
The Notorious B.I.G.: Everyone knows Biggie Smalls, and his legacy will never be forgotten. Biggie is one of the few artists who, album after album, produced songs with the rawest raps; he’s a storyteller. He’s got a heavy voice, but his style is smooth and his delivery is flawless. Favorite songs: “Gimme the Loot” and “Big Poppa.”
The Roots: I got sucked into the sound of The Roots immediately. They were my morning drive to school every day during my senior year of high school. They’ve released over 10 albums, and they’re all pretty great. The Roots combine great lyrics against jazz-style beats. Favorite songs: “Birthday Girl,” “How I Got Over” and “The Seed 2.0.”
All the other greats that influenced me: Big L, Big Pun, Binary Star, Birdman, Black Milk, Black Star, Blackstreet, Blu, Clipse, Common, Crooked I, Dead Prez, Digable Planets, Dilated Peoples, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Eric B. & Rakim, Eyedea, The Fugees, The Game, Ghostface Killah, GZA, Havoc, Hieroglyphics, Hi-Rez, Hi-Tek, Ice Cube, Inspectah Deck, J Dilla, Jay Electronica, Jurassic 5, Kanye West, Lauryn Hill, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, Lupe Fiasco, Method Man, Mobb Deep, N.W.A, Nas, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Outkast, Pharoahe Monch, Public Enemy, Q-Tip, Raekwon, RZA, Run DMC, Slaughterhouse, Snoop Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest, UGK and Wu-Tang Clan.