~ The progression of my experience of hip-hop ran from dabble to wholehearted embrace. It started in mid school with Chamillionaire and continues today with Kendrick. Beats + poetry + lyricism and transcendent meaning, rap was a genre that didn’t come naturally to me. Even so, it holds everything that I love about music, just in a different form, created by personages wholly outside anything I might ever otherwise know. What follows are tracks from the artists, as I ran through them chronologically and favorited them for all-time.
Chamillionaire – Turn It Up – Letting it fly on my Belkin mp3 player. Blasting it while playing NBA Live ’05. Posting the Hip Hop Police video on my Myspace. Trying to dance to Ridin’ Dirty at school dances. Cham’s place was long ago secured in the holds of my most nascent memories of rap.
Kanye West – Stronger – I remember watching this music video on VH1 before school one morning, waiting on the bus, as was my constant tradition in those days. A truly unique track, it stuck with me and subsequently got me into Daft Punk. It also captured everyone at school for what felt like that whole year. Graduation is full of bangers that display Kanye’s strange and inventive style. All his albums provide something a bit different. The man is chaos, his music still hits.
2Pac – Changes – There are 2 layers to 2pac. The music and its meaning, and the man and his now mythic status. Taken together, he’s probably the G.O.A.T. Larger than life, making music that was supposed to actually change people, change the world – more people should make an effort to actually listen to his music.
Nas – N.Y. State of Mind – Nas’ beats and voice are relentless, continuously making next-level decisions. He unfolds lyricism with layers of meaning, his cadence is entrancing. Illmatic is widely considered one of the best and most influential albums of all time. He might be my favorite.
Deltron 3030 – Mastermind – My listening to Del the Funky Homosapien came about from the threads of the Gorillaz, which I discovered in my youth via Toonami, which came from early love of sci-fi and anime. Naturally, Deltron 3030 deals in high art concept albums of the year 3030 and all the potential storylines that may come in the far future from an MC ready to relate them.
Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M. – The shifting voices and styles of Wu-Tang and its cadre of MC’s holds a unique position among my favorites. The idea of a bunch of aspiring and talented artists teaming up to form a huge super-group, sharing mic space and creating cascading lyrical masterpieces still fascinates me. I could write a whole thing about Wu-Tang and this idea of getting with “a sick-ass clique” and going all out. It’s a dream worthy of many listens.
Immortal Technique – Dance with the Devil – I discovered Immortal Technique when my friend showed me this video. A graphic and horrific tale is imparted over haunting piano and too perfectly articulated lyrics. Every verse hits harder than the last, all the way until the end. IT isn’t unique with his inclusion of the darkness in our hearts, social changes and political history, but he makes it the concerted focus of his work. And it ultimately trails into conspiracies that compel one to further research. I have been fortunate enough to see him perform live and it was incredible. Doesn’t miss any beats or lyrics, and delivers every track with the same vivacity you hear on the recording.
Drake – 0 to 100 / The Catchup – The beat got me in. Drake is hit or miss, and he isn’t the same as the others on this list. But he has his moments.
Kendrick Lamar – M.A.A.D City – Kendrick has the most complete body of work. Beats, lyrics, message, album conception. If anyone asked, I would be remiss to say he isn’t the best. Kendrick is on his own plane. He’s also my favorite. good kid, m.A.A.d city is what got me in but all his albums are masterpieces.