Well, howdy, loyal reader(s)! I’ve been on a mini sabbatical the last two weeks because a combination of the relative non-stress and the total and mind numbing boredom of my new super non-exciting temp job at the law firm that will legally remain nameless as well as the utter and black hole of despair created by the tragedy of my beloved Cleveland Indians once again losing the big one in typical spectacular, back alley abortion fashion that Cleveland fans are accustomed to, to the Boston Diet Yankees. Anyway, I’m back and today on Not A Blogger...We won’t be discussing T.I.’s decision to turn himself into a living version of Gangstalicious from the Boondocks nor Nas’ decision to name his album a certain racial epithet that apparently Al Sharpton believes should be banned and punished by beheading if uttered by anybody. However, we will be discussing ten of my favorite under-appreciated rap songs in the history of rap music so why don’t we just get started.
Ahem, in the particular order I looked for them in my iTunes...
1. Eminem - Low Down, Dirty - The Slim Shady EP (1997)
Before Eminem became the biggest rapper on the planet and way, way, way before Eminem turned into a sad, sad, sad tragic self-parody of himself, there was The Slim Shady EP, the most hilariously dark and twisted underground horrorcore rap record ever to be recorded by a white boy from Detroit (and also hip hop). The Slim Shady EP served as the introduction to Marshall Mathers’ most famous and celebrated alter-ego and as the prequel to his landmark Slim Shady LP. There are a bunch of great songs on this EP including early versions of classics like “97 Bonnie & Clyde” , “Just Don’t Give A Fuck” and “If I Had” from his Aftermath Debut but the standout on the album is DJ Head produced “Low Down, Dirty.” The song featuring a sample from Redman’s “Whut! Thee Album” is one of the earliest introductions to the Slim Shady persona and the record features some of his vintage dark humor in the lyrics describing some of Em’s more hilarious, scatalogical and violent practices. A sample lyric: “Doctor slapped my momma, “Bitch! You Got a Sick Kid!”/Arrested, molested myself and got convicted.” It’s also kind of notable for an odd reason Eminem takes a shot at Tupac for not being hip hop. Either way, if you are interested in hearing the evolution of a mercurial rap star find his voice than you should probably track this record down.
2. MC Eiht - Streiht Up Menace - Menace II Society Soundtrack (1994)
MC Eiht maybe one of the least heralded West Coast pioneers of all-time. Eiht has nowhere near the notoriety of Ice Cube or Too Short or hell even, Warren G but Eiht remains one of the most underrated West Coast rappers of all-time. Starting out with the somewhat N.W.A. derivate rap group, Compton’s Most Wanted, MC Eiht moved onto some minor solo success when he appeared in the Hughes Brother’s classic “Menace II Society” and released the undderated classic “Streiht Up Meance” for the movie’s official soundtrack. The song closes out the film and the sadness, remorse and pathos in the song that Eiht is able to convey makes the song an absolutely haunting way to close such a gritty film. Employing cinematic synthesized strings, minimalist drums, Eiht vaguely narrates the story of the film but as opposed to some soundtrack rap songs from the era that seemed to narrate the entire story of the film down to minor plot points like Ice Cube’s “Higher” from Higher Learning or “Turtle Power” from the immortal Partners in Kryme, Eiht is able to put his firm stamp and add an even deeper meaning to the film. Lyrics like “Got to follow in the foot steps of the homies from the hood/And where's the role model?/N***** is putting brew in my fucking baby bottle!” add a pathos and darkness to the song while lyrics like the classic opening line “A fucked up childhood is the way I am/Got in me in a state that I don’t give a damn” gives a shocking bluntness that only adds to the song. G’yeah!
3. Devin The Dude - Doobie Ashtray - Just Tryin’ Ta Live (2002)
Devin The Dude has become this year’s hipster rapper du jour following in the storied footsteps of Ghostface Killah, Weezy F. Baby, Cam’rom, and the immortal Aesop Rock. Luckily, unlike some of the rappers that I just named but won’t name now (hint the ones that are not in Wu-Tang), Devin actually is pretty awesome. Devin’s greatest strength is in crafting slow, sad ballads. There is usually one or two of these gems on each of his albums but the song that stands out in a pack of diamonds is “Doobie Ashtray” from 2002’s “Just Tryin’ Ta Live.” The song is Devin’s ode to loneliness and (surprise, surprise) weed smoke in which Devin expresses lament of somebody stealing the last bit of hash from his ashtray after a night of partying and not having anybody to drink with after his friend’s have gone home. This is pretty universal sentiment and the slow, rolling west coast influenced synths and wah wah guitar that is provided shockingly by DJ Premier add to the profound melancholy of the song. Devin, of course, turns in a stunning vocal performance as usual and the chorus is instantly memorable. Perhaps, the most shocking aspect of the song is that it is produced by DJ Premier because it sounds absolutely nothing like Primo. Of course, there is the standard scratches but its the West Coastness of the song that really stands out. This song, maybe, the best songs Primo ever produced and I don’t hesistate to say that for a second. I can’t stress this enough. You need to hear this song. Stunning.
4. Little Brother - The Listening - The Listening (2003)
I’ve probably talked myself silly about Little Brother in the last couple of weeks due to my excitement about Getback so I’ll only say a few words about this song. Best... Song... Little... Brother... Has... Ever...Done....
Right down to the haunting echoes of “T.R.O.Y.” floating in the background to Phonte’s immortal verse to the skit that breaks out into the middle. This song is the best critique of rap fans ever made. If you don’t know somebody like the people they describe in the song than you are that guy. Classic.
5. Cannibal Ox - The F Word - The Cold Vein (2001)
I’ve talked briefly in my Graduation Review about my fondness for Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, the one indisputable classic rap album from the Def Jux crowd. “The F-Word”. Vast Aire and Vordul Mega’s ode to unreciprocated love and the dreaded friend zone, is one of the crown jewels of the album and probably the most mainstream accessible song that has ever come out of the Def Jux label. I am not a big fan of emo rap but this song has come something of a personal anthem for me(unfortunately...don’t front like your dating Jessica Alba either, fellow rap dorks. I can smell sexual frustration for miles. Wait, eww...). The song employs the typical buzzing synths and noise that El-P is famous for but in this case, it adds a dramatic and epic quality to the Cannibal Ox’s tales of love and woe. For whatever reason, this song just works.
6. Grandmaster Caz - South Bronx Subway Rap - Wild Style Soundtrack (1982)
Here’s a tip, if you don’t instantly recognize the beat to this song than you need to either go to your store and buy yourself a copy of Hip Hop’s Holy Bible and listen to “The Genesis” (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about you need to start listening to techno) or you need to stop listening to rap. Grandmaster Caz better known as the Dude That Jay-Z Is Biting His Style Off absolutely destroys this classic beat from the Wild Style Soundtrack. The song is very reminiscent of “The Message” but Caz proves why he was Original Holy Lyrical Trinity In Rap. This song’s an old school rap clinic.
7. Obie Trice - Rap Name - The Shady/Aftermath Sampler (2002)
Obie Trice, Real Name, No Gimmicks! I was quite the Eminem stan in high school and throughout my first year college so the first time, I heard Obie Trice kicking a freestyle on Devil’s Night I became a fan. I suppose it was because like everyone else on Shady Records, he sounded like Slim Shady-lite (or Black Eminem) but unfortunately for Obie, his career never really panned out like it could’ve if he wasn’t Em’s weed carrier. However, “Rap Name”, off the Shady/Aftermath Sampler that accompanied the 8 Mile Soundtrack, showed Obie’s initial promise that I initially found attractive. There is an anthemic quality in the song that trascends the silly Eminem production sound in which Obie states his mission statement and signature catchphrase “Real Name, No Gimmicks.” I remember bumping the hell out of this song winter break freshman year in my car. Good times!
8. Nas - Fetus - The Lost Tapes (2002)
Say what you want to say about Nas’ career, personal life, penchant for using controversial titles to sell records but Nas has always been able to craft vivid and brilliant concept songs that showcase his truly prodigous lyrical ability and song-writing. If Nas can’t make a hit single to save his life these days, he’s still able to pull “I Gave You Power” out of his ass at any given time. “Fetus” off his slept-on, classic odds and ends collection “The Lost Tapes” is truly Nas at his lyrical finest. The song produced by the Trackmasters originally for I Am... uses quiet guitars, swirling Rhodes piano, and ambient noise helps Nas narrate his journey as a fetus from conception to birth. Nas puts on a clinic lyrically as he not only describes his physical growth but is able to simultaneously describe the domestic strife surrounding the pregnancy from the point of view of a fetus and the effect that it had on him even before his birth. It’s records like these that makes it hard for me to ignore the fact that Nas is the greatest rapper of all-time (outside of maybe the God MC and no not, Jay-Z. The original one.). Point. Blank. Period.
9. Masta Ace - Acknowledge - Disposable Arts (2001)
Have you ever heard of the Boogieman? How about the High & Mighty? No?!?! Well, chances are it’s because of this record. Masta Ace absolutely destroys these cats on what is pound for pound, the best diss record dropped this decade. An absolutely vicious record. Those dudes never had a chance. The lesson, as always, is “Don’t Fuck With The Old School.”
10. Big Daddy Kane (Ft. Scoob Lover, Sauce Money, Shyheim, Jay-Z & Ol’ Dirty Bastard) - Show & Prove - Daddy’s Home (1994)
Big Daddy Kane’s career was kind of over by 1994. After a few lackluster albums, a transformation from harder than hell battle rapper to cheesy loverman, and one Playgirl cover basically ruined any chance that Kane had to sustain a career which is a shame because 1994’s Daddy’s Home is actually an underrated record. The highlight of the record is a posse cut, “Show & Prove”, featuring a pre-Roc-a-fella Jay-Z, an in his prime ODB, Sauce Money, Scoob & a prepubescent Shyheim. The record is pretty awesome but its notable for the fact that a 12 year Shyheim absolutely destroys three rap legends just like he did on that immortal “MSG Freestyle” with Tupac and Biggie. Shyheim was a beast at thirteen and why Shyheim never did jack shit outside of a few great guest verses and why garbage ass kiddie rappers like Lil’ Bow “I’m Better Than Will Smith” Wow and Lil’ Romeo had huge careers will forever one of the bigger hip hop mysteries. Seriously, Shyheim at 13 >> Lil Wayne at 25 (or 29 depending on the source). Seriously.