Until yesterday I could have sworn up and down that the very first rap song I ever heard was LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells” from his first album Radio. Every since kindergarten I’ve had this vivid memory of a group of 5th graders at my school acting out the line “I take a musclebound man and put his face in the sand!” It turns out, though, that line is actually from LL Cool J’s song “I’m Bad” from his second album Bigger and Deffer. I found this out last night while listening to Radio, waiting with excitement for the line to come up so I could rap along with him… but it never happened. The song ended and I was left in a state of existential crisis. I knew–knew–it was this song. I don’t know why it was so important to me, but it was.
For over a decade now, I’ve been aware of a gap in my knowledge of Hip Hop History. I used to think it was completely fine that I’d never heard a Boogie Down Productions song or a Public Enemy album. As far as I was concerned any Hip Hop prior to Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle (the first rap record I owned) was non-canon. Sure, Old School Hip Hop was important, but only as a historical record; not something that I needed to actually listen to.
The problem with this way of thinking is super obvious, but never moreso to me than when I appeared as a guest on the PKD Black Box Podcast (episodes 75 and 85) with host Shawn Pryor and co-guests Julian Lytle and Jason Wood. I super enjoy the conversations I have with those guys, but when the topic ventures to those pre-1993 songs and albums I’m as much of a spectator as anybody listening. Yesterday morning we recorded a third episode with Taylor Pithers and when we wrapped it up I decided enough was enough.
So last night I put out a call on facebook for recommendations as to what essential classic Hip Hop I needed to know. The thread is still going strong with amazing albums, songs, books, etc. (Thanks, everybody!)
So last night I started listening to Radio because I mistakenly thought it had a special significance. Turns out it’s just a really, really good album. Tonight I’m listening to Criminal Minded by Boogie Down Productions. I’m going to write out my thoughts and impressions on each record as I go through them. Two albums in and I’ve already got thoughts and feelings, you guys!
Talk to you again soon!