The state of modern hip hop has been heavily debated throughout the past couple of years. There are many that claim hip hop is dead and will never live up to the golden age and there are also some that claim that hip hop is amid a resurgence of some sort. Backpackers, hipsters, homers and haters galore!
Very rarely, there is a project that unifies the opinions of all hip hop fans worldwide. I’m speaking so rarely that this has NEVER happened in modern hip hop. Nevertheless, there are albums that have been released that SHOULD unify the opinions of all hip hop fans but for some reason or another, they do not and they fade away into history among all the other releases from a certain time period.
Undun, by The Legendary Roots crew was released in was released in December 2011. It was full of lively instrumentals, flawless rap verses, soulful hooks and was packaged in a way where it actually told a story. It was a concept album with a plot so deep that it could have been made into a movie, all the while being told through a masterful musical medium. It had songs that were upbeat and empowering as well as songs that were thought-provoking and meaningful. Undun really had a way of taking a listener through a profound journey from beginning to end.
The art of the concept album has never really been executed as well as The Roots have with this album for quite some time. Some may argue that Kendrick Lamar was able to create a concept album in GKMC as effectively as The Roots did with Undun, however, I would argue that Kendrick’s offering was more of a clever way to justify packaging a mixture of radio hits and socially impactful tracks in a logical way. I am not trying to take anything away from that idea, rather, I would say that the way Kendrick Lamar packaged his album was genius but if we compare impact felt by a certain concept carried out in an album: Undun is far superior.
In order to try and do the album justice, I have decided to try and break down each track of the album while offering my interpretation of the plot. The album depicts the rise and fall of a young man, named Redford Stevens. The album touches on dark themes that come from a life of drug dealing and a gangster mentality. The album is structured in a way where it starts off with Redford’s death. The Roots paint a picture of a broken man and as the album progresses, the listener is able to learn of how he got to the point he was during his demise. Every track uncovers a part of his past that tries to justify why he is the way he is and why he has done the things he has done.
Dun – The Roots
The album kicks off with an instrumental track. It appears to start with a high pitched sound that resembles the sound of a heart rate that has flat lined.
Sleep – The Roots
“The past unraveled, adding insult to this injury
|The slow cadence of the track paints a picture of Redford slightly hanging on to life. The hook is eerie and Black Thought’s verses are haunting and reflective. It seems like a life of hardship and questionable decisions have karma’s vengeance hammering down on a soon-to-be dead protagonist.|
Make My – The Roots Feat. Big K.R.I.T & Dice Raw
“Make My” successfully acts as a microcosm of the album. It encapsulates all of the albums’ positive aspects from an amazing beat filled with depth to heavy thought provoking verses. At the time of the release, Big K.R.I.T was still an up and coming rapper and his verse was one of the best on the entire album. Redford is knowingly close to death and very self reflective on this track. Was the life he led and the successes he saw worth it? Have his decisions he made weighed too heavy on his psyche?
“Addicted to the green, if I don’t ball I’ll get the shakes
I’d give it all for peace of mind, for Heaven’s sake
My heart’s so heavy that the ropes that hold my casket breaks
Cause everything that wasn’t for me, I had to chase”
– Big K.R.I.T
One Time – The Roots Feat. Phonte & Dice Raw
“The pendulum swinging my way – couldn’t be more blind
N*ggas talk to the cops? Not even one time
Cause we all going down just like the subprime
Or a cheap ass half gallon of Ballantine
But hopping over gates to escape is sublime
Then through the alley way and down to the sub line
Tales from the streets, a life of high crime
To make it to the bottom: such a high climb”
– Dice Raw
?uestlove starts a trend at this point on this album by laying out some infectious drum rhythms. Another trend that starts on this point in the album is the layering of some melodic piano chords to create enticing instrumentals. The album starts to liven up as the story starts to stray away from Redford’s death and closer to the bulk of how he led his life. As he is still very self-reflective on this track, he is much more unforgiving and on more of the attitude aligning with the mantra of “by any means necessary”. Redford is very much aware of the dangers of his actions and beliefs, but he believes they are necessary.
Kool On – The Roots Feat. Greg Porn & Truck North
“Swag is on retard, charm is on massage
|The soulful looped sample and the guitar chord on the forefront of the instrumental create a more celebratory atmosphere for this track. It feels as though Redford is in his prime; he has made all the right (wrong?) moves to achieve what he has worked his whole life for. Violence and crime in exchange for money and success never sounded so worth it.|
The Otherside – The Roots Feat. Bilal Oliver & Greg Porn
|“The Otherside” is a track that is filling to the brim with hope. You can feel that Redford is so close at breaking down the barrier of success. He is convicted in his movements and understands that everything that he wants is only a couple steps away. The beat and hook are so uplifting that it is extremely easy for the listener to forget all of the morally crushing idealisms that Redford represents. Black Thought is seriously in top form on this song.||
“Listen if it not for these hood inventions
Stomp – The Roots Feat. Greg Porn
“Was this a matter of flesh and blood? Yes it was
Does it matter who win and lose? Yes it does
It ain’t about the most blessed love
When you return to the essence, what is it back to the essence of?
Greatness I wasn’t in the prescence of, cause you was fake and never measured up
You just a n*gga on his regular, but how far am I ahead of ya
It just as easily coulda been me instead of ya.”
– Black Thought
“Stomp” is that get-your-ski-mask-on-and-rob-a-convenience-store type shit. It’s that start-a-revolution type shit. It’s that get-hyped-up-before-your-football-game-shit. Most importantly it’s that shit that highlights Redford’s loss of grip of his morality. He is willing and ready to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. Whether it is through violence or breaking the law, Redford is ready.
Lighthouse – The Roots Feat. Dice Raw
“Lighthouse” showcases one of the catchiest beats on the entirety of the album. The theme of the track seems to be “sink or swim” as Redford is at a crossroads in his life. He can choose to live a life where he would be easily forgotten or lose his sense of humanity and chase a life of crime. The album showcases a self-reflective Redford, similarly to how the beginning of the album did.
“The grim reaper telling me to swim deeper
Where the people go to – lo and behold, the soul keeper
I’m not even breaking out in a sweat
Or cold fever but I’m never paying up on my debt or tolls either”
– Black Thought
I Remember – The Roots
“It’s only human to express the way you really feel
|“I Remember” is very somber and hits the listener square in the feels. Redford understands that he is in a very dire situation. He is set up for failure and has little to no chance to change his fortune. The timeline of the album is very clear up to this point, as it moves in a backwards linear motion through Redford’s life. “I Remember”, however, may be told at a perspective of a Redford from the future looking back on his life. Either way, it tells a story of Redford at a point in his life before he realized the potential of his abilities; he thought he was doomed.|
Tip the Scale – The Roots Feat. Dice Raw
“Now I realize it’s the winner that takes all
Do what I gotta do because I can’t take loss
Picture me living life as if I’m some animal
That consumes its own dreams like I’m a cannibal
I won’t accept failure unless it’s mechanical
But still the alcohol mixed with the botanical”
– Black Thought
The last track of Redford’s story may be the saddest of all the tracks, which is surprising as the listener has heard of Redford’s state before death and self reflection. “Tip the Scale” gives the listener a sense of what Redford’s motivation was to do all that he did in his life. It ties the story perfectly together as his perspectives are expressed through the tragic verses and atmospheric instrumental.
Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou) – Sufjan Stevens
Possibility (2nd Movement) – The Roots
Will to Power (3rd Movement) – The Roots
Finality (4th Movement) – The Roots
Modesty aside, I have a pretty damn good idea of what most of the tracks meant in terms of the story because of how many plays this album has gotten through my headphones. These last four instrumental tracks, however, continue to stump me to this day. Are they recapping Redford’s story from beginning to end (or end to beginning)? Are they depicting his life before where “Tip the Scale” takes place? All I know is “Will to Power” makes me feel uncomfortable.
I truly believe that rap music is at its best when it sets out to be profound and thought-provoking. Where other genres of music need to rely strictly on the atmosphere and mood created by playing instruments in unison, rap music has the advantage of containing a large amount of words which can be used to translate a certain theme that an artist wants to express. It is an alarming trend that most rap music out these days are as superficial as it gets even though the genre is optimally set up to utilize the art of poetry to its advantage. The Roots’ album, Undun, is an album that showcases rap music at its utmost greatest potential.
It’s that time of the year again when men throughout the world are preparing (supposed to be anyway) to charm their significant others on the most sentimental holiday ever, Valentine’s Day. As a man, I couldn’t care less if my woman buys me chocolates, stuffed teddy bears, edible arrangements, or whatever the latest man gadget Essence magazine suggested she purchase for me to validate our eternal love of one another. All I ever want on Valentine’s Day (or any other day) from my lover is hot sex on a platter (wink wink).
Females, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated and harder to please. Let’s face it: Valentine’s Day is their day to be placed on a pedestal and glorified for all to see. As men, not only are we obligated to remember this day but we must also express our love and appreciation through romantic gestures…i.e. roses, chocolates, fragrances, lingerie, singing telegrams, etc. Additionally, many of us will either be taking our lady out for a night on the town or preparing a home cooked dinner to share by candlelight.
I say all that to say this: it is important that you set the mood properly throughout the duration of your romantic evening with the appropriate background music. Valentine’s Day doesn’t necessarily mean hip hop must be completely sacrificed in favor of Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, John Legend or whatever R&B crooner she’s into. There is a plethora of hip hop songs that can be deployed to get both hers and your temperatures elevated for some adult time. In fact, I have comprised a brand new list specifically for this occasion: The Top 30 Greatest Hip Hop Love Ballads Of All Time.
Comprising this list was quite a task, but it needed to be done, not just for Valentine’s Day, but to silence all the naysayers of hip hop music who are still under the false impression that this music promotes misogyny and the degradation of females. Many of you know these songs, many of you don’t. Either way, I encourage all of you to review this list and download the following ballads to your iWhatever device:
1. A Tribe Called Quest “Bonita Applebum”
2. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth “Lots Of Loving”
3. A Tribe Called Quest “Electric Relaxation”
4. Method Man & Mary J. Blige “You’re All I Need”
5. Murs “Love & Appreciate”
6. Gangstarr, K-Ci & Jo-Jo “Royalty”
7. LL Cool J “Love You Better”
8. Common “The Light”
9. The Roots “You Got Me”
10. Whodini “One Love”
11. 50 Cent “21 Questions”
12. Jay Z “Excuse Me Miss”
13. The Pharcyde “Passing Me By”
14. The Roots “Silent Treatment”
15. LL Cool J “Around The Way Girl”
16. Q-Tip “Gettin’ Up”
17. 2Pac “Can U Get Away”
18. A Tribe Called Quest “Find A Way”
19. Little Brother “Nobody But You”
20. Common & Mary J. Blige “Come Close”
21. Gangstarr “Nice Girl, Wrong Place”
22. Pharoahe Monch “The Light”
23. G-Unit “Smile”
24. Slick Rick “A Teenage Love”
25. Lil’ Kim & Lil’ Cease “Crush On You”
26. Wiz Khalifa “Roll Up”
27. De La Soul “Eye Know”
28. Brand Nubian “Love Me Or Leave Me Alone”
29. Poor Righteous Teachers “Shakiyla”
30. Rick Ross, Chrisette Michelle & Drake “Aston Martin Music”
The opinions and views expressed here are the opinions of the designated author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or views of any of the individual members of Dead End Hip Hop.
Ever since the inception of hip hop music, there has been an ongoing debate over who is the “G.O.A.T.” (Greatest Of All Time) lyricist. I’ve managed to find myself in many of these discussions and, quite honestly, I need to take a breather. It’s not that I’m exhausted of the topic, but rather frustrated and annoyed at the typical laundry list of artists that are discussed (2Pac, B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, etc.). Additionally, when I engage in these debates with these casual fans they seldom provide concrete evidence or reasoning to support why they believe (insert name here) is the “G.O.A.T.”. It is my theory that these individuals I am referencing heard these names in a hip hop documentary that they saw on VH1 (coincidentally while they were smoking marijuana) and suddenly became experts on the matter.
As much as I’d love to continue the redundant dialogue on “G.O.A.T.” lyricists, I must insist on changing the subject (temporarily). While I am quite aware that all hip hop glory is bestowed upon the Gods of the M.I.C., where would they be without the respective producers who craft the soundscapes for their songs? Many of the great hip hop producers were formerly DJs who learned how to flip samples on an SP-1200 as well as program drum machines. As far as all those “G.O.A.T.” lyricists are concerned, would you be knocking your head to their lyrics without the hot production behind it? I seriously doubt it.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I am no exception to the rule. Having said that, the following list is my Top 10 hip hop Producers Of All Time.
10. MF DOOM
Hip hop’s most villainous lyricist is also a seasoned veteran behind the mixing boards. DOOM’s production style relies heavily on sampling, sampling and more sampling. However, it’s his sample selections that set him apart from his contemporaries. Although he primarily produces for his own solo projects he has also contributed tracks for KMD, Ghostface Killah, Masta Ace, and MF Grimm. Key Tracks: “Beef Rap”(Mmm..Food), “Go With The Flow”(Operation: Doomsday), “Clipse of Doom” (Fishscale).
9. Pete Rock
In the early nineties, Pete Rock made a slew of classics with his partner C
.L. Smooth. Their album Mecca and The Soul Brother is one of the hip hop’s undisputed classics. The singles “Straighten It Out”, “Lots of Lovin’” and “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” were all praised by fans and critics at the time of release. The duo would produce one final album before going on a prolonged hiatus. After they split, Pete Rock continued producing songs for other artists as well as launching his own solo career with his Soul Survivor LP.
8. The Beatminerz (DJ Evil Dee & Mr. Walt)
The production duo of DJ Evil Dee & Mr. Walt helped redefine the sound of New York hip hop in the early 90’s. From 1993-’98, The Beatminerz were tasked with the duty of producing various projects for the Boot Camp Click. Landmark albums such as Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage, Smif N Wessun’s Dah Shinin’ and Heltah Skeltah’s Nocturnal are hailed as classics from the 90’s “Golden Era”.
7. The Bomb Squad (Hank and Keith Shocklee)
The Bomb Squad are pioneers of multi-layered sampling. Known primarily for their work with 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Public Enemy, Hank and Keith Shocklee created incredibly loud and noisy backdrops for Chuck D’s verses that were charged with an erratic intensity that few have been able to replicate. The Bomb Squad sampled everything from James Brown to Slayer and proved to the genre that creativity should have no boundaries.
Key Album: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
6. Erick Sermon
As one half of the monumental duo EPMD, the “green-eyed bandit” crafted the bulk of their instrumental catalogue. Known for utilizing funk/soul samples and basslines hard enough to blow out your 808s, Sermon’s productions are raw and uncut dope. At the height of EPMD’s popularity they formed a collective known as The Hitsquad which included K-Solo, Das Efx, and a then unknown Redman, all of whom Sermon produced tracks for. After The Hitsquad disbanded in 1992 E Double formed The Def Squad which included himself, Redman, Keith Murray and sometimes Jamal (of Illegal). Eric continued to produce tracks for various hip hop artists into the new millennium. Additionally, he continues to release solo projects and occasionally tour with EPMD.
A producer who was clearly ahead of his time, Q-Tip( aka The Abstract) made his mark in the industry producing and rhyming for A Tribe Called Quest. Tribe’s Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders are critical and commercial successes. Q-Tip’s production style is primarily influenced by jazz and funk/soul samples. Many of today’s “hot” producers such as Pharrell Williams and Kanye West credit Q-Tip as being a direct influence on their production styles. Nearly a decade after his departure from ATCQ, he created a classic solo album The Renaissance.
4. Rick Rubin
Pioneering hip hop producer and co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, Rick Rubin has been at the forefront of helping propel the genre into the mainstream. Most of Def Jam’s early artistic successes can be attributed to Rubin’s contributions. It was his idea for Run DMC and Aerosmith to remake “Walk This Way” for a new generation of music fans. He produced the Beastie Boys’ multi-platinum debut album License To Ill as well as LL Cool J’s Radio.
Although he has more or less abandoned the genre to produce albums for rock & roll artists, he occasionally returns to form with artists such as Jay Z and Eminem.
Although in recent years his production work has expanded beyond hip hop, it is important that we remember his beginnings with The Roots. While other producers merely dabbled with jazz samples, he assembled an entire band and made original jazz/hip hop fusion. Though The Roots have continued to release new material, the most important LPs in their catalogue are their first four (Organix, Do You Want More?!, Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart). Questlove is also responsible for many of the production for various Okay Player artists and affiliates such as Jay-Z, Common, Blackalicious and Jill Scott.
2. The RZA
In 1993, the G.O.A.T hip hop group (YES) known as the Wu-Tang Clan emerged from the slums of Shaolin (Staten Island, NY) with their debut album Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. Produced entirely by The RZA, a new sound was created that redefined New York hip hop. It was a much grimier sound than that of what was coming from the dominant (at the time) West Coast. RZA opted for erratic piano loops and boom bap drum kicks instead of glossy Parliament funk samples. It was a much needed breath of fresh air.
After the critical and commercial success of Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, The RZA continued to produce the bulk of the first round of Wu-Tang solo albums (Tical, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, Only Built For Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords, and Ironman) all of which are hailed as classics. He continues to produce new music and is highly regarded as one of the greats.
1. DJ Premier
Nobody has contributed more timeless masterpieces to hip hop music than the legendary DJ Premier. Originally hailing from Houston, he co-founded Gangstarr with Boston native Keith Elam aka The Guru (R.I.P.). At the time of the duo’s late 80’s inception, they agreed that moving to Brooklyn, NY would be in their best interests as New York was the hot spot for hip hop artists looking to sign a recording deal. Shortly after relocating to Brooklyn, Gangstarr signed their first recording deal and proceeded to create multiple classic albums. Although Guru was a great talent in the booth, it was the production of DJ Premier that initially caught my attention and kept me coming back.
Other prominent artists in New York took notice as well. Premo has worked with Rakim, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Krs-One, Mos Def, M.O.P., Showbiz & AG, OC, Afu-Ra, Fat Joe, Freddie Foxx, MC Lyte, and many others. However, it was within the Gangstarr foundation that much of his greatest instrumentals were made. Jeru The Damaja’s The Sun Rises In The East and Wrath Of The Math LPs were both produced entirely by DJ Premier. Another notable yet overlooked jewel on his resume is Group Home’s Livin’ Proof LP. With all due respect to Lil’ Dap and Melachi The Nutcraker, nobody bought that LP for the lyrical content.
DJ Premier is also the master of crate digging. Whether it’s deploying obscure samples or scratching vocal sections of a hip hop record to create a brand new hook, he has production down to a science. Although he may not have the accolades or the wealth other so-called producers have, they don’t have what he has within the culture: RESPECT and longevity.
Without question, Premo is hip hop’s G.O.A.T. Producer. There is no comparison or counterpoint to that fact.
-Charles E. Rigmaiden
Easy Mo Bee, Pharrell Williams, Marley Marl
The opinions and views expressed here are the opinions of the designated author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or views of any of the individual members of Dead End Hip Hop.
I think Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson owes me an apology.
He made me look like a pretentious douchebag, because, even as I was away at a cottage by a beach with a group of my closest friends, I could not find a way to avoid having my nose buried into the spine of his new book.
Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, written by Thompson himself as well as Ben Greenman, is a collection of thoughts by one of the most prolific drummers who is a part of hip hop’s most beloved band. If that’s not enough, he’s also a huge music nerd with a deep knowledge in its history all the while being an infectiously humble guy.
Whenever someone asks me whether the book is ?uestlove’s autobiography, I always find it difficult to answer because it is so much more than just that. There are many different aspects added to the book that make it a much more dynamic reading experience than just any other autobiography. Letters from Ben Greenman to the editor, Ben Greenberg, are included periodically in between chapters which include commentary on the book itself. As you read along, you almost feel as if the book itself is self-aware (wait, what?). This, in combination with Rich Nichol’s sporadic footnotes scattered across Questo’s colorful commentaries, provide some validity and perspective to the points and stories that Thompson eloquently lays out in the book.
Another example of an added component that makes the book a dynamic reading experience is the “Quest Loves Records” sections. As Thompson cruises through the ups and downs of his life, he makes sure to break down the records that would define his years at that particular time. He provides interesting insight into why the particular record he chose would represent the year for him and always tie it back into the story of his ever so eventful life.
The actual content itself gives the reader a “kid in a candy store” type feeling to all those who truly love music in general and is especially appealing if you love hip hop. Thompson’s style of writing is very personable and is riddled with personality. It almost feels as if Questo himself is in front of you speaking to you directly as if you have been friends for years and years. Besides the style itself, he offers a perspective of music from someone who was immersed in it from such a young age by retelling personal anecdotes while tying them into how music as a whole grew and how it affected or was affected by the world around him.
In all honesty, Mo’ Meta Blues is the first book I have read in years and after flipping past the last page, it has definitely rekindled my love for reading, because of the engaging experience I had with Questlove and his book. Thompson will have you smiling with stories (like how he first met the ever-so-talented Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter), feeling sympathetic with stories of his troubles with his father and widening your eyes with insight into the trials and tribulations of the legendary Roots crew.
Hip Hop is hands down the most competitive form of music. Rappers are obsessed with being the best at their craft and letting it be known in their lyrics. As a result, fans often weigh in on who they believe to be the best and this leads to the infamous conversation of who is the “Top Five Dead or Alive.” The problem with these lists is that it seems everyone is either too scared or too oblivious to stray away from the same generic list: Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem and Andre 3000. I get it, these rappers are absolutely amazing and definitely deserve all the respect they get, but common people, let’s get some variety and some real personal opinions and beliefs to breathe some life into these carbon copy lists. More specifically, the thing that makes me most frustrated about these lists is the omission of my personal favorite rapper of all time, Black Thought from The Legendary Roots Crew.
“Y’all know he’ll raise the bar though like Brigitte.
See there a star go, don’t blink, you might miss it,
It’s precious cargo, you gotta be strong to lift it.
The light comes in different types, be more specific,
Shit, he’s Black Thought, what could be more prolific?
For this love, he’ll go above and beyond a limit.
He told y’all he’s above and beyond a gimmick.
-Black Thought in “Right On”
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of why I believe Black Thought should be involved in these “Top Five Dead or Alive” conversations, it is important that I set what I believe to be the important credentials that an MC must possess to be considered as one of the best of all time.
An MC must have an impeccable flow supported by a creative rhyme scheme, coupled with such a rhythm that their vocals seamlessly fit in with the instrumental. They must also embed some deep lyrics while maintaining this flow, whether by being clever with their punch lines, telling a story or bringing about some sort of emotion out of you. Another important aspect is their beat selection, because the greatest rapper could spit one of the greatest verses of all time; but if it is not over a great sounding beat, it is basically worthless as it would lack any sort of musicality. Lastly, a rapper has to achieve a high level of consistency. If an MC drops a full length album that blows you away and then follows it up with an uninspired effort, they should not be in contention.
“Right now it’s somebody who ain’t eat all week,
That would kill for the shit that you throw away in the street.
I guess one man’s trash is the next man’s treasure,
One man’s pain is the next mans pleasure.
One say infinity the next say forever,
Right now everybody got to get it together man.”
-Black Thought in ‘Right Now’ (Song by Fort Minor)
When have you ever heard a bad Black Thought verse? Better yet, when have you ever even heard an average-sounding Black Thought verse? The legendary MC commands the mic with a flawless flow. He is also very diverse as it is very difficult to hear a verse that sounds similar to any other. Black Thought is not only a flow-based rapper, however, he is definitely also an extremely proficient lyricist, but this is often overlooked because his lyrics can go over listeners’ heads as a result of his flow. Black Thought utilizes clever wordplay with obscure references to rap or pop culture. He also has a track record of rapping some incredibly inspiring verses, especially on How I Got Over. Kendrick Lamar has been praised by the entire industry for his storytelling abilities on good kid m.a.a.d city and yet, Black Thought gets no love for his showcase of storytelling on the December 2011 release Undun.
“Tryin’ to control the fits of panic,
Unwritten and unraveled, it’s the dead man’s pedantic.
Whatever, see it’s really just a matter of semantics,
When everybody’s fresh out of collateral to damage.”
-Black Thought in ‘Make My’
In terms of beat selection, how can you possibly go wrong when being backed by the greatest full band in hip hop, The Roots? The Roots definitely create some of the best instrumentals that hip hop has ever seen with their full set of instruments and skilled instrumentalists. There are definitely not many rappers out there that would be able to handle the instrumentation that The Roots demand Black Thought to rap on. I think that part of the reason why there is a lack of Black Thought in these “Top Five Dead or Alive” conversations is because he is part of a group and is not credited as being a solo artist, however, this logic is very flawed.
It is incredulous to discredit the man’s raps because his name is not listed in solidarity, as each member of The Roots plays an essential role to their overall sound they are trying to achieve. Lastly, Black Thought definitely has achieved consistency. The Roots have released 12 full length albums since 1993 and each one showcases Black Thought’s dope raps. In addition, Black Thought and The Roots show no sign of slowing down as they have announced that they will be releasing another full length LP in 2013, called &TYSYC.
“Lost generation, fast paced nation,
World population confront they frustration.
The principles of true hip-hop have been forsaken,
It’s all contractual and about money makin’.
Pretend-to-be cats don’t seem to know they limitation.
Exact replication and false representation.
You wanna be a man, then stand your own.
To MC requires skills, I demand some shown.”
-Black Thought in ‘What They Do’
Enough of all this talk about Nas vs. Jay-Z or Biggie vs. Pac, let’s get Black Thought in the mix. I understand that Black Thought gets little to no hate in the rap world, but I think he deserves a hell of a lot more attention.
Think Black Thought!
Are there any rappers that you feel should be in these ‘Top 5 Dead or Alive’ conversations that are often ignored?
Let us know who these rappers are and why!
Kids These Days truly is a rare band. With the assembly of eight separate personalities producing music that spans many genres with live instrumentation, the gap for error is apparent. Yet these eight Chicago teens do not only harmonize blues, pop, rock, soul, jazz and hip-hop effortlessly, but they do so with the execution of musicians two decades deep into their career. They dropped the very dope Hard Times EP last year and are back with their debut full length LP, Traphouse Rock, that showcases a progression leaps and bounds ahead of their previous work, both sonically and collectively.
If someone picked any song on this album, they’d be greeted with a myriad of sounds and instruments, all consistently balanced; this is crucial for a group with so many different pieces all blending into one. This shows when male vocalist/guitarist Liam Cunningham soulfully serenades about how a man’s world means nothing without a woman by his side on “A Man’s Medley,” using the cadence of a voice well beyond his years, or MC Vic Mensa’s ridiculously effortless flow on “Don’t Harsh My Mellow” accompanied by ominously haunting piano keys by female vocalist Marcie Stewart with a spiraling chorus that sounds like it’s falling apart.
The horn section alone in this band would be enough to grab hold my attention for all fifty-eight minutes of the album with trumpeter Nico Segal and trombonist J.P. Floyd. On the song “GHETTO,” Segal hits high staccato notes alongside Floyd, who provides a distorted, whiny drone throughout the song. The beat switches midway to a faster tempo where they play musical ping pong back and forth, until drummer Greg Landfair closes out the song with a sweet solo. This lush instrumentation literally permeates every song.
The subject matter Kids These Days delve into on Traphouse Rock address a plethora of different aspects of teen youth, but doesn’t get redundant or dramatic in that bullshit teen angst kind of way. The pretentious, cynical perception musicians their age typically have in this generation is cleansed by a very genuine place of youth with relatable topics.
Adolescent nostalgia breathes over subdued trumpets that open up the track “Talk 2 You” as Mensa speaks to an old friend/ex over the phone about all the old memories they shared. Pain and regret drunkenly dance with each other in the hook Cunningham sings so honestly: “Bottoms up baby I’ve been drinking/ Let me tell you about what I’ve been thinking/You’re the reason why I wrote this song/ I hope it hasn’t been too long.”
Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who also hails from Chicago, handled a large majority of the production on this project and did a phenomenal job. The layered instrumentation and improved musicality of Kids These Days is most likely a result of Tweedy’s mentorship.
Take the cohesive instrumentation of The Roots and the free spirited style of Gym Class Heroes pre-2008, and that’s close to how this band operates. Traphouse Rock is music in its rawest, purest form, from a group of musicians celebrating their adolescence through music played at a much higher caliber.
Written by Shane George
Hip Hop saved my life.
And no, it’s not in the way Lupe Fiasco described on the track he featured on The Cool. I am not a rapper nor will I ever attempt to be. However, that doesn’t mean that it impacts me any less than someone who is.
“My mind runs, I can never catch it even if I got a head start. God please tell me I’ve been feeling so alone way.”
-The Prayer by Kid Cudi
Similarly to anyone growing through their teen years, I definitely went through some tough times and most of it was fabricated from my own mind. Yes, there were outside influences that could have steered me into these dark times, but for the most part, it was the man in the mirror that was my worst enemy. I recognized the problem early and I would find myself engulfed by my thoughts going at a mile a minute. For years and years all I could ever hope for figurative ‘off switch’ to my demons.
I’m doing all that I can, I’m just a hot headed man. Ink from tattoos on my sleeves, I wear my heart in my hands.”
-Straight. No Chaser by Reks Feat. Slaine
I was always a fan of music in general, but what drew me to hip hop especially was my passion for words. Also, a good friend of mine who was in a similar situation as I was really influenced me to fall head over heels for the genre. Rappers are experts with words as they are able to manipulate them to express a point all the while creating melodies to make their voice sound like an instrument.
The more time I put into seeking rappers who were wizards with words, the more I understood the craft. Before I knew it, I finally found that ‘off switch’. I found that I was able to fully immerse myself in songs by rappers who mastered the art of rap and silence the inevitable negativity in my head. In addition, you can really find some therapeutic lyrics out there from rappers who express their genuine emotions in their music.
“Smiling through the trouble we face, tryna manage my way without pumping my brakes and staying stagnant. Cause I can sit on my ass and just imagine the madness I did on my path and paint the canvas.”
-The Day by The Roots Feat. Blu, Phonte & Patty Crash
As time goes by, I continue to grow and leave those days behind. The more I learn about myself, the more undesirable traits are uncovered that I see in myself. But life’s all about loving yourself and those around you.
I just don’t know if I would have come to that conclusion if it wasn’t for Hip Hop.
–Dear Hip Hop by Dan-e-o
Is hip hop or music in general important to you? Don’t let me be the only one laying out some personal stuff on the internet, tell us why!
Man this is tight. This 1996 documentary unearthed by Music Makers takes us through the bands release of Do You Want More?!!!??! This aired on National Public Radio (NPR) originally and was hosted by Public Enemy’s Chuck D. We all know who the Roots are today but if you really want to get behind who they were and how they got to where they are today, listen to this piece of history especially for all of our young following here on Dead End Hip Hop.
Listen and download: The Roots-On The Road With The Roots [Music Makers 1996 Radio Documentary]