Some of you may have already looked at the title of this article, seen the word “classic” and thought, “Oh lord. Another cat talking about what’s classic just because he likes it.” And you know what? I don’t blame you. I’d probably think the same thing if I weren’t the writer. I mean let’s be totally honest here…the word “classic” gets thrown around WAY too often in the realm of hip hop. It’s the only musical genre whose partakers either suffocate a release with praise (albeit worthy of said praise or not) or quarantines themselves from one like an infectious disease without an audible habeas corpus. We are an impatient bunch. When we really dig an album, we don’t want to wait and see if it will stand the tests of time. We want it adored, adulated, romanticized and idolized while we’re still around to see it. And we also want everyone to think what we think. That it’s the single greatest thing since coitus (Yes I created a reason to use the word “coitus.” Blame Family Guy). Pretty selfish of us, is it not? Well anyway, let me get to the crux of the matter at hand.
Almost a year ago, a popular underground MC (and a buddy of mine) named Soul Khan announced he would drop a freestyle to an instrumental from an album he believed to be “the last true classic rap album.” That freestyle ended up being this…
So the last true classic rap album in Khan’s eyes is Cannibal Ox’s 2001 debut opus, The Cold Vein. I remember thinking three things after listening to his freestyle: “Damn this is dope, damn that motherfucker can rap…and…I don’t agree with him.” That’s not to say that I don’t believe The Cold Vein is indeed a classic album. It most certainly is. I just don’t agree that it’s the very last classic album the rap genre has ever produced. I personally give that distinction to an album that was released three years after The Cold Vein. You may have heard of it. It’s called Madvillainy and it’s the one and only release from Madvillain, a duo comprised of two mythic figures in rap: psychedelically jazz-influenced producer Madlib and the veiled-faced MC enigma, MF DOOM.
“Living off borrowed time, the clock tick faster.” — MF DOOM
Madvillainy arose from a sea of massive major releases. Artists like Nas, T.I., Ghostface Killah, Talib Kweli, Slum Village, Mos Def and The Roots all dropped projects that year. But the two that captured the most attention and consumer capital were Eminem’s Encore and Kanye West’s debut, The College Dropout. After almost a full decade of permeating through the ether of the rap world, Encore still makes its way into discussions…discussions that usually end with it being called one of the worst albums in Eminem’s catalogue. The College Dropout, on the other hand, received perfect ratings in magazines, Grammy nominations and near universal acclaim. But let’s continue to be honest here…a LOT of that came from Kanye’s now commomplace whining and ranting causing publications and decision-makers not to rouse the ire of someone they knew would become a superstar in the near future whether they liked it or not. To put it very simply, the only person really calling The College Dropout a true classic rap album today is Kanye West himself.
“You heard it on the radio, tape it. Play it in your stereo, your crew will go ape-shit.” — MF DOOM
Madvillainy, however, is as lauded now as it was nearly ten years ago by critics and fellow artists of various genres alike as well as receiving attention from media outlets not known for covering rap like The New Yorker. It has been placed on virtually every top 10, top 20 and top 100 list of that year. It has been referenced in some way in many facets of pop culture throughout the nine years of its existence. Songs from that album have been covered by other artists. The album has even served as the sole creative inspiration for other albums, namely Danny!’s Where Is Danny?.
Have any of you labeled me as a DOOM “stan” yet? You’d be slightly correct if you have. I’m a different type of DOOM “stan” though. Yes, I am a huge fan of DOOM but I also believe a lot of his projects suck. I don’t play any of his Viktor Vaughn material, I only like half of his MM..FOOD album and aside from “Fazers” and “The Fine Print,” I think his King Geedorah LP is straight ass. Yet none of that distorts or perverts my recognition of DOOM as one of rap’s most durable MC’s ever. Madvillainy came out of nowhere via an indie label with no fanfare, no bells, no whistles and no extravagant promotional saturation and has managed to be almost deified in a cult-like fashion…a distinction no other album released that year has garnered. DOOM needed Madvillainy. Madlib needed Madvillainy. And we needed Madvillainy.
I see some of you agreeing with my assessment. I see some of you disagreeing with my assessment. I also see some of you questioning why I made no mention of Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city as being a classic album, which would prove my point about us rap folk being an impatient bunch. Give it time, people. Give it time. Until then…
“Just remember all caps when you spell the man name.” –MF DOOM
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.