Another one of the biggest complaints that I hear often from former die hard Hip Hop fans is that producers and emcees were all technically better back in the days. This is what we Oldhead Rap Nerds like to call "The Basketball Argument". I present to you my new blog entitled "Old Ghosts":
I've often been guilty of it myself. I used to be an emcee. Not a rapper, mind you. An EMCEE. I studied Hip Hop and treated it like it was a time honored profession/calling much like the clergy or being a monk is. I took the art of emceeing seriously because of all the great, groundbreaking emcees I grew up listening to. The thing is that now cats act like emcees were super lyrical cats dropping knowledge complete with multis, 'phors, similes and ill wordplay since Coke La Rock first rapped back in 1973. Nah son!
As a matter of fact, rappers back in the days were pretty simplistic in their rhyme patterns, lyrics and delivery. It was more about call and response and coming up with something that you could always come back to that filled the gap that a lack of rhymes left. There was a special group of B-Boys that would go to DJ Kool Herc's jams and watch Coke La Rock and the rest of the Herculords rock the house. They came up with their own brand of emceeing. Brothers Mr. Ness and Melle Mel each devised the "neverending" rap style and they perfected the "back & forth" style of rhyming. When they took the stage as part of the Furious Five it was a wrap for a lot old emcees careers.
The next quantum leap in emceeing came with the introduction of The Treacherous Three. Kool Moe Dee, Special K and L.A. Sunshine completely turned the Rap game upside down and introduced the next evolution in emceeing. They expounded upon the Furious Five's innovations and added more of their own. The "neverending" Rap style that Mr. Ness pioneered was now infused with rapid fire delivery of multisyllable words in a rhyme that made absolute sense to the listener. "The New Rap Language" made the entire Rap world and the aspiring emcees in it take immediate notice. With the inclusion of the do everything emcee/DJ superlyricist and innovator Grandmaster Caz the art of emceeing had it's first undisputed greats.
The next evolution in emceeing was brought about when Special K of The Treacherous Three's older brother who was a B-Boy decided to record a track for the fledgling Def Jam/Partytime label owned by Jazzy Jay and Arthur Baker. That song hit the Hip Hop world like a megaton bomb and it's fallout would be felt for years afterwards, the name of this mind blowing track was "It's Yours". After hearing this track and emulating all of the previous emcee greats a young James Todd Smith then recorded the classic Def Jam 12" "I Need A Beat". Things could never go back to the way they used to be.
The next generation of emcees was just bananas! You had KRS One, Just Ice, Chuck D, Schooly D, Slick Rick, and the list began to get bigger and bigger. Emcees couldn't just do the simple shit that they were doing in days past. Rappers such as Busy Bee, Spoonie Gee and Kurtis Blow were experiencing a serious dip in popularity starting around 1986 because a new era of Hip Hop production and emceeing was dawning. It would later be known as the First Golden Age Of Hip Hop and it would last for years (1986-1989). Hip Hop heads often harken back to it like it was as long as Ramses II tenure in Egypt or something like that.
The Kid Wizard Rakim first made himself known to the world alongside his DJ Eric B. on the song "Eric B. For President". This is where everything essentially got fucked up for anyone who dare want to call themselves an emcee/rapper and had the gall/nerve to be born in the either the late 80's or 90's. What the fuck were your parents thinking? Didn't they know that unless you were alive or born in the late 70's or early 80's you were gonna miss out on all the good shit and only be around for when it all sucks? Do me a favor. If you were born after 1985 and you're a Rap/Hip Hop fan just go and slap your parents RIGHT NOW and then continue reading. It's okay...I'll wait.
Parents all smacked? Yeah? Heeere we go! After Rakim showed up he ushered in yet another quantum leap in emceeing. The thing is that he wasn't alone in being great in his era. We also had his incredible peers like Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, The D.O.C., Ice Cube, Ice T, Scarface, Posdnous from De La Soul, Kool Keith and Ced Gee of Ultramagnetic MC's, Daddy-O of Stetsasonic, Grand Puba, Sadat X and Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian, Zev Love X of KMD (aka MF Doom), Special Ed, Masta Ace, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Roxanne Shante, King Sun and the list continued on and on and on to the light break of dawn. This is essentially the crux of the problem we have today with Hip Hop...if you grew up in this era you compare EVERY EMCEE you hear now to the seminal greats/innovators in all of Hip Hop History.
That makes about as much sense as those assholes I know that claim that they stopped loving basketball after Magic Johnson (2x), Larry Bird and Michael Jordan (3x) all retired. "The game isn't what it once was!" they all claim. "No one can even hit a mid-range jumper!". I always console with this fact. "It took one guy back in the mid 70's to catch the ball coming off of the rim in the NBA and slam it back in before he hit the ground before EVERYONE began doing the putback dunk. On the streets, people had been doing it since the 50's!. The NBA wasn't the end all be all in basketball advancements, it was LATE more often than not (ABA, I'm looking at you!). If you couldn't watch basketball after they retired you were a fan of theirs and NOT the sport itself. Good riddance to you!
Int the same way I look at people that abandoned the NBA during the mid to late 90's because "there were no great players left" I look at people that tell me that there are no more great emcees or producers in Hip Hop/Rap music anymore. Just because you're STILL upset that Pete Rock & CL Smooth broke up that's not a good reason to give up on an entire genre of music you grew up with. If you think DJ Premier beats in 2009 are still gonna make you feel the exact same way they did in 1989 you're buggin' because YOU'RE not the same person you were in 1989 now. Don't get it twisted.
I love Hip Hop from all eras but I can separate them and keep these emcees and producers in the context of their eras just like I do with athletes in different sports. I don't compare Rajon Rondo to Tiny Archibald because if I did I probably wouldn't as huge a Rajon Rondo fan as I am now. It's unfair to completely discount the best in the game today because "someone else did it first". I don't care who came up with rapid fire rapping or multis and compound rhymes first, if he heard Elzhi in 2009 he say "Dayum! He's nice" and smile knowing that Hip Hop was still alive and well. Just like I do every day.
* "Old Ghosts" references a chapter of the world famous graphic novel "Watchmen" that will be appearing as a feature film on March 6, 2009.