Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Classic Material AKA The Question Remains

The question is asked all the time in relation to hip hop releases time and time again, how do you determine what albums are undisputed classics? This is one of the toughest questions to answer in my personal opinion and I’ll try to flesh out why:

The first or early hip hop albums can always be easily put into the “classic” category with little or no resistance from hip hop heads and fans alike. The problems really arise when critiquing project made after the first Golden Age (1986-1989) . In order to determine what a classic album is you need a benchmark by which to judge them, the problem with this is that the albums of the 1st Golden Age were such masterpieces that what albums could compare to them...especially in the eyes of those that grew up during that time or heard these albums when they were released?

How in the hell can any album compare to Public Enemy ‘s“It Takes A Nation Of Millions..”, Stetsasonic’s “In Full Gear”, or Ultramagnetic MC’s “Critical Beatdown”? The answer is/was not many. The thing is that these albums couldn’t stay the blueprint for what one could call classic material forever. The industry changed, technology advanced, styles and content changed, hip hop became big business. New standards had to be made.

After the Golden Age died down, there was a short time of transition in which the rap industry had to find it’s way again between 1990 and 1991. Between these yeras, several albums had been released that would serve as the blueprint for the next Golden Era of hip hop music.

Some of these albums were Brand Nubian’s “One For All”, Ice Cube’s “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted”, Poor Righteous Teachers “Holy Intellect”, A Tribe Called Quest’s “Peoples Instictive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm”, X Clan’s “To The East, Blackwards”, Digital Underground’s “Sex Packets”, Main Source’s “Breaking Atoms”, Cypress Hill, Naughty By Nature and Organized Konfusion’s self titled debuts, Black Sheep’s “A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing”, Del’s “I Wish My Brother George Was Here”, Leaders Of The New School’s “A Future Without A Past” and DJ Quik’s “Quik Is The Name” had all come out and established some brand new markers that would springboard hip hop into it’s next phase.

From 1992-1996, classic album upon classic album was churned out as were some okay/decent albums. Once 1997 passed and hip hop was taken into the post Telecommunications Act Era, people began to go back and listen to some of these albums and proclaim them “classics” as well. The perception being that since the music they heard from these recordings made between 1992-1997 was perceived to be far superior to the rap music of the era that was “winning” that it had to be classic...that wasn’t necesarilly the case, though.

Perception is another hurdle in determining what’s considered a classic hip hop album, you have to be careful to not confuse what could be called a “personal favorite” album of yours, one you could consider “slept on” for a “classic” album. These are different distinctions altogether, for example:

Slept On Album (Sub Classic): Shadz Of Lingo- A View To A Kill 1994
Undispusted Classic Album: Nas-Illmatic 1994
Slept On Album (Sub Classic): Pete Nice & Daddy Rich-Dust To Dust 1994
Undisputed Classic Album: Redman-Dare Iz A Darkside 1994

See the difference? Perception and time changed how these albums are now viewed. Back when they were first released, a great deal of albums that people regard as classic material now were merely seen as good albums or quality releases (3-3.5 mics in The Source) at the time. When heads who listen to music from both Golden Eras tend to compare it to releases from 1997 on, they tend to prefer it to the overly commercial music of the next era, forgetting that you can’t will something to be greater than it actually was just because YOU liked it. This is why “slept on” is a much better tag than “classic”, you can’t dispute what an individual believes to be a slept on album...a classic one, though? That can become an argument EASY.

Modern classic hip hop albums are harder to gauge by the public (not so much by critics, though) because classics now are pretty predicated on if the album sold well or not. By that thinking, Nelly’s “Country Grammar” was a classic hip hop album...I beg to diifer on that one. The more recent the release the tougher it is to deem it classic material because the albums don’t have the necessary distance for the listener to be able to objectively judge them. Is The Clipse “Hell Hath No Fury” a classic album? Is Ghostface Killah’s “Fishscale”? How about Nas’ “Hip Hop Is Dead”? All of that is up for debate, but people will generally agree that an older album like Nas’ “Stillmatic” can be considered a classic. Another obstacle in whether or not you can call an album a classic is regional bias and/or an aesthetic bias. I suffer from both personally, I still can’t bring myself to fathom that T.I.’s “King” is a classic album...or that Young Jeezy “Thug Motivation 101” can ever be considered one...

In conclusion, depending on what era you’re from and what you’re background in regards to hip hop is, you’ll have a diiferent foundation and therefore a different blueprint of what “classic material” in regards to hip hop music sounds like. While there are across the board clear cut classics that we can hold up as classic material, the current way albums are made and manner in which the industry is run makes it hard for albums to compete with those great albums of the past. Here are some rules of thumb for heads who want to accurately judge albums:

You can’t compare current albums to albums made in an era where sampling laws weren’t yet fully enforced ( i.e comparing modern albums to Beastie Boys “Paul’s Boutique”, Ultramagnetic MC’s “Critical Beatdown” or De La Soul’s “3 Feet High And Rising”).

You can’t compare groups or albums from one hip hop sub genre with another...it’s like comparing apples to oranges (i.e. comparing Brand Nubian’s “Everything Is Everything” to N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton”)

Try to compare current albums with the best and most similar recent albums that can be considered classic material (i.e. comparing the new Sean Price LP with the last one to determine if can be called a “classic” or not...by that standard it would just fall short, but it’ll still be better than 90% of what gets released in 2007).

Throw everything I said above out and call albums whatever the hell you want. If you’re nice enough with the words and argue your position well enough you’ll be able to convince people you’re right regardless (Damn, now that I think about about Tame One’s “O.G. Bobby Johnson” WAS a classic!).



Jake said...

Great post today Dart. The word classic is used to easily in today's hip hop. Everyone thinks their region is the greatest, and that every album from every artist from their region is a classic. I think the biggest marker in determining a classic is time. You have to wait to see if/how the album changed the soundscape of the genre.

PYL. said...

Whether it's artists, albums, etc... I always try to make a difference between my favorites, and those which I think are the best. For example I really love the BCC, but I honestly feel like, I can't say they are amongst the best emcees.
To judge a classic, I think the most important thing, is the impact the album had. That's why first LP's are more often classics, because they're more original and bring something new. I feel like there's been really few "classic" albums these last years because none of em had a real impact, none of em innovated, even though some were very nice.
Then I feel you also got different types of classics. There's the "underground classics", the "slept-on classics", you also got the "unreleased classics" (LOL), etc...
Just my thoughts on the subject :)

Travis said...

Excellent piece. I've debated with myself many times over exactly what you have said. I think there are clear cut classics, and I think they are commonly agreed on by the "hip hop community".

The problem is, some youngin's these days don't understand this. They weren't there when "Critical Beatdown" was released, like us old codgers. They don't know what the vibe of those were.

I'm not sure if there has been anything mad since Mos Def's "Black On Both Sides" that I "personally" call classic. Nor, do I think there is really anythiny that we can all agree on since then either. My personal classics since then would be

Little Brother "The Listening"
Masta Ace "Disposable Arts" & "A Long Hot Summer"
Foreign Exchange "Connected"

and that's about it. But I don't think anything has the majority of the vote from the hip hop community this decade.

Jumping from era to era is difficult as well. There is alot of stuff that when it came out, I wasn't all that thrilled with. That Shadz of Lingo is a PERFECT example. I was somewhat eager for that to drop after hearing them on E Double's solo debut, but when it dropped, I wasn't all that impressed. I picked it up again a few years back and I loved it. I'm sure part of that reason is from the lack of what I consider quality music being released these days. Back when it originally dropped, it was only medicore compared to the stuff being dropped. Some of these kids (and I'm guilty of this myself) say things are a lot better than they originally were viewed because of the lack of quality music out these days.

Anyway, just some rambling, random thoughts.

Excellent post again, Dart

alley al said...

you know i wanna say somethin', right?
but imma wind up babblin' too much, so i 'll just say nice post.
maybe i'll add on later if i ever get my thoughts together.

btw, i don't think dare iz a darkside is an undisputed classic..
and i'm a dirty jersey rep!!

Travis said...

Alley, you are man 50 grand and all, but man, if Dare isn't....I don't know what is! hahaha

It's in my top 5 personal favorites. I think it's better than "Muddy Waters"...but then again, my all-time favorite album probably isn't a "classic" (Masta Ace - Slaughtahouse)

Dart Adams said...

Nah, Travis. I disagree with you on Masta Ace's Slaughtahouse. I think most heads agree it was a classic album. I think that Sittin' On Chrome was just as good, but based on when it came out and what else dropped it was just short of being a classic....Plus if Dare Iz A Darkside ain't a classic, that throws off the rest od Redman's catalog because Muddy Water just fell short. One.

Unknown said...

incredible post Dart...wow what a read.


alley al said...

dare is a darkside is super dope, but it's disputable. i think WHUT THEE ALBUM is more undisputed- they're all arguable, cuz it's all an opinion, no?
i agree with p-why about an album making an impact for it to be considered classic. mostly. like i said, i don't feel like babbling too much cuz my mind's all over the place right now..

DL said...

I totally agree that the 'classic' tag gets banded about far too easily in hip hop. I'm not sure whether it necessarily requires an album to change the game though, as there are surely only very few LPs that have done so, perhaps limiting the 'classic' tag a little too tightly.

Really enjoyed this post Dart, I like these posts with opinions on the genre in general. Keep it up.