March 16, 2004

Hip Hop '85-'93
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

Consider this a "Backpacker's Guide to the Galaxy."

In recent years, the term "backpack rapper" has evolved from a condescending term for nerd rappers to a proud label assumed by dedicated true-school hip-hop fans. Boston is a bustling metropolis of backpackers, filled with white college students and lacking a voice in the mainstream to claim Beantown as its hood. These are the songs from '85 to '93 that inspire the metamorphosis from a passive rap fan to a hip-hop fanatic. This era led up to next week's mix, which covers '94 to '96.

A Side

1985 - LL Cool J "Rock the Bells" Radio
The intro to "Rock the Bells" is one of hip-hop's most infamous battle cries: "LL Cool J is hard as hell!" LL Cool J's recent digression into R&B doesn't seem to be motivated by greed (a la Ja Rule and 50 Cent's cheesy love ballads) but by his libido; he has admitted to being uncontrollably addicted to sex. Until nymphomania got the best of him, LL Cool J used to be a mean dude (until he got that horrible TV show). The album boasts one of hip-hops most famous covers, with a classic '80s boombox. Someone should give LL Cool J some Blistex and tell him that licking your lips makes them even more chapped.

1987 - Boogie Down Productions "South Bronx" Criminal Minded
Before KRS-One turned into the hip-hop preacher/teacher, he revolutionized the battle rap. Anyone who thinks 2Pac and Biggie is a good example of beef in hip-hop needs to go listen to "South Bronx." Sadly, only after his DJ Scott La Rock was murdered did KRS move on to his more philosophical and pacifistic raps. KRS is also responsible for the backpacker mantra, repeated five times a day while facing the South Bronx: "Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live."

1988 - Public Enemy "Rebel Without a Pause" It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Chuck D scared the tighty-whitey underwear off America with Public Enemy's classic album. Instead of coming off as violent, ignorant gangstas like NWA, Public Enemy declared themselves violent, intelligent revolutionaries in the tradition of Malcolm X. They were some of the first rappers to be respected outside of the hip-hop community as legitimate and talented artists. When white punk rockers started heading uptown to Public Enemy concerts, the media predicted race riots, but instead hip-hop embraced its new fans. To this day, people are still confused by Flavor Flav. What is he doing? Nobody knows.

B Side

1990 - A Tribe Called Quest "Can I Kick It?" People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
Along with De La Soul, ATCQ pioneered the movement away from gangsta rap and diversified the hip-hop community. Though labeled "soft" by the media, ATCQ came with hard beats and impressive lyrics that DJs have been spinning before underground hip-hop shows for almost 15 years. Though "Bonita Applebum," "Scenario," and "Award Tour" all make regular appearances in a backpacker's WinAmp, the call and response of "Can I Kick It?" will forever remain the Tribe's classic. Six years later, on the last true backpacker's album of all time, Jay-Z references the "Can I Kick It?" on "22 Twos."

1992 - Pete Rock and CL Smooth "They Reminsce Over You (TROY)" Mecca and the Soul Brother
Ask a b-boy when he fell in love with hip-hop and there's a good chance he'll tell you it was Pete Rock. His mellow beats were years ahead of their time and are still imitated by producers like 9th Wonder today. Pete Rock is the ultimate producer for a backpacker: there is nothing flashy or distinctly remarkable about his music except its simple beauty. This is some of the best music of all time, but you'll never see it on 106th and Park.

1993 - Wu-Tang Clan "CREAM" Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Wu-Tang is the closest thing to a cult in hip-hop. Many fans will not even entertain the idea that 36 Chambers might not be the best album ever. Obessed with bees and kung-fu films, no one knew quite what to do with Wu-tang. After starting a few dozen solo careers, the Clan is the Wayans family of rap. And please, don't embarrass yourself: remember, Redman was never in Wu-Tang.

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