Friday, July 23, 2010

Side A

This is all I have left.
It's a shame, really, considering the amount of room my collection of cassettes took up at one point. At it's peak in around 1998, the grand total was around five hundred full lengths, EPs and singles from the golden era. Most were from my weekly excursions to any record store I could get to, whether by bus, car or walking. This was before Best Buys or Circuit Citys had invaded New Hampshire, so I was stuck with the pricejackers elite, such as Strawberries, Record Town, Tape World and a few others that would get away with charging somewhere in the neighborhood of $11.49 - $12.99 per title. Cassette singles were a priority, seeing as most of them were around $1.99 and contained the b-side of the 12" version. I was never really in need of the instrumentals, so two songs (maybe three if there was a remix) for two to three bucks sounded good to me. Granted, when a slab of wax was able to be afforded, that was first on the list. But with not a lot to work with, you had to spend your money in the most conservative way you could find.
The saving grace in my pursuit of finding every possible release in existence was the infamous Newington, New Hampshire flea market, a sunday ritual that I almost never missed out on. A friend and his father went early, much earlier than I should have ever forced myself to get out of bed on a weekend for, knowing I had less than twenty four hours until I had to be forced back into a classroom.
The Newington flea market was where the buried treasures were found, where almost every other visit I'd somehow walk out with four or five new gems to put on the shelf. I was a record hunter before I knew what record hunting was....I was a tape hunter. The odds of finding a 12" there were slim to none, but the cassettes flowed endlessly. In 1992, when I finally got a cd player of my own, the bounties were even more amazing for two reasons: first, CDs would be sold second hand there for anywhere from two to five bucks, and second, once CDs emerged, no one cared about cassettes. No one cared about cassettes except those of us that were smart, and would be able to go through boxes and boxes. It wasn't unusual at that point to come home with ten tapes of gold and to have only spent, at the most, six or seven dollars. Yes, cassettes were the backbone of music loving tightwads in training.
The process went something like this:
Alarm set for 6:30 AM, every day of the sabbath (I seriously don't know what I was thinking....). Alarm would be hit for the next twenty minutes until I realized I'd have to be ready by seven or they would leave without me. I'd crawl out of bed and throw on clothes, looking out the window, knowing that ninety nine times out of a hundred, they'd be in the driveway at exactly seven in the morning.
The drive was about twenty minutes from Dover and would be spent discussing the previous night's basketball, baseball, football or hockey scores, depending on the season we were in. The flea market was year round, such as sports, so the drive was never void of conversation, no matter how tired I was. We'd enter the parking lot and, without fail, my excitement would rise to a boiling point. You have to understand.....Dover, New Hampshire wasn't that exciting to a teenager. There was a movie theater, a Store 24, a YMCA for pick-up basketball games, a sports card shop and.....well, not much else. This being said, a flea market out of town was a sort of utopia, filled to the brim with bizarre characters. It was everything I enjoyed all wrapped up into one large indoor building.
As soon as I would walk in, I'd be bombarded with endless tables of forty year old men selling sports cards, which was the only hobby/love of mine that competed with hip-hop at the time. I would usually have a box full of cards with me in hopes of trading in to random dealers for more packs of whatever new released series were available. This is what I considered my "first round". There was never a hurry. My friend's father could spend hours in there, chatting with anyone and everyone, giving each table a good once-over before moving on and finally making a decision what he wanted at the end of the day.
So, my "first round" would last anywhere from an hour to two or three. As soon as I had nothing I walked into the building with and had exchanged for a mish-mash of new cards, there would be a sort of halftime. My friend and I would go over to the food counter and, being a fat kid, would gorge ourselves. Depending on the day and my hunger level, it'd be either an egg, cheese and bacon sandwich (smothered in grease....I should have had a heart-attack by seventeen) or a maple round.....or sometimes both. For those of you that aren't familiar with maple rounds, it consists of a large, round donut stuffed with the most sugary creme you can imagine and then the donut is topped with a thick layer of maple flavored frosting. The pastry would be usually three to four inches from side to side and about two inches tall. It was, without a doubt, the most sickeningly beautiful "breakfast" treat to ever exist. It's even funnier to think about my diet at those flea markets, considering my present day self eats an almost all vegan diet (except for peanut butter cups.....Reese's owns me for life.). So my friend and I would sit and discuss our scores for the day so far and recharge for the next endeavor.
Immediately after "breakfast", there was a large room adjacent to the food counter and tables, consisting of nothing but VHS tapes. Thousands upon thousands of them. They were usually four for ten dollars, so I would spend about a half an hour hunting down every horror movie I could find and then searching out a few WWF events, considering I'd also argue that the golden age of WWF paralleled the golden age of hip-hop. Wrestlemania, Summerslam, Survivor Series and Royal Rumble VHS tapes also filled my shelves.
Sports cards? Check. WWF and horror films? Check.
And now was the final sweep.
A mental note was taken during my "first round". Every table with a box of cassettes or CDs would be revisited and combed over. I'd take my time, not wanting to miss anything. Some weeks I struck out, but those days were few and far between. More often than not, there would be at least five or six young adults or twentysomethings that would bring their unwanteds in and rent a table for the day. Most of them had a garage sale compacted onto an eight foot table and most of them had grown out of music in one form or another. This is where I'd swoop in and score. Another man's junk was absolutely my treasure.
These tables are where I'd finish my RUN-DMC collection, where I found Paid in Full for a dollar. It was where I could buy soundtracks for films that had at least an unreleased song or two from some of the best artists of the time.....soundtracks for films such as Mi Vida Loca (tracks from Funkdoobiest, A Tribe Called Quest, and Boss), or Trespass (tracks from Gang Starr, Public Enemy, the DITC family....everyone), Who's the Man? (again.....everyone)......the list goes on and on, not even including the soundtracks for movies that were made almost specifically for the hip-hop community (New Jersey Drive, Juice, New Jack City, Menace II Society, Boyz n the Hood, Clockers, The Show, Fresh, One Million Strong (which wasn't a film)....even the House Party films. I know I'm forgetting a ton, but they'll all be talked about in time....I sure as hell listened to them all enough.
There were gems upon gems on a weekly basis. From the flea market itself, I'd go home with a few hours of new music to listen to and a box of cards to look at and organize while the beats and rhymes took me away. Maybe an hour or two of classic WWF as well.

Depending on the week at hand, one of two things would happen at the final conquer of the flea market. We'd either get back in the truck and drive to Dover, or every couple weeks my friend and I would walk down the street to go see a movie. That would be followed by a trip to the mall, where it would be time to flip through all the cassettes and records at any one of the price-gouging holes in the wall. I had no choice other than this. I had no license, hence, no freedom to travel anywhere outside the small provided circle. This was still good enough, though. I had my checklist ready every week, taking down notes on new artists from the once very reliable The Source magazine in the unsigned hype and reviews sections. (This magazine was THE bible at that time for supplied me with quite a bit of reference to track down new artists, etc. If anyone who may stumble on this blog has any back issues from the years 1990-1994, please get in touch and we'll talk deals. I'll have a very full "want list" up on here soon.)
After stumbling around the mall for a few hours (which usually included me having some sort of Burger King feast that was super-super-sized, complete with a shake and whatever the hell else was on the menu.....jesus, I was a pig), I'd make my final decisions. I'd usually keep myself to somewhere around $25 a week, paper route money, and would end up with two full lengths and a cassingle or two. We'd sit outside on the bench until my mom or dad would come pick us up and bring us home. Every Sunday night when I got back to my room, I'd know I had enough new music to tide me over for another week until the next flea market day arrived.
I remember some of the releases I was so happy to finally get on those mall runs, reading about them on a Monday and having to wait a whole week to hear. I remember tearing the plastic off of Kurious' A Constipated Monkey before I was even given a receipt. I remember special ordering Gang Starr's Daily Operation and De La Soul is Dead and having them show up on the same day. Finding Mecca and the Soul Brother on vinyl on the same day as DAS-EFX's Dead Serious came out and being able to buy them both......going to three different stores to find EPMD's "Head Banger" single because them remix was INSANE. I remember all of it and, slowly, more and more keeps creeping back. Pennywise the clown scared the shit out of all of those kids from Derry, Maine and then they tried to forget. In one quick moment it all started to rush back into their minds...all the memories. Hip-hop is my Pennywise, but the only difference is I'm not scared to let all of those memories sink back into me.
It went on like this for years. Once I finally had a license, I took it a step further, hunted down even more flea markets, and made an entire day out of bargain hunting, always eyeball-fucking every table and leaving no stone unturned. I did this up until 2005 when I was around twenty eight years old. My goals shifted as time went on, but any time I saw a pile of cassettes or CDs, you can bet your ass I made a sprint to them. I'm looking forward to fifteen years down the line, where I will revisit my days as a fat kid by turning into a fat older man, still tape hunting. I may start collecting sports cards and rewatching WWF matches just to immerse myself even further into nostalgia.....and maybe I'll find all those Source mags again and finally hold onto them.

Side B

I don't think I can begin to explain how important hip-hop cassettes were to me (and the entire art form, as well). It's not a matter of nostalgia, even though the modern world has seemed to embrace them again for no other reason than some elite attempt to relive the past. Anyone born after about 1986 really has no reason to like was basically a dead format before they were able to embrace them. But, for those of us born in the 70's, it was an amazing gift from the music gods. Yes, there were 8-tracks preceding them, but the comparison between the two is nothing. Welcome to the world of walkmans, of car stereos....of the infinite beauty of MIXTAPES.
Cassettes were giving us the ability to listen to music constantly, wherever we were, which I took full advantage of. There were quite a few times I was kicked out of class in high school because a teacher caught me with my hood up, headphones in place, rocking Redman's Whut? Thee Album, Keith Murray's The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World, or, mostly, Nas' Illmatic. I didn't necessarily want to get kicked out of class, it was more a state of not being able to leave the music alone. Every summer consisted of epic walks everywhere around town, killing batteries every day. I started to equate length of walk to which album to listen to. Headed downtown to a movie? Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride to...., side A, would last the walk down. Side B on the way home, etc., etc.
The walkman became a way of life, a chance to soak in as many beats and rhymes as I could in an amounted time. I'm pretty sure my first walkman somewhere around fifth or sixth grade, and once I had it, it was all over. Around the time of the first walkman, I got myself a paper route. I lucked out and got the route circling my own street and a few connected ones. It was one giant loop that, if I was in a hurry, would last around forty minutes. If I took my time, it'd last over an hour. Most of the time I milked it for all it was worth, considering the job details were walking around listening to music, which I already did, and shoving a paper in a door or mailbox. At the end of the week, I would have anywhere from $25 to $50, depending on how generous my neighbors were with tips. That was $25 to $50 towards new music or baseball cards. I waited all year for Christmas deliveries, where everyone on my route would give me a nice, big fat tip. Sometimes I'd end up with close to $200 in my pocket. The trips to the music store the week after that were a field day.
The routes were where I fell in love with Cypress Hill's debut, with DAS-EFX's Straight Up Sewaside, with House of Pain's debut, with Brand Nubian's In God We Trust (specifically, Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down), with 3rd Bass' Derelicts of Dialect, with the goddamn, motherfuckin' Beatnuts. The list goes on and on.
The routes were where I fell in love with the mixtape. Not the mixtapes you'd find on the streets of NYC, mind you....I had no access to those. I'd read about them in The Source, but I had no way of finding them. The mixtapes I had were of my own personal creation. All the college radio shows I recorded, all the best tracks from every album I had. I went as far as to bring my little stereo into the living room during YO! MTV Raps, set up a table for it to sit on and put the little speaker next to the television to record the entire program. When 80 minute blank tapes came out, I was stoked beyond explanation. Eighty minutes to work with.
Once CDs hit, it took a turn for the better in my eyes. My friends would jump all over them, buying things they already had. I gladly took the hand-me-downs, the "old news". The other thing that happened was that CDs were more expensive, costing in the $13 to $17 range. "CD only" tracks began to show up, thrown into an album as an added bonus for the extra cost. My simple solution to hearing these songs was the obvious: the beautiful, beautiful mixtape. I'd borrow the CDs from any friends that would lend them out, making massive compilations of the "CD only" tracks onto one tape. All in all, I probably had ten of these self-made comps, spanning from the years of 1990-1996. That's eight hundred minutes of music. Granted, when time went on and I had a bit more money from trading up from newspaper routes to grocery store jobs, I upgraded to CDs, but I still converted them to cassette for those long walks. I don't think I bought a portable CD player until around 2001 or so (I've always been late to the game....I just got an iPod in 2009.).
I played basketball in high school. On the bus for those away games, I had the headphones ready, rocking anything that got my blood pumping, like Onyx's Bacdafucup or The Roots' Do You Want More?!!!??!. Like clockwork, every bus ride, someone would ask what I was listening to. I'd tell them and they'd look confused, having no idea who the artist I was referring to was. They'd turn back to another teammate and to a real conversation. I didn't ever say much because I didn't have to. I played basketball because I wanted to. I didn't talk much because I didn't have to. I had music and I had my playing time on the court, with no real need for friends to accompany the two.

The moment I had a driver's license, all I could think about was taking a drive alone and turning up the stereo as loud as it could handle. A few days later, I was granted that wish and went for a little drive. The first tape I ever drove a car to was Public Enemy's Apocalypse '91....the Enemy Strikes Black, followed by Cypress Hill's self titled, followed by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's Mecca and the Soul Brother. I milked that ride for all I could. It was one of the most liberating feelings I've ever had in my life. It was an October fall in New England, trees in full foliage. I drove with the windows down, letting the crisp air blow around within the car. I could have had that moment last for days, going through every record I had.
Driving around with new releases (to me or to the world) became an event for me. Within weeks of getting my license, I was able to convince my parents to let me take the car to a Strawberries in Newington on Tuesdays whenever possible. Besides the flea market Sundays, this was the most important music day of the week for me. (just so you all realize the time frame I'm talking's 1993. Gas was EIGHTY FIVE CENTS A GALLON.) I'd head over by myself to Strawberries and would usually be in and out within ten minutes. I had become a seasoned vet and knew exactly what I wanted, thanks in part to my trusty checklist of releases. I'd get back in the car and open the cellophane, taking time to look over the liner notes, seeing who produced what tracks, predicting my favorite songs, searching for guest spots....all of it. Once that was done, the tape went in and I was on my way home.
Two months later, during Thanksgiving break, I took the car on Black Friday for a special trip over to Newington. I had a little extra money and knew exactly what was about to come into my possession. First, I went to the mall. I don't know how I remember this, but I do. I bought a new winter skully, a pair of gloves and a new heather grey thermal shirt. As soon as I was done with this, I walked around the mall, people-watching as insanity took over. I love being in the general public during Christmas shopping season.....people become nutty, which means they become very, very entertaining. I took a drive to the movie theater and watched Judgement Night. My last stop before heading home was Strawberries. I was ready to make a one-two punch of a purchase and I'd be out of the store within five minutes.
Two debut albums were released within weeks of each other by groups that would, in my opinion, proceed to own hip-hop for years. Gritty, violent, abrasive and intense. That day I was able to buy both of those records, those records being Black Moon's Enta Da Stage and Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the 36 Chambers. Shit....I don't even know where to start with these two records, so I'll wait until a later time to ramble on and on and on about them. Anyways, I blasted 36 Chambers... so loud on that drive home, I was worried I'd blow the speakers. But I couldn't stop. Instead of going straight home, I drove to the sports card shop in Dover where one friend was working, and at least one more was hanging out. I parked right next to the door and as I walked in there, I looked around for customers. Of course, there were none, so I looked at my friend behind the counter and simply said, "Come outside for a have to hear this.". We stomped through the snowy sidewalk back to the car and got in. That was when I played him Bring da Ruckus and watched his eyes bulge, just as mine had. For the next three days, I think I played those two records about twenty times each. It's still such a vivid memory. Another life change had happened for both hip-hop and I. My license changed my ability to be a little more free, just as nine MCs from Shaolin were about to change the guidelines of modern hip-hop.
For the next few years, until I graduated and moved out, I took the car whenever my parents offered it for the night. I'd fill the gas tank, pick up a friend or two and just drive, well, anywhere. I'd always have a stack of cassettes with me and I'd always get excited to turn my passengers onto something new. There was a time where I skipped class and brought a couple of people out to the parking lot and played them the first few songs off of Gravediggaz' 6 Feet Deep, another was when I rocked Hard to Earn or Smif-N-Wessun's Dah Shinin' outside the YMCA before they'd let all us boys in to play some pick-up. Each release after October 1993, when I was finally allowed to drive, has a story I can associate with a car and a tape deck.

There was just something about hitting the end of a side, having to press eject and flip the tape over. To work for it. Yes, I understand CDs sound better, that the digital format reinvented the sound quality, but to me it didn't matter. No matter how shitty the speakers were, no matter how close the tape was to being worn out and snapping, the music was always there. Quality of sound didn't was always quality of song to me.

Colored vinyl had been around for years. It had taken over punk and hardcore. Hip-hop never really had colors in mind (though I do remember a few releases I had that, I think, were very pretty to look at. I seem to remember a green House of Pain 7" on Sub-Pop, Redman's first record on red vinyl, and a few other odds and ends. I could be wrong.). There were, however, colored cassettes. I recall having my mind blown numerous times after ripping off the plastic wrapper and opening the jewel case.

The one most referenced is, in my eyes, of course, the purple tape.

Raekwon's solo debut/masterpiece, Only Built for Cuban Linx....The jewel case itself was purple tinted, but to then open it up and have that eye-grabbing transparent purple......shiiiiiiit. The discussion in the halls of high school the next morning revolved around how cool it looked. I had, naturally, brought my walkman with me and made my rounds of showing everyone the new gem. The Wu was smart, alright. Not only did they make bonafide classics, but they were able to make them stand out even more with little things like this. Jay-Z even referenced it on Blueprint 3, which, no doubt, made a lot of younger fans scratch their heads.
Redman's Dare iz a Darkside was another piece of proof that cassettes ruled.

Red case, glowing red tape....the works. The cover art alone was amazing, paying homage to Parliament's Maggot Brain. There was one specific moment that proved cassettes still ruled the universe at that point. Reggie Noble's alter ego, Dr. Trevis chimed in a few seconds after the last song on side A, proclaiming "End of side one, you punk motherfuckers.....turn the tape over.". The first time I heard that quote, my jaw dropped. I'd get super hyped over the little things. It was a simple moment, but it spoke volumes to my ears, Dr. Trevis was commanding me.
There was the green Beastie Boys' tape for Ill Communication, a lot of singles were straight black with white print. Am I getting nerdy yet? Hell yeah I am. While punks and hardcore kids were clamoring for pressing info for the two or three colors that 7"s were released on (before it turned into ten colors per pressing....), I was marveling at those cassettes. I know there are a ton more that I'm forgetting. Any time I stumble upon or remember another one, I'll probably be posting them in an update. Anyone who remembers any others from this era, please let me know. And, if you have pictures, that would be even better.

Just face it. Cassettes are awesome. Period.

Someday I'll get my collection back up to the hundreds. Maybe once that happens, I'll live my teenage dream and finally get one of these:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gems I: The Genesis

About two months ago, I bought my wife and I a new computer. We had both been in bed for a few days, simultaneously battling a hybrid of strep throat, sinus infections and brutal head and chest colds. We ate a lot of ice cream, watched every horror film we could find and hovered in an almost zombified-like existence. There wasn't much else we could do.
One of these days, I became completely stir crazy. I decided we needed new pillows. When I get sick, I distract myself by cleaning, rearranging and just doing overall interior decorating. The bed was uncomfortable, and my solution was pillows.
I got in the car and headed onto the highway to drive to a discount store. When finally arriving at the savings mecca it was, I wandered aimlessly through every aisle looking for more shit. By the time I reached the checkout, I had boxes of high protein granola, nutrition bars, light bulbs, etc....a cornucopia of products that I wasn't necessarily in need of at the moment, but it somehow soothed my crap-filled head and body for the time being.
This would have been all I had bought that day if I hadn't walked down the stairs towards the car and noticed that big yellow tag. You know the one I'm talking about. It's huge, bright, and in the boldest font possible screams "BEST BUY". So, yeah....I got sucked in. I dropped the pillows and various treats off in the trunk of our car and headed back towards the light. Today was the day to buy the computer we had been so in need of for so long.
We moved out to Seattle with a tower that was on it's last leg. That leg broke and was just dragging itself for the last few years, hopped up on OCs and vicodans. I had bought a laptop within our first few months in Seattle, but, again, I have no computer knowledge whatsoever. I didn't know how to keep it up do date, virus-free.....all the things you need to know or understand, I just couldn't. In our home, we had a dead computer tower and a dysfunctional laptop, and that was it. That would be good enough if it wasn't for the fact that my wife is a talented artist and knows how to use programs such as Photoshop and creates amazing images/designs. That would be good enough if I hadn't finally come over to the beautiful world of iPods. Those two technological problem children would have been good enough if those two scenarios didn't exist. But, they those two technological problem children weren't helping us out enough, or, at all.
I walked through the doors and was immediately bombarded with greetings and smiles. I wanted to laugh, knowing that in fifteen minutes when I finally needed some help or someone to discuss my options with, none of these people would be around. Or, if they were around, I'd be ignored. It ended up being a little of both. I wandered around the computer section for a good twenty minutes, factoring in how much I could spend. I had worked a lot of extra hours the previous months, so money was saved and this purchase was well warranted and wouldn't put me in a hole. I had my limit, which I knew if anyone finally helped me, I would tried to be talked out of.
I ended up narrowing my options down to four different models. After another fifteen minutes of not having one employee ask me if I needed help, I did what I always do in these situations, which is walk straight up to the closest employee I see and, whether he's working with someone or not, I basically look him dead in the eye and say something along the lines of, "So, after about forty five minutes here is anyone going to talk to me at all or do I have to wave a credit card in front of your faces to let you know I'm worth your time? Think about it and make something happen....I'll be standing over here next to the thing I want to spend my money on and buy right now." This is not an exaggeration. This is how I deal with these situations. It may be a dick move, but being ignored pisses me off more than almost anything in the world....especially if I feel like I'm being simultaneously both ignored AND judged by the computer nerd powers that be.
Finally, an overweight dude with a ponytail (shocking....I know) walks over and gives me the minimal help I'm really asking for. I told him what I needed the tower for and that I needed the new Adobe Photoshop. He immediately directs me towards the thousand dollar and up choices. I nix every one before he even finishes his memorized lines. I tell him my limit. He, in turn, gives me a pained look, probably much like his stomach feels after lunch break following two supersized meals. (Yes....right now, I'm being an asshole. Department store workers force me into this position. Unless you look like a wealthy trophy wife or well-off white collar worker, nine times out of ten you will be snubbed and considered not worth their precious hourly wages' time. I say this from experience and not just as a theory.)
Big Gulp takes me to the section for people of my worth, and still tries to shoot fifty dollars over the cap I explicitly gave him. I let it go, knowing he's starting to get the hint. I further dive into my situation, into what exactly this tower will be used for. Basic Photoshop. Emails. iTunes. That is literally it. I explain that I know they have something that will do this for me and for a reasonable budget. I'm not being insulting at all....I'm being firm. He finally grasped the concept and played ball with me. Five minutes later, I had the tower. I had him grab me the Photoshop program and was finally at the checkout. As he scanned all the items, I asked him about ten times if installing everything on the tower can be done by an idiot. He assured me I would be able to do everything worry free and have the tower up and ready in no time. In one of the rare times he broke from computer salesman mode, he actually made a joke and said to me, "I'm positive you'll have no problems. I wouldn't say that unless I meant it, because you look like someone that would come back here and kick my ass if I'm wrong." I laughed, assured him I'm no thug, and that if all works out, I'd probably be back just to give him a high five.

Fast forward about thirty six hours. The tower is all set up and I don't feel like as much of a techno-invalid. Every program was up and running. I even figured out how to install a virus protection program. Cloud nine? Let me introduce myself to you. I'll be staying here for a bit.
The last program, the last hurdle to jump was iTunes. The one thing I made sure of when I bought the tower was that it had an extremely large amount of memory. I wanted to finally have a place where all the music we owned would be able to fit and would be available in one area. iTunes installed, I took the next three days ripping every CD we had in the house. Every demo, every soundtrack, every digital download...all of it. The end result was almost too funny to be true. Here was my lifeblood: every song that was played, that was housed on a format that would fit in this smaller black box, was now in their new home. What made me so entertained was this: the tower had 750GB of memory. My wife and I's entire collection? 40GB. Amazing. Completely and utterly amazing.
My obsession started immediately. For the next week, time was spent categorizing, finding all the artwork, manually typing in all song names/albums/info that Apple didn't have stored in their voluminous big brother music tank. Many days I stayed awake until six or seven in the morning doing this, letting my OCD take control. As CDs were ripping, I was rearranging bookshelves, reorganizing closets....pretty much anything I could do. It was the "sharks keep moving" scenario.
It was, honestly, a great time. When it was all complete, I had a feeling of victory and achievement. Now that the work was out of the way, I could focus on what it was all for, which was to be able to listen to anything I had whenever I wanted while I walk around the neighborhood or to and from work.
I have an 8GB iPod, which has just about enough room to turn every synchronizing time into an event similar to the NBA draft. I debate on what to keep and what to remove. Sometimes it takes me an hour to just decide whether to keep one record over another.
The best part about having these options, is the rediscovery aspect. Throwing an album you haven't heard in a very long time on a playlist so that, at some point, you may just pull it up to remember. Having the ability to trigger lost musical loves is an incredible gift....there's no other word for it.
I ended up having this happen many times within the first month of doing all of this organizing.....within the last three weeks is when the rediscovery point hit it's peak. Sometimes you forget how important certain albums, certain songs, certain artists affect your life. All it takes, at least for me, to bring it all back is one random rough night turns into one amazing flashback.

Interestingly enough, I have inebriated misanthropes and weekend warriors to thank for some of this. If it wasn't for working in a bar that is frequented on Friday nights by only the most unbearable of dimwits, I may have not had the trigger pulled in my memory bank. I work where an offshoot of third rate Tex-Mex food reigns supreme until midnight. This, of course, means that at 11:59 PM, every drunken idiot remembers food tastes good and tries to squeeze their order in before the kitchen is closed. This is a weekly occurrence. Some weeks it's bearable. Other's a frustrated bastard's nightmare.
The night in question was only a bit above the most typical of busy spring/summer work days in that kitchen. It was more the odd frustration of feeling trapped in there that day that was making everything seem like such a burden. Order after order kept pouring through the click-clacking of the ticket machine, spewing more demands for quesadillas and nachos. Five minutes before midnight finally slithered it's way in, followed by a stupid amount of last minute appetizers. When you're slow for the previous twenty minutes, you tend to break things down, start to close shop so that you're not stuck cleaning and stocking back up until one in the morning. Last minute orders are the emergency brake on the road to completion.
So, as much as I could take care of, when you have the domino effect of orders at the last minute, all the prep is for not. Everything gets taken back out, bags are reopened, open faced grills will have to be rescrubbed.....all of it. This is where frustration steps in.
I dealt with it as I always just suck it up and do it. It's your job. Deal with it. For most of us, money isn't handed out.
It was just tiring that night. I wanted to be home with a book or in bed watching a movie....anywhere but still on the clock. Roughly ten minutes before one in the morning I was able to punch my number and make an exit. I was defeated. Not upset, no more was there frustration, it was just a feeling of being drained. My bad knees were throbbing, as was my head. Heavy sighs replaced regular breaths.
I walked out the front door, headphones already in my ears, ready to be serenaded on my eight minute walk home. As the walk started, I had a thought that kept repeating in my head as I scrolled through my iPod, searching for the right soundtrack for my mini-journey down 12th Ave.
"I just don't want to hear anyone scream at me right now...." was all I kept saying. I couldn't handle it. The distortion and rage that usually blared through those buds was not what I needed tonight. I wanted something to let me zone out. I kept going through the names, trying to find something that felt right. My Stax boxsets were too nice. Any somber doom or psych rock would just drain me even further. Then, out of nowhere, the highlighted selection rested on an album I forgot I had even put on there and was, unquestionably, the perfect prescription for my remaining walk.
That album, which I will greatly dive into at another time, was Craig Mack's "Project: Funk da World". Within a minute of first listen, I was brought back.

I was taken to a time that had slipped away. Never completely, mind you....there was still frequent revisits, but when I pressed play this time, the era in question unlocked something inside of me that was, and now realizing again presently, a very important part of my life.
The era in question is still debatable in time frame, depending on who you ask. Ten different people may give you ten different answers. For me, it spanned about a decade, with a few asterisks bookending each side. From the period of roughly spring 1987 until winter of 1997, there was an incredible era of music that, as groundbreaking and void of comparison as it may be through some of our eyes, is still widely undervalued and under appreciated for what it was and still is.
The era in question has a few different names, but is most commonly referred to as the golden age of hip-hop. While I may not be able to give every artist and record their just due, I can, at the very least, show them the respect they both earned and deserved.
This was before mainstream radio subscribed to bottom of the barrel, cookie cutter singles. This was before every video had at least ten strippers, before every person on screen took turns throwing stacks of one hundred dollar bills at the camera to show the money they supposedly make, before everything looked shiny, before the term "bling" was created, before beats were more important than the words played over them.
This was when artists were still broke, still angry, still had something to say. This was when low budget videos were good enough, when those videos didn't try to gloss over every day life and instead focused on the real world and not a fantasy. It was when double albums didn't exist, when a release didn't have to be seventy five minutes long with only ten minutes worth of substance.
I'm going to do my best to cover every single artist/song/album/show/film/book that influenced me and continues to do so. As soon as the floodgates opened, I found myself diving headfirst back into various outlets, trying to remember more. I watched endless hours of YO! MTV Raps on YouTube, seeing videos again for the first time since I saw them premiere. I reread some books I had on the genre, telling certain stories of certain albums. I spent about a hundred bucks on used CDs of things that got away from me over time. I've searched for films I remember. All of these things makes me remember more about that age, about my youth. All of it influenced me greatly into becoming who I am today.
To sum it all up, the following details are why this thirty something punk's first, last and most influential love in the form of self expression will always belong to the golden era of hip-hop.
Drop the beat.

Gems II

In 1987, I was ten years old. This means, by simple addition, I was twenty in 1997. If there is a more influential age to grow up era where hip-hop went from minor commercial attention to a mainstream juggernaut, with grandmothers comically rapping in advertisements, wedding ceremonies consisting of flashy, Sean "Puffy" Combs-produced club hits and the overuse of such words as "balla"....if there was a more influential era to submerse yourself into, I don't know what it is.
It was more important than punk and it had much more to say to it's listeners than any extreme music genre that exists. Rock may not have been dead, but it sure as fuck had no message or meaning behind it, no matter what way you try to validate concerts such as Live Aid, etc. Rock grew tired of itself. Extreme music had already started to gravitate towards it's current state, which involve an unspeakable elitism and jaded opinionism. Hip-hop was speaking TO it's listeners instead of thinking they had the right to speak FOR them. If they did choose to speak for the masses, it was done with a respect and frustration that was understandable. Plus, on top of all of that, even platinum hip-hop artists in that era were still pretty damn broke. Major labels swooped in at this time to take on certain artists. Most had no real manager behind them, just a friend down the street that seemed acceptable for the role. More often than not, I'm willing to bet almost every contract signed was almost 100% in favor of the label and most artists were just happy to escape their everyday struggles, but if just for a moment.

Then again....what the fuck do I know? I'm still who I was twenty four years ago when I was introduced to hip hop: just another white kid from the suburbs. Actually, not even the suburbs, but a town in one of the most bland and unimportant (but, beautiful) states in the country, New Hampshire. Though I lived only an hour and a half from Boston and only six hours from New York City, where this culture I had accepted as my own was thriving, I may as well have been on the moon.

I guess that's my point. Life-changing art forms, soul-speaking inspirations, thought provoking don't find them. They, in turn, find you. Without abusing the tired cliches, hip-hop is absolutely more than music. I don't believe that it's just a lifestyle. I believe, instead, that it is a medium-spanning culture and art form which gives it's listener, reader and receiver the gift of deciding how you want it to affect your life. Hip-hop can be either an escape, or the catalyst towards motivation that would have never been garnered through other grounds.

After hip-hop found and guided me, I took it in then as I do now. It's always with me, and there are moments, such as now, where I am reminded how much of my thoughts and daily life were influenced by it. I never felt the need to carry the official representative flag wherever I went, as when time went by I noticed others were compelled to do. It never became more prevalent as later in these years, once the west coast was being given alot of attention, specifically during the N.W.A. years, followed by Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" and the whole Death Row Records affiliated family, and finally the epic rise and death of Tupac Shakur. Somehow, it even infested the most unexplainable of places. Here I was, Ryan McKenney of small Dover, New Hampshire, a chubby kid with a ghostlike complexion that loved hip-hop, loved the beat, but couldn't quite grasp most of the west coast gangsta rap that was emerging. Why? Because I didn't live that life and no goddamn way was I going to even act like I did. Evidently, some peers of mine disagreed. They wanted their lives to imitate the art that they had now surfaced to embrace. Except, to them this meant moonlighting as the rappers that they listened to. All of a sudden (as ridiculous and laughable as this may sound) red or blue rags were hanging from back pockets of oversized, sagging jeans. Kids were forming what they referred to as "posses"....I'm not joking. I wish I could remember some of the names that were come up with for them. It was hilarious. Hats were being worn every way but to the front. Lanky white kids that had never left the state were dawning leather necklaces emblazoned with the outline of Africa. Fifteen year old kids were walking with a limp and trying to cut their stringy hair into a fade or attempting to have cornrows for no reason other than they saw it in a video......all of these young, naive idiots wishing that mean streets or culture-rich boroughs existed in little Dover, New Hampshire and never realizing how much better off they were that these mean streets weren't there (though, the culture-rich boroughs would have been nice...). In this place, the threat level was green.....and that's why all those kids get this:

Maybe it's judgemental of me. maybe I have no right to have had a problem with all of this, but the truth is I had no choice. After hip-hop found me, I felt as if I owed it something. I felt as if I shouldn't ever do anything to insult it, and watching bored, fortunate kids try to take these very realistic forms of expression and contort it into something of their own, something that they felt the need to imitate, much like the reason school shootings were blamed on Marilyn Manson and demented teenage murders are blamed on television programs like Dexter, watching these impostors (or perpetrators?) just pissed me off...made me disgusted with the identity theft occurring. I think the thing that pissed me off the most was that I knew it was only a matter of time before the culture was completely compromised, leaving us quiet die-hards nothing more than memories.

Gems III

It took a bit of effort to remember certain records in order to remember certain time frames of my life. I bought various books in the last few weeks to help kick start some thoughts. Considering how important the era was for the genre, it's amazing the lack of attention and focus it receives in many publications. Most of them highlight the genesis of hip-hop within the five boroughs of New York City, but stop the story around 1984-1985.....just when it was getting good. The story doesn't end there. The story has never ended. There is no finish line.
The difference here between, say, someone studying every wikipedia page to learn everything they can to be viewed as having a wide span of knowledge on the subject, and the way I've approached my last few weeks of searching....the difference between the two is that I've had all this in my head for decades. I remember all of these releases first hand. I remember the anticipation of every weekend, my version of new release day. The books I've looked at lately and the crawling around the Internet have just been there to help me....they have been there to help me reminisce.
......and YouTube. This may have been the first time in it's existence that I realized how much more than office freakouts and ticklish kittens it both offers and contains. I don't want to dive into it all right here. I'd rather give "YO! MTV Raps" it's just deserve and devote more than a few paragraphs.....much more than a few paragraphs. That show was the reason I'm happy to be antisocial and I'll explain why that is.

This is the first subject in a very long while that I'm truly excited to dedicate my time to. There are only so many pieces of fiction I can write, only so many mundane childhood thoughts from the white bread society that are worth the effort of a campfire tale. I'm not sure how many can or will relate. I'm not sure how many of my peers, my age group, will remember all of this the way I do, which is finding something larger than life, taking it in and then running for it.
I'm hoping there are quite a few of you. I'm hoping that I can speak about all of this in a way that brings it all back in your minds as well. I want everyone that was lucky (and old...) enough to remember that golden, golden era and relive some past inspirations.
I want you to remember the firsts: the first time you heard about Run DMC's Adidas sneakers with no laces, the first time Rob Base's lyrics on "It takes Two" were stuck in your head on repeat, the first time KRS-ONE gave you Edutainment, the first time you saw five mics in The Source, the first time you saw Nasir Jones' video for "Halftime" late on a Friday night on MTV courtesy of Dr. Dre and Ed Lover, the last five minutes of every episode of In Living Color, the first time you saw Juice and witnessed how multi-talented 2Pac was, the first time you entered the 36 Chambers, the first time you were forced to Jump Around, the first time listening to Blowout Comb, which in turn blew your mind, the first time you heard the purple tape.....the first time you realized your addiction to the voices and the words and the music and the films.
For everyone born between 1974 and 1979, we have the privilege of being birthed at the same time as hip-hop itself. We grew up together. We had our rough moments of confusion and feelings of being lost together. We've found ways to be on the right track together. We found happiness and belonging together. The only difference, thankfully, is that when us humans fade away and our hearts beat for the last time, we can be confident in knowing the beat is still infinitely flowing somewhere else.

Gems IV

While I may have heard a few songs before this, I'm pretty sure RUN-DMC's "It's Like That" was the first track that knocked me for a loop. I was somewhere around seven or eight years old when I heard it, which was late 1984/early 1985. It was just immediate, my reaction. This was before my family had cable, so I didn't see it on MTV. I think the clip was on some late night program, and I lucked out changing the channels just in time. It wasn't a music video. I can't exactly remember what it was, besides a few photos while the song played. RUN-DMC was like nothing I had ever heard before. An abrasive, thunderous beat intertwined with a creepy, high pitched synth wailing in the back. So new, so original, so perfect. My eyes were fixed on the screen for that five minutes.
The next day, a Saturday, I went with my mother to go grocery shopping. I ended up in the magazine section, looking at a Rolling Stone article on none other than the (now) Rev "Run", Darryl Mac, and Jam-Master Jay. Just the way they presented themselves was so cool to me. The track suits, the hats, the b-boy stance in the photos. They seemed larger than life.
After reading the article, I wanted to do nothing more than hear the record. The only problem was I had no stereo. I had no cassette deck, no walkman....nothing in my room where I could let the music flow and soak it in. There was a small cassette player and turntable in our living room, but the odds of making a purchase and having the freedom to press "play" in there was null.
So, I did what you do when you feel the obsession starting. I waited. I started paying attention to late night television and to music magazine articles. I knew that at some point, I'd have a way to listen to music on my own, and when that time came, I'd be ready. In the meantime, RUN-DMC kept reminding me of what I could look forward to. New singles kept popping up randomly on late night weekend television, "Rock Box" and "Sucker M.C.s" were heard on the local college radio station, followed the next year by "King of Rock" and "Rock the House".
The college radio station saved me late at night on those weekends. There was a pair of headphones in the living room, and nights where my parents went to bed first, I'd plug them in and listen to a hip-hop show that aired for an hour. I was introduced to Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, Funky Four plus One, Fat Boys, Doug E. Fresh, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (whose "The Message" became a song I crossed my fingers I'd get the opportunity to hear every week).
I'd take trips to the mall only for two things: to look for Star Wars figures and to go into music stores and look at the cassettes and records, taking note of the artists I'd heard. I wanted to start filing away in my brain the releases they had....I was taking inventory. When the time came to have a tape deck in my room, I'd be ready to spend allowance and birthday money on the right selections.
RUN-DMC gained more and more attention. 1986 was a huge year in hip-hop for me. Two words: Raising Hell. Where to start with the sound of this LP is beyond me. "It's Tricky" is, to me, one of the most incredible songs of all time. RUN-DMC blew up. Oddly enough, the song that catapulted them into mainstream success was my least favorite. "Walk This Way", a duet with Aerosmith was played everywhere (to this day, I can't stand Aerosmith. Steven Tyler's obnoxious screeching ruined the song for was even worse when I saw the band in the video, looking like ridiculous rock stars). We had just gotten cable, so my music options and gateways had started to unlock and slowly open. The video for the single was constantly in rotation. At least three times a day you could flip the channel to MTV and see it. Once I had heard "It's Tricky", though, I was so hooked, there was no option. It was time. I needed a tape deck.
My birthday fell two months after the release of Raising Hell. I told my parents that all I really wanted was my own stereo. Nothing special, just something that would play tapes. September 26th, 1986 landed, and so did that stereo in my lap. It was no boom was like the dwarf cousin of a ghettoblaster. A small, six inch by eleven inch tape player with one speaker. But, to me, it looked like the holy grail. I don't think I've ever been so thankful for a birthday gift. My parents could tell what was about to happen. With the stereo, they bought me two cassettes to start my collection. The Ghostbusters soundtrack and Micheal Jackson's Thriller.....both are still records I can listen to and appreciate.
About a month later, Raising Hell was mine.....all mine. I was in a department store with my mom, and while she was going through the aisles shopping, I slipped away, bought the tape and shoved it in my back pocket before she could see what I was doing (sorry,'re probably reading this. I had no choice....I figured you'd feel the same about hip-hop as your parents felt about rock and roll...that it would corrupt the youth.). My elation over having a RUN-DMC record in my possession was through the roof. I couldn't wait until I was the only one home, able to press play and listen to Jam-Master Jay on the wheels of steel, while Run and Darryl Mac shouted crazy lines at me though that mono speaker.
The first listen was out of control. Here I was, listening to twelve consecutive RUN-DMC songs in a row. "Peter Piper"? "My Adidas"? Nine years old and my perception of music as a whole was drastically altered. Much later on, as I dove into the world of producers, you realize just how very essential Rick Rubin was to the beginning of the new school of hip-hop. The hybrid of rock and dense, heavy, minimal beats were groundbreaking. He was smart enough to manipulate the mainstream into taking notice of this rising art form.
There was a ton of press for the album. You saw these three guys' pictures everywhere, profiled in a hard stance, Adidas with no laces and the tongues sticking out. Between them and the Beastie Boys, hip-hop was starting to become recognized as a true art form. There are a lot of records that I consider much better, but this would be one of the top five I consider as most important.
I continued to follow them throughout their career. Tougher than Leather was next up for the trio, and like it's previous effort, was just as crucial. Most of the rock was gone. The heavy beats still remained, but was surrounded by a lot of samples. Both RUN and DMC were still shouting, though. And, in turn, were still making impressive, abrasive songs.
They fell off the map, for me at least, for a few years. Down With the King was the album and single that brought them back for me. A classic in my eyes. To be off the radar for a bit and then come back with one of the hardest songs they ever recorded was nothing less than praiseworthy. Pete Rock's production on this song was nothing short of a perfectly executed east coast beat, bass-heavy and driving. To top it all off, C.L. Smooth's verse in this song is, to this day, the epitome of a guest appearance. Short, confident and leaving you wanting more.....just an extra eight bars would have filled me up.
After this album, I lost touch. with them. I ended up seeing them once in 1997 on an "Old-School Reunion" tour, with Sugarhill Gang and a few others. I think Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was there, though I can't be sure. I wish I could remember.
Between Run becoming Reverend Run and DMC losing his vocal cords to a point where rapping wasn't possible the way he used to, we were left with what history they had already made, knowing there would be nothing more that would be considered classic material. The murder of Jam-Master Jay sealed that with a defining key into the lock. You heard the click, and then watched it thrown into the ocean to never be touched again. Occasionally, there's a reunion of sorts, Simmons and McDaniels performing songs individually or together, backed by many of the artists they inspired.
Though they'll always be a cornerstone in my hip-hop memories, their time to truly shine was from 1984 up until 1993. That's the golden era of their own that they created. I still frequently revisit my Raising Hell and Tougher than Leather tapes, and every time I watch Die Hard I get to hear them do a holiday rap. Some day I'll be able to afford all the deluxe versions of these albums, re-released with a ridiculous amount of bonus tracks and material. Until then, I can be one-hundred percent satisfied with the original albums. Why? Because they are fucking awesome.

Gems V

Boogie Down Productions was next for me, specifically the voice and words of KRS-ONE. Criminal Minded came out in 1987 The cover art alone had sold me. Two guys deadpanning into the camera holding guns, seeming simultaneously both confident and angry.....they just looked...serious. KRS-ONE had a belt of shotgun shells draped over his shoulder. It looked as if the photo had been taken in the middle of a poker game in a sketchy alleyway, cards being tossed in the middle of the table as war tactics were heatedly discussed. It simply had a stark and menacing image, and the image did it's job, which was to capture my attention.
"South Bronx" had been played on the college radio station two weeks before. I had discovered the beauty of blank tapes and having a cassette deck that can record the radio. Once a week, when the radio show would come on, I'd have a blank tape ready. I never recorded the whole hour, instead listening to every song and when one sounded good, I'd press the red button as fast as possible. Comically, this means that for about two years, I'd have all these great singles collected on one blank tape, but every one would have the first five or ten seconds cut off as I would be debating whether or not to use the precious space I had left.
So, "South Bronx" was the track I fell hook, line and sinker for. Just as I had felt when I first heard RUN-DMC, BDP was about to make me fall in love all over again. On the power of that single, I bought the record. Every song on that record is awesome on it's own, but collected as a full body of work, it seems even more important. KRS-ONE was furious, seeming to never calm down as long as there was a microphone near him.
"The Bridge is Over" ended up being the stand-out song for me, a diss-track that pretty much put a nail in the coffin of MC Shan's career. The Bridge Wars was a battle I read about a year or two later, and then all of the tracks had even more light shed on the for me. As far as rap battles, this was still one of the best of all time, mainly because there was such a clear cut winner that literally wiped his opponent off the map....figuratively, not literally. A war battled with words, beginning with words and ending the same. When two artists battle and keep to these guidelines, the end result, no matter who arises victorious, sees both parties involved gaining a new respect for each other.
It's odd to me that my two favorite tracks from Criminal Minded are songs related to the Bridge Wars, but I think it had something to do with how important KRS considered those tracks to be. The lyrics were not there to entertain....they were there to confront, to elevate, and, eventually, to dominate the battle....which he unquestionably did.
There are a few bootlegs around that collect all the tracks back and forth between KRS-ONE and Shan. Listening to them from start to finish is as entertaining as a battle could be. Each artist held his own for a bit, until KRS-ONE did what he did best, which was to crush the competition.

To pick apart all of BDP's output would take forever. Each album had high points that further cemented the legacy. KRS-ONE was noticeably affected by the death of his partner in hip-hop crime, DJ Scott LaRock. Instead of finding another producer, he took on almost all the effort himself from that point on, producing almost every song himself and having almost no guest stars. Both characteristics are almost impossible to find in today's era of hip-hop. It was obviously out of respect for LaRock. BDP was basically those two individuals, and when one is gone, replacement is, ninety-nine times out of one hundred, not an option. KRS-ONE had become a solo artist but still lived in the era of BDP, with a ghost by his side.
By All Means Necessary is, to me, the essential BDP record. More controversial cover art, with KRS imitating the infamous photo of Malcolm X looking out a window with an M1 Carbine rifle. The BDP cover, though, replaced the rifle with an Uzi, updating the photo to modern times.
The record had so many amazing songs, it's impossible to address each and every one. KRS-ONE became "The Teacher", and the entire album had so much to say, it's impossible it fit within the confines of fifty minutes. Starting out with "My Philosophy", there was an immediate notice on my part as to how BDP had changed within one album. The song spoke volumes to did as KRS wanted it to: it informed, it taught and it entertained, all over his booming, attention grasping voice. "Stop the Violence" was the track that stuck in my mind to this day. Such an amazing message done with an amazing approach. Shortly after, the "Self-Destruction" track, video and movement truly made the impact necessary. I remember watching the video and being blown away by the amount of artists involved. Public Enemy, Kool Moe Dee, BDP, Doug E Fresh and Heavy D all in the same place? Goddamn. There ended up being an over sized book that accompanied the movement, which I had bought. As with most treasures I had from this era, I have no idea what came of it, where it could be, and why I didn't keep a tighter grasp on it.
"I'm Still #1 and "Necessary" were the other tracks on the record that found heavy rotation for me. Around this time, I had save up enough money for a cheap walkman, so I had been able to take walks and listen to music on the go, which gave me a sense of freedom that was untouchable. I wore out my first copy of By All Means Necessary within a year, hearing the tape snap inside the walkman. It was a long and quiet twenty minute walk home from that point on.
The next few albums all had great moments, the Live Hardcore Worldwide record being one of the best live hip-hop albums I have ever heard, with KRS-ONE simply holding the crowd in the palm of his hand and commanding them.

KRS finally went "solo" in 1993. Point blank, Return of the Boom Bap was a fucking assault. It was so goddamn good, I couldn't believe it. It wasn't that I had written him off, I just didn't expect him to come with an album so brick hard. Crazy, overexposed cover art of him shouting into a microphone on a chair in the studio. Production by DJ Premier, Kid Capri and Showbiz put the record over the top. Every beat, every rhyme was just so.....hard.
"Outta Here" tossed you into the lion's den right away, followed by having your jaw drop after hearing the rhymes thrown out during "Black Cop". KRS-ONE was not holding back on his solo debut, and as a sixteen year old kid hearing this for the first time, it did nothing short of make me want to put on war paint. The defining point of album, the defining song, is one that is still referenced every day....within movies, songs by other artists, in everyday speak on most every street: "Sound of da Police". Holy shit, what a song! KRS coming in acapella with a "Woop! Woop!", and then a few lines later the beat drops. And then? It's all over.....bigger than "Fuck the Police"....bigger than "Pigs" was the biggest "Fuck You" to cops....ever. This song is perfect. For the first two weeks after I bought the tape, I didn't even get to the B-side. I just kept rewinding the A-side so that I could hear that "Woop! Woop!" again.
His next album, self titled, had a few weak parts, but the good songs made up for it. DJ Premier was still producing songs the way he always has and always will, which is head and shoulders above his peers. A little bit of keyboard, a little bit of bell ringing, and a hell of a lot of style. "MCs Act Like They Don't Know" was the first single, I think. I remember the video premier on YO!, and immediately wondered when the album would finally come out. Like I said, some of it was hit or miss, but Primo's songs, the track done by Showbiz (Represent the Real Hip-Hop with DAS EFX) and the tracks he produced himself were mostly really good. "Free Mumia" with Channel Live was so dark and intense. Now that I've mentioned Channel Live, I'm going to have to go break out "Station Identification" and go on a diatribe about that one later.
I still feel the need for some BDP once every couple weeks. Not only because the albums involved were so memorable, but it also triggers an age where everything was starting to be exposed for me. As funny as it may sound, I learned a lot of my life lessons from records called Criminal Minded, By All Means Necessary and Sex and Violence.

Gems VI

I'm going to lump the rest of the eighties into one (undeserved) post. Not because I want to, but more because I have least for the moment. If I continue to go on diatribes of each album on the years of 86-89, I'll never get past the decade, which is something I want to do.
In the year 1989, I turned twelve years old. Being the same age as hip-hop itself, we both had a pivotal year for many reasons. First, it was my last year as being considered a kid, the last year before turning into a teenager. I was starting to grow up and expand and experiment....just like hip-hop.
The eighties were feeling grounds, both hip-hop and I unsure of our futures, unsure of our surroundings or what we were capable of. The end of 1989 birthed a new decade. I went on to junior high school. Hip-hop went on to more major label attention. Both of us had our fuck ups and both of us found ways to search out and find purpose, focusing on positivity while still acknowledging the negative aspects.
When I became a teenager, so did hip-hop. This means I have to sum up our "youth" in brief snippets right now before returning later on, reflecting on exact instances I remember involving certain albums, reading certain magazines and watching certain films.

So, in fast forward, this is youth:

Around the time of RUN-DMC's rise, there were other names lumped in with them, with modern pop culture media attempting to acknowledge hip-hop. Magazines like Rolling Stone all of a sudden gave a shit about the genre as a whole and not just groups that do songs with shitheads like Aerosmith. On one hand, it was welcomed and those that appreciated the art form were happy to see it get some much needed and deserved love. The other hand caused frustration as the obviously uninformed tried their best to bullshit a way through an article they had absolutely no prior knowledge of.
That's besides the point.
Beastie Boys released "License to Ill". They blew up almost immediately. I tried to love them. The record has it's moments, and if the whole albums made me feel like "Rhymin and Stealin" did, I would have been another to worship at the altar of three white boys from Brooklyn. I will say, however, that I did think some of their albums were fantastic. Paul's Boutique was a mindfuck in the best of ways. Check Your Head will always be their classic, their premium album in, well, my head. Their follow-up to that LP, Ill Communication was right up there with it, before "Sureshot" got so overplayed in every circle of life it became unbearable to listen to for a while.
Eric B and Rakim's "Paid in Full" came out, "I Ain't No Joke" being the song that turned my head.
Public Enemy. Enough said. I can't even start about them right now or I'll need another ten pots of coffee and will call in sick to work for the next three days. They deserve much more description than I have time for right now.
NWA introduced the world to gangsta rap. "Straight Outta Compton" is in the top five hardest songs of all time. Period. These dudes were so pissed, they make every Discharge song sound like they were sung by schoolchildren. Blasphemy for a punk to say? Probably. But, truth? Definitely. Fab Five Freddy introducing them on YO! MTV Raps was such a memorable moment. Once Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre went and did solo albums, their legacy as a group became even more important. Shit, even MC Ren's "Kizz My Black Azz" EP was quality.
EPMD came out with "Strictly Business" and planted their feet into fresh cement. The following few years and releases for them are much like those footprints....they'll be noticed for a very long time, especially with Erick Sermon still making good music (most of Method Man and Redman's "Blackout" is still the best production he has done.).
Lighthearded MCs started to surface, with Biz Markie and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince presenting a more lighthearted version of east coast hip-hop. Biz was almost muppet-like character that is still today one of the most entertaining individuals to ever be involved the the creation of this music, with "Just a Friend" still sealing the deal as a classic. Same with Jazzy Jeff and Mr. Will Smith...."He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper" is still listenable, still bizarre and comical. I mean, there are songs about Freddy Krueger, stealing and crashing your parents' car, bodyguards, etc. Plus, it was when CDs were new and had less room on them, so those of us that lived in cassette world, we got an extra couple of minutes and tracks on this record. Last but not least, Kid 'N Play introduced themselves.....say what you want about the albums, but they were important, if only, because it gave them access to create personas that carried on into feature films that I consider hip-hop classics. More on that at some other point.
Females besides Roxanne Shante started getting respect, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Salt-N-Pepa being at the forefront, while others like Monie Love were still making good songs without as much attention.
On the other end of the spectrum was 2 Live Crew. It was never, and will never be, my thing. I can't relate to almost anything their entire lyric output entailed. I don't care about booty bass. I don't care about shock for the sake of shock, with no validity behind it, whether you take it to the United States Supreme Court or not. No matter what way it was "meant to be perceived", misogyny is not a part of my hip-hop. Strippers and prostitutes are not a part of my hip-hop. At almost thirty three years of age, I've still never even been to a strip club. Sad....pathetic? You decide. I'm okay with it, and I'll stick to songs like Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's "Lots of Lovin" and be just fine. It's (my opinion..) not about being some PC hippie's just about being a human.
Kool G Rap and DJ Polo's "Road to Riches", Big Daddy Kane's "Long Live the Kane" and "It's a Big Daddy Thing", LLCool J's slew of albums, as well as Ice-T's (including "6 in the Mornin', which was on ninety five percent of every mixtapes I ever made), The D.O.C.'s "No One Can Do it Better".....all of these came out in this time frame. Looking back, it's's another reason it can all be described as golden.
MC Serch and Prime Minister Pete Nice fronted one of hip-hop's first interracial groups in #rd Bass. The Cactus Album is released, and almost every motherfucker on this planet felt "The Gas Face". Why? Because they had skills. Because they weren't a gimmick. Because their lifestyle wasn't created by a record executive looking to cash in. Because their records are still great, even by today's standards, and because they never turned on what they started. Serch brought Nas to greatness, put out an incredible solo album ("Return of the Product") and just a few years ago, worked with Ego Trip on VH1's The (White) Rapper Show. I've read they (Ego Trip) are doing a new book about white bet is that Serch will be heavily, heavily involved, within not only the content, but the entire production. 3rd Bass made me feel like I didn't need to question my love for the culture, as if I was intruding on something I wasn't supposed to.

So, that's a brief and minimal rundown. Trying to open a ten ton can of worms within a few paragraphs is impossible. Like I said before, my main goal is to cover everything I can whenever time permits, and this was the best starting point I could come up with.
I'm also not going to sit here and act like I was waiting out front of the record store every Tuesday knowing release dates. Some of these records took me three, four, five years to discover. I am no aficionado. What I am, however, is an enthusiast, which I consider even more important. I don't remember every song title, all the lyrics to every LP, who produced every track, etc. But what I do recall is how these records as a whole, influenced me.....and that is what this is all about....not statistics, nor biographies of each's about the affect these artists and albums had to my ears, my head and, ultimately, my life.