Growing up in the ’80s, I was fortunate enough to have experienced some of the greatest things in the history of entertainment. I was able to see Barry Sanders (RB for Detroit Lions) leave defenders with vertigo in the wake of his runs. I saw Michael Jordan (SG for Chicago Bulls) rise from the North Carolina Tarheels, light up Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics for 63 points in the playoffs, and when he got a good supporting cast, witnessed the devastating effects of “His Airness.”
There was so much great variety in the 1980s through the early 1990; fashion, culture, movies, music and more. At the theater, you could see some of the best variety of movies the world has seen in any decade so far.
I witnessed the birth of rap/hip-hop as a youth. I remember the first cassettes I ever bought. I was around 11 years old, and while on a trip to the flea market, I purchased L.L. Cool J’s “Bigger and Deffer”, the Fat Boys’ “Crushin’”, and the Beastie Boys’ “Licensed to Ill.”
I was into rap before that, but was unable to purchase anything beforehand. I remember listening to Whodini, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, the Sugarhill Gang, and plenty more. Around 1985, rap erupted and put everyone on alert that it was NOT a passing fad, but a legitimate genre of the music industry.
Run DMC, D.J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, De La Soul, M.C. Hammer, Arrested Development, NWA, and many more paved the way for a plethora of styles within the genre itself. They brought us pioneering beats, perfect exhibitions of sampling, mixing and scratching. Beat-boxing was a huge part of the growth of rap as well, with such greats as; Doug E. Fresh, Kool Rock-ski, and Ready Roc C.
Battle rap was made popular in the ’80s as well. Compilation cassettes were released that featured East Coast rappers vs. West Coast rappers. One of the greatest battles of all time however, came from two of New York’s best, and still probably the best duelists ever; L.L. Cool J, and Kool Moe Dee. Kool Moe Dee apparently was irritated with some previous transgressions by L.L., so e decided to release “How Ya’ Like Me Now”, with an album cover depicting his Jeep parked with the front wheel on top of a red Kangol hat (made popular by L.L.). He takes shots at L.L. in the song, claiming that he was “biting” Kool Moe Dee’s style.
L.L. Cool J responded with “Jack the Ripper”, using Kool Moe Dee’s song as part of his lyrics, regarding Moe Dee as an “old school sucker punk” and later talks about his double-platinum record.
Not to be out-done, Moe Dee responds with, “Let’s Go”, and pulled no punches in doing so. He actually directly speaks of L.L. and talks about what he can do with his “Ls.” This was quite possibly the best lyrically built battle song ever assembled. Kool Moe Dee was a true lyricist, while L.L. fought back with vague references to Moe Dee’s “Star Trek shades” (in the song, “To Da Break of Dawn”) and nice beats.
L.L. fought back with “Mama Said Knock You Out” and while it was held together with a great beat, and a nice, aggressive sound, it fell a bit short of “Let’s Go” in the sense of battle rhymes. Kool Moe Dee himself once said that L.L. could never win a battle because he always talks so much about HIMSELF. He could never focus on addressing the opponent. Moe Dee goes on to say, “…like when I hit him with his Ls (lower level, lack luster, etc), it wasn’t just insulting, it had poetic value to it.”
Regardless of the “winner”, whether by record sales, or by supreme lyricism, today’s artists seem to wear their feelings on their sleeves, and take and dish everything personally to the point that they want to actually fight, hurt or kill the other.
The “death” that came to rappers in the earlier years was a metaphorical death. It was much like when I was growing up, and if you were challenged to a fight, you fought. And whoever walked away victorious gained clout, and that was it.
There are some “cats” out here today that are claiming that they’re the greatest rappers ever, and what-not. The sad part is that it’s true, but the truth is that it’s sad. They couldn’t hold the mic for the rappers of the ’80s and early ’90s.
I still listen to songs from ’85 through ’95 on a daily basis. Artists such as Lil’ Wayne, and Kanye West are so self-absorbed that they don’t care about the fans, or for the pioneers that came before them.
Some of the best hip-hop I’ve heard in the past couple of years (not counting older songs) have been from Christian and/or underground rappers/groups such as; Aesop Rock, Eyedea and Abilities, Kaboose, RedCloud, Braille, KJ-52, LeCrae, L.A. Symphony, and Atmoshere. If you get the chance, I highly recommend looking them up.
These groups and artists come to the table with actual lyrical skills. They also hold on to some of the old school purity without being old school. I’m so glad I found artists like this, and in doing so, I’ve come to the realization that there’s still hope for the genre I grew up on.
Hip-hop isn’t dead. It’s just on life-support. Don’t be afraid to go underground, or open your mind, heart, and ears to the Christian orators of such record labels as Syntax Records, Epitaph Records, Definitive Jux, Reach, or BEC recordings.
Don’t pull the plug just yet.
Def Jam Records, Capitol Records, Syntax Records, Epitaph Records, Definitive Jux, Reach, BEC recordings, Jive BMG Records, Cash Money Records