Wednesday, 11 July 2007

The Classics

Five years ago, if you asked somebody, "What are the classic hip hop albums?", you probably expect the following list...

Illmatic
The Low End Theory
The Chronic
3 Feet High & Rising
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
...

Nowadays, if you asked somebody the same question, you'd probably expect this list...I
llmatic
The Low End Theory
The Chronic
3 Feet High & Rising
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
...
Can you see any similarities?
It seems that hip hop is stuck in some kind of warped reality. Although the number of hip hop listeners in the world and the sheer amount of material being released must be rising all the time, it seems that when people are asked this question, there is a 'list' that must be learnt, and anything released in (at least) the last 5 years cannot be included.
Although I do believe that people try not to mention their personal favourites for fear of being ridiculed (the internet is a hostile environment for the budding hip hop fan), I think that there is a more underlying reason as to why there have been no 'modern' classic hip hop albums. Bear with me as I try to explain...
Most people see 1994 as the peak of hip hop, the Golden year in the Golden Era. It seems that nobody could do wrong when they released an album in this year. It is also the focus of the whole 'hip hop is dead' argument, whose advocates state that this was the pinnacle of hip hop music, and everything since has been going downhill. I don't argue that this year saw some of the best material heard since '88 (such as the aforementioned 'Illmatic', 'The Sun Rises In The East', 'Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)', I literally could go on and on), but stating that there hasn't been any classics since then is plain crazy.
As hip hop began to gain a larger worldwide audience due to artist such as Eminem, 50 Cent, etc, the range of music classified as hip hop has sky rocketed. There are so many sub-categories now, it's hard to keep track of all of them. Jazzy hip hop, Horrorcore, Grime, the list is endless. As people began to use the internet to download more and more music, it seems that it's not enough saying, "I like hip hop". Now you've gotta like a SPECIFIC kind of hip hop. As the huge pool of hip hop fans sub-categorise themselves into these specific areas, it is now impossible to find an album that EVERYONE will like. Back in the mid-nineties, there was just hip hop, and everybody generally liked the same thing. Therefore, albums like 'Illmatic' was considered great, and nobody argued. Nowadays, some new-school cats may not feel it at all (I've heard everything from, 'the beats are boring' to 'Nas is overrated'...to call ANY Premo beats boring is, in my opinion, blasphemy), and why would they? They wern't around when that album dropped, and cannot relate at all. They may prefer to listen to Necro, Ill Bill, etc, and that's their choice.

So now each sub-category has it's classic albums, and the classic hip hop album no longer exists...or does it?

On to today's album post...

One.Be.Lo - S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.

One.Be.Lo, formerly known as OneManArmy and one half of Binary Star, dropped this gem in 2005. It is, in my opinion, a classic. You may think that these two facts are mutually exclusive, but no. I said it, and I'll say it again. It's a fucking classic from 2005.
'S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.' (Sounds Of Nahshid Originate Good Rhymes And Music) is Lo's first full length LP. When I first heard One.Be.Lo on Binary Star, I wasn't immediately struck by his MC skills. In fact, I thought that Senim Silla was the better half of the group, and couldn't imagine either of them doing a solo project, as they worked very well together, and their name suggested that they would be sticking together as a duo. However, after being fucked around by their record label, and what I think only as being creative differences between the two, Lo decided to concentrate on a solo project that resulted in this album.
In between the release of 'Masters Of The Universe' and 'S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.', Lo converted to Islam, and it is clear that this had a tremendous effect on him with the number of references to Islam on this LP. Although I don't normally like it when MC's get too religeous, Lo pulls it off without sounding too preachy. His greatest skill remains the clearness of his voice combined with his effortless rhyming skills. For example, on 'enecS eht no kcaB', Lo spits...
"Thinkin' I'm dissin' 'cause I ain't feelin' the shit they spittin'
Know the difference between dissin' and constructive criticism
They should try to pen-a-written that can fit-the-rhythm
Too busy tryin' to hit the ism, hit the women
Feminine get the Benjamin's, watch my SUB-Zero
Finish 'em, finish 'em, finish 'em, finish 'em..."
There's no need to hit rewind button (does it still exist?), everything can be heard the first time. No matter how complicated the rhyme pattern becomes, Lo never loses his skill of saying the WHOLE word with clarity. The album is full of political attacks ('Sleepwalking'), self-consciousness among the black community ('The Ghetto'), and attitudes towards racism in the US ('Axis'). One of my favourite tracks on the album from a lyrical perspective has got to be 'Evil Of Self' which features Abdus Salaam. Lo highlights his creativity by constructing a story using the thoughts/mentalities that all of us feel at one time or another. It has got to be one my favourite tracks of all time.
I am sure that regardless of what type of hip hop you listen to, you will at least appreciate how good this album is. So, the next time someone says to you, "Where has all the good hip hop gone?", reply by saying, "It's there, you just ain't looking hard enough brotherman".
Peace out.

4 comments:

axe. said...

Good read and album post, One Be Lo is good stuff. I agree for the most part with your point on the classics. Funny thing is, switch Midnight Marauders for The Low End Theory and that's pretty damn close to my list. That and maybe add the first Jeru.

SniperInTheMist said...

if you loved that one.be.lo you'll be a fan of the senim silla album everyone is going on about. It's class.

zingama said...

word, senim silla's album is great

nice blog.

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.