Thursday, May 29, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Rakim. The invincible microphone fiend. Regarded by some as the best lyricist ever to bless a mic. As part of the classic duo "Eric B. and Rakim", he most certainly helped revolutionize the rhyme game with the debut album "Paid in Full". Starting heavy right off the bat with all-time hit "I Ain't No Joke", and continuing with songs including "My Melody", the title track "Paid in Full", and "Move the Crowd", right there you have a grouping that includes some of the best hip hop songs ever put to wax.
It was the late 80's and I was in junior high, growing up in New York. Buying tapes (yes, audio cassettes; what) at The Wiz on 96th and Broadway; stuff like Biz Markie's "Going Off" and Doug E. Fresh's "Greatest Entertainer". Listening to DJ Red Alert spin on WBLS. Video Music Box with Ralph McDaniels. Rakim is right smack in the middle of this beautiful era of hip hop music. I remember watching videos and seeing Eric B. and Rakim with their ever-present chains and rings. Listening to Rakim's deep and rough voice. Eric always all stoic in the background, moving slowly.
Their follow up album - aptly titled "Follow the Leader" - boasts one of the most recognizable beats ever: "Microphone Fiend". It takes about 0.2 seconds of hearing those bells drop in to identify it. Anyway, this is also where Rakim lays down some of the most intense battle rhymes ever heard. Although for most, the remainder of the album might be a bit forgettable (I happen to love tracks like "To the Listeners" and "The R", but I doubt this is too common), between "Microphone Fiend" and the title track, you still have more than enough classic material.
The third Album, "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em", continued with singles "The Ghetto", "Mahogany", and of course another title track.
Rakim ushered in a new breed of rhymers with his complex patterns and bold storytelling. Looking back, I'm not quite sure if I fully realized this at the time, but he was at least a decade ahead of most of his peers. For this tribute bag, I took a photo from this interview and surrounded him with money signs. Similar to the dollar bills that rained down behind him and Eric B. on their debut album cover.
It's definitely been more than a minute since my last addition to this series, so I'm looking to gain some ground back by dropping two gems this month. The first is a tribute to one of my favorite jazz musicians of all time: Herbie Hancock.
Hancock came onto the scene as a member of the legendary Miles Davis' crew in the early sixties. While his record "Maiden Voyage" is one of his best known early works, one of my personal favorites is "Inventions and Dimensions", a much more experimental collection of songs that team Herbie up with Willie Bobo. The styles range across jazz and bossa nova. Hancock worked with several Blue Note musicians and continued on with Davis for many years, playing keyboards on classics such as "In a Silent Way" and "On the Corner".
Most know Hancock for his 1983 hit "Rockit", which was full of synthesizers, crazy sounds, and record scratches. While it is unfortunate that for some, this is the only connection to a lifetime of amazing work, it still stands as a decent - albeit very narrow - representation of his overall style. During the seventies, he helped revolutionize jazz fusion with his growing arsenal of funk synths. "Headhunters" and "Man Child" are both amazing in their own rights, but additionally have been sampled and used for some of the best hip hop to come out of the 90's era. I think Redman and Rockwilder must have sampled just about every song on "Man Child" for Red's debut album ("Whut? Thee Album") and follow-up ("Dare iz a Darkside"). 1976's "Secrets" is another oft-missed classic, and that record cover is actually the image i had hoped to use for the bag graphics. Unfortunately, the photo was too dark, but his huge afro and mutton chops are definitely from my favorite era in his musical timeline.
Although I can't honestly say Hancock's work in the 90's and beyond ranks among my favorites, his boatload of consistently amazing records and collaborations during the thirty years prior places him near the top of my list of favorites. I can listen to his albums on loop for an entire weekend. Check out a full discography here