Words by Brian James
Brian James is a former co-host of the Best Song Ever podcast and contributor to Off Shelf and other music publications. As a lifelong enthusiast, he has been a fan of hip-hop since middle school and now enjoys keeping up with mainstream and underground releases, and diving deep on the sampled and influencing sub-genres.
Journey Through the Golden Age: Eric B. & Rakim – Paid in Full
By 1987 Hip Hop had existed for nearly a decade and was starting to really gain both commercial and artistic breakthroughs. It was a young genre still finding it’s footing and to me ’87 is the year when hip hop really took a leap forward and started putting out timeless classics. The first such album is Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid In Full. It’s evident from the very start of the album. I Ain’t No Joke may be the hardest opening track ever, especially in context of hip hop history. That beat hits super hard, the horn sample is perfect and then Rakim lays down the toughest verse that had ever existed up until this point:
“I ain’t no joke, I used to let the mic smoke
Now I slam it when I’m done and make sure it’s broke
When I’m gone no one gets on cause I won’t let
Nobody press up and mess up the scene I set”
It doesn’t slow down from there and hip hop’s first perfect album goes on for another 52 minutes of hard beats and awesome samples from Eric B. and amazing lyricism and rapping from Rakim. It’s a perfect place to start this journey through the Golden Age of the most exciting genre of music to ever exist.
October’s Must Listen:
JPEGMAFIA – LP! (offline version) (Republic Records) – JPEGMAFIA has been pushing experimental hip hop forward like few artists around today. He’s released some really amazing artistic albums over the years, but LP! stands as his strongest album to date and one of the absolutely best hip hop albums to be released this year. There are two versions of the album as a result of some label drama, so be sure to check out Peggy’s true vision, which can be found on Bandcamp.
Wiki – Half God (Wikset Enterprise) – Wiki has been flirting with having a truly breakthrough year for a while now and it seems like 2021 is the year when it’s finally happened. Since his beginnings in the group Rat King, he’s been an interesting voice in hip hop and it’s awesome to hear him really hit his stride on Half God, which is also a top 10 hip hop album of the year for me. Wiki’s flow is so unique, his writing is strong and fun and it’s all backed up by the great production of Navy Blue (who is also having a huge year.)
Lewis Parker – Frequency of Perception (KingUnderground / Fat Beats) – At first I thought this album was maybe a little too nice and a little too throwback to the late 90s/early 2000s era. I was flat out wrong. Lewis Parker has crafted a timeless hip hop album, which could stand toe to toe with the strongest output from The Roots.
Atmosphere – WORD? (Rhymesayers Entertainment) – Ant and Slug, aka Atmosphere have been releasing music for over 20 years and this is without a doubt my favorite album they’ve ever done. Super strong production, fun lyricism and awesome features make this a great album to check out.
Maxo Kream – WEIGHT OF THE WORLD (RCA Records) – Maxo Kream is probably the best storyteller in hip hop right now and he continues to show why on WEIGHT OF THE WORLD. Mostly about grief and loss, Maxo dives a lot into the death of his brother and brings us into his life with vivid imagery. His flow is just so enjoyable to listen to, which really sets this apart from other more mainstream hip hop albums.
Guilty Simpson – EGO (Mello Music Group) – Another hip hop vet, Guilty Simpson has been creating music since the mid-’90s and has never slowed down. Last year’s LSD was a fun, psychedelic team up with producer Leonard Charles and for EGO Simpson has teamed up with Gensu Dean, who handles production duties. It’s full of great head bobbing samples and the effortless flow of Guilty Simpson.
YUNGMORPHEUS – Affable with Pointed Teeth (Lex Records Ltd) – YUNGMORPHEUS has put out six albums over the past two years and Affable with Pointed Teeth is the culmination of all the promise that he has shown in past releases. It’s a really pretty, chill album that is also experimental and interesting. It’s a hard combination to pull off well, but YUNGMORPHEUS hits it out of the park with this one.
Curly Castro – Little Robert Hutton (Backwoodz Studioz) – Definitely not the most accessible album here, this takes some time to dig its roots into you. It’s honestly all pretty abrasive and inaccessible, but those who like put a little effort into their listening will be rewarded. It’s an intense listen with vivid lyricism mostly about historical Black revolutionary thought.
Declaime – The Last Stand (SomeOthaShip Connect) – Funky, abstract hip-hop that is equal parts fun and challenging.
Planet Asia – Rule of Thirds (Bigger Picture Recordings) – Solid rapping from Planet Asia meets the production of Evidence from Dialated Peoples.
maticulous – no caps (Myers Street Music) – Great short album from a producer with awesome features including: Homeboy Sandman, Guilty Simpson, Skyzoo and many more.
Bar None Mixtape: October 2021