By Eric Tweel
We talked with Chemistry teacher Mr. Suteir about his tastes in music.
I was weaned on hip-hop music’s pioneering artists and styles. Specifically, I am an East Coast head, an aficionado of the seminal soul and jazz samplings of DJ Premier and Pete Rock (who inspired the music of J Dilla, Just Blaze, and Kanye), as well as the grittier production sensibilities of the Bomb Squad (Public Enemy) and the RZA (Wu-Tang Clan). I also value lyricism and MC’ing skill that puts a premium on social commentary and storytelling from the streets, underpinned by innovative metaphors and wordplay (like internal rhyme schemes). As such, I lament the lack of quality in much of hip-hop music today. My playlists usually consist of timeless golden age hip-hop (which I enjoy on my Studio Beats!). Newer hip-hop that I include is usually by artists with longevity and a record of continually pushing musical boundaries (e.g., The Roots, Mos Def, Common, Kanye, Jigga). I didn’t include on this playlist the other major genres I usually bump to, dancehall reggae and R&B.
1. Bring Da Ruckus – Wu-Tang Clan
This is the opening track on what is, in my opinion, the magnum opus of hip-hop LP’s, the revolutionary Enter the 36 Chambers. Used to (and still does!) get me hyped for a performance, whether athletic, academic, or oratorical. Keeps me Witty, Unpredictable, [with] Talent, And Natural Game.
2. Follow the Leader – Eric B. and Rakim
This title track of the album is, in my opinion, the legendary duo’s greatest contribution to hip-hop’s catalogue. The 18th Letter Man aka the God MC (my fave MC, incidentally) was literally the Leader in bringing the 5%’er mentality to the hip-hop masses and his flow on this track inspired legions of future street poets, including Nas and Ghostface Killah. So many sampled and bitten lines off this track, I still can’t get enough of The R’s vicious verses, even 25 years later.
Following the pattern of the first two joints, this is the opening salvo of not only one of the top albums in hip-hop history, but of all time. Nas rebirthed the Queensbridge rap legacy established by the Juice Crew with the genius Illmatic and this quintessential Big Apple anthem. Beats by the inimitable Primo, who went digging in the crates to provide the sinister piano loop and the scratches of Rakim’s famous line (big up Ol’ Blue Eyes!). I will never forget hearing this on my favorite late night college radio show. Changed my life..
This song still brings me to tears everytime I listen to it. Play it at night, I won’t ack rite. The penultimate track on the groundbreaking Midnight Marauders album, it is a shining example of the classic complementarity of the Abstract, Q-Tip, and the 5-fter, Phife Dawg. Also a great example of their sampling guile (in this case, Minnie Ripperton’s “Inside My Love”). My first hip-hop show including seeing them perform this on their tour for the album, a truly indelible memory.
Of course, I could have picked from a multitude of crossover hits from eleven #1 albums, but I didn’t really start to dig Jay until The Blueprint. This track is also the penultimate one on the album and features Hov’s natural laid-back flow and the bravado that comes with knowing that no one can touch your skill or creativity.. or your realness. My go-to for motivation when I’m grinding with that shoulder chip mentality.
Probably the most underrated DJ-MC battery in the history of the game. Representing The Planet (BK), one was a legendary DJ and producer and the the other a complex MC with a signature monotone delivery, who was quite the producer himself and an explicit fuser of hip-hop with jazz, soul, and R&B, its musical parents. It’s hard for me to name my favorite Gangstarr album, I love them all relatively equally, but Hard to Earn came out in a time period that was bursting with the 5-mic classics of the genre, so this track, one of the premier (no pun intended) cuts on it, gets the nod.
Don’t get me wrong, I like plenty of artists from the Left Coast too. But I’m not talking Snoop and Dre (although Doggystyle, The Chronic, and EFIL4ZAGGIN are in my extended pantheon), I’m talking the underground motions originating in the Bay area and southern Cali as well, Hieroglyphics prime amongst them (see track #16). The exception are the gangster bangers by Ice Cube and Ice-T, who were among the West’s best street storytellers. Ice is one of the most polarizing and controversial figures in hip-hop history and brought much mainstream (media) attention to the music (and not in a positive way!). Not surprisingly, his detractors didn’t (want to) understand the underlying (social) messages in his raps, exaggerated for effect, like all gangsta rap. O.G. is the track that I think typifies him the most, so it makes the cut.
MC’ing requires exquisite breath control and voice modulation, so imagine trying to rap with your jaw wired shut. That is the epitome of hustling. Kanye’s car accident was a watershed moment in his life and career and resulted in this inspirational track that introduced us to the man’s #$%! the world mentality and the classic album from which it comes. Chipmunk soul on the come up!
The Infamous was full of stories about the jungle that was Queensbridge Projects. This smoothed out track is one of them and a change in pace from most of the more hardcore joints on the album. Q-Tip, the generally recognized most artistically influential member of ATCQ, shows his versatility, stepping out of the booth and controlling the boards to deliver the soulful feel.
You would think that this track is out of place on this list, but I include it because it is reflective of what I value most in hip-hop music or in an artist, in general. The mighty Mos, or Yaasin Bey, as we call him now, is the consummate hip-hop artist and wears his soul on his sleeve. He can battle you with ferocious freestyles, rock you with the driving force of Black Jack Johnson, or woo you with a doleful ballad. Here he arranges, composes, plays instruments, and sings — and it’s hip-hop at its best.
No hip-hop playlist can claim itself complete without an appearance from the one Biggie Smalls, who amazingly continues to live on in the hip-hop world, a testament to his short-lived but influential contribution to the music. BIG barred no holds in his rhymes or his lyrical content, revelling in the Big Willie lifestyle while continually reminding us of the psychological toll that surviving criminally takes on a man. I love this track because it exemplifies his fun-loving side and his MC’ing versatility.
When I carp about how hip hop has lost its voice for social justice, I’m really crying out for the return of a collective like Public Enemy. No one group may have meant more to the art and culture because of their explicit portrayals of the life of the disenfranchised. This track epitomizes not only the adrenaline-inducing sonic assault of Bomb Squad beats, the animalistic lyrical attack of Chuck D, and the hype of Flavor Flav, but also their leadership role in addressing and advancing the state of coloured people.
I think one could make an argument that The Legendary Roots Crew, hailing from Illadelph, PA, is one of the most prominent musical collectives of the last 20 years. Their longevity and musical innovation is not matched by many. This track’s substance (and title) explains why it makes the list.
I distinguish between those who are true hip-hop heads and those that pose based on whether they know the music of the UMC’s. They came out with the classic and ground-breaking Critical Beatdown in a time when a major stylistic transition was occurring in hip-hop, one that would precipitate its most prolific and influential era. Perhaps this is why they are not as celebrated, but they serve as a perfect link in the evolution of hip-hop music and earn a place on the list.
I don’t know how it’s possible, but Uncle L aka The Ripper might be the most underrated MC ever. He proclaimed himself the G.O.A.T. and although that’s a tough sell, I’m here to tell you that the swagger and microphone pwnage this man had as a young buck was second to none. I don’t think he ever came out on the losing end of a wax beef. This is a classic party track and reflects LL at his most fun but focused in his lyrical attack.
Any true hip-hop head or historian will tell you ’93 til Infinity is one of the great tracks and albums in hip-hop history, not only because of its quality, but because that title could be the banner for the music and its most punctuated jump-off point (the Golden Era!). As part of the now legendary Hieroglyphics crew, Souls turned the funk origins of Bay Area hip-hop on its ears with a harder East Coast sound and dadaist flows that got your tongue tried trying to replicate. When I want to straight bug out to some nasty beats and rhymes, I bump this.
If you’re at this point, I thank you for your patience and attention in indulging what was a stroll down Memory Lane for me! As such, this is probably a great track to end off on, considering. Try not to get nostalgic with Pete Rock’s horny horns, whether you’re thinking about Trouble T. Roy or someone from your own past, it doesn’t matter. And so with it, for now, I bid you and the music I love so much a tearful farewell. I urge both to appreciate and respect the past and to keep growing and progressing while maintaining your integrity. Like the brother Malcolm said: NO SELL OUT!