When George Lucas’ Star Wars hit America like a pop culture meteor in the summer of 1977, the R&B scene wasn’t immune from the impact. While Meco’s cheesy disco interpretation of John Williams’ score dominated the pop charts, disco-funk ensembles penned their own tributes to spaceships and light sabers. Kool & the Gang named an album after The Force,and Bunny Sigler’s Instant Funk crew described Darth Vader as a “tall black man” with the power to resist the traitorous rebels on the triumphant “Dark Vader.” Even Marvin Gaye’s “A Funky Space Reincarnation” gives a shout out to what was then the biggest-grossing movie of all time.
Here are my picks for noteworthy rap albums of 2019, taken from the vantage point of now. Artists are listed in alphabetical order.
This is a feature on D4L that I wrote for Creative Loafing. It was published in January 2006.
When you hear it on the radio, D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” sounds like a silly novelty record. Most of the explicit version’s strip club references have been carefully edited out, leaving only the chorus — “Shake that laffy taffy/That laffy taffy” – to ring out over and over again. Meanwhile, the music is as bare as a Thelonious Monk piano solo, with producer K-Rab plunking down a simple keyboard fill. (Back in the day, they used to call beats like this “Casio beats.” It wasn’t a compliment.)
“Laffy Taffy” currently sits at number one on the Billboard singles charts. D4L set a new sales record during the last week of 2005 when more than 175,000 digital downloads of the song were sold, which is nearly twice the previous record holder, Kanye West sold of his “Gold Digger” single. But if you’re one of the millions of dissenters who can’t stand “Laffy Taffy,” then you have to see D4L in concert to understand why it’s so popular.
“Let’s take it back to the concrete streets/ Original beats with real live MCs,” harmonized the Jurassic 5 MCs on their underground rap classic “Concrete Schoolyard.” Chanting in a collective voice inspired by the near-mythic old-school pioneers Cold Crush Brothers, the four MCs exuded goodwill amidst a sample of Ike Turner’s “Getting Nasty.” But their vision of primordial hip-hop authenticity was less convincing than the cheeriness with which they expressed it.
(Note: This was originally written as part of Rhapsody’s “Source Material” series, which explored the influences behind a classic album. The influences listed are titles that are available in the service.)
The dust has yet to settle on the indie-rap renaissance of the late 90s, with critics and fans fiercely divided on which albums constitute classics. One title they agree on is MF Doom’s 1999 masterwork Operation: Doomsday.
Daniel Dumile has not been photographed in public without his metal mask for over a decade. He launched his career as Zev Love X, one-third of the Long Island rap trio KMD, a group he shared with his brother, DJ and producer Subroc. In 1991 KMD issued its memorable debut, Mr. Hood, and were quickly lumped with the quirky post-D.A.I.S.Y. Age of groups like Leaders of the New School and Black Sheep. However, KMD’s second album, Black Bastards, was much harder-edged, reflecting the hip-hop world’s rising interest in gangster-ism. The album’s sardonic tone, and particularly its controversial art depicting a Sambo-like cartoon being hung from a noose, led to Elektra dropping KMD from its roster. Just before Black Bastards was shelved in
19931994, Subroc was killed in a hit-and-run accident. (Black Bastards finally got an official release in 2001.)
Dumile retreated from the spotlight for a few years before issuing several 12-inches on Fondle ‘Em Records as Metal Face Doom, starting with 1997’s “Dead Bent,” and then Doomsday in the fall of 1999. While most of the era’s major acts like Company Flow and Jurassic 5 approximated grimy boom bap, MF Doom culled from adult contemporary chestnuts such as Atlantic Starr’s “Always” and James Ingram’s “One Hundred Ways.” These quiet storm ballads, bits of which he looped then sped and slowed-down, contrasted with the fervent mic-trading of Doom and his crew (whom were later known as the Monsta Island Czars). Cumulatively, they create a tone of sadness and loss.