The 100 Best Rap Singles of 1990: Above the Law

Above the Law
“Murder Rap” (Ruthless Records)
Billboard chart position: Hot Rap Singles (#1)

Above the Law
“Untouchable” (Ruthless Records)
Billboard chart position: Hot Rap Singles (#1)

Throughout the 90s, Above the Law would score bigger hits (“Black Superman”) and chart bigger albums (1993’s Black Mafia Life), but they never matched the impact of their 1990 debut, Livin’ Like Hustlers. Much of that had little to do with quality. Ruthless and major-label distributor Epic Records groomed them as successors to N.W.A., resulting in a promotional budget (and two number-one Billboard rap hits) they’d never quite enjoy again. To the public, they seemed like thuggish enforcers, thanks to widely reported scrapes with ex-labelmate Ice Cube’s Lench Mob at sundry industry functions. In retrospect, that reputation overshadowed their genuine musical talent, and group leader Cold 187um’s legacy as a key figure in the development of G-funk.

“Murder Rap” is a maelstrom of rippling bass that barely coalesces into a rhythm, scratched cuts and a whirring siren reminiscent of the Bomb Squad. Despite the title, Cold 187um’s rhymes are strictly MC cipher boasts, and he’s “taking out posses, causing bodily harm.” The late KMG only adds a few spoken words; but he takes a more prominent role on “Untouchable,” kicking parts of the second and third verses as well as the chorus. “Untouchable, it’s not what you know it’s what you can prove,” he says. The track is built over a sample of Young-Holt Unlimited’s “Light My Fire,” just like De La Soul’s “A Roller Skating Jam Called ‘Saturdays’” would be in 1991. Future efforts would find Above the Law charting a wholly unique path, whether a national audience followed or not.

Read more: The 100 Best Rap Singles of 1990

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