The common perception of hip hop, thanks to way hip hop is represented by the media, is riddled with numerous misconceptions and misunderstandings. Hip Hop has certainly received a bad name, thanks to the obsession with money, bling, hoes and guns. However hip hop music can also be intelligent, intellectually stimulating and brilliantly crafted.
It’s a pity that hip hop has come to be associated with all the things it actually does not represent: Kilograms of bling in the form of watches and chains, shining just like them gold teeth, chrome rims on a pimped-out low rider, sports jerseys the size of hoardings, expertise with iced-out guns and scantily-clad hoes, sneakers costing a bomb, not to forget the apparent lack of human reason. All thanks to the way Hip Hop has been popularised across the world (Thank you MTV!!). Is Hip Hop only about machismo, jewellery, violence, sex, materialism and incessant bragging through rapid recitation?
Well, no. The unfortunately tarnished image of mainstream hip hop hides beneath it the true worth of the art form.
Firstly, hip hop refers to an entire youth subculture that is associated not only with music but any form of expression, be it art, fashion or literature. That means, hip hop is not a music genre.
Secondly, hip hop music is not “just rap music”. Hip hop music is an evolved art form that has absorbed influences from a wide variety of genres, including blues, soul and jazz. While these influences might not be apparent in mainstream hip hop, one can dig deeper and discover some gems from the hip hop scene.
So for all you dignified ladies and gentlemen, who scowl upon this cheap and lowly form of music, here’s a list of some fantastic hip hop that you probably haven’t heard. Let’s hope this will change your misinformed opinions on hip hop music.
Albums you probably haven’t heard
Siah and Yeshua DapoED – The Visualz Anthology (2008)
Siah and Yeshua DapoED comprise an influential hip hop music duo. Hailing from the New York, the duo’s music is an excellent example of the more intellectually-oriented east-coast rap. The Visualz Anthology is the CD version of their debut EP The Visualz, which was in itself a hip hop masterpiece. Featuring jazz-tinged productions and extremely well crafted lyrics and rhymes delivered in a smooth, mellow manner, The Visualz is an engaging listen. These cats are in it to win it. The lyrical content is vivid and imaginative. The jazz-influenced productions fit extremely well with the MC’s delivery and tempo. A true hip hop classic!
Genius/GZA – Liquid Swords (1995)
Liquid Swords was the second album of GZA from the infamous nine-piece Wu-Tang clan. Signature East-coast rhythms, the album is more ‘street’ than the rest in this list. The ablum has some fantastic production by RZA, reminiscent of the Wu-Tang. However GZA takes the booty with his impeccable lyrics, delivered with impressive flow and amazing delivery. Rapping just comes naturally to GZA. This album is considered one of the best solo Wu-Tang releases. The overall mood of the album is quite dark, just like a perennial hoodie. It features extensive sampling from the film Shogun Assassin (1980). The album has been hailed as “one of the most substantial lyrical journeys in hip-hop history” by Chicago Tribune. The lyrics primarily deal with crime, chess & philosophy.
Tipper – Tip Hop (2005)
David Tipper is a British DJ, specializing in breakbeat and downtempo music. It would not be unfair to call him a turntable virtuoso, considering his impeccable technique and rhythm. Tip Hop is basically a mixed version of some of Tipper’s singles. It showcases his excellent skills with the turntable. Most of the songs on the album are instrumental; however a few do feature vocals on them. Cleverly placed effects over beats dripping with swag and insane sonic manipulation make this innovative and slick album a definite listen.
Flying Lotus – Los Angeles (2008)
Flying Lotus is the artist name of experimental hip-hop producer Steven Ellison. An ace producer, FlyLo is the nephew of bebop and free jazz musician Alice Coltrane. FlyLo’s music is not your everyday hip hop music. He dwells in the land of obscure textures and rhythms. The album is a complex mash-up that is delicately constructed. Los Angeles is as much a technological marvel, due to the sheer variety of unique sounds, as it a musical masterpiece, with its exquisite melodies and rhythms. Alongside the myriad textures, the bass lines are also brilliant. The album consists of several short tracks which effortlessly merge into each other. For best results, listen to the album in entirety.
Nujabes – Metaphorical Music (2003)
Jun Seba or Nujabes was a prolific hip hop producer and DJ from Japan. At the forefront of the Japanese hip hop scene, Nujabes is best known for producing the soundtrack of the critically acclaimed anime Samurai Champloo. Blending smooth jazz samples with street hip hop beats, Nujabes manages to create a chillout-like sound that is both fresh and unique. These samples are often from famous jazz standards. For example, in the track “The Final View” from this album, Nujabes samples the jazz standard “Love Theme From Spartacus” as played by Saxophonist Yusef Lateef. The technical precision with which Nujabes stitches his track is often concealed by his suave laid-back execution. Nujabes has also collaborated with Japanese and International MCs. Unfortunately Nujabes passed away in a car accident in 2010.
Blockhead – The Music Scene (2009)
New York hip hop producer Tony Simon aka Blockhead is known for creating emotive instrumental hip hop, stitching together multiple beats, weaving them together into complex yet satisfying pieces of music. Blockhead introduces various moods into his songs, he switches tempos and produces very eclectic music. He is affiliated with the famous indie record label Ninja Tune and also frequently collaborates with rapper Aesop Rock. The Music Scene is an instrumental album released by Blockhead that truly showcases his unique style.
Madlib – Shades of Blue (2003)
Jazz aficionados will definitely recognize the legendary Blue Note record label. Hip Hop aficionados will surely vibe with legendary producer Madlib. Add both of these into the same concoction and you get a delicious brew of fantastic production using classic jazz samples from the infamous record label. Otis Jackson Jr. (aka Madlib) is one of hip hop’s most respected and prolific producers. His almost-inhumanly obsession with music, constantly in the search of the perfect beat, is reflected in his work. Madlib produces music under various monikers and his collaborations with MF DOOM, J Dilla, Talib Kweli and Mos Def are also well received. Although various attempts to fuse jazz and hip hop have been made before (Guru – Jazzmatazz, Us3 – Hand on the Torch), Madlib’s attempt is unique. The seamless blending of original jazz samples with the superbly crafted beats is truly awesome.
Aceyalone – A Book of Human Language (1998)
Aceyalone is a highly talented rapper from Los Angeles. Considering his unconventional lyrics on abstract subject matter such as philosophy, Aceyalone is truly a remarkable poet. His crisp delivery is backed by his impeccable flow and brilliant hip hop sensibilities. A Book of Human Language is a concept album which was released in 1998. However the album still sounds as fresh as ever considering the relevance of the lyrics and the novelistic execution. The production on the album is minimum, perfect for Acelayone to lay down his intelligent rhymes. His clever wordplay is definitely worth checking out.
This is by no means a “Greatest Hip Hop of All Time” list, rather just a bunch of albums that come to mind when one thinks of meaningful hip hop. There are loads of hip hop producers and DJs who are never recognized by the larger audience, thanks to their uncompromising ways of making music and not caving in to market demands.
This list barely scratches the surface to unveil the incredible diversity and the talent which exists in the hip hop scene, all of which is hidden under the common perception of hip hop thanks to mainstream music. Hip hop is truly art and it deserves the same kind of respect. Like all art, there are masterpieces here as well. You just need to know where to look.