What Makes a Hip-Hop Classic?
Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis City. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His next project War Machine 2 was released this Tuesday, June 5th and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For The Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get War Machine 2 here.
Every week in I'm Just A Rapper Tef discusses modern life, hip-hop, and the deep connection between them.
The time on the digital clock is 3:36 a.m. and I'm currently writing the blog while I listen to the forever timeless classic Illmatic.
I pull up my iTunes and take a quick glance at the bottom of the screen and notice that this album is only a total of 40 minutes long. I honestly haven't given it a fair listen in many years. I grew up listening to hip-hop, but I'm from St. Louis, and I'm not nearly 40 years old, so this album is definitely one of those I had to go back and study years after it was already released.
This is a process that seemed to be mandatory for me when I first decided to strengthen my relationship with the hip-hop culture. I went back and bought store copies of any album The Source magazine referred to as a classic. For a period of time the magazine was the hip-hop media standardized voice, so if they labeled an album as a classic then hip-hop heads like myself blindly agreed. Over the course of time, they've been accused of showing bias towards East Coast rap albums, but I never really allowed myself to dive into those arguments too deeply. I felt like The Source was amazing and I was just grateful to have something in place that would help introduce me to my cultures preferred icons and the timeless music many of them created. I have listened to Illmatic so much I probably can get away with never listening to it again ever in life. Listening to this album has become a ritual. When I was younger, I had no idea playing this immaculate body of music from my favorite living rapper (Nas) on a continual basis would later take the fun out of it for me. I love Illmatic, but I ruined it for myself by listening to it too damn much. I can quote this project nearly from front to back, skits included.
I discovered this album at a time I didn't know much about the mechanics of emceeing and lyricism, and I can happily say much of my approach to the art form was borrowed from this collection of songs. This is arguably the most classic of all hip-hop classics. So here we are: this installment of the column is going to be a dedication to classic hip-hop albums.
I decided to turn Illmatic off after browsing through a few songs. I sit here dwelling thinking about the memories in my life that are attached to this music. Truthfully speaking I'm one of those Nas fans that tends to think his sophomore album It Was Written is better than Illmatic. My logic is simple: By his second album, he had more commercial influence and his production budget was enormous, since he was now officially one of the biggest names in rap music by this time. So on his sophomore album, we were blessed with a Nas and Dr. Dre collaboration. Nas and Lauryn Hill connected and made one of the most classic rap records of all times, "If I Rule The World." The joint were Nas rapped as if he were a gun -- "I Gave You Power" -- is absolutely amazing and can combat any rap record released in 2012. This album was amazing.
Anyway after dwelling on a few of these thoughts I move on to Common's Resurrection. I love the production on this album because it reminds me of the early '90s hip-hop I was semi-too young to fully understand a while ago. So once again, this is a project I went back and studied many years after it was released. Most of the production is flawless, even though it's stuff I don't think I would necessarily choose to rap on. The beats have so much life you need a certain amount of skill level as a lyricist to even approach these tracks. Resurrection was my first time being introduced to the soundscapes of the legendary No I.D. and his soulful musical range. No I.D. paved the way for a guy named Kanye West, and the rest is history as No and Ye' have since combined powers behind the scenes and changed the world. A few of the songs have double meanings and concepts you won't catch on the first listen.
This album is also the body of work that sparked the classic battle between Ice Cube and Common. This feud was spawned due to the super classic Common single "I Used To Love Her." Cube and Common are two of my favorite rappers ever, so needless to say I was confused and hurt when I found out about their battle [laughs]. The Resurrection LP is truly slept on and may possibly be Common's best lyrical effort. I feel like it's the Midwestern version of Illmatic. Super lyricism combined with super production for the win. I remember sitting in my mother's basement listening to this album thinking to myself, "I have never heard anything this in my life!" I felt this same exact thing for almost every other Common album released for at least few years. A classic hip-hop album finds some kind of way to make the listener relate to the universe of the artist on some sort of heightened level of comprehension. Both of the albums mentioned made me wish I lived in Chicago or New York. I wanted to visit the streets they mentioned, eat at the restaurants they rhymed about, visit the same parks. These albums influenced the way I talked, walked and dressed.