Hank B usually covers the music beat here on the Suburbanite's Guide to Somewhere, but I'm making a rare guest appearance.
I was looking to expand my horizons a bit, and conferred with a childhood friend of mine, Mike M., for his suggestions on "essential" rap songs.
Mike and I grew up just outside of Phillipsburg, New Jersey, where cornfields surrounded our unlocked-door neighborhood and you could smell manure in the summer. The gritty street tales of early rap might as well have been Japanese kabuki theater.
Regardless, Mike's great sense of humor, as well as his open-minded and generous spirit enabled him to see the originality, creativity and raw appeal of rap music when I was still combing my mullet with a Goody plastic comb to the tune of Def Leppard. Mike was the one who first introduced me to rap, and decades later was the first person I thought to ask for recommendations.
Below are Mike's comments and perspective, and thanks to him my musical tastes have opened up a wee bit, and a new playlist was born on my iPhone:
13 Essential Old School Rap Songs - by Mike M.
1. Ain't No Half Steppin'- Big Daddy Kane---This is my favorite song of all time and he is my favorite rapper. He is widely recognized as one of the top 5 lyricists of all time and was known for his metaphors, similes and wordplay. He is from Brooklyn, where many of the greatest rappers have come from. I have seen him perform twice, and met him last year in NYC before his show with my oldest son.
2. My Melody- Rakim---Also recognized as one of the top rappers of all time, and his lyrics were second to none. He's been referred to as "rapper's favorite rapper". Great lyrics.
3. They Reminisce Over You- Pete Rock and CL Smooth---A classic tune that uses a crazy sample that I don't know how Pete found and a tribute to a fallen dancer from another group (T-Roy, from Heavy D & the Boyz). A great song with a story about growing up, family, etc.
4. My Mind's Playing Tricks On Me- Ghetto Boys---A tale of paranoia and one of if not the most "visual" rap song I've ever heard. The story telling places you in the rhymes, in the hood with them; you can see what they are saying. Also significant because it was a hit not from NYC but from Houston, not a hot bed for rap at that time.
5. Straight Outta Compton- NWA---This song put Los Angeles on the map and the first verse by Ice Cube is as raw and hard as any verse you'll hear. To see Ice Cube now doing Coors Light commercials and family movies is comical once you hear this song. It is vulgar and violent but an important song in the history of rap because most of the country had no idea what the scene was like in LA (pre-Rodney King, riots, etc).
6. The Show- Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick---A fun song, using a sample from Inspector Gadget! Doug was one the first and finest beat boxers who also rhymed and Rick was rap's greatest storyteller. The two had several hits, and this was a classic.
7. Friends-Whodini---Another cool song, much more about the lyrics than the beat or the producer. A story we can all relate too. I'm actually Facebook friends with the lead rapper Jalil and we have had several Facebook "conversations". Pretty cool for a big kid like me!
8. I Go To Work- Kool Moe Dee---The pure lyrics and rhyming in this song is incredible. Moe Dee was a great battle rapper and his intelligent rap style was different than most. He was one of the real old school guys, starting in the early 80's.
9. Rockbox- Run DMC---One of my first favorite tunes. This song was one that made me fall in love with rap music.
10. I'm Bad-LL Cool J--- A great song, full of braggadocio and cockiness but clear rhymes too. A good listen.
11. OPP-Naughty By Nature---NBN was known as the "anthem" group of the early 90's; they had several hits that were adult in content yet clever enough in their lyrics and had great beats so the message was not too "street". Undeniably a classic party song from the early 90's.
12. Can't Truss It- Public Enemy---Public Enemy was as influential as any group in the history of rap, along with Run DMC. Chuck D was an intelligent, forceful lyricist and Flava Flav was the rap industry's most famous hype man. They were very "pro-black", if you will, and had some hard rhymes. They'd get a little political and turned off a few people along the way. This song and Fight The Power are two of their biggest hits and all time classics.
13. The Message-Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five---This was the first true tale of life in the ghetto. There have been many since but this was the first and arguably the best.
Thanks again to Mike M.!