Sunday, 15 September 2013

What Makes a Hip-Hop Album a Classic?

Over the past couple of years, we can all agree that Hip-Hop has clearly taken a very drastic turn with all of the impressive releases that came out, especially in 2011 and 2012. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, Killer Mike, Ab-Soul, Joey Bada$$, A$AP Rocky, Elzhi, Big K.R.I.T. and any others dropped albums that were so fantastic that they set new standards for modern Hip-Hop. Fans now-a-days are more critical to the music that comes out and are able to determine what Hip-Hop should sound like and what Hip-Hop should be promoted, which I feel is amazing. Rappers like Lil Wayne, French Montana, Big Sean and other lack luster commercial artists are no longer getting the love they used to receive and are suffering from this new wave of Hip-Hop. We are clearly in a new Golden Age of Hip-Hop, as many other people can agree and support that statement. However, something that I noticed is people throwing out the word "classic" at critically acclaimed albums without thinking twice about the labels they're throwing. People were calling albums such as Section.80, good kid m.A.A.d city, Elmatic, Black Up, 1999 and XXX classics upon release and even I will admit that I refer to these albums as classics sometimes, but I never really truly believe that they are and I don't think its a good idea to do so for the following reasons.  

Hip-Hop is a genre that has existed for about 40 years, so what made albums classics in the past isn't the same anymore. When Eric B. & Rakim dropped Paid in Full in 1987, that album set standards for East Coast Hip-Hop. Rakim revolutionized the way rapping was presented and delivered, and Eric B.'s sampling and production set the foundations for producers to come after him. At the same time, N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton was also revolutionary in the way it allowed rappers to present their perspective of real life situations at the time such as police brutality among African-Americans, racism and violence (Same with Public Enemy's A Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back). A few years later, albums such as Nas' Illamatic, Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Mobb Deep's The Infamous, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die among others solidified the quality of Hip-Hop as the crack epidemic occurred and created the mafioso subgenre of Hip-Hop while creating and presenting different flows, rap structure and production sound. However, albums like 2Pac's Me Against the World, A Trible Called Quest's The Low End Theory, Common's Resurrection, Mos Def's Black on Both Sides among others presented the conscious side of Hip-Hop and and delivered complex lyricism via metaphors and similes to world related matters to convey a positive message. All these albums are classics in their own way because they changed the rap game. They basically created the rules that other rappers must follow in order to create a rap album, or the blueprint that must be followed by rappers today. For this reason, we shouldn't be quick to call modern albums classics because they can never do what the previous albums did. While these old albums may seem dated, they still hold the power to move listeners today. Current albums take time to settle and show their effect. Elzhi's Elmatic is a perfect example because while it is a fantastic album and is able to hold its own next to Nas' Illmatic (imo), Elmatic will never do what Illmatic did which was change the game completely. Illmatic made rappers like Jay-Z switch up their styles to meet the same standard. Elmatic won't change anything, but its still a great album nevertheless. However, an album doesn't have to be very old like the ones I mentioned to be a classic for many reasons as well. 

For an album to be called a classic, it has to accomplish some kind of change in the game. It has to attract a lot of attention and gain respect because of the impact it has. For example, I personally consider Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP a classic because it was very original and it made Hip-Hop more acceptable to mainstream listeners. It was one of the first raw Hip-Hop albums to be nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys despite its content and abrasiveness. It had a cultural impact with the song Stan and influenced many rappers' style. It may seem biased to claim this album as a classic because it is my favorite album of all time, but I don't believe an album has to be good to be a classic. For example, I personally believe Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III is a classic. I will say that I am in no way a Lil Wayne fan, but I will admit that Tha Carter III is classic because it set a new standard for commercial Hip-Hop, whether you consider that a good or a bad thing. Many rappers (Such as Drake, Big Sean, Tyga and others) have followed the same formula Lil Wayne has created with Tha Carter III and have achieved success. For these reasons, I believe that it is a classic even though I don't really care for it. 

Another way an album can receive classic status is by pushing the genre to such a great extent that it creates a new subgenre. For example, when Company Flow dropped Funcrusher Plus, people were very negative towards it because they didn't believe it followed the Hip-Hop rules in the way the rapping and the production was presented. However, many people praised it because of the abstract lyricism and alternative futuristic production and received a great cult following after. El-P also dropped Fantastic Damage which went through the same reception as well as other albums under his acclaimed label Definitive Jux such as Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein and Aesop Rock's Labor Days which similarly pushed the genre but created classics. They redefined the underground Hip-Hop landscape and increased the amount of creativity in the game. Rappers like MF DOOM, Slug, Brother Ali, Immortal Technique, Ill Bill and many others received acclaim for taking the Hip-Hop genre in their way and transforming it. For these reasons, albums like Shabazz Palaces' Black Up and Death Grips's Exmilitary and The Money Store aren't really classics, but have the potential of being classics in the future. 

So in conclusion, an album needs to sit longer with the Hip-Hop community to be called a classic. The albums released in the 80s and 90s  have been here for so long that they set the blueprint for Hip-Hop and are worthy of the classic title. But an album can also be a classic in the way it affects and changed the game, whether on a commercial or underground level. So albums like Black Up, good kid m.A.A.d city, XXX, R.A.P. Music and other albums aren't classics but have the potential to be classics. With the new Golden Age of Hip-Hop, it is great to see the genre reinvent itself and achieve success and I can definitely see certain artists produce potential classics in the future. 

Albums I Consider Classics:
- Paid in Full - Eric B. & Rakim
- He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper - DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
- It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back - Public Enemy
- Straight Outta Compton - N.W.A.
- The Great Adventure of Slick Rick - Slick Rick
- The Chronic - Dr. Dre
- Amerikkka's Most Wanted - Ice Cube
- Illmatic - Nas
- The Low End Theory - A Tribe Called Quest
- The Infamous - Mobb Deep
- Me Against the World - 2Pac
- Ready to Die - The Notorious B.I.G.
- Resurrection - Common
- Black on Both Sides - Mos Def
- Reasonable Doubt - Jay-Z
- Enter the Wu-Tang (32 Chambers) - Wu-Tang Clan
- Illadelph Halflife - The Roots
- Aquemini - OutKast
- Funcrusher Plus - Company Flow
- The Cold Vein - Cannibal Ox & El-P
- Fantastic Damage - El-P
- Madvillainy - Madvillain
- The Marshall Mathers LP - Eminem
- The College Dropout - Kanye West
- Revolutionary Vol. 1 - Immortal Technique
- A Piece of Strange - CunninLynguists
- Donuts - J Dilla
- God Loves Ugly - Atmosphere
- Tha Carter III - Lil Wayne

Albums With Potential of Becoming Classics:

- Earl - Earl Sweatshirt
- XXX - Danny Brown
- good kid, m.A.A.d city - Kendrick Lamar
- No Kings - Doomtree
- Black Up - Shabazz Palaces
- The Money Store - Death Grips
- Bastard - Tyler, the Creator
- R.A.P. Music - Killer Mike & El-P
- Undun - The Roots
- Kismet - Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire
- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West

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