July 23: Dizzee Rascal, Missy Elliott, Eminem, Jungle Brothers, Jurassic 5, Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest

This week, we’ll be spitting some fly rhymes over some dope-ass beats as it’s time for another selection of the rap albums on the list.

Dizzee Rascal, ‘Boy In Da Corner’

As Dizzee is the elder statesman of grime these days, but his own cuts are shamelessly intended at the mainstream audience, it’s strange to go back to 2003 when he was just 19 and releasing this compromise-free cut. ‘Boy In Da Corner’ mostly dispenses with hooks and even rhythm, his beats being juddering, skittering and harsh. An introspective album, acknowledging the outside world only when it’s lashing out at it, it sounds pretty timeless even in the wake of Stormzy and Skepta.

Missy Elliott, ‘Under Construction’

One of only two female rappers to front an album on the 1001, Missy doesn’t feel daunted by rapping about her sexuality (“pussy don’t fail me now”) or her body (“my attitude is heavy ‘coz my period is heavy”). Teaming up once again with Timbaland, the album once again contains Tim’s familiar brand of bass synths, hypnotic loops and stop-start rhythm, occasionally interrupted by Missy explaining her motivations for the previous song as if it was an Alexei Sayle sketch. Method Man, Jay-Z, Ludacris and Beyonce all show up, but none steal the limelight away from Miss E herself. This is a good album.

Eminem, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’

Who even uses the term ‘LP’ anymore? Released in 2000, this echoes the then-mainstream taste for OTT cartoon violence (nu-metal, WWF, Jerry Springer: fin de siecle tension everywhere) while simultaneously picking up beefs, lashing out at haters and addressing his mercurial rise to fame over a whopping 77 minutes. As with the Slim Shady album, Em seems conflicted, simultaneously craving attention with his Shady persona and being narked at the attention when he gets it: this album contains both murder fantasy ‘Kim’ and “I was just joking about that murder fantasy lol” take ‘Stan’. It still sounds pretty palatable musically, but it’s very much a time capsule from 2000 in other ways: references to Limp Bizkit, Columbine, Carson Daly, and, well… the album is also unmistakably homophobic, whether or not the author is. It’s one thing to offer the excuse “that word was thrown around so much, you know, “faggot” was like thrown around constantly to each other, like in battling,” but what about the skit where he imagines Insane Clown Posse giving him oral sex, or the line in ‘Marshall Mathers’ where his mom’s attorney is “just aggravated I won’t ejaculate in his ass”? This was a very well-regarded album at the time, but it feels like it’s best left in the past.

Jungle Brothers, ‘Done By The Forces of Nature’

Sixteen tracks over an hour with no skits or resting, the Jungle Brothers offer a similar line of colourful samples (funk, rock, jazz, swing) and surreal rhyming to associates De La Soul (themselves referenced in the first song and featured on the fifteenth). They’re as interested in black culture as Public Enemy, but while PE are interested in combating oppression and misrepresentation, the Brothers focus on love and history. It’s a long album but, appealing to the feet and the brain, this is worth checking out.

Jurassic 5, ‘Power In Numbers’

The LA sextet (yes, sextet) were always interested in going back to the old school, so must be delighted that, now that their debut album is nearly 20 years old, they themselves are eligible for the honorific ‘old school’. I had ‘Jurassic 5’ but didn’t feel like I particularly needed any other albums by the posse, a feeling which listening to ‘Power In Numbers’ doesn’t completely eliminate. There is some good stuff on here: the Tarantino twang of ‘A Day At The Races’ sounds great, while ‘After School Special’ at least has an amusing punchline when the kid rappers angling for a verse in the intro get put on the track and flap it. But then something like ‘Thin Line’, a Minnie Riperton-sampling song about friendzoning with Nelly Furtado, feels like an obvious attempt at a big hit: and it wasn’t even a single! More funky and lyrically focused than ‘Jurassic 5’ but probably 20 minutes too long.

Run-DMC, ‘Raising Hell’

‘Raising Hell’ was a big deal at the time, featuring as it does ‘Walk This Way’, the gateway drug for MTV to start playing rap, and other famous singles ‘It’s Tricky’ and ‘My Adidas’. But like Grandmaster Flash, these historical landmarks don’t necessarily translate to an album that still sounds compelling this century: it retains the minimalism and adds kooky samples, but it feels like it’s lost some of the unique feel that ‘Run-DMC‘ has. It was a big influence on people like LL Cool J, yet the trio’s best trick – the word-swapping exchanges between the two rappers – only really influenced the Beastie Boys.

A Tribe Called Quest, ‘People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm’

An album almost as long as that title at 62 minutes, Q-Tip’s production apprenticeship during the De La Soul recording sessions is conspicuous in Tribe’s day-glo sample-and-scratch combination. There’s some familiar stuff going into the Akai: ‘Can U Kick It?’ is of course based around a Lou Reed track, ‘Bonita Applebum’ uses the same sitar twang as the Fugees’ ‘Killing Me Softly’, and ‘Push It Along’ features a rare Beatles sample (from ‘All You Need is Love’). As I listened to this in the same week as the Jungle Brothers, it felt like familiar territory: the jazz influences and live bass of ‘The Low End Theory’ is a more distinctive take on the genre.

Next week: We’ll be delving into unfamiliar territory by looking at the Asian albums on the list! I’m sure there’s plenty.

Status update: 576 listened to (58%), 425 remaining

June 7 – 50 Cent, The Adverts, Aerosmith, Big Star, Missy Elliott, The Kinks, Kraftwerk, Neil Young

50 Cent, ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin”.

This was on my ‘if I must’ pile due to repetitive singles ‘In Da Club’ and ‘P.I.M.P.’ and the dreaded tinge of Eminem producing, which usually guarantees tinny guitars and cheap synths. I blame Mike Elizondo, in-house musician for the Dre stable. Surprisingly, however, the album is generally an improvement on its two key singles. There’s an “everyone hates me, don’t care” defiance that you might expect from someone who’s been shot, but tinged with a metaphysical dread, while the Dre/Mathers production sounds motivated. Some gripes: the album tails off towards the end, and the haphazard sequencing makes it sound more like a home-made compliation than a coherent album (unusually for a rap album of its time, it’s light on skits and segues).

The Adverts, ‘Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts’.

I didn’t know much about this album going in, having forgotten ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’. Unusually, I warmed to this album as it went on, perhaps because it feels like the band’s playing and writing improves as it goes on (the early songs, including giveaway ‘One Chord Wonders’, betray the band’s punkish lack of musical chops). It doesn’t feel essential though.

Aerosmith, ‘Pump’.

A couple of great early songs and that’s it. You wouldn’t have thought that the same album would have ‘Love in an Elevator’ and a didgeridoo interlude, yet here we are (the album has three pointless interludes on unlikely instruments). The great, expensive-sounding production explains why this sold in such high volumes.

Big Star, ‘#1 Record’.

I listened to this a few weeks ago and forgot to add it to any other reviews. Sort of a predecessor to Weezer in its power-pop feel, this is occasionally quite lovely and occasionally quite sloppy, dependent on which of the two singers’ songs are being performed.

Missy ‘Misdemeanour’ Elliott, ‘Supa Dupa Fly’.

Producer Timbaland was the man in the early years of the century, and his childhood pal Missy his most charismatic foil. This album is fun enough but I think Elliott’s more immediate spoils (i.e. the hits) are on her later albums, none of which, alas, are on the list.

The Kinks, ‘The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society’.

In which the wonky pop act have a stab at Qualuudes-and-cuppa psychedelia, referencing steam trains and cricket as well as the titular village green. The album’s rarely dull and, as well as the obvious influence it had on Blur, you can see the shadow cast over early Of Montreal and (on the Mellotron-and-vocal track) Eels. Good.

Kraftwerk, ‘Autobahn’.

The first Kraftwerk album that sounded like Kraftwerk, even though the two drummer robots were yet to be assembled (sorry I meant “recruited”). ‘Autobahn’ is a delightful combination of synths’n’rhythm machine grooves interspersed with organic instruments (there’s an acoustic track on this album!). REAL MUSIC YEAH

Neil Young, ‘Harvest’.

Another album I came to with some reticience given the threat of harmonica, typically an instrument that serves as an avatar for a certain strain of dreary music (rootsy, ‘real’, male). However, there are seven of this guy’s albums on this list so in I went. Turns out I liked this album despite myself: the songwriting and his voice are strong enough to overpower the stench of authenticity in the arrangements. ‘Out on the Weekend’, ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’ are all familiar, but not in a way that feels cliche. Plus there’s a live track? What is this, ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’?