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Mixnotes 1: 90s Hip Hop Volume 1

Mixnotes 1: 90s Hip Hop Volume 1 

1. Nas – I Gave You Power 
An underrated MC who has consistently knocked out over-rated albums. ‘Illmatic’ is not as good as everyone tells you it is but was still stronger than it’s follow up ‘It Was Written’ from which this is the sole DJ Premier production. But it aint that that’s exciting here, it’s the conceit/concept and the execution – Nas imagines himself as a gun, passed from bad boy to bad boy, used and abused and exploited and unable to ever rest: “I'm seven inches four pounds, been through so many towns/Ohio to Little Rock to Canarsie, livin harshly”. Those kinds of details, the grounding of Nas’ poetry in a real unchanging America is what lifts his rhymes above, that and the leaps of imagination his imagery and metaphors take you on (“Always I'm in some shit/ My abdomen is the clip/The barrel is my dick uncircumcised/ Pull my skin back and cock me/ I bust off when they unlock me”) and the way he poises and times the following line: “Stunningly, tears fall down the eyes of these so-called tough guys”. For something based on a poetic conceit “I Gave You Power” it’s a deep, resigned, unforgettable statement.

2. Mobb Deep – “G.O.D Pt III”
Hip hop’s always used movies and Scarface is one of it’s most tapped sources but the powerfully cinematic opening to this track, and then the sublime meld of that headache-inducing beat and Moroder’s gorgeous slo-mo operatic-overture synths is one of 90s hip-hop’s most skin-puckering highlights. Rush rush give me YAYO

3. KRS-1 – Rappaz R N Danja 
An irrelevance by then, but not sounding like he cares, and one of Premo’s (pictured - don't like Kris' face) best beats. 

4. Biggie – Kick In The Door
Massively relevant by then, not to me if I'm honest (see that pulse? yeah, never laid a finger on it) but even I couldn’t resist this (perhaps down to Premo again, gotta admit it ADDICTED to his drum-sounds like Scientist or Ken Scott or Mike Chapman)

5. Don Jagwarr – Roll Em Up
Roundabout 94/95, there were a few reggae tracks that started boasting the biggest fuck-off beats on the planet: DJ had two on his Ice Cube mentored-album (DJ was first heard by most people on the ripsnorting ‘Wicked’ from Cube’s ‘Predator’ opus) but Supercat had a few stunning rerubs on the bubble as well and if you ain’t heard Louie Rankine’s 'Typewriter Remix' go do so immediately.

6. Kool G Rap – 4, 5, 6
What an utterly morose, depressing, dark, unforgiving album ‘4,5, 6’ was. I recall playing it deep into the wee smalls, weed-paranoia starting to feel like normality. 

7. Erick Sermon – Freak
‘Double Or Nothing’ was just amazing, not an album composed of highlights as such or obvious singles, but just an hour-long somnambulant haze of drug-suffused horniness and sound. Soapbar on a badge-pin lit, blown out, empty can of coke with the bottom cut off over the top, thumb on the drinkhole, let it burn out, straight hits to the head, fall over. Happy daze.

8. Jeru The Damaja – Invasion
Nastiest fucker I ever interviewed. Straight up racist. Once he figured out I wasn’t black,  clammed up, got surly, tret me like I was an idiot. I may have been but fuck you very much Jeru and thankyouforthemusic the songs I'm singing.

9. Cru – Blunts & Bakeemis
As you can see, a crew for the ladeeeez. Total highlight from the great lost ‘Dirty 30’ album, a record sent to me without any explanation or contact details or anything. I wish more PRs would do that, my shredder can only cope with so many press-releases at once.  

10.E-Bros – Funky Piano
Great sample from Les McCann's 'Roberta' by the mighty Roc Raida (pictured, the E-Bros themselves, like the Cocoa Brovaz oddly enough, have vanished WITHOUT A TRACE), from the fab ‘New Jersey Drive Vol. 2’ soundtrack (soundtracks in the 90s were a goldmine for great rap music). 

11. Cypress Hill – Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk
Two minutes that sums up everything Muggs can do. Went and interviewed them once in their house in the Hollywood hills as a follow up to a breif chat snatched at the Brixton Academy. Jesus you could smell the weed as soon as you were in walking distance. Pool tables, big dogs, gold-records all over the wall, nice place. That debut album is the best thing anyone involved ever made. 

12. Camp Lo – Luchini
WOW. Got to #74 in the UK charts y’know?! When you first heard this you knew it was gonna be a record you would never forget for the rest of your life. The album ‘Uptown Saturday Night’ was half great but they never (how could anyone?) topped this – soon to return with Pete Rock on the mix for their ’80 Blocks From Tiffanys’ project. Hmmm, we shall see . . . (I predict boredom and brilliance in equal measure but then I’m a pessimist) 

13. Ice Cube – Nappy Dug Out
Most offensive line here? Plenty of contenders but I’d have to go for ‘Can take on three men built like He-Men/ Her little-bitty twat got gallons of semen.’ Great Booker T (‘Hip Hug Her’) sample throughout, and then a nice cheeky thieve of Mandrill’s ‘Fencewalk’ for the ‘JimmyHat’ outro. I liked it when hip-hop producers could just STEAL. Biz Mark y'dimwit, I blame your daft soundraid on Paul Simon entirely. 

14. Smoothe Da Hustler - My Brother My Ace 
The back’n’forth between Smoothe & Trigger the Gambler on the closing verses of this is still one of the most astonishing vocal performances Nuyorican hip-hop ever gave us. The only track SDH ever gave us as incredible as 'Broken Language' (you know not? SEEK) from back when
was thee greatest label on the planet. 

15. Show & AG – Neighbahood Sickness
From the mighty, dungeonesque, malevolent masterpiece that was the ‘Goodfellas’ album. One of K-Mart/Kevin Martin/The Bug’s all time faves.

16. Pete Rock – Tru Master
Interviewed PR last year. In the words of Lili Von Schtupp VOT A NOITH GOYYY

17. Kwest The Madd Ladd – Damn
Greatest lost album of 90s hip-hop? Yeah KMD have a shout (both ‘Mr Hood’ & ‘Black Bastards’) but so does Kwest for his fantabulous ‘This Is My First Album’. Biggest beat in the galaxy popping off here, came out the same year on the same label as MC 900ft Jesus’ unforgettable ‘One Step Ahead Of The Spider’, Def American were ACE, no way Russell Simmons would’ve gone near this, but Rick noise-freak Rubin knew a doozie when it waggled in his beard.

18. Kool G Rap – It’s A Shame
As featured on this amazing 12” with ‘Wu-Wear The Garment Renaissance’ (chaHHoon) both from the 'High School High' soundtrack– lush mid 90s NYC rap par excellence up there with Real Live & Blazhay.

19. Gravediggaz – 1800 Suicide
‘Niggamortis ’ was too joyous a goth-rap masterpiece to be depressing (Prince Paul can’t really ‘do’ depressing) and even this paean to throwing-a-7 gives you more hoots than shivers. Amazing live in Brixton supporting Cube. RZA not just as guiding black-light but as suffusion of a new hip-hop sonic aesthetic. 
20. Xzibit – Birds Eye View 
Before he pimped cars and himself, he made rap music and just pimped himself. ‘At The Speed Of Life’ was occassionally awesome. This was one of those occassions.


  1. Yuss. Some great tracks there. Oh yuss indeedy.

  2. "Double Or Nothing’ was just amazing, not an album composed of highlights as such or obvious singles, but just an hour-long somnambulant haze of drug-suffused horniness and sound"

    agreed definitely my favourite e sermon produced album , or tied with 'insomnia the album' from 96, you never (or rarely) see either in best of 90s hip hop lists

  3. Thanks for reminding me there's a "Double or Nothing" gap in my record collection. I always quite liked his first solo album too.


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