various artists :: Hip Hop Essentials, Vol. 1 :: Tommy Boy Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

"Ask me about my skills and I'll reply top shelf
Ha ha ha, to tell the truth well I amaze myself"
- Tito

To tell the truth I don't know if the Fearless Four ever released another song other than this one, but some artists only need one song to cement their place in hip-hop history. Sugarhill Gang would have been remembered if their only contribution ever was "Rapper's Delight." Egyptian Lover secured a place in the old school annals with "Egypt Egypt." Salt-N-Pepa became stars with the release of "Tramp," although admittedly that had as much or more to do with the B-Side "Push It." Nevertheless it should come as no surprise that Tommy Boy decided to include all of these songs when releasing "Hip Hop Essentials, Vol. 1." And when I hear a song like the Marley Marl produced "Symphony" who am I to argue? This song is indeed ESSENTIAL to hip-hop history, and Master Ace sets off verse one lovely:

"Listen closely, so your attention's undivided
Many in the past have tried to do what I did
Just the way I came off then, I'm gonna come off
Stronger and longer, even with the drum off
I keep on goin and flowin just like a river
I got a whole lot to give so I'ma give a
little at a time, new trails are blazin
Action is in effect, and always stays in
Yeah, just like a shot from a cannon
I am the man in charge and I've been plannin
a jam strong enough that it can lift your soul
I'm the originator, and my rhymes are made of gold
Once you hear the capital "A" rap, it'll stay
with you for awhile, it won't go away"

True indeed. Even Craig G sounded nice on this joint - his "mmm mmm mmm, ain't that somethin" line has to be one of the most sampled in rap history. Why was every solo album he released back in those days the biggest piece of shit? Anyway he has the good fortune to be rapping here with Kool G. Rap and Big Daddy Kane over one of the best piano samples ever, and if this isn't the greatest rap posse song of all time it's certainly in the top five. Now I'd like to claim it's all peaches and cream like all of the joints mentioned as being "Essentials" thus far, but quite honestly it's a little confusing how Tommy Boy made some of these choices. Anybody making an album of the most important rap songs ever would include BDP's "South Bronx," but would you include J.J. Fad's "Supersonic?" Seriously.

"We're J.J. Fad and we're here to rock
Rhymes like ours could never be stopped
See, there's three of us and I know we're fresh
Party rockers, non-stoppers, and our names are def
See, the 'J' is for just, the other for jammin'
The 'F' is for fresh, 'A' and 'D' def
Behind the turntables is DJ Train
Mixin' and scratchin' is the name of the game"

Honestly the best part of that song was what MF Doom sampled for the track "Hoe Cakes" - the beatboxing and the word "SUPER." It's even more perplexing when you consider that JJ's producer Dr. Dre did much more "essential" songs for everyone from D.O.C. to Eazy-E to N.W.A. Here's another case in point - nobody's going to dispute that the MC Ricky D (Slick Rick) and Doug E. Fresh single "La-Di-Da-Di" is one of the most important in rap's history. There's probably no other rap song that has inspired so many cover versions by other rappers, and the track turned the British born Rick into a hip-hop superstar as well as one of its most sampled voices of all time. Oddly the album only credits Doug E. Fresh and completely ignores Rick being on it, but that's not near the travesty of making such a seminal classic share top billing with "Hey Ladies" by the Beastie Boys. As Rick himself would say, "What's wrong?" Read on:

"Hey ladies in the place I'm callin' out to ya
There never was a city kid truer and bluer
There's more to me than you'll ever know
And I've got more hits than Sadaharu Oh
Ton Thumb Tom Cushman or Tom Foolery
Date women on T.V. with the help of Chuck Woolery
Words are flowing out just like the Grand Canyon
And I'm always out looking for a female companion"

"Hey Ladies" is a decent enough song, a fine track off the often overlooked "Paul's Botique," and quite worthy if we're compiling together a compilation of "Beastie Boys Essentials." That's not what this album is supposed to be though. As essential hip-hop tracks LET ALONE Beastie Boys songs go "Paul Revere" would be a FAR SUPERIOR choice, let alone the fact "Fight for Your Right (to Party)" was a far bigger crossover hit than "Hey Ladies" could ever hope to be. It's the word "essential" that sticks in my craw here, no matter how hard I try to scrub it out. Yes the "Genius Rap" by Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is essential, but it also comes years after the Sugarhill Gang already looped the same beat for "It's Nasty (Genius of Love)." That's arguably just as essential if not far more so, since they did it first (and IMHO better).

On any album with only 12 tracks, it's going to be damn near impossible to release a "Hip Hop Essentials" and have it be in any way satisfying. The good news is that this is only the first of a whole series of "Volumes" from Tommy Boy, which is sure to expand the set to include the most important rap songs ever release. Three questions still remain though. One - why not just release all of the volumes as a box set? Two - what criteria are they using to consider songs like Melle Mel's "Scorpio" as more essential than "White Lines" or "The Message?" Three - should we really trust Tommy Boy's judgment of what's "essential" when these picks are seemingly so haphazard and random? I give Tommy Boy an A+ for the idea, but on "Vol. 1" they're getting a C for execution, and that's being generous. Still if you're in the mood for some old 1980's era rap all of these songs are acceptable, even if the organization and selection make no sense whatsoever.

Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10

Originally posted: February 21, 2006