MiG jumps into the year end ‘Best of’ lists, with Craig McManus leading off with his Top 20 albums of the year:
In the past, I’ve always written a blurb about each album explaining it’s inclusion on my list. Over the years of checking other people’s lists, however, I’ve noticed that I rarely read similar blurbs. Instead I scroll through to see what made it, what I agree with, what I disagree with, and with what I am unfamiliar. Then I move on to the next list. As I highly doubt I’m alone in this technique, I’m going to dispense with the paragraph of explanation and instead simply note the word or phrase by which it is best encapsulated. Think of it as a ‘Best of’ word association. It’ll save me time, and perhaps someone will actually read it rather than skimming to the next image.
On August 11, 1973, a young man going by DJ Kool Herc hosted a “Back to School Jam” in the rec room of the above building in the Bronx. That party is now recognized as the birth of hip hop. That’s right, hip hop is 40.
Boogie Down Productions – “9mm Goes Bang” (March 3, 1987): B-Boy Records
Formed in the Bronx (the ‘Boogie Down’) in the mid 1980s, BDP was made up initially of MC KRS-One (the name was his graffiti tag) and DJ Scott La Rock. La Rock was working as a social worker at the Franklin Avenue Men’s Shelter in the Bronx when he met shelter resident KRS-One. KRS-One initially dismissed La Rock as just another social worker, but the two struck up a bond when KRS-One arrived at a party to find his social worker behind the DJ equipment, and the duo soon began working together.
Memorial Day weekend in the Twin Cities brings independent hip hop label Rhymesayers Entertainment’sSoundset festival to Canterbury Park in Shakopee. This year’s festival promised to be the largest yet with headlining act Snoop Dogg supported by Rhymesayers’ artists Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, and P.O.S, plus national acts Mac Miller, Tech N9ne, Juicy J, and Schoolboy Q among others. Also on the bill was the great Busta Rhymes, but for reasons as yet unexplained, Busta did not show for the festival. Neither that disappointment nor the unseasonably cool weather and strong winds, though, failed to dampen the spirits of the 28,000+ hip hop fans who turned out for the show.
In SYDLHH: Part 1, we looked at some of hip hop’s earliest influential tracks. As mentioned therein, the DJs ruled the roost in early hip hop, and most artists got their start wanting to be DJs. In fact, even Jay-Z notes in his memoir/book of annotated lyrics Decoded that he first wanted to be a DJ. It didn’t take long, however, for MCs to take the hip hop crown, and with just a few exceptions (e.g. J Dilla, DJ Screw, the RZA, DJ Premier) they’ve never given it back. In SYDLHH: Part 2 we will look at some of the earliest MCs and how they furthered the growth of the genre. I intended initially to limit this overview to just one post, but there is simply too much to say about the 8 MCs I want to cover, so Part 2 will go up in two posts (and even limiting it to two posts requires me to repeatedly remind myself that this series is just an overview).
Some facts about me: I’m white (a full fledged WASP actually); I’m middle class; I’m in my 30s; I’m a father; I live in the midwest; and I love hip hop. It’s that last one that surprises people. Due to the first five things listed I’m not supposed to like hip hop, even though I’m a huge music fan. Nonetheless, whether it’s Golden Era East Coast, hardcore West Coast, southern, indie, or otherwise, if it falls under the hip hop umbrella there’s a good chance I listen to it.
The simple reason people are surprised by my hip hop fandom is it’s not ‘my’ music. Hip hop, rose from the streets to tell the stories of the street. Meanwhile, I’m about as ‘street’ as a labradoodle, and can’t pretend to relate to hip hop’s stories through personal experience. Those stories, or at least the ones many people identify as wholly representative of hip hop, are largely made up of hustling, gang banging, and the like, and involve violence, drug dealing, misogyny, and other things utterly alien to my suburban, midwestern upbringing. Obviously songs of this type are a subcategory of the broader hip hop spectrum, but the real problem with the assumption that I wouldn’t be a hip hop fan is the underlying presumption that just because I haven’t personally experienced these things I have no interest in the art that is being created as a result. Good art should challenge its audience in some way and hip hop often does so by confronting its listeners with hard truths.
It’s the time of year when folks post their “Best of” lists, and MiG is no exception. So without further ado, here are the Top 20 albums (and some others that deserve recognition) according to Craig McManus:
1. Purity Ring – Shrines: 2011 introduced us to Purity Ring through the singles “Ungirthed”, “Lofticries”, and “Belispeak”, and each of these songs could have made my best of list. Accordingly, I was highly anticipating the release of the band’s debut full length. When news broke that each of these songs would be included on Shrines, however, I grew concerned that Purity Ring didn’t have the depth of quality for a full LP. Obviously, Shrines’ placement on this list demonstrates that my concern was unfounded. With tracks like “Obedear”, “Fineshrine”, and “Crawlersout” added to the early singles, Purity Ring created a dark synth pop gem. The only real negative to the album is the inclusion of the frankly dreadful, “Grandloves”.
Founded in 1995 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rhymesayers Entertainment has risen to the top of the heap of independent hip hop labels. Over the years it has grown from releasing albums solely by its founders, to becoming the home base for most of the surprisingly fertile Minnesota hip hop scene, and finally to being the label home for albums by indie hip hop greats regardless of hometown. In fact, since its founding, Atmosphere, MF Doom, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, and P.O.S have all called Rhymesayers home.
Despite this success, Rhymesayers continues to expand as it follows its mission to put its “dreams, passions, and destinies in their own hands.” One of those dreams is to continue growing hip hop in the Twin Cities area, so in 2008 Rhymesayers founded the Soundset hip hop festival. Held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Soundset started in the Metrodome parking lot, but has since moved to Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota.
More important then the location switch, however, the last five years have seen Soundset grow beyond showcasing solely artists on the Rhymesayers label to bringing both titans and the next generation of hip hop to the upper Midwest. 2012 was no exception as Ghostface Killah & Raekwon and Lupe Fiasco joined Atmosphere as scheduled headliners while Action Bronson, Kendrick Lamar, and Danny Brown played earlier in the day with Rhymesayers’ own I Self Devine and Evidence.
This is part of a series suggesting ingredients for mixtapes or playlists on a variety of themes.
Every December I put together a mixtape of what I find to be some of the best tracks of the preceding year. I say ‘some of the best tracks’ because in addition to including great songs I have two main goals: 1) For the mix to actually be a mix of sounds and styles; and 2) for the parts to make up a coherent whole.
As I noted in my best albums of 2011 post, I found the year somewhat weak when it came to top shelf albums. When I sat down to put together my favorite tracks that was not an issue, though, and I had to do some serious cutting. So while this list gives me a chance to recognize a number of bands that do not appear on the album list, tracks like Bon Iver’s “Holocene” (ridiculously good despite my indifference to the rest of that album), Tom Waits’ “New Year’s Eve”, Low’s “Witches”, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s “Heart in Your Heartbreak” ended up being elbowed out.
This is a part of a series on music that has influenced contributors to Music is Good.
I truly believe that music discovery is a life long process and one that should cross all genre barriers. It is absolutely dumbfounding to me whenever I hear someone claim that “there isn’t any good music these days” or that a particular genre (usually hip hop or country) “is all crap”. I certainly realize, mostly because my wife loves to remind me, I’m not a ‘normal’ person when it comes to music, but it seems elementary to me that if anyone explores a genre a bit they will find something that speaks to them. Below are the 10 albums (in my personal chronological order) that have had the biggest impact on my life, and led me down my musical paths.