Last week while I was leading the discussions on XXL’s official Twitter (@XXLStaff), there was one very interesting moment when someone asked me which artist I believed would deliver our next hip-hop classic. I responded Kanye, but of course that’s just a (educated?) guess. You can’t really predict a classic. If you want to take it a step further, many albums that I now consider classic, I didn’t actually love on the first listen. When it comes to classic music and timeless albums I think the songs on the CD (or MP3s or cassette or however you listen to music these days) are only one part of it. To me, classics are also defined by the formative experiences that we have while listening to the music.
I remember buying Nas’ Illmatic from Nobody Beats the Wiz in Brooklyn. I got home, ripped off the packaging, threw the CD into the 5-disc changer and was disappointed when I took my first listen. For one, I had heard most of the songs on underground college radio (shout to Stretch and Bobbito). Secondly, I felt the overall vibe of the album was too mellow. Remember, this was back in 1994 and groups like Das Efx were killing it with the multi-syllabic, super fast rhyme styles. But somewhere around the time of Illmatic I discovered weed (just say no kids) and it seemed my whole life mellowed out to the tune of Nas’ debut disc. Over the coming spring weeks, songs like “The World is Yours,” “One Love” and “Memory Lane” became the soundtrack to my teenage life.
I had a similar experience with Wu-Tang’s Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. Upon first listen, the album came off very abrasive, like a punch in the face. It took a while for me to get used to that. Wu dropped when I was a freshman in high school, so there were a lot of fights back then, trying to fit in. Wu soon became the soundtrack to my youthful aggression. The fact that Jaÿ-Z (notice the old school font) didn’t include “In My Lifetime” or “Can’t Get With That” on Reasonable Doubt was hard for me to face. I loved both of those records and felt Jaÿ was switching his style up to sell records. It took me a few weeks to get over that.
Another classic album in my eyes was Young Jeezy’s Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. Shit, I didn’t even give that album a spin until about a month after it dropped. I just didn’t get Jeezy until one day I heard DJ Enuff spin “Talk to Em” on Hot 97. I thought it was so dope that I immediately ran out and bought TM 101. ’Til this day “Talk to Em” remains my favorite Jeezy song.
Nowadays, maybe we’ll never get another hip-hop classic. It seems these days that everyone is too busy being critical, instead of listening, enjoying and living. Or maybe the music really does suck. What do you guys think? Who’s most likely to drop hip-hop’s next classic LP? —Rob Markman