3 Classic Hip Hop Albums You FINALLY Have Time to Listen to Properly, with Kevin Beacham (of Rhymesayers)
We recently published a piece on indie labels in hip hop. In our latest piece connecting to the culture of hip hop we discuss classic hip hop albums with a member of the Rhymesayers family. Croix sits down with Kevin Beacham to discuss some classic albums for your listening pleasure
Kevin Beacham (AKA DJ Nikoless) has been involved in hip hop music for longer than many of today’s fans have walked upright. His deep knowledge about the art form’s origins and vivid curiosity about its future are apparent in just a few minutes’ discussion with him.
The Rise of Kevin Beacham
Growing up on US military bases in Karlsruhe and Stuttgart, Germany in the early 1980s, a young Beacham collected hip hop records and compiled mix tapes on a dual cassette deck (which he still owns). Later, living in the suburbs of Chicago and Minneapolis, he honed his turntablism skills under the name DJ Nikoless Skratch. Beacham also developed his writing chops his own Caught In The Middle magazine, as well as Los Angeles’ Urb, Seattle’s Flavor Magazine, and Guillotine Hip Hop, perhaps the very first internet hip hop magazine ever. Since then, he has shared his focus and passion for hip hop in a variety of positions. For example, as a radio host, educator, DJ, and freelance writer, while continuing to work behind the scenes with Rhymesayers Entertainment (Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, Evidence, Prof, etc).
Three Classics to Rule Them All (well, sort of)
If there’s an upside to Coronavirus, it’s this: solitary long-form entertainment is the new normal, and you’ve probably never had this much of an excuse to listen to great hip hop records front to back. And while Beacham stresses that picking the ‘best’ hip hop albums is absolutely impossible for him, the following are three absolute stone cold classics, from three different generations, that will NOT steer your headphones wrong during this time of social distancing. And so, let’s begin…
Wildstyle Original Soundtrack, Various Artists (1983)
“It’s great. This was definitely one of the first—if not the first hip hop record—where every song has rapping and/or hard beats, and every song is new. I didn’t grow up in New York, so things that were theoretical for me—like rapping in the park—became real when I heard Wildstyle. Before that,I had heard about MC battles, but with the song ‘MC Battle’ by Busy B. and Lil Rodney C. (of the Funky Four Plus One More), this was the first time many people outside New York could actually hear two rappers battle in real time. You’ve got some of the earliest songs with DJs scratching too, like Grandwizard Theodore doing ‘Military Cut.’
A Hip Hop Tour of New York by Subway
And Wildstyle also has ‘South Bronx Subway Rap’ by Grandmaster Caz, which is brilliant. He takes you on a ride through New York by subway, showing you the poverty, explaining how that music came to be, and why it sounds and feels the way it does. And also, how to rise above it! And Caz is the rapper’s rapper. If you wanna know who influenced many of the great MCs of the late 80s and into the 90s, like Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane, and L. L. Cool J, they’re gonna say Caz. He’s one of the most important rappers of his generation, and this song doesn’t get the credit and recognition it deserves.”
Liquid Swords, GZA (1995)
“The whole Liquid Swords album is a brilliant piece of art. GZA is a very uniquely talented writer; it’s in the subjects he picks, the way he builds a narrative, the description, the perspective, the wordplay. He’s one of the greatest. And RZA’s ability to find the right backdrop for what GZA’s doing; it’s like the perfect creative marriage of minds.
Now, before this and before Wu Tang’s 36 Chambers, way back in 1991 The Genius (GZA) had an album on Cold Chillin’ Records that got some bad press because of a single called ‘Come Do Me‘ that was basically an RnB love song! And a lot of the hardcore rap fans saw that music video and determined that The Genius wasn’t for them. Which is unfortunate, because that album has some great material, but it didn’t sell well. So after that video, you might have thought you’d never hear from GZA again. And he was gone from ’91 to ’93—which in rap years, in music industry years—is an infinitely long time. So him coming back from that with 36 Chambers and then to release a solo record as strong Liquid Swords, it’s just amazing.”
Terror Management, Billy Woods (2019)
“Billy Woods is a rapper and label owner from Brooklyn, and his writing is next level. Back in 2012 he had an album called History Will Absolve Me—which I bought because I thought it was a soul reissue—and then the first song, ‘Crocodile Tears’ just blew my mind. I remember thinking what a great voice he has, and his writing is so good. Last year Woods put out two albums, Hiding Places with Kenny Segal, and Terror Management, and those were my two favorite albums of the year. I really can’t choose one; they’re both so good. Now, it’s rare to drop two albums in a year, but it’s just unprecedented for them to both be that good.
Dark, Humorous, and Cryptic
Billy Woods fits the times, and these times are dark! His work has humor, it’s cryptic, and it’s not preachy, but you still learn something about the flaws of humanity through it. Sometimes he’s the most flawed character in the story, but he always shows you the beauty and the hardships of being human. And when I say beauty, I mean it’s incredibly witty and also incredibly depressing if you think about it too much! Billy Woods has everything; it’s all there.”
Kevin Beacham AKA DJ Nikoless is currently editing his first book, Microphone Mathematics, a detailed history of the evolution of songwriting in hip hop circa ’79-’89, which is tentatively scheduled for release in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kevinbeacham
Keep it Loud!
We hope you enjoyed our discussion of classic hip hop with Rhymesayers’ Kevin Beacham! Hip Hop is part of our foundation at Loud News Net, and the focus of our most popular article.
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