Friday, June 26, 2009

The Top 10 Rap Songs That Sample Michael Jackson

Some mourn in silence, some celebrate by dancing to classic tunes. I write rap lists. Here is my List of the 10 Best Rap Songs to sample Michael Jackson. Enjoy.


Lamont's Lists
June 2009
The Top 10 Rap Songs That Sample Michael Jackson

1. Izzo - Jay-Z (From "I Want You Back" / Produced by Kanye West) - This is the song that ignited Kanye's career, setting off a string of hits where he would leverage sped up soul classics to great effect. Jay-Z matched Kanye's clever idea by bringing forth some of his most captivating rhymes: some outlandish ("Can't leave rap alone the game needs me"), some humble ("I do this for my culture") and surely his most unforgettable hook ever ("H to the Izzo").

2. It Ain't Hard To Tell - Nas (From "Human Nature" / Produced by The Large Professor) - Nas got his start from a cameo appearance on "Live at the BBQ" from a Main Source album. So it's only fitting that the lead single from his remarkable debut album would be produced by the Large Professor. Nas is magnetic, clearly destined for greatness. A young prodigy not unlike MJ himself.

3. O.P.P. - Naughty By Nature (From "ABC" / Produced by Naughty By Nature) - As big a pop smash as any rap song song ever. O.P.P. was simply contagious, thanks in no small part to the killer Motown hit-making machine that wrote "ABC", used liberally here to give O.P.P. its infectious bounce.

4. Breakadawn - De La Soul (From "I Can't Help It" / Produced By Prince Paul) - One of my favorite De La tracks ever, from the highly slept upon classic album "Buhloone Mind State". How appropriate that it comes from one of my favorite sleeper cuts from MJ's "Off The Wall".

5. Got Your Money - Ol' Dirty Bastard (From "Billie Jean" / Produced by The Neptunes) - The Neptunes incorporated the famous opening "Billie Jean" down beat at the Start of "Got Your Money", setting the tone for a catchy little tune from ODB. Kelis's sweet hook almost made you forget ODB's filthy ramblings.

6. Letter To My Unborn Child - Tupac (From "Liberian Girl" / Produced by ?) - Pac at his eerie, poignant best. The "Liberian Girl" sample contributes to the somber mood.

7. You Ain't A Killer - Big Pun (From "With A Child's Heart" / Produced by Young Lord) - Producer Young Lord lifts a nasty baseline from an unsung 1973 Michael Jackson track. Big Pun then does what he always did...spits fire.

8. Good Life - Kanye West (From "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)") / Produced by Kanye West) - Kanye's celebratory hit is propelled by a delicious sample of PYT. To say that it works brilliantly is an understatement.

9. Hey Lover - LL Cool J (From "The Lady In My Life" / Produced by Trackmasters) - The undisputed king of rap ballads scored a Grammy by stacking the deck for this one, enlisting Boys II Men and borrowing some flavor from MJ's opus "The Lady In My Life".

10. All That I Got Is You - Ghostface Killah (From "Maybe Tomorrow" / Produced by Rza) - Ghostface taps Mary J to repurpose the melody from "Maybe Tomorrow". He then pours out his soul and nearly moves us all to tears.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The 10 Greatest Lyrical Performances Of All Time

Lamont’s Lists
June 2009

What’s up peeps. Here is my attempt at capturing the 10 greatest lyrical performances of all time. This was really an impossible task. Clearly I have not heard every rap song ever recorded. So I am sure I have missed quite a few gems from lesser-known artists and from B-Sides material from some of my favorites MC’s. I also realize that this is a highly subjective exercise. What sounds fresh to one person may be absolutely grating to the next. But I am taking a stab nonetheless. Somebody has to do it, so why not me? There are a few important ground rules to note however:
  1. These are not the BEST SONGS ever made (that list would surely include “Nuthin’ But A G-Thang” and “Top Billin’) - These are just songs that contain the best lyrics
  2. These are SOLO PERFORMANCES – Group efforts and cameo appearances are excluded
  3. To avoid the “fallacy of recency” (I made that up). I have excluded songs that were released after 2006. 
  4. Remember what constitutes great lyrics:
As always, your feedback is appreciated (even if the only purpose of it is to point out the holes in my logic. That means you…Bryan, Ellis, Rubin, Scott, and of course Marcus). Enjoy.


The 10 Greatest Lyrical Performances Of All Time

“I’ll make a muscle, grab the mic and hustle / while you stand
dazed and amazed I’ll bust a little rhyme with authority,

1. RawBig Daddy Kane (1988) – After Big Daddy Kane lit up the summer of 1988 with “Raw” he was instantly elevated to rap super-hero status. To this day he is universally regarded as one of the all time great MC’s, mainly on the strength of “Raw” alone. It’s that good. Yes, the song was spectacular because of its technical brilliance – a never-ending deluge of unforgettable, impossibly well-crafted battle rhymes, delivered with a perfectly balanced blend of Busta Rhymes’ contagious energy and Jay-Z’s poised precision. It was rapid-fire relentless, yet somehow butta’ smooth. What was also wonderful about the song however was the pure joy of how accessible it was. Despite the blinding speed and non-linear complexity of the lyrics (rhyming words and phrases such as “Tylenol” with “why you all”), it was still a breeze to digest and oh-so-much fun to memorize and sing-along to. That’s the thing that transformed it from merely great, to GREATEST EVER.

“All I had was bad, from my shoes to my pad / and for the first
time in my life, loaning money to dad”

2. Road To The RichesKool G Rap (1989) – No song has ever come close to “Road To The Riches” in terms of matching the sheer number of kick-ass rhymes that G-Rap packed into a single record. As an accomplishment in brain-bending lyrical dexterity, it’s stupefying. Not only did the guy pretty much deliver the entire rap in limericks (I’m not kidding…limericks), he also managed to craft a thoroughly engaging narrative – complete with a compelling story arc and a happy ending. Want to know why G-Rap references are so in vogue among today’s hot rappers? “Road To The Riches” is a good place to start your research.
“Original, pure, un-tampered, a down sista / boy I tell ya’, I miss her”

3. I Used To Love H.E.R. Common (1994) – “I Used To Love H.E.R.” is rap’s “The Usual Suspects” moment. The genius of the storyline -- a veritable history lesson on the evolution and downward spiral of rap music, is only revealed at the end of the song, compelling you to press rewind and kick yourself for not seeing the plot twist coming. And like “The Usual Suspects", the remarkable cleverness never gets old, making you smile wryly even when you know what’s coming, even after hearing it for the one thousandth time. The young rapper, known as Common Sense at the time, also made sure you enjoyed the record even if you never “got it” due to his majestic flow and inventive rhyme patterns. Enjoy the concept or enjoy the individual punch lines, either way, it’s a masterpiece.

“So back up, regroup, get a grip, come equipped / You’re thenext contestant. Clap your hands. You won a trip”

4. Follow The LeaderRakim (1988) – Most of the songs here made the list not just because of their lyrical prowess, but also because of how easy they are on the ears. The great rappers have a way of making the difficult seem easy. They let you enjoy the record without having to think too deeply about it. With Rakim’s “Follow The Leader” that is definitely not the case. You could listen to “Follow the Leader” a thousand times (I have) and not be able to memorize it (I haven’t). While never straying off the theme, Rakim takes you on a spiritual journey, traveling at “magnificent speeds across the universe”. It’s challenging, thought provoking, and thoroughly inaccessible. This is not pop-rap for the masses. In his own words “this is for the listeners”.

"Live amongst no roses, only the drama / For real, a nickel plate is 
my fate, my medicine is the ganja"

5. Memory LaneNas (1994) – Of all of Nas’s classics (he could fill a Top Ten list by himself). “Memory Lane” is my favorite. There’s just something transformative about it. His melodic voice and DJ Premier’s jazzy production create a dreamlike mood that is hard to escape. And the rhymes are a thing of beauty. Each one is like a vividly rendered movie scene. The technical complexity is astounding. Let’s dissect one verse in particular. Listen again and note his use of consonance (repeating words that start with the same letter, e.g. “”true in the game as long as Blood is Blue in my vein””). And assonance (use of the same vowel sound within phrases, e.g., “I pour a Heineken brew to my deceased crew”). And how he wraps rhymes within rhymes across broad passages (e.g., on Memory Lane”). All together now: “True in the game as long as blood is blue in my vein / I pour a Heineken brew to my deceased crew on Memory Lane”. That’s poetry. That’s rap as high art.

“Isn’t this great? Your flight leaves at 8 / her flight lands at 9, my game just rewinds”

6. One More Chance (Remix)The Notorious B.I.G. (1995) – What Biggie accomplishes on “One More Chance” is nothing short of amazing. Without breaking a sweat he masterfully paints a picture of the ultimate lush gangsta lifestyle, so vibrant it virtually leaps through your headphones. Every verse is a mini-miracle, unveiling a river of intricate rhymes that swell and flow and simply delight. It’s sticky sweet and so addictive that you could play the song in the morning, find yourself humming it silently throughout the day and still reciting it over dinner that evening. A flawless melding of skill and showmanship. I’ll say it again…amazing.

“’Cause yo I’m like an arrow and Scott is the cross bow /
Say something now…thought so”

7. PoetryKRS One (1986) – After debuting with a couple of attention-grabbing dis records, KRS One distinguished himself as not just another trash talking MC with the release of “Poetry”. KRS’s delivery style is chatty, articulate and self-assured. You get the instant impression that you are in the presence of a thinking man’s rapper. Clever boasts ride comfortably alongside ominous threats. Rhymes blend seamlessly from one to the next, sometimes ending a riff well after you expect it, twisting, starting and then re-starting with the greatest of ease. This record marks the beginning of True School hip hop; Straight-ahead, gimmick-free: a man, a mic, a beat and a determination to spit mind-blowing rhymes.

“I rope-a-dope the evil with righteous bobbin’ and weavin’ / And
let the good get even”

8. Welcome To The Terrordome - Chuck D (1990) – What do you do when it’s 1990 and you are Chuck D? Head of seminal rap group Public Enemy. Mired in controversy for your fiery political views and the recent untimely remarks made against the Jewish community by band mate Professor Griff. Trying to make a follow up album to your massively heralded “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back”, a record that catapulted you to the center of not just hip hop, but the entire popular music universe, with expectations for you to be the voice of Black America’s youth. Well, with all eyes on him, Chuck D dug deep and penned “Terrordome”, his best work ever. His bombastic delivery never sounded better. “When I get mad I put it down on a pad / give you something that you never had!” raps Chuck as he erupts with emotion, pouring out rhymes in fits and starts that perfectly capture his current state of anguish -- a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. You feel passion and determination acutely. You also marvel at his remarkable skills.

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy /
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti

9. Lose Yourself - Eminem (2002) – Let’s review the opening lines from “Lose Yourself”. Dude rhymes: “palms sweaty” w/ “arms heavy” w/ “sweater already” w/ “mom’s spaghetti”. Are you kiddin’ me? That might just be the greatest opening verse ever. Couple the trickery of the lyrics with Em’s singular ability to manipulate his delivery – here gradually heightening his pitch and speed throughout each verse to convey an increasing sense of desperation -- and you get one hell of a performance. This semi-autobiographical tour de force is raps answer to “Eye Of The Tiger”; fully deserving of its Academy Award and, as far as I’m concerned, every other accolade it’s ever received.

“Ran up the stairs up to the top floor, opened up the door there
guess who he saw? Dave the dope fiend shootin’ dope who don’t
know the meaning of water nor soap”

10. Children’s StorySlick Rick (1988) – This is the greatest piece of prose from rap’s greatest storyteller. “Children’s Story” is an end-to-end treat for many reasons, most notably because of Rick’s sublime narrative skills. He’s a man who knows how to craft an intriguing yarn, here pacing the listener along and delivering the climax at just the right moment. His charming British accent is used to full effect, swapping from normal to sing-songy delivery when needing to highlight a key detail, keeping you off-balance yet pleasantly engaged. The fact that it all seems so simple is what makes it extraordinary.

15 More to Round Out The Top 25
11. MathematicsMos Def – Mos breaks down the plight of the poor and disenfranchised using “simple mathematics”. Stunning.
12. Lost Ones Lauryn Hill – Lauryn delivers a blistering attack to those who would choose to betray her… “Karma karma Karma comes back to you hard!”
13. Incarcerated ScarfacesRaekwon – The best series of nonsensical words that sound sweet when strung together…ever.
14. Warning - The Notorious B.I.G. – Biggie deploys the nifty trick of portraying two characters within the same song.
15. One Mic Nas – Nas starts slow, builds steadily, and then strikes fire.
16. - Ice Cube – Mean spirited and gleefully so. But his insights are spot on brilliant.
17. I Got It MadeSpecial Ed – The youngest in charge; deadly effective and as cool as the other side of the pillow.
18. Can’t Knock The HustleJay-Z – Jigga man sets the tone for a world-beating career. Superlative boasts, superior word play. Superman has arrived.
19. Definition Of A Thug N!#$@Tupac – The best ever justification for the thug life.
20. Ghetto BastardTreach – Treach is poignant, empathetic and incredibly impressive.
21. Liquid SwordsGZA – An enigma wrapped inside of a metaphor. Keep up if you can.
22. I Ain’t No JokeRakim – By the time Rakim harkens back to those “seven MC’s” we’re already completely drinking the kool Aid.
23. Who We BeDMX – DMX matches his cadence to the baseline like no one has ever done before or since.
24. The Way I Am Eminem – Em stretches a classic Rakim line into a breathtaking, stress-relieving opus.
25. SaturdayLudacris – It’s exhausting trying to keep up with Luda as he switches styles a million times while dispensing whip-smart braggadocio.

And 75 More That I Love (in alphabetical order)
75 Bars - Black Thought / Ain't No Half Steppin' - Big Daddy Kane / Bad To The Bone - Kool G Rap / Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos - Chuck D / Blow Your Mind – Redman / Breathe – Fabolous / Bring 'Em Out - T.I. / Bring The Pain - Method Man / Butter – Phife / Buzzin' - Royce Da 5'9 / Changes – Tupac / Come Clean - Jeru The Damaja / Court Is Now In Session - Chill Rob G / Deeper - Bo$$ / Droppin Science - Craig G / Feel So Good - Ma$e / Feelin' It - Jay-Z / Fresh Is The Word - MC Tee / Ghostwriter – Skillz / Girls I Got Em Locked - Super Lover Cee / Good To You - Talib Kweli / Ha – Juvenile / Hola Hovito - Jay-Z / Hurt Me Soul - Lupe Fiasco / Hustler Musik – Lil Wayne / I Gave You Power – Nas / I'm A Hustla – Cassidy / I'm Bad - LL Cool J / I’m Not A Player – Big Pun / I'm The Magnificent - Special Ed / In Cold Blood – Scarface / In The Ghetto – Rakim / It Was a Good Day - Ice Cube / It's Funky Enough - The D.O.C. / It's Yours - T-LA Rock / Keep It Thoro – Prodigy / Labels – Gza / Let's Go - Kool Moe Dee / Make You Feel That Way - Gift Of Gab / Mama Said Knock You Out - LL Cool J / Microphone Fiend – Rakim / Monie In The Middle - Monie Love / My Melody – Rakim / My Philosophy - KRS One / N!#$@’s Bleed - The Notorious B.I.G. / Now That We Found Love - Heavy D / Overnight Celebrity – Twista / Paper Thin – MC Lyte / Put It On – Big L / Second Round K.O. – Canibus / Simon Says - Pharoahe Monch / Sky's The Limit - Lil Wayne / Square Dance – Eminem / Stan – Eminem / Sugarhill – AZ / The Champ - Ghostface Killah / The Chubbster - Chubb Rock / The Corner – Common / The Godfather - Spoonie Gee / The Life - Styles P / The Message - Melle Mel / The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World – Keith Murray / The Rhythm – Kwame / The Truth - Beanie Sigel / Them That's Not - J-Live / Time 4 Sum Aksion – Redman / Time's Up – Jadakiss / Time's Up - O.C. / What Goes Around - Grand Puba / Why – Jadakiss / Woo Ha! Got You All In Check - Busta Rhymes / Wrath Of My Madness - Queen Latifah / X – Xzibit / Ya Bad Chubbs - Chubb Rock / You Must Learn - KRS One

  • Lyrics on paper - If you were to read the words without the benefit of the artist's delivery, would they still be great?
  • Concepts – Is the subject matter interesting, new, different?
  • Delivery – Does the artist bring something special to his delivery approach? A great voice, an interesting style or cadence?