Various Artists - Monsters of Rap Music Album Reviews

Various Artists - Monsters of Rap Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tacky, mail-order compilation that strangely, almost perfectly encapsulates the class of early-’90s pop-rap.

“I don’t party and shake my butt,” rapped Ice Cube in 1990. “I leave that to the brothers with the funny haircuts.” At the time, party music was splitting the hip-hop nation down party lines, mainly due to the unprecedented success of Oakland’s insanely gifted dance-rap behemoth M.C. Hammer. He had dominated pop radio and MTV, starred in a Pepsi commercial, garnered a Rolling Stone cover, walked home with two American Music Awards, and had the No. 1 album in the country for an astonishing 21 weeks. He was dissed by The Source, the magazine that served as the most crucial hip-hop information pipeline of the era. But that schism wasn’t always easy to see, especially if you lived in a city where the population was less than, say, 100,000 and your cable package didn’t include the Box. 

Ice Cube’s razor-tongued reality rap group N.W.A. lived side by side with Hammer on the playlists of Yo! MTV Raps and in the pages of Word Up! magazine. Between 1987 and 1988, they had played multiple shows on the same bill. 1989 gateway compilations like Priority Records’ Hard Rap or Tommy Boy’s Monster TV Rap Hits simply threw Hammer and N.W.A. together on the type of cassettes you could buy in the Kmart electronics department. In 1990, you could find the post-Cube N.W.A. joining Hammer on the Dr. Dre-produced West Coast Rap All Stars posse cut “We’re All in the Same Gang”: a plea to end gang violence that presented the Parental Advisory faction and the MTV Party to Go faction as a united front. Hammer was given a particularly harsh Gas Face by 3rd Bass, but he received a full-throated defense from Chuck D of Public Enemy, who also toured with Hammer. “That brother’s bad,” Chuck said in 1990. “I know he’s all there. When he says ‘U Can’t Touch This,’ you can’t touch it. To me it’s not just about style, it’s that he’s built a whole environment around him that’s real.” No hard-nosed game-spitter less than Ice Motherfuckin’ T said this on his 1991 rap classic O.G. Original Gangster: “Special shout out is going out to the one and only M.C. Hammer. A lot of people diss you man, they just jealous. Fuck ’em.”

By 1991, Hammer had a 10-times-platinum album under his belt: a feat then unheard of in the rap world. Hammer, however, won the battle but not the war. In the past decade, N.W.A. were immortalized in a blockbuster hagiographic biopic and inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And Hammer—currently an Internet mogul and tech entrepreneur—doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the hip-hop doors he had blown open.

Kurtis Blow had a Sprite commercial, but Hammer had Pepsi sponsor a monster arena tour. Run-D.M.C. went platinum, but Hammer moved Whitney Houston numbers. Beastie Boys conquered rock radio, Hammer conquered radio itself. People derided the way Hammer jacked entire chunks of Rick James and Prince, but Puffy would build an empire off of “Take hits from the ’80s/But do it sound so crazy?” Hammer had a Saturday morning cartoon and dolls like the Beatles or the New Kids on the Block. He wasn’t the first rapper to find success, but he was the first to show that rap’s success wasn’t going to be defined by the limited imaginations of program directors, music video channels, and record labels.

Hammer’s success occurred in the space between Run-D.M.C.’s 1986 and Dr. Dre’s 1993. Run-D.M.C., teaming with Aerosmith for the literal and figurative wall-smashing of “Walk This Way,” proved that rap could work hand in hand with pop music. When “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” hit No. 2, Dr. Dre proved that the most undiluted, uncompromising, unedited rap music was now pop music itself. As far as the music industry was concerned, everything in the six or so years in between was growing pains: What is this new sound that’s already successful beyond our control? And how do we sell it?

No document captures this moment better than Monsters of Rap, a two-disc, 35-track compendium of the once-omnipresent pop crossover sensations that brought hip-hop from the streets to the junior high school dance, including Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Young MC, Tone Loc, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, the Fat Boys, Technotronic, Snap!, C+C Music Factory and more. It was released in 1999 by Razor & Tie, nostalgia-miners who had success early in the decade with the ingratiating Those Fabulous ’70s compilations, and were presently riding high on the hair metal compendium Monsters of Rock. Shortly after the release of Monsters of Rap, Razor & Tie co-founders and producers Craig Balsam and Cliff Chenfeld would unleash the first volume of an ambitious new series named Kidz Bop.

Like its forebears, Monsters of Rap was crass, shameless, cheap-looking, somewhat incoherent and—at $26.99 plus $5.95 shipping and handling—not exactly inexpensive. It has the original version of Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours,” not the iconic remix. Not available in stores, you bought it off the TV like a Shamwow. It sold more than 250,000 units but I could not tell you if I’d actually seen one before I bought a copy off Discogs for $6 to do this review. As compilations go, it’s not exactly comprehensive (a truly exhaustive overview of the ’90s pop-rap bubble would need Biz Markie, Marky Mark, Digital Underground, Kris Kross, and the asshole-era Beasties), but it’s most of the way there. It stands as the most complete compendium of the jiggiest era before the jiggy era.

By 1999, when Monsters of Rap first landed in mailboxes, hip-hop radio had already undergone several genre upheavals and was now fully dominated by JAY-Z’s Roc-A-Fella, Master P’s No Limit, and Birdman’s Cash Money. It caught a tracklist of pop and dance acts at the absolute nadir of coolness: Its artists were too late to make more hit records, and too early for their eventual redemption arcs on VH1 reality shows and I Love the ’90s touring packages. Even beloved names like A Tribe Called Quest and the Pharcyde were sagging in cachet since the world hadn’t caught up to the Dilla beats peppering their latest albums. 

Yet in its own unlikely way, Monsters of Rap is as authoritative at capturing a moment as any compilation put out by Rhino or Numero Group. The rap music on here is the equivalent of late-’60s bubblegum rock, radio-ready unit shifters doing the running man on the line between “trite” and “brilliant.” They’re all here: Pop savants, hucksters, true-school legends, fly-by-nights, one-hit-wonders, novelties, new jack swingers, Spanglish spitters, rap-rock crossovers, R&B crossovers, alt-rock crossovers, Eurodance crossovers, hip-house crossovers, Miami bass crossovers, bohos, smooth operators, and more than one questionable Caucasian. The best songs (A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario,” J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic,” a tacked-on addition of Kurtis Blow’s 1980 hit “The Breaks,”) are basically as good as rap music gets. The worst (the cringetastic Fat Boys/Beach Boys crossover episode “Wipeout,” Snow’s reggatta de Canadien blanc “Informer,” Gerardo’s deeply annoying “Rico Suave”) are—at the very least—of some historic import

Love them or loathe them, these songs’ long tail is indisputable. Nicki Minaj turned Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” into the undeniable smash “Anaconda.” As recent as last August, she hit No. 1 with “Super Freaky Girl,” a song that flips the same Rick James song as “U Can’t Touch This.” Daddy Yankee scored a Top 40 hit remaking “Informer” as “Con Calma.” Eminem’s “Rap God” is a TikTok smash thanks to a motormouth tweak of J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic.” One of the most critically acclaimed songs of the last 20 years, M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” does a play on Wreckx-n-Effect’s “Rump Shaker.” And the Monsters of Rap lane for lightweight, fun, pan-demographic novelty-ish crossover raps still exists—Psy, Lizzo, Macklemore, Little Dicky, bbno$, Jack Harlow, Young Gravy, Lil Shordie Scott —except now they explode through viral video challenges. The ethereal wash of “cloud rap” is just a beach that P.M. Dawn tread first in “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss.” Sadboi R&B is just a puddle once crossed by Oran “Juice” Jones on “The Rain.” The reboot to Kid ’N Play’s House Party series was released last Friday.

One of the reasons pop-rap is so derided—both then and now—is because it reliably lays bare the music industry’s worst impulses and endemic biases. The memetic genius of label executives meant that the Fat Boys naturally followed up their successful rap rendition of “Wipeout” with a rap rendition of “The Twist” and a rap rendition of “Louie Louie.” The New Kids on the Block got a hip-hop makeover. Bart Simpson briefly had a rap career. There was an entire album by the animated cat that raps in the Paula Abdul video. The raps on Snap!’s “The Power” only exist because two white Germans wholesale jacked an a capella by Jersey rhyme titan Chill Rob G—then Arista made them re-record it with Turbo B doing Rob’s lines. Both Technotronic and C+C Music Factory were busted for replacing the actual vocalists on their songs with lip-syncing models for their music videos. 

The runaway success of white pop-rapper Vanilla Ice has long made him the scapegoat for the music industry’s racist machinations. Yes, “Ice, Ice Baby” does appropriate a Black fraternity chant; yes, he was marketed as a watered-down Elvis-style heartthrob in sequins; yes, his flow can be borderline gibberish (“flow like a harpoon?”). However, “Ice Ice Baby” was not borne of some record label’s calculated Pat Boone scheme: Vanilla Ice came up as a battle rapper playing to Black crowds in Dallas and “Ice, Ice Baby” was a bona fide regional smash released on an independent label and boosted by rap radio.

At their best, the songs on Monsters of Rap were Trojan horses sneaking rap culture writ large into mainstream America. Heavy D (“Now That We Found Love”) would be rightfully remembered as one of the best rhymers of his day even if he hadn’t garnered the pop success that eluded heavyweights like Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap. No true-schooler would question the skills of Sir Mix-A-Lot, Young MC (“Bust a Move”), Positive K (“I Got A Man”), Kid ’N Play, Onyx (“Slam”), 3rd Bass (“Pop Goes the Weasel”), Yo-Yo (“You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo”), or Black Sheep. While they’re all best known for the one explosive pop single here, they all have at least one stone-cold classic full-length worth seeking out. DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince are best remembered as a squeaky-clean crossover act for preteens, but anyone who bought their 1988 double album He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper off the strength of “Parents Just Don’t Understand” would be treated to pyrotechnic displays of raw hip-hop: Game-changing turntablism from the Philly pioneer that helped popularize the Transformer scratch, bravado displays of beatboxing from Ready Rock C, and an electric throwdown from Union Square that showcases hip-hop’s crowd-rocking live roots. 

If Monsters of Rap could be issued or reissued with actual liner notes (instead of an ad for Razor & Tie’s The Rolling Stone Women in Rock Collection), the footnotes would speak volumes about rap’s future. PM Dawn—critically adored in their day and now one of the most underrated groups of a generation—were the first to prove that Black rap artists could skate past the Marky Marks and capture a Hot 100 No. 1. Wreckx-n-Effect’s “Rump Shaker” was the first writing gig for a young Pharrell Williams. A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” broke a firebrand named Busta Rhymes. 3rd Bass’ MC Serch was the executive producer of a little album called Illmatic. Father MC’s “I’ll Do 4 U” was an early hit for A&R wunderkind Sean “Puffy” Combs and featured background vocals from Mary J. Blige. Prince Markie Dee of the Fat Boys would not only produce “I’ll Do 4 U,” but go on to produce multiple tracks on Blige’s pioneering 1992 R&B smash What’s the 411? And for serious enthusiasts of the butterfly effect: Where would Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Jimmy Iovine be if Interscope didn’t have immediate success with their first release, Gerardo? 

Rap spent the 1990s embroiled in various conversations about whether it was better to remain true to the game or lift the whole genre into the opportunities, resources, and wealth provided by the pop universe. The argument is itself laid bare on Monsters of Rap, which sequences “Ice Ice Baby” right next to 3rd Bass’ savage Vanilla Ice diss “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Whether that choice is inspired or chaotic, it’s certainly appropriate to an era where—to paraphrase Dres of Black Sheep—you could get with this and you could get with that.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Various Artists - Monsters of Rap Music Album Reviews Various Artists - Monsters of Rap Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on January 22, 2023 Rating: 5


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