Thursday, February 26, 2015

The 10 best indie hip-hop records of all time left off of FACT's list

Like many people, I have a love/hate relationship with lists. Despite having created them, both for myself on some nerdy collector shit and for others on some "music journalist" shit, they give me cultural anxiety ... and regular anxiety, because how do you rank works of art? Each piece has its own subjective value, and any finite list will inevitably omit something essential. On the other hand, as far as music lists go, FACT Magazine's "100 best indie hip-hop records of all time" is one of the fairest and most comprehensive I've read. That being said, as a diehard fan of indie hip-hop, particularly the "backpack"-era stuff, I couldn't help but scoff at a few notable exclusions; hence, this post.

Now, please keep in mind that my perspective is likely significantly different from that of the writers who compiled FACT's list, as I first got into this subgenre (I was already a fan of some hip-hop, but it was all major label stuff that couldn't be called "indie" by the FACT list's standards) in the early '00s, which would be the tail-end of the period covered here. If this makes it harder for me to appreciate some of the earlier canonical entries, it also spares me the disillusionment of watching the scene "die," as well as some of the general jadedness that may come with age. I also went through a serious period of Wu-Tang fanaticism, traces of which linger today. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this unofficial supplement and continue the conversation by dropping a line in the comments section.

10. C-Rayz Walz - The Prelude (2001)

Other standouts from this album include "Fuck The Mayor" and "Great Voices," a 12-minute track on which he impersonates the day's biggest MCs. As far as punchline rap goes, I'll take C-Rayz over any of today's biggest battle rappers, many of whom he indirectly or directly inspired.

9. Cage - "4 Letter Word" (1998)
Movies For The Blind is a personal classic even though it doesn't include "Radiohead," but to this day it's "4 Letter Word" that remains the second most memorable Cage song of the backpack era and a shining example of the underground vs. mainstream mentality that consumed so many of us at that time. I also always loved how Cage's third verse has nothing to do with Eminem, as if he went, "OK, I won, let's move on."

8. Last Emperor - "Secret Wars Part 1" (1997)
After I finished reading FACT's list, my immediate reaction was "Needs more Last Emperor." Marvel Comics is bringing back the Secret Wars storyline, but Last Emperor remains lost like the The Legend of Bigfoot, so even if only because he never got the props he deserved (though I do remember Mos Def saying that he was his favorite rapper), every hip-hop head should be required to play this epic for at least one new person per year.

7. Immortal Technique - "Dance With the Devil" (2001)
Another epic song. You don't need to feel ashamed about being a former Immortal Technique fan. He was (and probably still is) a vicious battle rapper, an amazing live performer and a great storyteller.

6. Mikah Nine - It's All Love (1999)

I came to Project Blowed late, so I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in this department. All I know is that the exclusion of Mikah Nine's solo work from FACT's list just seemed icky. Dude is basically rap-game Charlie Parker, still decades ahead of his time.

5. Cormega - The True Meaning (2002)

I guess Tragedy Khadafi filled FACT's QB thug quota, but my college roommate/rhyme partner was/is such a devoted Mega fan, I'd be doing us both a grave injustice if I left Corey off my list. It's hard to pick a favorite between The Realness and The True Meaning, but I usually go for the sophomore album if only because it struck me as slightly more introspective.

4. Bronze Nazareth - "Sinuhe's Impasse" (2003)
Another personal classic. I co-hosted a radio show on Emerson College's WECB network for a year and this song stayed in regular rotation. Bronze's 2006 album, The Great Migration is not to be slept on either.

3. Royce da 5'9" - "Boom" (2000)
This is another one of those songs I'm going to assume was left off the FACT list because dudes didn't want to admit they loved it ... or maybe it didn't fit the whole backpack image as well. Either way, I have no quarrels about including this infectious Premo banger near the top of my list.  

2. MF Grimm - The Downfall of Ibliys: A Ghetto Opera (2002)
In case you don't know the story behind this album, legend has it that the whole thing was recorded during a 24-hour window while MF Grimm was out of prison on $100,000 bail. As if that alone doesn't make it one of the greatest independent hip-hop stories of all time, all of the beats were provided by Count Bass D and MF Doom, so yeah...

1. Last Emperor - "One Life" ft. Poetic (2003)
Fuck indie. This might be the greatest hip-hop song of all time. Just listen.

Honorable Mention: Darc Mind - "Outside Looking In" (1996)

I guess even if it were considered, this would have to be disqualified because it was released on LOUD, which was partnered with RCA, a major, but sonically this is backpack era all the way, plus the shelved album it preceded was eventually released by Anticon. All said, the combination of LI vet X-Ray da Mindbenda and vocal impresario Kevroc is pretty much unfuckwitable, which is why 2006's Symptomatic of a Greater Ill remains one of my favorite albums of all time.

So there you have it. What did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

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