While most of today’s commercial music is being sold in digital formats, hard copy music hasn’t totally died. We’re seeing many of the great albums of yesteryear getting deluxe re-issues across all genres and platforms. Vinyl especially is seeing a steady rise in popularity among the younger, millennial generations. Now, trendy multi-national boutiques like Urban Outfitters are dedicating whole sections of their stores to the sale of pressed wax.
Many of the records being sold in stores today are either re-releases of older albums or new releases from in-demand artists. Because hip-hop’s golden age came in the time of when CDs first became popular, many of the classics remain in print today. However, through the years, we’ve seen rare hip-hop gems from all decades resurface with properly re-mastered audio and updated liner notes. As CDs have become more obsolete with fewer new computer models being equipped with CD drives, many record labels and distribution companies are opting to reissue albums on vinyl and cassette. This serves the nostalgia factor for those who grew up listening to music on these analog formats, and simultaneously introduces a whole new audience to the beauty of listening to music on the formats of yesteryear.
Listening to albums on vinyl and cassette is still a valuable experience because the content is more finite than on the digital counterparts. Not only is it harder to skip through the songs, but also, there is a smaller library to choose from. As a result, one must dedicate more time listening to the full album and paying attention to the finer details like the song sequencing.
So, if you know a hip-hop aficionado looking to get back into the more ‘old school’ setups of listening, here are some rare reissued albums that would make perfect gifts during the holiday season.
Count Bass D Pre-life Crisis Cassette + Dwight Spitz Vinyl:
Count Bass D has been rapping and producing for two decades now. His long out-of-print debut album, Pre-Life Crisis, is finally available for purchase for the first time since its initial release 20 years ago. Pre-Life Crisis is a rare album for a couple of reasons: it represents a time in the hip-hop industry when record labels were looking for more jazz-influenced artists, and as well, it was created at a time in Count Bass D’s career when he played every single instrument to form his beats. However, the record execs at Sony were not amused by its more experimental nature, and this fun and thought-provoking album ended up getting Count Bass D dropped from his Sony Records contract. Clearly, Pre-Life Crisis was too ahead of its time for the record label’s intended audience.
After going quiet for a number of years, Count Bass D resurfaced and dropped a bomb on the underground hip-hop game. The name of the album is Dwight Spitz. On Dwight Spitz, Count Bass D traded in his instruments for an MPC drum sampler and decided to build his music primarily off snippets from old records. The result was a stunning 25-track LP that inspired multitudes of producers for years to come. In fact, it is even said that this album was the inspiration for Madlib and MF Doom’s modern classic, Madvillainy.
Both albums can be purchased from the man himself off of his bandcamp website. Orders ship internationally.
Clipse Lord Willin 7” Box-set Vinyl Collection:
Despite charting one of the most important rap singles of all time with “Grindin,’” selling over 1,000,000 copies worldwide, and receiving exclusive production credits from the legendary duo The Neptunes, Clipse’s album Lord Willin’ kicked off a number of well documented tensions between the artist and their label. While Clipse, a real-life brother combo from Virginia, exhibited a ton of mainstream appeal with this album, their lyrical content remains uncompromisingly dark. Most of their rap is about selling crack-cocaine, and they are expressed with an unflinching honesty that re-popularized the whole hardcore hip-hop sub-genre of ‘coke rap.’
When they wanted to take this vision a step further with their follow-up album, Hell Hath No Fury, they found themselves enmeshed in a battle to maintain ownership over their music. Arista, the record label responsible for releasing Lord Willin’, folded and was swallowed by the parent company, Jive Records. Jive was reluctant to promote Clipse’s music and in the midst of the drama, Lord Willin’ briefly went out of print. While it’s now available on many formats, a recent collector’s edition of the record was released in a stunning box-set package. Complete with seven individual 7” records, this limited edition pressing is a must have for any Clipse, Neptunes, or street-rap fan.
Purchase Lord Willin’ on vinyl here before it sells out.
Masta Ace & Inc. SlaughtaHouse CD Reissue:
Masta Ace has had one of the more interesting career trajectories in hip-hop. Initially of the legendary New York Juice Crew, he was overshadowed by the posse’s loaded roster of superstars. Unfortunately, it was tough for him to find commercial backing behind the behemoths of Big Daddy Kane, MC Shan, Roxanne Shanté, Biz Markie, and Kool G Rap. Despite rapping on Marley Marl’s groundbreaking single “The Symphony” in 1988, his debut solo album Take A Look Around didn’t see the light of day until two years later. By that time, production styles were accelerating at a blinding speed and synthesizer-heavy West Coast gangster rap started to dominate the commercial airwaves.
After a three-year hiatus and the dissolution of the Juice Crew, Masta Ace reappeared with his new crew, Incorporated, and a new sound. He’d honed his experimental ‘on beat/off beat’ flow to an expert level and started to rap over harder, more West Coast-influenced production. SlaughtaHouse was a concept album that fell very far under the mainstream radar. Even though the style of the music was very aggressive, the lyrical content of the record condemns the black-on-black crime cannibalizing inner city America at the time. Unfortunately, the message was lost on an audience. Sales were low and the album soon went out of print.
Luckily, Masta Ace experienced a third wind in his career in the early 2000s with a number of solid releases, and fans became more interested in the music from SlaughtaHouse than ever. It was reissued on CD in 2007 and can still be purchased today.
Mr. Lif I Phantom 2LP Reissue:
I Phantom was released in 2002 at the height of the ‘backpacker rap’ era when independent record labels were signing print and distribution deals in order to ship their records globally at a low cost. Indie labels didn’t have to sacrifice their artists’ creative freedom in order to sell records because they weren’t held to the same sales standards as the commercial recording artists at the time. Producing music with an independent hip-hop label was seen as a low-risk, high artistic reward endeavor at the time. And for a brief point in history, there were even a number of commercial success stories that saw independent artists sell between 50,000-100,000 units globally. No label defined that type of success better than Definitive Jux. Started by former Company Flow front man, El-P, Def Jux boasted a roster of emcees that held both street and scholarly credibility. El-P, also known as El-Producto for his proficiency as a top-tier producer, executively produced all the releases. This created an obvious cohesion seen in a number of Def Jux’s most popular records.
Mr Lif, an emcee from Boston, released I Phantom under the tutelage of El-P and saw him take his regional success to wider North American and European markets. While his voice and flow tended to angle on the weird, his ideas were lofty. On this concept record, he talks about the difficulty of achieving the American Dream as a young African-American man in an increasingly hostile environment. He seeks to uncover the facades of 21st century capitalism and raps with a self-conscious paranoia. When Def Jux folded in the mid-2000s, I Phantom was soon forgotten. However, thankfully, the Washington D.C.-based record label Mello Music Group has reissued the album as a double vinyl LP. And now, almost 13 years after its initial release, the record is more relevant as ever.