One of the listening projects I’ve been pursuing casually on the side is an effort to become a little more familiar with rap. It’s definitely the (US-based) genre that I’m least knowledgable about, and one of the reasons that I don’t plan on blogging on it that much is that my ignorance is so deep about the music that I don’t even know what I don’t know.
I didn’t grow up with it around me. I had cousins that listened to rap and hip-hop, but I was a kid right during the scary days of get-you-shot gangsta rap. I’m pretty sure that my mother saw it as a symptom of All That Was Evil In The World–I never watched The Simpsons growing up either.
Anyway, one of the pleasures of going back and trying to listen (selectively, I know) to the history of rap in roughly chronological order is that there is such a settled body of masterpieces. Although I never recommend that people listen to music this way, I could listen for months without straying from “greatest albums” lists*.
*I think that there’s something missing from listening to music if there’s no risk that what you’re listening to is just terrible.
Another pleasure is going back and comparing what your favorite tracks from an old album are with the tracks that have emerged over time as the highlights. For example, I’ve been obsessed over the past week with A Tribe Called Quest’s debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths Of Rhythm.
“After Hours” is the third track on the album, and it’s catchy as fuck. It’s built on this insane Sly Stone sample that cuts a groove so strong that sometimes it cuts out and there’s nothing but percussion and still your brain hears the sample because it’s just that strong and just that catchy. It’s the track that I would have picked out as the “single,” but it was never released that way, and it’s one of the tracks on the album that doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page.
Now, it’s probably true that with an album as beloved as this one, every track is regarded as a masterpiece and tallying prestige based on Wikipedia attention is foolish. Still, it’s good to be reminded sometimes that we all have very different ears, and those tracks that you skip might be someone else’s favorite.