Category Archives: i used to love h.e.r.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Sarah Barthel (Phantogram)

The 45th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Sarah Barthel, keyboardist and singer of electronic-pop duo Phantogram, whose debut LP, Eyelid Movies, was released in February on Barsuk.

Barthel and bandmate Josh Carter just this week released a video for the great track, Mouthful of Diamonds.

I recently became aware of Barthel’s interest in hip-hop, and here she tells us what drew her to the genre and then dishes on one of her favorite hip-hop albums.

In college was where I discovered my love for Hip-Hop. I spent a lot of my time downloading it off of the internet. It was fascinating to me how easy it was to find new music and I had to get as much of it as I could. When I wasn’t working, I spent a lot of my time searching for old underground hip-hop music. Since I was unable to get full albums, I would download any song I could find. My library was filled with crappy versions of songs with confusing titles like {_.mp3_track03*~~Fl4yp}}>. In translation, this one track I found was a golden egg of delightfulness. It was A Tribe Called Quest song. Specifically, Electric Relaxation off of Midnight Marauders. I didn’t know this at the time because of the squirrelly title, but the one thing I knew was that it was the coolest song I had ever heard. I can’t say I lived under a rock before this moment, but it seemed like it at the time. After all, Greenwich, NY, didn’t have the most diverse music scene going on. After discovering this song, I had a mission – collect Q-Tip’s and A Tribe Called Quest’s entire discography. I managed to get my hands on a few – Midnight Marauders, The Anthology and Q-Tip’s Amplified. The tracks on these records changed the way I looked at music and to this day they instantly excite me. I was unaware at the time, but one of our favorite beat makers (J Dilla) produced a lot of the tracks.

elzhi - the prefaceElzhi, The Preface (prod. by Black Milk)
(Fat Beats, 2008)

This album blows my mind! I love the raw, lo-fi, dirty Detroit-influenced swagger and production on this record. It’s extremely captivating and inspiring. It’s hard to be able to combine all of these elements together without it sounding messy and confusing, but The Preface pulls it off perfectly. Although the record incorporates a lot of chopped-up old soul samples, the beats and arrangements also sound fresh and futuristic. The juxtaposition between the two elements is what I love most about this record. Tracks like Guessing Game, The Leak and Colors will definitely go down as being my favorite tracks from the past decade.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Van Pierszalowski
(Port O’Brien)

The 44th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from singer Van Pierszalowski of Oakland-based indie-folk band Port O’Brien, which just wrapped up a seven-week tour in support of its excellent 2009 album Threadbare. Having talked to Pierszalowski at the band’s recent Phoenix show, I can tell you his enthusiasm for Lil Wayne is absolutely sincere.

tha carter IIILil Wayne, Tha Carter III
(Cash Money, 2008)

In my view, this is quite obviously one of the finest records of any genre of the decade. I’ve listened to it non-stop since it came out, and I’m still discovering things. It’s so dense, in a good way. I first heard “A Milli” on the radio before the album came out, and I hated it. I just thought it was annoying and lacked any sort of hook. After I fell in love with the more easily accessible singles and bought the album, that song all of a sudden made sense, which is the sign of a good record. The record is just littered with amazing lyrical moments. The part that hit me first might have been “I got Summer hatin’ on me cause I’m hotter than the Sun. Got Spring hatin’ on me ’cause I ain’t never sprung. Winter hatin’ on me ’cause I’m colder than y’all. And I would never, I would never, I would never fall.” Another thing I love about this record is how Weezy can also just be hilarious as fuck.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Max Tundra

The 43nd installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from English multi-instrumentalist/producer Max Tundra (born Ben Jacobs), who opened for Junior Boys in Phoenix back in April in support of his 2008 release Parallax Error Beheads You (Domino). While he admitted he wasn’t much of a hip-hop die-hard, he expressed an affinity for one particular song and its Spike Jonze-directed video.

The Pharcyde, “Drop”
(off Labcabincalifornia, Delicious Vinyl, 1995)

“The video for this used to come on MTV when I was working a nightshift at a shitty post-production company which has since gone out of business. At the end of a long day making coffees and teas for unappreciative clients in the edit suites, it was a pleasure to see these goofballs messing around backwards, splashing around town with their trousers falling down. The song itself is phenomenal – one of the most eery, mesmerising, wordy slaps round the face of me at the time. I haven’t followed much of hip-hop before or since, but this edgy track got under my skin for good, and infuses what I do, to this very day. Hey.”

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Matt Halverson (Banter)

The 42nd installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Matt Halverson, who runs Banter Management and Media, home to City Light, producer Scott Solter, The Traditionist and more. Banter released a City Light/Her Space Holiday split EP on April 7.

Matt digs into six of his favorite hip-hop songs (and I give him my fullest backing on No. 4).

1. Public Enemy – Contract on the World Love Jam (1990)
In 1990, I was 11 and was a heavy metal kid with the exception of some 2 Live Crew, NWA and Too Short. I had not yet been exposed to any form of hip-hop that stood for anything other than money, girls and violence. I was handed Fear of a Black Planet by an older kid in the neighborhood and it completely floored my thought process. From the opening track, Contract on the World Love Jam, I knew I had just been turned onto something different. It’s an instrumental, but I had never heard anything like it. The scratching by Terminator X mixed with samples from what sounded like Civil Rights speeches.This entire album is extremely important, but I chose the intro track simply because from the second I hit play on my Walkman I knew my taste in music would be different for the rest of my life. I listened to this record daily for at least 5 years.

2. BDP – Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love) (1990)
So with my new-found love for conscious rap, my cousin Pat and I soon discovered what would become an obsession with a song rather than an album. The video for Loves Gonna Get’cha by Boogie Down Productions terrified and inspired us at the same time. This track was a departure from the complex/compacted lyrics of Public Enemy. Instead, it was a simple, easy-to-follow story about making some very bad decisions. I saw KRS-One perform a couple weeks ago and he is still as animated as as he was 20 years ago.

3. Kool Moe Dee feat. Chuck D and KRS-One – Rise ‘N’ Shine (1991)
I was familiar with Kool Moe Dee by this point, but not a huge fan. Wild Wild West was a bit silly for me, but thanks to the legendary video channel THE BOX I started seeing his video for Rise ‘N’ Shine featuring Chuck D and KRS-One. I dug the way Kool Moe Dee combined a little funkiness blended in with his message, and it did not hurt that I was completely obsessed with Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions. We ran around the neighborhood screaming “Ring a ding ding ding ding ding this is KRS-One with a different something” all summer.

4. A Tribe Called Quest – God Lives Through (1993)
Freshman year of high school was not the most exciting year of my life. No car. Nerdy. Most of my friends at a different high school. But then a kid on the basketball team named Jeremy gave me Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest and yet a new chapter of hip-hop opened for me. I was familiar with Tribe … Scenario and Can I Kick It were classics, but I never owned an album, and had not really sunken my teeth into that style of jazzy hip-hop. God Lives Through still makes it onto to most hip-hop mix tapes I make for people. Probably my favorite hip-hop record of all time.

5. Wu-Tang Clan – Protect Ya Neck (1993)
Around the same time, a taller, funnier man named Brandon Diegle gave me a tape of Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and the cover alone freaked me out a bit. I was already heavily into Kung Fu and karate flicks, so when this 11-member crew of grimy ninja-influenced MC’s started screaming out of my tape deck, I knew instantly this would lead to a worldwide phenomenon. I was right. I spent the next five or six years buying every single Wu-Tang Clan side project.

6. Black Star – Respiration (1998)
High school was over and I was off to college in Santa Barbara. Then began my three-year conquest of everything Rawkus Records put out. Lyricist Lounge, Pharoahe Monch, Soundbombing and my second favorite hip-hop album of all time, Black Star. I had never heard Mos Def or Talib Kweli up to this point, and I surely never heard a duo with such distinct delivery styles. Mos Def’s baritone street-conscious style coupled with Talib’s quick broken speech delivery made for an excellent team. I am not a big fan of choruses, but Respiration, which featured Common Sense (now Common), has one of the best hip-hop choruses of all time.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Vito Roccoforte/The Rapture

The 41st installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Vito Roccoforte, drummer for New York-based dance-punk group The Rapture. Roccorforte recently was in town for a DJ set at Shake!, and we talked about two of my favorite topics: baseball and hip-hop. His California roots show here with a great selection of an overlooked gem.

fear itselfCasual
Fear Itself (Jive, 1994)

I moved to the Bay Area in the summer of 94. I was starting to listen to a lot of hip-hop, and before I moved, one of my friends gave me list of essential Bay Area Hip-Hop Albums that he cut out of some magazine. I took the list folded it up and put it in my wallet and when I got to the Bay Area I went to some of the record stores on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. I bought some of albums on the list that day and by the end of the summer, I had bought everything on that list and much more. There were some amazing albums that came out of the Bay Area around that time. Some of my favorite albums came from members of the Hieroglyphics crew who included Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, who released No Need for Alarm in 93, and Souls of Mischief, who released 93 til Infinity in, you guessed it, 93. One of my favorite and lesser-known albums to come out of the of the time was from another Hiero member, Casual, who put out an album called Fear Itself in 94.

My favorite thing about Fear Itself is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is not just a collection of great songs but a great album. From the very first track, “Intro,” it’s got a strong flow and line that keeps building throughout. Casual’s got a great voice and is a strong lyricist and there are also many strong guest appearances by Del, Saafir and others. Also what really got me into hip-hop in the beginning was the production, and on a purely instrumental level this album is a classic. The production was super tight, the instrumental tracks for “Chained Minds” and “I Didn’t Mean To” are still a couple of my all time favorites. The beat for “Me-O-Mi-O” rules, and listening to the album again I realized how much it really seeped into my subconscious. The sequencing of the album in the way songs cut into one another and are ordered is also superb and by the time it hits the last four songs from “Lose in the End” to “Be Thousand” I want to hear the album all over again.

Video for Me-O-Mi-O:

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Enoch of CYNE

The 40th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from producer Enoch of Gainesville, Fla., hip-hop quartet CYNE, whose excellent 2005 album Evolution Fight was followed in ’08 by Pretty Dark Things (Hometapes).

a wolf in sheep's clothingBlack Sheep
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (Mercury/PolyGram, 1991)

This is the first album that I ever knew word for word from front to back. Up to this point, I had been familiar with some hip hop records such as De La Soul, Beastie Boys and Run-DMC, mostly from my brother. But when a friend played me this album in 6th grade, it was over. Hip hop officially became the only thing I would listen to for many many years.

Black Sheep is such a fitting title for these guys, because in my eyes, they were just as talented as any of the other Native Tongue artists, but completely unappreciated. To this day, they still have the song that can spontaneously cause entire crowds to chant “Engine engine number 9, on the New York transatlantic line” but you would be hard pressed to find a lot of people in that same crowd who actually know what it is that they are listening to. This album has so many classic singles, such as Similak Child, Strobelite Honey, Flavor of the Month, and of course, The Choice is Yours, but the album cuts are just as great. Flawless production and amazing lyrics from Dres and Mista Lawnge.

coast II coastTha Alkaholiks
Coast II Coast (Loud/RCA Records, 1995)

So a couple years after I got hooked on hip hop, while I was more or less living at my friend’s house (the same one who turned me on to Black Sheep), we decided we were going to go see the Alkaholiks play. Now being that neither of us could drive and were not even remotely close to any sort of appropriate age for this sort of thing, his parents of course shut us down immediately. So we did what any self-involved teenagers would do: sneak out and catch a ride with an older kid. We get there and make our way to the front of the stage for the Alkaholiks set. Near the end, we look over and who do we see? My friend’s father, with steam coming out of his ears. He apparently figured out we snuck out and came to track us down. Now anyone who has seen the Alkaholiks play knows that the first few rows of the show can pretty much bank on getting covered in beer and all types of booze. So as if on cue, as soon as he starts walking toward us, all hell breaks loose and beer is being sprayed everywhere, including all over him. He drags us out, and on the way home while yelling at us, red and blue lights start flashing behind us. To make a long story short, my friend’s dad got pulled over and had to go through all kinds of sobriety tests to prove to the police that he wasn’t drinking and driving despite the fact he smelled like a keg party. Hilarious in retrospect. Oh, yeah, and this album is great.

Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the 36 Chambers (Loud/RCA, 1993)

Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (Loud/RCA, 1995)

To me, the two best hip hop records ever, hands down. The reign of the Wu in the nineties is probably my favorite period of hip hop music, because it was just so incredible to hear what they would do next. They had so much style and substance and RZA was a machine with the production. Some of it was just so unorthodox at the time and it’s funny because 15 years later, you have producers like Just Blaze and Kanye who have used elements of the RZA formula to great success, which just goes to show how influential and timeless that style is.

coast II coastCompany Flow
Funcrusher Plus (Rawkus, 1997)

This is the record that made me get a sampler and start making beats. The whole DIY aesthetic that Co Flow brought to the table was very innovative for the time, because without a label, it was virtually impossible for most hip hop artists to be heard unless you lived in NYC or a major city, or were selling tapes out of your trunk like Too Short. So when indie labels like Rawkus, Fondle ‘Em, ABB and others started popping up, it was almost like a complete rebirth for hip hop in a sense. There was so much talent coming from the underground at that time that it was just incredible. Company Flow really spearheaded that in my eyes and it was their “Independent as Fuck” mantra that really gave me that push to pursue production.

(Note: This album will be reissued in May. More info here.)

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Birdmonster (Justin Tenuto)

The 39th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Justin Tenuto, bassist/wordsmith for San Francisco’s Birdmonster, which released its sophomore album, From the Mountain to the Sea, this fall.

Read more of the group’s musings at its blog.

When Kevin asked me to do this here post, part of his continuing I Used To Love H.E.R. series, I honestly found it a little incongruous. After all, I’m a scrawny, banjo-playing white boy who feels uncomfortable when he accidentally forms a rhyming couplet in an email. My formative years were spent playing Iron Maiden on a Japanese Washburn whilst hipper suburban crackers were discovering Dr. Dre. I thought Slick Rick was a pirate. If Kevin wanted to ask my opinion on, say, the best Kurt Russell movie, he would have received a fifteen page thesis, arguing the merits of “Tombstone,” “Tango & Cash,” “The Thing,” and “Captain Ron” and none of our lives would ever have been the same again.

Unfortunately, you will not be reading about the thespian prowess of a man whose face is ninety percent chin. Instead, you will be getting done learned about some rap music, or, rather, hearing about some hip-hop you already know, through the eyes of a man wearing a shirt with a unicorn on it. I apologize.

the hall of gameE-40
The Hall of Game (Jive, 1996)

Listening to E-40 is like reading “Clockwork Orange” without using the glossary. By which I mean, in the grand tradition of Anthony Burgess and the septuagenarian virgin who created the Klingon Dialect, E-40 lives in a world where the Queen’s English is merely a jumping off point for all manner of hallucinated verbiage. Crackulating? Hoe cake? Penelopes? Bootch? Undefinable really. It’s like that Lewis Carroll poem about the Frumious Bandersnatch: you don’t really have to understand it if sounds totally kickass.

Of course, there’s more to Forty Water than just an entire lexicon of slanguage and nonsensicality. Take, for instance, “The Hall of Game.” Just don’t take mine. That wasn’t a Benny Youngman joke.

Because, really, what other CD starts off with Rasheed Wallace saying the maker of said CD sucks? None, with the possible exception of Darko Milicic’s debut “I’m an Oaffish Fraud of a Billionaire,” which, coincidentally, barely missed the cut for this post.

You might not be impressed with the inclusion of Jail Blazers-era Rasheed Wallace-ness. I’m not sure why, but I’ll play along. See, when E-40 isn’t defending himself against roundballers with perplexing skunk spots, he’s laying down hyperspeed, genuinely goofy verses over beats made on twenty dollar, Salvation Army Yamahas. Too Short, Tupac, and other indefatigable Californian rap Gods guest here and there, but the disc is definitely E-40′s, which is to say, he’s not one of those guys who seems outshined by his guest rappers; rather, his bizarre originality pops out in extreme relief.

(Highlights include the surprisingly dusty “The Story,” the not-quite-a-hit-single “Rapper’s Ball,” the dated pager-related rhyming on “Ring It,” and the inspired use of that Bruce Horsnby jam “The Way It Is,” recorded the same year as Tupac’s “Changes,” in case you’re curious.)

Missy Elliott
Under Construction
(Goldmind/Elektra, 2002)

At the risk of sounding like a misogynist, I never really enjoyed female rapping. Sure, I thought, there were the Lauren Hills, Roxanne Shantes, and Queen Latifahs of the world (although Latifah’s career is now notable more for her horrendous post-Living Singles roles in Bringing Down the House and other nefarious poppycock), but largely, feminine rapping was a world I avoided with aggressive diligence. Sure, I’ll listen to “No Diggity,” with it’s brilliant Bill Withers sample, but I’m pressing fast forward when Queen Pen comes on. Sorry Queen Pen, but that verse is sorry.

Then, Missy Elliot entered my life. It was an innocuous moment, really, sitting in my old high school buddy’s car, listening to his vast collection of CDs I didn’t own, when “Under Construction” found its way into the CD changer. I listened, I smiled, and then I jetsammed my bias like an atheist who saw Jesus on a tortilla.

The simplest answer for this abrupt conversion is the pure and unadulterated awesomeness of Missy Elliot. In a way, she’s kind of like a female E-40: she’s gifted but she doesn’t take herself seriously; she’s genuinely bizarre without it feeling like some weirder-than-thou posture; she’s hilarious. Sure, she starts every song with “This…is a Missy Elliot…ex-clusive” but in time, even that becomes completely endearing. Plus, it’s probably the only album that uses a meowing kitty and trumpeting elephant as euphemistic stand-ins for a vagina and a dick. Respectively. Obviously.

Anyway, if you don’t own this: buy it. Or download it. Or whatever it is you kids are doing nowadays. It’s a perfect party LP: bouncy, dirty, and devoid of the bogus attempts at sketch comedy that wouldn’t make the cut on American Dad. You’ll thank me for it, even though you don’t know who I am.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Belief

The 38th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Belief, who in 2006 dropped his great debut Dedication (featuring the likes of Murs and C-Rayz Walz and previously discussed here). Belief’s newest project is a 40-minute mixtape, Let It Breathe, available as a free download at his MySpace page.

In talking about his mix, Belief said he was “hoping to create a combination of the formats of Dilla’s Donuts and Girl Talk’s Night Ripper.”

“As an artist who had been limited by sample clearance issues, I needed to find an outlet for all this sampled music I’ve created that feels very meaningful but has been left to get dusty in my hard drive over the years due to not being able to find the right artist to write the right song, or labels not being willing to release sampled music.”

In his entry, Belief sheds some light on an overlooked Los Angeles gem by Freestyle Fellowship, a group that gave us, among others, Aceyalone.

innercity griotsFreestyle Fellowship
Innercity Griots (4th & B’Way/Island, 1993)

This album represents the L.A. underground renaissance that I am a product of. The album came out during a time when people in that scene only respected innovativeness. Fellowship were the clear leaders of that movement. The beats were not 100% incredible on every song, but the ones that were are still some of my favorite beats ever. It took me a year or so to totally get into it, but eventually I realized it was somewhat of a Bible for me and other L.A. kids that were into underground hip-hop at the time.

They had a combination of street consciousness, artistic relevance and really pushed the envelope. This is what hip-hop music is all about to me, and especially West Coast hip-hop. It was a four-man group but they all were great and important to the sound. The production on Six Tray is so hard. P.E.A.C.E’s verses are chilling. Shammy’s is the ultimate booty anthem of all time and still gets love by L.A. DJ’s in the know. Mary is the ultimate weed classic. Bullies of the Block was too hard. DJ Kiilu’s little sister gave me the cassette when we went to Palm’s Jr. High together but I didn’t really understand its relevance until I went to high school and joined a crew called Suns of Kneeshak with some Living Legends members and our homegirl Faith. They are the ones who really put me on to it. Eventually I started hitting up the Good Life Café with them and to this day I’ve never seen a hip-hop movement so alive and innovative. Its what got me inspired to start making music.

Eventually I moved to NY and pretty much 100% across the board that album got dissed for being too out there. People preferred their hip-hop to be more meat and potatoes, simpler and more grounded. I would come home on breaks from school and our older homies who only listened to East Coast shit or Dr. Dre were finally coming around, 4 or 5 years later. I still take a listen to this album every once in a while for inspiration.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Zilla Rocca

The 37th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from MC/producer/writer Zilla Rocca, whose first solo project, Bring Me the Head of Zilla Rocca, was released Sept. 23 (a mixtape to which I give my highest recommendation). He’s also got a blog, Clap Cowards, and is the co-founder of Beat Garden Entertainment.

You can download Bring Me the Head of Zilla Rocca right here and get a taste below.

ironmanGhostface Killah
Ironman (Razor Sharp/Epic Street, 1996)

“What you doin’ on our turf, punk?”
“Got a message for Smokey”

Enter Ghostface Killah’s “Ironman,” the most essential album of my life. People wear those “Dilla Changed My Life” t-shirts, but the Wallabee Champ aka Black Jesus did it for me in 1996 with his debut album.

Ironman was a reference to Tony Stark, the womanizing drunk billionaire who put on an ill metal suit and smashed supervilliains, but Ghost’s “Ironman” was a blaxploitation superhero with poisonous darts coming out his cabbage, suede butter cream joints carrying him into a cocaine spot, long cables with Jesus piece’s swaying side to side as he crushed his girl’s best friend late night January 17th.

Ghost displayed a poetic and emotional depth not found in the average Wallee shoe observer. And man oh man, was his slang diabetic. As a lover of words, I was hooked to Ironman before I even wrote for my first rhyme. Check Ghost’s bars from the opener “Iron Maiden”:

“Tremendously obnoxious, no blotches,
My telephone watch’ll leave bartenders topless,
Deadarm the prosecutor, smack the juror,
Me and my girl run like Luke and Laura
We sit back on Mayalan islands
Sipping mixed drinks out of a boat coconut bowls, we wildin”

I had never been pulled into a world via a rap album that was so exotic, gritty, and frankly so fucking weird until I hit play on this album Christmas Eve night twelve years ago. I couldn’t always process what the hell Ghost, Raekwon, and Cappadonna were talking about, but dammit it sounded good. They could be breaking into a stash house, pissing out the window on the turnpike, eating fish, or singing with the Delphonics. Hell, these guys would’ve made filing a tax return sound like some supreme nuclear Aramani explosion shit. The slang was that striking, god.

The beats on Ironman, produced almost exclusively by the RZA, had some of the most complex and oft-kilter arrangements I’ve ever heard on a hip hop record. Check “Wildflower,” “Box in Hand,” or “Winter Warz” for a clinic on making your ears into a swivel. “Daytona 500″ is the greatest flip of Bob Jame’s “Nautilus” ever. The gospel choir on “Black Jesus” makes me wish I didn’t skip church every sunday. “Camay” is one of the sultriest, sexiest, pimpest beats ever laid down to wax. “All That I Got Is You” rivals Jay-Z’s “Can’t Knock the Hustle” for greatest Mary J. Blige cameo ever. The video for “Daytona 500″ made Speed Racer look like Golgo 13 or something.

Ironman was dope because it featured Wu members everywhere, from Masta Killa to Method Man, but there was never a doubt that it was Ghost’s album front to back. He wasn’t as high profile as Rae and Meth before this album, but everyone knew Starks after this album dropped. This album singlehandedly made me want to do hip hop in some capacity, and I’ve been chasing that rush of listening to this album for the first time ever since. Ghost’s offerings have ranged from pretty good to classic over the years, but Ironman effortlessly touches on so many stlyes, moods, and vibes that I can never shake it–I have to listen to this album for the rest of my life. Thanks Ghostface!

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Le Switch (Josh Charney)

The 36th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from keyboardist Josh Charney of Los Angeles-based band Le Switch, whose debut album “And Now … Le Switch” was released last month on Autumn Tone, the label run by our pal Justin at Aquarium Drunkard.

cypress hillCypress Hill
Self-titled (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1991)

The first Cypress Hill song I ever heard was “Hand on the Pump.” I was 10, sitting in the front seat of my brother’s car when he popped the tape into the player and the looped sample of Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl” started coming out of the speakers. When the beat dropped, accented by a high siren and the words Cypress Hill, I was mesmerized. They were the first hip hop group I heard to incorporate jazz bass lines, soulful horn parts, and off course distorted in-your-face guitar. At the time, groups like Run DMC and the Beastie Boys had been consciously experimenting with the fusion of rock and hip hop. For me, producer DJ Muggs wasn’t trying to bring the two together, he was trying to make the funkiest beats he could and he did this by using his musical knowledge and taste.

“How I Could Just Kill a Man,” the second track on their self-titled record, is the epitome of their sound. The track has basically three things going on, a punchy hip-hop drum beat, a three-note upright bass line and a blaring high-pitched guitar riff. It’s danceable and unsettling at the same time. Add B Real’s nasally and playful voice combined with Sen Dog’s sparse baritone and the sound is complete. The album’s profanity and open discussion of marijuana use would make any 10-year-old boy hungry for more.

It wasn’t until I was older that I was able to appreciate the few yet effective instrumentals on the albums. “Ultraviolet Dreams,” for example, is almost like a psychedelic soul song, leading nicely into “Light Another.” Dj Muggs brings in the wah guitar to create a trippy blunted theme. It’s clear that the Los Angeles trio was attempting to do something original. The bottom line is you could take any one of those beats and add a singer, a MC, or an instrumental solo and it would work. It showed me that music is music and if the beats funky, people will listen.