We’re living in an era of hip-hop where we’re yearning for an album that has the impact Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, A Tribe Called Quest’ Low End Theory or even Nas’ Illmatic had. We’re holding onto the past in hopes we’ll see hip-hop come full circle and deliver another ‘classic,’ but in the meantime, the term has been misconstrued, broken down and undoubtedly thrown towards any album with it’s legs half-open.
Last year, Rah Digga, former lady of supergroup Flipmode Squad, released an album simply entitled Classic. Despite this being, technically, her second album release after ten years (let’s not forget Dirty Harriet’s second album Everything Is A Story, that was shelved for good) she straight up called it ‘classic.’ After speaking to Rah about the album title, I had a chance to ask her what defines a classic; the answer boiled down to something so simple: a classic album is one that stands the test of time. Perhaps the most ironic part of this statement is that the cover of Classic mimics the same idea of Nas’ Illmatic; an image of a child draped across all four corners.
So why are we so quick to use the word the day of, week of or even year of the release of an album? In recent months, there’s no greater example of this than the day Jay-Z and Kanye West released Watch the Throne. Hell, last year after only hearing the leak of “That’s my Bitch,” people claimed it would be the most prolific album to hit hip-hop music in years. If “That’s my Bitch” is synonymous with classic material, I’ll keep my head in the crates. The day WTT was released; the C-word was exhausted and inexcusably used left, right and centre. I’m not saying the album doesn’t hold elements that have challenged the game, but does it entertain the notion of being a culture-changer? That’s where the line between classic and over-all good album are defined.
The replay value of a classic album is inexhaustible. The production of said album is timeless. The lyrical content remains relevant and, as seen in the past has often shaped or reflected an era within hip-hop culture and society as a whole. The words spoken are real, much like the poignant messages these albums carry. There isn’t a track list of 20 songs, only to have 15 fillers. It’s not a trumped-up story of celebrity life (no regular ass person has an other-other Benz,) nor does it present itself in a context unattainable to the everyday person. An album of this caliber has always interacted with its listeners and hit you on some level, whether in anguish, love, lust, disgust or fear.
A classic hip-hop album redefines our understanding of the power hip-hop music holds. You get whiplash from thrusting your head back and forth, are thrilled to experiencing the album and all it has to offer, and are upset that shit ended. We’ve had albums that delivered social messages, made us comprehend the tragedies and triumphs of society, expanded the notions of what music is, and have ultimately united us as a culture; those, my friends, are classics. All things considered, if you can’t see yourself listening to said album 10 years later or if you don’t feel like you’d tell your kids about it, don’t call it a classic.
By Erin Lowers