So what passes as a classic these days? Is it that instant gratification you get on that first play through. Or does it depend on how often you listen to an album over time? The latter used to be the standard, but now it seems that fans toss that word around like it’s nothing. Have there been any albums you can call “classic” within the last ten years? I don’t know but I will give you my theory on it…
I think classic is a very delicate word when it comes to hip-hop music. There is a lot to live up to when you tell your man that “such and such” album is a classic. That means this album is on a level with past classics like: Raising Hell, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Criminal Minded, Enter the 36 Chambers, The Low End Theory, The Chronic…. And so on and so forth. That in itself seems unfair. Your “new classic” shouldn’t be held to the standard of another man’s work, but that my friend…is the way of our world unfortunately.
There is a couple of key components that link these timeless gems. The level of craftsmanship dedicated to the sound and lyrics is what pulls you into the experience. You can listen to the album and instantly hear that the artist and producers genuinely cared about this project. They either had a ton of fun making the album, or were extremely focused on making an impact. I know it all sounds so serious but when you are trying to make your mark on the hip-hop map…you want to make the biggest mark.
Where I hear a classic someone else may just hear a decent album. I’ve been deeply involved with music all of my life, so I may hear things that others don’t. It doesn’t make me special. I just have a different ear than the next man or woman. If an artist can make an impression on someone who listen for craftsmanship versus a person who looks for “trendy” hip-hop; that is when I feel you have something unique.
When I first heard Jay-Z’s debut album Reasonable Doubt, I didn’t like it that much. I wasn’t a fan of the production. I for damn sure didn’t consider it a hip-hop classic. It wasn’t until the following year that I found myself playing the album EVERYDAY. Religiously. Then it hit me…this shit is dope! I never really got into the lyrics because I was so focused on the production. Then I realized that the production compliments the subject matter and overall theme perfectly.
The only thing that I did different from the original play through was open my mind. I shut out any hype, and all outside praises for the album. I allowed the album to prove itself worthy of my collection. And that it did. It may have taken a while but it won me over. Now, I can do the same thing with a bullshit album, but there is no way that repetition will get me to call it a classic.
Some classics help to define an era. In some cases, it can change the way others make their music. I knew Get Rich or Die Trying was a classic when I heard it. The momentum for 50 Cent going into that album was insane! And they delivered! It met the standards of his underground success, the radio hits were bananas, and for the 1st time in a long time we felt like the whole “We miss Biggie and Pac” era was gone. There was finally “new blood” taking the game in a familiar yet fresh direction.
When you go back and listen to that album, I remember the enthusiasm that surrounded it. It’s like looking at pics from a fun night out on the town or watching a wedding video years later. It just brings back good memories. Haters will hate but some shit is just undeniable. Timing is every thing and 50/interscope struck while things were hot.
At the end of the day, the criteria for a classic can be unpredictable. Instant and unanimous praise doesn’t always mean classic. For example, the general sentiment today is that the rap game is wack. So any good album is seen as certified classic. I’ve been guilty of that. Truthfully, time will reveal what albums made an impact over the years. Debates will ensue, track for track will be thrown out there, and some people will discover them all for the first time. You will too…