Gawd bless the Ghostface Killah for rescuing music from mediocrity. Again.
Tony Starks just officially released “12 Reasons to Die,” a collaboration with composer Adrian Younge that tells the story of a vengeful, murdered man who comes back hard, horrifically even, at the crime family who killed him and melted his remains into 12 vinyl records as a creepy keepsake.
I’m deeply entranced with the scratchy soul layered under his energetic, urgent flow and this freaky, 70s-esque video.
As I enjoyed being haunted by Ghost, I started reflecting on past hip-hop concept albums that captivated me.
Here’s my list, and feel free to throw your suggestions down there in comments. I just might be moved to update with the best suggestions.
1. Prince Paul, Prince Among Thieves
Big Daddy Kane, Kool Keith, Special Ed, RZA and Everlast. All on one album. Produced by Prince Paul. Yes, this ish happened. And it was awesome. Woven together by the impressive skills of Breezy Brezlin, this tale of an MC who enters the drug game for that big score that never quite materializes. If you have not imbibed this audio, do so forthwith.
2. Ice Cube, Death Certificate
Long before Ice Cube traded in his scowl for family-friendly fame, NWA’s MVP established himself as a prolific lyricist with weighty matters on his mind. (Hell naw, I ain’t talking about Bop Gun.”) His second studio album, “Death Certificate” lived up to rap’s sometimes exaggerated assertion of being the CNN of the streets. Gems including “Bird in the Hand” showed off Oshea Jackson’s wicked wit and fury over the mistreatment of the Black male in America.
3. Gravediggaz, 6 Feet Deep
RZA’s supergroup went levels deeper than Das EFX’s straight-from-the-sewa origins. This collective, consisting of Prince Paul, Frukwan, Too Poetic, and took on otherworldly alter egos (RZArector, Gatekeeper, Grim Reaper, etc.) for this dark, twisted adventure into insanity. “1-800-Suicide” lyrically taunts a fictional listener mulling his/her own mortality and you can’t shut out the genius of the hysterical “Constant Elevation.” However, the Hannibal Lecter-esque “Diary of a Madman” is one of my favorite songs of all time. Think what you will ’bout that.
4. Outkast, Speakerboxx/The Love Below
I love listening to this Grammy-winning effort despite the nostalgia it invites (when’s the next Outkast album ,btw?). It stands out as a stellar and truly separate, but equal achievement for the now aesthetically estranged members of Outkast. Big Boi’s brassier, soulful and slightly more straightforward “Speakerboxx” bounced well off of 3000’s soul-searching journey through heartbreak in “The Love Below.” My cuts on this one include: “Last Call,” “Hey Ya!,” “The Way You Move,” and “A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre.” The latter, a lengthy, at times meandering storytelling orgy, is something that must be heard to be believed. In the words of Arsenio Hall in “Coming to America,” that boy is good!
5. Nelly, Sweat/Suit
I kid. I kid.
5. Deltron 3030, Deltron 3030 (Added via @cleettweet)
I’ve been rocking with Del tha Funkee Homosapien since “I Wish My Brother George Was Here,” but what really catapulted this prime lyricist into the upper echelon (pre-Gorillaz) was Deltron 3030, an album set in a future where he must fight an evil borg of freedom suppressing dictators. In this effort, swelling with off-kilter instrumentals from Dan the Automator, you’ll be immediately swept away by the dead-on, deadpan delivery that makes Del (and his fellow Hieros) great. If you’re not up on this masterpiece, get thee to Spotify, fire it up in your earbuds, then come back with a full report.
Your turn. What hip-hop concept album has seeped deep into your psyche? Which did I miss? Share in comments and then I’ll see ’bout adding it to the round-up with a shout out to you, of course.
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