Rohit's Realm

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September 28, 2010

Blast from the Past (Or, How Gangsta Rap Ages)

Way back in 2006, I wrote about my top underutilized purchases at that time, which included, among other things, a 12'', 400 W subwoofer that got a total of maybe ten uses in six years; a Kenneth Cole Reaction briefcase that would be replaced by a superior Tumi model within three months; and the second season of Dark Angel on DVD (don't judge!) that I never managed to complete. The past couple of days have presented an opportunity to undertake a similar retrospective. That's largely because along with existential angst and geeking out, my time thus far in (the) OC has also been accompanied by coaxing, pressure, and the occasional threat from my parents to clean out the crap that I have managed to accumulate over nearly three decades of (necessarily futile, much lamented) existence on this planet.

Yesterday, amidst the trash stacked up high in my closet, I came across a gem: a sealed box containing roughly a hundred albums from my youth (a/k/a the 1990s) that I had neither seen nor thought of since I left for college. Converting these compact discs into a format more suited for the new millennium has given me the chance both to wax nostalgic and reflect on how these anthems of my adolescence have aged. The short answer? To a large extent, not very well. After the jump, more detail on why and a list of some of my best and worst finds.

At the outset, however, I should probably provide the following disclaimer: I have never been that into music, then or now, and as such, my nineties collection is a rather perplexing mix of grunge and gangsta rap with a little punk and pop mixed in for flavor. So, in other words, if you're one of those insufferable buffoons whose entire identity revolves around bands no one's ever heard of, shows that deliver far less than advertised (or paid for), or perhaps some hopeless combination thereof, you will probably find little of merit in this entry. (But then again, I find little of merit in your continued oxygen-depleting existence on this planet, which may quite possibly be more futile than my own, so please kindly rot in hell, hopefully as a consequence of a death that is anything but tragically hip.)

The Good

Disclaimer done, let's start with the good, shall we? (It is where we optimists start, after all.) To my pleasant surprise, several of the albums I found had actually aged rather well. In fact, a few of them are such classics, that I was surprised I had not missed them over the years. Below is a list of five, in chronological order by release date, that I found to still resonate even ten and sometimes almost twenty years later:

  1. Snoop Doggy Dog, Doggystyle (1993). Unusual for a rap record, at least 80 percent of tracks on this album are irrefutable classics. And the remainder of the songs and random skits, too, aren't totally insufferable as is sometimes the case on rap albums (see below). The fact that this album was not already in my digital library is rather embarrassing.
  2. The Offspring, Smash (1994). Interestingly, of all the albums I discovered in my closet, this was the only one that I could listen to from start to finish. Though there are certainly a few classics—Come Out and Play, Bad Habit, and Self-Esteem (which, for reasons that I imagine are abundantly clear, is my favorite) stand out—there aren't really any bad tracks on this album that merit a skip. The album, therefore, is a rarity in that works as a collective whole rather than a collection of a couple good singles and filler. How often can you say that about an album?
  3. Warren G, Regulate... G Funk Era (1994). This album, unlike Doggystyle, isn't all glitter and gold. There are ups and downs, but the ups—Regulate, This DJ—still rock sixteen years later. And frankly, those songs were probably the reason I bought the album in the first place, so that counts as aging well in my book.
  4. The Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die (1994). This is another one I'm embarrassed not to have in my digital library over the past ten years. What is there really to say about this album, besides the fact that it was Biggie's debut and an instant classic? I still know most of the words to Juicy and Big Poppa. If you don't at least appreciate this album, you probably didn't grow up in the nineties.
  5. Outkast, Aquemini (1998). Somewhat of a dark horse selection compared to the others above, but Aquemini held its own for me on a listen some twelve years after I first bought it. Like Regulate, it's got some filler, but the good tracks still work today. Rosa Parks, parts one and two of Da Art of Storytelling, and Aquemini stand out.

There are quite a few conspicuous omissions in that list, but two that immediately come to mind are Nirvana and 2Pac. As it turns out, though, those two are likely my favorite artists of the nineties and I own almost every album they put out—albums that were never relegated to collecting dust for almost a decade. As such, they could not make this list, but albums from both have definitely aged well into the new millennium.

The Bad

Having dispensed with the good, it's time to consider the bad. And there was a lot of bad. Narrowing it down to only five was tough, but here they are, again in chronological order by release date:

  1. Master P, MP Da Last Don (1998). I remember listening to this album quite a bit during the summer after ninth grade, but more than a decade later, I find myself wondering what exactly I liked about this album in the first place. There are no real stand out tracks, and the lyrics are gratingly repetitive. Definitely not a sound (or an album) for the ages.
  2. VA, Def Jam's Rush Hour Soundtrack (1998). There is only one good track on this album: Jay-Z, Can I Get A... and it also appears on Jay-Z's Volume 2... Hard Knock Life, an album which I also own. So, basically, I'm not sure why I own this album. Oh well.
  3. Mase, Double Up (1999). A follow up to the classic Harlem World, this album can only be described as a disappointment. Get Ready featuring Blackstreet was the only track that had vague resonance upon yesterday's listen. Mase quit shortly after this album's release to become an evangelical Christian pastor; so much for not stopping until you see your name on a blimp.
  4. Mack 10, The Paper Route (2000). I don't have much to say about this album. It's just another mediocre record put out during a time when hip hop was undergoing a major shift (and not for the better, in my opinion). Nothing stood out on a listen a decade later, but then again, I'm not sure anything would have stood out even back in 2000.
  5. Blink 182, Take Off Your Pants 'n' Jacket (2001). Not technically released during the nineties, this record is still properly qualified with the past decade. It marked the end of an era, and what a dire end it was. Listening to it yesterday, I almost cringed. What was this whiny, trite shit? I was never particularly into Blink 182, but the fact that I had this album at all was disturbing. Maybe it was just an errant, thoughtless acquisition, but regardless, it was a mistake.

The Ugly

Finally, since this is the Realm, we have to talk about the ugly. And there was some of that too in this pile of records I unearthed. But I will reserve my ire for only one that I think epitomizes how some music ages very poorly. That record is:

  1. Ja Rule, Venni Vetti Vecci (1999). A mediocre record even when it was released, I couldn't even listen to this album now. The only famous single, Holla Holla, was simply annoying, and the rest of the tracks, let alone the idiotic skits, were boring, atrociously bad, or both. I don't regret much, but this purchase, I regret.

* * *

Which brings me to the present. How much of the music I've collected in the last decade will I similarly regret? Perhaps very little, as my musical tastes in the past ten years shifted from the idiosyncratic (gangsta rap) to the obscure (electronica). Then again, I'm pretty sure there's some really cheesy trance out there somewhere just waiting to be discovered in the next ten years—and regretted. Such is life, I suppose, or at least, mine.


Those are some bomb top 5. I too own all of them (or did, until some piece of shit broke into my Berkeley apartment and stole all my hard copies!!!). Definitely my favorite Outkast, Snoop and Biggie albums (might as well add Warren G to that too since I it's the only album I'm familiar with...).

I too remember when Master P was hot; anybody remember "Make 'em Say Uhhhhh!!!"? You can tell how quality he actually is by the fact that he put out an album a month and still had time to try out for NBA teams.

Ja Rule is terrible.

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