Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Hip Hop Box [Hip-O, 2004]
As it stands, disc four proves how many memorable tracks are embedded in recent radio-rap detritus: Bone Thugs-n-Harmony's prophetic singsong, Gang Starr's classic flow, DMX's brutal bark, Noreaga's Neptunes electrojive, more. But imagine if it featured the Notorious B.I.G., the Fugees, Jay-Z, Eminem, Missy Elliott, Nelly, and OutKast, all absent except Biggie, snuck on via a well-selected Junior M.A.F.I.A. cameo. Thus, The Hip Hop Box may well play as a downhill slide to anyone familiar with such old-school classics as Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock," Run D.M.C.'s "Sucker M.C.'s," and Roxanne Shanté's "Roxanne's Revenge"--which in turn may well shock young rap fans who haven't heard them, positively with their optimistic audacity or negatively with their crude hooks. Eric B. & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, and Ice-T lead disc two by deftly elaborating minimalist parameters. Then comes MC Hammer with the minor "Turn This Mutha Out" rather than a smash: full-band sonics, femme chorus, hype man, scratches, drum breaks, the works. And then comes the dense Bomb Squad multitracks that undergird the outspoken Public Enemy, as loud and aggressive as any arena-rock, and a hell of a lot funkier. It's not even 1990 and we're off to the races. Hip-hop can be anything it wants to be. It can be Biz Markie out of tune over a piano sample or De La Soul layering as thick as PE so they can remain goofs for life. It can be Naughty by Nature copping J5 followed by the once and future Will Smith doing spoken-word over girlie cheese. The indie entertainment of Chubb Rock, the proto-underground provocation of Black Sheep; the jazz lite of Digable Planets, the cockeyed nutball of Craig Mack; the sisterly womanism of Queen Latifah, the diva pride of Roots protegee Jill Scott; the textured flow of Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, the dramatic atmospherics of Wu-Tang Clan; the oily G-funk of Dr. Dre, the bumpy swampbeats of Timbaland. Maybe somebody up there has good ears. Or maybe with a genre so pervasive and extraordinary, picking just 51 tracks is a gimme. [Blender: 4]