thisANDthat: Mama’s Rampage
Hip-hop is competitive. Artists claim to be the greatest of their city. Others say they are the greatest period. Hip-hop fans follow suit debating who is the GOAT emcee? Who is the GOAT producer? Who has the greatest style? Which hype man is the best? Who does the best ad-libs? Who does the best doot, doot, doot’s? And on and on. Shoot, I've claimed over and over that Black Thought is the GOAT and systematically crafted an argument to "prove" that conclusion! However, there is another way to discuss Hip-hop. Instead of pitting artists and albums against one another, we can also find two things Hip-hop related and discuss how they compliment each other. This AND that.
Case and point: Mama Said Knock You Out by L.L. Cool J and Business as Usual by EPMD. Each of these 1990 albums are great in their own right. However, listening to them together might bring about new insights and greater appreciation. I had this experience just the other day.
First, I threw on Mama… I love this album. It is my favorite from his catalogue. Co-production credit to LL aside, Marley Marl produced this entire album. He might have given LL some of his greatest beats up to that point. As soon as I heard that bassline bounce around the drums and sample on “The Boomin System” my head started nodding. It does every time. That bass is so intoxicating. But, wait a minute. I know that feeling. I’ve felt it on another LL song. No, not just LL. It's the song, “Rampage,” off EPMD’s Business as Usual album. So, I quickly took out LL and put in EPMD. Yup, that’s it. Those two songs, “Boomin System” and “Rampage,” feature very inviting baselines that hold the songs together and commands us listeners to immediately snap our necks.
So that parallel is pretty obvious to me with how similar those beats are structured. But you also have the crossover feature of LL on the EPMD song. What else is here? I’ll explore further.
Both albums hit the music store shelves around the same time toward the end of 1990. Both LL and EPMD had successful albums prior to these 1990 releases but something about these two particular albums stick out. I’m always asking people what their favorites are in Hip-hop. When LL comes up it is usually Mama Said Knock You Out and with EPMD, people tend to like Business as Usual the most. Why?
I think part of the reason these particular albums really stand out and the reason I love them so much is their production. Lyrically LL, PMD, & Erick Sermon had a few years and albums to master their craft. Master they did, and lyrically they sound their best on these albums (up to that point). But it is the production that I really love: not just for how the beats sound but also the symbolism. Marley Marl had been putting in work since the early 80’s. He had already produced for MC Shan, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, and others. He kept getting better and better and Mama Said Knock You Out might just be his best work.
Similarly Erick Sermon and PMD had been perfecting their craft, but for not as long. In a way Marley Marl had reached his pinnacle and sat down on his throne while EPMD, and particularly Erick Sermon, were in arms-reach of it. Production-wise I’m not sure which album is better. Regardless, by the time Business Never Personal (EPMD’s next album) came out and then Erick Sermon’s solo No Pressure rolled around a few years later, it was crystal clear to me who was sitting adjacent to Marley Marl on that throne.
The lyrics on both albums are of a certain Hip-hop Golden age ethos. The beats on both albums are funky. The artists on both albums are in their prime or close to it. If you grew up on these albums, odds are they don’t get old. They grow on you and get even better over time. There is no need to compare them for the sake of crowning one as the best. They both shine and together that light is even brighter - this AND that.