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by kenn on 7/13/2004 08:57:00 PM

Remembering The Golden Age of Hip-Hop

At a time when rap’s creative center has shifted south off the Mason Dixon line, the Beastie Boys’ “The Five Boroughs” seems like an anachronism. There’s its title, — a paean to the music’s New York roots. Then there’s the album’s distinctively old-school sound — a far cry from the futuristic sounds of the Neptunes, or the tectonic boom of Lil Jon and the Eastsiide Boyz “crunk” style.

But as hip-hop music moves into its 25th year, its 40-something followers are starting to wax nostalgic about what many feel was the “Golden Age” of hip-hop music: The ’80s.

“I hate to haul out this cliché,” said critic Jon Caramanica , “but there was a lot more freedom, and a lot less of the notion of hip-hop as a commodity, which you see a lot of now. That sound you hear on the new Beasties album is the same kind of sound they had on their classic ‘Paul’s Boutique’ (released in 1989). They are putting out the idea that it’s time to return to that era.”

What was so great about the ’80s? There were no cookie cutter strip club videos with rappers sliding credit cards through women’s backsides (Nelly), for one. Radio hadn’t blared corporate play lists into fans’ home furniture. And rappers had an individual sound that was dictated by their region and their communities, not by a marketing strategist.

‘Nowadays everybody tries to copy what the hot style is. There are guys out there that are like Frankensteins, this kind of ghoulish pastiche of Jay-Z and Biggie and Naps and whoever else they feel they need to sound like to get paid.’

“Nowadays everybody tries to copy what the hot style is. There are guys out there that are like Frankensteins, this kind of ghoulish pastiche of Jay-Z and Biggie and Naps and whoever else they feel they need to sound like to get paid,” said writer/historian Brian Coleman. “In the ’80s you’d get laughed off the stage for copying someone else’s style. That was considered heresy.”

All this seems like good old-fashioned generational jingoism, until you look closely at the facts. Namely, that the Reagan years produced a huge amount of terrific hip-hop music.

“All you have to do is look at the albums that came out then,” said Coleman. “Just take the year 1988, for example. You had Public Enemy’s ‘Nation of Millions’ (regarded as one of the greatest pop albums ever), Ultramagnetic MCs ‘Critical Beatdown,’ Boogie Down Productions’ ‘By All Means Necessary,’ ‘The Great Adventures of Slick Rick.’ Eric B. and Rakim’s ‘Follow the Leader,’ Too Short, NWA … and that’s just one year.”

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