Roll through hip hop’s old school and you quickly get goosebumps: the array of innovative artists that helped establish the music is daunting. Our annual salute to the masters who gave rap its early achievements has become a great tradition. This year, VH1’s Hip Hop Honors is saluting five wildly creative acts, Cypress Hill, De La Soul, Naughty By Nature, Slick Rick, and Too $hort. Each brought a wealth of ideas to the table, guiding the music to the next level.
The show is hosted by Tracy Morgan. It premieres on October 7 on VH1.
“Hummin’, comin’ atcha…” B Real and his buds Sen Dog and DJ Muggs put asses in gear and had dudes glancing over their shoulders when they busted out of L.A. in 1991 with a wildly aggressive debut. They were weed-smoking bangers who loved all sorts of funk. Sometimes rapping in Spanglish, sometimes letting their anger dominate, and always explaining their frustrations, they made tracks like “How I Could Just Kill a Man” sound like chilling reports from the ‘hood.
A Brit raised in the Bronx, Slick Rick had MCs all around him during his teenage years. He’d bang beats on the school desks and freestyle through the afternoons. The borough was rap’s Mesopotamia, of course, and superhero Doug E Fresh help Rick get a leg up. Almost instantly the party people were constantly shouting one of his improvised refrains. Hip-hop, most assuredly, would be a lesser place without “La Di Da Di.” Turns out the MC had compelling way with a narrative, too, and “Children’s Story, from 1988’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick is one of rap’s masterpieces.
If everyone’s zigging, maybe it’s best to zag. De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising sounded like nothing hip-hop had heard before when the Long Island trio dropped it in 1989. Nothing. If rap had fashioned itself into a music that was perpetually hard, Trugoy the Dove, Posdnuos, and Pacemaster Mase came on like flower children. Indeed, with their iconoclastic debut declared hip-hop’s “daisy age” to be in full effect. Oddball samples, unusual flow, giddy subject matter – the guys brought a sense of frolic to the foreground, and it was utterly refreshing.
They took a Jackson 5 sample, turned it inside out, layered some glib sex talk on top, and came up with one of hip hop’s catchiest tracks, 1991’s “O.P.P.” Three Jersey kids – Treach, Vinnie, and Kay Gee – knew how to make party music, no question. They came up under Queen Latifah, and in no time had New York bobbing its head to some dope beats. There was a tough side to the Naughty boys, but by the time they dropped “Hip Hop Hooray,” everyone knew they destined to celebrate, not intimidate.
“I met another girl/her name was Ann/all she wanted was to freak with a man/when i met Ann, I shook her hand/we ended up freaking by a garbage can.” Too $hort was just telling it like it was when stepped out of Oakland onto the national scene in 1987. He let everyone know he was born to mack, and his rhymes were filled with the action of dope fiends, sex freaks, and pimp problems. Radically stark, the music behind his performances was woozy and ominous. But something about it was addictive, and it remains so to this day.