In CROWN: An Ode To The Fresh Cut, I wanted to capture the moment when Black and Brown boys all over America head to ‘the shop’ and leave out of the barber’s chair, ﬁlled with a higher self-esteem, with self-pride, with conﬁdence, and an overall elevated view of who they are. The fresh cuts. That’s where it all begins. It’s how we develop swagger, and when we began to care about how we present ourselves to the world. And really, other than the church, the experience of getting your hair cut, is probably the only place in the Black community, for a Black boy, where he is ‘tended to’, treated like royalty.
Back when I was a struggling, yet hopeful, sixth grade hip-hop superstar, writing rhymes on the back of my math notebook, and battle rapping at recess, I desperately tried to mimic the style of some of my favorite MCs at the time. Big Daddy Kane’s high-top fade. L.L. Cool J’s sneakers and swag. Rakim’s cadence and overall cool. My boys didn’t know that my love of writing rhymes also led me to become a fan of Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Derek Walcott, and Sir Laurence Dunbar. But hip-hop and the entire lifestyle of the music had a huge influence on me at the time. Between 1985 – 1986 some of the most pivotal, most important rap albums ever made were released. The masterful lyrics and the flow of those rappers’ voices stuck with me and has helped to mold my writing style. Here is a list of five of those musical masterpieces that are still in heavy rotation today:
L.L. Cool J, Radio
This album was classic because it was Russell Simmons’ Def Jam Records first full album release. It features songs that would go on to become L.L.’s most signature tracks like “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”, “I Need A Beat”, and “Rock The Bells”. The instrumental to “Rock The Bells” is a hip-hop staple.
Run DMC, Raising Hell
These guys…I love these guys. They are like The Beatles of hip-hop music. I loved Run’s arrogance and confidence, but DMC’s voice and the way the added an echo at the end of each of his stanzas was epic. Although real hip hop heads loved the boys from Hollis-Queens before this album, it was the single “Walk This Way” that matched them with rock legends Aerosmith, that put them on the map as legitimate giants. There are like seven signature Run DMC tracks on this album including “My Adidas”, “It’s Tricky”, and my favorite ”Peter Piper”.
Beastie Boys, Licensed To Ill
Classic in so many ways. Classic.
They were the first White rappers that I ever heard, and they were dope! Songs like “Paul Revere”, “The New Style”, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” and their most popular song of all time, “Fight For Your Right” solidified them as hip-hop legends. To date, this album has sold over ten million copies.
Eric B. and Rakim, Paid In Full
Now, this album came out in 1987, but it is quite possibly one of the top ten greatest hip hop albums of all time. This duo changed the game. Rakim is considered by many the greatest lyricist of all time. Before “The R” hit the scene, there were no complicated rhyme schemes. It was mostly simple couplets. But Rakim’s powerful voice and intelligent flow caused rappers, from that point forward, to step up their game. There are six, maybe seven songs on this album that could easily blow the doors off of any so called hip-hop song of today. “Eric B. Is President” is my second favorite hip hop song of all time (“Electric Relaxation” from the 1993 classic album Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest is my favorite).
Whodini, Greatest Hits
I let my sons listen to Whodini or see a Whodini video and they even question if it’s even hip-hop. The style of clothes, the stage presence, the machismo, the hat worn by Ecstasy may be different from what they consider hip-hop today, but this group was groundbreaking. Their album Back in Black cranked out singles like “Funky Beat’ and “One Love” that can still rock a party today.