1. Fab 5 Freddy - Intro
2. Black Sheep - I'm the One
3. Big Daddy Kane - Like That, Y'all
4. Biz Markie - My Name Is...
5. MC Lyte - Listen Up
6. Grand Puba - Let's Go
7. Smooth B (of Nice & Smooth) - I Want My Money Back
8. Graig G - Catch a Lyrical Beatdown
9. Chubb Rock - Chubb Rocks the Party
10. Special Ed - This Mic
11. Doug E. Fresh - It Ain't Nothin'
12. Jungle Brothers - Back In the Jungle
13. Just Ice - I Run the Streets
14. Melle Mel & Grandmaster Caz - The Battle Is On
15. Master Ace - Revolution's 'Bout To Start
A release which has the internet buzzing: Top Shelf 8/8/88. This compilation comes with a too-good-to-be-true backing story. Indeed listeners will easily be able to tell that these tracks weren't laid down back in the day but what we're left with is a brilliant concept many Hip-Hop heads will welcome with open arms: "Golden Age" legends kickin' 88 st.yle rhymes over 88 st.yle beats. As you can see from the tracklisting this album is something to get excited about. Once Yo! MTV Rap's presenter Fab 5 Freddy finishes the introduction Dres kicks off the album with a ludicrously fast rap, kickin' cocky lines straight over your head in true Black Sheep fashion. Next up is Big Daddy Kane but I couldn't help feeling a bit under-whelmed by this track. Kane circa 88 brings to mind furious cl&ssics like "Raw" and "Set It Off" but of course his performance here isn't as agile. However he still has that "if a rapper tries to diss I'll crush the mother ******" swagger. Biz Markie's appearance could easily be "Just Rhymin' With Biz" Pt. 2. His lazy flow, random rhymes and beat boxing sound as if they might well have been recorded in 88. Lyte's delivery is also in 80's mode and she name-drops many New York golden age artists and venues which makes for some misty eyed nostalgia which is the redeeming quality of her track. "Let's Go" by Brand Nubian's Grand Puba is quite possibly my favourite track on the album. His voice is a bit higher pitched but his cheeky lines; delivery and a funky bass line make that irrelevant. "Who's that cat that rocks the hot track, wack stay back it's the leader of the pack, don't test, try to mess, you know my st.yle like Daddy I'm fresh." "See I'm nice with the mic device, turn a hot MC into a block of ice, slaughter MCs that step in my path, school them on the whole coz they don't know the half." Yeeeeeeah! Smooth B busts his Nice & Smooth-days patented, inane party rhymes more designed for rocking the jam than wowing with listeners with lyrical intricacies. But still, it's dope. Likewise is Craig G's "Catch a Lyrical Beatdown". He flows nicely and benefits from one of the best beats and track titles of the album. Craig G closes out his spot by droppin' a gem, 88 old school st.yle: "We in here like swimwear... peace." The album finishes off with a poignant story rap from Master Ace, formerly of Cold Chillin'. Definitely a brilliant closer and one of the highlights of the album.
What this album reflects is a yearning for the seemingly abandoned characteristics of Hip-Hop's "golden age". A time when Run-D.M.C.'s mainstream breakthrough of the mid-80s demonstrated Hip-Hop's commercial viability to the music industry. Not yet knowing what to make of this new, unconventional art form the labels allowed the music to flourish with little intervention. The New York Hip-Hop community was like one big happy incestuous family (in a good way). A time when friendly competition and one-up-man-ship elevated the art of rhyme to its highest level, on record beefs were never allowed to spiral out of control, producers were developing ever new and fresh sampling st.yles, collaborations were rife but biting (purposely imitating) was a sure way to get your reputation flushed down the toilet. Early gangsta/hardcore (or "reality" rap as it was originally called) emerged alongside alternative, afro-centric Hip-Hop spearheaded by the Native Tongues Posse. Energetic young MCs were making a name for themselves with goofy, unconventional lyrical acrobatics while political rappers were brimming with righteous anger over the social injustices they saw in Reagan's America. Hip-Hop could be anything and everything and it still had a direct connection to and respect for its foundation: the old school pioneers who "paved the way" for the next wave of MCs and DJs to build something lasting upon their achievements. Those were the conditions of late 80s New York that produced dozens of top-notch albums, the bulk of which were released in 1988. Arguably the best year in Hip-Hop (as demonstrated by my profile banner.) Bear in mind I wasn't even born in 1988 and I didn't become a serious Hip-Hop fan until 2 years ago. But in those 2 years I have listened and enjoyed Hip-Hop for hours each day and what I have gathered is that since Hip-Hop's "golden age" there has been a general decline in the quality of music being marketed. That is not an attempt to whine it's just a simple observation. Of course there are exceptions but every Hip-Hop fan has to accept that this is the case. Things just ain't the same. "Nowadays it sounds a little different when a man raps".
And this is what Top Shelf 8/8/88 represents. A yearning for the good ol' days when Hip-Hop was just better than the crap-fest it supposedly is now. But what some fall victim to is the "everything that came out after '97 is bull ****" syndrome. This is most common amongst new Hip-Hop fans who perhaps weren't even born never mind aware of Hip-Hop in 1988 and therefore tend to over-romanticise its golden age at the expense of current music being released. I know I did. While it is crucial to have an appreciation of the great music made at that time it is also important to support good Hip-Hop in the present, of which there is plenty to enjoy. 8/8/88 is a celebration of 1988 Hip-Hop but still, it is an imitation. We can't go back in time. Hip-Hop will never recapture that youthful, fresh energy. It has seen too much, grown too world-weary and of course will never be the same again.
If you got this far thanks for reading. :D Remember to check the album and leave a comment.