Play This More Often, Part 11 (The Hip-Hop Edition)

Play This More Often is a series of essays meant to highlight songs that deserve more attention and appreciation, all in the humble opinion of this music listener of course. Some of them may be neglected by the public at large, some not taken seriously enough by music writers or some plainly overlooked because of their obscurity. Whatever the case, suggestions via the comments from you are always welcomed.

1) GZA – Beneath the Surface (feat. Killah Priest & Res)

“Scratch underneath the surface” goes the chorus here, and GZA is indeed an artist where you have to do that in order to assimilate everything. Layers of metaphors and wordplays are to be found in his lyrics and this gem off his often overlooked sophomore album may just be one of the best places to get that feeling. OK, it’s not Liquid Swords, but the spacey beat provided by Inspectah Deck is just as atmospheric and plus, you get a Killah Priest verse that sounds like the fitful continuation of B.I.B.L.E.

2) Kanye West – Coldest Winter

A big change in the attitude of the ever-mediatized Kanye West can be attributed to the flopping of his most confessional album back in 2008. Much like 1970s Lou Reed after fans rejected the heart-wrenching Berlin, a lot of what Kanye has done since 808s & Heartbreak can be interpreted as a fuck-you to everybody, even though almost always musically interesting. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt like I understand where he’s coming from, and I know that presenting yourself as naked and vulnerable as he did on 808s was not an easy thing to do. That’s also why I think that even the album’s lesser-known songs shine – the emotion is always there.

3) Eric B. & Rakim – In the Ghetto

Fans are complaining all the time about how Rakim doesn’t vary much in his lyrics – it’s almost always metaphors about his rapping skills and their impact on the listener, yet, these are the same fans that refuse to go past the duo’s second album. Now I’m not saying that what followed was that big of a departure or even remotely as influential, but there’s certainly new angles and Rakim handles them with as much conviction as he ever did. In the Ghetto is such an example and the lyrics whose subject matter you’ve probably already guessed are set over a haunting, almost ghostly atmosphere.

4) Eminem – Legacy

When it comes to his past few albums, fans have blamed Eminem for either going into directions that were not suited for his style or successfully solidifying his legacy, but not really adding anything new to it. Despite the rather ill-advised decision to make a sequel to his most famous album, I’ve always considered The Marshall Mathers LP 2 to be the best of the bunch. It surely falls into the second category though; if Rap God was put there to prove us that he’s still a technical wizard, then Legacy reminds us of the human Eminem, whose words can always work as a shield against the shit that life is throwing at your direction. He lets us know that he’s been in that position, that he’s felt those feelings of alienation and oppression and this makes a clear distinction between a preacher and a friend for the listener.

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8 replies

  1. I am a big fan of GZA, the lyrical assassin that he is – he opened the door of hip hop to me – I always keep it cracked open!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good call with Kanye, there. I’m fond of a few of his albums and, while I found 808s & Heartbreak a bit cold musically, some of it really packs a punch. I also wouldn’t disagree with the suggestion that his output since could be viewed as a ‘fuck you’.

    Aside from that, there’s a few I haven’t heard in a while. Never been much of an Eminem fan, but GZA is incredible. Great track.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Listen to 808s in the light of things such as John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Tonight’s the Night or Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Not comparing them quality-wise, but it’s that type of thing, blood-on-the-tracks, heart-on-the-sleeve. I definitely am in minority, but that’s my favorite album of his. But the rest are great too, I don’t think he’s ever made a bad album. Which is not something many hip-hop artists can claim to. He’s not my favorite, but he’s pretty damn consistent and no 2 albums sound the same either.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I’ll revist it, Ovidiu. I have everything up to and including My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and reckon only two of them haven’t really hit the right notes. But that’s not saying I think they’re bad albums, I just didn’t find an ‘in’.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice post, despite loving two tracks (almost despite myself) I really can’t do Eminem – it’s his homophobia that really puts me off.

    We can agree about Eric B and Rakim all day long though!

    Liked by 1 person

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