Selections of noteworthy hip hop.
I grew up in the early 2000s and I’ve had enough experience to see the pitfalls of posting about your personal life on social media. So, in general, I keep my social media presence primarily concerned with work stuff and random thoughts I find funny. However, I have had a big life change recently that I want to tell all you lovely readers of my column about: I had a baby last month! Now, this has clearly been a big change in my life and will certainly affect my ability to keep writing about music, but I’m hoping I can keep balancing my day job, my kid and this column. Only time will tell on that front, but I got something in the bag for this month because I’ve been thinking about hip hop for the babies. They say if you play Mozart in the womb for your kid, they come out smarter. But what happens when you play them Wu-Tang on their first day of life? The answer (I hope) is that they will be rad as fuck. So, with that in mind, here are some singles I’m going to pop on while I’m slinging my little dude’s dirty diaps. I’ll check back 18 years from now and let you know how it all turned out.
GZA – “Liquid Swords”
You know I had to start this out with some Wu Tang and “Liquid Swords” has one of the most iconic opening skits of all time. A young child recalls his trauma of his samurai father being attacked by ninjas sent by a possessed shogun, setting the vibe for the bleak, grimy streets of Shaolin that GZA goes on to unpack across the album. With an unbeatable hook, intricately layered lyrics, and one of RZA’s best beats of all time, “Liquid Swords” will certainly provide the perfect tone for a baby beginning his new life.
Danny Brown – “Grown Up”
If anything, Danny Brown can craft a mood with a song. On “Grown Up,” he paints with nostalgia, but not the nostalgia of rose-colored glasses. He remembers the struggles he grew up with and rejoices in his success but recognizes how his life made him who he is. With Party Supplies on the beat, “Grown Up” ends up as a chill meditation on how we become what we are.
Scarface – “My Block”
I’m not a person who is particularly proud of where they are from because I’ve moved around a lot in my life, but when it comes down to where I really feel like I’m from, it’s St. Louis and I couldn’t be happier to have my kid born here (especially as there was a chance he was going to drop out in Boston, which would have been a real pain in the ass). “My Block” is an ode to that feeling of your hometown, your street, your neighborhood. Featuring one of the best piano samples of all time, Scarface hit this hometown ode to Houston out of the park!
Jedi Mind Tricks – “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story (feat. R.A. The Rugged Man)”
While being proud of where you are from is generally a good trait to hold, uncritically imagining your homeland as exceptional is a failure of education. “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story” isn’t quite history, but it is a vivid reconstruction of perspectives from Vietnam, as told by the generation after the soldiers who fought there. This isn’t a hagiography; the stories here are those of violence and trauma passed down through generations. Plus, it has one of the greatest verses of all time thanks to R. A. The Rugged Man who drops one of the most complex internal rhyme sequences in hip hop history.
Blue Scholars – “Yuri Kochiyama”
I didn’t know who Yuri Kochiyama was until I heard this track by Blue Scholars back in 2011 which is a failure of my education! For those of you like me, whose American history education failed them, Yuri Kochiyama was a Japanese-American social/political activist who held Malcolm X in her hands as he lay dying in 1965. While a lack of instruction about the radical leftist strains of politics in the US was a blind spot in my education, I hope that artists like Blue Scholars can illuminate these for the next generation.
Outkast – “Da Art of Storytellin. Pt. 1”
I could have put any number of Outkast songs on here, but “Da Art of Storytellin’ Part 1” sticks out as both Andre and Big Boi drop some of their finest verses here. Big Boi’s sexy encounter with Suzy gives us one of the best spoonerisms in all of hip hop, while Andre’s somber reflection on the tragedy of Suzy’s friend Sasha ends up reminding us about how these flirtatious activities can end up – with heartbreak and tragedy. It’s a real bait and switch of a song, but in the end, Outkast leaves us knowing that this is the reality that life gives us.
Kendrick Lamar – “Cartoons and Cereal (feat. Gunplay)”
Originally intended for Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, “Cartoons and Cereal” ended up leaking too early to get on the album, but it’s good enough to stand by itself. I have no proof, but I think it ended up leaking because they would never have been able to clear the Warner Bros. samples that are layered into the production. However, even as a loosie, Kendrick creates a whole world based on the contrasts between the violence in Bugs Bunny cartoons he watched as a kid and the violence on the streets of Compton he personally experienced growing up. However, because the version in this Spotify playlist is pretty low-quality to get around the sample issues, I would highly recommend checking out the YouTube version instead.
Handsome Boy Modeling School – “A Day in the Life (feat. RZA, A.G., and The Mars Volta)”
“A Day in the Life” features one of my favorite beats of all time, and with Mars Volta on the hook, it ends up with a sound that couldn’t come from anyone other than the brilliant minds of Prince Paul and Dan the Automator. They also snag stellar verses from RZA and A.G., rounding out a truly unique track. Plus, based on my kid’s current bathroom habits, Tim Meadows’s guidance for washing yourself in the right way and general etiquette will certainly be a good lesson for him to learn.
Smino – “L.M.F.”
I don’t really have a particular reason for including “L.M.F.” on this list other than the fact that I’ve woken up with it in my head more times than I can count over the last few weeks. I mean, I really love this song! Smino’s delivery is great and the beat is weirdly complex and it just sticks in my head like few other songs. In the end though, I think it’s been in my head because Smino reps my little guy’s hometown. STL babyyyy!
Wu-Tang Clan – “Triumph”
Of course, I had to come full circle with one more Wu-Tang track. Afterall, as the all-wise ODB once said, “Wu-Tang is for the children,” and “Triumph” is one of the most Wu-Tang songs of all time. It features verses from every member of the Clan, an otherworldly first verse from Inspectah Deck, and that classic RZA production. Plus, it’s got a crazy video featuring very 90’s CGI bees. When my kid looks up at me and says, “Daddy, what were the 90s like?” I’m just going to put this video on and let him vibe.
Noah Springer is a writer and editor based in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @noahjspringer.