Do These Much-Loathed Rap Albums Deserve Our Ire?
Chaz Kangas All These on One Receipt
Last month marks five years since electronics and media giant Circuit City closed its doors forever. As a music fan, I miss Circuit City quite a bit. Not only were their prices on CDs usually exceedingly low, presumably in efforts to get customers to enter the store and buy televisions or whatever, but they really picked up where Tower Records left off in terms of stocking regional artists from around the country that had any sort of momentum. In New York, it was often the only place to get west coast and southern hip-hop artists that the larger music chains would ignore.
As a result, during those last three months of liquidation, I was able to clean up in terms of filling the gaps in my southern hip-hop collection, as well as surprise close friends with the entire Project Pat discography for under 10 bucks. On the final day, when everything was 90% off, I had already made most desirable purchases. As a result, I took a look at what remained of the inventory and purchased five of the most loathed records of the decade in one swoop. As Christopher Morley once said, "All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful: but the beauty is grim." In the name of Circuit City, it's time to revisit the most hated handful of music ever purchased.
Hate, not unlike love or disgust, is largely subjective. Thus, understanding why these records are hated, requires a proper context. The 2000s were an interesting transitional time for hip-hop. At just over 30 years, the culture was having that last rash of growing pains in terms of making peace with how worldwide it had become. As a result, while these five albums were certainly loved by enough people to make them all national hits, the sheer vitriol they inspired from so many other corners of the hip-hop map made them frequent scapegoats and punching bags from purists of all sorts. Given how fast rap moves, these albums might as well have been made a lifetime ago. It is with that clarity that these projects can be revisited and evaluated as to whether or not they deserved the flack they received.
D4L, Down For Life (2005)
In 2005, it seemed just about the one thing that experimental underground rap scenes and boom-bap purists could relate on was a shared hatred for D4L's breakout single "Laffy Taffy." From the minimalist bloop-and-bleep sounding production, to the message that the crew was only concerned with partying to the silly simplistic chorus, it made "Laffy Taffy" the go-to terminology for seemingly substandard hip-hop. Even Ghostface, normally a fan of wackiness, threw shots at the group, making berating the song and its fans a part of his live show and dissing it on his critically acclaimed Fishscale album.
Everyone who said an unkind word about this record is 1000% wrong. I remember liking the record at the time for tracks like "Scotty," whose excellent use of harmonization is the closest thing to the old school rap pioneers' routines that hip-hop's produced in a decade. But, hearing it now, this entire record is massive and years ahead of its time. While member Shawty Lo has gone on to more success as a solo artist, producer, and reality TV star, sonically this record is truly innovative. While there's plenty of great regional boasting that gives Down For Life a genuine flavor, the MCs keep things fun while the production is both one-of-a-kind and stellar. Thankfully, of these five records, Down For Life has caught on the most with listeners in its aftermath, most recently getting shouted out in Young Thug's "Stoner."