If I were asked to recommend an album to a hip-hop novitiate, I'd suggest they listen to Mobb Deep's 'The Infamous' ...
Or maybe something from Big L
(Or then again, maybe I'd choose this one - big l Harlem's finest vol 1 & 2 full album - for the urgent delivery ... and smarts).
All this might seem perverse for two reasons; well, none of the records above provided the déclic moment for me as I started listening to hip-hop seriously (second time around) last year. None of these records were what first made me think I should spend a bit more time here with this music, making connections that made sense to me.
Added to that, well, there is zero point of connection between me and these records in terms of the worldview presented. They could not be more foreign if there were recorded in Ulan Bator, or Lagos.
In terms of all criteria - race, background, age, family situation - I couldn't be any more different to Havoc and Prodigy, who as two men in their early 20s from Queens, NY released this record two decades ago.
Being authentic is often discussed in relation to hip-hop; this notion of the MC being real, or representing his/her life and then the fans think about this when assessing the quality of the music.
For obvious reasons then this is impossible for me to do - how could it be otherwise? So what then appeals to me when I listen to these records? The sound, basically.*
This music still stands up, unlike some of the wittier, more literary, more sonically adventurous hip-hop from the same era (some of which sounds really twee to me now, even though I liked it a lot then).
Besides, as a woman liking art that is foreign in terms of my experience is nothing new - I think one of the key aspects of being female is living this, on a daily basis to the point where your appreciation of something includes an expectation that it won't be something you know personally. And this is no problem - not everything you like, or appreciate, needs to be a mirror.
Mobb Deep's The Infamous is as bold, as clear as The Stooges's Funhouse : it has the same force and desire to be heard, to stake out territory. I love the simplicity of it, the complete nature of the aesthetic; there are no weaknesses, no gaps.
By simplicity, I mean simple like a meditation; or simple like anything that matters in this world, in fact. Simple like a kiss, or a decision to act; simple like a thought, a memory. The music I grew up with, the nasty guitar music of the Melbourne underground scene was similarly 'simple' - focussed on the impact, not showing off fancy technique. There was no need.
(Maybe this is why I find Led Zeppelin unlistenable, other than one track of theirs, and am with Albini who it's said once announced that the Ramones's Rocket to Russia had better guitar than anything found on Hendrix ... sorry Jimi)
Have a look at this great 'making of' talking through all the tracks from Complex.
*It's funny too. Even after too many to count listens, certain lines from The Infamous still make me laugh.