25/02/2021: “So You Want To Be A Gangster” by Too Short

This is probably one of Too $hort’s least misogynistic songs. It’s not even that violent too!

Instead, it’s about warning people that are drifting into the gangster life that it’s all or nothing – and that they’ll likely end up dead.

The beat is a solid early 90s hitter, with a big, weighty bass drum and bags of attitude. The melodic hook is sampled from 1975’s “Black Frost” by Grover Washington Jr.

The album, Shorty The Pimp, was released in 1992 – named after a 1973 film.

16/02/2021: “Obaa Sima” by Ata Kak

This song could have been nothing. Its original, limited release in Ghana went completely under the radar. Yet, by chance, the song was picked up by Brian Shimkovitz – who covered it as the first song on his now legendary Awesome Tapes From Africa.

Let’s not sugar coat the vocals. They range from ‘passionate’ to fairly dire. But it’s not enough to dent that amazing, old school lo-fi house groove.

The song was forward looking, blending African pop sounds with the music Ata Kak was exposed to in Toronto. It’s a mash up of hip hop and house, using simple, Nintendo style chords. Somehow, it just works!

Released originally in 1994, the track has since become a cult favourite.

03/02/2021: “Remember The Roller” by Dr S Gatchet

Released in 1995, this Jungle classic foreshadowed a later development in Drum & Bass – the rise of rollers.

Many people argue that rollers is a style rather than a separate sub-genre. What links the songs is ‘the roll’, using sharp breakbeats and dark, paranoid basslines to take the listener smoothly through to the end of the song.

The mid-90s was when Jungle, of which this song is very much a part, started the transition into modern Drum & Bass. You can hear the shift here, with less manic drums, rumbling and distorted bass instead of 808s.

The song was re-released in 2017, with remixes from Heist and Bladerunner. And it still sounds fresh!

12/01/2021: “Complete Control (Extended Mix)” by Jark Prongo

Jark Prongo is one of the many, many aliases of Dutch DJs René ter Horst and Gaston Steenkist. Currently, they are Piano House sensations Chocolate Puma.

One of their most legendary incarnations, back in the early 90s, was The Good Men. Then, another of my favourites – Klatsch!.

I couldn’t tell you why they’ve cycled through so many names. In each of their incarnations, however, the same timeless quality shines through – they make bangers!

“Complete Control” is a tribal, pulsating eight minute jam, never losing the groove, but adding clattering layers of percussion and subtle vocals as required.

This one was released back in 1993 on the duo’s Fresh Fruit Records label, which they set up first before their classic (and still current) Pssst imprint.

08/01/2021: “Sycamore Tree” by Lady Saw

Dancehall has often been a male dominated scene. That’s starting to change in a big way now, with many of the biggest stars now being women. In the 90s it was different.

There was Lady Saw, however. She’s just too talented to ignore.

And on a riddim like this, the famous ‘Joyride’, she’s unstoppable. It’s a relentless beat, rolling onwards like a tsunami.

The song is basically about how she won’t be pressured into doing anything she doesn’t want to do, more or less. Even if you don’t understand patois, you’ll doubtless get the gist of it…

The song was released in 1996 on Mad House records.

06/01/2021: “It’s Real” by Mic Geronimo

I’m using the censored title of the song to keep things family friendly. But to be clear, I mean the other version, which begins with S. As you’ll see below, to be fair.

Featuring excellent production from Irv Gotti, the song is a classic East Coast hip hop track.

The core of the track is from Deniece Williams’ 1976 soul masterpiece, “Free”, with bassline and some sort of synth or guitar. It’s borrowed funk, but still works great here!

It was Mic Geronimo’s debut single, released in 1994. The song is gangsta rap at its finest, detailing early 90s NYC street life without getting too cartoonish about it…

The track also appears on Geronimo’s debut 1995 album, The Natural. 

31/12/2020: “An Idea For A Movie” by The Vandals

A lot of pop-punk is fairly vacuous stuff. The Vandals, mostly, don’t buck the trend.

Still, I prefer them to wishy washy 00s stuff for their harder, faster, more edgy presentation. It’s more punk than pop, rooted in the ‘melodic hardcore’ of the 80s – but still catchy as a Blink-182 or Green Day hit.

Lyrically, “An Idea For A Movie” is sort of nonsense, but good harmless stuff. They do their job well, giving the song a sing-along quality. It’s knowingly cynical, but in a vaguely feel good way.

The guitar is a different story. It hits powerfully and sharply from the get-go, blazing a technicolour trail throughout the track’s two minute runtime.

Released on Hitler Bad, Vandals Good in 1996 and blasted out of suburban Californian teenagers bedrooms ever since…

24/12/2020: “Santa Doesn’t Cop Out On Dope” by Sonic Youth

When Geffen Records released Just Say Noel in 1996, they probably didn’t have the Christmas number one in mind. Not with a track like this on, at any rate!

Based on a more palatable but still cynical song by Martin Mull from 1972, Sonic Youth take us on a tense, messy 3 minute Christmas romp. It’s like if Santa’s Grotto was on fire and full of used needles.

I’m not actually sure if this is a pro- or anti- drugs message, to be honest.

Many people will find the track below to be disgusting noise – but if you’re sick of hearing “Last Christmas”, it might be the poisonous antidote you need!

23/12/2020: “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest featuring Leaders Of The New School

Rappers these days just don’t seem to revel in words and rhythms like the old school guys did. Everybody on this track just flows!

The beat is cracking too, blending a rolling drum beat sampled from Jimi Hendrix’ 1967 “Little Miss Lover” with an ominous organ/bass combo snatched from “Oblighetto” by Brother Jack McDuff, released 1970.

My favourite verse is Phife Dawg’s, the first one. But Busta Rhymes closes the track out brilliantly. He was at the beginning of his career here, and you can tell he was on a path to greatness!

The song came out in 1991 on The Low End Theory, and was released as a single in 1992.

18/12/2020: “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” by Definition of Sound

I’m not sure I’d characterise this music as hip hop, as such. It’s more like breakbeat with a bit of rapping. It’s all gloriously early 90s, though!

There’s a hint of Fatboy Slim to the easygoing, energetic sound. It’s that same method of creating a brilliant pastiche from disconnected elements of a variety of songs.

The song does sample Donovan’s eclectic 1967 original for the chorus, and although I respect Donovan immensely as a songwriter, I think his vocals on that track work better here, with all the extra weirdness stripped out!

“Wear Your Love Like Heaven” was released in 1991.