As forerunners of alternative hip-hop, A Tribe Called Quest helped set the standard. They led a movement of thoughtful rap, fused by music inspired by their parents and lyrics inspired by their lives in Queens. Led by Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, Tribe’s second album, “The Low End Theory” pays homage to jazz and bebop while dropping insightful rhymes about the shadiness of the music business, poseur rappers and injustices all around them. It also introduced the world to Busta Rhymes. To this day, songs like “Scenario,” Excursions,” “Buggin’ Out” are considered masterpieces – and the album can still get a house party jumping.
Before they reached international stardom thanks to the song "'74-'75," The Connells were something of a regional favorite to music fans along the Eastern seaboard. Man, could they pack a house. The band composed some of the most pop-centered, unforgettable, singalong songs of the late-'80s and '90s -- ANYWHERE. It also didn't hurt that they came across -- even on stage -- as just normal dudes. They even looked the part. Nowhere was this devotion to catchy melodies more emphasized than on their third album, "Fun & Games." Mention The Connells today to someone of a certain age in Virginia or the Carolinas, and there's a very good chance this is the album that comes to mind. You can still see the album cover on t-shirts to this day. If that's not lasting power, we don't know what is.
In our second ever "Listener's Choice" epipod, we take the Wayback Machine to 1998 when boy bands ruled the world. More specific, NSYNC took the pop world by storm with their debut album. This was the world's first glimpse of Justin Timberlake, but NSYNC was more than just JT. In fact, they were a perfectly constructed boy band of the finest ilk -- even if the group didn't reach its full potential until later offerings. But "NSYNC" is a 13-song "how to" album chock-full of the boy band formula: pop gold ("Tearin' Up My Heart" and "I Want You Back"), soulful ballads ("(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time on You") and even Euro dance hall beats ("I Need Love"). It was a syrupy, uber-produced glimpse of what was to come ... and it was quite the appetizer.
It’s an album full of rage caused by racial injustice. It’s an album borne out of the voices of the oppressed. It’s a musical masterpiece of dope beats, thumping bass and intellectual rhymes that spotlight police brutality, racial undercurrents and the promise of a pyrrhic breaking point. The album is also 32 years old. The fact that Public Enemy’s seminal “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” is as timely and current today as when it was released is a sad testament to America’s progress in race and socioeconomic progress. However, one reason “It Takes a Nation” still resonates is because musically it still freaking slaps. Spurred by Hall of Fame-caliber hits like “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype,” this album signaled a brave new world in music. It took courage then to produce it. Unfortunately, even in 2020, it still does.
No album brought heavy metal into the mainstream quite like Metallica's "... And Justice For All." It didn't hurt that in the golden age of MTV, the anti-war video for "One" was on HEAVY rotation and turned James Hetfield and the rest of the band into household names. But this was still a heavy metal album with all the boxes checked: dark, brooding lyrics; growling vocals; speed-metal guitar riffs; and even double kick drums courtesy of Lars Ulrich. But unlike a lot of previous metal albums, which tended to dive into the dark and sinister for the sake of being dark and sinister, "Justice" was the thinking man's metal album with songs about loss of freedom, inequality, and, of course justice. But there was still just enough of the songs about death and anger and genocide for any headbanger to enjoy.
You couldn’t get away from Radiohead’s radio hit “Creep” when it was released on the world in 1992-93. Not even the band could escape the clutches of such a megahit. So they did what any self-respecting band – a band inspired by the DIY ethos the likes of R.E.M. – would do with their next album, which was released in 1995. “The Bends,” the follow-up to “Pablo Honey,” is a tour de force album that 25 years later holds up as perhaps one of the most complete and wonderful albums of all time. The guitar virtuosity of Jonny Greenwood is complemented by the paranoid vocals of Thom Yorke. Oh, and the rest of the band is pretty freaking incredible, too. If people came listening for the next “Creep,” they were sorely mistaken. And thank God for that.
When The Beatles returned to Abbey Road to record their sixth album, they were exhausted from constant touring and releasing at a pace of two albums a year. They also had virtually no songs prepared. But when it was completed, their sixth album was Rubber Soul, arguably the first actual album, not just a collection of songs. This was the turning point; it’s the album that bridges the British Invasion Beatles to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. It’s the album that turned the music world on its heels, forcing the band’s rivals and contemporaries like the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones to step up their game. In essence, with Rubber Soul, the Beatles were just getting started.
Thirty years after it was released, “Disintegration” by The Cure remains a Goth masterpiece. It was Robert Smith’s answer to critics that his band (and, let’s be clear: it was HIS band) could still do moody, dark epics as well or better than anyone. No one was a bigger critic of Robert Smith than himself. So he brought it. It’s all there in its “Cure-iness.” Simon Gallup’s bass is the omnipresent driving low-end of the album. But it’s Smith’s lyrics about creepy lullabies, red-light districts, spidermen and, yes, even love that make “Disintegration” the masterpiece it remains today.