Top 12 Hip Hop Collaborations of All Time

12.          “Sterns to Western” – People Under the Stairs ft. Cap’n Kidd Lexus (2000)

          “Sterns to Western” swings, allowing the three MCs to build up a stream of consciousness: there’s Kidd Lexus’ champ intro (“It’s like fabulous, we all-out kings, blessed and talented/ So who’s here to handle this? I’m the prime candidate”), digressing with Double K self promoting that they’re “kinda clever, like old Jewish dudes,” and ending with Thes One pulling out all the Paul’s Boutique stops: comparing fake MCs to “Alf pogs,” his style to a BART turnstile, and referencing the war between Springfield and Shelbyville. Between it all is a chorus of an old man la la la-ing like their jazz grandfather enjoying the show.


11.          “Flipmode Squad Meets Def Squad” – Busta Rhymes ft. Jamal, Redman, Keith Murray, Rampage, and Lord Have Mercy (1996)

          Erik Sermon (not on this track) formed Def Squad after the split of EPMD; Busta Rhymes formed Flipmode Squad after the breakup of Leaders of the New School. Both collaborations debuted on Busta’s first solo album, The Coming. “Flipmode Squad Meets Def Squad,” an 8-minute track split in half, has some of the hardest gems out there: Redman’s psychotic but poetically sharp “Manslaughter in alphabetical order for four quarters/ Raw water turns sons to granddaughters,” and Keith Murray (“You stupid niggas always got something smart to say/ And probably can’t even spell TWA”) and Lord Have Mercy (“My maneuvers drop like lugers/ Illegal, maybe Lethal, like Gibson’s/ Spitting blessings with three Weapons”) both in classic form.


10.          “Black Trump” – Cocoa Brovaz ft. Raekwon (1998)

          Wu-Tang Clan’s chef cooks up his East Coast Mafioso style with label mates Cocoa Brovaz (aka Smif-N-Wessun) over an obvious West Coast beat, trading rhymes about street craps, gun clapping, and the kind of cats they roll with: “You see my set of twin-hit men from Bushwick?/ Two chicks with the twenty-two TECs, bitch?” By the end of the track, you know who’s holding weight and carrying heat: all three of them.


9.          “Cowboys” – Fugees ft. Pacewon, Rah Digga, Young Zee and John Forté (1996)

          Drawing more from Westerns than the actual West, Fugees and fellow New Jerseyans the Outsidaz treat everyone from the Sundance Kid to John Wayne as mythical figures, and remind NYC that the Wild Wild West is only one state away. Each of the first three verses is shared by two MCs – the desperados Wyclef and Pacewon (the latter pulling out his gun to “Plug Two like Trugoy”), followed by Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga liberating saloon girls, then Young Zee and the Gambler Pras – while the fourth verse is a Man with No Name coda by John Forté. A dynamic collaboration, Young Zee sums it up best: “When the Outs hook up with the Refugees/ It’d be more niggas than the NAACP.”


8.          “The Show”/“La Di Da Di” – Doug E. Fresh ft. Slick Rick (1985)

          A grandiose showcase of Doug E. Fresh’s beatboxing, “The Show” recounts the typical (and atypical) problems with organizing a rap concert – cats not showing up, hitting stage last minute, not being able to locate one’s shoe horn – and oh yeah, features the debut of hip hop’s first true storyteller, Slick Rick. The single for “The Show” is a metaphor for hip hop’s history: the MC (Slick Rick) originally introduced and celebrated the DJ (in this case, Fresh), until the MC stepped in front of the set and became the central figure (example: the B-side “La Di Da Di,” Slick Rick’s non-stop classic).


7.          “Get It Together” – Beastie Boys ft Q-Tip (1994)

          “Get It Together” is four MCs playing a game of 21 and shooting the shit: John Stark’s importance to their beloved Knicks; Q-Tip’s Queens-specific Timberland boots (that MCA points out in such a way that I swear it means Tip is wearing them on the court); Joanie Loves Chachi (with a rhymed-in comparison to Ad Rock and his then wife, Ione); and annoying game interruptions (“The phone is ringing/ Oh my god…”). The Beastie Boys mix Q-Tip into their three man weave so well, it’s a wonder that this collaboration didn’t happen years before (I mean, Tip’s references to zany shit like pineapple Now and Laters, John Holmes, and Ma Bell are noticeably missing from Paul’s Boutique).


6.          “Symphony” – Marley Marl ft. Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane (1988)

          Marley Marl, hip hop’s Art Blakey, introduces heavyweights Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane in pass-the-mic fashion. On “The Symphony,” the verbal beat down to beat, each MC is introduced by the last – i.e. names are given, and then taken. Masta Ace shifts rhythmically and lyrically so often, it’s hard to catch him (“Once you hear the capital A rap, it’ll stay/ With you for awhile, it won’t go away”). Craig G Rap takes the POV of the target MC, if only to emasculate him: “I apologize. Oh yeah, and uh/ Can I have your autograph for me and my grandma?” Then there’s Kool G Rap, toned down compared to his later work but he still raps “your metaphor sucks more than a whore.” And Big Daddy Kane grabs the mic last and makes a lasting impression: “And battling me is hazardous to health/ So put a quarter in your ass, cos you played yourself.” After 20 odd years, “The Symphony” remains the definitive example of MC bravado.


5.          Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998)

          Mos Def and Talib Kweli collaborated when both MCs were fresh and at the top of their game – and hip hop was losing its identity in mainstream radio. “Brown Skin Lady” is lyrical admiration akin to Miles Davis covers. “Respiration” bridges the gap between old school hip hop and the then situation, using Style Wars as a backdrop for a culture struggling in a city, much like the people living and dying there. “Children’s Story” is a line-for-line rhyme-for-rhyme retelling of Slick Rick’s signature rap, turning Rick’s cautionary tale about crime into a tale about MCs and producers selling hip hop out. Also on “Children’s Story,” Mos was one of the first to clarify that the East Coast/West Coast beef was grossly manufactured by the media. But not to ignore the talents lost to that beef, Mos and Talib pay tribute to Tupac and Biggie: with the single “Definition,” Mos and Talib rightfully declared Black Star as the “best alliance in hip hop” in a new era that hoped to be defined by artistry and not militant competition. (And “Good Jesus!” the song is a damn rhyme-fest.) A wake-up call to hip hop’s caretakers, Black Star appeared only once (so far…) – but with warnings that still apply to today.



 4.          Gorillaz (2001 – present)

          Blur’s Damon Albarn took trip hop’s collaborative mentality and created Gorillaz, an open forum for some of hip hop’s best verses in the last 10 years. Whether digging up the underground’s finest (Del the Funky Homosapien, MF Doom, Roots Manuva) or the shy (reminding everyone how great De La Soul is with “Feel Good Inc.” and “Superfast Jellyfish”); or finding the right MC for the right track (Mos Def’s Convoy-spit on “Stylo;” the paranoid antics of Bashy and Kano on “White Flag;” Snoop Dogg’s high-from-Mr. Bubble verse that opens Plastic Beach); all of Gorillaz’s hip hop collaborations have been solid. And: Bootie Brown’s tale of a soldier returning from war (highlighting the general bullshit of war) on “Dirty Harry” might be hip hop’s greatest verse.


3.          “Act Too (Love of My Life)” – the Roots ft. Common (1999)

          An ode to hip hop that’s as sweet (and heartbreaking) as any pop ballad, “Act Too (Love of My Life)” touches on hip hop’s finer points and comments on its state in 1999. Black Thought raps his “I Only Have Eyes For You” verse, using his personal history (his childhood romance) with hip hop: “It was all for you, from the door for you/… From the start, Thought was down by law for you/ Used to hit up every corner store war for you.” And Common masterfully returns to his “I Used to Love H.E.R.” metaphor, blaming crossover gents Hype Williams (“Caught in the Hype Williams, and lost Her direction”) and Puff Daddy (“Her Daddy, he beat Her, eyes all Puff”) for using hip hop as a commodity (and abandoning her as such). In the end, hip hop was treated the same way jazz was: neglected by the originating culture/exploited by another, a central theme of Things Fall Apart. “Act Too (Love of My Life)” is the album’s thesis statement.


2.          “Big Brother Beat” – De La Soul ft. Mos Def (1996)

          Of all the tracks that have introduced new MCs to the world, none have matched “Big Brother Beat” and its introduction of Mos Def. Vets De La Soul took on the MC from the unsigned Medina Green, and passed the torch by making Mos an honorary member of Native Tongues. At 22, Mos had already developed his particular style: his grimy slur that gives his lyrics such fluidity; and his diachronic sense of rap, interpolating Rakim’s definition of “MC:”

“I don’t bug out or chill or be acting ill/ No tricks in 86, it’s time to build/ Eric B(e) easy on the cut, no mistakes allowed/ Cos to me, MC means “move the crowd”
“I don’t bug out, I chill – don’t be acting ill/ No tricks in 96, Native Tongue gon’ build/ But we be easy on the cut, no mistakes allowed/ Cos to me, MC means “making cream,”

a line about financial security (not to be confused with financial obsession). Mos Def’s career accelerated shortly after this collaboration and he remains hip hop’s resident lyricist and most vocal advocate.


1.          “Scenario” – A Tribe Called Quest ft. Charlie Brown, Dinco D, and Busta Rhymes (1992)

          A Tribe Called Quest brought on Leaders of the New School (fellows of Native Tongues) for a 4-minute anthem to settle the score for those who still viewed hip hop as a fad. “Scenario” couldn’t have come at a better time: it was a stake for creditability as it became a mild hit, proving hip hop as a legitimate art from, with a great back beat and catchy yet impossible to match lyrics.

          And Phife raps the importance of hip hop at the beginning (and starts what is one of his best constructed verses): “A-yo, Bo knows this and Bo knows that/ But Bo don’t know jack, cos Bo can’t rap.” Jester Charlie Brown keeps the posse going and sets up fellow Leader Dinco D, who chops up words with sushi chef esteem: “So yo, the D, what? The O/ Incorporated I-N-C into a flow.” Tribe’s head, Q-Tip, waxes on not being a criminal, having better hearing in his right ear, and the pride he has in colleagues (“I love my young nation”) – just cold lamping while his crew backs up every line.

          The only break comes with Tip introducing Busta Rhymes, who builds the tension back up before… “BOOM! from the cannon/ Not bragging/ Try to read my mind, just imagine/ Vo-cab-u-lary’s necessary/ When digging into my library.” In a rhythm – and volume… and voice – that’s distinctly his, Busta closes “Scenario” as the posse comes back with the chant. One of the most re-playable songs, the greatest hip hop collaboration doubles as hip hop’s greatest track.

          And that, my friends, is the scenario.



Thanks to those who made this day special. I remember when someone (and I remember who) told me that when you turn the same number your birthday is, it’s special. I thought that was bullshit– though it was charming when she turned her “birthday age.” But, with all the other occurrences of 29 in my life– from 29 Palms, I was 009 (get it?) in high school– I can’t help but smile. I’m listening to Ryan Adam’s 29 (so?) and actually wondering what this last year of my twenties will be like. Cheers to the Nintendo 64 and Erika Eleniak.

(Thanks to Barry Cutler, my dear friend, for the best birthday greeting I’ve ever received. I mean, look at it.)

Life in the Suburbs



While searching for a digital booklet for Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs (sick of my current desktop image), I came across this ridiculous claim (that’s still awesome, and shaming me for not writing it first – there, I said it.)




When The Suburbs came out a year ago, I went on my lunch break, copped it in excitement… but wasn’t ready for it. That’s the best explanation I have for not… well, liking it when I first heard it, to feeling that it wasn’t written for me – for this time I’m in, for the changes I was going through, and for who I just might become.

It’s been on most of my office charts (someone do the math); when I lost my car it was the one CD I copied to tape for my walkman; I’ve teared up in both awe and relevance; I’ve had friends remind me that there are other albums by Arcade Fire; there was a point when a good friend of mine said “Is there one day when I don’t have to listen to the goddamn Suburbs??” (Okay, I’m good friends with Alan Arkin.)

A week ago, when things ended with the person I had hoped and tried and wanted to make a life with, I took a break – The Suburbs is too much of a reminder. (Hip hop, comics, Peep Show – these are the things we need in our life when it gets a little tough.) But what about the Deluxe Edition? I figured I’d buy it, shelve it, and hopefully listen to it in a few months, and call it a benchmark.

It was unwrapped before I got home. I listened to the remix and demo – just dancing around the idea of actually listening to it. I watched Scenes from the Suburbs. When I finally started the Deluxe Edition (opening with the two bonus tracks) I did something so distracting: dishes.

It dawned on me that regardless of how much I think or thought or just wanted this album to be about my relationship, at this point it wasn’t. At this point it was about this past year. Since it first came out:
•     I worked to get my girlfriend back, worked hard to be a better partner, and lost again (“Took a drive into the sprawl to find the house where we used to stay. We couldn’t read the number in the dark. You said, ‘Let’s save it for another day.’”)
•     Work (“…just punch the clock.”)
•     I moved from Indio back to Palm Desert (“I feel like I’ve been living in a city with no children in it.”)
•     I didn’t take care of and lost my car, becoming car-less for the first time since 16 (“…as we listened to the sound of the engine failing.”)
•     I acted in two plays with wildly different experiences – both reminding me that it’s time to move on, that I do not need to act at a school I no longer attend (“…it’s the first time I’ve felt like something is mine, like I have something to give.”)
•     I met a lot of good people – and hurt and confused a lot of good people (“Wanna wash away my sins in the presence of my friends.”)
•     I lost good friends (“Your part of town against mine.”) and realized that as dependent as I have been on others, I need to be more self-reliant (“In my dream I was almost there then they pulled me aside and said ‘You’re going nowhere.’”)
•     Above all, and seemingly in spite of all this, I’m learning that I need to stop living in the past (“You said the past won’t rest until we jump the fence and leave it behind.”)


Now. Now’s a good time to let go. Now’s a good time to stop waiting for something to happen. Now’s a good time to just trust myself, to be responsible for what I am rather than worrying anymore about what I’ve been or what I thought I could have been. Now’s a good time to no longer worry about what people may or may not think about me or what I’m doing. Now’s a good time to stop worrying. And maybe now’s a good time to shelve The Suburbs – take it down in a couple years when I want to remember what it was like to be young. Or when I want to remember what it was like to be here, in this town, working everyday to bring something beautiful to this life.

(“Now I’m ready to start.”)

PT#: 300-06-8599-4 OFFICE CHART and More (Stories)

1.) Endtroducing….. – DJ Shadow

2.) Psyence Fiction – UNKLE

3.) “Heaven” – UNKLE (PF‘s outro segued perfect; yeah, I just wanted it to)

I’ve been getting back into hip hop, re-buying the classics that time and heat have eaten and discovering albums that I slept on (post-Stakes De La, Kool Keith). Luckily for anyone involved, I’m not getting back into hip hop by re-buying Lugz (if Ma had bought me Timbos, this might be different), or re-discovering my rhymes from HS… that could probably be slept on… no, really: sleep on em, cat – I don’t care.

I had to find some distractions to get through this mess (hip hop being one of them). Now that I have the Internet, I’ve been watching Peep Show again. Peep Show has enough despicable moments that it’s easily the perfect distraction right now. And it gave me an idea to use for a play; may or may not work.

Trimming the fat: hawking my old records, books, intergalactic paraphernalia, etc online; trying new approaches to the LA jobsearch (that’s one word now, btw); working out every night/kicking my own ass; not picking up the tab, so deal with it.

Top 25 LA Albums


Top 25 LA Albums

 (April 8: Edited to include Question in the Form of an Answer by People Under the Stairs instead of Ice Cube’s Death Certificate.)

(April 17: Shit! It’s been so long since I’ve driven to LA that I forgot what I usually listen to on the trip out. I’ve nixed Hotel California by the Eagles and Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age; I’ve added A Ghost Is Born by Wilco and You Forgot It in People by Broken Social Scene.)


Buffalo Springfield Again - Buffalo Springfield

Buffalo Springfield Again – Buffalo Springfield


Check Your Head – Beastie Boys

Check Your Head – Beastie Boys


A Decade of Steely Dan – Steely Dan

A Decade of Steely Dan – Steely Dan


Demolition – Ryan Adams

Demolition – Ryan Adams


Either/Or – Elliott Smith

Either/Or – Elliott Smith


Full Moon Fever – Tom Petty

Full Moon Fever – Tom Petty


A Ghost Is Born – Wilco

A Ghost Is Born – Wilco


Greatest Hits – Arlo Guthrie

Greatest Hits – Arlo Guthrie


Greatest Hits – Elton John

Greatest Hits – Elton John


The Joshua Tree – U2

The Joshua Tree – U2

U2 at the Harmony Motel, Twentynine Palms, Ca. Anton Corbijn, no rights



Kid A – Radiohead

Kid A – Radiohead


Kneebody – Kneebody

Kneebody – Kneebody


Largo – Brad Mehldau

Largo – Brad Mehldau


Quality Control – Jurassic 5

Quality Control – Jurassic 5


Question in the Form of an Answer - People Under the Stairs

 Question in the Form of an Answer – People Under the Stairs


Reservoir Dogs soundtrack – various artists

Reservoir Dogs – various artists


Sea Change – Beck

Sea Change – Beck


Shine – Daniel Lanois

Shine – Daniel Lanois


So Far – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

So Far – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young


Station to Station – David Bowie

Station to Station – David Bowie


The Very Best of War – War

The Very Best of War – War


Want One – Rufus Wainwright

Want One – Rufus Wainwright


XO – Elliott Smith

XO – Elliott Smith


Yield – Pearl Jam

Yield – Pearl Jam


You Forgot It in People – Broken Social Scene

 You Forgot It in People – Broken Social Scene

Arcade Fire’s Funeral & Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief

This week I rediscovered Funeral, Arcade Fire’s debut. Like Neon Bible, I was late to listen to Funeral when it first came out and I didn’t own it until this week. Just as the first time I heard it, it’s one of the most refreshing albums I’ve ever heard. I remember my only problem then (this was 2005 I think) was most of their songs sound like marches. But with this listen, I realized it really ties the tracks together to make it a concept album; most of the tracks are death marches.

In the first few hours of work, I mixed Funeral’s tracks with Hail to the Thief, an album I don’t full appreciate. Even with all the critics shouting in unison “inconsistent!” about Radiohead’s Amnesiac, I loved it – and this was something they allowed of their follow-up, Thief. Both Thief’s and Amnesiac’s tracks may be inconsistent with one another, but at least Amnesiac sounded like it was made by the same band (unlike Thief). Also, this was the same band that made two of the most complete records since the Beatles; but unlike the Beatles, OK Computer and Kid A were completely different from one another. Back to Hail to the Thief: not that it’s similar to Funeral, but the two do sound well together, “There There” into “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Neighborhood#1 (Tunnels)” into “Sail to the Moon,” to name a few.

Kudos to Jen for (among other things) showing me the N+7 machine. I haven’t put it to full use, but it’s an interesting way to look at language – the machine generates new nouns for a block of text you submit, by looking up other nouns in your original work’s neighborhood. I’m working on a new poem (“Tiger, tiger”) this week, and I’d like the machine to help. Even if it doesn’t directly, it’s been helpful just shedding the importance of “that one word” and looking at my work differently. (And it has it’s flaws: it failed to generate a +7 for “kudos,” a noun from the 19th century.)

First post: 10 bad album covers for good albums,

Let me be fair: great and bad are not only opinions, but carry a myriad of interpretations. For one, bad can easily hold true for overrated, shit, poor, disappointing, confused, etc., and good, well, ranges from good to great, dig? Considering this is more about artwork of albums, the quality of the music for this post is anywhere between great and just fine, i.e. I may hate a bad album cover, may think a bad cover is just overrated, i’msickofexplainingthisalready

Also, since my memory is affected by general misuse, I will only refer to albums on my computer’s library. (Besides, this premier post is simply an introduction.)

So, here it is, what you’ve not been waiting for…



10. Odelay – Beck

When Odelay came out, I was 14, and I doubt I was hip at all. I went to my girlfriend’s house a summer day to swim. My best friend put on Odelay really fucking loud and went outside to the pool. The confusion of puberty mixed with the intensity of not supposed to be here made me zone out on the couch and listen until I recognized “Where It’s At” from the video that was out (and subsequently failed at making out with my girlfriend). “Devil’s Haircut” is the greatest opening song, and “Jack-Ass” is almost heartbreaking, but the cover is horrible. It wasn’t until 10 years later, when I bought the album when I recalled my first experince with it, that I realized the cover is intended for the music. It makes the list because of what I first thought. (The re-issue is a cool improvement,)



9. Houses of the Holy – Led Zeppelin

It’s not the child nudity. But considering that Houses of the Holy’s predecessor was just as runic and Tolkienen, Houses‘ cover is ridiculous. (There’s a lame pattern here: Both Led Zeppelin I and II are World War/aviation theme (cool at first, but the world certainly knew who they were when II was released, so why more fucking flying circus shit? The irony for me is that II has a really great story behind the cover, maybe I’ll get to that later…) Also, the skin color of the children reminds me of mushroom soup.


8. Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam

(The blue’s beautiful.) I’ve read about the different meanings behind the avocado, something about being green on the inside, but being a fan or Pearl Jam since Ten (my brother was hip enough for the both of us), I think we have a pretty good idea of who they are. Besides, the cover’s just boring and they make up for it for the Eddie/meat sculpture which is really fucking horrible, I’m grateful it’s inside. Honestly, I don’t connect the album artwork with its music, not in the way I do with Vitalogy, Vs., Yield. And, and!, the artwork for Lost Dogs (the rarities collection released shortly before the self-titled) was awesome, especially the one dog on the booklet.


7. You Forgot It in People – Broken Social Scene

One of the finer albums on the list, but such a useless cover. The back cover’s even worse, with purposely misspelled words, for some awful reason the titles are divided between “side one” and “side two” regardless of the format. When I ripped it to my library, the album cover was a superior B&W live composite, that makes Rattle and Hum‘s look really staged (which it really is).



6. Teaser and the Firecat – Cat Stevens

So what? Booooooooring. Okay, maybe I need to read the kid’s book.


5. Ryan Adams – Rock N Roll

This one’s hard for me, but really, it’s just the saturation on the cover…it doesn’t even look like him. And I’m a big fan, so this is a let down in the bigger picture. The weird thing, this was my first Ryan Adams record (but it’s still here because I only just remembered that).


4. Alice’s Restaurant – Arlo Guthrie

When I first saw the VHS of Alice’s Restaurant, I was probably 10 or 12 (so, somewhat hip), it was fucking weird, and I think it explains why I never bothered with pot. The soundtrack’s cover is missing the added Arlo (see below), but the added yellow that permeates even the photo is nauseating. How did they get the napkin on, and so, why is he even nude if he’s eating? Bah.



3. Feel Good Lost – Broken Social Scene

AH! Shit, don’t fucking do that!… That, and I hated Toronto. The inside cover is awesome, and I’m not gonna tell you what it is cos it’s a damn fine album.


2. 13 – Blur

Undeniable. Surprisingly, 13 is seemingly only known amongst Blur fans, but then again, most people only know “Song 2” (but damn if that ain’t a great tune); but 13 is still one of the most adventurous break-up albums. The cover was done by then foot-out-of-the-door guitarist Graham Coxon (who is still responsible for matching – really, successfully – songwriter Damon Albarn’s heart-torn lyrics), and it’s hideous. You know it, I know it. The awkward pause in the shoulders and head; the added light on the head; the colors; oh, and look at the forearms… this is hard because I love the album too much (so much it actually hurts), so I’ll look at this break-up masterpiece on my player and say “I’ve already said what I’ve come to say.”


1. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the Beatles

When most rock lists try to dethrone the staples of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s not very constructive and really just to piss off the standards. I hope you know that’s not my intention. I really dig Sgt Pepper, really. That’s it, go read Rolling Stone, and I’ll move along to the cover – it’s time to let it go. That’s all I’ll say.

COMING SOON: 20 40! good album covers for good albums