I have never been very good at sticking to top five lists, it doesn’t matter what the genre is. There is so much good music that I struggle to limit anything to a top five as my tastes change on a daily basis and I will always forget something, so it usually ends up becoming a top eight or more which was something that happened when I recently compiled my favourite Hip Hop, R&B and House/Beats & Bass lists recently.
Since then they have mushroomed into their own mammoth Spotify playlists which I am still adding to. However, if you ask me what is my favourite Hip Hop album, without a single hesitation it is Ultramagnetic MCs ‘Critical Beatdown’ released in 1988.
The first time I heard it my little teenage brain was totally blown away. First up, let’s take the album cover. The tracksuits, gold chains and swagger poses – I love it. I wanted to be Ultramagnetics, they were and are cool AF!
When the first few bars of ‘Watch Me Now’ kicks in and Kool Keith starts with:
“Well I’m the ultimate, the rhyme imperial,
I’m better, but some don’t believe me though,
But I’m a pro in hot material,
on your Walkman, Box or any stereo,
Uno, dos not quatro,
Spanish girls, they like to call me Pancho,
On the mic, innovating this pat-ter-en,
You fell off, your brain is on Sa-tur-en,
Take steps, and climb my ladder-and,
climb… climb, climb”,
I was hooked. Then we have Ced Gee in verse two:
“I’m livin’ large, my record’s on the radio,
Every day, you hear me, your stereo,
Rappin hard, with lots of volume,
You hear static, well use your fine tune Knob, to tune me in better,
‘Cause I’m Ced Gee, and I would never let a whack MC G off with STYLE,
Touch my mic, rip and smile”
Even as I listen to the album 30+ years later, every track still sounds as fresh as it did when I first heard it back then. That to me, is partly what contributes to an album being labelled a classic – it transcends time. It’s a five mics album for me and always will be, nothing will ever top it as my favourite Hip Hop album.
The production by Ced-Gee and Paul C (rest in beats) with the funk samples, heavy scratches, the turntablism skills of DJ Moe Love and the contrast in rapping styles, flow and delivery between Kool Keith, Ced-Gee & T.R Love make me so happy. The album is always a regular play.
The album was reissued in 2004 with six extra tracks. ‘A Chorus Line’ featuring Tim Dog is my favourite from the additions. His delivery of his verse and his voice compliments them perfectly. It’s a match made in heaven.
“I can’t believe how dope I am
Give me a pound, thank you ma’am
So whether you think that I’m just a myth
To rift to lift the gifts that itch the fifth
To shift the spliff that’s in control to hold and fold
A bowl’ll make you take and ache and fake
Whoooo.. hot damn I’m great
I’m on the Chorus Line”
One of the reasons why I love the original release of Critical Beatdown so much is because it’s 16 songs and 47 minutes of pure awesomeness. The reissue tips it over to 1hr 15 mins and for me it takes a little bit of shine off and I will listen to the original release rather than the reissue whenever I play the album. Although, I did recently treat myself to the reissued extended version on yellow vinyl. It would be rude not to!
Even though I love Hip Hop, I haven’t had the chance to go to that many shows which is crazy because I have a long list of rappers and groups that I would give my right arm to see. Thankfully, out of the few I have seen, Ultramagnetics are on the list, they had a 25th anniversary tour of the Critical Beatdown album and did a show in London at Clapham Grand. I’m not usually a patient person, but in this case, as the saying goes, “All good things come to those that wait”.
At their show I ended up bumping into a friend who I hadn’t seen for years who was working behind the bar. We had a laugh about the time we were clubbing in maybe 2005 / 2006 and were dancing and chatting, and somehow ended up accidentally head butting each other. I ended up the worse off and spent the rest of the night with a huge lump on my forehead which we thought was hilarious. Move over MC Hammer “It’s hematoma time”!
KRS One has been quoted as saying he nearly joined the Ultras in their early days. For me, that will always be one of the “what ifs” of the world. I wonder how that would have played out.
Critical Beatdown – You will always be my first Hip Hop album greatest love of all time.
This post was originally published on Beatsandbass.com