21 Songs, 1 Hour 15 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

If hip-hop’s banner year of 1988 presents a kind of corollary to rock ’n roll’s pivotal mid-‘60s heyday, then Critical Beatdown can be seen as rap’s answer to Blonde on Blonde or Revolver. There were other masterpieces of the time (including landmark works from Public Enemy, EPMD, and Boogie Down Productions) but Critical Beatdown was so masterful, so exciting, and so audacious that there is really nothing else to compare it to. This is the sound of a group riding a tidal wave of inspiration, wholly confident in its own abilities and impulses. Though the album used many well-worn hip-hop sample sources, the brain trust of Ced Gee and engineer Paul C. made every song sound louder, funkier, and fiercer than anything that came before. Then, of course, there are the lyrics. Frontman Kool Keith is part assassin, part alien. He makes complex references to science and outer space, and single-handedly incorporated multisyllabic wordplay into hip-hop, as well as warped innovations like rhyming verses with the same word. Keith didn’t have to brag about how different he was; his every move embodied the very notion of individuality. Critical Beatdown ushered in an era of modernization in hip-hop, but no album bridges the fundamentalists to the futurists with such style.

EDITORS’ NOTES

If hip-hop’s banner year of 1988 presents a kind of corollary to rock ’n roll’s pivotal mid-‘60s heyday, then Critical Beatdown can be seen as rap’s answer to Blonde on Blonde or Revolver. There were other masterpieces of the time (including landmark works from Public Enemy, EPMD, and Boogie Down Productions) but Critical Beatdown was so masterful, so exciting, and so audacious that there is really nothing else to compare it to. This is the sound of a group riding a tidal wave of inspiration, wholly confident in its own abilities and impulses. Though the album used many well-worn hip-hop sample sources, the brain trust of Ced Gee and engineer Paul C. made every song sound louder, funkier, and fiercer than anything that came before. Then, of course, there are the lyrics. Frontman Kool Keith is part assassin, part alien. He makes complex references to science and outer space, and single-handedly incorporated multisyllabic wordplay into hip-hop, as well as warped innovations like rhyming verses with the same word. Keith didn’t have to brag about how different he was; his every move embodied the very notion of individuality. Critical Beatdown ushered in an era of modernization in hip-hop, but no album bridges the fundamentalists to the futurists with such style.

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