The latest volume of British label BBE's The Kings of series may be the most unusually packaged of the bunch. Revered hip-hop producer/spinner DJ Premier and U.K. DJ-battle champ Mr. Thing pair up to assemble a collection of tunes with the aim of musically chronicling hip-hop's history. But this two-disc compilation, however eclectic it is, may have folks wondering how the hell they came to the conclusion that these songs represent the true origins of the genre.
It's the first disc, mixed by Premier, that will befuddle listeners the most. Mixing "what shaped hip-hop," Premier rounds up old soul numbers from the likes of the Brothers Johnson, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Otis Redding and Percy Sledge. A few of the tracks contain snippets that will be familiar to most sample-addled rap listeners' ears. (Lil' Kim fans will definitely recognize Vicki Anderson's "The Message from the Soul Sisters Parts 1 & 2.") But today's rap fans, the ones that bump 50 Cent and Lil Jon out in their rides, may have a difficult time finding the connection between hip-hop and tunes like Nina Simone's "Don't Explain" or Screamin' Jay Hawkins's "I Put a Spell on You."
Mr. Thing's disc may be more to contemporary rap fans' liking, since it mixes what hip-hop eventually became, rolling out classics from Eric B. & Rakim, Brand Nubian, Big Daddy Kane and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard. In the end, The Kings of Hip Hop may be a far-fetched explanation of where it all began, but it's engaging enough to make you consider whether maybe, just maybe, songs like Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour" laid down the foundation that artists like EPMD later built on.
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