Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December 16: Big Daddy Kane, "Long Live The Kane"

Artist: Big Daddy Kane
Album: Long Live The Kane
Year: 1988
Label: Cold Chillin;

While raw talent and fantastic rhymes are perhaps the most important elements of making a great hip-hop emcee, there is one final aspect that often separates the good from the great: ego. Though it may not be the most desirable characteristic, the fact of the matter is, an overwhelming majority of the greatest rappers in history all possessed a certain swagger and confidence that not only came through in how they presented themselves, but also in their lyrics. In this long line of top notch emcees, there are none who brought the charisma and pure talent that is found on the recordings of one of the genres most important performers: Big Daddy Kane. Representing so many pioneering aspects of the genre, during hip-hop's "Golden Age," there were few other emcees that could compete with Kane's combination of vocal talent and superb writing technique. In many ways, Big Daddy Kane was the first to mix together soulful singing and rapping on the same songs, and it was through this technique that he proved that his talent reached far beyond that of your "average rapper." After earning a reputation as one of the finest lyricists in New York City by destroying anyone who attempted to "battle" him, Big Daddy Kane signed to Cold Chillin' Records and released his monumental debut record, 1988's Long Live The Kane.

Even before Big Daddy Kane burst onto the national scene with Long Live The Kane, he was already well known within the hip-hop underground. As a member of The Juice Crew, Kane was involved in many of the earliest hip-hop "beefs," as The Juice Crew was the other half of the legendary "South Bronx" rivalry with Boogie Down Productions. Though The Juice Crew also contained the likes of Biz Markie, Kool G Rap, and other hip-hop legends, there is little question that Big Daddy Kane was miles ahead of his peers. It was through these battles, as well as less formal emcee challenges that Kane honed his skills, and it can only be assumed that it is also where is high-confidence persona also emerged. When Long Live The Kane finally hit the streets, it was almost and instant success, as Kane's brilliant vocals, as well as the fantastic beats and sounds created by DJ Marley Marl yielded a number of the most highly respected hip-hop tracks in history. From the classic "Ain't No Half Steppin'" to the genre defining "Set It Off," the album showcases the wide range of Big Daddy Kane's talents, and many of these songs remain heavily sampled to this day. Without question, "Ain't No Half Steppin'" is as much of a hip-hop classic as one can get, and it has been featured on countless collections not only of Kane's material, but when labels release "Best Hip Hop Songs" compilations, the song is almost always present.

While Big Daddy Kane's performance on every song on his debut record are truly fantastic, the album also served as the jumping off point for now-legendary hip-hop DJ, Marley Marl. Though he was already well known within the East Coast hip-hop scene, after his performance on Long Live The Kane, Marley Marl became one of the most in demand producers in the country. Using sparse, yet powerful funk-based loops, as well as expert scratching, Marley Marl uses Kane's debut to prove that the DJ can be just as important as the emcee on a hop-hop record. From the classic sound of hard beats and light piano on "Ain't No Half Steppin'" to the looped funk-guitars of "Mister Cee's Master Plan," Marley Marl perfected re-wrote many hip-hop formulas on Long Live The Kane. One of the key areas where Marley Marl distances himself from his peers is that he almost exclusively sticks to early funk and soul records on his sonic creations. While many DJ's made their name from the diversity in their music, Marley Marl shines while keeping his musical range quite limited. In most cases, such sonic limitations end up making the songs too similar, yet this is where the true talent of Marley Marl shines, as even with the same sound structures, each song has a unique sound, and the entire album remains fresh even to this day. Furthermore, it is largely due to his work on Long Live The Kane that Marley Marl attracted the attention of some of the most famous emcees in the world, and he spent a majority of the next decade working with artists like LL Cool J and producing the classic debut from Eric B. & Rakim.

There is no denying that Marley Marl's work on the turntables is one of the key aspects of the success of Long Live The Kane, but there is also no question that without the absolutely brilliant vocal work of Big Daddy Kane, the record would be nothing. Easily one of the most unique and prolific emcees in hip-hop history, Kane possesses one of the most naturally powerful voices, as he is able to express an endless range of emotions without altering his voice in the least. Using a wire variety of rhythmic patterns and vocal approaches, the diversity that Big Daddy Kane presents is truly unlike that of any other emcee of his generation. While he is perhaps best known for his devastating rhymes, in many ways, Big Daddy Kane also stands as hip-hop's first "ladies man," and he also took the "image" of hip-hop to an entirely new level with his jewelry and fashion. His love for women is perfectly displayed on the seminal track, "The Day You're Mine," and the song proves that Kane was far more than just a great battle rapper. His ability to cover a wide range of themes, from women to Afrocentric power, to his own greatness is what sets him far apart from his contemporaries, as his lyrical diversity is virtually unparalleled among the "Golden Age" emcees. The fact that, not only did Big Daddy Kane attempt so many different ideas, but succeeded so masterfully on each one is a true testament to his greatness as a writer, and it is also one of the reasons why he still makes many appearances on modern hip-hop albums.

From brilliant hip-hop "punchlines" to some of the finest "slow rap" songs ever constructed, there are few emcees that can boast a similar level of pure talent that one finds within the work of Big Daddy Kane. Without question one of the most unique and highly influential performers of hip-hop's "Golden Age," Big Daddy Kane's debut record, Long Live The Kane, is by far one of the most compelling and unequaled albums ever released. From end to end, every single song is as powerful as the next, and the brilliant sounds created by Marley Marl prove that he is just as talented and important as the rhyming and delivery of Kane. The pairing of these two hip-hop legends ranks among the finest ever, and when one looks at the work Kane did without Marley Marl, one can clearly see that there was a chemistry between the two, and it is much of the reason that Long Live The Kane is so fantastic. Covering a wide range of subjects, from the Afrocentric "Word To The Mother (Land)" to the self-proclaiming, stunning sounds of "Set It Off" and the title track, few artists displayed as much variety in themes as Kane does on his debut. This variance in lyrical content, as well as the way in which Marley Marl manages to keep things wonderfully fresh whilst staying within the funk era of music serves as a testament to the stunning level of talent within both musicians. Big Daddy Kane remains one of the biggest and most important influences on hip-hop music more than two decades after he first appeared on the national scene, and one can find everything that makes him great and a true hip-hop icon on his absolutely phenomenal 1988 debut, Long Live The Kane.

Standout tracks: "Set It Off," "Ain't No Half-Steppin'," and "I'll Take You There."

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