Craig G +Biz Markie + MC Lyte: Past or Present?

Graig G [sic]: Catch a Lyrical Beatdown
Biz Markie: My Name Is…

Bonus: MC Lyte: Listen Up (snippet)

All from Topshelf 8/8/88 (Manhattan-JPN, 2007)

Here’s a little hip-hop mystery for you all…

A friend hit me on IM and said, “hey, what have you heard of this Top Shelf album?” I had no idea what he was talking about so he sent me here. The short story is that, supposedly, this compilation is made up of recordings lost back in 1988 when Top Shelf Studios in New York were looted. 19 years later and some of the tapes were found and voila.

If this story seems to push the edge of credulity, it’s probably because it does (to me at least) sound rather implausible for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that for such a “Holy Grail” set of recordings, what is it doing on a super-limited distribution CD from Japan? Moreover, you’d think someone, at some point, would have shared, “oh yeah, there’s all these lost tapes of hip-hop giants missing from ’88.”

The thing is though – the recordings themselves both lend credence to this back story’s validity as well as undermine it because, in some cases, the songs really do sound like they could be vintage but in many cases, they also don’t sound anything like what hip-hop in ’88 would have been like, especially in the production department.

On the side of, “hey, maybe this is real,” there’s the Craig G (mis-typed on the album as Graig G) and “Catch a Lyrical Beatdown” which is a f r e s h cut in any era. Of course, his reference of Die Hard (which came out in 1988) seems juuuuuust a little too convenient but the flow and voice sounds right for the late ’80s/early ’90s and the beat is also reminiscent of the period though it sounds just a tad too sophisticated to be ’88.

That’s definitely why Biz Markie’s song, “My Name Is…” (which I really like) doesn’t sound convincing to me from the era. He’s supposed to be 18 on this? Word? And the beat feels a few steps beyond, say, “Return of the Biz Dance” or “Albee Square Mall” (songs from ’88).

You have to say this much: if this is a hoax, all the artists did a great job of trying to kick styles that sound “right” for the era, especially in some of the lyrical references to historical icons and nomenclature (the LQ!). And there’s a few songs, like the Grand Puba and Black Sheep cuts, which, if not from ’88 sound like they’re still more vintage than what you’ve heard them kick in contemporary times. Intriguing.

I included a snippet of MC Lyte’s contribution, “Listen Up,” since A) it’s a cool song, B) I love MC Lyte and C) it uses the “Time and Place” (Lee Moses) loop that Lyte’s old First Priority partner Positive K used for “Night Shift.” This is actually one of my fave songs on here – Lyte sounds great.