There is a lot to be thankful for in music. Musicians know this as much as fans because, though we often forget, musicians are fans first. Recently, we reached out to several artists to discuss albums they are thankful for, albums that inspired their work. They had intriguing and diverse responses ranging from Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt to Radiohead’s Kid A and from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic to Stevie Wonder’s Hotter than July.
Perhaps one of the brightest spots to mention are ones where the artists looked back upon their lives, reliving vivid memories based on the albums being discussed. For instance, Bambu talked about how he learned about his city as a kid through Ice Cube’s lyrics. Later, while Nitty Scott discussed her favorite albums, she took us back to her life as a seventh grade student. Obie Trice also explained how an album allowed his perspectives on other races to change. It’s clear that these albums mean a lot to these artists. They’ve inspired them and helped guide them along the way. Here, they are sharing the inspiration by giving thanks on Thanksgiving day.
Pharoahe Monch Thanks De La Soul, Eugene McDaniels and Public Enemy
Pharoahe Monch: I’m thankful for De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising because it introduced me to concept albums and having fun, outlandish samples and “Peg,” [by] Steely Dan. I’m also thankful for Eugene McDaniels’ Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse because it opened my eyes to political social songwriting. The emotion he puts into his singing, I try to emulate all the time, especially on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Also, see “The Parisite (For Buffy)” for the best Thanksgiving song ever. Also, I’m thankful for Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back for its aggression and power, hair-raising voice inflection and inspirational songwriting. It inspires me to this day.
Jean Grae Thanks Radiohead, Stevie Wonder & The Clash
Jean Grae: I’m thankful for Radiohead’s Kid A, mainly because it’s Radiohead’s album, Kid A. I feel like further explanation is absolutely unnecessary. I’m thankful for Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July for being the genius soundtrack to my life at varying ages, meaning different things as I learned more, found subtlely…Blah, blah, musical genius props, blah blah. Thanks, HTJ. I’m also thankful for The Clash’s London Calling because…Oh, seriously, none of these should be explained. Most of all, I’m thankful that you did not specify that I list Hip Hop albums. Bong. Bong.
Bambu Thanks Ice Cube, Outkast & dead prez
Bambu: Ice Cube’s Death Certificate. At a time in my youth when I didn’t know how to process how I felt about things, this album really spoke to me. Being very, very young in the early ’90s, this album helped me figure shit out in the big, bad city of Los Angeles. Cube predicted the L.A. rebellion/uprising with this one! Also, Outkast’s Aquemini. Do I really need to go any further with this one? [Laughing] Aquemini made Hip Hop heads appreciate musicality in a completely different way with this one. Finally, dead prez’s Let’s Get Free. I was floored the first time I heard this album. I couldn’t believe the content was that heavy and was sonically that amazing! Really great album that I couldn’t see the world without.
Krizz Kaliko Thanks A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast & Notorious B.I.G.
Krizz Kaliko: The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die because he made it easy for fat boys to be players again, that had not been done since Heavy D. And he was a enormous lyrical influence on my Rap style. “We’ll always love Big Poppa.” Rest In Peace to Heavy D, too.
[Another one is] A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. I played that everyday for an entire year. I don’t think I could live without that album, for real. It jams all the way through.
Also, Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. They showed me you could think different and still win. They were super musical in Hip Hop. And so are me and Tech N9ne. I think that’s why they compare the two of us to Outkast sometimes, not afraid to think outside the box. Now, we are the box!
Obie Trice Thanks Redman, Eminem & The Notorious B.I.G.
Obie Trice: With The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, I was inspired by the real nigga feel it made me want to be as a young man. I think this album touched every young guy in the ghetto, tapped in our brains because we had the same emotions and thoughts and situations that B.I.G. spoke on throughout out the record. This album is special to me because it was a turning point in my age bracket from a young adolescent to a young man! With Redman’s Whut? Thee Album, I was inspired by his witty raps and raunchy but charismatic behavior and flow. This album is special to me because it was different, it was mischievous, it was freedom, it was gangster, it was hoody, but stylish and awkward. Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP [is another album I’m thankful for]. This record inspired me by the way Em tampered with words and patterns and imagery. I was just blown away that this was capable for a human to create like this in this psycho way and make it dope and believable. It’s special to me because this was the first time in my life I was able to actually connect with White people and understand we all, as human beings, have issues. Don’t get me wrong. I had an idea of that, but through Em and his music and Hip Hop as the vehicle, it really made it stick in my brain that Whites and Blacks are not different at all.
Nitty Scott, MC Thanks Missy Elliott, Kanye West & Lupe Fiasco
Nitty Scott, MC: Missy Elliott’s Under Construction dropped when I was in seventh grade and I definitely made it that year’s soundtrack. This album had girly perspective, but it was so creative and original that we forgot a “chick” was rhyming; the content wasn’t about being some sex kitten, and we really hadn’t seen that since The Miseducation [of Lauryn Hill]. Missy’s style on the cover was so b-girl’ed out, around-the-way fly, all of that, and I loved it. I could relate to that woman in sneakers and doorknockers sitting next to a boombox. She totally embodied the spirit of Hip Hop and inspired the homegirl demeanor I rock with today. “Gossip Folks” and “Funky Fresh Dressed” were my shit.
Kanye West’s Graduation. Progressive. Personal. Genre-bending. One thing I truly remember about Graduation isn’t just the music itself, but the experience of the album being released. I was in high school, and there was this crazy energy and buzz amongst all the music heads, anxious for the school day to end so we could run out and purchase our physical copies. I wasn’t all about the mp3 life yet, so heading to Target to get mine seems really nostalgic now. ‘Ye introduced to me to this artsy, conceptual, more musical side of Rap that stuck with me forever. He was painfully honest, and I loved the emotional experience of the album, from cringing to clapping to crying. As one of those projects that I can let ride from beginning to end, I remember thinking, “How is possible that every. single. record is amazing?” It just was.
Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor is special to me because it made me more accepting of myself. I saw myself in Lupe, a wiz kid that seemed to have an intellectual approach to everything. “Hurt Me Soul” and “Daydream” were my favorites, but he really got me with “I Gotcha.” When he says, “You want the flava ma? Hey, I gotcha. Either they pimps or they macks or they mobsters,” I was just like, “Word!” For me, he deaded the idea that all rappers, or men in general, have to adopt that gangster, playboy persona that is often projected. He made it cool to be smart, to be responsible and think outside of the box. Plus, an image of Lupe floating in space, surrounded by a Banksy postcard, Nintendo DS, sketchbook, the Qur’an and a robot is pretty freaking random and dope.
A$AP Ferg Thanks Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G. & N.E.R.D.
A$AP Ferg: All of these albums were underdogs doing their art and what they believed was hot and they all did well with out any compromising which was inspirational. I related to Biggie around the time I was listening to Ready to Die because I felt where he was coming from, going through trials and tribulations of a young man’s life growing up in the hood, in his mom’s crib, depressed with no real way to make a living. I feel the title of Ready to Die meant he was ready to get it, [meaning] money and if he was gonna die while getting it then so be it, and I felt that way.
With Reasonable Doubt, I liked Jay-Z’s character because he showed that you can be a new artist and shine as if you’ve been getting it in the game. In all actuality it’s who Jay-Z really was which was intriguing to know he took his hustling ways and became a flourishing star that everyone knows today.
N.E.R.D [made] the album that changed my life because it showed me it was alright to be Black and different. Pharrell [William], Chad and Shay was like the dopest motherfuckers I’ve ever seen. They dressed like skateboarders, made Rock/Rap music, had the baddest women and hung out with all the Rap stars. The music was new and fresh and they put a whole culture on the forefront that wasn’t being noticed with the fashion, Hip Hop and Rock. It was the perfect blend of things and that whole era just felt good.
All these albums are completely different but all have one thing in common and that is originality. None of these artists were scared to be themselves, which is the purest art. If Andy Warhol copied Picasso, he wouldn’t have went down as one of the greats. I respect originality.
Rapsody Thanks Jay-Z, The Fugees & Little Brother
Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt made us all feel like we were hustlers because of the way he told his stories and the truth in it. Jay’s wordplay and flow mesmerized me. His story wasn’t told straight out, the double entendres, metaphors, cadence and the lyrics. I loved decoding his lyrics. He made me want to be skillful at rapping. Before every basketball game in school, I always played “Feelin’ It.” Also, The Fugees’ The Score. I am a huge Fugees fan because of the dope music they made. It was just a different sound from everything that was out in ’96. But, the introduction of Lauryn Hill is what really inspired me the most. She was one of the best emcees I had heard and she happened to be a woman. Her style was all her own, and she has had one of the biggest influences on me as a artist and a woman. [Finally,] Little Brother’s The Listening was like when the child climbed out of the jail in Dark Knight Rises. Being from North Carolina, to have a group come out of my home state and make the classic music that they did was proof for us that we could do the same. Their dreams fueled so many of our dreams here. And, the music just felt good! Dope beats. Dope rhymes. I ran that album into the ground!
TiRon & Ayomari Thank Stevie Wonder, Radiohead and Outkast
TiRon: Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions was one of the first albums that I truly studied. As a child, reading the liner notes and then playing the album and writing every word to every song down, just to get a clear understanding of what was being said. I consider this to be one of the best track listed albums of all time, truly one of those albums you can play from beginning to end without skipping one song. I just admired how every song went into each other, how all the songs complimented each other and just the overall progression of the album. I always got a kick out of the composition on “Too High” and aspired to one day make something as next level as that, same with “Visions.” Just an album that spoke volumes.
My girlfriend at the time bought me Radiohead’s Kid A the day it came out in September of 2000 and it just turned my world upside down. I was already a huge fan of Radiohead because of OK Computer which had come out three years earlier. OK Computer was like a futuristic version of what they had previously done on The Bends but Kid A was just in a lane of its own. It was like they pushed the idea of that futuristic sound they were going for in OK Computer into overdrive and it was the first time I had seen a band really experiment and push the envelope. To me, listening to that album was similar to becoming familiar with the algorithms in a rubix cube for the first time like, Wow, I understand! And thats when I started to really understand that the rules in music could be bent and even broken so long as you understand the moments at which you can bend and break ’em.
Ayomari: Outkast’s Aquemini. The first Outkast album I actually heard was ATLiens. That’s what started my love for them. I didn’t hearSouthernplayalisticadillacmuzik until this one time my mother kicked me out of the crib, and I ended up spending the night at my homie’s sister’s homie’s apartment, and he happened to be playing it [laughing]. So by the time Aquemini was about to drop, I was a big ‘Kast fan. I remember when Aquemini was about to drop, Ryan Cameron from V103 had ‘Kast as guests and played the entire record from front to back. I sat there and recorded the whole thing onto a white cassette tape. Some might call that Hip Hop.
Radiohead OK Computer album was really the catalyst for my musical palette expanding. I remember having this album for months and only listening to “Karma Police” because it was the obvious goto record for a new listener. I also remember my ears not being used to a lot of OK Computer’s sonics, so whenever I’d hear something too foreign it’d make me want to skip the track. It probably took me six months to digested this album enough to listen to it with curious ears. I eventually ended up spending the entire summer listening to pretty much nothing but Radiohead. Then after I heard Can’s ‘Ege Bamyasi’ I was ready for anything.
Alexander Spit Thanks Jay-Z, Atmosphere & Portishead
Alexander Spit: Until I had copped Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, I was drawn to more aggressive rap with heavy beats. It took me some years to realize that Hov was a genius and The Blueprint assisted my epiphany. The whole feel was a breath of fresh air. Up until that point, not too many folks were choosing them high-pitched vocal sample beats, and the first time I heard that shit, it blew my mind. When I heard the breakdown in “Heart Of The City” the first time, I lost it. Hov was on point on this album. His whole cadence was unpredictable but simplified. He covered content on that record over beats with the coolest vibe.
Early in High School I started listening to Atmosphere a bit. But when God Loves Ugly dropped, it was the first time I heard a rapper talk about the things he [Slug] did. It was an entirely new approach to the genre but still maintained that Hip Hop feel that kept it interesting. The beats were fresh and big, but non traditional. That fool Slug spoke about the other side of the spectrum; the side the modern man can actually relate to. That album is complete. All the tracks start at the perfect moments after the previous and it’s all tied together perfectly with skits mimicking Slug’s life. It’s like you knew that dude after listening to the album.
I wish I could remember who introduced me to Portishead. I’m pretty sure it was someone older than me that had been a fan of them for years. Listening to Portishead was an introduction into a darker realm of music that I could actually vibe to. It felt like drugs listening to their music the first time. It was around Winter time in the Bay when I first heard their self titled album and I was kicking it a lot with a homegirl that was attached to that album. We mobbed around smoking cigarettes and having that album on slap and we barely talked during car rides. Beth Gibbons’ voice is perfect on them tracks. It’s easy to get lost in it all sonically and forget that there’s a lot of pain behind everything she’s saying.
Fashawn Thanks Oddisee, Big K.R.I.T. & Kendrick Lamar
Fashawn: One of the albums I am most thankful for this year is Oddisee’s People Hear What They See, a very solid body of work reminiscent to the kind of Rap music I grew up listening to. Another album that got me through this year was Big K.R.I.T’s Live From The Underground. I got introduced to it while I was out in Australia on tour earlier this year. Very thankful to have that in my collection of music. Last but, not least on my list, is Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, my favorite album to release this year, hands down. I would consider this album a classic.
Masta Ace Thanks Dr. Dre, Slick Rick & A Tribe Called Quest
Masta Ace: The Great Adventures of Slick Rick had songs like “Moment I Feared” and “Children’s Story,” opened my mind to the idea of intricately detailed story lines within the verses of a song. The rhymes, coupled with great production, made for an album that got non-stop play for several months that year. That album really resonated with me as a writer. A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory made me realize that old dusty Jazz albums had a place in Hip Hop production. My search for loops expanded beyond my mother’s Soul collection to other genres. It also raised the bar for the volume of kicks and snares on a track. Tribe’s drums were by far the loudest of anyone’s at that time. It made a huge difference in the way they sounded in the club. The other groundbreaking element on this album was the drops. This album changed the way I, as a producer, did music drops on a song. “Coming back on the Snare” became popular among producers everywhere. Also, Tribe showed that you could just be yourself as an artist. They went against the grain in terms of lyrics, style and message at a time when Gangsta Rap was prevalent. I loved that about them! [Finally,] Dr. Dre’s The Chronic changed the game for me from a production standpoint. The album was a compilation of sorts but it felt like a cohesive project that fell under the Dr. Dre umbrella. The use of live instruments, singers and female ad-libs opened my mind to the vast possibilities of what could be done in a studio when you surrounded yourself with talent. Dre carefully directed each character on the album so they all fit perfectly into his vision. The result was a masterpiece of sonic innovation.
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