Blast Beats is a weekly column in which metal and hardcore artists discuss their favorite hip-hop records.
In the inaugural edition of Blast Beats, we reached out to Otis Chamberlain of Looks Like Apocalypse and STRESS (previously of Ornithologist and Arkaname) to talk about seven hip-hop records that influenced his formative years. Check out his list below.
7 Steps to Reflection
A list of personal favorite hiphop albums by Otis Chamberlain.
Let me preface this by saying I haven’t really listened to or kept up with hip hop since the mid 2000’s. I just “fell off” the more i got into heavy stuff and playing in bands, also – I’m a near middle-aged caucasian metalhead so it’s safe to say I have no real hand in a hiphop debate – but growing up with skateboarding thru the 90’s, the soundtrack to my ‘coming of age’ was peppered with a bunch of fantastic and diverse hiphop albums that I still praise today – even if through a somewhat biased and nostalgic lens. I’m not going to rate these as I love them all for vastly different reasons, but in keeping with a list format, lets go chronologically, starting with…
1: RUN DMC – Tougher Than Leather.
I wasn’t yet in high school when Run DMC dropped their 2nd full length LP, but this was the first vinyl record I ever bought with pocket money I’d saved and I wore the needles on my folks record player out with it (and my folks!). Runs House, Beats To The Rhyme, I’m Not Going Out Like That, and the title track – all hit the spot with 12yr old me who was still trying to figure out what the fuck a musical taste even was, I just knew this stuff was better than most of the crap on radio/tv at that time, and that it made me wanna go skate more.
2: COMPANY FLOW – Funcrusher Plus.
Full disclosure – this album still shits over 90% of all hiphop records ever released (fight me). The rawness, the DIY, the realism, the sarcasm, the unconventional and unique production. Loaded with metaphors, attitude and sincerity. Everything a debut album should be and one that ticked so many boxes only few could claim to have come out of that gates that strong on a first offering. Fav tracks: The Fire In Which You Burn, Vital Nerve, Population Control, 8 Steps To Perfection. I had this entire album committed to memory at one point, and this was the album the (arguably) kickstarted the independent splinter cell in hiphop that favoured verbose intellectual poetry over glib self-aggrandised pomposity.
3: CANNIBAL OX – The Cold Vein.
I was unashamedly all over the Def-Jux jock thru the early 2000’s, but for the sake of diversity I’ll just add this one to the list from said stable. Vast Aire and Vordul Mega – holy shit, something about this classic “fatty & skinny” combo but a level up, the dudes voices and delivery always kept me coming back for more of this album, albeit their one major offering in the height of their game. Super metaphorical and ingenius wordplay, and of course El-Ps deliciously fucked up beats. Another album rare in the sense that I can listen to it from top to tail without going for the skip, and definitely a dark overtone throughout.
4: MADLIB X J DILLA – Champion Sound
I hold this album dear for many reasons, but mainly due to the fact that when it came out I was working a bullshit kitchen-hand job under a complete wanker of a head chef and having this in my headphones was literally the ONLY thing that made that fuckstain, crumbs-for-pay job tolerable. I couldn’t even single out a specific track now, or even tell you what the opening track was. Champion Sound was just constantly on loop for 3 x 6 hour shit-fight days per week, and now every time I hear it my legs immediately ache and my hands feel like prunes. At least I’m alive (peace to Dilla)
5: THE ROOTS – Phrenology
I always see Roots fans weirding out on this one, or ranking it low, but I love it the most because it’s so atypical of whats expected from them. Black Thought never failed to deliver, but this was a truely experimental album and definitely felt like they were searching for something new when they were making it. Of course The Seed with Cody Chestnut was annihilated by student radio but the rest of that album is kinda off-kilter and as a result it has a unique and authentically “archivist” style with band-replicated nods to vintage sound bytes and some interestingly non-traditional production tricks.. Definitely more back-packer than club-banger, but a well rounded album and one I still love to this day.
6: NEPHLIM MODULATION SYSTEMS – Woe To Thee O Land Whose King Is A Child
This is probably THE darkest hiphop album I ever encountered. The over-arching ambience is almost industrial, experimental and archaic in the same way Scott Walker was to pop music, but way more apocalyptic. This album is the audio equivalent of brutalist architecture, overlaid with some of the most abstract and bleak verses I ever heard delivered. Much of the albums content is a retort to George Bush Jnr’s administration and its incumbent war machine, full of spite and unease. Features BiggJus of Company Flow. It was always a ‘right time and place’ album, but for foreboding lyrical vehemence calling out “the system” – you cant get much closer than track 3: Invisible Oblivion.
7: CHRIS DAVE AND THE DRUMHEADS – Mixtape Volume 1.
When a fellow drummer homie moved into the warehouse i was living in around 2012, he forced this album on me – “Duuuude i know you don’t listen to much hip hop but you gotta hear this”. I relented, and I wasn’t disappointed. A live hiphop band led by the drummer, doing mixtape style segments with guest spots and a little bit of production finesse, i was won. Band leader Chris “Daddy” Dave is a name on the NY jazz/session circuit and cuts a slack-foot loop on par with ?uestlove and Nate Smith, or like if Madlib was actually a drummer (maybe he is, I dunno – lol). Another one of those LPs that flows from start to finish, encompassing a diverse palette of throwback feels and yet modernised enough to not be a pastiche of all it’s nodding to. Not strictly “hiphop” but wearing enough crate-dug flavor on its sleeve to be nestled comfortably in this list.