Filed under: Bronx Bombers,Features,Great Moments In Rap,Not Your Average,Run-DMC kinda sucked,Stan Status,Steady Bootleggin',The Unkut Opinion
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
After catching the spirited debate as to the GOAT Public Enemy album between Dallas Penn and Combat Jack, I was reminded that as amazing as those albums are, nothing holds a candle to the mighty Critical Beatdown.
For years, I’ve flip-flopped between Criminal Minded and Critical Beatdown for the title of Greatest Rap Album Evah. But what tape am I lurching for before I pass out after too much Jamieson? Ultra, pusscakes! While Ced blessed Scott and Kris with his programming expertise for their debut, it was Beatdown that allowed him to go all-out in the Ultra Lab (decked-out in tin-foil to give it that ‘futuristic feel’, as legend has it) and really take rap so far into the future that the world still hasn’t caught-up. Word to Paul C.
The fact that most kids under 30 don’t know shit about Ultra outside of that Dr. Octagon crap is the primary reason that shit ain’t sweet out here in the rap world. Pretty much every douchbag with a passing interest in rock is familiar with Sgt. Peppers, London Calling and Back In Black, but 80’s babies think that Reasonable Doubt and Wu-Tang is old school? Fuckouttahere.
One of the exceptional things about this record is the unsurpassed lead-up of singles before it dropped. ‘Ego Trippin’ (so significant in the development of hip-hop that it deserves it’s own post), ‘Watch Me Now’, ‘Mentally Mad’, ‘Bait’, ‘Funky’…the 12″ focus of rap back then is never going to be repeated, but the fact that they remixed or remade most of the previously released stuff on the album was another sign that Ultra was a notch above the comp. In terms of lyrics, Keith and Ced evolved from their Shout Rap delivery to a more refined yet still amped vocal presentation for the recording of their debut. Previous formulas are improved upon, and the first time that you hear the earth-shattering drums on the the remix of ‘Funky’, you’ll understand why all those toy MC’s are strewn all over the rubble on the cover.
Kool Keith was the master of his craft by this stage, having honed his abilities taking on the goliath that was Run-DMC in 1987. Combining an advanced vocabulary that is both a nod to T La Rock and Treach 3 as much as it’s the the evil genius musings of a kid who reads scientific manuals while on the shitter, Keith displays a supreme range of cadence and vocal patterns whilst keeping the content finely balanced between brag-rap brilliance and bizarre abstract concepts. Even Ced-Gee, who would later takes some unwelcome turns in terms of his vocal style, was in prime form here, providing the perfect foil to Keith’s lunacy by often venturing even further into left-field.
Yet even without the vocals, Critical Beatdown stands as the pinnacle of raw, hard beats. It also provides the proof that drum programming can transform even the most well-worn break into some thing virtually unrecognizable (especially when you’re running you’re shit through an SP-1200). The sound of Ultramagnetic was equal parts future shock and primitive grit, making this record rap’s answer to Bitches Brew. For kids raised on Star Wars, James Brown and Treacherous 3, Critical Beatdown was the soundtrack that took you from the ghost yard to the space shuttle and back again, leaving you fiending to go back into orbit.
Ultramagnetic MC’s - ‘Critical Beatdown’
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