And The GOAT Rap Album Is…

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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54 Comments so far
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I have to be honest,while I think the production is landmark on this album,…nah-IT AIN’T THE G.O.A.T.!!!! Everyone is entitled to their opinion though,there were too many GREAT ALBUMS at that time for me to lean ULTRA’S way.And I wouldn’t put money on Kieth in a battle with RA,KRIS,KANE,or G.RAP(now and definitely not at that time),say what you want,it would be a wrap(pun intended)for ULTRA.WORD TO FREDDIE FOXX-Ha!Ha!ha!ha!ha!

Comment by R.Jones 02.03.09 @

You are correct, sir! “Yo Moe Love grab the nine, we outta here!” When you want that Bronx hard spaceshippin’ honed at 1212 in Jamaica, Queens… fuck the perfect combination. Seriously, what’s a better answer to these two questions: 1. Why is rap so great? and 2. Why should sampling be considered an artform and not a crime? Here’s the evidence judge… Critical Beatdown… the Bud hat was why I bought it. An American original.

Comment by ScubaHoodedFuneral 02.03.09 @

but now the fruits are gonna see TR and Ced in that video with the tight tapered sweats and the fanny pack and feel justified to fruit off, OH FUCK! LOL
The tin foil on they jackets is the baddest thou!
RAP definitely needs to bring back the SKEEZOIDS!
Never sweatin’ yer girl, why P?

Comment by ScubaHoodedFuneral 02.03.09 @

Im torn…but i’m torn between those 2 c minded and beatdown….i was making those exact same sentiments on this blog a while ago about rockers and their knowledge of history and hip hoppers and their knowledge of their history. its very true. peace

Comment by Mercilesz 02.03.09 @

ohhh naaa im also torn because of strictly buisness….epmd goat

Comment by Mercilesz 02.03.09 @

..its for the same reason that i get annoyed when peeps talk about Dilla like he is the innovative master of hip-hop productions, as if there wasnt lord finesse, t-ray, pete rock, large pro,..etc and a ton of others making raw as hell beats years before mr yancey came on the scene. :)

Comment by RowanB 02.03.09 @

But Yeah CB is a hell of an album…

Comment by RowanB 02.03.09 @

Some of the lp remixes were inferior to the 12″ versions, especially Funky.

I don’t know why people are always so quick to make these rock-rap comparisons and complain that younger rap fans aren’t listening to niche albums from the 80s when it’s hardly like teenage fans of bands like Coldplay or The Killers are checkin’ out the rock equivalent of Critical Beatdown, which i guess would be something like Forever Changes by Love.

Comment by Donn King 02.03.09 @

i prefer funk your head up to CB these days.

Comment by CR 02.03.09 @

“Pusscake” made Grand Torino worth watching

Comment by keatso 02.03.09 @

Donn King u not makin sense. The rock equivalent of Beatdown would be something by Hendrix or Zep or Sabbath…the groups that spawned the movement. Your young.

Comment by Mercilesz 02.03.09 @

this record does get lost in the classics discussion.

from wiki:
The group’s work was associated with unorthodox sampling, polysyllabic rhymes, and bizarre lyrical imagery.

Comment by Mentally Mad 02.03.09 @

The true story about this album is that when Funky came on at Union Square or the Quarters it was time to mosse up. If you got caught slipping you would catch a critical beatdown.

Those pianos spoke of Doooooooooooom!

Comment by dp 02.03.09 @

Maybe Beach Boy’s “Smile”?
Kool Keith = Brian Wilson at his loopiest

Comment by Tony M 02.03.09 @

Nicely put Rob…

Hadnt seen the travellin… clip, shit is dope, Word to Slick wick wack and the skeezoids…

Also nice use of the term pusscakes plus i couldnt help notice the everpresent douchebag!

Comment by Big Hock 02.03.09 @

Another quality article. I feel compelled to listen to it when I get home from work.

Quote: ‘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.’

I need to hear shit like this sentence more often.

Comment by Bang 02.03.09 @


“I’m the ultimate, the rhyme Imperial.

I’m better, but some don’t believe me though.”

Comment by KQ 02.03.09 @

Critical Beatdown was and is a masterpiece. From Watch Me Now to Ced Gee Delta Force One the album was a killer. The re-release which has most of the singles that were released before the album just reinforces in my opinion how the great the album is. Critical Beatdown is the G.O.A.T.

Comment by Brooklyn 'Lo 02.03.09 @

CB is the best rap album of all time, no doubt. At the time I hated the new versions of Travellin and Funky but after watching the video it’s aged well. Did you know the B side of the Watch Me Now 12″ features ‘Feelin It’ but at the end of the instrumental there’s a hidden TR Love verse not on the original. I’ll post up on Fat Lace if anyone needs it.

BUT….I need one of those T shirts, where do you buy those??

Comment by Dan Large / Fat Lace Mag 02.04.09 @


Comment by End Level Boss 02.04.09 @

Yeah, that TR verse caught me off guard first time I heard that. From my interview with TR:

On that “Feelin’ It” single, on the instrumental version there’s your verse in the middle, but it’s not on the actual song?

That was my introduction into the game, as far as lettin’ everybody knew that I rap. No one knew it was there until they started playin’ it. That was my very first rhyme that I put to tape.

Is it fair to say that Ced did a lot of the programming, but you and Moe used to dig a lot of the records?

Yeah, that was basically it. Ced knew how to program ’cause he had the fundamentals down, so he was teaching us at the same time as we was workin’. But as far as the knowledge of the music and everything, we all had knowledge of the music but it’s just that, in the vast majority, I had knowledge of the records ’cause I had a lotta records that were unobtainable.

So stuff like the Joe Cocker was from your collection?

Well Keith had the 45 – I had the album. We came together on different things, but the vast majority of the grooves that were on Critical were supplied by myself and Maurice. Keith came in with certain other records and stuff like that.

Comment by Robbie 02.04.09 @

Mercillez – you’re an idiot and you clealy have no idea that Love, much like Ultra, were a cult group who didn’t have much success but who had a hardcore following, particularly overseas, and were a huge influence on people like Hendrix (who would be the equivalent of Public Enemy).

The comparison was perfect, though i do say so myself. Please shut the fuck up in future.

Comment by Donn King 02.04.09 @

Cmon King….American Music is Black Music. Hendrix plays the Blues so does Zep and so does Sabbath. There would be no psychadelic movement if it wasn’t for those groups. American/British Rock is nothing but Delta blues with an amplifier on it. You know people like muddy waters maybe a howlin wolf maybe even later with a koko taylor. We were playing rock before it was called rock and no group from Los Angeles spawned anything that changed the sound of Rock Music to what people know it as today. Love was copying us.Jimi Hendrix played for James brown and the Isely Bros nearly a decade before that group Love ever came out. Modern Rock is actually an older style of music than the 1st “rock” records by people like little richard little willie john the clovers even elvis if u wanna go there. My point is that kids don’t know about what came 1st and if u don’t know a record like change the beat i don’t think u can really offer that much to hip hop production…if u never heard cha rock or est or the doc i don’t think u can really offer that much to the game with lyrics and cadence/flow. The problem is young people don’t know anything and thats why our music is out the door.

Comment by Mercilesz 02.04.09 @

oh yeah the reason y I put Ultra in the same category as Hendrix is because he changed the game..he made the music more raw and at the same time more complicated…not too many people can play rythym guitar and lead guitar at the same time. Ultra changed the game with samples…before that record everything was drum machines with simple flows…not Ultra…they and marley were the turning point and start of what u know as hip hop production today. I could care less about how few people actually know who they are or of their music. This is why I made my comparison.

Comment by Mercilesz 02.04.09 @

@ Mercilesz—-Damn you are annoying G, and funny thing is, you never know what the fuck you are talking about….

Comment by shamz 02.04.09 @

Yeah, Mercillez – you’re a got-damn rambling cretin (and a shitty rapper judging from your Myspace page).

Love was an American band with black members who incorporated various forms of music and different instruments into their sound and directed paved the way for Hendrix (he even played on one of their later records as tribute) you fucking clown.

Just shut the fuck up already, faggot.

Comment by Donn King 02.04.09 @

Rock History = Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, The Monkees, Bo Didley, Mountain, Billy Squier, Liquid Liquid, Jefferson Starship, John Cougar Mellencamp, Steve Miller Band…

am I leaving any out?
K.C. and the Sunshine Band?

Comment by ScubaHoodedFuneral 02.04.09 @

Awesome blog entry, for years I’ve been telling people to check out Critical Beatdown.

This and It Takes A Nation Of Million To Hold Us Down are the most important rap albums. Period.

Comment by The Octacat 02.04.09 @

don’t worry Merc’ i gotcha meaning, you probably speaking over their heads… :)

Comment by RowanB 02.04.09 @

the discussions alone are worth checking
unkut.and the posts are marvelous.
just like this album.

Comment by swordfish 02.04.09 @

I don’t rap I collect old records and press buttons on mpcs and scratch(and in my sparetime take a minute to read blogs and rant). Theres at least 4 different rappers on my myspace page 2 of which have had major record deals. 2 of which are independent.comparing Love(who btw was white just look at the album cover)) to Ultra is not a good comparison only because they were obscure since Love meant absolutely nothing to the creation of psychadelic rock.Ultra meant everything to the creation of modern hip-hop and in ur young minds they are obscure cuz u ain’t down. UltraMagnetic were Ghetto SUPERSTARS do you get what I am saying. Hip-Hop is Ghetto Music and If you didn’t have black radio in your town/city in america you didn’t hear Hip hop. All Hip Hop artists were obscure until RUN-DMC came along. Before Ultra and Marley rap did not sound how it does now….they changed the game period. This is why i always sed I love kool keith but hate kool keith fans. That doctor octagon crowd is the nerdiest non-hiphop group on the planet and has no Idea of UltraMagnetics influence on the game and significance to the modern music. You think Robbie would take his time to write a post on some Obscure group that was a lil weird that nobody knew about but a select few?No he wrote a post on one of if not the most revolutionary hip hop group of the eighties and if u listen to critical beatdown right now u don’t get it’s genius because it’s not placed within the proper time place and context. I know from what u say that u dont get it King. U wasn’t there and if u was u wasn’t down.

Comment by Mercilesz 02.04.09 @

You just took me waaaay back. Hip Hop, like New YYork was mad dangerous during the days of yester year. Thnx 4 this one.

Comment by Combat Jack 02.04.09 @

I’m a general…equal to a mineral

Comment by Finally 02.04.09 @

Mercillez – you have to be one of the dumbest people on the planet.

I like Ultra and was listening to them in the 80s and we all know that about Ultra already and don’t need you to explain that to us in barely readable english you cretinous rambling retard but Ultra were a group big in the streets who weren’t a commercially successful group like Eric B. & Rakim or Public Enemy were and they were bigger abroad than they were here in America hence the Love comparisons (who had 2 black members including their lead singer you blind mongoloid).

Just shut the fuck up and stop embarrassing yourself already you stupid newjack faggot. You don’t know shit about hip hop or rock.

Comment by Donn King 02.05.09 @

Ultra were great!!! I liked how a lot of these tracks were taking shots at established names (most of them Rush artists) like Run DMC (Ego Tripping, Watch Me Now), Cool J (Watch Me Now, Funky Pt II), Kool Mo Dee (Funky Pt II), Slick Rick (Feelin It, Watch Me Now), Rakim (Ain’t It Good T’ya), Public Enemy (Ease Back)!!! Critical Beatdown indeed. Kool Keith was def. slept on, and even Ced had a wicked flow back then. And the production was nothing short of awesome. A great album!!!

Comment by Brock 02.05.09 @

u just got up on Ultra like 2 days ago…don’t front. I got more Hip Hop and rock records than you. Nerds

Comment by Mercilesz 02.05.09 @

where do i get those t shirts robbie?

Comment by Dan Large / Fat Lace Mag 02.05.09 @

Yeah, Mercillez – you’re the one with a fucking Myspace page who types u instead of you like some teenage girl and other people are nerds? haha

The comment section of Unkut is full of your braindead prattling and your record collection is full of copies of Louie Louie by The Fat Boys and CJ Mackintosh hip hop remixes.

Moronic Myspace producer. Stay in your lane.

Comment by Donn King 02.05.09 @

teenage girls are hot

Comment by Mercilesz 02.05.09 @

btw king ur not american.

Comment by Mercilesz 02.05.09 @

No doubt that this record is the GOAT. I said it 15 years ago and still say it now!

Comment by Illroy 02.06.09 @

Love meant absolutely nothing to the creation of psychadelic rock.

This must be the greatest bullshit about music history that I have ever heard…

btw king ur not american

Oh i didn’t realize that being American allows you to speak tons of nonsense about groups you have never heard before in your life

I think Kool Keith himself would be proud if compared to Arthur Lee and Love. So stop bullshitting and learn something about music history before you type anything

Comment by ceedub 02.07.09 @

slavery made some dope music dude

Comment by Mercilesz 02.07.09 @

kill me but I always liked Ultra Mag better for there singles & remixes then albums, same with Keith solo shit…Now Godfather Don & the Cenobites shit is different

Comment by 357 NYC 02.07.09 @


“I got more Hip Hop and rock records than you. Nerds”

Did this fuck head just call someone else a nerd, but he is the one being a bit too obsessive with Rap (I GOT MORE RECORDS THAN YOU!!”??


Comment by The Octacat 02.09.09 @

Yeah, Mercillez is one confused stupid bastard.

Mercillez – i’m American and you’re still a dumb shitty producer who doesn’t who jack about hip hop or rock.

Comment by Donn King 02.09.09 @


Comment by Mercilesz 02.09.09 @

Word Critical Beatdown is the shit. That’s hilarious that these dudes are arguing over some rock bands and shit.

Comment by forcefed 02.09.09 @

Bwahh, hah, hah!!! Funniest comment section evr on unkut – fitting to be attached to such a great post… Merciless finally met someone who has as much free itme as he does… lol… thanks to yuo bith I needed that laugh…

Comment by Jay Silver 02.10.09 @

“where do i get those t shirts robbie”

^ No idea.

Comment by Robbie 02.10.09 @

I first heard this legendary album from my boy Rashid Lynn aka Common. He played it one morning for me in his red Hyuandi in 1988. He was rocking the hell out of “Ease Back” and “One Minute Less”. The artwork always had me mesmorized. They looked like the epitome of hardcore South Bronx rap. They never got caught up on the politics of pro black rap like KRS. They kept it straight B-boy flava and went after all the competition!! Ced and Keith Tag teamed with scientific vocab and off beat cadences!!

Comment by Marc Davis 02.13.09 @

I am a huge Run DMC fan. I am so excited to hear them on the new video game Scratch: The Ultimate DJ!!

Comment by Grant 02.16.09 @

Gotta take exception to classifying the first Octagon record as “crap.” No one’s saying it’s a classic on the level of ‘Critical Beatdown,’ but it’s definitely a great album.

Comment by Badmon3333 04.21.09 @

yes yes yall its da best rap album ever ……
word up im outta here !
Nappie Rash OZ

Comment by nappie rash 10.30.13 @

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