Prematic! That, at least, is the title Nas stans have slapped on a collection of ten bundled-together tracks from the Queensbridge kid. The tag might not be totally accurate in terms of the songs all technically pre-dating the recording of Illmatic, but together they’re a far more exhilarating listen than any album Nas has released since the Clinton era. Of prime lyrical intrigue, the smooth “Deja Vu” has Nas kicking a rhyme that was flipped into his verse on Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse,” while “Nas Will Prevail” was eventually molded into “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” and has Nas threatening to “detonate bombs at the policeman’s ball” and bragging that his “mic comes in contact with the third rail.” Nasty!
Kiss-FM was born in 1981, when a rock station called WXLO decided to move to 98.9 and reinvent itself as a Black Top 40 station under the call letters WRKS, which it branded with big red pair of lips. The station’s ratings slumped for the first few years until a young African-American program director named Barry Mayo began to go off-script by experimenting with playing hip-hop, at that time still an underground sound not thought to have much commercial potential. He gave a weekend mix show slot to DJ Red Alert, a member of Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation crew.
For hip-hop heads who came of age in the 1980s, Red Alert’s show was one of the only venues for discovering new tracks. “In those days, there was no hip-hop on the radio in the morning or afternoon,” says Bobbito García, a hip-hop DJ who hosted a popular show on 89.9 FM in the ’90s. “As a young adult, I would sit there every weekend when Red’s show was on with a tape and a cassette recorder with my finger on the record button. That show, for me, was the blueprint for what a hip-hop radio show could be.”
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I’d like to invite you to get behind another consumerist message that, in 2012, should be equally uncontroversial: Being openly gay shouldn’t prevent you from having a No. 1 album in the United States.
The album we can support to send this message is Adam Lambert’s second major-label disc Trespassing, which arrives in stores on May 15—virtually one year to the day after the successful Bridesmaids opening.
Why am I proposing we shell out hard cash for this frothy and reportedly fun pop disc, which is as light and apolitical as Bridesmaids was? Because in the nearly 60-year history of the weekly Billboard album chart, no single-artist title credited to an out gay performer has ever been our No. 1 album. (Nope, not him. Or him, either. Or her.)
The key word in the above sentence is, of course, out. Numerous artists who have emerged from the closet in the last few decades, as the gay-rights movement has come out of the shadows, have topped the album chart. But crucially, not a one of them did so while fully public about his or her sexual orientation.
This column is largely about hard data, and being out is about as unspecific a designation as you can discuss. It’s hard to come up with pinpointed dates for when even the most public personages declared their homosexuality, especially among those artists who emerged by degrees. (We’ll get to Elton John and Freddie Mercury in a minute.) I am also completely uninterested in outing anyone; I don’t believe in it, and as a straight person I have even less right to ask it of public figures, for the sake of awareness, than a gay person would. But gay rights is a cause I firmly believe in, and it’s rare that one has the opportunity to mix one’s nerdy passion and sociopolitical beliefs.
Besides, we can examine this purely by considering the most uncontroversial of publicly out musicians. It’s a list of acts who either topped the chart closeted or couldn’t reach the penthouse either out or in.