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What was the first rap concept album?
March 24, 2010 5:28 PM   Subscribe

What was the first rap concept album?

The first five Google results yielded five different nominees.
posted by Joe Beese to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Which one of the five was the earliest?
posted by koeselitz at 5:43 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eh, whatever. It might sound like a stretch to some, but I'm going to go with Criminal Minded, 1987.
posted by koeselitz at 5:48 PM on March 24, 2010


koeselitz: "Which one of the five was the earliest?"

This is now the number one Google search for "first rap concept album".

The Internet scares me sometimes.

I believe it was It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, 1988. But I don't consider that a concept album.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:50 PM on March 24, 2010


Paul's Boutique?
posted by gabrielsamoza at 5:50 PM on March 24, 2010


Rappers Delight 1979?
posted by MsKim at 5:55 PM on March 24, 2010


I don't really think of Paul's Boutique as a concept album, either.

This seems like a subjective thing, I guess.

Prince Paul is in many ways 'Mr Concept Album,' so you could always go with 3 Feet High and Rising.
posted by koeselitz at 5:56 PM on March 24, 2010


koeselitz: "This seems like a subjective thing, I guess."

I thought that there would be at least a plurality, if not a majority, in agreement that Sgt. Pepper was the first rock concept album. But apparently not.

If it will help, I could frame the question differently: What was the earliest print description of a rap recording as a "concept album"?
posted by Joe Beese at 6:05 PM on March 24, 2010


Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet is definitely a concept album, no question. Whether it's the first depends on how broadly you define concept album.

Arguably, NWA's Straight Outta Compton, or Eazy-E's solo Eazy-Duz-It are concept albums, particularly Eazy's. These would predate Fear.
posted by hiteleven at 6:10 PM on March 24, 2010


The Last Poets.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:19 PM on March 24, 2010


The Last Poets.

Please let's not turn this into one of those "I can name the earliest [insert genre] album, and while it's not technically [insert genre], it had a major influence on [insert genre], so I'm smarter than the rest of you" kind of threads.
posted by hiteleven at 6:32 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


But if we are going to turn it into one of those threads, the proper answer is Hustler's Convention. I don't think The Last Poets is a concept album--what's the concept?

In addition to the definition of 'hip-hop,' we could also haggle about 'concept' and 'album.' Do mixtapes count? Is 'here are some great breaks, sequenced and arranged for dancing' enough of a concept?
posted by box at 6:44 PM on March 24, 2010


Straight Outta Compton? How does 'Something 2 Dance 2' fit in?
posted by box at 6:46 PM on March 24, 2010


Straight Outta Compton? How does 'Something 2 Dance 2' fit in?

Well, most concept albums stray from their concept now and then, particularly on the b-side. But that's why I said Eazy's album would be the better choice, since, well, it's all about Eazy.

Again, though, PE's Fear is a definite concept work.
posted by hiteleven at 7:01 PM on March 24, 2010


Please let's not turn this into one of those "I can name the earliest [insert genre] album, and while it's not technically [insert genre], it had a major influence on [insert genre], so I'm smarter than the rest of you" kind of threads.

I was just suggesting a possible answer. Sorry if that offends you.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:01 PM on March 24, 2010


box: "Is 'here are some great breaks, sequenced and arranged for dancing' enough of a concept?"

I was thinking more along the lines of Tommy.

Not that a beginning, middle, and end are required. Dr. Octagonecologyst certainly counts as a concept album in my book.

But there should be enough of an idea there that the suggester can make some attempt to articulate it. For example: If I had to describe why Zen Arcade was considered a concept album, I couldn't do any better than "There's this kid who's unhappy at home so he runs away and has new experiences" - but that would qualify it.

I'd be very interested to hear hiteleven's explanation of what the concept of Fear of a Black Planet is. I've never heard it in the music or seen it described that way. All I could find in the Wikipedia article was "contains themes of organization and empowerment within the African-American community".
posted by Joe Beese at 7:10 PM on March 24, 2010


I'm going to go with Jimmy Spicer's Adventures of Super Rhymes. (download link) Not an album per se, but it's a 15 minute long track about an alter ego, Super Rhymes, who comes to earth from space to rock the mic (sound familar?). Along the way, he runs into "Coward Hosell", Dracula, Aladdin, etc. Always loved this track.
posted by ofthestrait at 7:53 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


To me, A Prince Among Thieves is the first strict hiphop concept album (1999). Im sure there are earlier ones that I am missing, but it has a clearly defined story arc throughout the entire album: something I don't really see in the PE albums, 3 Feet High and Rising, or even Dr. Octagonecologyst.. If you haven't listened to it, you should. It's awesome and riveting.
posted by ofthestrait at 8:05 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was just suggesting a possible answer. Sorry if that offends you.

Pardon my sarcasm...it comes out easily on-line. It wasn't your post necessarily that I didn't like. I've just seen too many music threads (on sites here and elsewhere) devolve to the point where people are trying to come up with obscure artists and albums to show off.

I apologize if that wasn't your intent.
posted by hiteleven at 8:20 PM on March 24, 2010


I'd be very interested to hear hiteleven's explanation of what the concept of Fear of a Black Planet is. I've never heard it in the music or seen it described that way. All I could find in the Wikipedia article was "contains themes of organization and empowerment within the African-American community".

I think we're getting into a problem here where the term "concept album" is being used is at least three different ways:

#1 - An album centred around a "concept", typically a specific theme and/or mode of presentation (Sgt. Pepper's being the classic example).

#2 - A "rock opera"-style album which involves a series of characters going through a story (Tommy being the classic example, American Idiot the modern)

#3- A "character" album, popular in hip-hop, in which a rapper assumes a certain persona and carries it through the work (Eazy-Duz-It, Dr. Octagonecologyst, etc.)

Fear of a Black Planet doesn't fit categories 2 or 3, but it certainly does fit #1, and I would argue that that is the classic definition of a concept album, with 2 and 3 being offshoots.

As the Wiki quote indicates, the album's concept is a call to self-empowerment among African-Americans, released at a time when racial issues were thought to be "resolved" but clearly were not (see Riots, L.A.). Tracks range from generalized sermons on self-empowerment to attacks on specific targets - Hollywood, the police, African colonialism, the self-denial of popular culture ("Elvis is a hero to most...").

The album builds on these concepts and then caps it with "Fight the Power", arguably the most powerful hip-hop track on African-American empowerment even written.

Structurally, the album is conceptual as well. The first side is virtually one long song, with each track blending into the next. There are few good radio-cut singles (which is why the album's popularity has fallen slightly by the wayside, I would argue). Instead it feels like you're sitting in on a rally, with one theme presented after the other.

That about sums it up, I guess.
posted by hiteleven at 8:35 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's not a linear story like Tommy, but I think Wu Tang Clan's 36 Chambers is strong in concept to the point that it's a Concept Album. At the very least, it's tied together by the martial arts samples and lyrical vibe that pervade the record.
posted by Jon-o at 4:07 AM on March 25, 2010


hiteleven: "An album centred around a "concept", typically a specific theme and/or mode of presentation... I would argue that that is the classic definition of a concept album... [Fear of a Black Planet's] concept is a call to self-empowerment among African-Americans, released at a time when racial issues were thought to be "resolved" but clearly were not (see Riots, L.A.). Tracks range from generalized sermons on self-empowerment to attacks on specific targets - Hollywood, the police, African colonialism, the self-denial of popular culture ("Elvis is a hero to most..."). The album builds on these concepts and then caps it with "Fight the Power", arguably the most powerful hip-hop track on African-American empowerment even written. Structurally, the album is conceptual as well. The first side is virtually one long song, with each track blending into the next. ... it feels like you're sitting in on a rally, with one theme presented after the other."

God bless you for referring to "the first side". Still, I'm not sure there's a clear enough distinction between what you're describing and black empowerment simply being a subject Chuck prefers to rap about. Might this framework also define Cypress Hill as a concept album about marijuana?
posted by Joe Beese at 5:42 AM on March 25, 2010


At first I was sure Fear of a Black Planet was the first rap concept album. Especially in light of the title track and its message. But I'm not so sure anymore. Hiteleven makes some good points and I do think it (the album or whatever) is tied together tightly, but I don't think Chuck would call it a concept album at all. And not because he thought that would be dismissive of its message, but because I don't think he'd say it was a concept album. I don't know. I'm going back and forth. There is a clear difference between that and Cypress Hill though.
posted by cashman at 6:38 AM on March 25, 2010


I asked my friend the ethnomusicologist who lectures on hip-hop fairly frequently. This was his response. He did not see this thread.
Well of course it depends on how you define "concept album"; my definition would be that it would be meant to be listened to as a cohesive work of art, rather than a collection of individual songs, and - in so doing - should address a consistent theme throughout. So overall I would agree with Geoff that it was "Three Feet High & Rising", in that ... See Morethey used the game show skits (generally considered to be the first use of skits on a hip-hop album) to tie the whole thing together. A counterargument, though, would be that the songs themselves didn't really contribute to the theme, only the running skits. Another contender would be PE's "Fear of a Black Planet," which to my memory was the first hip-hop album to be promoted as a concept album by its creators, though I never really understood how the songs actually reflected the supposed concept (the works of Francis Cress Welsing).
posted by jessamyn at 7:32 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah Isis. Well, so much for my "Chuck wouldn't say it was a concept album" thing.
posted by cashman at 8:06 AM on March 25, 2010


Bushwick Bill's Phantom of the Rapra? It's '95.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 8:30 AM on March 25, 2010


Black Sunday is a concept album about marijuana.
Cypress Hill is a concept album about shooting people.
posted by box at 8:41 AM on March 25, 2010


Cypress Hill is a concept album about shooting people.

Thank you for pointing this out. Cypress Hill's self-titled debut is an underrated classic that got obscured by all the marijuana smoke they started puffing out later on. Seriously, anyone who hasn't listened to it lately should check it out...every track is a winner (okay, maybe not "Tres Equis").
posted by hiteleven at 10:55 AM on March 25, 2010


Another contender would be PE's "Fear of a Black Planet," which to my memory was the first hip-hop album to be promoted as a concept album by its creators, though I never really understood how the songs actually reflected the supposed concept (the works of Francis Cress Welsing).

I think John Lennon once quipped that the only thing that makes Sgt. Pepper's a concept album is that the first song ("Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band") blends into the second ("With a Little Help from My Friends"). It could be argued, that, if nothing else, Fear follows the same style throughout much of the first half of the album.
posted by hiteleven at 11:00 AM on March 25, 2010


I've been thinking about this, and I'm more and more confident that the first rap concept album was some long-forgotten random-rap thing.
posted by box at 11:32 AM on March 25, 2010


If only because of hiteleven's #3, the 'character' thing. Heck, a Dee Dee Ramone or Rodney Dangerfield or somebody like that might even qualify.
posted by box at 11:39 AM on March 25, 2010


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