NO! It’s a 5 MIC CLASSIC!! Period. Ok, I’m about to get a little longwinded with this one. Let me go back to the summer of 1996 just before It Was Written came out. This is around the same time that Jamal (aka The Last Emperor) had given me his finished demo tape. If I’m not mistaken, that same week, when I went back to his house, he handed me another tape and said, “You might like this one, too.” I had no idea that it was The Roots Illadelph Halflife demos. After bumping the heck out of the tape, I asked him, “Where did you get these demos?” He told me that he had been hanging out with them recently and just got the tape from Black Thought. Huh? Fast forward to October 1996. Tribe had severely disappointed me with Beats, Rhymes and Life. Nas had let me down slightly with It Was Written. I had completed ignored Outkast’s brilliant Atliens for some reason. And De La Soul had thrown yet another (good) curveball with Stakes is High. After listening to the demos, I bought the CD on the day it was released, taped it for my car’s tape deck and literally kept it in rotation for a month straight. I listened to it in my house while playing video games, in my computer at work and in my car for my long commute to/from work in New Jersey. It was so good that I barely listened to anything else. So one day, I was about to leave work and decided to stop by this vegetarian restaurant on the corner of 49th and Chestnut for a quick meal. I walked inside and the only person in there (other than the cook and cashier) sitting at the counter was Black Thought! But because the lights were dim, I didn’t realize it until I walked up to the counter to place my order. I squinted with my eyes and said, “Tariq?” as if we were old friends. He smiled, we gave each other a pound and I went on for about ten minutes discussing and complementing the album while we waited for our food. I told him straight up that it was a classic and the best album of the year that I’d heard so far. As many times as I have bumped into him over the years, he has never smiled as much as that day. No sooner than his order was done, we gave each other a pound again, he said, “Thanks” once more and walked out. Literally, 10 seconds later, I wanted to ask him one more thing about a lyric on the album so I walked outside to ask him but he had disappeared. So I paid for my food, hopped into the car and blasted ‘No Alibi’ for the umpteenth time that week. In my opinion, that album is The Roots’ best by far. No matter how many albums they put out, that’s their standard. Some may like the appeal of Things Fall Apart (a 4.5 mic album) more cuz that’s their Midnight Marauders album but Illadelph is their Low End Theory (see My “Low End Theory” Theory). It’s real raw and gritty hip-hop that you can feel but may be too much to stomach for the commercial crowd. They basically said, “Eff the industry, eff all the naysayers, and eff the world. You doubted us on the last album so we’re giving it to you raw and straightforward with no commercialized garbage or filler.” And Outkast did the same thing with Atliens (I’ll get to that in a second).
The Roots – Illadelph Halflife (4.5 mics) – 5 mics easy. It’s also the last 5 mic hip-hop album that has been released in my opinion. The best albums I’ve heard since have been 4.5 mics but nothing released after 1996 has gotten 5 mics from me.
Outkast – Atliens (4 mics) – 4 mics? Nope. This is a rarity to have in one magazine but it’s a 5 mic album. To me, it’s their absolute best album from beginning to end hands down. Organized Noize did their great work on the music and Andre d.e.s.t.r.o.y.e.d. the mic. He was painting pictures with his words. He made me forget that Big Boi was even there. I know a lot of people think Aquemini is their 5 mic album but it isn’t. Listen to this album again. I bump it like crazy in my car. This is the real Beats, Rhymes and Life album from 1996.
Chuck D – Autobiography of Mistachuck (3 mics)
MC Lyte – As Bad As I Wanna Be (3.5 mics)
Dru Down – Can You Feel Me (3 mics)
Ras Kass – Soul On Ice (3 mics) – 3 mics? Lyrics = 5 mics and Beats = 3 mics. That’s a 4 mic average, kid. Seriously, when I bought this CD, I photocopied the lyrics from the booklet just to read ‘Nature of the Threat’. That song alone is worth 5 mics. And Ras Kass is the most snake bitten MC in hip-hop. He could have had such a great career if he had signed to another label back then.
Nine – Cloud Nine (2.5 mics)
A+ – The Latch Key Child (3 mics)