Just like the odd coupling of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley, no one thought the popularity of hip-hop music would endure. But unlike Jacko's short-lived nuptials, the art form has silenced its critics by becoming bigger, badder, and deffer over the past quarter century. Rooted in reggae and cultivated in the Bronx, hip-hop is commemorated on its silver anniversary by Hip-O Records' The Hip Hop Box,
the first definitive box set to chronicle rap's history. This four-disc set collects 51 stellar tracks spanning 1979 to 2003, with nary a bum note. Disc 1 features 11 old-school rap gems from the late '70s to mid '80s, including such classic cuts as the 12" version of the Sugarhill Gang's seminal "Rapper's Delight"; "Sucker M.C.'s," Run-D.M.C.
's challenge to future MCs to step up their lyrical game; and Salt-N-Pepa
's "Push It," which proved female rappers were a force to be reckoned with. Disc 2 picks up in the late '80s -- often referred to as rap's golden era -- with the more dynamic, culturally conscious rap songs of Eric B. & Rakim
("Follow the Leader"), Boogie Down Productions
("My Philosophy"), and Public Enemy
("Fight the Power" from the Do the Right Thing
soundtrack). Also represented on Disc 2 are the genre-expanding contributions of Native Tongue hip-hoppers De La Soul
(the club favorite "Buddy") and A Tribe Called Quest
(the humorous "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo"). Disc 3 chronicles hip-hop's more commercial yet somewhat schizophrenic period during the early-to-mid '90s with hits as diverse as Naughty by Nature's Jackson 5-sampled party anthem "O.P.P.," Onyx's rap-rock-fueled "Slam," and Digable Planets
' jazzy throwback "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)." Rapping up the set, so to speak, is Disc 4, which covers the late '90s to 2003. Although the disc sounds more disjointed than the others, highlights include Noreaga's frenetic, Neptunes-produced "Superthug (What, What)," a revamped version of Common
's "The Light," featuring Erykah Badu, and a remix of 2Pac's posthumous "Until the End of Time," which samples Mr. Mister's "Broken Wings." Despite the glaring omission of many rap pioneers, including Big Daddy Kane
and the Beastie Boys
, along with latter-day top dogs Jay-Z
, Missy Elliott
, and the Notorious B.I.G.
(represented only by a Junior M.A.F.I.A. track), there remains an overabundance of hip-hop nostalgia and high points. The Hip Hop Box
offers both diehard and casual fans an entertaining overview of rap's complex musical contributions thus far. Everybody say rock it, don't stop it.