The concept of artists performing a classic album from start to finish, popularized by All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Don’t Look Back events, has spread like wildfire over the last few years. There have been some genuine highlights — Sonic Youth doing Daydream Nation, The Stooges doing Funhouse before Ron Asheton died, Spiritualized doing Ladies and Gentlemen… –- but it’s largely been a rock-centric business, with hip-hop artists far outnumbered by dudes with guitars. Now, some rappers are adopting the idea the idea themselves: Snoop Dogg recently announced that he’ll be doing Doggystyle again later this year, and various others like Cypress Hill, De La Soul, and Public Enemy have done similar tours in the past. Still, there are a whole lot of classic hip-hop records we’d love to see live. Here’s a wishlist.
Mos Def — Black on Both Sides (1999)
With his acting career moving ahead in leaps and bounds, it’s kind of easy to forget that Dante Smith was once (and perhaps still could be) a leading light in the world of hip hop. His later output was somewhat patchy, but his 1999 debut Black on Both Sides was an absolute killer -– fiercely literate, unrepentantly intelligent, and imbued with a real sense of musical possibility. If we can be greedy, we’d also love to see him get back together with Talib Kweli to do Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star .
Nas — Illmatic (1994)
Nas’s crowning glory, and an album that manages to be the subject of huge (and deserved) critical acclaim while remaining curiously underrated in the public consciousness. Ask the average man on the street the hip-hop records he remembers from the ‘90s and he’ll probably talk about Snoop, Tupac, and Biggie, indulge in a little hand-wringing about gangsta rap, maybe mention Eminem, and wander off. Given its status as arguably the best hip-hop record made in the ‘90s, Illmatic deserves a wider audience, and getting Nas out on stage to perform it might be just what’s needed.
A Tribe Called Quest — People’s Instinctive Travels and the Path of Rhythm (1990)
In an age where hip-hop is still largely populated by mumblers flogging the corpse of gangsta rap, it’s worth remembering that it didn’t always used to be this way. The Native Tongues movement of the early ‘90s espoused positivity and was characterized by a general spirit of lightheartedness, proving that you didn’t need to litter your album with gunshots, copious swearing and bonecrushing bass lines to get your point across. The band have performed 1993’s Midnight Marauders in its entirety in the past, but we’d love to see them revisit their classic debut. Can they kick it? Yes, they can. Hopefully.
Digital Underground — Sex Packets (1990)
Another early ‘90s classic. Digital Underground -– once briefly home to a young Tupac Shakur, lest we forget — were one of the great forgotten groups of the pre-gangsta era, and Sex Packets was far and away their best record. The group officially disbanded in 2008, but with music moving in broad 20-year cycles, surely it’s about time that interest in their output was rekindled. And frankly, it’d be worth it just to hear Humpty Hump say, “See a guy you like? Just grab him in the biscuits!”
Outkast — Stankonia (2000)
Plenty of people would plump for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below , but given that it was essentially two solo records packaged as one project, it’d make for a decidedly strange on-stage dynamic. In any case, this album is the peak of the Big Boi/Andre 3000 collaboration, and with rumors of a fully-fledged Outkast reunion still floating occasionally floating around, we can realistically hold out hope that this idea might one day come to fruition.
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Amusingly, Das Racist already performed Paul’s Boutique in its entirety last year (by just rapping along to the CD, apparently), but its creators have showed no signs of doing anything similar. Fingers crossed that Adam Yauch conquers his illness and that the Beastie Boys are able to return to live performance soon –- the world is a less interesting place without them.
Geto Boys — We Can’t Be Stopped (1991)
As has been well-documented, this album’s backstory is compelling enough on its own –- the cover photo dates from the time that Bushwick Bill was shot in the eye, either by himself or his girlfriend (quite what happened has never been confirmed publicly by either party). The fact that it’s a killer record is sadly often overlooked, and although Bushwick Bill is apparently a born-again Christian these days, making a reunion unlikely, it’d definitely be something else to see Geto Boys on stage. Even if you’d, y’know, need to stand near the front to see them.
Dr. Octagon — Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996)
With all the confusion and acrimony surrounding The Return of Dr. Octagon , which came out in 2006 and didn’t have a great deal to do with Kool Keith, the man responsible for the Dr. Octagon character in the first place, it looks like we may have seen the last of the good doctor. This is a shame, because the first Dr. Octagon record, 1996’s Dr. Octagonecologyst, was gloriously deranged, and the idea of seeing an unhinged inter-dimensional gynecologist from Jupiter rhyming on stage sounds like the recipe for a most excellent night out.
Black Eyed Peas — Behind the Front (1998)
Wait. Wait. Before you howl in disgust and then start composing a disparaging comment about how Flavorwire don’t know what the eff they’re talking about, consider this: in the years BF (before Fergie), before they mutated into the globe-bestriding abomination we know today, the Black Eyed Peas were a fairly agreeable, middle-ranking three-MC combo who produced a well-received debut album that drew on the sounds of acts like The Roots and the Natives Tongues crew. If only we could wind back the clock and somehow ensure that they never met Fergie and never subjected the world to everything post-Elephunk.
GZA — Liquid Swords (1995)
OK, so he’s already done this (in 2007, as part of Don’t Look Back), but we never got to see it, so can he do it again? Please?