WORDS: Alex Caslano
When it come to classic Hop Hop albums, Ultramagnetic MC’s ‘Critical Beatdown’ is perhaps one of the most influential of all time. Released in 1988 when the movement was starting to gather pace, the body-moving collective of Ced Gee, Kool Keith, Moe Love and TR Love would push the limits both lyrically and in terms of production, creating an album which sounds as fresh, raw and exciting today as it did 25 years ago. Hailed as an ‘undeniable Hip Hop classic’ and described as hugely innovating and utterly timeless, it’s a record which continues to resonate…
From humble beginnings break dancing as part of the New York City Breakers and People’s Choice crews, to their first demo ‘Space Groove’ and single ‘To Give You Love’, it was obvious that the group were on the path to something special. When they were eventually signed to Next Plateau Records, that ‘something special’ would soon come in the form of 1986 ‘Ego Trippin’. With block-rocking drums sampled from Melvin Bliss and a synth line that was laced with funk, it would mark Ultramagnetic MC's arrival into the Hip Hop arena. With subsequent singles ‘Travelling At The Speed Of Thought’ and ‘Funky’ not far behind, things were about to get heavyweight.
When ‘Critical Beatdown’ dropped in 1988, Ultramagnetic MC's would quickly be recognised as one of the greatest Hip Hop groups of the era, with both lyrics and production standing out in what was a rapidly growing scene. With Ced Gee becoming the master of the sample, exemplified on tracks like ‘Funky’ and ‘Watch Me Now’, while Kool Keith, Moe Love, TR and of course, Ced created a lyrical melting pot which was impossible to ignore, 'Critical' is often described as “a flawless album”. Heavily lauded from The Source to Rolling Stone, it's still doing the damage some 25 years later…
Check out ‘Critical Beatdown’ in full below as well as an interview with founding members Ced Gee, Kool Keith and TR Love:
SG: You’re currently in the middle of a 25th anniversary tour to celebrate the release of ‘Critical Beatdown’, how does it feel being at this milestone? Is this something that’s crept up on you or does it feel like a quarter century old?
Ced Gee: Well what really feels great about this milestone is that all of us are in great health and pretty good physical condition and it really doesn't feel like 25 years.
Kool Keith: Yeah, we look good out here, we not fat, sloppy looking! What other 40 year olds you know look like us?! Keep in shape; do your physical fitness! This is a great milestone in the History Of Music, we created something that can stand the test of time...we top five dead or alive in the annals of super groups. Period.
SG: Many critics and fans regard ‘Critical Beatdown’ as a classic of the ‘golden era’, but of course at the time you were very much part of the New School of rappers coming up, did it feel like you were bringing something different to the table?
Ced Gee: Yes it definitely felt like we were bringing something different to the table because that was the intent me & Keith had from the onset, we knew we had different styles of raps, we knew the production technique was different.
Kool Keith: Yeah, when we were recording the LP we felt like we were on to something real unique and different. It was about the sound. Ced and I had the ideas and different rhyming patterns, Tr had the records, him and Moe Love. Well as far as the golden age, we were the original New School. All y’all wanna label as the Old School - that's not us. We are still very relevant in the game today, why u think everybody still sampling us?
SG: Production is a big talking point on the album and a lot of people comment on how the record feels quite raw. Ced, you're often cited as pushing sampling technology to its limit, do you think the album is recognised for being just as influential for its beats as it is its lyricism?
Ced Gee: Yeah whenever I usually hear people talk about the album 'Critical Beatdown' they always refer to both the beats as well as the lyrics.
TR Love: The recording as a whole was classical. The way we recorded that record was amazing. Ced would chop up the grooves we would bring over and all of us contributed to the LP. Keith had joints. I had crazy joints. And Moe Love had some serious joints...almost every other week we would come with a different crate of records to sample and chop, and the lyrical contests in the crib were intense...
SG: Obviously Hip Hop has come along way and has changed for better and worse, how do you feel about its state at the moment and the huge commercial market it’s become? Do you think people have lost sight of what the original movement was all about?
TR Love: The radio dictates to the listener what u should be hearing as a whole. The music I hear now is definitely different. The game has definitely changed. The whole thing is a total different vibe. I mean, you got some good shit coming from certain individuals, and I hear Pop Rap, Dance Rap, Electronica, Trip Hop - we hear and listen to it all. Nothing gets past us. But some of this crap is just straight garbage, seriously losing the culture. A lot of these artists need history lessons on the culture; it's not just bout graffiti, break dancing and b'boying, the underground is still the underground, but now we have become popular there is a whole new class of cats that are bringing some of that rawness back - they just have to be heard more....
Ced Gee: Well it’s actually not hip hop, just another form of music. I still like the music, some of it, but people long since lost what hip hop was about for better and worse.
SG: Your fourth official album ‘The Best Kept Secret’ marked a return after nearly ten years, are there any plans to get in the studio in the near future and is there anyone you’d really like to collaborate with or rappers who you’re really feeling at the moment?
Ced Gee: Well we're actually recording now, I will try to get you one of the new tracks. And as far as collaborating with other artists, who knows? We're still in the in the mix of work on the album so I guess we’ll see.
Tr Love: Well, that album we did and that is that. There are some moments on there, but as a whole it was never promoted so you wouldn't have heard it anyway. As far as working with anyone, we haven't crossed that bridge yet. We have an idea of who we want to be on it, but for now we will keep it quiet...
SG: All four original members of Ultramagnetic MCs are present on this tour, how does it feel performing ‘Critical Beatdown’ again? Does it bring back good memories of 1988 and what’s the reaction been like so far?
Ced Gee: Actually all the rappers are still involved in the group. The DJ quit which was unfortunate, but it was his choice and we have to respect that.
Kool Keith: The gang is all here. It feels good to go out and drop that rawness on someone who has never heard our stuff before. Our core fans know what time it is, we out here rocking hard. The Black Beatles are here baby...let's go...see y’all in the UK people. See y’all at The Show…
Ultramagnetic MCs play the O2 ABC on Wednesday 10th July. Tickets are available from Ticketweb priced at £19.12.