Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Profile Records Rap Anthology

Wow, I remember these! Back in the days, growing up in the suburbs, I didn't have access to many vinyl records. It was all cassettes and CDs. So, if you wanted to own a bunch of Sugarhill Records classics, you didn't go buy all the original 12" singles; you bought a compilation album that featured all their hits on one tape. And there were bajillions of these bad boys, with all different titles and themes. This was great at first, until you had all the big hits, and now wanted some of the less famous tracks... There were multiple times in my youth I'd buy a whole CD full of songs I already owned, because it included one different song I didn't already have. Every Sugarhill compilation had "Rapper's Delight" and "The Message" - I wound up buying those songs like twenty to thirty times - because I had to buy one that featured a West Street Mob or Mean Machine track that wasn't on any of the others. Thankfully, those days ended for me when I was able to go to places like Philly and NY to get the exact records I wanted... and even better when the internet came about, and suddenly everything was (just about) was findable. Now one can just order pretty much every Sugarhill Records 12" for 99 cents and own the originals, which are cooler collectors' items anyway. There's no more need for these crazy compilations... or maybe there is?

It's a nostalgia trip for me just seeing this release. Doubly so, I guess. Because on the one hand, it's a bunch of classic rap records getting re-released; but more so for me, just seeing one of these compilations again. Even a collection like this from Profile, specifically, is a return to the old days. From the original Rap albums of 1984, where Profile first assembled all their big rap singles of the time onto a two volume collection, to Diggin' In the Crates: Profile Rap Classics in 1994 and Profilin' the Hits and Profile: The Singles, both in 1999, this has been done before. But 1999 was 13 years ago; evidently it's time to do it again. 8)

So, first let's compare this to the past incarnations... it fairs quite well indeed on that score. While you might prefer certain past Profile comps for being on vinyl (this is a CD only release); if you put aside the format, this is easily the best in terms of content. Because this is a 2 disc set, it simply has more tracks than any of the past iterations... And since Profile has no shortage of brilliant rap releases in their vaults (they could easily release dozens of compilations like this, with no repeats), there's no question that the all the songs are top notch. Most of the songs from all those past releases I named are on this set, with only one or two exceptions per release (although Profile: The Singles has the advantage of also including instrumentals).

This set also goes the extra mile by including a substantial booklet. It starts out with quotes from various, major DJs praising Profile Records collectively or specific singles. I'm not going to give it all away - you'll have to buy the set - but here's one example: DJ Rob Swift on "Fresh" by The Fresh 3 MCs, "F-R-E-S-H FRESH, FRESH, FRESH, Yo, that's FRESH! That hook will forever remind me of the year 1983. I entered the 6th grade in the fall of 1983 as a 12 year-old kid from Queens. It was the year I got my first kiss! It was the year I decided to become a DJ. It was the year that changed my life. Now that's FRESH!"

You've also got several pages of photos, and several pages of liner notes by Dan Charnas, author of The Big Payback, a massive tome I still plan to review here on this blog, assuming I live long enough to finish it. ...Plus pages of the proper production credits for each song. Also, according to the sticker on the shrink-wrap, everything in this compilation has been remastered... but I'm not sure anything on Profile has ever really sounded poor in the first place; so I can't say I notice a big difference.

Disc 1 feels like a really strong, cohesive rap album; all early to mid 80's hits featuring fun raps and giant, programmed drums. The label had a huge, varied roster, but it all managed to have a cohesive, recognizable "Profile sound." That's out the window for Disc 2, which covers the late 80s to the mid 90s. Imagine Nine, Run DMC & Aerosmith, 2nd II None, King Sun's love song (seriously, of all King Sun singles, why this one?), Camp Lo, Onyx, Special Ed and DJ Quik all on the same disc - it's chaos! It's still all good material; but none of it fits together... now the fact that it's all on the same label feels like an arbitrary reason to compile all these songs together. In future, I can see myself reaching for the first disc to play a bunch of dope, related songs together in a go. But I doubt I'd ever do that for Disc 2.

The real question, though, is whether people will be interested in a compilation like this in 2012. As these albums go, it's quite a well-made one with a lot going for it. Care was put into assembling this, and it shows. But is there an audience for this anymore, or is this a doomed dinosaur, misguidedly resurrected in the modern age? I'd be quite interested to see the numbers on this in the next couple months.

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