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What Is Hip Hop’s “White Album”?

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In rock and roll and popular music history, there are more than a few albums that are considered to be the Holy Grail of music supremacy. There’s The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, The Who’s Tommy and Who’s Next, The Eagles’ Hotel California, The Clash’s London Calling, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors (I just read a book on the inside story of the creation and production behind that album…great read!), and many, many more that I could highlight here.

But in both rock and pop music history, no other group or artist is more revered and held on a pedestal more than The Beatles. There’s just something about the Fab Four from Liverpool that still to this day moves people– something of an aura and a mystique that John, Paul, George and Ringo’s story has. For the longest time, I was the last person to be considered a Beatles’ fan because, to me, all they did was take the music of black American artists from the 1950s and 60s and make it more “acceptable” for particular audiences.

But the truth is, you’ve got to give The Beatles their respect. They essentially did help to transform the very fabric of American pop and rock music and they really did take us places we had never been before. And on top of that, they created music that was extremely against the grain, experimentalm and somewhat revolutionary during their heyday, having created some of the most beloved albums in all of music history.

Check their record: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road and Let It Be are a few albums that have stood the test of time in music history and have crossed generational boundaries. I’d bet good money that there’s a 16-year-old kid somewhere in America that’s listening to a song like “Strawberry Field Forever” or “Come Together” on their iPod as we speak.

And the one Beatles album that stands arguably as their greatest musical accomplishment above all the others is the self titled double album from 1968, best known as The White Album. There were so many different kinds of sounds and musical interpretations on The White Album that it has been billed by many across music genres and generations as the greatest album ever made.

So, as a Hip Hop head, this fact got me to thinking: does Hip Hop have a White Album? And if so, what is it?

Honestly, I’d have to say that this is a pretty difficult question to answer, because Hip Hop music has produced some pretty amazing albums throughout the years. So we have to ask ourselves: what album in Hip Hop history has done what The White Album has done from rock and roll? What single album has helped to truly define a generation, is seamless in it’s listening, is vastly experimental, but is still considered Hip Hop, and is considered a masterpiece by Hip Hop heads the world over?

What about Ready to Die? Maybe Illmatic? Possibly Reasonable Doubt? Aquemini? The College Dropout? Paid in Full? By All Means Necessary? Enter the Wu-Tang? The Black Album? Radio? Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik? It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back? Watch The Throne? See what I mean? And these are only a handful of the albums we could consider.

Personally, I would probably make a case for one album above all of these: The Chronic. I’d say that above any other Hip Hop album throughout history, Dr. Dre’s 1992 offering is the closest to The Beatles’ The White Album in terms of historic musical significance, experimentation and inventiveness, being a true representation of the times during its release, standing the test of time in music history, and being an album that other Hip Hop artists still use as a barometer to compare their music to. Yup, I’ll definitely go with The Chronic as the Hip Hop version of The White Album.

But hey, that’s just my opinion, and I’d love to hear other thoughts from other music heads on this topic. And besides, maybe an even better question to ask is this: will the Hip Hop music of today stand the test of time like The Chronic and The White Album have? And if so, who will be the artists or groups that will create that album? And since we’re clearly in a time for music when the album doesn’t mean as much as it used to, do we even care?

Food for thought all around.

Ron Grant is a freelance journalist and blogger originally from Detroit and currently residing in Orlando. He is a contributor at HipHopDX.com, is the lead writer for Orlando-based indie music label Conscious Mind Records and runs his own independent music blog, The Music Nerdvocate. Follow him on Twitter @RonGreezy.
  • http://www.facebook.com/Kellanddrumgoole Kelland Drumgoole

    Great article Ron. Interesting that you didn’t mention Jay-z’ ‘Black Album’ which was his version of the White Album.

  • http://twitter.com/RonGreezy Ronald A. Grant

    Thanks Kelland! Actually I did mention “Black Album”, but it’s all good. :-)