There are plenty of reasons why old-school hip-hop is better than the new stuff. It's more fun (is there anything more playful than wikka-wikka record scratches?). It's more revolutionary (Grandmaster Flash's strolls through urban war fields are more incendiary than Lil Jon's rhymes about pussy). And it's more historically significant (T.I. will never matter as much as Run-D.M.C.).
The Hip-Hop Pioneers Tour brings together such old-school rappers as the Sugarhill Gang ("Rapper's Delight"), Whodini ("Friends"), and (pictured) Kurtis Blow ("The Breaks") for an oldies show that doesn't feel like one of those specials PBS drags out every pledge week. So, in honor of Saturday's concert, we offer our list of the most important old-school hip-hop songs.
1. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five: "The Message" -- Before this groundbreaking 1982 single, hip-hop was mostly about hotels, motels, and Holiday Inns. But Flash and his crew rapped about the concrete jungle and the rage it inspired: "Don't push me, cuz I'm close to the edge." Indeed.
2. Run-D.M.C.: "Walk This Way" -- Yes, it's responsible for Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and every other mook-rock band that includes a guitar player and a DJ. But back in 1986, this collaboration with Aerosmith sounded like nothing else on the radio.
3. Public Enemy: "Fight the Power" -- Political rap's greatest moment is four-plus minutes of howls, screeches, and Chuck D bellowing a riotous call to arms against America's trivialization and whitening of black culture.
4. Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force: "Looking for the Perfect Beat" -- Electrofunk was born on this 1983 mix of Kraftwerk-fueled synth riffs and street beats. DIY hip-hoppers have been inspired ever since.
5. Grandmaster Flash: "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" -- Say hello to the sample. Flash's 1981 turntable de force is an aural collage that borrows beats from Chic, Blondie, and others to fashion a dizzying new escapade.