Dusting Off... Ultramagnetic MCs' Critical Beatdown
What is it?
Released in 1988, Critical Beatdown is the debut LP from New York-based hip-hop collective Ultramagnetic MCs. Formed in 1984 by members Keith Thornton and Cedric Miller, a.k.a Kool Keith and Ced Gee, the group's best known line-up also included rappers TR Love and Moe Love, although at various stages in their career they were also involved with controversial rapper Tim Dog and beatbox legend Rahzel, formerly of The Roots.
Along with their contemporaries Run DMC and Public Enemy, Ultramagnetic MCs were one of the key acts in the emerging 'new school' of hip-hop that also included acts like Eric B & Rakim and Boogie Down Productions. While they never quite achieved the commercial success of some of their peers, Ultramagnetic MCs remain one of the most influential hip-hop acts of that era and Critical Beatdown is credited with changing the way samples were used, thanks to producer Ced Gee's innovative technique of 'chopping up' samples instead of using loops in their entirety.
The real star of Ultramagnetic MCs however is mercurial rapper Kool Keith, known for the bizarre and surreal imagery he uses in his rhymes, as well as his syncopated technique and sometimes crude humour. The lyrical interplay between him and Ced Gee is the crux of Ultramagetic MCs sound, highlights of which can be heard on the album's standout tracks 'Watch Me Now' and 'Ego Trippin''.
Why should I revisit?
Ced Gee must rank as one of the most underrated producers in hip-hop; as well as developing new sampling techniques and being one of the first to use funk samples by James Brown and others, he also produced most of another of the era's most influential albums in BDP's Criminal Minded, although he was never credited for his work. 'Ego Trippin'' was also the first track to sample the Melvin Bliss song 'Synthetic Substitute', a track which has since become one of the most sampled drum breaks of all time.
Even if you already own the original release, the re-issue also includes some previously unreleased material, including the original 12” version of 'Ego Trippin'' and 'A Chorus Line', featuring the late Tim Dog on vocal duties.
Who will enjoy it?
If you're into classic hip-hop you should already know this album, but if you've never listened to Critical Beatdown in its entirety it's definitely one you should add to your to-do list, especially if you enjoyed the early albums by BDP and Public Enemy.