Various Artists

Electro Sessions

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The definition of the term "electro" seems to vary fairly widely, and both general rap fans and students of the form might be at least a little puzzled as to the exact criteria used to select the 27 tracks on this two-CD compilation. It seems more a wide-ranging anthology of 1980s rap in general, albeit with an electro tilt, than one that specifically zeroes in on the electro subgenre, or makes a go at being a definitive electro anthology. If you're willing to let such sticky points slide, however, this is a pretty good collection of early rap, whether firmly considered as part of the electro camp or not. Some big names are here, like Grandmaster Flash (one of whose three tracks, "The Message," is probably the most influential early rap hit of all), Run-D.M.C., Eric B. & Rakim, Kurtis Blow, Just-Ice, and Tone-Loc; there are also noted tracks by artists with less staying power, such as the Treacherous Three's "Whip It." In the tradition of many a compilation from the Union Square group of labels, these are mixed in with items that will be less familiar (and sometimes wholly unfamiliar) to most listeners, like those by Orange Lemon and Rockers Revenge. But while it might not be the most rhyme'n'reasonable sequence of '80s rap, it's a fairly eclectic, quality look at the music as it grew up and incorporated a deepening array of electronic beats and samples. Women aren't too heavily represented (no surprise as they weren't widely represented throughout rap itself), but they do get a bit of airtime here, particularly via Wanda Dee's "The Goddess," a highlight both for its relative obscurity and its effective alternation of lewd moans with tough-talking text. Usually these sorts of anthologies aren't recommended starting points due to their shaky thematic grasp. But this would be a good one if you want something beyond the most visible various-artists collections, as some of the material doesn't show up too often anywhere, and as rap itself isn't the most over-anthologized genre around.

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