Various Artists

The Hip Hop Box

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Hip-O's Hip Hop Box is patterned much like the same label's Funk Box, consisting of four discs and a booklet loaded with information. And much like The Funk Box, this set functions as a starter kit with some considerable blind spots. Hip-hop fanatics will no doubt put the track selections under deep scrutiny, but this is certainly intended to be an introduction, not a be-all and end-all statement. The tracks run in rough chronological order, from the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" to Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode"; between these two, nearly every stripe of rap music from the past 25 years receives some attention, and the listener can chart the form's evolution, even though this particular time line tends to overemphasize safe critics' darlings. To be fair to the compilers, there's no way a definitive set could've been made within the span of four discs; more importantly, licensing material from big names and certain labels can put you over budget with the quickness. There are some definite blunders -- the Notorious B.I.G. represented only by a Junior M.A.F.I.A. track, very little Southern rap, no N.W.A. or Jay-Z -- but the package was put together with such care that some of the mistakes can be forgiven.

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