On the fifth volume of the series, Tommy Boy's Hip Hop Essentials remains true to its studied grab-bag aesthetic, emphasizing late-'80s cuts while including a couple choice old-school classics. To the delight of some hip-hop fans, nothing here could be termed a crossover novelty (à la "Funky Cold Medina"), and over-the-top raunch (à la "We Want Some P") is also left off. Whether or not this is seen as a good thing, the disc isn't one of the better volumes -- the excitement level can't compare to the second or seventh volumes, and a couple too many tracks are too tied to their years of release (unlike, say, Public Enemy's still-riotous "Bring the Noize," or even Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock's deathless "It Takes Two"). The smartest selection on this disc is "Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)," one of several examples why 3 Feet High and Rising should never be seen as the be-all end-all for De la Soul, a group that would remain a crucial part of hip-hop well over a decade after their breakthrough debut. The silly "Jimbrowski," despite being a poor choice to represent the Jungle Brothers, maintains the brief Native Tongues theme, and Queen Latifah's "Ladies First" (featuring Monie Love) remains as powerful and as fun-filled as it was in 1989. Other highlights: Funky 4 + 1's "That's the Joint," Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five's "Freedom," Busy Bee's "Making Cash Money."
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman