From 1982 to 1986, Celluloid Records released about 40 extended-play 12"s of then cutting-edge hip-hop, characterized primarily by Linn Drums, the Yamaha DMX keyboard, turntable cutting, and rudimentary rapping. The New York-based label was overseen by Bill Laswell, who was an underground kingpin at the time, co-writing Herbie Hancock's "Rockit," co-producing Mick Jagger's solo debut, and fronting Material, among myriad other activities. Celluloid was quite forward-looking for its time. Ironically, the output of the label is quite dated today. Those Linn Drum sounds, above all, date the music instantly. Drum machines were hip and fresh at the time, sure, but they've come a long way since the mid-'80s -- as has the art of rapping, and hip-hop production in general. So perhaps what's most interesting about The Celluloid Years is how primitive the music sounds today. Laswell and company obviously were onto something big at the time, treating hip-hop as an artistically valid style of music rather than just a fad. This mindset resulted in some fascinating songs, most notably "World Destruction" (by Time Zone, featuring Afrika Bambaataa and John Lydon), "Home of Hip Hop" (D.ST), and "Crazy Cuts" (also by D.ST). Unfortunately, precious few of the songs compiled on this two-CD collection are all that fascinating. They all have their moments, featuring interesting elements here and there. But by and large, they're trying listens, whether because the rhythms are canned, the rapping is pathetic, the songwriting is weak, or some combination of these unfortunate factors. If you can discount all this, however, The Celluloid Years is a fun and historically interesting listen. It's probably not a collection you'll revisit more than once or twice, but it's revelatory upon first listen, to imagine these songs being spun by mid-'80s DJs in the clubs of New York City, accompanied, of course, by breakdancing. Also, it's good to have this music compiled once again on CD, especially in such a thorough manner (leave it to the Germans, as usual). It was previously compiled on Roots of Rap: The 12 Inch Singles, Vol. 1, though not nearly to the extent that it is here. On The Celluloid Years, Collision features the original 12" versions, which are preferable, even if the songs drag on and on to disco length. The mastering is also commendable. Old-school hip-hop historians and collectors will cherish this release, no doubt, though most everyone else will find it unbearably dated.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2