Rap has come a long way in 30 years, but to most fans, something still sounds perfectly right about the old battle tapes of the '80s. They may have more hiss than a punctured bike tire, but it's nearly impossible to beat the energy and joy on display.
One of the best (or best-sounding) is Cold Crush Brothers vs. Fantastic Romantic 5, a tape featuring Cold Crush doing battle with Grand Wizard Theodore's Fantastic 5. Recorded in 1981 at Harlem World, the early rap mecca, it was later cleaned up and re-released on CD in a beat-the-bootleggers move by Cold Crush's DJ Charlie Chase.
Although any good rap historian knows that, in general terms, the DJ preceded the rapper, Cold Crush were one of the first rap teams around. In fact, legend has it that the Sugarhill Gang's Big Bank Hank was rapping to a Cold Crush tape when the owner of Sugar Hill Records, Sylvia Robinson, heard him and offered a chance to record what became "Rapper's Delight."
Enjoy the samples below, and feel free to point the way to your favorite battle tapes or mixtapes.
"Taken on Stage"