From 1988-1993, Skits Revolutionized Hip-Hop Albums. Here’s A Look At Some Of The Best (Audio)
Aye…did what’s his name done get at you yesterday?
That question, asked in a comedic interlude on Dr. Dre’s seminal 1992 album The Chronic, will live in eternal infamy alongside the classic lyrics in between which it’s sandwiched. That marriage, of Hip-Hop and comedy, was around before that and while Warren G. will always be the “deez nuts” originator, he was far from the first (or the last) MC to infuse a Rap LP with humor. King T, De La Soul, Kool Keith, Digital Underground, N.W.A., the Wu-Tang Clan, Common and others punctuated their songs with skits, some very methodical, others more improvisational. In addition to inducing laughter, many of the skits worked as a humanizing component, making the rappers involved more personable, relatable, and real.
In a feature for the Red Bull Music Academy Daily, journalist Jeff Weiss uncovers the early days of the Hip-Hop skit, beginning with the years 1988-1993. De La Soul’s ’89 debut 3 Feet High And Rising was more than just a serving of unmitigated Hip-Hop; it was also a piece of comedic genius. With producer and DJ Prince Paul’s metaphorical fingerprints all over the track listing, the album featured several skits cleverly titled with no disclaimers, allowing Heads to discover the hilarity as a part of, not addendum to, the music. A recurring theme throughout the skits was the concept of the old-school TV game show, and as Weiss explains, “They spontaneously conceived everything that last day in the studio. No paper, just pure absurdity.” That absurdity continued on their 1991 follow-up album, De La Soul Is Dead. Thanks to the creative experimentation of the four plugs, Weiss argues that ever since, “Rap albums could suddenly be more than song collections. They could be game shows, panoramic films, or self-aware parody.”
Other albums that earn significant mention include Digital Underground’s 1990 debut Sex Packets, Ice Cube’s solo arrival AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, and of course, The Chronic. “Growing up a rap fan in the ’90s meant entrance into an alternate realm of pop culture where phrases like ‘I treat a bitch like 7-Up, I never have, I never will,’ ‘If I had nuts on my chin, would they be chin nuts?’ and ‘Things that Tim Dog would say,’ were set-ups and punch lines for obscene in-jokes catering to Hip-Hop’s then-largely teen audience,” Weiss maintains.
The Wu-Tang Clan and its members are the undeniable stars of Weiss’ analysis of the years between 1994 and 2003. Between the kung-fu cinematic approach to interludes on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the La Cosa Nostra-inspired skits on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s unbridled sense of humor on every project he ever made, the Staten Island MCs showed that as hardcore and dark as their music could be, they still knew how to laugh, even mid-torture (“I’ll fucking tie you to a fucking bedpost with your ass cheeks spread out and shit”). Weiss also pays homage to The Mad Rapper, the hysterical character on Biggie’s 1997 album, Life After Death. “The Mad Rapper was the Rap Iago, a crusty tetanus-grilled wanna-be baller, permanently jealous of Bad Boy’s Sultans of Brunei in sequin silver suits,” Weiss recalls.
Weiss finishes his insightful piece with the decline of the skit that ran concurrently with the decline of the CD. The reason? According to him, “Pandora doesn’t play skits for a reason. In today’s streaming chaos, few things seem more anachronistic than including skits.” However, he says, the work of artists like Open Mike Eagle gives lovers of the Hip-Hop skit canon something to enjoy, even if ironically.
What’s your favorite Hip-Hop skit?