In many ways, every mainstream hip-hop act is a singles act. Because the race among fans to find the latest hot rapper, producer, or label is continuously being run in earnest, anything resembling staying power is reserved for the most steadfast cult acts and the most shrewd multimedia moguls. No flow is so smooth or beat too tight to ensure against eventual extinction; today’s Aftermath can easily become tomorrow’s No Limit. Such fleeting trends, and the resultant one hit wonders, make hip-hop more suited than most genres to instant-nostalgia, As Seen on TV compilations.
Razor & Tie’s Non-Stop Hip Hop: The Videos takes this concept beyond the boom-box and into the DVD player. Bad idea. While many of the 15 tracks collected here are hip-hop classics in their own right, the attendant videos are not. The collection fails as a piece of cheap entertainment because visually, it’s just not that entertaining, even as kitsch. Furthermore, it’s far too shoddily presented to qualify as even an attempt at a document of cultural history.
First off, the packaging is laughable, if not offensive: With its pseudo-graffiti proclamation, “The Hottest Jamz Eva!”, and bandana-and -Mike-Vick-jersey-clad G-Thang on the cover, it plays into the most basic hip-hop stereotypes while managing to be trashier than a bagful of No Limit artwork. Pop the disc in and the menus look like they were programmed by your younger brother for a school computer project—10 years ago. Yuck!
It’s a shame, because much of the music featured here is excellent. Spanning the years 1986-1994, it predictably focuses on hip-hop as violence-free party music. That’s fine when the party favors include Digital Underground’s gloriously twisted take on P-Funk, “The Humpty Dance”, Salt-N-Pepa’s groundbreaking “Push It”, and De La Soul’s sublime “Me Myself and I”. It’s fascinating to be reminded that, pre-Swizz Beatz, Neptunes and the like, hip-hop backing tracks were largely influenced by disco, funk, and James Brown samples. With their uptempo rhythms, looped breakbeats, and analog synthesizers, most of these tracks hold up remarkably well. A decade before “rap metal” became a passing trend, Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky” and Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing”, both featured here, fused drum machines and scratching with heavy guitar riffs, and to much more enjoyable effect than, say, Linkin Park.
Visually, one can see some of hip-hop videos’ most prominent running themes established: performance footage, close-ups of hands on turntables, goofy costumes, women, mugging, and dancing. The “guest star” precedent is also set, with Penn & Teller seen swindling Run DMC in “It’s Tricky” and Q-Tip literally popping up in “Me Myself and I”. Throughout, artistic vision is scarce, though it is nice to see Tone Loc suck the smug irony out of Robert Palmer’s models-with-guitars “Addicted to Love” concept.
With any quick-fix compilation, there’s going to be some trash, and Non-Stop Hip Hop: The Videos has trash to offer. MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” will always be embarrassing, and it will always be difficult to fathom how they became hits. Beyond embarrassing, and downright surreal, is the sight of Brian Wilson and Beach Boy “friends” hamming it up with the Fat Boys on the ridiculous “Wipe Out”. Wilson looks utterly lost, and it’s no surprise that Mike Love and Bruce Johnston get most of the face time. Well, the joke’s on you, Mike and Bruce! Amidst all the partying, Arrested Development’s sanctimonious “Tennessee”, with grainy shots of Old South lynchings, is simply out of place.
If some information was given about the videos’ creation or directors, then perhaps this compilation could work as a sort of visual history. But there’s scant information to be had. Worse, some of the videos are obviously rough transfers from old promotional reels. As for using Non-Stop Hip Hop: The Videos as a party-starter, the sound is crappy, too. Of course, it’s too much to ask for the Criterion Collection for $19.95, but this makes one pine for the relatively respectable days of K-Tel.