Big Daddy Kane
"Long Live The Kane"
Cold Chillin' (1988)
1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die
Before I try to define Big Daddy Kane's skills with my own prose, let me offer an analogy. You know how Flava Flav is the hype-man for Public Enemy, or mainly for Chuck D because Chuck is a much, much better rapper than Flav? Well Jay-Z used to fill the hype-man role for Big Daddy Kane. This example is flawed in that Jay evolved into one of the biggest names in rap history as a solo act, but it gives an idea of the credibility that Kane commanded as an emcee, and as a member of Queens rap group the Juice Crew during hip-hop's "Golden Age."
The immediate and obvious thing that set Kane apart was how quickly he could deliver. Consider him next to Afrika Bambaataa, another "golden age" New York rapper (the term for the era collectively refers to non-gangsta hip-hop of the '80s and early '90s; not a reflection of my personal preferences). Afrika was pedestrian by Kane's standards, although he never looked for a battle per se. Then again, Kane is slow compared to some modern tongue-twisters, like Tech N9ne, but the advantage Kane has is that he makes a lot more sense when he speeds things up. Busta Rhymes, one of today's fastest deliverers, also developed under Kane's wing.
As mentioned before, Kane keeps a streamlined train of thought when delivering. Lil Wayne, who practices a similar form of simile-based rap ("I _____ like ______"), is a skilled rhymer, but he rarely nails down an idea. At the same time, it's not like Kane's themes ever get very complex. A majority of "Long live The Kane" is based around personal boasts. Some of my favorite include: "So full of action, my name should be a verb" from "Raw," and "black belt in rap-man-do" in the title track. But no matter how sharp the jab, this is all in good fun. Omens of the violence that would plague '90s classic hip-hop were yet to happen. This is the main reason fans dub the era "the golden age;" you could have fun listening without worrying about politics.
As a modern listener, I'd contend that the act gets tired as the album wears on. Towards the end of the record, Kane waxes philosophic with "I'll Take You There" and "Word to The Mother(Land)," two Afro-centric tracks, but it's clear most attention is laid on self-promotional singles, such as "Ain't No Half-Steppin,'" the most popular song on the album. Kane even repeats the same line in two separate songs, defining the acronym in his title: "King Asiatic No One's Equal." In-house producer Marley Marl doesn't live up to the golden-age standards for beats that was set by Bambaataa, and it's no offense to him to argue that his sampling is less crazy than what The Dust Brothers did for the Beastie Boys. Marley, if anything, relies a little too much on classic James Brown, who makes sampled appearances in six of the ten tracks here. His turns at scratching, generally as a bridge following a hook, are well-balanced however.
Again, as a listener from the modern era, maybe I enjoy my hip-hop a little more aggressive, with beats a little more digital, a little less sample. I have it on good word however that if you prefer attending the old school, "Long Live The Kane" is near the apex of hip-hop's glory days.
INTERESTING FACT: Big Daddy Kane's ability to deliver rhymes so fast is especially impressive when you consider he has asthma.