The best school is old school

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Class Of 88 review

Production company – Wondery

Rating –


Despite playing in metal and punk bands for nearly 30 years, I have a deep love for hip-hop. My cousin is more than partly responsible for that, although it wasn’t until the 90s I rediscovered all the hidden classics that never made it to the UK charts when I was young.

Growing up in the 80s you couldn’t escape this particular wave of music that originated in New York. Unfortunately, for every Fresh Prince, Chuck D, and Salt & Pepa you also had John Barnes with the England football team and every other cringe inducing non-rapper having a go. I mean, it’s not even “real” singing is it! (Sarcasm alert there).

So what’s it about?

1988 is regarded as the breakthrough year of hip-hop. It started to be viewed by the music industry as a valid genre and not just a fad. Although hip-hop was over a decade old by 88, it had still received hardly any play on MTV. Remember when MTV played music? Ask your parents, kids. When they eventually included awards at the Grammy’s it wasn’t even televised.

This led to a boycott by the winners. People who had risen to national fame, sold thousands of albums and yet were largely ignored by “the establishment”.

All this changed in 1988 though.  This was the era that rappers evolved from the original “one, two, buckle my shoe” style of The Sugarhill Gang or the Furious Five. Rappers like Rakim, KRS One and Slick Rick redefined how lyrics were written. Complex rhyme structures were conceived, and the subject matter of the songs changed too.

In each episode, Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff talk to a different artist, or artists, as is sometimes the case, who were instrumental in helping hip-hop break through. There will be names that most people will recognise, although some that only the real fans will know.

Is it any good?

Again, I was lucky enough to get sent all the episodes in advance, so I spent a good morning listening to the whole lot in one go. It’s a very easy show to listen to. Will and Jeff are totally relaxed and obviously having a great time. I mean they are really just talking to old friends and reminiscing about the good times. Who won’t enjoy that?

From Chuck D telling the story of the Public Enemy gig at Rikers Island prison, to Will Smith’s failed attempt to woo Sandra “Pepa” Denton, to Easy E’s unlikely support of another female rap group in preparation for NWA’s launch of Gangsta Rap. The stories are as interesting as they are varied. 

Despite what the younger generation (my kids included) might think, it was this crucial time in the genre that really started the global spread of the culture. Not only music, but fashion, art and design, and even the English language would be very different if it wasn’t for this relatively small group of talented men and women. From being largely ignored by the media, we now have whole awards ceremonies dedicated to the genre.

Final thoughts

Before Jazzy Jeff had finished telling his story at the beginning of episode one, I knew this was a five brain show. By the end of episode one I wished my ratings went higher than 5. The whole series flew by in no time, and while I didn’t really learn anything new here, just hearing these truly great MC’s and DJ’s talk is just great fun.

As music podcasts go, particularly the ones that I usually listen to, this covers a rather narrow band. This is fine though. As I said at the outset I love old school hip-hop. Whilst I can feel my hair greying at the thought of music from the early 2000’s now being described as old school, people my age know “what time it is”!

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