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ROSTRUM RECORDS:  Top Shelf 1988[RATING: 5] Many are the claims to have brought ’88 back but surely never before with as much authority as Rostrum Records’ mighty compilation of thirteen long lost cuts from thirteen different hip-hop legends – Top Shelf 1988. The Top Shelf of the title was (so the story goes) a small studio on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where emcees found a safe haven from the clutches of label employees and could experiment with making hip-hop unfettered by corporate bullshit and interference. Said heads included damn near near everyone who was anyone in hip-hop in 1988 – Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Craig G, MC Lyte, Special Ed, Doug E Fresh, Jungle Brothers, Grand Puba, Masta Ace, Black Sheep’s Dres, Nice & Smooth’s Smooth B, Grandmaster Caz & Melle Mel and Chubb Rock – all of whom got to lay down a track it seems. Man, that is a legendary a crew! It was all looking sweet as a nut (the story continues) until one incendiary summer weekend on the 6-7 August that year when it all kicked off between demonstrators and NY’s finest. When the producers got back into the studio on the Monday morning of 8.8.88, most of the equipment had been looted. Along with the masters – and it was all lost. Until now.

But hang on a second. We’ve certainly heard this kind of a story with re-discovery of old Latin and funk records, so there’s no reason it couldn’t happen with old hip-hop records but – er – why are there no track titles on this? More to the point, why are there no production credits? Dig a little further on the interweb and you’ll find the New York Times reporting on an almost identical ‘lost’ recording eleven years ago when an album called Top Shelf 8/8/88 was released in Japan though that at least contained a tracklist plus an intro from Fab Five Freddy and an additional track from Just Ice. All kinds of rumours abounded. It was a hoax! How come nobody had claimed production credit? There is no known street address for the Top Shelf studio! Special Ed said his track was a sped-up version of a 90s track he did! And so on and so forth. But as Jungle Brothers’ Afrika Baby Bam says, “We still remember the culture and tradition…How much more do you need, outside of the actual date, to make a record as authentic as you would have made on Aug. 8, 1988?” And as Check The Technique author Brian Coleman adds, whatever the truth of the matter, “People should be celebrating the fact that someone did this.” Ultimately, the only crime the monkey is concerned about here is the fact that this seems to be a digital only release. With the current popularity of 45s – surely to god…Still we can but hope. Selected tracks embedded below; full YT playlist HERE.
(Out now on Rostrum Records)

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