Ultramagnetic MCs Went Above And Beyond On Critical Beatdown | Album Review

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How Classic? 5 out of 6

Released: October 4, 1988

Bronx, New York. Early 80s. The New York Breakers and the People's Choice Crew members Ced-Gee, “Kool” Keith, Moe Love and TR Love were breakdancers before they transitioned into rap. Their intent was to be a cutting-edge hip-hop group technology wise with their lyrics and beats. Ultra means “beyond” and signified their advanced style while Magnetic meant that their technologically superior skills would attract listeners. 

 Photo from inside Ultramagnetic MC's  Critical Beatdown  album

Photo from inside Ultramagnetic MC's Critical Beatdown album

They would release a string of singles which gave them a reputation as the best 12-inch group around. They became highly influential and even Public Enemy cited the production of Critical Beatdown as an influence on their 1988 album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Kool Keith was also a huge innovator who was so unique that he doesn't have many that would even try to imitate him. 

The album overflows with complicated and unorthodox rhyming which sound futuristic and scientific in nature as Kool Keith says on one of their most famous songs “Ego Trippin”, “Troop for scientific matter, I probe for evidence”. The beat combines not only one element but a variety such as the solid boom-bap beat, turntable “stabs” and an even a funky bassline which comes in occasionally to add dynamics. 

The album version of "Traveling At The Speed Of Thought Remix" incorporates a light rock guitar, a style which had been very popular in hip-hop since Run-DMC's 1984 debut. However, Ultra's approach has the guitar take a backseat while they focus on the lyrics and drums.

The original 12 version of “Funky” is the superior version of this song. It features a famous sample from Joe Cocker (“Woman to Woman”), which was the main ingredient in Dr. Dre and Tupac's “California Love”. EPMD would use the same sample in 1989, one year after Ultramagnetic used it.

“Give The Drummer Some” is the album's second most popular song (Spotify) with over half a million plays! It's easy to hear why with its funky beat and fun time lyrics with Kool Keith dropping a famous line right off the bat, “Switch up, Change my pitch up, Smack my bitch up”.

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Kool Keith has a unique ability to start off the song with an unusually catchy line, and the title track is a perfect example, “Well I'm the equalizer, known to be graphic, clear static, breakin up traffic”. This track has a nice groove which moves along smoothly and features nice mellow sounding samples which go in-and-out of the soundscape. 

Critical Beatdown contains unique rhyming as one would expect from the eccentric Kool Keith as well as envelope-pushing (for 1988) production. Critical Beatdown has been a connoisseur's favorite for at least 20 years and counting. It's that record that every hip-hop fan worth his salt had/has to have in his collection! 

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CHHM tip: Listen to bonus track “Bait (Original Full Length)” as well.

Alexander Ramalho