Ultramagnetic MC's Critical Beatdown: A 25th Anniversary Retrospective
Critical Beatdown was released in the Fall of 1988, one of the greatest years in Rap music history with numerous classic albums bookending it. To put Critical Beatdown into its proper context, it was released weeks after Marley Marl's In Control Vol. 1, Eazy-E's Eazy-Duz-It and Ice T's Power and weeks before Def Jam dropped Slick Rick's The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick. Although Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was released 6 months prior to Critical Beatdown and they sound like companion pieces to each other. It Takes A Nation Of Millions was crafted in the summer of 1987 and also punctuated by Hank Shocklee employing the newly released SP 1200 and heavily inspired by the influential 1987 singles Ultra released.
The singles "Watch Me Now"/"Feelin' It" and "Ease Back"/"Kool Keith Housing Things" both got significant burn as Critical Beatdown made its rounds blasting out of radios, Sony Walkmans and the stereo systems of assorted vehicles (especially jeeps). Kool Keith and Ced Gee's bizarre reference, crazy rhyme cadences, surreal lyrics and futuristic production captured the attentions of many Rap fans and heavily influenced others. Even to this day when you listen to Ghostface Killah and Raekwon's non sequitur bars or refer back to Keith Murray inventing new vocabulary words, you can trace it all to the sciences cooked up by Ced Gee and Kool Keith in the Ultra Lab and Studio 1212.
While Critical Beatdown is hailed as an unadulterated classic Rap album and widely regarded as one of the most influential Rap albums of all times both in terms of production and lyricism it didn't do very well commercially. Ultramagnetic MC's released seven double sided singles on Next Plateau between 1986 and 1989, all thirteen songs contained on them are considered classic compositions ("Traveling At The Speed Of Thought" was released twice two years apart with "A Chorus Line" as the later B side because Next Plateau made Ultramagnetic shoot a video for it). Even though Kool Keith and Ced Gee failed to move a serious amount of units with their debut LP they gave the Rap world another project that further cemented what the overall aesthetic was for classic Rap albums while selling a gang of SP 1200's for E-mu Systems.
Here's to Critical Beatdown, a genre defining classic album that 25 years after it was released still sounds as great as it did when it was first released in 2013. The goal when creating art is to make it timeless so someone will feel compelled to write retrospectives about it in the decades following it's release. Hopefully more Rap albums released in 2013 will keep this goal in mind rather than just trying to move units. It's far more important to first move the listener.