There’s just over a month left of 2014, which means we’ve still got plenty of time to fete the big 30th anniversary of Def Jam and revisit the label’s classic records. This celebration has been the most visible thanks to the relationship between Def Jam and retail giant Best Buy, which has been releasing various Def Jam collections all year long. As a result, a five-disc Redman Classics set, consisting of the first five Redman CDs in slim cases with a low $20 price tag, just hit store shelves. Redman plays Best Buy Theater with Method Man tonight (Wednesday, November 26), and being that this week includes the important holiday Black Friday, it’s a perfect time to introduce the Redman collection to a loved one. But if you’re only familiar with Red through his acting roles or work with Method Man, here’s a quick companion guide to the Redman Classics collection.
Whut? Thee Album (1992)
Every hip-hop fan can recall their first time hearing Redman’s Whut? Thee Album, one of rap’s all-time greatest debuts, in full. With Red having debuted alongside EPMD and K-Solo on the newly formed Hit Squad’s posse cut “Head Banger,” fans were anticipating a strong debut, and Red didn’t disappoint. Over Erick Sermon and Pete Rock production, Red snarls and shocks all over Whut? Thee Album, a record as unabashedly explosive as it is shocking. At a time when rap was all about individuality, Red defined himself early on as the weirdest MC in a roomful of weirdos. Its influence is longstanding, with Eminem referring to it as his favorite album of all time.
Dare Iz a Darkside (1994)
As you’ve undoubtedly heard endlessly this year, 1994 was a great year for rap albums. But while Illmatic and Ready to Die are getting the massive thinkpieces and The Diary and Tical are getting the “overlooked gem” treatment, Redman’s Dare Iz a Darkside, which turns 20 this week, seems to be getting overlooked yet again. While Redman himself doesn’t look back at Dare particularly fondly, referring to it as the product of a dark time in his life (hence why he seldom performs songs from it live), truth be told it’s aged incredibly well. While Redman’s charisma is as strong as ever, what stands out about the album is Redman’s strongest and most diverse technical rapping performance. The number of styles Red pulls out here — sometimes several per verse — goes largely unmatched by the rest of his catalog.
Muddy Waters (1996)
Redman’s personal favorite of his own catalog, Muddy Waters captures his fun curmudgeonly belligerence as he stomps through some of the funkiest tracks he’s ever been blessed with. A product of the moody mid-’90s East Coast, Muddy Waters also features some of Red’s more melodic moments, making it the perfect alleviation to the dark pressure of Dare Iz a Darkside. Two of Red’s signature songs, “Whateva Man” and “Pick It Up,” can be found here, as can pretty much everything one would want from a Redman album. If you’ve never heard a Redman project, this might be the best place to start.
Doc’s Da Name 2000 (1998)
The legacy of Redman’s Doc’s Da Name 2000 is a polarizing one. What mostly separates it from his other works is the bouncing, shiny production, a noticeable shift from his previous three records. While some diehard fans missed the cosmic slop they’d come to expect, the album’s defenders champion how successfully Redman ventures outside his comfort zone, bringing the Redman character into the over-production of the late-’90s rap soundscape. The sonic difference didn’t change a thing about his subject matter or brash shamelessness, which is exactly why Doc’s Da Name 2000 works. It’s Redman’s highest-selling album, and the “I’ll Bee Dat” video remains one of our all-time favorites.
Finally, we have Malpractice. It’s honestly the odd man out in this collection; while each previous Redman album felt like a step forward in Red’s evolution as a character, Malpractice feels like Doc’s Da Name 1.5. There’s some gold on here, namely “Let’s Get Dirty (I Can’t Get in Da Club),” arguably Red’s biggest single. But what’s weird about the album is how the second single was the bonus track “Smash Sumthin.” While there are a handful of inspired moments, it’s by far the hardest one to argue being included in a “Classic Albums” collection. But any album with cameos from Scarface and DJ Kool does deserve a spot in your collection, so we’re not complaining about its inclusion.
Revisiting Method Man and Redman’s Failed Fox Sitcom, Method & Red