#28: Janet Jackson, ‘Control’ (1986) vs. Wu-Tang Clan, ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ (1993)


Surprisingly enough, as a lover of 90s hip hop, I had never listened to Enter the Wu-Tang before. This is classic 90s rap. I should have listened to it. I denied myself the pleasure of puffing out my young chest to this tight package of funk rage delivered by an ensemble of some of the best rappers out there. I also denied myself the myriad of references and notable quotes that 36 Chambers provided. “Bring tha Mutha Fuckin Ruckus”, “Protect Ya Neck”, “Wu Tang Ain’t Nothin to Fuck With”. The lyrics on this album are clever, fast, funny and complex. What do you expect when they are trading fours with the best in the biz?

This album is the granddaddy of 90s rap music. The ripples of their influence can be heard by other artists for the rest of the decade and beyond. I wish current popular hip hop sounded a bit more like this; this ain’t lazy sparse mumble rapping. This is aggressive, clear and active rap. Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Basterd, Ghostface Killa, Raekwon, and the rest of this titan rap roundtable trade off rhymes like a relay team, pushing each other to the finish line, leaving the other runners lying on the ground in their rap wake.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of this album is the use of the piano as hooks that thread through each song. It has this Thelonius Monk quality to it. Arhythmic, off tempo, atonal at times. It puts the whole album on edge in a way that keeps the clean and clear danceable groove that is under it on notice.

And then there is Control…

I admit, I did not connect with Control at all. I tried but it’s hard when you’re not a 13-year-old girl from the 80s. This record is stuck in time. I think if you loved it then you are likely to love it now. But to listen to it now, ughh! It’s hard to get around the very dated sound and sparse instrumentation. I just don’t like this album.

36 Chambers is deep. It’s layered. It’s complex. Control just skips off the surface. This is a clear case of something so over produced it becomes thin and unsubstantial. I hate crapping on an album so much. It made the list and had a cultural influence on the Western world. But that’s it for me. It’s a piece of time-stamped culture. That makes it relevant on some level. But it pales to the might of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). This was no match.


WINNER: Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (3 points)


80s: 9

90s: 14

80s: 14
90s: 25

Next week’s battle – #27: Guns n’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction (1987) vs. Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine (1992)

#36: Anita Baker, ‘Rapture’ (1986) vs. A Tribe Called Quest, ‘The Low End Theory’ (1991)

Low End Theory is a hip hop masterpiece. This was the one that got me hooked on the jazzy-funky world of 90s hip hop. This album just hits my sweet spot. There are so many things to love about it. The boom bap “hits-da-high-hat” rhythm. The smooth rapping prowess of Q-tip and the late great Phife Dawg. It’s elevated song writing. Perhaps my favourite part of Low End Theory is its strong jazz influence. From recruiting legend Ron Carter to drop a funky-smooth upright baseline on the classic “Verses from the Abstract”, to sampling jazz fusion legend band Weather Report’s Birdland on “Butter”, Low End Theory set the bar for alternative hip hop. Defining a new form of hip hop (hands down my favourite era of the genre). The stone cold jams are endless. “Excursions”, “Buggin’ Out”, “Vibes and Stuff”, “Check the Rhyme”, and finishing on the high powered rap ensemble juggernaut “Scenario”. It doesn’t get much better than Low End Theory.

If anyone could battle against these 90s rap legends, it’s the strong satin sheets power of Anita Baker and her titanic soul-jazz album Rapture. I had no idea how freaking good this album was. This is not kids’ music. Anita Baker was my parents’ music, in heavy rotation on the local easy listening radio stations.  Because of this, I overlooked her greatness.  Well, no longer.  Anita’s voice is like no other, with its low register power and off note vocal tones. Her mighty voice is unmatched. Musically there are no slouchy songs on Rapture. Starting with “Sweet Love”, she grabs hold and doesn’t let go, leaving one in a heap on the floor from sheer exhaustion.

Anita was my parents’ music. And that’s a good thing. I am a parent. I get it now. Rapture is the blueprint for what adult romance should be. Rapture is a complex, well crafted mature escape. It is confident, sexual, experienced, loving, and healing. It’s got this low sway feel that makes me think of candle light dinners, red wine, conversation and laughter. We have a lot to learn from Anita.

Anita is the mature soul mother to those funky fresh kids of the 90s. But guess what mom! This is our time and these funky fresh kids from the 90s rule!


WINNER: Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory (2 points)


80s: 7

90s: 8

80s: 9
90s: 11

Next week’s battle – #35: Metallica, Kill ’em All (1983) vs. Wilco, Being There (1996)

The album battles are coming…Beginning Jan. 6, 2020!

The VanJam Music War is set to begin! The first album battle – #50 vs. #50 – will be published Jan. 6 at 11 AM.

A new battle will be published each week – every Monday at 11 AM.

Sign up to receive notifications and check back every week to see the latest battle and check out the score. And remember to comment! Tell us when we’re right, tell us when we’re wrong.

Which decade had better music – the 80s or the 90s? After 50 album battles, by the end of 2020, we’ll know!

First Battle: #50 – Madonna, Madonna (1983) vs. 2Pac, All Eyez on Me (1996)