As the days get darker and the weather gets colder, there are certain types of albums I like to take off the shelf. I say that relatively speaking, as here in LA it’s still 90 degrees on a daily basis. Regardless, Halloween is right around the corner and although many celebrations went on this weekend, the fall is here to stay and the winter is yet to come. I created a list of songs to help put you in the right vibe for this time of year. From Gravediggaz to Flying Lotus, here are 10 rap songs for you to listen to as we hit the middle of fall.
Mobb Deep – Survival of the Fittest
The entirety of Mobb Deep’s sophomore album The Infamous would be a good fit for this post. Few rappers in the mid ’90s were able to document inner-city street life like Prodigy and Havoc (see Big L below). “Shook Ones Pt. II” is the obvious choice for this list, but “Survival of the Fittest” is just as deserving to be called one of the most memorable tracks from this 1995 classic record. The dark street vibe of the track lies in its signature key melody, and the hard knocking drums are so intense, it’s hard not to bang your head with them. Capped off by Hav’ and P’s sharp lyricism, this track is right for any winter time hip-hop playlist.
Captain Murphy – Between Friends (feat. Earl Sweatshirt)
This moody single by Flying Lotus is a favorite from his 2012 cult mixtape Captain Murphy. The song is almost four minutes long, a detour from Fly Lo’s usual short, twisted vignettes. It features a great guest verse from Earl Sweatshirt, who is the perfect compliment to the track’s gloomy instrumental. This is also one of Fly Lo’s more accessible songs, so if you haven’t gotten into him before, this is a good song to start with.
DJ Shadow – Midnight In A Perfect World
DJ Shadow’s 1996 record Entroducing….. was groundbreaking for many reasons. It was a full hour of super human production, using sampling techniques and styles that were beyond unique for the time. “Midnight In A Perfect World” perfectly encompasses what the entire project sounds like. It feels big and colossal, ominous and mysterious, and to top it off, it’s got a great song title. An instrumental masterpiece.
MF Doom – Doomsday
Maybe MF DOOM’s most popular song as a solo artist, “Doomsday” is my personal favorite track from the villain’s 199 cult-classic Operation Doomsday. It’s got a windy vocal sample, looped over buttery smooth instrumental, with DOOM spitting top notch bars as always. This track helped make a name for DOOM again after his long hiatus, and it serves as a key point in the start of his new legacy. Who better to listen to on Halloween than hip-hop’s biggest super villain himself?
Big L – Danger Zone
This cut from Big L’s 1996 debut is one of his darkest. His lyrical force is on full display, showcasing some of his very best punchlines. He really made you believe it when he said stuff like, “Satan said I’m learning well, Big L’s gonna burn in hell.” He uses dark imagery to paint a picture of the roughest streets in Harlem, over a beat with a menacing bass line. It’s a shame we never got to see his career pan out, but songs like this one make you realize how skilled Big L truly was.
Danny Brown – EWNESW
Like the Captain Murphy song above, this track falls into the more accessible side of Danny Brown’s catalog. From his breakout 2011 mixtape XXX, Danny takes his listeners on a trip through his adolescence, a geographical breakdown of his upbringing in Detroit, Michigan. Danny uses his deeper voice on this song, rather than his trademark high-pitched yelp, a tendency that appears more frequently on darker-toned songs like this one. It’s pays solid homage to the Motor City and is a great song to ride around to in cold weather.
Dr. Octagon – Blue Flowers
“Blue Flowers” might take the cake for the weirdest track on this list. It’s the most notable song from one of the most celebrated alternative hip-hop records of the ’90s, Dr. Octagonecolygist. Embracing the persona of a time-traveling, psychopathic surgeon, rapper Kool Keith becomes Dr. Octagon, spinning wicked tales of torture to his doomed patients, which he obsesses over. This track is off-kilter and certainly not for everybody, but it’s a staple in the world of abstract rap.
Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg – Deep Cover
East Coast rap is so perfect for cold weather and the fall season, but I had to make sure more than one West Coast song got on this list. Who better than Snoop and Dr. Dre? Their first single together, “Deep Cover” – recorded for the soundtrack of film of the same title, was released in 1992 and introduced the world to Snoop, then called Snoop Doggy Dogg. Its dark instrumental is instantly recognizable and it sums up what West Coast gangsta-rap was all about in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
GZA – Cold World
There are so many cuts from this album that could have made this list, but “Cold World” is my pick from GZA’s 1995 legendary solo debut Liquid Swords. Like much of the rest of the album, GZA’s lyrics and flow are slick and well thought out, but it’s the eerie RZA beat that really brings the vibe home. The chorus is a dark interpretation of an old Stevie Wonder track and the recurring Frank Zappa sample defines what a Wu-Tang joint sounded like in the mid ’90s.
Gravediggaz – Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide
Featuring Prince Paul and the RZA of Wu-Tang Clan, along with Poetic and Frukwan, “Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide” is a classic early ’90s cut that is guaranteed to have you head-nodding sinisterly. It’s a dark track with a cypher style beat, and every MC that steps to the mic brings an animated flow and a conniving sense of humor. The entirety of the 6 Feet Deep album is essential horror-core listening.
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Thanks for reading. Let me know some of your favorite fall/winter songs in the comments below, rap or any other genre!
Featured image via Rolling Stone.