“You’re just a butter knife — I’m a machete!” So rapped Antonio Monterio Hardy (better known in the hip-hop world as Big Daddy Kane) on “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’” (a classic tune from his 1988 debut Long Live the Kane). While just about every rapper boasts about his or her abilities on the microphone, Kane was the real deal. His smooth, bombastic style bridged the gap between the old school cats and the next generation of rappers.
If there was one year that saw hip-hop really explode, it was 1988. While rap music had slowly been insinuating its way into the mainstream since the release of Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell in 1986, the 12 months that made up ’88 saw a handful of rap records perform well commercially but also found many groups reaching their artistic apex. Hip-hop was finally coming into its own, both as a commercially viable brand of music and as a true envelope-pushing art form.
Consider that in 1988, the following albums hit store shelves: Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton, Run-D.M.C.’s Tougher Than Leather, EPMD’s Strictly Business, Eric B. & Rakim’s Follow the Leader, Boogie Down Productions’ By All Means Necessary, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Ice-T’s Power and the Jungle Brothers’ Straight Out the Jungle. That’s 10 staggeringly great albums, and at least three or four stone cold classics.
One of those classics? Definitely Long Live the Kane. Big Daddy Kane’s persona gave birth to the “sensitive hustler” style that guys like Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z spun into platinum success and worldwide recognition (in fact, Jay-Z was a hype man for Kane for a brief period). Aided by the minimalist, head-spinning production of Marley Marl, “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’” remains an all-time great track and could totally stand up against anything produced in 2010. There’s no real reason to be listening to Big Daddy Kane today versus any other day, but there’s also no reason not to.