#92: Big Daddy Kane, Long Live the Kane (1988)
On Long Live the Kane
’s “Set it Off,” Big Daddy Kane describes himself as “the rap soloist”. The line, once interpreted as a diss against Rakim (who gave himself the same tag on “Eric B. is President” ), now feels like a sharp insight. Kane’s debut album is, in essence, one man and his mic, the type of record that feels increasingly like a rarity in an era of guest-verse overload and heterogeneous production. Its title track serves as a perfect introduction: over a sparse Marley Marl beat, Kane raps...and raps, and raps, and raps. Were the driving personality behind it untalented, Long Live the Kane
would at least be one of those respectable bombs, a clear product of love and most importantly labor--lots of it.
The album, though, is an unqualified success, a wonderfully energetic and compact display of unfettered good rapping. Kane is a sort of Übermensch when it comes to rhyming: he’s fast, funny, convincing, and perhaps most of all interesting
. Take, for example, this line towards the end of the aforementioned title track: “Now pardon me for just changing the issue / But all you sucker MCs, it's a must that I diss you.” This is quintessential Kane, wherein pedestrian subject matter is enlivened by its delivery. Look at how he phrases the couplet: “it’s a must
that I diss you,” as if rolling his eyes at yet another job to be done. Long Live the Kane
is full of moments like these, its namesake bolstering what could be considered a generic battle-rapper personality with an unusual clarity of vision (“My rhymes will remain like a hieroglyphic,” from “Just Rhymin’ with Biz,” has to be the coolest brag ever). This is what separates Kane from lesser rappers: he shows, they tell.
It also helps that the album is remarkably consistent. Many of its most ardent fans could probably do without “The Day You’re Mine,” a mushy and sorta bizarre love song I enjoy for its earnestness, but the rest is completely airtight. “Raw” is just that, fierce and sounding as if it were recorded in someone’s basement; “Set it Off” has Kane just blazing
by other rappers; “On the Bugged Tip” is deliciously funky; even “Just Rhymin’ with Biz,” lazy as it is, has an enjoyable flow to it (“I watch Star Wars
just to see Yoda,” quoth Biz Markie). My favorite of all is “Ain’t No Half Steppin’,” which finds Kane once again doing away entirely with narrative structure in favor of a constant stream of boasts. That approach is not the one that usually informs my favorite rap songs (see: “Shakey Dog,”  “N.Y. State of Mind” ), but Kane’s off-kilter approach makes it work--something he pulls off again and again throughout the album’s duration. With Marley Marl providing an uncharacteristically crowded beat, Kane raps about his desire “to open a school of MCin’” before shutting down his own idea and giving himself “a break from a take of me actin’ ill.” The lyrics are ridiculous on paper and sound, in fact, even more ridiculous on record, but also showcase a self-described “rap soloist” at the top of his game, ecstatic with the possibilities of words and what they can do. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that what rap music is all about?