Critical Beatdown

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Critical Beatdown
Critical Beatdown cover.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 4, 1988 (1988-10-04)
GenreGolden age hip hop[1]
LabelNext Plateau
Ultramagnetic MCs chronology
Critical Beatdown
Funk Your Head Up
Singles from Critical Beatdown
  1. "Ego Trippin'"
    Released: 1986
  2. "Travelling at the Speed of Thought"
    Released: 1987
  3. "Funky"
    Released: 1987
  4. "Watch Me Now"
    Released: 1988
  5. "Ease Back"
    Released: 1988
  6. "Give the Drummer Some"
    Released: 1989

Critical Beatdown is the debut studio album by American hip hop group Ultramagnetic MCs, released on October 4, 1988, by Next Plateau Records.[2] Production for the album was handled primarily by the group's rapper and producer Ced-Gee, who employed an E-mu SP-1200 sampler as the album's main instrument. Music journalists have noted the album for its innovative production, funk-based samples, self-assertive themes, ingenious lyricism, and complex rhyme patterns.

Although it charted modestly upon its release, Critical Beatdown has since been acclaimed by critics as a classic album of hip hop's "golden age" and new school aesthetic. The album's abstract rhymes in strange syncopations laid on top of sampling experiments proved widely influential, from Public Enemy to gangsta rap to several generations of underground hip hop artists.[3][4][5][6] Critical Beatdown was reissued by Roadrunner Records in 2004, with additional tracks.


Before forming as a hip hop group, Ultramagnetic MCs members Cedric "Ced-Gee" Miller, "Kool" Keith Thornton, DJ Moe Love (Maurice Smith), and TR Love (Trevor Randolph) from The Bronx, New York were break dancers for the New York City Breakers and People's Choice crews.[7] They recorded a demo, "Space Groove", in 1984 and released their first single "To Give You Love" in 1985.[7] Other singles, including "Space Groove" and "Something Else", became popular at block parties and earned the group notice in the underground music scene, eventually leading to the group's signing with dance-oriented record label Next Plateau Records.[8]

The group made a stylistic breakthrough with their subsequent 1986 single "Ego Trippin'". The song boasted dense, minimalist production, featuring synthesizer riffs and a drum sample from Melvin Bliss' "Synthetic Substitution", and erratic lyricism by Ced-Gee and Kool Keith.[7] The group's 1987 single "Funky" showcased Ced-Gee expanding on his production style, incorporating a piano sample from "Woman to Woman" by Joe Cocker.[7] Before the release of Critical Beatdown, he contributed to production on albums such as Paid in Full (1987) by Eric B. & Rakim and Criminal Minded (1987) by Boogie Down Productions.[7]

Music and lyrics[edit]

The dynamic, choppy sound featured on Critical Beatdown was produced primarily by Ced-Gee, who used an E-mu SP-1200 sampler.[4] His sampling of early recordings by James Brown, particularly their guitar and vocal parts, added to the music's abrasive, funk-oriented sound and exemplified the growing popularity of such sampling sources in hip hop at the time.[4] Along with samples of Brown's music, the production utilized drum breaks from commonly sampled sources such as Melvin Bliss' 1973 song "Synthetic Substitution".[13] In the second edition of The Rough Guide to Hip Hop (2005), music journalist Peter Shapiro notes its music's energy as reminiscent of The Cold Crush Brothers and writes of the album's musical significance, "It may have been a stunning explosion of early sampling technology, but Critical Beatdown remains a devastating album even in an age of 32-bit samplers and RAM-intensive sound-editing software."[14] He also views that the technological limitations of using such a sampler added to the album's style, making the music "rawer, more immediate, and more febrile, like a raw nerve."[4]

Hip hop production team The Bomb Squad has cited the album as a major influence on their production for Public Enemy's 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.[14] Music journalist Jeff Chang writes that Ced-Gee "pushe[d] sampling technology to its early limits, providing sonics that are less bassy and more breakbeat heavy than most of their contemporaries."[15] Shapiro dubs it one of the greatest hip hop albums and comments on its musical legacy, "Recorded at a time before 'street' and 'experimental' were mutually exclusive terms, it ushered in hip-hop's sampladelic golden age and laid the foundation for several generations of underground rap."[3]

Kool Keith's and Ced-Gee's lyrics on the album are characterized by abstract braggadocio,[9] stream-of-consciousness narrative style,[11] and pseudoscientific terminology.[16] The Anthology of Rap, published by Yale University Press, makes note of such terminology in Ced-Gee's lyricism on the album's 1986 single "Ego Trippin'", particularly the lines "Usin' frequencies and data, I am approximate / Leaving revolutions turning, emerging chemistry / With the precise implications, achieved adversively".[16] Kool Keith's rhymes are manic and expressed in a staccato pace.[16] His lyrics on "Ego Trippin'" also criticize the musical aesthetic of old school hip hop artists at the time: "They use the simple back and forth, the same old rhythm / That a baby can pick up and join right with them / But their rhymes are pathetic, they think they copasetic / Using nursery terms, at least not poetic".[16]

Critical reception[edit]

Retrospective professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[17]
Blender4/5 stars[18]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[19]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[21]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars[22]
The Source5/5[24]
Spin Alternative Record Guide9/10[25]

AllMusic editor Stanton Swihart found the production innovative and deemed Critical Beatdown "an undeniable hip-hop classic [...] one of the finest rap albums from the mid- to late-'80s 'new school' in hip-hop."[17] He noted the "lyrical invention" of Kool Keith's and Ced-Gee's respective styles, adding that "Somewhere in the nexus between the two stylistic extremes, brilliant music emanated. Critical Beatdown maintains all its sharpness and every ounce of its power, and it has not aged one second since 1988."[17] Trouser Press journalist Jeff Chang called it "an amazing debut" and complimented Kool Keith's "shifty rhyme patterns".[15] Pitchfork's Alex Linhardt called it "a flawless album—one that stands tall today as one of Golden Age's most ageless," lauding Kool Keith's "lyrical ingenuity" and citing Ced-Gee as "the source of the album's most insane, digitalk-quantum gibberish, spouting lines [...] [T]hey should be studied in seminars alongside general relativity."[10] Linhardt attributed its music's "surging psychosis" to DJ Moe Love's turntablism and Ced-Gee's dense funk sampling, particularly his arrangement of vocal samples, writing that they "are ingrained in the very fabric of the beat, concealed and crippled amidst the relentlessly fuzzing bass. And like most great rap albums, many of them come from the patron saint of yelps, James Brown, and flurry and flux with such abstraction and chaos that they make the beats feel deceptively fast-paced."[10]

Melody Maker stated in a retrospective review, "full of scratch-tastic heavy beat, gold plated hip hop which manages to combine the minimalist ground-breaking Sugar Hill sounds with the show-no-mercy aural assault of the then-emerging Public Enemy."[26] NME called it "a bona fide classic."[20] Sputnikmusic's Louis Arp noted the group's sound as "developed solely around the sampler" and stated, "Critical Beatdown's notoriety as one of hip-hop's first copyright offenders is more than slightly impressive ... Those grooves, the lyrics and the all around unique feel of the album make for some innovating hip-hop."[13] Arp commented that the album "marks a sign of hip-hop's early burgeoning creative maturity" and praised Ced-Gee's "method of chopping up samples, rather than simply looping them like most of his contemporaries did, essentially changed the way the producer approached the hip-hop beat".[13] Rolling Stone writer Peter Relic cited it as the group's "quintessential release."[21] Colin Larkin, writing in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, said that it "served as a direct influence on the 'Daisy Age' rap of subsequent acts such as De La Soul and PM Dawn", while singles such as "Give the Drummer Some" showed the Ultramagnetic MC's "in their best light: call and response raps demonstrating individual members self-espoused talent in the best traditions of the old school."[19] In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), journalist Kembrew McLeod called the album "a bona fide classic of hip-hop's 'golden age' of the late '80s and early '90s, an album that was mostly ignored at the time but whose reputation has grown exponentially in the years since."[22]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Cedric Miller, Keith Thornton, Maurice Smith and Trevor Randolph.

1."Watch Me Now"4:49
2."Ease Back"
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
3."Ego Trippin'" (MC's Ultra Remix)
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
4."Moe Luv's Theme"
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
5."Kool Keith Housing Things"
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
6."Travelling at the Speed of Thought" (Remix)
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
7."Feelin' It"
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
8."One Minute Less"
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
9."Ain't It Good to You"
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
10."Funky" (Remix)
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
11."Give the Drummer Some"Paul C3:43
12."Break North"
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
13."Critical Beatdown"
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
14."When I Burn"
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
15."Ced-Gee (Delta Force One)"
  • Ced-Gee
  • Ultramagnetic MCs
Total length:47:08


Credits for Critical Beatdown adapted from Allmusic.[27]

  • Carlton Batts – mastering
  • Janette Beckman – photography
  • Ced-Gee – engineer, producer, vocals
  • Kool Keith – vocals
  • Andre Harrell – executive producer
  • Kimberly Brathwaite Moore – production coordination
  • Paul C – producer


Chart (1989)[28] Peak
US Billboard Top Black Albums 57

Sample use[edit]

List of songs sampling material from Critical Beatdown adapted from WhoSampled.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Hip-Hop's Greatest Year: Fifteen Albums that Made Rap Explode. Rolling Stone. February 12, 2008. Retrieved on July 27, 2008.
  3. ^ a b Shapiro, Peter (2005), p. 376.
  4. ^ a b c d Classic Material (2003), p. 161.
  5. ^ "Hip Hop's Greatest Albums By Year" in Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Chairman Mao, Gabriel Alvarez & Brent Rollins. ego trip's Book of Rap Lists, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999, pp. 331–337. ISBN 978-0-312-24298-5
  6. ^ Brian Coleman, Check the Technique, New York: Villard, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8129-7775-2
  7. ^ a b c d e Shapiro, Peter (2005), p. 374.
  8. ^ Cooper, Sean (November 1, 2001). Ultramagnetic MC's: Biography. Allmusic. Retrieved on July 15, 2011.
  9. ^ a b Freeman, Phil (2007), p. 205.
  10. ^ a b c d Linhardt, Alex (June 10, 2004). "Ultramagnetic MC's: Critical Beatdown". Pitchfork. Retrieved July 10, 2011.
  11. ^ a b Cobb, William Jelani (2007), p. 54.
  12. ^ Ultramagnetic MCs. "When I Burn". Next Plateau, 1988.
  13. ^ a b c Arp, Louis (June 29, 2006). "Ultramagnetic MCs – Critical Beatdown (album review)". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved July 10, 2011.
  14. ^ a b Shapiro, Peter (2005), p. 375.
  15. ^ a b Chang, Jeff (1997). "Ultramagnetic MC's". Trouser Press. Retrieved July 10, 2011.
  16. ^ a b c d The Anthology of Rap (2010), p. 497.
  17. ^ a b c Swihart, Stanton. "Critical Beatdown – Ultramagnetic MC's". AllMusic. Retrieved July 10, 2011.
  18. ^ "Ultramagnetic MCs: Critical Beatdown". Blender. 2004.
  19. ^ a b Larkin 2006, p. 342.
  20. ^ a b "Ultramagnetic MCs: Critical Beatdown". NME: 55. October 4, 1997.
  21. ^ a b Relic, Peter (June 24, 2004). "Ultramagnetic MC's: Critical Beatdown". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 23, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2011.
  22. ^ a b McLeod 2004, p. 836.
  23. ^ Male, Andrew (November 1997). "Ultramagnetic MCs: Critical Beatdown". Select (89): 121.
  24. ^ The Source (150). March 2002.
  25. ^ Weisbard & Marks 1995, p. 418.
  26. ^ "Ultramagnetic MCs: Critical Beatdown". Melody Maker: 53. October 18, 1997.
  27. ^ Critical Beatdown - Ultramagnetic MC's: Credits. Allmusic. Retrieved on July 15, 2011.
  28. ^ Critical Beatdown - Ultramagnetic MC's. Billboard. Retrieved on July 10, 2011.
  29. ^ Ultramagnetic MC's Music Sampled by Others. WhoSampled. Retrieved on July 10, 2011.


External links[edit]