The origins of the East Oakland-based Living Legends emcee/deejay collective can be traced to the early '90s, when Luckyiam (a.k.a. PSC) moved to the Bay Area and started the Mystik Journeymen with Sunspot Jonz (a.k.a. BFAP). In 1995, the duo hooked up with the Grouch and embarked on a world tour. Around the same time, Murs was in Oakland hooking up with Eligh and Scarab to form the 3 Melancholy Gypsies, an offshoot of the Los Angeles-based Log Cabin. The Mystik Journeymen and the 3 Melancholy Gypsies had a major impact on the West Coast, but it wasn't until 1996 that the two combined to form, along with Elusive, Aesop and Bicasso, the Living Legends crew. In total, the crew and its members have released more than fifty full-lengths and garnered worldwide rave reviews.
Classic is the group's self-proclaimed effort to release an archetypal hip-hop masterpiece. At first, such a lofty goal seems pompous and arrogant. But as Classic plays out, it becomes clear that the group's motives are driven by a deep love of hip-hop, not by a quest for fame or record sales. Classic ultimately fails to live up to its own lofty standards, but it is a fantastic hip-hop record worthy of many listens.
Forming a hybrid of sincerity, wit and intelligence, the Legends feature some of today's strongest emcees. Disciplined by years of rigorous touring and recording, these lyricists storm their tracks with a zealous passion that sets them a few levels above the rest. Despite sporadically repetitious production, there is not a moment of lyrical stagnation on Classic. "Blast Your Radio" showcases the emcees' grandiosity on the mike, and "Never Fallin'" and "Good Fun" feature Sunspot and Murs reflecting on past mistakes.
It is the album's sometimes-spotty production that prevents it from being completely essential. "Blast Your Radio," the genuinely dope Madlib track that opens the album, is probably the album's strongest point in terms of production, offering gritty, cut-up bass like only the Beat Conductor can provide. It's the production like that on "It's Us Again, which veers away from crackling soul samples and opts for cheesy synths, where the album loses its organic qualities.
When I think of essential West Coast hip-hop, I think of titans like Hieroglyphics, the Freestyle Fellowship and the Souls of Mischief, all of whom are considered classic in their own right. The Living Legends did not ascend to that level of timelessness, but Classic still stands on its own as an excellent record. It may not go down in the hip-hop history books, but Classic is a superior record by any standard.