“Man, in ’95/ I thought music was losing its touch./ Compared to now/ That was a golden era./ Who would’ve thought?”
Wow. When rapper Copywrite spits this line, from “Get Busy,” the second track on producer Marco Polo’s compilation-style debut, he triggers a world of debate and leaves behind a lot of unanswered questions. How could he think hip-hop circa 1995, with its all-coastal barrage of Biggie/Pac/Scarface/Raekwon/Dogg Pound/Mobb Deep/Bone Thugs/Pharcyde/Goodie Mob/Roots ear candy, was falling off? And, for the believers: Did any of us know how good we really had it?
Actually, yes. The thing about mid-’90s hip-hop — when fleeting moments allowed us to reflect on it — was that we were very much aware of how important it was. For all the horrible things that happened later, for all the blame (or guilt) we may shoulder for letting it go, we really did make the most of our time together.
People like Marco Polo, a Brooklyn-by-way-of-Toronto beat maker who paid his dues working with Boot Camp Clik and Masta Ace, take this sort of obsession to new, creative levels. The roster of guests on Port Authority rocks with names you’ve only noticed in passing in recent years and others you haven’t seen since their appearances on Source Fat Tapes more than a decade ago. The still-great O.C. on “Marquee.” Masta Ace on the wonderful “Nostalgia.” The welcomed deadpan of Large Professor on “The Radar.” Buckshot on “Go Around,” which sounds like that cool-jazz remix of Black Moon’s “Buck ‘Em Down.” Kool G Rap, always in top form, with D.V. Alias Khryst (Smoothe Da Hustler, anyone? Damn, it’s been a minute!) on “Hood Tales.” My favorite, and perhaps the best track here, is “Rollin,” where Sadat X, Beatnut Ju Ju and A.G. collide to speak on rap’s age-old pastime: weed. It’s not that Marco got all these guys on one album that’s so impressive; it’s that he was able to even find half of them.
Other collabos arrive by way of greener emcees such as Kardinal Offishall, JoJo Pellegrino and Supastition, whose incredibly focused turn on “Heat” manages to clear a path through the album’s relentlessly hungry surge of veterans and up-and-comers alike. Marco’s style — piano and strings anchored by quick, in-and-out vocal scratches and thick snare snaps — is a choppy New York City-derived tornado clearly formed by Pete Rock with help from DJ Premier, RZA and Havoc. It’s not particularly groundbreaking, nor are the contributions of Port Authority‘s many guests. (Marco’s ability to create a unified force of a record while letting each track boast its own flavor doesn’t go unnoticed, however.) This is back-to-basics-and-stay-there hip-hop; take it and love it or leave it and don’t. What’s remarkable is how many of us still choose the former.