These days, the word “classic” is thrown around as loosely as a Nerf ball at a picnic. However, we at TRU consider classics to be something which stand the test of time and have a resounding influence on their respective fields. But how do albums considered classics sound to the ears of TRU’s young blood? Aaron J. McKrell was born in 1990 and we’ve convinced him to turn his scope on a classic from the rich history of hip-hop to view it through a contemporary lens in a weekly series we call…
Installment #12 is Main Source’s aptly-titled album, Breaking Atoms. The album does what the title suggests; Main Source drops science over a lean, 12-track album that is Goldilocks-esque: not too long, not too short, but just right.
The greatest thing about Breaking Atoms is how well-balanced it is. The album is at once hardcore, colorful and deep. Only on one track, the OG version of “Just a Friendly Game of Baseball,” does one of these elements overshadow the others. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Large Professor is versatile on the mic, being able to switch up flows and cadences to properly complement the feel of each song. He’s a hardcore lyricist, but is also flavorful enough to be fun. Main Source’s production, provided by Professor and fellow group members K-Cut and Sir Scratch, is likewise colorful and authentically hip-hop. The organ key breakdowns, turntable tricks of Cut and Scratch, and dope samples keep the production lively and surprising throughout.
The concepts on Breaking Atoms are very diverse, but are tied together by one essential theme: it’s all science. Large Professor breaks down life as Main Source knows it, and man, are they experienced. “Looking at the Front Door” shows a man fed-up with his relationship, while “Just Hanging Out” is a ride with Professor as he “watches Black Caesar flicks for kicks,” with his homeboys. In the deep end, “Snake Eyes” is a brilliant song which uses dice game slang to break down shady characters. While it the song has an on the block-feel, it is nonetheless universally relatable. “Just a Friendly Game of Baseball” is the one song where the production is toned down for the listener to get the full effect of the lyrics. The song is an awesome allegory for police brutality. There is remix at the end which uses the same lyrics on a different, more powerful beat, and the effect the improved production has is awesome. I still wonder why they didn’t choose the remix over the original, but no matter. Both are excellent in their own right.
Of course, the song that Breaking Atoms is most well-known for is “Live at the Barbeque,” which introduces the world to a young Nasir Jones. NaS is as nasty as ever on this cut, with his verse living up to every bit of hype it’s ever been associated with. The rest of the emcees on the record follow suit, and the result is one of the greatest posse cuts I’ve ever heard. “Live at the Barbeque” is able toachieve what so many other songs from this era could not: a blockparty-feel that translates masterfully on wax.
Breaking Atoms is, without a doubt, one of the greatest hip-hop albums I’ve ever heard. Because it isn’t an epic or thematically dense, I initially thought it was merely great. But the album’s flawless balance between social commentary, flavor and raw authenticity- plus the fact this album has no weak links and an abundance of stellar cuts- makes Breaking Atoms a masterpiece.
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