Skrapz’s ‘80’s Baby’—The Road Rap Classic That Keeps On Giving

Words: Jesse Bernard

Those ‘you had to be there’ moments aren’t hard to find. These days, my Instagram Explore tab is filled with nostalgia and archival trinkets from what feels like more than just another generation, but a different world entirely. Anyone born at the tail-end of the ‘80s probably has a hazier memory of the ‘90s than they’d care to admit, but the grandiose self-expression the decade inspired through the colossus of hip-hop still remains the blueprint for authenticity.

Artists know this well, which is why it’s still the most popular destination for time-travelling rappers, producers and DJs. When Skrapz released the fan-acclaimed 80’s Baby mixtape in 2014, whether it was spitting over Foxy Brown’s “Get You Home” or Usher’s “Think Of You”, his beat selection was a window into the world of music that inspired him. 80’s Baby quietly symbolised a lot more: to find that sweet spot that produces the elusive classic project while rooting the sound in both the past and present. 2014’s future is now and, more so than ever, Skrapz’s sound is still vivaciously visceral.

80’s Baby works as a great time capsule piece for the millennium child; what era it sits in sonically can be argued. Of course, it’s mostly classic New York City rap beats all over the production of the mixtape, but the themes and Skrapz’s vantage point as a witness and watcher couldn’t be more UK. “Skrapz ain’t back, he’s here but he’s bringing you back,” Big Keyz sermonises on the mixtape’s intro. At the time of this set’s release, it would’ve been limiting to say that it was just a throwback to a time many still lament. Skrapz has a gift of observing the world around him and then presenting it back to us in a way that feels cinematic, a North Westside Story.

The beats featured on 80’s Baby are each iconic in their own right, mainly because they symbolise the hunger for more than just the gritty but something a little smoother too. It emerged at a time when road rap was already yearning for the brighter lights and for all that’s said about the use of predominantly ‘90s NY rap beats, it strengthens that musical kinship tied by concrete dreams and street nightmares. Life is very different for the young MC we hear rapping over staple Mobb Deep, but Skrapz’s ability to process pain and success and then turn it into something inspiring is one of the many reasons why we still turn to this project.

Prince once warned us about samples sampling samples, and it turns out he was right. Contemporary rap is littered with examples of this and can sometimes water down the purity of sampling, which is one of the elements that makes 80’s Baby one of those you had to be there moments. You had to be there when 80’s Baby dropped in 2014, and it felt like 1994 and 2004 simultaneously but still effortlessly current. Survival Of The Fittest, originally recorded in 2007, by a younger Skrapz, was pre-Spotify, Channel U-only, still-selling-CDs-out-of-your-boot days and a vignette of North West London’s road rap legacy, the last of a dying breed that sees the dying embers of the mixtape era burn the last spark.

We’ll never experience times like that again, whether it’s the ‘90s or early 2000s. We can only continue to preserve those memories in bodies of work such as 80’s Baby. By serving as that witness, Skrapz’s recent decision to upload one of UK rap’s most genre-defining projects to streaming services has expanded that view from his own vantage point, allowing those who weren’t there the first time around to know what it’s like to hear a classic record for the first time.

Posted on January 10, 2022