I spied an exciting story on XXL magazine's website: "Platinum League Releases First Ever Hip-Hop Trading Cards." Boy, howdy! Do these things look sweet: you collect all your favorite rappers, from legends like Snoop Dogg and Tupac to not-quite-ready-for-Wikipedia upstarts like Shane Moyer (?), Tim Ned (?) and T.O. (not a typo).
But it gets better: each card has a special QR code that you can scan with a custom smartphone app to get a video message from the featured rapper. Each five-card set comes with a magical sixth card that you can scan to win crazy stuff: cars, Rolexes, backstage passes, you name it.
These cards sound boss as heck, but there was a glaring inaccuracy in XXL's headline: Platinum League may be the first trading cards with all this fancy shit, but they're certainly not the first hip-hop trading cards. There have been plenty of other attempts over the years, but there's no beating the undeniable greatest of all time: Yo! MTV Raps trading cards.
I still have an unopened 36-pack box of Yo! MTV Raps cards from my youth; apparently they weren't big sellers, because I snagged a few boxes at a dollar store years and years after their 1991 run. I'd been waiting for a special occasion to pop these babies open, and here it is: a chance to stack them up against a fancy new contender.
Platinum League may be more thrilling in their newfangledness — to be honest, the basic fangling of Yo! cards seems a little quaint in 2012, when pictures of LL Cool J can be called up with a keystroke. But they have heart, damn it. Yo! cards are such a delightfully ill-conceived labor of love that I have to give them the crown by default.
These are some bad cards. First of all, each one has a beautifully stilted Yo! Fact on the back, written with all the elegance of a sixth-grade book report. A personal favorite is from card 145, the Afros: "The Afros bring forth a new look as well as a new way of talking. Afrolistics is a new language. Most of the phrases the Afros invented are said in a whiny, high-pitched drawl which comes from the '70s Blaxploitation movies. A lot of their lingo comes from these movies as well." (Gee, I wonder why these guys didn't hit it big?)
Yo! cards don't have the variety Platinum League can offer: in the 150-card 1991 series, there are around 50 different rappers represented. Fair enough; I'm sure there weren't many rappers back then, so they had to do some doubles or triples to pad out the set. With popular artists, they went a little overboard: every pack I've ever opened starts with an MC Hammer and an LL Cool J. There are about nine variations of each, with different photos and Yo! Facts and everything. There are about as many Vanilla Ice cards, and tons of Public Enemys; amazingly, they even saw fit to print eight variations of goofball Yo! hosts Dr. Dre and Ed Lover — to avoid canny kids catching on to the scam, they credited four as "Dr. Dre and Ed Lover" and four as "Ed Lover and Dr. Dre."