Is This woman the sexiest woman alive??! – The Allure of Denise Vasi

I’m just gonna post a bunch of pictures for this one, because right about now, I’m feeling like she’s the most beautiful woman in the world (besides my girl, of course) and a picture’s worth a thousand words.

I guess I should mention how this super gorgeous Dominican (from Brooklyn no less), with amazing eys and ridiculous skin starred on ABC’s most famous daytime Soap Opera, All My Children as a hooker turned wife and celebrated the final episode of the iconic show last week along with the rest of the cast, or how she’s gonna pop up in next month’s romantic comedy What’s Your Number? Or how she was rumored to be dating Russell Simmons (emphasis on rumored) right after his split from Kimora…

But I don’t want to talk about any of that.

For now, I just want to look….

And then I want to say

Yes (to answer the question in the title),

You Are, Denise Vasi,

And You

Are My New Crush!!

 

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(19) Classic Sounds….

Like…

15 Years.

Dude, I wasn’t even 15 years old when my favorite rapper of all time was pronounced dead. I remember hearing the news from the television in my father’s room. I ran in to hear that 2Pac was indeed dead. I immediately felt a weird sort of gravity. A week before, I was joking about him surviving and probably rapping with an iron lung. This time tho, I sincerely realized the impact of death from a distant place. It was a significant year; 1996 had marked the passing of my father’s mother – my Granny. It was my first real and close death, so coming of age as a 13 year old going on 14, the absorption of what loss feels like hit me unforgettably. My Aunt Charlene called me to see if I had heard. I don’t even know how she knew that I liked Pac, or if it was just an assumption based on my music love, but I wasn’t nearly the 2Pac fan that Iam now. I wouldn’t call myself a fan back then. I just liked a good amount of his singles and held fond memories of watching his videos with my big sister Veen. But like most every other hip-hop fan and listener in New York City at that period in time, I had read the VIBE and Source articles and recently heard “Hit ‘Em Up” and I thought the nigga was crazy!

So when we come to a point like this, and the handful of you who consistently visit this blog notice that this is my second review of a classic 2Pac album within a span of 3 months, or if you’re a random visitor and notice that, then the latter of you wonder why I started this post off this way, and the former of you understand that I would not let this month go by without properly acknowledging the anniversary of the death of the most prolific and poetic rapper ever. I mentioned in the prior Pac post that I’d come back this month and pay respect properly, and especially as I prepare to deactivate my blogger status, it makes the most sense that I wrap up this year in significant ways.

It’s this album, that made me the fan that Iam today. I picked a great point to become a Pac historian because had I re-acquainted myself with his music with the All Eyez On Me LP, I think I would have had an underwhelming assessment of him as an artist. While an intended triumph and celebratory effort, that album did more to invoke West Coast hip-hop unity and pride and re-introduce Pac as a retaliatory and party-friendly force in rap than exhibit his skills and personality. It was surface stuff. And tho it can be argued that since The 7 Day Theory is a posthumous work that it may not be Pac’s final vision – especially considering that there are hundreds of songs that he recorded in that year and a slew of Makaveli sequels that hit the mixtape circuit immediately after it’s release, these are still his thoughts and expected execution of such. I began seeing the posters for this album in October. It was releasing on election day of ’96. I didn’t like the cover. I thought it was too much. I heard pieces and bits of it on blocks as cars rolled by and so on. I didn’t really hear it until months later when I was chilling in a pool hall downstairs from my building, which ironically, had a huge airbrushed poster of Pac from his All Eyez On Me cover with the quote, “even thugz cry, but do the lord care?”. I thought it was amazing how a bunch of street dudes from Harlem, my hometown… shooting pool, rolling dice and playing video games, who 4 months ago would otherwise be blasting “Who Shot Ya??” by Biggie, all were just in full out Pac mode, blasting The 7 Day Theory from the jukebox and reciting the lines. I just stood there and soaked it all in.

The first song that made an impression on me was the actual first song off the album. “Bomb First (My Second Reply)” is like no other 2Pac song; It booms, has incredibly aggressive energy without sounding crazy amped, and is full of organized confusion. For those who were not previously familiar with Pac’s Outlawz crew, this song was a great introduction. A tamer follow-up to “Hit ‘Em Up”, this track is still laced with venom but more calculated and stemming less from the mind of a scorned troublemaker and more from the mind of someone fully ready to go to war and taunting his enemies to come out of hiding. It was definitely a battlecry, complete with a dramatic introduction and conclusive explosion and even little clever jabs at Bad Boy and Xzibit (who I was a fan of at the time). What moved me the most however, was that the beat was decidedly east coast. I was used to Pac rapping over the whiny, bouncy and r&bish sounds that had defined California hip-hop. This dark beat with it’s bassline that uses the same sample as a dozen of Hip-Hop songs from the 90, including Naughty By Nature‘s “Uptown Anthem” (who I also knew Pac was cool with) was a change of pace, and to me a sign of where Pac was going before his life got cut short. The outlawz’ Jersey-brewed voices and wordy delivery also helped foster this vibe and added an East Coast co-sign that showed that Pac was not leftist, just beefing with most of the popular rappers along the Atlantic. My ears were wide open from this point.

To hear a song like “Hail Mary” follow such a dynamic lead off is almost overwhelming. What these two songs placed next to each other did for street dudes is indelible. The message is remarkably stark. It’s a sequence of get-back, promises, exposition of plans and credos that lead to quotables that have been repeated time and again. Tho I never fully understood every line of this song (like “mama told me never stop until I bust a nut” – huh?? Why would your mother tell you that?), everybody else seems to, so whatever. Besides, Not understanding Pac is a great departure from the usual route of being able to predict every other damn word that he was about to say (see, “hennessy” and “enemies”). This was also a departure from his one line chorus style and saw him using full out sentences and refrains for hooks on most of the songs on this LP, even chanting – dare I say singing? on this one. The cryptic and gothic feel of this song became the thugs’ anthem and the perfect single to really drive the whole I-just-died-but-I-may-still-be-alive-somewhere-and-outsmarting-you-all feeling that came around his death. This beat too was not typical West-coast fare, and tho it sounds non coast specific, it just resonates with the spirit of hardcore, melodious Hip-Hop. It was the ultimate posthumous song and declaration. The irony in the biblical reference on such a grim track just tied into the whole Christianity play of the album.

Speaking of which, by the time I got to the 5th track, “Blasphemy”, I had faithfully owned this album on tape and was amazed when I heard this. It has a weird beat that is more atmosphere and background for Pac’s vocals than a production. It sounds like everybody was high and producer Hurt-M-Badd was playing with modulated or distorted oboe sounds and Pac said ‘yeah, lets keep that!’ On this under-appreciated song, Pac toys with lots of Christian imagery, incorporating dogma into his verses and making comparisons while questioning texts from Biblical scriptures. It’s a testament to where he was spiritually at the time, in light of his other contemporary tracks like “Black Jesus” and references to Jehovah. He seemed to be at a crossroads but enlightened somewhat, making peace with not accepting the traditional practices handed down, but forming his own definition of God for thugs and Black people overall. Profound lines like “We probably in Hell already, our dumb assess not knowing/everybody kissing ass to go to heaven ain’t goin!” and “brothers getting shot, coming back ressurrected/is this that raw shit? – nigga check it!” will have anybody thinking…

A song that took a bit more time to grow on me however, is “Just Like Daddy”. It’s a little creepy of a concept, but it became a saying after this album became popular. This was more or less a vehicle for Pac to let the Outlawz get a little shine on the female demographic, tho they don’t quite pass as believable in the ladies man department like Pac naturally does. The song fits right in time in a much needed slot right after the darker songs that came before and the heavier songs that follow. It represents the essence of this album, a very honest mix of Pac’s thoughts and feelings at this point; some lighthearted material full of love and calm, to juxtapose with his most angst-ridden and burdensome sentiments and questions. The “Impeach The President” sample underneath once again added to the east coast feel and helped the even flow of west-meets east that seemed to be the formula in production for this project. The samples were all subtle and nicely soaked in other sounds. Besides, no Pac album would be complete without a good song “for the ladies” or 2.

This album may be remembered more for songs like “Hail Mary” and “Me And My Girlfriend”, yet in all honesty, it should be revered for the deeper songs like “Blasphemy” and the 2 in the middle of the album; “Krazy” & “White Man’z World”. While “Krazy” may sound like a return to the usual Pac rhetoric about getting high, being in jail, questioning the fate of a thug, this finds Pac coming from a more mature and contemplative perspective. It’s more sedate, and less hopeless than previous songs of the same vain like “Life Goes On” or “It Ain’t Easy”. When he says simple lines like “I came a long way, but still I got so far to go”, you believe him and almost feel him wanting change. On a less optimistic note, on “White Man’z World”, he kind of accepts the reality of being in a disadvantaged predicament, but calls for a social revolution of Black people not embracing second class status. While he does so with fervor, this is accomplished more through his adlibs, as his verses are less focused on any particular subject and are more 1st and 2nd-person recitations that feel like something that he just needed to get off of his chest. Interestingly enough, it’s the jail talk on this song, that sounds more appropriate for the song “Hold Ya Head” which is a loose dedication to those on lockdown making it through bids, but sees Pac doing more of that 1st person diatribe that he did on “White Man’z World” with a little bit of bragging. It’s the sounds chosen in the production of these songs tho, that is truly the glue. The smooth and rich feeling of replayed samples and real instrumentation in ways that weren’t ever really explored or prominent in rap music coupled with hard hip-hop snares and great use of dramatic segues into each song delivered a  mix that allowed 2Pac to be the final and most powerful instrument on the songs. They evoke definite moods that deliver Pac’s message clearly. This is not Pac rapping hardcore over r&b, or getting deep and conscious over crunk funk, this was the perfect mix…And most of it displayed a thinking Pac who was reflective and strategic.

That doesn’t mean that all strategized Pac was calm. On the aforementioned “Me And My Girlfriend”, he made a cult classic out of a used concept. He pretty much killed it for everybody else after unfortunately, tho he sparked everyone’s desire to follow the trend. On a cinematic and thumping beat (on which Pac gets production credit) that sounds very mafia movie inspired and works for both coasts, Pac rips through this song on an extended metaphor about his lady being his gun. It took alot of us a minute to digest. The whole woman-as-a-metaphor-for-an-object thing was still relatively fresh and new to Hip-Hop fans. We were easily impressed when it was applied to something very dynamic and tangible like guns. Nevermind the fact that  2 years earlier, Organized Konfusion did verses as a stray bullet, or that Common addressed the whole state of Rap music and Hip-Hop culture as if it were a woman, Most of the rap listening public at large hadn’t heard this technique used until Nas‘ personification as a gun on that summer’s “I Gave You Power”. It was mind-blowing. My personal theory is that most of 2Pac’s beef with Nas was rooted from a place of true fandom. I think Pac listened to Nas heavily and respected him, until he started listening a tad too closely. In all honesty, to take offense to any of the lines from Nas’ second album, you’d A) have to understand the bullshit he was talking about, or B) really be rewinding his songs and reading along with the lyrics sheet included with his LP. 2Pac seemed to be rubbed the wrong way by Nas’ brief line in the first track off his album where he claims to have got shot and stitched up and left the hospital in the same night. Something Nas just said for dramatic effect, but something that Pac actually lived. But to catch that line, you’d have to be listening quite intently. I think Pac was listening hella hard, as a fan first, and then felt some way. And even through all of this, especially given the timeframe of when the album came out in relation to his album, and how huge the response was to “I Gave You Power”, I think Pac Loved that song, and in the spirit of competition and ego, felt the need to outdo and 1-up Nas by going the only next place that one could go after turning themselves into a gun...Loving one. So If “I Gave You Power” was the classic rap song of that summer of 1996, then “Me And My Girlfriend” was undoubtedly the classic rap song of that fall. BTW, this song should have never been remade by Jay-Z and Beyonce. Never…

The videos alone for this album should tell you that this is close enough to the version of this album that Pac would have made had he been alive long enough to see it to the release date. Before my visit to the pool hall, I saw the clip for “Toss It Up” late one night on Rap City and thought, ‘what??! I thought all the media outlets said that “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” was the last video he ever made?’ It was weird. I was kind of mad thinking that his final video would be of him parading around LisaRaye and cars with c-list singers instead of the meaningful one with him getting shot and going to heaven with the great musical legends. So you could imagine how flabbergasted I was when I saw the video for “To Live And Die In L.A.” just come out of nowhere months later. I was more shocked that it was being played on NYC radio stations. But this brought a sense of peace back. Whereas “Toss It Up” is the only song on this album that is reminiscent of the reckless and flamboyant vibe of All Eyez, “To Live And Die..” brought more of that calm, reflective but radio friendly spirit that made this album evenly measured.  I was more relieved to think that this was indeed Pac’s final video, a laid back but raw and lamentable ode to the city that made him the man that he became. And even tho he’s not an L.A. native, you can tell that he was directing it towards those who grew up in Los Angeles and the natives. He described the lifestlye and hood culture there so vividly and passionately that it made me want to go there just to see why he and all these other west coast dudes seemed to love it so much. If you watch the video, you see how it makes sense that this was the video where he literally rides out into the sunset. He looks like he was having a genuinely good time, if only for the moment. I even find amusement in the fact that even in the midst of the feel good aura he keeps the pace and balance of the album alive by making time to throw a dart at Dr. Dre at the end and remind us all that he’s still in war mode, just taking a break to love life. 

“Toss It Up” is not a bad song at all, nor does it change or ruin the mood, it’s just a song that I never listen to on here. Maybe because Iam a New Yorker, and this is the only track on here that has that 90’s West coast style of production that I mentioned earlier and expected the album to sound like, or maybe because I absolutely hate the singing, but I’m just never in the mood to hear that shit. Along with “Life Of An Outlaw”, these are the only tracks that I skip on the album. But by definition, a classic album is not so much about whether or not you only choose to listen to your favorite songs on the album, but whether or not you can play it from beginning to end. And since the flow and theme of this album aren’t disturbed at all and every last song has it’s own independent value, this is indeed a classic. And I can attest to listening to this from front to back a zillion times.

“Life Of An Outlaw” is actually one of 3 songs on which 2Pac recieves co-production credit, making this the first and only album where that happens. It’s just telling of the direction that he might have been headed. It also marks an important place in his rap history where he flexes the widest vocabulary of his career and doesn’t rely on his go-to sentences and phrases. He steps it up lyrically and flow wise, using different patterns, more syllables and compounds adding to the effect of that west meets east influence sprinkled across the album. One can only imagine where he was about to go as an artist from this point. Whoever did the sequencing on this LP had the ear to present Pac in the most honest and balanced way possible and closest to his own intent.  With production from 3 unknown beatsmiths (including an up and coming QD3) this seemed to be an ideal marriage of sound for Pac’s new strategic mindstate and a perfect comedown from the party that was All Eyez. Moreso than any other of his albums where he appears to be preoccupied with a particular angle (Death on Me Against The World, Police Brutality and injustice on 2Pacalypse Now, etc.), this was the most well rounded – even with the slant of him being in wartime mode. This album changed the way I looked at 2Pac as an artist, and subsequently changed my life. It’s apart of the top 5 albums that influenced me as a rapper.

With that, my favorite songs on here are “Krazy”, “To Live And Die In L.A.”, “Bomb First”, “Blasphemy” and the super classic “Against All Odds” which is arguably the best closing song on a rap album ever, right next to “Suicidal Thoughts” and “Regrets”. To understand this song is to understand exactly where Pac’s mind was at in that time. He named names of non-rappers, real street dudes with sketchy stories who were all somehow tied together, he talked to the rap figures who were saying slick shit in interviews, he told you why he was mad, and asked you what would you do if you were him? The effects in the background and the talking were the perfect compliment to mark the tone of this track. It’s climactic and impactful. If “Bomb First” was the taunting, this was the declaration. He got it off of his chest. If you don’t like this song, you just don’t like 2Pac and you probably stopped reading this review 8 paragraphs ago.

Yet and still, this album is undeniably a complete classic. And for that it gets 16 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

R.I.P. Homie. Thanks for the music…

(18) Classic Sounds…

Like…

My big sister Veen‘s greatest contribution to my life besides my nephews is the enhancement of my music knowledge. She is single-handedly responsible for me knowing artists, songs and albums by name, as well as learning what a single is, who belonged to what click back in the early 90’s and how to learn song lyrics by not just hearing the radio, but listening to it.

As she got older, she branched out and started her family and the music notes and convo scaled down considerably, but what did happen as an effect of her dating the man who became the father of my 2 nephews and who I just dedicated an R.I.P. post to 2 months ago, was a music matrimony. Her love of R&B and Hip-Hop paired with his being in the business meant a whole compact disc library for young adolescent me to get lost in. Especially in the era of Columbia House CD ordering catalogues and the like. I learned about Prince from them, as well as a slew of all the contemporary urban music. If I’m not mistaken, this is where I first listened to Reasonable Doubt, reading the liner notes of every disc they had. I used to absolutely love going to their place! Not only because it had the most homely and lush decorative touches that I had seen in a small apartment (suede orange walls and deluxe carpeting throughout with a huge tv – before flatscreens took over), but mostly because of the snacks and entertainment. I fashioned my idea of adult apartment living to be like that.

My sister would throw on the cd’s from the Playstation or the Dreamcast (throwback right?) and let the default screen make spacey images on the tv while she cleaned up. One of these cd’s was the debut album of one of the most distinctive female rappers in history and one of the most unique rappers period. I remembered her ironically from watching videos with Veen a year and a half before and seeing her appear on a cut called “Da Ladies In The House” with a then burgeoning Lauryn Hill. Safe to say, I was intrigued.

After being in the habit of reading the liner notes and seeing that her album shared production credits from all the producers I loved and respected at the time from all the albums that I loved and respected, I was more than intrigued. Kollage is an honest attempt at just that; it’s more of a very concise effort to balance out 3 recurring elements than a collage of eclectic sounds, influences or moods. As a listener, you’ll see the pattern easily if you pay attention. The 3 modes are those provided by the 3 main revolving producers here (4 if you separate Gangstarr into the separate production entities of GURU and Premier), and they fluctuate from light and atmospheric experimental sounds to jazzy, funk guitar-laden grooves and the era-appropriate 90’s east coast hardcore sound. Although this is highly due to the chosen production styles of the men behind the boards, this is also a compliment to Bahamadia’s two different tones.

Assuming you know your contemporary Philly music history, then you know about the scene that spawned the famous Black Lily gatherings, shepherded by The Roots and giving rise to spoken word artists and neo-soul trailblazers in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It would be safe to assume that this has been an aspect of Philly’s music scene for a long time now. It would also be safe to assume that like half of all female rappers, Bahamadia probably started as a poet. This is usually easy to infer from her spoken word cadence that vacillates from stacatto to continuous and overlapping. Something that matches up perfectly with her voice which carries a moistness and quiet matter-of-factness to it. Yet she sounds right at home on the harder tracks and picks up the energy and force to attack the tracks and owns them. It’s on the brightest moments on the album where she finds the happy medium between the super laid-back and the energetic.

Those moments are those like on the intro “Wordplay” and the album’s main singles like “Uknowhowwedu” &  “3 The Hardway”  On the former, Bahamadia makes her intro and thesis statement by giving a synopsis of what to expect from her debut over a minimalist GURU beat that bounces on stuttering drums, and is buffered by horns and dominated by a funky bassline. Like his other contribution to the album, the harder edged “Total Wreck”, it’s clear that GURU was still very much in the vibe of his second Jazzmatazz installment. “Total Wreck” is another stripped down beat – probably the most purely boom-bap on the album, so naturally it sees Bahamadia on her more boisterous kick. In my opinion, neither of these songs are special, but they’re also not wack and don’t serve as agents of interruption to the flow of the LP.

She hits the mark and evokes more response on the other hardcore outing, the Dj Premier produced “Rugged Ruff”. On a signature Premo 90’s beat that sounds like it should have been on one of Gangstarr’s classic albums, Bahamadia makes you wonder why she didn’t just let Premo produce 90% of the album. As a matter of fact, he’s the soundsmith behind all of the best songs on the LP. She enters  like a God-send, taking those who have been listening thus far for a loop by raping Kool G Rap‘s rapid fire non-pause flow with super vocab and lines like “Scriptures glitters like diamonds or sparkle like magnesium/Premium equates the medium which blows me up like helium…pumped up more jams than technotronic/Find it more toxic than hydrocarbon…” 

The Poet-influenced mode is more dominant on this album however, providing all of the sleepy moments on the album when coupled with lackluster production. The experimental and spacey but dark “Innovation” produced by the Beatminerz seems to be the weaker of the twins from the two beats that they provide. Bahamadia sounds like spoken word legend Jessica Care-Moore or like Lauryn Hill after hiatus as she basically talks(not raps) off beat in a choppy style. It’s on the 2 efforts by N.O. Joe however, where the album has it’s saccharin heights. It gets downright cheesy on the requisite album love song “I Confess”. It sounds like something from a smooth jazz radio station with it’s horrible interpolation of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and doesn’t sound quite sexy coming from Bahamadia, although I do remember hearing it get a good amount of play on Philly radio. The other sapfest is on the album’s closing track “Biggest Part Of Me”, with yet another singing chorus which seems to be what everyone believed was necessary for a smooth or heartfelt song back then. Although the overall feel is corny, this is a great moment in Hip-Hop where you get the rare perspective of parenthood, especially from a mother’s angle. And what Bahamadia says in this song is actually really dope. It’s her testament to her children that’s forever cemented in audio history. It’s these 2 tracks produced by N.O. Joe that sound like they could have worked so much better if they were produced by The Roots because they incorporate similar elements in instrumentation. Ironically, it’s on the only song that features The Roots and is produced by them that her poet style doesn’t seem so snoozy.  On “Da Jawn” (which is Philly slang for everything practically – like “Joint” in New York slang) Black Thought and Malik B.‘s flows bolster the otherwise weak Roots offering and make Bahamadia’s mellow delivery seem right in pocket. The track where she shines the most in her poet syle tho, is the other Beatminerz contribution “Spontaneity”. Using the same sample they used for Heltah Skeltah‘s “Lefluar Leflah Eshkoshka”, the production duo strike gold this time around with the hypnotic and chimey track that allows Bahamadia to capitalize on her quiet storm by explaining her quirky style and whispering the hook. 

As a member of the Gangstarr foundation, Bahamadia had one of the most important co-signs of the 90’s. The extended embrace from The Roots added to that and made her one of the most significant female entrances into the game ever. More significantly, years later, she is the only major female rapper (sorry, QueenPen doesn’t count – even tho she has bigger hits), let alone rapper in general, who I have heard blatantly admit to bisexuality in song. It was on a mixtape by Outcasted female spitters Lady Luck, Babs and the Lady of Rage that featured Bahamadia on a track rhyming “last decade had a harem of dime women friends/bi on the sly/done a guy every now and then”. That’s balls. And maybe she’s at that point in her life where she no longer cares what people think. Maybe that’s also why this has been her only real full length album and has been followed by a few sporadic EP’s and side projects. Her signature beehive afro helped that heavily backed introduction with a style that was as unique as her rap presence, and tho she’s switched it up over the years and become rather obscure, her mark was definitely made. Call her sleepy if you want. But don’t sleep.

With that, I’m sure it’s become quite obvious after reading this review that my favorite tracks on this album are “Rugged Ruff”, “Spontaneity” and the singles “3 The Hardway”, and the super Dope ode to Philly hip-hop “Uknowhowwedu” . But the crown jewel of this whole album is “True Honey Buns”, a tale where she cleverly and slickly describes how going out with a friend who becomes loose in the midst of male attention speaks volumes to the challenges facing the female agenda collectively. Complex simplicity. You almost feel like you’re out at the club with them. 

And with that, this album gets 12 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

(It’s more like a 10)

(17) Classic Sounds…

Like…

Speaking of Homophobia, and I say that because of this clip right here,  here’s a group that went against the popular Hip-Hop grain, made a song about a penis and rapped over house music. Say What??!

The groundbreaking founders of the legendary Native Tongues collective were apart of the wave of afrocentric rap outfits that almost dominated the late 80’s scene. What separated the Jungle Brothers from the pack, however, was their expressiveness and desire to party that matched their desire to drop jewels. Unlike the Public Enemy‘s and X-Klan‘s of the time, Jungle Brothers saw the lighthearted side of things, and used Hip-Hop as a mechanism to make people think and dance in the same swoop. The similarities between those groups, were the clever uses of funk/soul samples into drum-centered, vocal snippet heavy jams.

The production on this particular album is from that clever class that helped the Native Tongues click become popular. The infusion of different samples from jazz and funk songs were placed in such ways that didn’t dilute the distinct Hip-Hop song like some rap, but were more creative than just a straightforward loop or replayed interpolation. While the verses are usually just consisting of break beats, there’s a horn break here, a guitar loop there, and then a cavalcade of vocal samples that range from African chants to spoken word phrases. Yet, the sum of all of it’s parts is simplicity. It doesn’t come off as scratching and mixing caucophony like alot of songs from that era. The putting together is the production, but it’s the cohesion that makes it come off as seamless as if it were in fact one loop.

A great example of this is on tracks like “On The Run” and the album’s title track and lead off cut, “Straight Out The Jungle”. This may be the album where the group showed the most balance of their career, vacillating effortlessly between smooth and concise delivery and more upbeat and faster paced ones. On the former, the group gets funky and mirrors the pace the title suggests. It’s an uptempo groove that finds the group’s two rappers, Afrika Baby Bam and Mike G trading lines that make them seem like they’re moving through something with purpose. It’s not so much that they speed up their individual flows, but they keep up with the beat, which seems busy due to the scratches and elements that dj Sammie B continuously throws in there. On the latter, it’s the opposite. Probably some of the coolest blending of conscious and bravado ever seen in rap, the two rappers go back and forth in calm cadences, using a rhythmic default melody that has you rapping along with it before the song is over. They also make eloquent use of the jungle theme as they pass the mic in a flawless relay. This is all done over a stripped down guitar loop for the verses and great vocal parts brought in for the hook and breakdown that bring the song alive. It was their debut song and one of the best introductory cuts ever for a rap group.

The balance continues not only in tone, but in topic as the group spends a considerable amount of time between dropping pro-Black gems and describing their lifestyle and what makes them fly on addressing the ladies. There’s subtle tracks like “Behind The Bush”, which is just as laid back as the title track and cleverly suggestive(and begins with the horn sample that is used everytime  they rap on the remix of De La Soul‘s Uber classic “Buddy”), then you have not so subtle tracks like the infamous “Jimbrowski”. Coining a term that quickly became Native Tongue slang and fell right in line with the “Jimmy” parade going on in rap at the time, this song was bold. Basically, it’s an ode to the rappers’ genitalia that finds them characterizing and personalizing it and providing sexual braggadocio in an overly playful way that avoids graphic description. Featuring all kinds of zany background adlibs from legendary dj Red Alert, the song was a big enough deal to garner it’s own instrumental remix on the album called “Jimmy’s Bonus Beat”. Despite it’s lack of raunch, it is still a very blatant sex song that is kind of reckless for a bunch of dudes running around wearing African medallions. But the Jungle Brothers never claimed to be saints, nor prophets. They never took the mantle of being the CNN of the streets, or being the voice of the unheard.

It’s this absolving of responsibility that allowed them to walk the line between fun and consciousness. So when they crossed boundaries that were only crossed by local clubs outside of New York in areas that hadn’t broke into the mainstream yet, and made a rap song over a beat by a house music producer, it kind of made sense that it was them. “I’ll House You” was a breakout hit that despite journalists review of this album as a commercial failure, cemented the group in rap history. And to my knowledge as a kid in the 80’s I distinctly remember my cousins in Brooklyn bugging out to this song and hearing it everywhere. I didn’t understand why this house song about house was being considered rap music. It’s the equivalent of someone trying to explain Kid Cudi to me now. Yet, as a grown man now with some music knowledge and Hip-Hop appreciation, I’ve come to value this song as pioneering to the subsequent movement that followed in the late 80’s and early 90’s where rappers began mixing house in to often shameful results. They took a risk and made it okay for rappers to step out of their box. It’s catchy as hell and in my opinion, it’s the only rap/house song that really worked. I only hope that they feel as though they’ve gotten their appropriate recognition for that. 

One thing that they should get recognized for, is the fact that they brought another game changing element with them. To add to their laid back ethos, the Jungle Brothers represented another shift that was taking place in rap; the intonation. A departure from the super animated and commanding voices that dominated the previous decade of rap, the JB’s were lighter-voiced and full of melodic-based confidence that was sort of a throwback to the days of the Cold Crush Brothers, yet so indicative of the new school that they were representing. Having that said, it’s only poetic justice that this album introduces us to the king of the light voiced rappers, Q-Tip. Appearing on the very necessary and very popular track “Black Is Black”, Q-Tip makes his impression felt, and this was before there the debut album of A Tribe Called Quest. This is where the group’s impact is most felt. Whereas the title track briefly and lightly touched on their conscious angle with lines like “Men killing men just because of one’s color/ in this lifetime, I’ve seen nothing dumber”, they address the color issue exactly on this song with lines like “My light complexion has no meaning/ If you think so, you’re still dreaming” and “I tried and tried to tell my people/we all are one, created equal/before we master, we must plan/is that so hard to understand??” And tho this is probably the cheesiest song on the album, it is by no means wack. And it was a topic dying to be spoken about that not enough rappers have tackled to this day.

The group also gets heavy on the track “What’s Going On”, which features one the best, but sloppiest samples of a Marvin Gaye song ever. Using vignettes of everyday drama, the group paint a picture of a world suffering from way too much negativity. 

As a pioneering group for the afro-centric age of Hip-Hop, the Jungle Brothers brought us untouched topics, pride for African roots among Blacks, House rap and Q-Tip. They are definitely employers of the one lightskinned, one darkskinned formula for rap groups with 2 main rappers, yet they taught us to look past that because “Black Is Black”.  What’s interesting is that their voices don’t have any huge distinguishing qualities from one another on this album…It’s more a matter of their inflections that help you tell them apart if not watching a video or listening intently. And while for some reason their follow-up album has received more critical acclaim, this album has gone on to heralded as a classic as it rightfully should.

My favorite tracks here are “Braggin’ & Boastin”, “I’m Gonna Do You”, The super boombastic “Because I Got It Like That” (which I ride around with on my iPod and has a massive amount of remixes) and on the later releases, their original promotional single, aptly titled, “The Promo” was added to the album. Also featuring Q-Tip, this is one of my favorite Hip-Hop beats. 

All Together, this album gets 16 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

More like a 14 but once I give a 16, it’s a 16. And as far as Afrika’s questionable persona….Look up his new musical endeavors and judge for yourselves…For now, enjoy the music.

(16) Classic Sounds…

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What, you thought I wasn’t gonna do a Classic Sounds review of a 2Pac album?? Yeah, why would I do a review of an album by my favorite rapper of all time, on what would be his 40th birthday, coming up on the 15th anniversary of his death??

Let alone his debut album.

Pac represents so many things to hip-hop culture. His career is a study in itself. Often criticized for the duality of his stances and expression, that was the very thing that made Pac so compelling. It was anger and anti-establishment, then it was gentle and compassionate. It was poetic and then it was brazen and brash. It was California-centric, but at the same time it was universally pro-Black.

I remember being in my sister Veen‘s room and seeing that she had this album on tape, and thinking to myself 2Pacalypse Now?? ‘What kind of title is that?’ It was on the arrival on the movie Juice, and I had just saw the video for his lead single “Trapped”. I was in 4th grade, but I wasn’t impressed. I just knew I had heard his name here and there, usually in the vein of something controversial. I remember thinking, ‘oh, he’s that trouble-making rapper that’s playing a bad guy in that movie’. Boy, was that a foreshadowing understatement…

Who would have known that this would turn out to be the rapper who I’d identify with the most 6 years later, and carry my tangled up, anxious and brooding self through my teenage years? somehow, despite any concrete similarities, in a world of glorified stick-up kids making get money anthems, backpackers, hot boys and Diddyisms, I related to the outspoken, borderline paranoid, son of an ex crack-addict, ex- militant single parent who championed “thug life” and the pursuit of fucking and getting fucked up, with oh-so-poetic sensibilities. Pac was many things…But the magic is in how all of these equally strong components of his character boiled within the same pot. This means whatever image 2Pac brings to mind may very well be true. But the bigger truth is that he has always been so much more.

As one of the rare Hip-Hop artists who’s work got progressively better with each release, if not the best example of it, Pac is a great research subject in that you can see where his division of  focus was and what parts of that pervaded through the bulk of his career. While most rappers release their most groundbreaking and provacative work at the beginning of their careers, anyone familiar with Pac’s catalogue knows that 2Pacalypse Now was just the tip of the iceberg.

Here, Pac seems to embrace a role of being the outspoken, more street-oriented off -shoot of the classic Cali group Digital Underground, which he was an unofficial member of. The “Rebel” in his own words. Much like Kool G. Rap was to the Juice crew, this album would serve to affirm Pac’s loyalty to the peeps that put him on, but also as the platform that would catapult him to eclipse them right afterward.

Taking this angle, this is the most civil yet aggressive version of Pac. Still very much so from the ‘I’m an emcee’ school of thought, this is the period where you’ll hear Pac using the wordiest and quickest flow of his career. He puts force in every syllable as opposed to dramatic emphasis that would later become his signature style. He vacillates between a measured delivery and a loose flow, even implementing elements of stacking and compound twisting, ala Bone Thugs.

Nowhere else is Pac’s early 90’s personality captured on track so completely.Even though the beats here mirror the times and contain alot of what helped lay the framework for what would become the West Coast sound, this album really is made up of instrumentals that really don’t fit any kind of niche. The overly dramatic bassline and cheesy keys on “Brenda’s Got A Baby” scream PSA, and some of the tracks where Pac just spits his version of bravado sound like they were borrowed from the east coast, back when people weren’t distinguishing rappers by region. Take for instance, the reverse distortion, repetetive hard piano loop and scratches accompanying the Ed O.G. vocal sample on the introductory track “Young Black Male”. In one verse, 2Pac makes his statement and  shows a lyrical dexterity that he rarely displays. He also presents the recklessness that compliments the social awareness that makes this album complete.

And that’s explicitly what 2Pacalypse Now gives you. As noted before, Pac had many sides and felt passionate on a multitude of issues that he split up within his body of work. One thing that remains constant is that throughout the span of his life, though some issues became more dominant than others, there was a dedication to the causes that he felt near and dear to. In other words, Pac stayed true to what he believed. Whatever he was fighting for on this album, was the same thing that he died fighting for. It’s here, on this debut, that we get a more Black and White version of Pac, with his concentration fixed on inciting riotous self-defense against crooked establishments – particularly police, painting vivid scenarios about social ills through storytelling, and making a name for himself as the young hot head doing things his own way. The tying together of these focuses is evident from the first transition of “Young Black Male” into “Trapped”. While the former is a boastful first shot in the air, the latter is less so and incorporates more of a narrative from a victimized angle.

The ebb and flow of the LP basically follows that lead, swinging back and forth from the kind of overconfidant and foreboding rap that we’ve come to know Pac for, to social commentary. Pac seems extremely entrenched in the world of police brutality and the injustices that are associated with the long arm of the law. All thru the album, cops are characterized as vicious, racists overseers who live to profile Blacks and keep law enforcement and judicial processes a numbers game. It becomes Pac’s one man rallying cry for inner city Black men to take action against such trespasses. This is clearly from a sentiment in which Pac felt that he was speaking not only for himself, but for every young Black male like himself that he knew. An interesting point, considering that this album came out the year right before the now infamous Los Angeles riots and even more ironically so, before Pac caught a serious charged of allegedly opening fire on two officers in Georgia. This fervor is captured in angry songs like “I Don’t Give A Fuck”, but none more stark and musically gripping as on “Violent”. Over an old distorted reggae dub beat that was souped up to build intensity, this is one of the rare tracks where you’ll hear Pac spit over an unconventional sound but marry it perfectly. The now outdated synths work against the speaker rattling bassline to give a cinematic quality to the song as Pac descriptively engulfs you in his increasing disdain for cops that elevates to a fictional me-against-them shoot-out at the end. With lines that are hard to forget like “So here I go/I gotta make my mind up/pick my 9 up/or hit the line up”, and “If I die tonight/I’m dying in a gunfight”, Pac’s strength rested in not clever wordplay, but in the simple poetry and believability of what he was saying. Even in fictional instances, these were still situations that Pac would probably act out if he found himself in them in real life.

Speaking of which, he takes a second to redirect his angst into a more cerebral outcry when he delves into his actual poetry roots and drops science while maintaining the hardcore vibe on “Words Of Wisdom” Even over an uptempo acid-jazz like breakdown, that was not something uncommon of that era…Where hip -hop was still playing with it’s jazz experimentation phase. Like I said, this album tapped into a little bit of every sound that was going on at the moment.

Another recurring theme goin on thru the album was loyalty to the hood and like-minded niggas (defined by Pac as meaning Never Ignorant, Getting Goals Accomplished). He addresses the benefits of it on songs like the soulful and more organically produced “If My Homie Calls”, and the deviation from it on songs like “Crooked Ass Nigga”. Featuring a guest verse from frequent early 90’s Pac collaborator Stretch, the man Pac would later accuse of abandoning him and alligning with his enemies, his presence on this song just serves as cruel irony…

It’s when Pac takes a pause from letting anger be the fuel behind his verses, that he leaves you with some of the most impactful songs that will leave you in thought and reflection and overall appreciation of his creative mind. He does this through the medium of storytelling. In a calm voice, he lays out the entire tale of Brenda, who has come to represent anyBlackgirl USA in innercity america who experiences a teen pregnancy that she can’t handle, completely in third person, but never from a detached sentiment. You can almost feel his empathy through the song, as if he’s talking about his little sister or someone that close. It’s so powerful that it makes you overlook the horribly overly melodramatic singing in the background and the bad beat.

The same goes for “Part Time Mutha” where he semi-autobiographically takes the role of a son, in strife from growing up witnessing a drug-addicted mother. It’s revealing in light of finding out what we now know about 2Pac, but the following 2 verses take it beyond just him aand speaks to the larger social epidemic of hard drug addiction that was rampant in the era. He enlists a random female to rap the second verse (in his cadence), and then he assumes the character of a struggling single mother himself on the last verse.

The most sharply executed of these stories is “Soulja’s Story”. Over a looming sample that is open enough to allow the listener to feel every word, but encroaching enough to set the ominous tone, Pac weaves a sequence of 2 brothers who become incarcerated and spark a prison break, again playing both characters.

The rest of the album is standard 2Pac rap that evens out his agenda and overall statement. As a complete project, it’s definitely the seminal effort where Pac’s early impact was established. Tho lacking the personal exposition and extrovertive vulnerability that lead fans to love him that his subsequent albums contained, this was Pac’s most easily digestable work until he dropped All Eyez On Me, which spared emotional complexity for mass appeal and more party emphasis. 2Pacalypse was clear, concise, and bold. He was so focused, that besides references to sex, Pac didn’t save himself any space to exhibit his female-directed material – which is just as vital and significant to the 2Pac mythos as his beef songs and conscious songs. This is the only album where that is the case. He was just too focused on getting his points across on retaliation, respect and rebellion. Besides an overbearing tone of anger that propels it, and the now, ages-old sound of the beats coupled against Pac’s rapping (which could have worked in the late part of his career as well), the album is pretty well balanced.

My favorite songs here are “Young Black Male”, “Violent”, “Soulja’s Story”,

“Rebel Of The Underground”  & “If My Homie Calls”

This album gets 12 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

It’s more like a 13. Which is a fitting number.

This comes on the heels of an alleged confession by a former Jimmy Henchmen associate of being the shooter behind the infamous 1994 incident at NY’s Quad studio that sparked the paranoia and vengeful spirit that Pac would become most known for in the late 90’s.

Happy Birthday Homie…

(15) Classic Sounds

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Do you even remember what you were doing in 1991?? I was 8 going on 9. And whatever I was doing, I was certainly doing a variation of the wop and reciting parts of “Hip-Hop Junkies” that I did not understand. I didn’t even know that this was the same group that made the other song that I liked, “Funky For You” a year before that. I just knew that I was now a fan of Nice & Smooth. Welcome to the year that I became an active music listener.

I remember my boy Eric, who was one of my best friends in High School always talking about this album. I didn’t fully respect it until he went out and re-bought it on CD and made me listen to it when I was in summer school my Junior year. I saw what he meant. When you hear jaded older hip-hop heads going on about what rap used to be, this is what they’re talking about. It’s that combination of real and street relevant and relative, while care-free and light hearted…Not taking itself too seriously to have fun and party and be rhythmic. Nice & Smooth have always represented balance, down to their monikers – which they embody and live up to the tee!

Nowhere is this more evident than on this album, which is hands down their most memorable and most successful. Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed is the LP that made these guys a top-tier rap act in the early to mid 90’s. Especially when you consider that right at the height of this album’s buzz and dominance, the group appeared on the perfectly timed and instantly classic “DWYCK” with Gangstarr (that song will never get old). Spawning the most singles, this album really played up the duo’s individual strengths. The selection of releases also showed their versatility, with some tracks being whole r&bish ditties, to others being lyrical rap rides and some evening out as rap/harmonized hybrids.

Speaking of “Harmonize”, the album starts off with a hyped up track of the same name with the duo doing just that. One of their standards and part of their calling card, they don’t really sing in 2 part harmony as much as they just synch their very different voices to deliver rap chants ala The Cold Crush Brothers or T.J. Swan from the Biz Markie era. Granted, Smooth B can hold a note and he exhibits this plentifully throughout the album with bridges and breaks in rhyme scheme, but crooners these 2 are not. And I don’t think they were trying to be or even cared. It more or less seems to be truly the natural way that the group chose to express another facet of their creative process. The fact that this happens over some of the most irresistibly catchy and most clever uses of samples from popular breakbeats and funk songs into midtempo rap grooves only makes it feel more free-spirited and authentic.

“Cake & Eat It Too” is a prime example of this. The single that loosely tells a story of an unsatisfied girl is a full-out song in the conventional sense of the word. It’s so early 90’s that it’s not even New Jack Swing. It’s just Smooth B singing off-key while Greg Nice delivers the rap verses over one of the few original beats on the album, but what comes off more like a track you’d hear on a demo. It’s almost not full enough to sound done because it’s not the cleanest vocalizing and the beat consists of a 3 note piano bass melody. Yet it thrives in its simplicity.  It’s one of those songs that was so memorable because it was sooo different from what was going on at the time. Rap was going through a sort of puberty at the time…Discovering that it had a multitude of avenues that it could choose. It was still rolling off of it’s afrocentric phase, reveling in it’s house and jazz experimentation that contrasted mellow, more heady rhymes coupled with more subdued deliveries against the booming uptempo dance scene littered with big pants, big hair and polka dots. And the lure of gangster rap was fresh on the rise, about to make everyone drop a hardcore album in the following 3 years…Including this group. But for this exact period when this song was a hit, it was perfect. A summer song that broke the rules by being more of a sing-songy sap fest, yet reflected the overall tone in hip-hop. The 2 guys were so confident in what they were doing that you had to respect it. Plus, by the time they dropped this, they had already given you more than enough hits to not have their credibility as rappers in question.

If Balance was the group’s main theme, then songs like “How To Flow” showcased this impeccably and made it clear as to why they could get away with joints like “Cake & Eat It Too”. One of the more hardcore tracks on the album, and yet another great single (my second favorite track off the album from back in the day), it actually starts out with a melodious riff by the 2 going back and forth in an old school cadence. Immediately after that, Greg Nice – who usually sets all the songs off, rips into the bass guitar lead track as it thumps with lines like “Massive meltdown, bring the red tape/bag up victims who caught the vapes”.

The real bread and butter here is on their more straightforward rap tracks tho. Songs like “One, Two And One More Makes Three”. As well as the requisite posse cut (which was mandatory back then), “Down The Line” where the first bond with Gangstarr was made as Premo reinterpreted the same “Night In Tunisia” sample that he used on Gangstarr’s debut single “I Manifest”, and Guru lent a verse. Nothing is more Killer than on “Pump It Up” where the 2 show just why they each were a force to be reckoned with then. On both solo verses, both rappers ride the same beat that would go on to become famous as Biggie‘s “One More Chance Remix”. Yet this beat is delivered in fashion with that of the whole album, as it breaks down on the chorus to a lighter, chimey sample, only to go back into the pounding and scratching. Both bring their A game, and their individuality attacks in a way that reinforces their solidarity as a duo. It’s like seeing something split apart to strike from 2 different angles just to join back together and enjoy the victory. Listen as Smooth B drops lines like “my brain contains memory info…/Protons, Neutrons, cells and membranes/molecules are the tools that I in-frame/so you can get a vision – a visual picture/1,2,3, a consecutive mixture/Solids, liquids, gas creates matter/you bite my rhymes, well I’m flattered………………..bite-able cause even the best did/but you can’t check me, cause this ain’t Chess kid!/”.

This beat, this cohesion and distinction at the same time, are explicitly what the group is made of. The juxtaposition of hard parts next to soft sample breaks in the beats was the backdrop for you to take in the matching of Greg Nice’s high energy, simplistic, call-and-response flow with Smooth B’s paced, soft-spoken encyclopedia-laden (sometimes made-up) wordy flow. Despite these conflicting energies, they work cooperatively and never change the vibe or tempo of the songs themselves. Both rappers use their differences to marry whatever beat their on top of and not collide with one another, but simply compliment. The party part of party songs never mellows out just because a guy named Smooth B rhymes after a guy named Greg Nice who practically just finished yelling his verse.

And the party songs are there. While every song is pretty much a party song because Nice & Smooth are from that class of rappers that were out to entertain primarily, some are more deliberate in their mission. Those songs, like “Medley; Step By Step”,  “Sex, Sex, Sex” and their claim to fame, “Hip-Hop Junkies” are littered at different points of the album, but unless you’re doing a critical review of the album like Iam here, you probably won’t notice the difference, because like I said, every song has a catchy vibe to it that can rock in some kind of party.

Even on the melancholy and topical “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow”. It’s just the breed of rapper these guys are. They understood that even a song with semi-heavy subject matter shouldn’t kill the jam. Over a sped up sample of folk star Tracy Chapman‘s “Fast Car”, the group plays off of the title and makes it a poetic one of their own, having nothing to do with the actual conversation in the verses. This song is however, their second most popular single. Another song that became memorable because once again, it was so different from everything else out there. There were alot of different styles of music being sampled in Hip-Hop at the time, but nothing resulting in something so unapologetically as non-hip-hop as this. And it worked. It was also a nice deviation in the album sequence from the funk and thump. 

And that’s the group in a nutshell. This album was the 2 Bronx Golden Era rap legends at their best; Not under or over doing it. They were truly just being themselves and you could hear them having fun. Even the bragging seemed realistic and from a thought out point of view. It was less about demeaning others or making outlandish claims. It also helps that the 2 have some of the most distinctive voices in Hip-Hop history. Greg Nice may well be one of the best performance style rappers. Smooth B was one of the best who attempted the I’m-gonna-use-big-words style. Besides the unnecessary “Billy Gene” skit and the wack and unfocused “Paranoia”, every track on here is great and serves it’s purpose.

Having that said, my favorite songs are “Pump It Up”, “How To Flow”, “Down The Line” and of course, “Hip-Hop Junkies”. 

This album gets 12 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

It’s more like a 10, but you know…

(14) Classic Sounds…

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“Here’s an oldie but Goodie!”

That opening line from “Treat ‘Em Like A Prostitute”, the first track off of Slick Rick’s Magnum Opus is so appropriate at this time.

This classic LP  is the source of so many references, borrowed lines, borrowed swag, and is apart of that top ten of Golden Era releases whose songs litter the sound scape of 80’s themed stuff from movies to parties. You’ll be hard-pressed to find much pertaining to the urban lifestyle in the 1980’s without some Slick Rick song playing in the background or being mentioned. And it would more than likely be from this particular album.

Reason being is that Slick is of that oh-so-rare cluster of artists who only made 1 memorable album. However, that’s all that he ever had to do. This one album made an indelible and irreversible impact on the culture and music history period, to the point that it’s hit songs still get played in the contemporary party scene today…Re-looping it’s lifespan for each generation since it’s inception. It helped revolutionize and redefine Hip-Hop with new slang, new approaches to social situations, and a new voice most importantly.

This debut had been highly anticipated since the great alley-oop introduction lent to him by his partner in rhyme and then mega rap star Doug E. Fresh. His guest features and solo spotlights on the eternal hits, “La Di Da Di” and “The Show” helped cement him as a force to be reckoned with, but no one could have anticipated the bomb that he was about to drop.

As an outsider in more than one way, it almost appears as tho Rick’s immigrant status as a Brit and unmistakable King’s English has always been overlooked. When I was growing up in the 80’s I don’t ever recall hearing anyone trip off the fact that this guy was str8 up London rapping like he’d been in Brooklyn his whole life. As if he didn’t sound like a cartoon character. There was no masking his speech. Unlike other English performers – even fellow British rappers like Monie Love, his accent didn’t fade and slip out as he recited. It was here to stay. Now add to that a penchant for breaking out into random melodious riffs and interpolations of other popular songs, and Slick Rick was never intended to be the norm. He was far from conventional, but he wasn’t weird. He was just giving the Hip-Hop audience something that they didn’t hear before. And not because he was trying. But this was genuinely his interpretation of bragging, establishing identity and being stylish. This was his vision of cool. And we knew it was. Maybe the foreign thing played a huge part in his confidence, or maybe I was just too young to remember, but everything this guy did was accepted. Eye-patch and all.

This may explain his brazenness as well. Although many a rapper had dedicated their fair share of time to odes about the opposite sex and being the best, Slick took things from a different angle and delved more into situational relations. He demeaned his competition by not aggressively denouncing them, but by using witty jabs and sharp comparisons. Listening to him amongst his peers now can be likened to being in school and seeing how the other kids would settle conflicts with fist fights and then seeing that one kid who was the best snapper and would send other kids away in tears just with his words. This is also the case for how he approached female scenarios. Noted in rap as quite possibly the best storyteller, this was Rick’s chosen approach. It was always linear, yet easily digestible chronicling, full of characterizations and punch lines. Everything was and is a story for him. Yet what made him so bold was that at the time, the only rappers painting such vivid depictions of day-to-day life were the “gangsta” rappers. Slick was so appealing because he brought elements from each existing field of Hip-Hop at the time. He was topical, creative, a known party rapper with a talent for crafting the most compelling parts in a song to sing and rap along with, but he dealt with mostly street based issues and spoke about them like the hardcore rappers would. A good amount of curse words, which was not too prominent in the average rap recordings of the time. Even Rakim would use like 1 swear word per album. Around then, only Rick and maybe Big Daddy Kane were mixing that playboy image with the raw delivery and bravado, while still making time to speak on social issues.

Apart of that playboy image would be addressing male-female situations. And that boldness that Rick exudes is present from the moment the aforementioned “Treat Her Like A Prostitute” comes on. Just the idea to title the song in such a way, and furthermore, to start his debut album off with, speaks volumes to the balls this man had. And balls this man had indeed. So much so that he taunted his competitors to “lick” them on the closing track. The titles of his introductory and ending songs let you know the manner of hubris you are dealing with. Yet there’s a humble undertone in Slick’s ‘I-just-like-being-fly’ ethos, so consider these 2 songs to be the bread of a sandwich full of adventure and humor. On the former, Slick provides a cynical commentary on female infidelity based on crude accounts from stories that sound like something out of a Richard Pryor routine. On the Latter, Rick proves my point about his brash nature on this late 80’s braggadocio fest “Lick The Balls” with crazy sentences like “act trife, I’ll let my dog cold fuck your wife!”

Of course this was in the scope of a story. The tale being Slick at a show along with some less than comparable comp. This is also one of the only straightforward songs on here. In a similar but way more creative and intricate plot, on the song “KIT What’s The Scoop”, Rick and co. find themselves on the trail of a group of imitating rappers. Enlisting the aid of the high-tech talking sports car from the 80’s hit series Knight Rider, Rick catches the biters in the act, confronts and reprimands them, recapturing his style just in time to rock a show. This is rap as art to the highest level. The dialogue between he and the car (K.I.T.) is pure genius. 

Another interesting point in the Slick Rick profile is that he voices different characters in his rhymes. Most of the times this simply means that he softens his cadence to indicate that it’s another speaker or another pattern of thought, but sometimes this extends to include full on different personalities – even in adlibs. This is exhibited in songs like “The Moment I feared”, that finds him in a series of unfortunate mishaps where Murphy’s Law takes the wheel.  It’s when he characterizes female characters however, like on the über classic party hit “Mona Lisa”, or “Indian Girl” that he has gained the most notoriety. Where most males are unwilling to portray a woman or less than masculine roles, Slick presents full on conversational exchanges between his assumed characters. On “Indian Girl”, Rick uses all of the gross Native American stereotypes to tell an “adult story” that’s set to be a crassly humorous cautionary tale. Yet it’s exactly this kind of unabashed bluntness that separated him from the other rappers at the time. Only the super underground street rappers were reciting lines about having sex until “the pussy started yawning”, but by the same token this was a song that at its underlying core was about safe sex.

Blame it on the Libra balance, but Slick hits all of the angles on this album. He even willingly lets his cooler-than-thou guard down at times to play the victim in his stories. He also plays the grown man, but not the preacher on “Hey Young World”. For all of his finger waving and commentary, the song avoids that cheesy quality that lots of rappers like say a Run-DMC would display when speaking on social issues. It seemed to come from a place of experience and warning. Yet what set him apart from being a one-note rapper is that his songs with deeper content became as popular as his party songs. So much so that they get played in the same space. Anyone who knows the Slick Rick catalogue or anyone who has breathed air within the last 3 decades knows that “Children’s Story” is as popular as “Mona Lisa”. “Children’s Story” is hands down a lesson in Hip-Hop that I’m surprised not too many other rappers have taken a cue from. It’s an example from the Golden Era that was set early on for the rap generation of the future to learn that any song with any kind of subject matter can be made into a banger. It meant that you could be conscious and dance too. You would think this would catch on, but alas, we’ve had to endure 2 subsequent decades of deep-sounding, soul sample laden and gothic slow songs to get our thought-provoking rap fix. It wasn’t until “Jesus Walks” that another rap song tackling such hefty material got the same regard as a club hit and even still, that doesn’t get party play like “Children’s Story” does. By all accounts, it broke the rules. This is a song with no chorus, about a kid who sticks innocent people up, goes on the run from the police, has a shootout with them using an assortment of firearms (one borrowed from a dope-fiend), commits grand theft auto, grabs a pregnant woman as a hostage and ultimately ends up in prison by the end of the song at the age of 17. It’s dark and against 80’s format, but it worked because it was perfectly coupled with a thumping beat. It was the ultimate marriage of concise storytelling and great instrumentation. 

Speaking of beats, this LP encapsulated the entire 1980’s Hip-Hop sound. Using the popular synths and drums of that age, everything hits where it’s intended to. The party songs hit like party songs designed to rock any house jam. And the more subtle tracks are melodious. Just as the rhymes are evenly varied, so are the beat selections. So on a 12 track LP, this has the effect of a diverse spread of sounds, albeit of the Casio variety, but diverse nevertheless. From the twinkling on “HeyYoung World”, to the Blaring horns on “The Ruler’s Back” and constant scratches from the DJ all throughout, every song has its own lead sound, but nothing deviates too far to stand out-of-place.

With the exception of the sub par “Let’s Get Crazy”, which sounds like a song that was meant for somebody else, all the songs here are tightly knit. And even that is forgivable, because lyrically Rick doesn’t necessarily falter. This is a classic album that serves as both a great debut and a pivot piece for a new wave of rap styling. It’s well-rounded and crisp, full of wit and creativity. The most important thing about it being that it has proved to stand the test of time as a bona fide classic.

My favorite songs on here are “The Ruler’s Back” , “Hey Young World” and the ever-so-Dope “Teenage Love”

One of my favorite rap songs and videos of all time.

Overall, The Great Adventures Of… gets 16 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)