My first exposure to the Bronx-bred, Los Angeles relocated Def Jef came via the Fox comedy series “In Living Color” with the Fly Girls gyrating their hips to the sounds of Jef’s biggest smash to date, “Black To The Future”. Then later I would take notice to Jef when he delivered an exceptional verse for the “West Coast meets for a good cause” track, the anti-gang violence anthem “We’re All In The Same Gang”. Also, if you paid very close attention you may have also caught a glimpe of Jef in the movie “Deep Cover”. Even though I passed on Def Jef’s debut effort “Just A Poet With Soul” that dropped two years prior in 1989, I made it a point to scoop up Jef’s sophomore effort, the highly sociopolitical “Soul Food”. Of course, Jef was signed to the same roster that boasted huge hits from the likes of Young MC and Tone Loc, but it was Def Jef who delivered some of the label’s most potent product prior to the arrival of the Pharcyde. Some of you may be even more familiar with Jef from his production work he did after his emcee career came to an end, for the likes of Nas (“Life’s A Bitch” Arsenal Mix), Boss (“Deeper”), Snoop (“Betta Dayz” from Snoop’s “No Limit Top Dogg”) and even Shaquille O’Neal (I Know I Got “Skillz”), than by his first-rate lyrical abilites.
While Jef’s debut, the aforementioned “Just A Poet With Soul”, may not have moved near as many units as Tone Loc’s “Loc’d After Dark” or Young MC’s “Stone Cold Rhymin”, cuts like the Etta James featured “Droppin’ Rhymes On Drums” and “God Made Me Funky” made it quite clear that Jef was more than capable on the mic. Def also injected a heavy dose of reality into cuts like the exhilarating “Downtown” and “Black To The Future”, devoting more time to deliver the “message” than your typical braggin’ and boasting rhymes that were so heavy in the late-80′s. Def followed up his debut with the equally fresh “Soul Food”, but sadly that’s where Jef’s recording career ceased due to the fact that he never really gained the critical acclaim that both of the albums deserved. Again, on “Soul Food” Jef is at his best on political cuts like “Don’t Sleep” and “Get Up 4 The Get Down”, while the reggae-tinged “Voice Of A New Generation” was slighty run-of-the-mill, but catchy in it’s own way. Even when Jef veered from his typical lyrical path on cuts like the Tone Loc-assisted “Cali’s All That” and “Here We Go Again” he still proved that he could hang with the best of em’ while crafting tracks that were very danceable but also offered your brain a workout as well.
Even though Jef was based in California when he dropped “Just A Poet…” and “Soul Food”, he still dropped two albums that sounded as if his heart was still in the East, conjuring up memories of his upbringing in the neighborhoods that blessed us with legendary greats such as Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five.
Many people believe that the early 90′s crew Powerule consisted of just one person, when it was actually comprised of three native New Yorkers, MC Prince Power, Vill and DJ Ax. The first Powerule single to make any significant noize was “Brick In The Wall” which was distributed by the little-know Revenge Records in 1990. Powerule later signed to Interscope and began working on their debut “Volume 1″. However, it wasn’t until this 1991 full-length debut that the full extent of Powerule’s abilities hit wax and it more than delivered on their promise. Representing their Puerto Rican heritage to the fullest, the majority of the tracks that you’ll find on Powerule’s very impressive debut (even when listening to it today) are uptempo bangers that are sure to induce neck pain.
Most of the album is produced or co-produced by Powerule themselves along with the album’s standout, “Gots Ta’ Get This” which was produced by and also features Large Professor. Throughout “Volume 1″ Powerule injects a strong Puerto Rican influence into their music, in the form of salsa breaks and samples and shuffle beats and rhythms (which is very noticeable in songs such as “When the Rhythm Calls,” with its unbelievable scratched beat, and “Que Pasa?”). Mixed with the hallucinatory, stop-action, stoned New York vibe of East Coast hip-hop (sounding like an East Coast version of Cypress Hill at times), the album often takes on, to a greater degree than many from its era, the resonance of swaggering nightlife, sweltering summertime block parties, and the cramped, sweaty spaces in which the hip-hop lifestyle has always thrived.
From the opening cut, “Back,” to the end of the album, Volume One characterizes where hip-hop was born and where its beating heart has always remained: musty basements, rooftops, electric after-hours clubs, and hazy studios, with the ever-present thump of low-end pounding at the gut and the tension of the unknown hanging in the air. The trio moved from the mellowness of hanging out (“Back,” “Que Pasa?”) to kicking rhymes with friends (“Rub Off the Wax,” featuring Leaders of the New School, and “Young Stars From Nowhere”) to doing a show (“5 Minutes 2 Showtime”) to hitting the clubs (the aforementioned Large Professor asstisted brag-fest “Gots Ta Get This,). And on the molasses-thick, reggae-ish “Premises,” MCs Prince Power and E. Ville go beyond simply reflecting the culture, and reflect on it as well.
Another great Tuff City artist, YZ came up when the label was at it’s creative peak. He dropped the highly slept-on “Sons of the Father” back in 1990 and followed that up with this nice six- track EP which featured a few tracksthat didn’t make the LP along with the instrumental to his biggest hit, “Thinking of a Master Plan”. The EP also features the creative production talents of Tony D who is primarily responsible for the majority of the classics you’ve heard from the Poor Righteous Teachers catalogue. This joint is filled with strong numbers like the uplifting “When the Road Is Covered With Snow”and the party cut “Mixel Plic Remix”. “Crocodile Dundee” is also a strong track that has YZ labeling himself, one can assume, as a Hip Hop underdog in a strange land of wack MCs.
“Taggin It Up” is YZ’s ode to the B-Boy art of graffiti. In my opinion this is one of the better, handful of Hip Hop cuts that have covered the subject. “And this was in me to give you, a wall to look up to… so i’m taggin it up” shouts the MC as he puts up a “wall of words”. He encourages the community not look down on graffiti, but to look up to it’s positive essence and ability to enlighten it’s on-lookers. There’s some nice subtleties in here too, like the use of the spray can’s “shhhh” and rattle as a percussion element. Nice! This one used to be a cut out a while back but as with all Tuff City records of this era, they are getting tougher to find.
YZ’s “chanting” over most of the tracks has always made for an interesting combination on both this and “Sons Of The Father”, if you’re looking for an enthusiastic emcee who had one of the brighter up-sides in Hip Hop but never realized his full potential that give YZ a listen, you won’t be dissapointed.