“Wanted: Dead Or Alive” (1990, Cold Chillin’)-Kool G Rap & DJ Polo
With Marley Marl still in the picture (see G Rap & Polo’s debut “Road To Riches” for more), on the duo’s second venture, the bone-chilling “Wanted: Dead Or Alive”, the production talents of Large Professor and Large Pro..fes..err, Eric B were also added to the mix for a much more appealing product. With a larger variance in production styles and G Rap’s continual improvement on the mic, “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” is fully deserving of it’s anointment as a classic. The album’s opener, the thrilling, spine-tingling imagery of “Streets Of New York” still remains one of the most unique singles ever released. The sparse rhythm, adorned with strong piano stabs that complemented the track to the point of almost making it an actual song, lied somewhere between a walk and a run, as G Rap outlined vivid scenes that appeared to have been ripped off the pages of an epic novel. This track cemented Kool G Rap & DJ Polo’s role as East Coast legends and showcased G Rap’s knack for adept storytelling unlike anyone that came before him.
Yet, it was “Talk Like Sex” one of the filthiest, nastiest, raunchiest tracks that you’ll ever hear, that quickly became a favorite to this hormonal youngster at the time of it’s release. With lyrics like: “I’m pounding you down until your eyeballs pop out” acting as an exemplary claim, as well as one of the few lyrics that your girl can actually read on this post without blushing, “Talk Like Sex” is as raw as it gets, and you know what? I loved it!
The boasts on the album, are in no shortage of supply, but the thought-provoking “Erase Racism” took a break from the normal proceedings with guest spots from Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie. The track, both bunny and somewhat sobering, with Biz’ Three Dog Night chorus providing the usual comic relief after each verse. Adding yet another dimension to the album, DJ Polo chimed in with a Hip-House instrumental that avoided coming off as just another throwaway “House” cut that was included just for pure necessity during the early nineties. “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” is only a small sample of the swarm of brilliant rap albums released in 1990, but it will never be lost in it.
“Livin’ Like Hustlers”-Above The Law (1990, Ruthless)
As part of the post-N.W.A. explosion of California gangsta rap, Above The Law came out of the Eastern Los Angeles suburb of Ponoma, leader Cold 187um aka Big Hutch, was accompanied by KMG the Illustrator, Go Mack and DJ Total K-Oss. Mixing a vintage ’70s funk and old-school sampling intertwined with live instrumentation, the foursome inked with Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records and issued their debut album “Livin’ Like Hustlers” in 1990.
With albums from the likes of the Geto Boys, Ice-T, Eazy-E & N.W.A. popularizing gangsta rap in the late 1980s, the stage was set for the success of Above The Law. The members of this South Central L.A. group had close ties to the aforementioned N.W.A., Above The Law produced this debut, “Livin’ Like Hustlers” with Dr. Dre, and actually recorded it for Eazy’s Ruthless label (which was going through Epic as well as Priority and Atlantic).
Though not quite in a class with Ice-T or N.W.A’s earlier work, “Hustlers” was a sobering depiction of ghetto life in L.A. Violent, profane and graphic, cuts like “Another Execution”, “Menace To Society” and “Murder Rap” keyed listeners into just what life was like in South Central. Dr. Dre’s input as a producer was consistently bangin’, and he made darn sure that the album came alive musically. ATL’s lyrics would sound increasingly cliched as the 1990s progressed, but “hustlers” displayed that at the dawn of the decade Gangsta Rap was as far from it’s end as one could possibly fathom.
“Ride The Rhythm”-Chill Rob G (1990, Wild Pitch)
As an emcee whom was a part of the Flavor Unit’s earlier days, Chill Rob G released his lone album, “Ride The Rhythm” in 1990. Sadly, Rob G is most known for an unlikely association with techno-pop group Snap!, who had an international smash with “The Power”. “The Power” was based around samples from Rob’s “Let The Words Flow”. Later, a different version was recorded for “Ride The Rhythm”, but the damage to Rob was done. A once tough New York rapper know had a dance-pop hit? Little has been heard from Rob since, with his lone appearance being on British producers DSP’s 2002 album, “In The Red”.
“Ride The Rhythm”, judging from the cover, didn’t quite resemble other rap albums from the early ’90s. In fact, it almost looked like a techno-pop record. The title coincides with a heavy stylized print across the bottom, while the foreground image is of a city-stompin’ Chill Rob G, which dangles above his name riddled with bullet holes. Meanwhile, in the background an op-art pattern dominates the right side of Chill, while cops and symbols of cars and women compete for space on the left. The image is puzzling, yet understandable.
Chill Rob G was a hard East Coast rapper, but the pure association with the Snap! foray nearly…well, DID dwindle the respectably of this LP. Granted, Chill was only sampled by the European group, but, perhaps in an attempt to grab some of the dough, he covered Snap!’s version of “The Power” on “Ride The Rhythm”. Even though the cut would have sounded perfectly normal on Snap!’s album, it nearly derailed this otherwise solid LP.
Almost all of the tracks on “Rhythm”, represented that classic early-’90s chopped-funk production, courtesy of the 45 King. The pinnacle of the collaboration between the two IS the classic “Let The Words Flow”, which managed to maintain it’s bulldog stance and be danceable at the same time. And that is the attempt that the remainder of “Ride The Rhythm” aimed for as well, only in the hands of one Chill Rob G did that appear more like a command than an invite.
“Taste Of Chocolate”-Big Daddy Kane (1990, Cold Chillin’)
Emerging from the woodwork of Hip Hop’s big explosion in the late ’80s, Big Daddy Kane was the ultimate lover man of Hip Hop’s first BIG decade. Yet, there was much more to Kane than just the truck jewels and charisma. Kane carried a slick, rapid-fire delivery honed from numerous battles. Kane, on one hand could be an Afro-Centric conscious rapper, and on the other, a smooth urban soul crooner whose singing was no match for his talents as an emcee. While Kane never quite scored much “crossover” success, his best material ranks amongst some of the best Hip Hop of their respective era(s).
With the release of “Taste Of Chocolate”, Kane’s third album, BDK offered one of his most consistent efforts (consistent, I say..not best), and believe it or not, the album was my first exposure to the “smooth operator”. Kane not only possessed grade “A” rhyming skills that worked to the LP’s advantage, but the album carried quite a variance in material to select from. Though he still spent waaay too much time bragging about his mic skills, such hard-hitting jawns as “Who Am I?” and the sobering “Dance With The Devil” showed just how talented Kane could be.
On this go ’round, Kane was joined by a number of distinguished guests, to include Barry White (“All Of Me”), Malcom X’s daughter Gamilah Shabazz (on the aforementioned “Who Am I?”) and the raunchy comedian Rudy Ray Moore, who exchanged jabs with Kane on “Big Daddy vs. Dolemite”. While this album will often be remembered as the album in which Kane went “Hollywood”, it’s still jams like “I Can Do It Right”, “Who Am I?” and “Dance With The Devil” that will go down as some of the more memorable material that Kane ever recorded.
“Edutainment”-Boogie Down Productions (1990, Jive)
Tackling issues such as black-on-black crime, police brutality, education, and spirituality, KRS-One found his audience growing and mainstream paying attention to his message. The New York Times invited Kris to write editorials, and he found intense demand for his views on the college lecture circuit. However, many critics found that his intellectual credibility got the better of him on BDP’s “Edutainment”. Despite a minor hit with “Love’s Gonna’ Getcha” (Material Love), “Edutainment” was widely criticized as being loaded with preachy lecturing, which also came at the expense of a compelling musical backdrop.
However, true to form, Kris focused on Black history and spoke out on homelessness, racism and materialism with admirable clarity and insight. KRS was often compared to Chuck D (Public Enemy front-man) due to his consistently sociopolitical focus, but there’s no mistaking that Kris’ mixture of Black nationalism and Eastern religion as well as a hint of Rastafarian philosophy was very much his own.
From a commercial standpoint, Kris had become a little too intellectual for some and he wasn’t selling quite as many albums as many in the Gangsta Rap pool, but from my perspective “Edutainment” was just as commendable as it was riveting.