“Kill At Will” EP-Ice Cube (1990, Priority)
After parting ways with N.W.A. on anything but good terms, Ice Cube launched his solo career with the hard-hitting and classic, “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” in the summer of 1990. While the average white cat like myself continued to embrace “Left Coast” Gangsta rap, a style that included violent, graphic, first-person portrayals of gang-life, drug dealers, etc., there was a helluva’ lot more to Cube’s debut than just the conventional gangsterism approach I’d become accustomed to. As much as Cube thrived on the shocking and profane, it was clear that he wasn’t glamorizing the harsh urban realities he spit about, but rather, protesting them.
While the album (“AmeriKKKa’s”..) was still lighting up the charts, Priority just went right ahead and released this EP, “Kill At Will” during the winter months of 1990. While the EP didn’t quite have “AmeriKKKa’s..” overall excellence it still had it’s fair share of unforgettable moments. With “Kill At Will”, Cube unveiled the engaging “The Product” and “Dead Homiez”, the later a poignant lament for the fallen victims of black-on-black crime that ranks as one of the best tracks that Cube has ever penned.
Enjoyable but not as essential cuts (not named “Jackin’ For Beats”), included the remixes of “Endangered Species” (Tales From The Darkside)” and the hilarious “Get Off My Di*k and Tell Yo Bitch to Come Here”. Clearly, “Kill At Will” was intended for Cube’s hardcore fans rather than the casual listener who kept their ears glued to the radio, anxiously awaiting the next spin of “U Can’t Touch This”. Also, this EP can now be found on Cube’s remastered edition of “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”, which released in 2003.
“To The East, Blackwards”-X-Clan (1990, 4th & Broadway)
A healthy number of Afro-centric, socially conscious rap groups put out product during the late ’80s-early ’90s. However, very few of those crews were on the same level as the hard-hitting X-Clan, a Brooklyn collective that released a stellar debut (“To The East, Blackwards”) and left even more to be desired with their sophomore LP (“Xodus”), both recorded prior to the group’s disbandment (only to reemerge in 2007) Comprised of Brother J aka “The Grand Verbalizer”, Professor X the Overseer, Sugar Shaft the Rhythm Provider and The Grand Architect, Paradise, the X-Clan were activists outside of the music as well. They were all Blackwatch members of the voice of several pro-black organizations. Unfortunately, the group’s political stance and the their Red, Black and Green attire often garnered more attention then their records did.
The foursome’s debut, “To The East..” should have made more waves than it actually did when it was released on 4th & Broadway. Various mentions of Nat Turner and Marcus Garvey and all the Red, Black and Green when the rest of the Hip Hop world was donned in Black and Silver (Raiders) didn’t exactly lend itself to marketability in 1990. However, there’s no evidence to the contrary that this Afro-Centric group released one of the more powerful records that year, which is saying a great deal. Yes, plenty of groups had already swiped liberally from Funkadelic, and true, “Grand Verbalizer’s” instrumental backdrop is nearly identical to Eric B & Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend”, but there’s an infectious vigor with the way each track is fired off that made those points easily overlooked.
Brother J’s bookish, smooth delivery is like no other, and Professor X’s appearances after nearly every verse added even more character to the album. X-Clan relentlessly pushed it’s black motives and beliefs, and though the points are vague at times, at no pint did it ever grow tiring. This wasn’t a testament to the skills of the emcees, it also stood as a testament to the group members as producers. Like the best work of BDP and P.E., a thorough listen to “To The East” was more like to provoke deep thought than an entire chapter of the average American school’s history book. And history books simply don’t provide this kind of electric charge.
“The Devil Made Me Do It”-Paris (1990, Tommy Boy)
One of Hip Hop’s most militant radicals, Paris has struggled for most of his career to find acceptance for his fiery, political music, which draws from the provocative intelligence of Public Enemy and the rage of an early Ice Cube. With one listen to Paris 1990 debut, “The Devil Made Me Do It” one could wonder if Paris recorded the album in a dungeon-like, cold bunker; or at least the kind of abandoned warehouse he and his crew marched through during his videos for the album.
As with earlier Public Enemy and X-Clan records, the best moments of Paris’ debut work on two levels: Plenty of the tracks had dark, sleek grooves beneath them, built on expert beat programming and vicious claws instead of hooks. In addition, there are Paris’ scholarly, tightly wound rhymes, which are crammed with pro-black themes. In a sea of early-’90s Afro-centric rappers, Paris was one of the most unique and most talented in his field, his angered voice cutting and tense enough to make any listener squirm in his or her seat.
As often as these tracks are peppered with samples of Chuck D, Black Panthers and Malcolm X, Paris was never outshined. Poignant tracks like “Brake The Grip Of Shame”, “The Hate That Hate Made”, ” The Devil Made Me Do It” and “Wretched” made for a great listen, but it’s just as riveting as one of the most provocative and hedonistic albums of the first half of the ’90s’ decade.
“At Your Own Risk”-King Tee (1990, Capitol)
One of the West’s biggest pioneers, King Tee (later know as “King T”) has released a number of commercially unsuccessful albums before eventually being dropped from Capitol midway through the decade. Though the majority of Tee’s work may have sounded dated to the contemporary ear, his work alongside two of the West Coast’s premier producers of the time (DJ Pooh and Tha Liks’ E-Swift) made his them more historically important and no doubt influential. Yet even if King Tee’s career never saw him cross over into the national spotlight, much like many of his Los Angeles peers, he collaborated with an impressive line-up, to include Ice Cube, Ice-T, Xzibit, Too Short and many more.
T’s sophomore LP, “At Your Own Risk” again blended humorous jibes, novelty cuts, and some messages, but it was far different from most of the material that was coming outta’ Compton in 1990. Tracks such as “Do Your Thing” “Jay Fay Dray” and “On The Dance Tip” were light years away from N.W.A.-style cuts. Even more serious cuts, like “At Your Own Risk” were more reflective than combative or prophetic, and Tee’s rhyming was a nice mixture of clowning, taunting and mocking, rather than declaring of challenging.
“Righteous But Ruthless”-King Sun (1990, Profile)
King Sun might be one of those geniuses with an intemperate vein of self-destruction. Following his career through the years, one has to notice the poor decisions leading him somewhere between oblivion and obscurity and I sincerely feel sad for him. His debut “XL” left a minor-significant mark- very likable but not as decisive as his second offering “Righteous But Ruthless”.
In 1994 he switched his style on us (and later his name that I do not wish to remember) with his little EP “Strictly Ghetto” where song-titles like “Humm Deez Nuts”, “BNS Sex” and “Suck No Dick” (hmm very insightful- and those were three songs out of seven on the EP!!!???) indicated a change of mind. Afterwards, the God went on a rampage-mission against Ice Cube, claiming the veteran had jacked an entire song off one of his demos and had turned it into his semi-hit-record “Wicked” (I actually believed him despite the obvious question, why would someone like him cut a demo?!).
I think you can easily read between the lines and sense a wind of disappointment, sort of a good thing turned bad and I have every right to feel this way: I worshiped this album like no other. He hit me in the head with ten songs covering every desired aspect, leading you to a path of righteousness and street credible chronicles of hardship and pain. Listening to him felt very much like those conversations you have with a distant relative who would tell you stuff you usually don’t try to hear! The album-opener “Be Black” challenged the general intelligence of the masses claiming the majority’s slope towards social awareness was nothing but a fluke- a fad people has chosen to jump on. When he said “Now every body’s wearing the red black and green / Here’s the point: Do you know what it means?/ Red for the bloodshed, black for the people / Green for the land to be utilized equal / “Yo I’m from Africa!”, Boy you’re just a faker / Name one city – “Uhh, Jamaica!”, he meant every word with a vengeance. His affiliation- better yet dedication to the 5% nation Of Islam- was live and vivid on songs like “The Gods Are Taking Heads” (collaborating with label-mates PRT), “King Sun With The Sword” and “Universal Flag” (if you’ve ever been interested in the 5%-Teachings, this is the track to listen to). “Undercover Lover” was real in its content. “Cold New Yorkin’” using the infamous line of Rakim “It ain’t where you from, it’s where you at” felt well- planned and rarely accidental. This is a great album that got overlooked- one of those records that hardly get mentioned when you talk about classic material. And that’s the definition of slept-on.