observations, reviews and ramblings about Hip-Hop culture, sports, politics and the industry and life in general.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Straighten It Out

Pete Rock and CL Smooth
"Mecca and The Soul Brother"

A while ago while in the Dominican Republic a cat asked me if I liked Hip-Hop. After I replied I am more into polka and death metal he started reeling off his favorite groups. You know the usual. I think at that time, Young Jeezy and all those Atlanta cats were just beginning to kill it. So his list was like a “Best Of The South.” I gave him some more progressive suggestions and then hit the bar for my noon cocktail.

Later that day I got to thinking, “If I were to give someone who knew nothing about Hip-Hop as a starting place what groups would I recommend.”
Not Tribe – to truly appreciate them you need to understand what the scene was like before them.
Jay? – His work is too easily misunderstood. Biggie – he only had two albums, he is overrated.
De La? – too complicated to start with.

Then it hit me. Gangstarr, EPMD, or Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Those cats were real hip-hop. No fluff. Beats and rhymes from real dudes. Blue collar Hip-Hop (shout out to Rhymefest). That is where you begin your education. They can show you where Hip-Hop had been and their albums laid out its future. Which brings us to today’s selection.

In no uncertain terms, Pete and CL’s first record, “Mecca and The Soul Brother” is one of the best Hip-Hop records of all time for several reasons.

1- Pete and CL were one of the first children of Hip-Hop to move from fans to producers. When they were signed to Elektra Pete was know as the ‘Boy Wonder.’ He was given that name by Marley Marl while Pete served as Marley’s DJ at WBLS in New York. At the time Pete was the young kid who, through his sheer talent, was able to hook up with the #1 Hip-Hop show in the nation. He was the young kid who was living the dream.

And because of that that first record was crafted with the care and love of two guys who could barely believe they were actually getting the props they always felt they deserved. Sonically, that record is a masterpiece. Each track, each vocal, each mix was crafted with care. I know this first hand as my friend Djinji Brown assistant engineered on most of the record. And the little know group, Blue Black (of the Unspoken Heard) and Brown used the leftover studio time to record several demos. A young Lord Fauntleroy got his first state of a recording studio those nights at Greene Street.

2- On that album Pete took what Ced Gee and Paul C. started with the SP-1200 and took it to another level. Pete treated the SP like the instrument it is. Not a piece of equipment, but an instrument not unlike a piano or guitar. And this is important for Hip-Hop because it represents a moment when we began to take ownership of the technology that created Hip-Hop. Just as Rakim raised the bar on lyrics so did Pete on sampling and producing. On this album Pete plants the flag and states “this SP-1200 is mine and I am going to make it do things its designers never intended.” That is the essence of Hip-Hop.

From the rich layering on ‘Can’t on Front On Me’ to the hard hitting arrangement on “Return of The Mecca” Pete opened musical doors.

3- The combination of Pete and CL alongside the pairing of Guru and Primo around the same time ushered a simple yet powerful era. CL was always disparaged for being carried by Pete but his vocals were the perfect compliment to those beats. And although scores of people have rocked over Pete Rock tracks and some better than CL, I think those records would not be as good without the “Caramel King of the Castle.” His voice was a part of the composition. Not someone talking over a disco beat. CL was a vocalist. CL was the Johnny Hartman to Pete’s John Coltrane. I personally thought he was as good of a lyricist as there was at the time. Even got into fights over it. (long story). But even for those who disagreed CL’s smooth flow cannot be denied. He combined with the non linear rhyme style of Kool Keith with the fluidity of a Slick Rick.

4- “They Reminisce Over You” – a timeless classic. ‘Nuff Said.

Mecca and The Soul Brother was one of the anchors of what is now referred to as the Golden Era of Hip-Hop. A&R’s like Dante Ross at Elektra and Jeff Sledge at Jive were signing quality groups to major labels and getting them significant budgets. Other groups signed to a major around this time w Leaders Of The New School, KMD, Tribe, De La, Brand Nubian. It was a good time for Hip-Hop. Only in the early days of Def Jam and the Rawkus era have we seen such major financial backing for artists of this nature. This was one time when underground heads couldn’t gripe about the game. The game was actually working for us.

I say all this to say maybe my rosy view of this album is colored by my rosy view of Hip-Hop in the early 90’s. The album is great but what is truly historic is the era it represents. And this was part of the soundtrack.

I was going to go track by track, but if you have this album there is no need. You have your favorites. If you don’t have this. Cop it. Sit it with for a while, then holla back at me.


Anonymous Stephanie Elder said...

I was just telling my friend, the artist Dolphin, about Blue Black and Brown. Chuck Wilson put me on to them, and I still remember the songs that I heard to this day. Truly groundbreaking stuff. Djinji is incredibly underrated as a producer. Also, check out Dolphin's myspace : myspace.com/wardolphin

September 29, 2006 11:04 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Co-sign. That album literally changed my life. Definately good starting point for hip hop schooling. Anything Pete Rock did will satisfy. I think his compilation record on Loud is a close second. But I am a fan of the collaboration. Not the A&R collabos, but the organic ones that come about from people who actually chill in the studio together. Dead on review homie.

September 29, 2006 1:26 PM

Blogger ian said...

> At the time Pete was the young kid who, through his sheer talent, was able to hook up with the #1 Hip-Hop show in the nation.

That and being Heavy D's cousin....

Agree with "Anonymous" that Pete Rock's 1st Soul Survivor solo album was incredible.

October 04, 2006 3:26 PM

Blogger Swifty said...

good call on Heavy D.

That had a lot o do with getting that gig. I kind of romanticized that part of the story.

October 04, 2006 3:28 PM


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