Saturday, April 11, 2015
DID DISTRO ISSUES OR THEIR PENCHANT FOR HOMOEROTIC IMAGERY HOLD DISMASTERS BACK?
Where was you in '88? I mighta been nowhere, I mighta been everywhere, but we ain't finna dive into them fruity-pebbles metaphysical questions. We strictly about the rap over here. Bein that I was a mere presentiment in the cosmic brainwaves, I been playin catch up my whole life when it comes to '80s rap. With dizzying daily influxes of new music keepin our computers putin', it's inevitable that plenty gems gon' fall through the cracks.
Still, it's hard to believe that in these krazy daze of info-revolution I only discovered a record as good as "Small Time Hustler" after seeing a Ket piece from 1991. Granted, it was an electronic reproduction of a photograph disseminated on a browser-optimized secondary platform for a social media app, but that's Strictly 4 My R.E.P.L.I.C.A.N.T.S.
Although Unkut and Cocaine Blunts posted on Dismasters back in the day, only nerds and old heads seem to remember it. That's a shame. Not only a great artifact of the era, it's arguably a precursor to Migos Flow. The Lord Infamous Triplet Theory doesn't fully explain Quavo & the Boys' herky-jerky syncopation: they're a lil choppier, a lil less fluid than Trip 6 or Bone Thugs. I ain't sayin they was bumpin "Small Time Hustler" in the bando, but it could have had some indirect influence.
While it lacks the Damn son, where'd you find this? brilliance of something like "Top Billin," it's shockingly obscure considering its flip of the Lightnin' Rod sample (as opposed to Melle Mel's) was revisited on a fairly recent Nas joint. But its the lyrics that make this classic. Its first verse, a doomed odyssey ending with a sucker and his Cadillac "stuck way out in Brooklyn," has quickly become one of my favorites. This gallows "El Segundo" segues into some of the most creative putdowns outside of RZA comparing his BM's stretchmarks to the US highway system on the absurdly unpleasant "Domestic Violence," a/k/a the Rap Game "Frankie Teardrop." A real hater's cornucopia, its insults range from the rigorously explanatory ("You be on a mission / I know that you're wishin / You had some food, cause malnutrition / Has made you look like a skinny man!") to tight Borscht Belt one-liners ("Brag on your house but your crib is wack / You come in the front and you fall out the back"); there's even something for MTA nostalgists ("Go with your girl but she wants a vial / So you go suck a token out a turnstile").
Nothing on the And Then Some LP is as good as "Small Time Hustler," but it's strong overall. "You Must Be Crazy (Brutus)" has the 'Masters wavering between Run-D.M.C. shout-raps and KRS-ian dancehall pastiche, while "Black And Proud" is a solid piece of JBs-style Afrocentrism. Then there's "Act Like You Know," a "How To Rob" prototype that's relatively soft on all the aforementioned--except for the Jungle Brothers. Allegedly accompanied by Red Alert, they are said to "go on safaris and play with each other," and if you can't appreciate that kind of juvenile brilliance, you don't deserve it.
So what held em back? Even tho the "swill-swallowing smegma smacker" Wack Alert wouldn't play their record, they did have Chuck Chillout behind them. It couldn't have helped that their LP only came out in the UK, and two years after "Small Time Hustler" first dropped, by which time it seems like they ceased being an active group.
I think it was something else: their questionable choice of imagery. Rap homophobia is perennial thinkpiece fodder, and tho I fux wit homos*, I can see why late-'80s lunkheads might have found the "nude but for a loincloth" look a little suspect. The cover for the LP is even more flagrant. Shit looks like Robert Mapplethorpe exploiting his creepy tribal fetish after discovering Zulu Nation between bathroom shenanigans at Studio 54. As an insecure young tuff, I probably wouldn't have seen the humor in this pseudo-softcore exoticism. Played the wrong way, it can be career suicide if your album looks like it belongs next to a box of buttplugs in a windowless adult bookstore.
In closing, Bed-Stuy Do or Die, thuggin! Catch me sippin Mimosas at brunch tomorrow, drippin hollandaise all over my Yeezys.