Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pressure Busts Pipes AKA Shorty/Dude Should Go Solo

Back in 2000, I was working at CD Spins (at Downtown Crossing on Winter Street..it no longer exists) and this guy from a record label comes up to me with a sampler for this group he was promoting and asks me to listen to it and write my thoughts about the group on an index card he handed to me (I presume that I was the person he picked to do this because I was the only brown person working there at the time). I said “OK” and preceeded to go outside and listen to the CD sampler, the group was called Spooks and the album was to be named S.I.O.S.O.S. (Spooks Is On Some Other Shit). The group featured a female singer named Ming Xia and three or four other dudes rapping (I couldn’t name ‘em even if you offered me a naked Meagan Good and Patriots Super Bowl tickets). After listening to those five songs I was ready to deliberate, I wrote my terse take on the sampler, went inside and handed to the man. He looked at my index card and looked at me, then he laughed and said “What is it about Boston? That’s the fifth time I’ve seen that phrase and I’ve only been at this a few hours!” He shook his head, said thanks and left the store. I only wrote four words in my best graf handstyle with a black Sharpie on that index card “Shorty should go solo”.

This brings us to the subject of this particular blog, the internal and external pressures that often tear apart and slowly eat away at the fabric of certain groups causing them to go their separate ways. The “Shorty should go solo” scenario works in the case of two groups that had parallel two album careers complete with respect from hip hop fans and casual music fans alike, critical acclaim and commercial success, Digable Planets and The Fugees.

In the case of Digable Planets, they first appeared on the scene with a song that crossed over to the pop charts (“Cool Like Dat”) and became a huge single. They immeadiately received a lot of attention from mainstream media because they were perceived to be non threatening, approachable and they had an attractive girl in their group. Ladybug Mecca was splashed on the covers of several magazines and once the album dropped (1993’s “Reachin’: A New Refutation Of Time And Space”) and began flying off the shelves the talk began after their singles “Where I’m From” and “Nickel Bag Of Funk” both hit the radio.

In hip hop circles, Digable Planets were both respected for their talent and reviled for their status in pop culture as the medias new favorite rap group, replacing Arrested Development. They had an image that didn’t quite fit them and after a couple of less than stellar fluff interviews in major music magazines (including a corny ass Source article written by Toure’, the former Rolling Stone writer and current host of BET’s The Black Carpet) they realized that there might be a Digable Planets backlash if they didn’t do something about it soon.

Everyone had their own take on the group and what they should do next based on their first album. The prevailing attitude was that Ish (Butter) was nice on the mic and behind the boards, Mecca should put out a solo album and C Knowledge (Doodlebug) was the weak link in the group. They also won some major awards behind the strength and popularity of their album and singles.

The Digable Planets switched their style up for their next album, did away with the insect names and the weird song titles and focused on making a tight album that reflected what they TRULY stood for. That album was called “Blowout Comb” and the lead single “9th Wonder (Blackitolism)” made it clear that this album would be nothing like the first. The album was embraced by hip hop fans and publications but they fell out of their previous position of media darlings (it might’ve had something to do with all of that pro-Black/Black Nationalist/political talk on the album). Subsequently, the album didn’t sell very well and ended up getting seriously slept on. Soon after, they broke up and all went their separate ways. Ish went solo, Mecca went solo, and C Know, the business mind behind the group, started up a label with a diverse roster and ran it for years until they recently reunited.

The Fugees on the other hand, released their first album (“Blunted On Reality”) and it didn’t get much attention outside of the hip hop world and it wasn’t received well critically, either. It wasn’t until the albums second single “Nappy Heads” that they even made any noise at all (their first single “Boof Bap” made no noise whatsoever) and “Vocab” was a moderate hit as well. The Fugees didn’t become stars until their second album “The Score” dropped. Their lead single “Fu Gee La” was a surprise crossover breakout hit. The next single ‘Killing Me Softly” was an even bigger hit. “Ready Or Not” was another big hit. All of a sudden, the Fugees were media darlings and their album was flying off of the shelves. They were viewed as non threatening, approachable and they had an attractive woman in their group. In no time, Lauryn’s face was splashed on the cover of mainstream magazines all over. Of course, the streets began talking about The Fugees. The prevailing attitude was that Wyclef was nice on the mic and behind the boards, Lauryn should put out a solo album and Pras, the businesss mind behind the group, was the weak link...sound familiar? Eventually, the Fugees ended up breaking up and going their separate ways before Dave Chappelle performed a miracle and got the Fugees back together.

The constant pressure put on groups by surrounding peoplealways in their ears, the street, the media and the label is staggering and it has ultimately contributed to the undoing of several groups over the years. In the case of the group Leaders Of The New School it got to be downright unbearable. When the Leaders Of The New School first came out (with 1991’s “A Future Without A Past”), they sounded like a tight knit group on wax. They played off of each other and complemented each other perfectly, leading to a successful album and the hit singles “Case Of The PTA”, “Sobb Story”, “The International Zone Coaster” and the breakout hit “Scenario” with A Tribe Called Quest”. Busta Rhymes was seen as the standout member of the group and he often overshadowed his crew members in print, radio and television interviews. The attention that Busta recieved led to him getting a bunch of calls to do guest verses and the prevailing attitude being that Charlie Brown and Dinco D were wack in comparison to Busta. Brown and Dinco had people constantly in their ear s telling them tostep it up lyrically. Charlie Brown cut out the screaming and Dinco began spittin’ straight fire. To add more chaos to the groups dynamic, the groups former DJ Cutmonitor Milo was now a rapper called Milo In De Dance. Everyone (beside Busta) had something to prove in the booth and on the mic to the listener.

In 1993, Leaders Of The New School unleashed the album “T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind’s Eye)” on the public. It was a good album, but L.O.N.S. didn’t sound like a cohesive group that was playing off of each other anymore. They sounded like four individuals battling while each spitting 24 bar verses. They did overdubs and adlibs in unison and that was about it, fans heard the album and noticed the difference. The Source and Rap Pages intimated that the group might be on the verge of breakup...then that fateful appearance with Fab Five Freddy on Yo! MTV Raps clinched everyone’s suspicions....it was a wrap for L.ON.S. Busta Rhymes finally went solo and the fans got what they wanted.

This is partly why there are no rap groups today, between splitting up monies, public clamor for one member over the others, the mainstream media/critical praise being heaped on member more than the others or just plain tension between the members for a myriad of personal reasons. By the way, the Spooks dropped the album “S.I.O.S.O.S.” in the Summer of 2000 about 3 months after that guy let me hear the CD sampler. The general consensus behind the album from casual listeners and reviewers at music publications alike was that the rappers in the group were wack and the singer should go solo....I’m just sayin’, though.



D.L. Chandler said...

I'd like to disagree on the T.I.M.E. critique...that LP is, to me, far superior than LONS's debut. Milo's rhymes were amazing, Dinco's bars were stronger, Busta's lyrical peak was finally met and Charlie B's style found a home between silly and serious. The EAST COAST STOMP levels on this disc remain high even in 07.

Listen again....really absorb yourself in it. PEACE

Dart Adams said...

I liked "T.I.M.E". better than "A Future Without A Past", too. That doesn't change the fact that each emcee on every track of T.I.M.E. is overly aware of themselves on each song and trying to overshine instead of blending in seamlessly together like they did on their 1st album (Dinco is arguably the star of this album as he and Brown step up the lyrics 150% from last LP).

I absorbed myself in it fully when I first bought the tape back in 1993 as an 18 year old battle emcee...I said the same thing heads at The Source, Rap Pages, and random cats on the street said about the album...that they weren't TOGETHER on it and I expect them to break up soon. You can always tell the pre-break up album if you really listen. Even to Equinox, That's Them and similar projects. One.

PYL. said...

Just for information, one of the rappers from Spooks (called Water Water) died in a car accident back in 2003.
Kind of the same thing happened with NWA (though there were the Jerry Heller and Death Row problems too).
Gang Starr went separate ways recently, also. I read a Guru interview and he sounded bitter of not getting as much recognition as Primo.
Same kind of thing happens outside the rap world, though. It's a human relations problem I think.

DL said...

I also like T.I.M.E. better (it went up on my blog), but your post today has made me think about the album differently. I can see exactly what you are saying. Really enjoying your writing man, stay up.

Album's still stoopid dope though... (!)


alley al said...

shorty on the spooks should not go solo YET!! the industry is a muhh fuhh. there are no guarantees.
fergie's pushing 40- lookit dem luggages under her eyes!- and she blew up cuz of the group. she was in mad shit before the crew.
l-boogie's not doing too hot w/o the crew.
and TIME was as "heady" as BLOWOUT COMB and that's not necessairily good..