May 16, 2009

My Gut Reaction: Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Road To The Riches (1989)

Longtime readers are aware that I never listened to any of Big Daddy Kane's music until after I started this blog. As with any art form, there is a lot of material to choose from, and it is virtually impossible to partake in absolutely everything that the genre offers, so I made my choices. I don't regret any of them, but I am left wishing there was more time in the day to discover more music. Unlike some other bloggers out there (not all of them, because I frequent a lot of hip hop sites and a lot of them are high-quality), I admit that I haven't heard everything out there, and I haven't followed every single artist I write about here since their fucking birth. Which is why it should be no surprise that I hadn't really followed Kane's Juice Crew running mate Kool G Rap's career, either. Until now.

DJ Polo and rapper Kool G Rap were among the founding members of the legendary Juice Crew, which also included producer Marley Marl, the aforementioned Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, and many others (including Master Ace, as he was then known). Their debut, Road To The Riches, dropped in 1989, one year after the Juice Crew's historically well-preserved posse cut "The Symphony" hit the ears of the streets. G Rap handles all of the rhymes himself, and while Polo provides scratching accompaniment, Marley Marl took it upon himself to produce the entire album. Thanks to the inherent chemistry between all parties involved, Kool G Rap came out as a fully-formed artist, able to weave street tales and boasts with ease. Road To The Riches is widely considered as one of the greatest rap albums of all time.

Besides the whole Big Daddy Kane thing (his debut album was solid, and even though I was nonplussed with his second release, I was intrigued enough to see what his friends had up their sleeves (read: Master Ace is up next, but we'll have to wait until I get my hands on a physical copy of Take A Look Around)), I wanted to (finally) see what the big deal was. The Roots have frequently touted this album as one of the main reasons they wanted to become recording artists in the first place, and I've read in multiple places that all crime rap (out of New York) and most of gangsta rap (out of California) owe a huge debt to the rapper born Nathaniel Wilson. His sparse guest appearances on more recent output by the likes of Mobb Deep left me impressed, and the fact that he had the balls to recently record a DJ Premier-produced song with fucking Hillary Duff's sister Haylie left me speechless, but I still wanted to listen to Road To The Riches.

Let's see how this goes.

First-time listeners (like myself) may be surprised to hear how much a younger G Rap's voice resembles that of Black Thought from The Roots. (That may be due more to a conscious effort by Black Thought than anything else, though: ?uestlove has told many stories about how Road To The Riches is one of Thought's favorite albums.) G Rap completely destroys Marley Marl's beat, and younger listeners will be amazed that rap music sounded like this in the 1980s.

Kind of a really stupid title, since this song is clearly not a demo track, but G Rap demonstrates his craft (hey, I just got it!) over a relatively decent beat that will remind you of Eric B. & Rakim's “I Know You Got Soul”.

There's just something about rapping over the “Apache” breakbeat: Black Thought sounded great on “Thought @ Work” (which was obviously influenced by this track), and Wale did alright by himself on his Black Thought tribute, but for the hip hop heads that have been in it for the long haul, Kool G Rap is the end-all be-all, and this song is fucking awesome, even today. Go ahead, my younger readers: go to Youtube and give this track a spin before finishing this write-up. It's okay, I can wait.

Hey, welcome back. Pete Rock was obviously a fan of this song, since he remade it (with G Rap in tow) for the first Soul Survivor disc. G Rap's second verse is incredibly homophobic, and would never fly today, but it is still impressive that he went the entire verse without saying the f-word. (And no, I'm not talking about “fuck”, although he doesn't say that, either.)

Ultimately, this song is kind of silly, but it's still entertaining. What is it about sampling Gary Numan (a revelation that you should have been clued in upon after reading the very title of this song) that makes rappers want to stand out even more? (See: Gza/Genius and The Rza on “Life Is A Movie”.) Hearing rappers sample New Wave tracks is always a plus for me.

While that is a cool fucking title, it would have made more sense if there were two other rappers on this track, or even if G Rap had three verses, but with what we're given, this track is pretty blah.

The “love rap” that was mandatory on hip hop albums back in the day. G Rap fares better than Big Daddy Kane did, since G Rap's song actually has a really good beat (except for the flourishes during the chorus). It's not that great of a song, as G Rap sounds uncomfortable with the subject matter, but it could sound a lot worse.

Uses the same sample (one of many, many samples on here) as an Ultramagnetic MC's track, which I can't remember the name of at the moment. After the last song, this gets listeners back up to speed, energy level-wise, since it's essentially the deejay cut, although G Rap does pop up at the beginning.

I wasn't that impressed with this song. It's because of the beat, though: it just didn't work for me.

I never realized that the vocal sample shouting the song title from that Bell Biv Devoe song was from this fucking track. There was no way I could have seen that coming (since I've never owned a Bell Biv Devoe album, so I never would have ever looked at any album credits). Just like most of the tracks on here, “Poison” features G Rap ripping the shit out of the backing Marley Marl beat, with fantastic results.

G Rap spits an ode to his deejay, Polo, over a beat that is only alright. The lyrics are delivered with a ferocity that is solely lacking from hip hop today, though.

THE LAST WORD: With the exception of a couple of songs, Road To The Riches fucking rocks in a legendary manner, and is completely relevant to today's hip hop audience. Unfortunately, Kool G Rap isn't necessarily the first rapper younger fans think about when they decide to research the history, so this album has likely been bypassed numerous times. Make no mistake, this CD is really good, especially of you're a fan of lyrical delivery. Road To The Riches contains some classic Marley Marl production and choice cuts by DJ Polo, and comes highly recommended by me, which is always nice. Also, the links scattered throughout the post lead you to the 2006 re-release, which is full of demo tracks and alternate takes, which should satisfy the collectors that I know read this blog. Enjoy.



  1. I just listened to this today! Kool G Rap is just the root of d'ill.

  2. I was just listening to this a week or two ago and it's still as good as it was back in '89. G Rap is absolutely essential for fans of real hip-hop. He influenced a whole era of 'superstars' from the 90's that sold way more records than he did. There really is no Nas, Raekwon, Biggie, Big L, or Big Pun without him.

  3. Kool G Rap = best rapper ever, when it comes to technical rapping and rhyming. The guy just continuously drops dope line after dope line non-stop with his rapid fire flow.

  4. Kool G is one of hip hop's greatest lyrical acrobats. He deserves more recognition especially from some of these so called GOAT's that's emulated him throughout their career's.

  5. Nice move Max! Was about time to present to the younger readers of your blog a REAL classic album and a real skilled and notorious rapper.

    G Rap is the epitome of spitting deadly rhymes. The guy was and is one of a kind and he brought his skills from the first moment on the table. He established his name 20 years ago and is the only one who can compare his self to Rakim Allah...

  6. AnonymousMay 17, 2009

    max you don't know shit

  7. protomanMay 22, 2009

    it's a shame that kool g rap started off his career by releasing his worst album

  8. The Ultramagnetic MCs song with the same sample as "Cold Cuts" is "When I Burn" (or something like that).

  9. "Kind of a really stupid title, since this song is clearly not a demo track". Well, being that both G. Rap & Polo did this song as a demo for Marley Marl in order to get signed, it kinda does make sense. I believe this version was Marley's remix though.

    And I too stand by my firm belief that G. Rap is the greatest rapper ever to do it with only Big Pun a few steps behind him.