August 1, 2009

Pete Rock & CL Smooth - Mecca & The Soul Brother (June 9, 1992)


For Day One of the current stunt blogging, I figured I may as well discuss an album that more than a few of you two have been requesting for the better part of the past two years. So you two better get your comments ready.

Mount Vernon duo Pete Rock & CL Smooth managed to sell enough copies of their debut EP, All Souled Out, to allow Elektra Records the justification they needed to set a budget for a full-length project: Mecca & The Soul Brother was the result of that tax write-off. Filled to the brim with jazzy samples, hard-hitting drums, horns, and the efficient and cocky lyrics of CL Smooth (along with the less-assured rhymes of Pete Rock, who, as per usual, remains behind the boards for most of the album), Mecca & The Soul Brother spoke to a legion of hip hop fanatics who liked their feel-good music wrapped in a horn-laden candy shell. And yet, this album still failed to move any units, thereby contradicting every single hip hop fan's claim to "keep it real".

Mecca & The Soul Brother's first single was "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)", a dedication to those who have passed. This song has become the legacy of Peter Phillips and Corey Penn, as the duo would only last for one more project before splitting up over unresolved personal issues. I would go so far as to label the track one of the few perfect rap songs ever recorded, as each component sounds raw and naked without the others to envelop it. For proof of this, listen to the instrumental of the song whenever you get the chance: while it sounds great, it still feels completely empty, and that would be a strange comment to write about any song, let alone something featuring rapped lyrics. That's how good the song is.

Spoiler alert: Nothing else on Mecca & The Soul Brother matches the intensity of that one song. But you should still read on to see if anything comes remotely close.

1. RETURN OF THE MECCA
The intro to this song is annoying enough to make newbies hit the 'eject' button and move on without ever looking back. Try your best to look past the pretentious posturing, and you'll be rewarded with some hard drums, intermittent horns, some entertaining wordplay from Corey, and a stupid-ass "hook" that consists of the title being repeated ad nauseam.

2. FOR PETE'S SAKE
After a brief interlude featuring Peter Q. Rockefeller behind the mic, a badass instrumental kicks in and CL starts spitting as if his life and/or career depended on it. Pete Rock comes back around and provides a verse, as well (the same verse from the interlude, sure, but it sounds much more polished), but the track still pretty much rocks.

3. GHETTOS OF THE MIND
The intro was annoying (the title of this song is stated over and over again, not unlike the hook to "Return Of The Mecca"). That shouldn't be the reason why I couldn't get into this track, but it just may very well be.

4. LOTS OF LOVIN'
While I'm not a fan of the singing on the hook, I concede that it fits in well with this love rap. The reason I like this song is more because of Pete's rocking behind the boards (he inadvertently invents adult-contemporary hip hop, and yet, it doesn't sound bad) than it is for CL's paint-by-numbers rhymes.

5. ACT LIKE YOU KNOW
The brief interlude at the beginning throws you off the scent, so much so that the instrumental will scare the shit out of you, and I mean that in the best possible way. "Act Like You Know" is also the shortest song on Mecca & The Soul Brother so far, so CL Smooth breezes through his three verses before you even realize that someone was rapping.

6. STRAIGHTEN IT OUT
At this point, new listeners will realize that the typical Pete Rock & CL Smooth formula is in play: jazzy samples, CL Smooth rapping his ass off, and Peter providing increasingly annoying ad-libs where the chorus would otherwise go. Rarely do these two deviate from this business plan, folks. That can either be a good or a bad thing, depending on hos much you like CL's lyrics. (For what it's worth, I think he sounds good, especially over Pete Rock's horn-laden instrumentals, even though his boasts are nothing new.)

7. SOUL BROTHER #1
Pete Rock's solo song, featuring rhymes that sound better than his contribution to "For Pete's Sake" (even though that song was basically named after the fucker), but still need some tweaking (I'm just being picky, though). He sounds more comfortable behind the mic, though, which counts for something. This isn't that bad, actually.

8. WIG OUT
Love the drums, hate the title. CL may as well be rapping about flappers and Prohibition while instructing all of the ladies to get their asses on the floor to dance the Charleston. Pete Rock's insistence on telling listeners that it's the "nineties" only adds more fuel to the anachronistic fire. An experiment in slang gone wrong, fellas.

9. ANGER IN THE NATION
This politically-charged track features some of the most focused CL Smooth verses I've ever heard. He'll never be confused with a Paris, a Chuck D, or an Ice Cube, but he gets his point across over Pete's pulsating drums. This was impressive, to say the least.

10. THEY REMINISCE OVER YOU (T.R.O.Y.)
An undisputed classic record, and the one song that both Pete Rock and CL Smooth will be answering for throughout the rest of their fucking lives. Peter and Corey's ode to late friends and family is oftentimes considered one of the best rap songs ever written, and it holds up today on the strength of CL's poignant lyrics and those horns. Those glorious fucking horns. This one song has inspired rappers, writers, and other bloggers, and for a damn good reason. If you've never listened to this song before, then we're not on speaking terms until you click here. Smart move on the label's part to insert this song as the album's centerpiece.

11. ON AND ON
The freestyle interlude prior to "On and On" (provided by Grap Luva, Pete's younger brother) goes on and on for way too long, and when the song finally kicks in, it sounds too similar to the tracks featured on the first half of Mecca & The Soul Brother. That is to say, it isn't bad, but it also isn't memorable. Not like anything that followed "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" even had a chance, but still.

12. IT'S LIKE THAT
This shit was pretty weak.

13. CAN'T FRONT ON ME
The beat on here is so fucking awesome that you'll overlook the cliched hip hop song title. But at least it isn't called "When We Ride", "Keepin' It Real", or "I'm On A Boat". Pete's ad-libs are almost laughably bad.

14. THE BASEMENT (FEAT DEDA, GRAP LUVA, HEAVY D, & ROB-O)
I wish that this posse cut had a more engaging beat, but hearing Pete and CL share mic time with the likes of Heavy D (Pete's cousin), and three other artists that most folks will have never heard of is a definite change of pace for the listeners. This track is certainly a product of its time.

15. IF IT AIN'T ROUGH, IT AIN'T RIGHT
Meh. Although I have to note that "Nautilus" is played in the background at one point, further proving my theory that every rap song in history has sampled that Bob James masterpiece.

16. SKINZ (FEAT GRAND PUBA)
I'm annoyed that this song is censored, but hearing Grand Puba (of Brand Nubian: also CL's cousin, so this album is a full-on family affair, and the writer of all of Peter's verses on this project) rhyme was a nice switch. Everyone involved has done much better work, though, so this was a weak way to end the album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Mecca & The Soul Brother doesn't sound like a cohesive album: it comes across as a collection of singles. Here's why: each song is fully fleshed out and treated as the separate composition that it is, with a sound that never truly blends in with the previous or the following track. As a result, listening to Mecca & The Soul Brother is akin to reading an anthology of short stories: you probably won't want to play this all in one session. CL Smooth's lyrics have never sounded as good as they do over Pete Rock's production, which isn't exactly timeless, but is still relevant to today's audience. Not every song clicks today, but enough of this project works enough to justify its inclusion on multiple lists consisting of the best hip hop albums ever made. Ever made, folks.

BUY OR BURN? You should most definitely buy this one, although you'll be forgiven if you purchase individual songs, such as the ones listed below, as a sort of appetizer sampler. This album is why Pete Rock appears in everybody's hip hop producer top five.

BEST TRACKS: "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" (duh); "Can't Front On Me"; "Act Like You Know"; "Anger In The Nation"; "For Pete's Sake"; "Lots Of Lovin'"

- Max

RELATED POSTS:
Pete Rock & CL Smooth - All Souled Out EP
(Other Pete Rock projects can also be found by clicking here.)

19 comments:

  1. Nice review... great album.

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  2. This is one album I gotta disagree with you on...listening to it today it sounds incredibly dated and very monotonous. With the exception of T.R.O.Y. I felt like their last album, The Main Ingredient, was a much better listen

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  3. Good review, this album is fantastic..

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  4. "This shit was pretty weak"

    ITS LIKE THAT!!!! Futuristic drumming OH ITS LIKE THAT NOW!!!!!!

    um.. I agree with your final word, I feel identicical with this and Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers. they are both a great collection of singles but I could never listen to so much at once. I was also put off this album for about a year thanks to the shit intro.

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  5. you youngsters will never get it!

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  6. This is not Pete and Cl's best album. "The Main Ingredient" is their true masterpiece. I have to agree with Max, it sounds like a collection of singles. Actually it sounds more like a compilation that you can pick up on clearance at Wal-mart.

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  7. I agree with the review Max. The album is stellar, and has some real classics, but to listen to it, it doesn't sound cohesive, and some songs feel like a chore.

    The Main Ingredient though, is a fantastic listen. Check that one out, though I hope it doesn't take another two years to get around to it.

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  8. I don't think that this album is collection of different singles, Max...

    First of all, this particular album is a strong listening expierience and nobody cares about an album concept or anything else.

    Second, Pete Rock is an outstanding producer and he shows it to the audience by creating different type of music on almost every track. He knows that he's bringing the solid East Coast sound (the way it should sound like), but far away from monotonous and similar productions (like Cypress Hill did).

    Maybe that is the reason why you talk about a collection album. Though, I'm pleased of this review, because it is about a REAL classic album.

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  9. I was thinking of making an album full of classic rap songs and the classic rock songs they sample

    You know, like Jefferson Airplane's Today => that one cover of Today with the horns => T.R.O.Y., or Lou Reeds Walk On The Wild Side => Can I Kick It?

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  10. You nailed it on the head perfectly when you said the album is like an anthology of short stories. Each song is a masterpiece itself its like an art museum. When are you gonna do some more westcoast reviews like some spice 1, warren g, or some stuff from the heiro camp like the timeless classic "93' Til Infinity"

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  11. Couldn't agree with you more on the perfection that is know as TROY. If it not the best hip-hop song of all time its definitely top 5. I like this album, but Main Ingredient was more complete. I would say "Soul Brother" is like "Low End Theory" and "Main Ingredient" is "Midnight Marauders". Solid but the ladder was more polished.

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  12. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Susan

    http://disturbialyrics.net

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  13. hey max you should review INI's Center Of Attention

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  14. I second Center Of Attention.

    I actually prefer this album over The Main Ingredient, collection of singles or not, this album provides a far more engaging experience than The Main Ingredient, which is more along the avenue of just REALLY good background music.

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  15. Prolly the best hip-hop blog i could find.. there aren't many out there and no one would expect back then hip-hop music would have such an impact on anyone years to come and to have someone like you max enjoy countless hip-hop records and review them.. anyway that's another story.. im glad you review on this.. i feel (T.R.O.Y.) saved this album dramatically and made this album and the rest of the songs stand out.. a beautiful track and the horns always get me... sadly i found this track on a game called (NBA Street vol.2) a classic video game and i always had this funky feelin that playing with the old school players while this cut was playing went hand in hand... i should ask Dr. J if this is the soundtrack to his career lol!! But good review and a great group!! peace..

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  16. Well, I like it (mean review)). But overall I feel Pete's work on Mecca is more like his old-school-horns-cuttin era. Don't get me wrong, it's still better than ANY Pete Rock release after 1994 but... On Mecca he was cuttin and pastin. On The Main Ingredient he was making MUSIC.

    And if you want to check EVERY other Pete's beats from 1992 please check my "COMPLETE WORKS" blog. This is the first contribution, hope you feel it, it's pretty listenable and the fact it's COMPLETE AND OFFICIAL ONLY makes it even more worthy for ya ears. More good shit to come.

    http://since92to99.blogspot.com/2009/11/pete-rock.html

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  17. fuck, and there is still no The Main Ingredient review, Max?!!

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  18. Max what do you think of Lupe Fiasco's 'Around my way'?

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  19. AnonymousMay 14, 2015

    So, let's get this straight: The Basement is mediocre, huh? This posse cut is a hip hop friggin monolith. Oh, and those other joints you called meh or weak as shit? Those, my friend, are the juicy details of this whole album. So, while I agree with you on your buy/burn opinion, I think this album has fewer mistakes than your overall count..

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