September 22, 2009

King Tee - Act A Fool (November 15, 1988)

The city of Compton, California, is probably best known today for supplying the hip hop world with the likes of Dr. Dre. Newer fans may also claim The Game as the city's mascot. But just as important to the genre is Roger McBride, also known as King Tee.

McBride is seen as one of the West Coast's pioneers, solidifying a gangsta image while cutting it with equal doses of humor and frivolousness. He is wholly responsible for introducing Tha Alkaholiks into the mainstream: that's the main reason why Tee always ends up on Liks albums. But that happens later in his story.

King Tee's debut album, Act A Fool, dropped in 1988 on Capitol Records. It managed to sell over half a million copies, even though it failed to find a large audience: this speaks to the importance of word-of-mouth advertising. Tee performs by himself for almost the entire length of the album (he's joined by guests for only one track), and handles production exclusively alongside DJ Pooh, another West Coast stalwart (who has also worked with, among other, Ice Cube, both in music and in the art of screenwriting).

The production on Act A Fool is almost entirely built out of samples from other genres, not unlike what was coming from the greater New York area at the time. In fact, Act A Fool could be seen not as a response to the East, but as a companion piece, as something that could be enjoyed by any fan of the art form.

That said, I'm not really sure I could convince anybody to listen to Act A Fool today, especially if your frame of reference exists solely around the output from the new millennium, but let's give it the old college try.

The fact that Tee uses the phrase “Disco sucks!” will tell you just how dated this shit sounds. I can see this song making a slight comeback, though: it sounds like something that you would score a car ride with in a lower-budget teen comedy. You will also notice that King Tee sounds completely different on here than he does on his more recent output. Time (and puberty, and weed smoke) will do that to you.

This song is all over the fucking place, which is kind of the point. His boasts are appropriately old school, but newer listeners will be nonplussed by the overly simple drum pattern on here.

Some may be downright insulted as to how easily King Tee flows over this DJ Pooh production, which sounds more like a New York creation than anything from the Golden State. And thankfully, there isn't really a chorus on “Tha Coolest”, which is the coolest fucking shit ever.

Remember when rap songs sounded more like this than what is currently playing on your radio? I don't actually like this track, but I prefer it to any random Soulja Boy track any day of the motherfucking week.

Well before The Pharcyde did essentially the same thing, this interlude features approximately eight hundred and fifty-seven “yo' mama” snaps. Just the mere fact that I used the term “snaps” should give you two an idea of what this skit is all about. The fact that the last joke is accidentally fucked up upon delivers is amusing, though: was there a fix?

Probably due to the fact that this song is technically a remix (the original appeared on a 12-inch single), this track has a sound that's more complete than the rest of Act A Fool thus far. Tee's rhymes are still on the simple side of things, but his flow hints at what is to come later. However, I don't care for this track that much because of the remixed Pooh instrumental, which is too busy for my tastes. Oh well.

Sounds like King Tee's take on an Eric B. & Rakim-style song, minus the hook, which one can barely hear without turning the volume all the way to eleven. Look past the corny title and subject matter, and you'll discover an entertaining-as-hell song.

There isn't much guitar playin' on here, but this still isn't bad. Tee waxes lyrically (as much as rappers tended to back in the late 1980s, anyway), with a fantastic end result. I wish there was a bit more to the beat, and there's no real reason for this song to last more than five minutes, but whatever.

If “Let's Dance” was Tee's Eric B. & Rakim tribute, then “Payback's A Mutha” honors the work of EPMD, mainly because he layers his boasts over James Brown samples, but also because of the swagger he confidently holds while on the mic, not unlike a certain Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith. This shit is nice.

This just sounds fun, as well it should, with a title like that. Don't come tardy to this party looking for lyrical substance, though, and you'll be much better off. It's interesting to hear rappers performing over a beat when they're not trying to one-up each other: that's relatively rare in hip hop today.

A corny way to end your album. Also, kind of disgusting.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Act A Fool is one of those albums that has actually aged a little bit better with time. King Tee's rhymes, combined with DJ Pooh's production work (and his own), have grown into a combination that exemplifies what's missing from hip hop these days: this shit is what rappers do to avoid real jobs, so it's supposed to be fucking fun. It's just music, people! The songs presented on here also help bridge the gap musical gap between the East and West Coasts. Act A Fool won't appeal to all tastes, and some of it does sound incredibly dated, but it retains its entertainment value and is a worthy addition to any musical library.

BUY OR BURN? If you stumble across this in the record shoppe, you should pick it up. It should be very inexpensive, and you will enjoy it.

BEST TRACKS: “Payback's A Mutha”; “Tha Coolest”; “Let's Dance”; “Guitar Playin'”; “Just Clownin'”



  1. King Tee is pretty cool, I prolly should check this out now. Nice review budd.

  2. Good review...can't wait until you review IV Life.

  3. who? Are the beats just endless james brown loops?

  4. Great album, all I can say.

    More reviews of classics such this album, Max!

  5. This has always been one of my favorite album covers. Pretty good album too.

  6. Actually, the voice change was due to throat surgery.....

    Relax n take notes.

  7. Hey sup man
    Chillin g it's all good