(Today's Reader Review tackles a project that I'm sure a lot of you two never knew existed. Mat sheds some light on The Brand New Heavies and their rap-rock collaboration project, Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1. Leave some comments for Mat below.)
In the world of music, the proverbial mixing of chocolate and peanut butter has become both commonplace and popular. Yet every time one of these collaborative projects hits store shelves, people comment on how innovative of a concept it is. We've witnessed several recent examples of this phenomenon with The Black Keys' Blakroc, Jay-Z and Linkin Park's Collision Course, and Lil Wayne's Rebirth. I brought those three projects up to point out one thing: these collaborations can either be extremely good, or mind-numbingly bad. (I'll let you two decide which category the above-mentioned albums fit into.)
Today I'm going to discuss The Brand New Heavies, who had a pretty damn good idea as to how to make it into the “extremely good” category.
Okay, so they aren't the prototypical “rock band”, but The Brand New Heavies also weren't performing for hip hop heads during their gigs. Hailing from the land where chickens outnumber humans (which your fifth grade teacher may have called England), The Brand New Heavies started as an instrumental acid jazz group. This type of music is apparently what the British went crazy for, as they quickly became very popular within the club scene. After signing with Cooltempo and picking up vocalist Jay Ella Ruth (who is probably at this point in time singing for some no-name band at a county fair in Oklahoma), they released their critically acclaimed self-titled debut.
Soon afterward, they picked up a singer worth their time in N'Dea Davenport, and re-recorded their debut using her vocals instead. Which was great... except for the fact that they didn't utilize her for another three years afterward. The reason for this is because The Brand New Heavies had a gig in New York City. And who else was performing the same night? MC Serch (of 3rd Bass) and Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest), of course, and their respective sets that night influenced the group to incorporate elements of hip hop into their work. (Thank goodness it was those two guys at the venue that night: just imagine if the other two rappers on the bill were Chingy and Waka Flocka Flame.)
So with this newly found inspiration in tow, The Brand New Heavies recorded Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1 in 1992 (there was never a second volume in this series, though) for their new label, Delicious Vinyl, convincing hip hop acts like Gang Starr, Black Sheep, The Pharcyde, and Main Source to contribute. Unsurprisingly (given the guest list involved), the critics were kind to this album.
Let's see if I agree.
1. BONAFIED FUNK (FEAT. MAIN SOURCE)
I'm sure Max will be happy about the fact that there is no rap album intro on Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1: instead, we head straight into a track with a solid instrumental. The bass line on this sounds great, and the guitar chords and fills also mesh well with the overall flow of the beat. There's a point in time in the song where K-Cut scratches and a guitar plays a little solo: it sounds fantastic. The verses from Large Professor stick with talking about how good Main Source and The Brand New Heavies are and how they don't need to make a beat to make good music, but what were you expecting? If there's one thing that sucks about this song, it's the chorus, which is especially bad because you have to hear it repeated four times during three different points of the song: it consists of some chick half-singing and half-talking, telling the listeners that this is a collaboration between “The Brand New Heavies and 'the' Main Source”, which we already knew. A solid way to start off this album, shitty chorus aside.
2. IT'S GETTIN' HECTIC (FEAT. GANG STARR)
Another great bass line to start off this track. (I'm starting to sense a theme here.) The drums are also very good on here. Besides these two elements I just mentioned, though, the instrumental isn't anything spectacular (although it is still entertaining). Guru (R.I.P.) blends together an odd mixture of elementary rhymes and funny, clever lines in his verses: he discusses his daily routine, which consists of mellowing out and listening to music, all while enjoying that green stuff the kids are always talking about, and putting "wack" MCs in their place effortlessly while doing so. Which is fine, but the title of the song and the chorus talks about things gettin' hectic. I think this track can be best described as a groovier and much more mellow take on “B.Y.S.”
3. WHO MAKES THE LOOT? (FEAT. GRAND PUBA)
I'm not going to take up too much time talking about this beat, as it is very similar to "It's Gettin' Hectic". Having repetition this early in an album is a scary thought: besides some additional guitar and some flutes, there really isn't much of a difference. I wish it wasn't just Grand Puba on this song: I feel that having all of Brand Nubian on here could have made this song a lot better. If my research is correct, this is Puba's first Nubian-less performance after leaving the group, and it certainly could have been much better. Lyrically, Puba sticks with the dual themes of getting both money and women, sounding very generic while doing so: if you're going to stick with these topics, at least have some good stuff in your lyrics. The track is a full minute and a half too long, with the ending featuring the guest star ranting about some pointless shit. However, I will admit that, even with all of my criticisms of the track, I may have liked it a bit more had it not immediately followed a song with a similar musical style. Still not that great of a track, though.
4. WAKE ME WHEN I'M DEAD (FEAT. MASTA ACE)
Wow, the Brand New Heavies sure do love the key of E. Three straight songs in this key. I like this track: its up-tempo funk is appealing to me. The bass and drum combo once again steals the show, with the guitars complementing them well once again. I also think Masta Ace had a couple of good, lyrically-decent verses on this song, with a flow that kept me interested throughout, as he reassures the listener that he will stay true to his roots and his heart, no matter what the current trends are that make him want to pack it all in (hence the title). A nice recovery after hearing Grand Pooba. (Pardon me for my regression to my six-year old self.)
5. JUMP N' MOVE (FEAT. JAMALSKI)
This song brings back some memories. I played a lot of NBA Live 2005 with this song playing, wrecking shit with my Boston Celtics fantasy team led by Jason Williams. Later, it was also used in NBA 2K9, which I also played a lot. I have no idea why this song is consistently chosen for the soundtrack for basketball games, as it doesn't inspire me to shoot a basketball: it inspires me to want to shoot myself. What a waste of a great instrumental. The Brand New Heavies' effort on this is fantastic. Seriously, it's great. The problem is entirely with Jamalski. I did some research to find out more about him, and all I could find is that he is funny looking. This dude is ugly as hell. Lyrically, I don't know what the fuck he's talking about. Whatsoever. I'm not kidding when I tell you this. I was only able to pick up on some bars on which he goes to Washington D.C. and meets up with a horny Nancy Reagan who wants to smoke out with him. I'm still not kidding. I looked up the lyrics: every line ends with a question mark and read as straight-up gibberish on the page. Jamalski also randomly ribbits in the song on two occasions. So if you listen to this, just try to ignore Jamalski and enjoy the beat as much as humanly possible. This is probably The Brand New Heavies' favorite song, though: besides the two basketball games I mentioned above, it was also apparently featured on the soundtrack to the animated film Happy Feet. So this must make everyone involved a lot of money in royalties. Good for them, I guess.
6. DEATH THREAT (FEAT. KOOL G. RAP)
It's interesting that the master of Mafioso rap makes an appearance on this project, although his contribution disrupts the overall flow of the album. As you can see just by reading the title of the track, this song isn't in the same lyrical vein as everything else we've heard thus far: Kool G. Rap does not allow a groovy guitar heavy beat disrupt his lyrical assault. However, he sounds superb on here: after listening to his verses, I'm left hoping that whoever pissed him off has made a hasty and safe retreat to Luxembourg, because some of the shit G. Rap threatened to do to him scared the shit out of me. The theme of the song may be out of the character for Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1 as a whole, but who cares if it's still a good song? Another good recovery after a horrible track. (Sorry, but I couldn't make a corny pun out of Jamalski's name.)
7. STATE OF YO (FEAT. BLACK SHEEP)
If you don't like Black Sheep, you won't like this song. If you're like me and you really like Black Sheep, you still won't like this song. It isn't entirely bad, but it it isn't very good, either: I was expecting a lot more from Dres. The instrumental wasn't anything special, but it still doesn't sound like that great of a fit for Black Sheep. I personally believe that it might have worked out better for A Tribe Called Quest, had they been able to accept an invitation to this party, but for this album only: I don't want to hear this appear on any actual Tribe release. I think Phife Dawg and Q-Tip would play off of each other pretty well on here. In case you couldn't tell from my rambling about A Tribe Called Quest, there really isn't much to say about “State Of Yo”. However, I refuse to use the term “meh”, so I'll try my best to explain the song a little. The guitar sounds extremely repetitious, as does everything else. Dres grows very boring very quickly, although I did like his line, "I'm weak yet pure like a heroin fix". You won't die if you skip this song. But the album only has ten tracks on it, so you would be done with it pretty quickly if you did move past it. I suppose you could just sit through it and nod politely.
8. DO WHAT I GOTTA DO (FEAT. ED O.G.)
Hmm. This was a pretty weird instrumental. Decent, but weird. It sounds like the precursor to the high-pitched soul vocals that you couldn't escape from between 2002 and 2005. Very Alvin and the Chipmunks-esque. (The actual sample comes from Ralph Tresvant's "Do What I Gotta Do", which is a fantastic track, if you two are into R&B.) This is the kind of beat I could see Eddie Winslow dancing to in his living room. Ed O.G. has a good flow on this: he manages to make the subject matter (getting girls and doing what he has to do) sound interesting. You could see this as an alternate take of “Who Makes The Loot?”, except this sounds at least fifty times better. I actually once lost five points on a history test because I came back from lunch blasting this song, and my history teacher said I was a freak for listening to it. So you shouldn't do that, I guess.
9. WHATGABOUTHAT (FEAT. TIGER)
Some unknown MC gets an opportunity to shine on here, and he fails miserably. You should absolutely skip this song. I know, I tried to convince you two that you should just sit through “State Of Yo” just because Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1 is only ten tracks long, but I can't say that for this shit. It sucks. Seriously. If you haven't skipped it by now, then I don't know what the fuck is wrong with you.
10. SOUL FLOWER (FEAT. THE PHARCYDE)
If you don't like The Pharcyde, you won't like this song. If you're like me, and you love The Pharcyde, then you'll like this song. I loved Bootie Brown's verse personally, but everyone puts in a solid effort. The beat is a good fit for The Pharcyde to rap over, and I also found the conversations during the intro and in between verses to be humorous enough. The remix of this track can be found on their debut, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde. In my opinion, this original version is better, but you should check out the remix if you're curious. However, you should already have Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde in your collection. The theme of good songs following shit continues, and this is a good way to end the album.
Wikipedia claims that there is an alternate version of Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1 that includes three additional tracks (none of which feature any rappers), but I wasn't able to confirm this with any other source while I was writing this post. So if you have any other information, feel free to comment, I suppose.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The songs that are bad on Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1 are really bad. Luckily, these tracks take up a small fraction of a very solid album. Overall, The Brand New Heavies chose some excellent hip hop acts to appear on here. (I'm not sure what kind of crazy green shit Guru had them smoking for them to include Jamalski and Tiger in the festivities, though.) As I mentioned before, I think the bass player ad the drummer in the group are extremely talented. One of the best things about this Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1 is the fact that The Brand New Heavies understood the role of the instrument in hip hop. They didn't try to do too much. They didn't try to show off their skills in an overbearing manner. They simply supported everyone around them and maintained a good balance. To sum things up, this album exemplified the talents of The Brand New Heavies and several great MCs, but it's not a surefire classic or anything.
BUY OR BURN? All that said, you should go ahead and purchase this one. It's fairly cheap and is made up of mostly good material. I don't know if either of you two has a record player, but this is available on vinyl: I think the sound quality of this project on vinyl would by top notch.
BEST TRACKS: "Bonafied Funk"; "It's Gettin' Hectic"; "Wake Me When I'm Dead"; "Death Threat"; "Do What I Gotta Do"; "Soul Flower"
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)