Although 3rd Bass's debut album is actually entitled The Cactus Album, I love the fact that they sort-of changed the project's name for the compact disc release. It's the little things, folks.
Anyway, 3rd Bass. Made up of rappers MC Serch and Prime Minister Pete Nice, along with their deejay Richie Rich, they weren't exactly the most natural of teams: Pete was the host of a hip hop-themed college radio show, while Serch was actually trying his hand as a solo artist, even going so far as to release a single, "Hey Boy", in 1987, and they only agreed to team up after record producer Sam Sever introduced them to one another. Soon after, they signed with Def Jam Records, who had just lost one of their most popular acts, the Beastie Boys, a crew that Serch had actually tried to join, but to no avail. Soon after signing, the newly-christened 3rd Bass took to trashing their former labelmates in a sign of label solidarity.
The Cactus Album is their debut album, released on Def Jam in 1989. It was met with plenty of critical acclaim and a good number of record sales, and today it's generally considered to be one of the best albums ever created by rappers who just so happen to be white. 3rd Bass lasted for just one more album before going their separate ways, but MC Serch and Pete Nice were lucky enough to have struck oil with The Cactus Album.
1. STYMIE'S THEME
A musical introduction, which leads into...
2. SONS OF 3RD BASS
It could be (successfully) argued that 3rd Bass represented the coming of the lyrical white rapper, as this opening track on The Cactus Album proves. MC Serch and Pete Nice jump right into one of hip hop's most trusted tropes, the dis track, and unload on the Beastie Boys, who, at that point, had severed ties with Def Jam and were now residents of California as they explored what our chosen genre meant to them. Serch and Pete were obviously on the label's side (and not just their payroll), so the barbs fly fluidly and effortlessly over the jazzy loop pumped in by Pete Nice and Sam Sever. Behind the mic, though, these guys were no Beastie Boys: their verses are lyrically dense and demand multiple listens. A nice way to start things off.
3. RUSSELL RUSH
4. THE GAS FACE (FEAT. ZED LOVE X & DON NEWKIRK)
This track, one of 3rd Bass's best known, is generally considered to be a hip hop classic. Luckily, it still holds up today, as the guys hold off on the silliness until after the three verses play out. Over production provided by Pete and the legendary Prince Paul (hence the Don Newkirk cameo and the shout-out to De La Soul at the end) that loops up the very beginning of Aretha Franklin's "Think", Pete, Serch, and KMD's Zed Love X (better known today as MF DOOM) deliver furious bars that remain as catchy as they are effective. The overt disses don't happen until the end, and even then, the only real casualty is MC Hammer, who probably deserved it (I'm only speculating at this point). Nice!
5. MONTE HALL
"Monte Hall" is one of the reasons why I can't listen to The Cactus Album from start to finish. 3rd Bass created an ode to dancing and hooking up with chicks, but even though the lyrics are alright (they're actually a pretty interesting take on the subject matter), I couldn't get past the instrumental, which takes its jazzy notes into the world of adult contemporary music, which is to say, it sounded boring as shit. The creepy dialogue sample worked in throughout also contributes to my overall indifference. Also, there is no mention of Let's Make A Deal. What the hell?
6. OVAL OFFICE
With production team The Bomb Squad behind the boards, it isn't surprising that "Oval Office" sounds like 3rd Bass's version of a Public Enemy song, except with both Pete and Serch alternating the Flavor Flav hypeman role throughout. The guys don't cover any new ground on here lyrically: in fact, they kind of tread water. But they sound so fucking amped over the beat, a known side effect of the better Bomb Squad instrumentals, that it almost doesn't matter, really, as this is entertaining as shit.
8. SOUL IN THE HOLE
I couldn't get into this track, as I kept wondering when these guys would get to the basketball already. Nah, I'm just fucking with you two. I really didn't care for the song, though: the beat doesn't sound like a good fit for either Serch or Pete's respective deliveries, and as a result, both men sound lost within the music. I appreciate the group's willingness to experiment, but I couldn't wait for this shit to end regardless.
9. TRIPLE STAGE DARKNESS
A step back in the right direction, as this track rocks. The backing beat isn't as dark as you would imagine after reading the song title, but this still connects with the listener (the B.T. Express "This House Is Smokin'" sample, also used the following year on Above The Law's "Menace To Society", helps), as both rappers deliver on their bars and DJ Richie Rich gets in some superb scratching on his part. I'm going to stop writing stuff down and, instead, insist that you two simply listen to the fucking song. You'll like it. No, seriously.
10. M.C. DISAGREE
11. WORDZ OF WIZDOM
While this is a pretty good song, I can't go so far as to list it as one of the best tracks on The Cactus Album, for reasons that will become more clear later in this write-up. (Longtime readers who are both familiar with my well-documented musical tastes and with how the rest of this album sounds will be able to figure it out.) Pete and Serch get in two verses apiece over a dope instrumental built over a common, yet beautiful, breakbeat. The beat manages to sound like a perfect fit for both guys, which is difficult to do, as they sound so different. Everything about this shit just clicks. So what is my problem, exactly? Read on, you two.
12. PRODUCT OF THE ENVIRONMENT
Sorry. I just can't. Not today. Not ever.
13. DESERT BOOTS
14. THE CACTUS
Although the beat, with its off-kilter drum loop, is pretty good, this track is all over the fucking place lyrically, with Pete and Serch basically repeating whatever the hell comes to mind (and even forgetting the need to actually rhyme at some points), all so they can vaguely refer to their dicks as "cacti". Or something. Like I said, it's all over the place, and almost none of it is entertaining enough to warrant any recommendation. The fact that "The Cactus" morphs into a companion piece to "The Gas Face" at the end was pretty cool, though. Moving on...
15. JIM BACKUS
16. FLIPPIN' OFF THE WALL LIKE LUCY BALL
An overlong interlude that wears out its welcome at around the one-minute mark. I love the title, though.
Although it's fairly common knowledge that Prince Paul co-produced this ode to women from a highly specific borough of New York, he only receives a writing credit on "Brooklyn-Queens": only Pete Nice is noted as a producer. Probably a mistake at the plant, given that Paul even receives a shout-out at the end. Anyway, the song itself has never been one of my favorites. The lyrics are okay, and Serch and Pete get a lot more mileage out of the subject matter than most other rappers ever could, but the beat sounds very dated today, and the track suffers for it. Sue me.
18. STEPPIN' TO THE A.M.
The use of a Beastie Boys vocal sample is fucking hilarious, considering "Sons Of 3rd Bass" and all. Then again, it isn't as though that crew ever saw a royalty check or anything. The Bomb Squad's beat goes a long way toward skewing The Cactus Album back to the positive side of the spectrum, so even though Pete and Serch sound like they're simply going through the motions on here, they sound pretty decent while doing so.
19. EPISODE #3
20. WHO'S ON THIRD
Wow, there are a shitload of skits and interludes on this thing.
21. WORDZ OF WIZDOM (II)
This is labeled as a sequel, but just like with the Wu-Tang Clan's "7th Chamber Part 2", it's really just a remix set to a different instrumental. And what an instrumental it is: the original track's beat was very fucking nice, but Pete and Sam's revision works in a sample taken from the beginning of Depeche Mode's "Never Let Me Down Again", which makes this song win all the prizes for the day. Also, the snippet is worked in pretty goddamn brilliantly, too: the Pete and Serch verses, lifted directly from the original, don't even need to be adjusted in any way. "Wordz Of Wizdom (II)" is the tits, and continues to be a fucking fantastic way to end a debut project. One of the highlights of the entire stunt month, easy.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Some of 3rd Bass's debut project, The Cactus Album, doesn't hold up to scrutiny in today's hip hop climate. That was to be expected. What is surprising is how well the majority of it still sounds, thanks to the forward-thinking, sample-heavy beats and the attention paid to the writing from both Pete Nice and MC Serch. These guys go out of their way to claim that they influenced the Beasties, but 3rd Bass truly enabled the eventual rise of the likes of Esoteric, El-P, and, yes, Eminem, for better or for worse. (I have no idea why three rappers with names that start with the letter "e" popped up when I was writing this, but I think that trio accurately represents how far white rappers have come.) The Cactus Album still has some nice treasures for younger hip hop heads to find, so this is most definitely required listening for anyone who considers themselves any sort of fan of the genre. Just don't expect perfection, because you'll never fucking find it.
BUY OR BURN? Pick this one up. You'll like it. Trust me.
BEST TRACKS: "Wordz Of Wizdom (II)"; "The Gas Face"; "Triple Stage Darkness"; "Oval Office"; "Sons Of 3rd Bass"