(After a discussion on Twitter, in which I revealed that I don't give that much of a shit about Das EFX (nothing personal against the guys: I just picked the side that Reggie Noble ended up with and kind of ran with that), Shoe-In took it upon himself to at least try to convert others who hadn't yet made up their minds about the duo. Continuing with his Hit Squad theme, here's the write-up for Das EFX's debut, Dead Serious. Leave some thoughts for Shoe-In below.)
Remember when mainstream hip hop actually sounded good?
In the early 1990s, the G-Funk sound from the West Coast had the game, to quote Inspectah Deck, "in the Cobra Clutch". Its figurehead, Dr. Dre, had been storming the charts ever since his days with N.W.A. His Death Row Records brethren only furthered the aggressiveness of their takeover, basically snatching radio airplay from under New York's struggling noses. Well, not necessarily struggling: a few established acts, such as Public Enemy, were still selling well. But the new blood failed to make any sort of impact on the radio, and the old guard were fading from popularity.
As a counteractive measure, New York stuck to its roots, producing gritty hip hop albums with heavy emphasis on creativity, and they eventually gained some ground back within the mainstream in what was dubbed "The East Coast Renaissance". But which act spearheaded the movement back into the public eye?
Three acts come to mind: Naughty By Nature, Onyx, and Das EFX.
Now the first two knew what they were doing when they crafted such well-known songs as "OPP", "Hip Hop Hooray", and "Slam". But, ironically, Das EFX had absolutely no friggin' clue , and they watched as their self-produced debut single, "They Want EFX", became a hit nationwide in 1992. But I know what the real question on your mind is: Who the flying fuck are Das EFX?
They were one Teaneck, New Jersey native named Andre Weston, who was was an excellent plastic dishwasher under the name Krazy Drayz, and Brooklynite William Hines, who was the water boy for the local girls' junior high soccer team, who for some reason kept calling him 'Books In Reverse'. Which was pretty stupid from the fucking brats. But he cherished them oh so much that he went with Skoob as his rap name. Get it? Books? Skoob? Hardy fucking har. The duo named themselves Das EFX, with “Das” standing for “Drayz And Skoob” and “EFX” meaning, well, effects.
Anyways, EPMD, high off the success of their third masterpiece Business As Usual, found these two shits in a no-name hip hop contest in Virginia that would award one hundred dollars to the winning act, just as Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith were beginning to build up their world famous Hit Squad. As a result, they executive-produced the duo's entire debut, Dead Serious, which turned out to be a great fucking move, as the album sold a jillion copies and made Das EFX household names.
But is this a good album, or just another pile of crap?
This is Dead Serious.
1. MIC CHECKA
Enter the other headliners of the album: Solid Scheme, consisting of Chris Charity and Derek Lynch, were a production duo that Skoob knew from growing up in Brooklyn. “Mic Checka”, the second single from the album, fucking bangs. Even with the ear-gouging loop that will be all that you remember from this song, the “iggedy” gimmick (that the duo calls, get this, "sewage") is in full effect from the very beginning. But contrary to what many think, the "sewage" style wasn't these guys' fundamental claim to fame, even if it was a major one: rather, it was the duo's attempt at covering every pop culture reference and nursery rhyme they can think of to create hilarious punchlines that very few rappers can conjure, such as Lord Finesse, Big L and their Hit Squad comrade Redman. The references to Slick Rick and “Bonita Applebum” were pretty good.
The hook here is a damn fine sample taken from Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick's iconic “La Di Da Di”. Nicely done, Solid Scheme! And the punchlines keep on a-comin'! The Plymouth Rock reference kills me every time. Bottom line, you will enjoy this track. Guaranteed. Unless you're Max.
3. THEY WANT EFX
The lead single. Your grandmother knows this song by heart. Hell, Brian Austin Green knows this song by heart, if Beverly Hills 90210 is any indication. This was a very interesting choice, as it wasn't as refined as the other tracks on Dead Serious, but in turn, the lyrical choices are more haphazard, which adds to the entertainment value. The use of the KRS-One and Erick Sermon vocal samples work in the instrumental's favour, which was surprisingly produced by Das EFX themselves. This is the first of many songs in their catalogue where they would sample the voice of one of their generous benefactors.
This track surprised the fuck out of me the first time I heard it. Drayz and Skoob Effects, who could have just as easily been named Sad EFX, weave one the funniest stories I have ever heard in hip hop. The fact that these two choose to tell a story describing how they literally shit in their pants, never mind writing a full song about it, is a fucking ballsy move: it takes fucking guts from a rapper to even attempt tackling such an embarrassing subject. And it pays off ingeniously: each rapper tells a story from his own perspective that ends up with them (spoiler alert!) shitting themselves by accident. The vivid detail that they use throughout the story only adds to the hilarity. The Special Ed sample was cut brilliantly by Solid Scheme in a way that sounds comical, as well. One of my favourite tracks on the album, and the absolute funniest.
5. DUM DUMS
Another storytelling rap, although this one is a misogynistic embarrassment. The Solid Scheme beat was the only good aspect of this ear-grating experience, freaking a well-known Run-DMC sample.
6. EAST COAST
Usually I tend to favour Skoob in the punchline department, but on “East Coast”, Drayz rips his contribution to fucking shreds. Both his delivery and his punchlines are top class, leaving no room for Willie Hines to even attempt thinking about catching up. I friggin' loved the Peggy Bundy reference, since she really never did shit! The beat is further proof that Solid Scheme were to Das EFX what the Beatminerz are to the Boot Camp Clik. Here, they continue the run of sampling Erick Sermon's lines, along with those of fellow Golden Era icons KRS-One and Rakim. This shit is funny to me since even after EPMD broke up and Das EFX sided with PMD, they still kept sampling Sermon's voice. Interesting. Overall, a fucking awesome track.
7. IF ONLY
Solid Scheme step up their game by producing what is arguably the best beat of the entire album. Their love for sampling "La Di Da Di" continues, as if Doug E. Fresh had never made another song. Drayz pronounce the duo's affiliation with the Hit Squad loud and clear. You know, just before the Squad broke the fuck up later that same year. Lyrics-wise, a pop culture nerd would have a field day: Drayz slightly edges out his partner once again with his Benjamin Franklin reference. Another highlight: "I figgety-funked up Sanford and his fucking Son". Nice!
8. BROOKLYN TO T-NECK
Solid Scheme produce an odd-sounding beat that isn't as accessible as their previous work, yet is still serviceable. The production duo sample fellow Hit Squad cohort Redman's vocals from the awesome EPMD cut "Hardcore", along with some from the very underrated Chubb Rock, who would collaborate with Das EFX in the future. However, “Brooklyn To T-Neck” is where the duo show the first signs of lyrical fatigue, producing barely passable rhymes that don't compare to the rest of the album.
9. KLAP YA HANDZ
The very first completed Das EFX recording. Sampling "Blind Alley" by The Emotions, the beat, produced by some unknown named Dexx, is a much needed wind-down in comparison to Solid Scheme's work, which is mostly perfect for workout music. You get the feeling that Andre and Willie were lyrically testing the waters with an early precursor to their current style, throwing some random catchphrases together to see what stuck. Skoob sounds a bit more experienced than his partner here. Weirdly, this particular track is the song that the duo performed in front of EPMD, which prompted Parrish to issue the funniest ultimatum ever: "Look, you want one hundred dollars or a record deal?" EPMD must have been serious contenders for best A&Rs of all time.
10. STRAIGHT OUT THE SEWER
Dead Serious ends with the final single, a booming Solid Scheme production that brilliantly samples Biz Markie. The duo flop their first stanza with mediocre rhymes, but then they both come back with better contributions in their respective second verses. This was not bad at all. Still a better introduction to the duo than "They Want EFX".
FINAL THOUGHTS: OK, let's cut the bullshit. Most people, who feel confused by Das EFX's gimmick and feel it to be entirely unnecessary, will do well to steer clear from Dead Serious, as it's very much a love-it-or-hate-it album. However, those who love the style will find a truckload to enjoy here. The pop culture references overload the entire album, many times producing a hearty laughing session. Trust me on this. The only thing I would've liked to see more of is songs like "Looseys": there aren't many rappers that are willing to paint themselves in embarrassing situations, and these two did a fucking fantastic job with it.
BUY OR BURN? By all means, buy this shit. It can be found for cheap, and it is a fucking certified classic. Then you, like the rest of the mainstream back in 1992, can annoy your parents by bouncing around their basement bellowing at the top of your lungs: "BUM STIGGEDY BUM STIGGEDY BUM!!!" No? That was just me then?
BEST TRACKS: "Looseys"; "If Only"; "East Coast"
B-SIDE TO TRACK DOWN: “HARD LIKE A CRIMINAL”
So “Looseys” wasn't their only foray into storytelling. As I've since discovered, Das EFX released a B-Side that didn't make the cut of Dead Serious. The absence of this song mystifies me, as this was the best Das EFX song in 1992, hands fucking down. This awesome Solid Scheme production depicts the two as opposing sides of the young ghetto born-&-raised black male stereotype in the 1990s, with Drayz as the one who isn't "'bout dat life" while Skoob plays the role of the stereotype. “Hard Like A Criminal” is proof to me that Drayz is the primary storyteller of the duo, while Books is usually the one with the clever punchlines. The narrative depicted here is excellence executed, and there's even a surprise ending. This was a joy for me to discover, and I am demanding you check it out for yourself.
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)