(Today's Reader Review comes from Shoe-In, who took issue with the lack of Hit Squad representation on the blog (Redman, Keith Murray, Jamal, and EPMD themselves not counting, obviously), and decided to actually do something about it, bringing you a review of lost member K-Solo's debut album, Tell The World My Name. Leave your thoughts for Shoe-In below.)
Once upon at time in the 1980's, there were two besties who met on a bus ride to school. They wanted to be cool like the other kids, so they decided to rap. Unlike those other fucking rejects, though, these two had what it takes from the beginning. These two became EPMD.
However, this is not their story.
Back in 1989, EPMD released a sophomore album that was a healthy smack in the face to naysayers who didn't think they could pull off a successful follow-up. Unfinished Business was the second great album on EPMD's catalogue, and one of the reasons for that consistency was Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith's ability to build new acts and set up the proper platform for them.
Their first experiment was the inclusion of our headliner today, Kevin “K-Solo” Madison, on the song “Knick Knack Patty Wack”. Kevin, who was working as a toilet cleaner at the time, was the very first guest artist to ever appear on an EPMD album. And he was the only guest on Unfinished Business to boot. So it was vital that he make a strong impression.
Which was a huge flop if I ever saw one. K-Solo fucked up on his very first showing to the public by famously misspelling the word “bird” while using a godawful spelling gimmick during his verse. Erick & Parrish’s mixing fiasco resulted in most hip hop heads (including Max) mostly ignoring K-Solo whenever he popped up again.
Let’s correct that, shall we?
His verse on “Knick Knack Patty Wack” was actually very, very good up until the whole “bird” incident, so good that Black Thought from The Roots (a huge favourite of anyone who has a brain) bit a line from it on his own crew's classic track “What They Do”. And obviously it impressed EPMD so much that they took a chance on the guy, who entered the 1990s recording the first solo debut album from the extended Hit Squad family, Tell The World My Name. However, they decided to challenge their progeny by not making any vocal appearances anywhere on the project. Which would make K-Solo true to his rap name, at least.
They didn't leave him hanging behind the boards, though: other than one sole Erick Sermon production, the album's production duties were handled entirely by Parrish Smith, which should have resulted in something interesting (back then, anyway).
Now, I’m not claiming that K-Solo is the next Rakim or anything, but shouldn’t we cut this guy more of a break?
That’s what you’re here to find out.
The lone Erick Sermon track and the lead single. Kevin continues his insipid spelling gimmick here, but at least he doesn’t fuck it up this time. “Spellbound” kicked off a long beef between K-Solo and Yonkers-based cameo king DMX, who claimed that Solo bit his style after battling him in prison. In typical rap fashion, Solo claims the exact opposite. X actually released a “Spellbound” dis track of his own that rips this one to shreds (rapping over “Seven Minutes Of Funk”, no less!). (Also, you two might remember DMX's quick potshot toward the end of his “Get At Me Dog”.) Oh, you wanted info about this song? Well, there isn't anything that we hadn't already seen on Solo’s guest verse on EPMD’s album. That, and the generic Sermon beat that sounds as if he still didn’t have any confidence yet behind the boards (this was his solo production debut, after all). I know, I could have shortened this explanation to “Skip this shit”, right? Well, I’m an asshole.
2. ROCKIN’ FOR MY HOMETOWN
The first thing that Mr. Madison spits on this Parrish Smith concoction is a correction of his famous fuck-up. Too late, motherfucker! He then completes the cutoff verse with some boasts, shouting out the original “Biggie Smalls” (!), who apparently was his deejay at the time. Judging by the scratching at the end of this song, he was an extremely shitty deejay, too. Overall, this was serviceable at best.
3. EVERYBODY KNOWS ME
This song marks the point of a major transition on the album for me: the beat is reminiscent of The Bomb Squad in its disjointed genius, but the true revelation is Kevin’s rhyming, as he actually starts sounding pretty good. The main reason is that this is Solo’s first foray into storytelling. It’s as though a bolt of lightning struck our host and told him that maybe he should start rhyming about his own experiences instead of bragging about some random shit in a coma-inducing manner. His image depiction picks up very noticeably, and the song is all the better for it. Very nice. There's a very funny bit at the end of the song, too, where Mr. Madison starts skipping his own voice, as if he was trying to teach Biggie Smalls the First how to cut.
4. SPEED BLOCKS
Solo gets his Big Daddy Kane on, sounding pretty confident in his “Set It Off”-style spitting. The beat isn’t as massive of a jump forward as the previous one, but it does the job. Kevin depicts the image of a race, with him winning, of course. What is it with most rappers fearing a display of vulnerability? Take a page out of Ghostface Killah’s book, you insecure fucks!
K-Solo delivers a master class in storytelling rap, painting an image that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Here, he depicts a run-in with the legal system that, while a bit corny, is told through a very engaging narrative. Parrish’s production certainly had a lot to do with this, as he delivers one of his best beats of the album. This shit was great!
6. TALES FROM THE CRACK SIDE
The eleventy-one billion rappers that were throwing public service announcements around like Frisbees (remember when people actually played with Frisbees?) at the time should have studied this song as if they were cramming for a fucking final. Parrish cooks up an instrumental that crawls up your skin as the song progresses, and Mr. Madison unveils his best performance on the album thus far. Solo presents another story rap, rhyming about the effects of crack with some pretty disturbing twists. This shit was an excellent surprise: I didn’t know Kevin was capable of this. A damn fine one-two combo if I ever saw one.
7. YOUR MOM’S IN MY BUSINESS
Damn! Solo’s on fire with these stories! Now he spits a hilariously vivid depiction of his girlfriend’s mother and her disapproval of her daughter’s relationship with our protagonist, “'cause of my haircut and people call me Solo”. I’m not sure if he intended for this to be funny, but the image of my wife’s mother scolding her because my friends call me an unforgivable nickname such as Solo is hilarity in its purest fucking form. Elsewhere, Mr. Madison shouts out an important member of his future team, producer-slash-rapper Sam Sneed, who was such a big prospect in the 1990s. that Dr. Dre himself fought for his services...and then proceeded to kick him the fuck out of his inner circle. Anyway, the beat, once again, is a home run by Parrish. This was entertaining as fuck! “How could you go out with a man nicknamed Solo, for God’s sake? I raised you better than that!”
8. REAL SOLO PLEASE STAND UP
Solo reuses the non-spelling part of his debut verse on “Knick Knack Patty Wack”. That alone is a severe letdown from the high bar set by the previous tracks. Then he continues to spit about how he should own the Solo name. Damn, that name is sure inflating our host’s head. On a side note, I don’t exactly know how popular the To Tell The Truth quiz show was, but it sure is prevalent in hip hop. (Slim Shady comes to mind.)
One of the absolute worst sex raps I’ve ever heard.
10. SOLO ROCKS THE HOUSE
More bragging. Ugh. The beat also does nothing to serve our host. To top it off, the chorus is a fucking earsore.
11. THE MESSENGER
Kevin’s audition for the African Empowerment rap movement of that period, with a Malcolm X sample to boot. In retrospect, this track’s purpose is as clear as crystal: this is nothing but a fucking cash grab. The audio sample was completely wasted here. Even Solo’s tone when he shouts out Nelson Mandela (R.I.P.) is unconvincing. And the beat is the "will clog up your toilet for months"-type of poo. This time I’ll be nice and say: skip this shit.
12. DRUMS OF DEATH
The beat on this final song picks up the pace tremendously, as do K-Solo's rhymes and delivery to match. The deejay should be banned from approaching any more turntables, though. Ever. The rest of the song is a nice way to end proceedings, leaving things on a high note.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Tell The World My Name is kind of a head-scratcher. On one hand, you have K-Solo attempting (and failing, spectacularly so) to cross over to the mainstream, sounding very disjointed over numerous PMD beats (and the lone Erick Sermon track) in the process. However, he also demonstrates a then-unknown incredible knack for storytelling, and does so repeatedly throughout the album. Of course, none of this translated into any form of commercial success whatsoever, but it did give his label, Atlantic, a reason to issue a sophomore album, so I guess that counts for something.
BUY OR BURN? If you can find this for cheap, then I recommend spending your cash, as half of this album fucking bangs. The other half, however, is absolute pig shit, so I’ll leave it up to you.
BEST TRACKS: “Fugitive”; “Tales From The Crack Side”; “Your Mom’s In My Business”; “Everybody Knows Me”; “Speed Blocks”; “Drums Of Death”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? You know where they belong.)