Tuesday, February 8, 2011

This Or That: Most Impressive MC-DJ Duo

It's 2:45 in the morning as I write this, and being that I've found myself awake a lot lately, I decided to contemplate pressing questions of the hour.  Being  that no one in their right mind would be up at this hour, I skimmed through Facebook, where a friend posted "You should have a healthy fear of us..." in his dark, hardcore spoken-word fashion, yet to me it delightfully hearkens back to the 80's PSA below:

(I used to seriously joke on this commercial as a kid)

As I was wandering down memory lane, including the thought of how Busta Rhymes would reference the chorus twenty years later on his chart burner Dangerous,  my derisive mind also began to think of a Doug E Fresh PSA about drugs which at the end he references Pink Floyd's The Wall with "And kids... Lea' Dat Crack Alone!" (you had to be there...), which oddly enough, Method Man references in his duo with Redman for How High (Part 2).  While I didn't find the Doug E Fresh clip, I discovered the origin of the Dougie Dance (...really?) as well as the following:

For some reason, this led to research about some of the more interesting duos of what is referred to as the "Golden Age of Hip Hop" when rapping was, um, fun and/or meaningful... and beats were hard, loud and sampled...

Oh, I know what it was. I looked up the entry for Doug E. Fresh in Wikipedia, which revealed to me that as revered as he is in the Hip Hop Community, he did not have much of a discography to speak of, compared to his original cohort Slick Rick.  I began debating in my mind, if I were a rapper, whose career would I rather have, Doug E Fresh or Slick Rick? I mean really, Doug E Fresh only had two or three LPs at best, which are all out of print.  He produced the fine debut of Lil Vicious, who went on to great whatever.  He also appeared on quite a few mainstream shows and inspired a generation of beatboxers more than either The Human Beatbox from the Fat Boys or even Biz Markie, but as far as I can tell, it's apples and oranges... I give the career success to Doug, but the lyrical legend is definitely Rick the Ruler. 

This tangent led me to also look up the life and times of Eric B & Rakim; their origins, their impact and their split. For what it's worth, this duo is probably the first pairing of MC and DJ that was not only a sustained success, but had a major impact on hip hop in general.  Up until their debut in 1986, breakbeats were primarily from dance songs or synthesizers.  When Eric B introduced the hip hop world to the likes of Fonda Rae (reused more faithfully by De La Soul nearly a decade later) and... James Brown (yes, the rebirth began here), it did indeed have a mind-blowing impact on hip hop music. Dee Jays and producers raced to the nearest record store to dig up James Brown records and eventually the records of those he influenced directly and the age of sampling exploded onto the scene.  They maintained a largely minimalist sound to their tracks, in terms of sampling breakbeats and scrathing, while Rakim redifined the art of rhyming with his razor sharp and edgy, yet lavalike flow. The direction of their musical sound would eventually land somewhere near the bebop fusion era that A Tribe Called Quest would take to new heights before Eric B and Rakim went their seperate ways; Rakim kicking around for years until his solo debut in the late 90s while Eric B faded away from the music industry altogether.    

Some time in 1989 we witnessed the debut of another fine MC/DJ duo, Keithee "Guru" E and DJ Premier, collectively known as Gangstarr.  I would consider them a more experimental version of Eric B & Rakim in that Guru certainly had a vocal flow that reminded one of an even more laid back and reflective Rakim, while Premier's samples were more prevalent while his beats and scratching were sparse, edgier and increasingly obscure.  During their run together they combined both class and street in a manner that inspired many others in their own era. Guru would eventually go solo and also experiment with other styles and beats with his four volumes of Jazzmatazz (which often sounded more like an extension of what he was doing with Gangstarr) while Premier made beats for other up-and-coming and well known artists, but sadly, Guru's untimely death last year came at a moment when hip hop had largely forgotten where he was.

Around this time we also began to hear the collaborations of another duo who defined the era they were in, Pete Rock & CL Smooth.  Pete Rock took Premier's beatmaking a step further by also mixing in stylized horns and a sometimes slightly off-beat rhyme style, while CL Smooth's quick and polished flow complimented those beats almost seamlessly. For me, the highlight of their partnership was the touching tribute to fallen friend and Heavy D & The Boyz member Troy "Trouble T-Roy" Dixon.  There are few people who listen to the sad, stepping horn and haunted chorus without getting maybe a lump in their throat. They also eventually parted ways due to creative differences and seemed unlikely to ever team up again, but unlike Guru and Premier who stopped speaking to each other and never resolved their differences before Guru's death, the two made up (inspired by the tragedy of Gangstarr) and are currently collaborating on a new album.

So my question to you is, among these three duos (with the rise of the producer, the dee jay became a fairly non-essential member of the hip hop-making process), which do you think had the biggest impact on hip hop music and why?

Eric B & Rakim - Don't Sweat The Technique

Gangstarr - Moment of Truth

Pete Rock & CL Smooth - T.R.O.Y.