Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Top Ten Hip Hop Albums - #6

 3rd Bass - The Cactus Album

Song TitleTime
Stymie's Theme0:13
Sons of 3rd Bass4:47
Russell Rush0:25
The Gas Face3:49
Monte Hall5:27
Oval Office3:33
Soul in the Hole3:50
Triple Stage Darkness4:10
M.C. Disagree0:44
Wordz of Wizdom6:31
Product of the Environment6:16
Desert Boots0:22
The Cactus4:40
Jim Backus0:04
Flippin' Off the Wall Like Lucy Ball3:17
Steppin' to the A.M.4:50
Episode #30:12
Who's on Third0:59

     The first successful hiphop band of the Caucasian persuasion were the Beastie Boys.  Although they had street cred from the begining (Def Jam Records, touring with Run DMC, etc), the Beasties were actually a punk rock act that, rather than sing, rapped.  After the triple-platinum success of the Beastie's debut album Licensed to Ill, the trio jumped to Capitol Records over creative differences with the Def Jam label.  While the Beasties continued to produce new material, they failed to keep the hiphop portion of their audience, and instead became an "alternative act" - meaning their music was generally made to appeal to white audiences (and when it received radio airplay, it was on rock stations). 
     The next white act to have success was 3rd Bass, which was (by no coincidence) also on the Def Jam label.  Unlike a majority of hiphop acts at the time, 3rd Bass were not a crew of longtime collaborators that finally secured a record contract, but instead were three different guys that were put together by producer Sam Sever.  MC Serch was a young Jewish B-Boy that, according to legend, had tried to petition the Beastie Boys for memebership at one time.  Pete Nice was a student at Columbia University, and hosted a show on the Ivy League school's student radio station.  Daddy Rich was a local house party DJ, and the only Black member of the group.  However, after Sever convinced the trio to work together, Def Jam signed the trio as their next "white act".  
    3rd Bass was able to keep their street cred despite their skin color, because the white emcees, Serch & Nice, went out of their way to not emphasize their ethnicity, and actually tried to keep it under wraps.  Eventually though it became known, but by that point the sound had actually won over hiphop audiences.  3rd Bass differed from the Beasties in that rather than just being a white act performing Black music, 3rd Bass, and especially Serch, seemed to immerse themselves in hiphop (aka, Black) culture.  3rd Bass had a credibility about them that other white performers did not, and would not have.  This is not to say there was no backlash against 3rd Bass' "perpetration" into Black culture - because there was.  However,  what 3rd Bass did have going for it was that they were indeed good emcees, and that rather than focusing on the racial aspect, they took on what they viewed as "wack emcees". 
    Def Jam was fully behind 3rd Bass' 1989 debut album, and brought Prince Paul and the Bomb Squad on board for production along with Sever.  In fact, much of the pacing and the skits inserted into the album are a trademark of Paul.  3rd Bass was able to mix the solid rhymes from Serch & Nice with obscure samples from old rock and jazz albums.  In addition to the usual James Brown samples, the Cactus Album was full of obscure samples from artists like Gary Wright, Aretha Franklin, Blood Sweat & tears, The Emotions, Steely Dan, the Doors, and others.  However, the album didn't have a "rock & roll" sound, rather it had almost an "olde tyme" feel, as if they were rapping over swing music. 
    Lyrically the Cactus Album became was a album full of double entendres, but never crossed the line into filth.  3rd Bass pretty much avoided anything political or controversial as far as subject matter, and instead crafted verses about taking out wack emcees, performing in dance halls, picking up women, and other fun and lighthearted subjects.  3rd Bass was about hard hitting beats and rhyme skill. 
    There is no doubt in my mind that this album is overlooked, especially by mainstream audiences that only know of 3rd Bass from their 1991 crossover hit "Pop Goes the Weasel".  I think that what the Cactus Album and 3rd Bass did was far more influential than given credit for.  White boys carving words into their hair was a legitimate trend, and MC Serch was largely responsible for that coming into the mainstream.  Pete Nice wore suits, walked with a cane, and smoked big cigars - before the likes of Biggie and Jay Z.  Ultimately, 3rd Bass will not be as fondly remembered as many of the "Wack Emcees" they gave the Gas Face to. 

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