Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Doorbell Rap

Black, Rock and Ron released a hard, highly regarded album in 1989 on RCA Records (in fact, it's recently been released). They mostly produced their own material, but they did have that Midas-like connection with Paul C, plus a famous remix by Prince Paul. They had several singles and videos, but I guess they didn't quite break that mainstream sales barrier for their label to commit to a second album.

But their legacy isn't entirely limited to their all-too brief time RCA. See, before RCA, they were signed to Next Plateau, and even appeared on one of Red Alert's famous mixtape albums. Now, the single they released on Next Plateau ("That's How I'm Living") was carried over to their RCA album, but there's more to the story than that. Because they were signed to Next Plateau before they even became Black Rock and Ron. They released their first single under the name Vicious Four.

"Hard Rap" was released in 1986, and here's the first thing you'll surely notice about this. They sampled a doorbell. It's got your traditional programed drums, hand-claps and other funky sounds - it's a dope beat. But the signature tune they play on the hook is obviously the chimes of Big Ben as played by a doorbell. The people I house-sit for have this doorbell; it sounds exactly the same! It's even got that slight distortion towards the end of the refrain. I mean, this was the mid 80's, where it wasn't at all uncommon to have rappers rhyme over interpretations of cartoon and sitcom theme songs, so it doesn't sound that ridiculous (at least, comparatively) to hear these sorts of tunes in a rap track - they do actually pull it off, I have to say - but I'm still pretty sure these are the first guys to rap over a doorbell.

Now, this record does bring up a question I can't answer. Black, Rock and Ron are obviously a three man group. So who is the fourth on this track? Lord Black and Master Rock are the lead and only MCs here just like they were on Stop the World, and they repeatedly shout out Ron Scratch as their DJ. ...They don't name anybody else. Only Black and Rock get writing credits, and Rock did the production. It seems to be a very clear-cut three man operation. But they're calling themselves Vicious Four! Who the Heck is the fourth?? I think it can only be the doorbell.

They've also got another song on here called "Huffing N' Buffing," a more narrative-style song, where they relate various anecdotes of people working harder rather than smarter. It's fun, sort of a bemusing precursor to "You Be Illin'," with a slow, bassy keyboard riff over a beat that's otherwise very reminiscent of "Hard Times," particularly in its use of aggressive, isolated hand-claps. It's fun, but these little story raps are never (with the admitted, rare exception) as engaging as songs like the A-side, where they just spit their hardest.*

If you listen closely to the track, you will hear some silly, out-of-breath human beatboxing mixed into the track. I assume it's to illustrate the "huffing and buffing" of the title, but possibly whoever performed this is the mysterious fourth guy? Ha ha. I mean, I'd assume it's just one of the three members who recorded it real quick, but damn it, somebody's gotta be the fourth!

Anyway, this isn't a hard record to track down, and it's well worth it. It's definitely got that Hollis sound. And while it does sound more "old school" than their RCA material, it's no less fun for that fact. Both instrumentals are included on the flip.

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