Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Forgotten Special Ed Record

Special Ed made big waves during his time on Profile Records. He seemed to change his image with each album, so each time felt like a comeback - but he kept pulling it off. He came back to scoop up more underground cred with his impressive indie 12", "Think T.W.I.C.E.," which got shine on DJ Premier's NY Reality Check. And his last album, Still Got It Made? Most fans are trying to forget it, but they certainly all caught notice of the publicity surrounding that return. ...There's just one little record that Ed dropped in between "Think T.W.I.C.E." and Still Got It Made that somehow managed to avoid receiving any attention at all.

"What Up Love?' dropped on Dolla Cab Ent - the same label as "Think T.W.I.C.E." - in 1999. This is a nice, little two-track 12" that really only exists for the B-side. But let's me thorough and cover the A-side first.

"What Up Love?" is produced by Special Ed himself. The track's kinda dark and definitely subtle. It would make a really dope instrumental for a really lively, out-there collection of MCs, like The Pharcyde, LOTUG or something. But instead, Ed goes it solo with his deep voice, rapping as if he's chatting up a girl after a show. Like I said, the subtle track would be a great counterbalance to a pack of wild, frantic MCs; but instead, with a deeper, slower flow... it just kinda makes you sleepy.

It doesn't help that it turns out Ed doesn't have much to say to this girl. He's not professing a deep love or spitting humorous, excessive game. He's not bragging about having "a frog, a dog with a solid gold bone and an accountant to account the money I spent," he's just saying, "I need a back rub, in the bath tub, what about you, love? Tell me what you want, what you really, really want." It's like he's trying to seduce this hypothetical girl by being the most boring... sorta bragging, but undercutting that with how he's busy and has little to offer, "what you want from me? Only got bubble gum, honey?" And yes, that was a Spice Girls reference earlier, and even in 1999, that song was three years old.

I can kinda see what he's shooting for: a lighthearted look at someone trying to spit over-the-top game tempered with reality. But he fails to make the game extreme or amusing enough, and the reality feels pretty fake, too. Combine that with a beat that begs you not to pay attention to anything he's saying or the song as a whole, and you get a not terrible but thoroughly unengaging misfire.

But now we come to the reason to own this 12", the B-side "We Come Back." Curiously, the production for this one is credited to "Boogie Down Production[sic] and Big Mo." Listening to it kinda clears that up, however. Big Mo, whoever that is, is the producer here. The reason Boogie Down Productions is credited is because they've got Ed essentially rapping over the instrumental to "Poetry." Big Mo's big contribution, then, is playing some soft keys on top of it. I know, playing keyboards over "Poetry" sounds like a terrible idea... but it actually works - it both sounds good and makes Special's Ed smoother flow merge more naturally with the antagonistic beat that would otherwise require a far more aggressive flow.

And he's thankfully off the "concept song" tip (gimmicky nature of the BDP angle aside), and back to straight spitting his creative, wordplay-heavy battle rhymes we love him for. He never quite reaches the heights of his greatest hits or even "Think T.W.I.C.E.," but it could sit quite comfortably on any of his albums as a good, solid Special Ed track that any fan would want to have in their collection. Both songs also come with Instrumental and Accapella versions, which is nice.

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