Monday, May 28, 2012

Delivering Black, Rock and Ron To the Current Generation

Here's an album I didn't expect to get the big Sony re-release treatment: Stop the World, the first and only album by Queens trio Black Rock and Ron. Originally released on RCA/ BMG in 1989, the music was all produced by the group themselves, but has some noteworthy engineers, including Paul C., Jazzy Jay, Skeff Anslem and DJ Doc. I guess that's the big selling point over twenty years later - the sticker on the front boldly proclaims its, "Production by the Late, Great PAUL C",  which is dangerously close to the line of untruthfulness.  But, whatever the marketing reason, it's a dope album, and I'm glad to see it back on the market, giving younger audiences exposure to old school hip-hop beyond just the most famous, crossover hits.

All fifteen tracks are perfectly preserved here, but what I like like about these new versions is how they go the extra mile.  In this case, we're presented with a booklet which does a lot more than just carry over the track-listing, credits and dedications of the original booklet.  Most notably, it includes an all new interview with the group, the first with all three members in over twenty years. We're given some nice press photos and label scans, plus a full reprint of the Hip-Hop Connection cover story/ interview they did back in '89. And there's short quotes/ interview clips from various other hip-hop insiders about Black Rock and Ron, including Red Alert, Russell Simmons, Tragedy and even the guy who designed their logo! Basically, this will answer all your Black Rock and Ron questions and quell the lingering mysteries.

This CD - and yes, it's CD only... Sony always makes me sigh that way - mirrors the original CD release, thankfully including the two CD bonus tracks that weren't on the LP version, "My Hometown" and "Who's Got Next?" This is the really the best possible version of the US Stop the World on CD.

I specified "US" there, because the UK version of this album is wildly different, featuring many different songs and remixes (if you're wondering about the story behind that, you'll have to read the booklet's interview).* And here's another way Sony managed to make me sigh with this release... the second disc that almost was, but never got cleared. It would've included the songs from their debut 12" as The Vicious Four, and all the UK-only tracks.

I mean, just to illustrate how vast the differences between the two versions are, a rough CDR of the proposed bonus disc was sent to me, and it's 16 songs long.  Now granted, there's a little redundancy (two tracks seem to just be the bonus tracks on the official CD), and there's the two Vicious Four songs and an instrumental... but that's still over ten other songs and remixes - basically an entire second album!  There's remixes of songs like "Gettin' Large" and "I'm Tired," which interestingly are more street-oriented than the ones on the US album, which is geared more towards House tracks and stuff.  There's a track called "Cryin' the Blues," which turns out to be a remix of "Huffing and Buffing" from their Vicious Four 12", and remixes from their singles like "You Can't Do Me None" and "True Feelings." And there are all new songs like "We Be Wilin'/ Wild Thing" and "It's Raw." Even the UK-exclusive "Breaks" are here. Release both discs on vinyl, and you'd have the penultimate Stop the World experience any hip-hop head would have to add to their collection.

But let's not get too hung up on what could've been (though, if this sells like gangbusters, maybe an ultra-vinyl mega-set could still be in the cards down the line? Possibly? Extremely unlikely?). Even as a single disc set, this is a first-rate release that finds a deserving record that would normally be completely overlooked and gives it the first-class treatment. CD heads should be thrilled that this, of all albums, has been put back into print after twenty years. And even those of us with the original US LP in our crates should consider picking this up for the CD bonus tracks and the interviews, etc. Black Rock and Ron were some solid hip-hoppers from Queens who only occasionally veered too far into Run-DMC's lane, and the real disappointment is just that they never followed this up with a sophomore album.

*According to discogs, there's also a German version with an exclusive song called "Fresh" I wonder what the deal with that is...


  1. Weird, I had read years ago that one of the guys died. Guess not.

  2. Pretty sure Lord Black was killed in the 90's.

    1. Nope, all three guys are alive. =) Lord Black even did a record for Nas in 2000.

  3. that "Fresh" is a really short track, more like an interlude, featuring the break they used on cryin the blues (after which I'm still after for years) and goes like "go fr-fr-fresh" (vocal) and immediately behind that ron scratch scratches the "FRESHHHH" which we all know. peace

  4. dude when i read your little album reviews, about classics like this, and anything paul c worked on, you have no idea what you're talking about... for example.

    ""Production by the Late, Great PAUL C", which is dangerously close to the line of untruthfulness"

    if you know anything about hiphop you can hear that paul c and cj definitely did major work on the album.

    i like this site a lot, mainly because you got some decent interviews with golden era artists, but i can just tell you don't know hiphop properly, and it is a shame.

    1. Hey, you caught me at a good time. I have a long reply for ya! 8)

      I DO recognize and appreciate the Paul C sound... I've been singing the praises of Paul C as an underrated producer since long before his name meant "collectors item" (pretty much once I realized he was the recurring name on albums like Critical Beatdown, Girls I Got 'Em Locked, etc). BUT BR&R were producers themselves who deserve respect; and look at the credits of the Black, Rock and Ron album. "Produced by Black, Rock and Ron." Read through the additional production and drum programming credits, and none of those names are Paul C. Finally, his name pops up as one of eight engineers who worked on the album all the way at the bottom. Specifically, he's credited with engineering, or co-engineering, six of the songs that appear on this album, and producing none of them. Which is exactly why I say, "'Production by the Late, Great PAUL C', which is dangerously close to the line of untruthfulness."

      Now, do I think Paul may well have had influence on the sound of this album beyond the credited engineering? I'm sure he did... you put a bunch of talented artists in a room working on a project, and the way they work together is gonna be a lot more organic than "the mixer looked at the mixing board with blinders on and never opened his mouth... the engineer only pushed those allotted buttons." And yeah, this can get into one of those unresolvable "who really made those beats for LL? K-Def or Marley?" debates, where only the people who were there at the time know for sure, and even their recollections may be hazy after almost three decades.

      But it's easily observable that in the last... 15 years or so? that putting Paul's name on an EBay auction, repress or anything else will increase its value to heads like us, who appreciate his talents and great contributions. And I'm sure we've both seen plenty of auctions and such where Paul C just worked as an engineer or mixer and now gets top billing by the seller. And yes, I'm suggesting that looks to be what's happening here. He's the engineer of six tracks, and the credited producer of none. And yet the sticker beefs up his role, saying "featuring production by Paul C," and I'm sure we both know why.

      If anybody wants to come out and say "BRR didn't really produce that album and their credits are bogus," that would be quite interesting. But nobody has, even in the new interviews and liner notes included with this album. And I honestly do believe BRR did the work they claim to have done and are credited for. There was a good interview (wish I could find it) with Phase of Phase & Rhythm where he talks about how, while Paul did a lot for them; people ignore his own production credit, when he did find the samples, assemble the instrumental, etc.

      Anyway, despite your patronizing), this is a good discussion... probably worth its own blog post, except now I've already basically written it here. lol If you think you're ready to step up the maturity and civility a notch, I'd like to continue it with you; because I think it's obvious we both "know anything about hip-hop" and have an idea of what we're talking about; and I bet you have a good response in you on this topic. This is absolutely something I'm keenly interested in and always ready to learn more about if you actually want to build a positive discussion. If you're convinced that you know hiphop properly and I don't, please, sincerely, enlighten me. Point out some other posts where you think I'm off-base. That's why I leave the comments open, because I want to have this discussion, learn and share what we know with each other. ...Or don't, and just continue to enjoy the site. No pressure. :)

  5. You don't know nothin yo!

    1. Well, that's a really insightful and helpful contribution to the discussion. Care to elucidate?