Monday, October 15, 2012

Juice Crew Greatness

This is one of those records I didn't find out about until years and years later, when it was quite old. Growing up, I was a huge Juice Crew junkie. I was a big fan of a lot of artists, but pressed to pick an all-time favorite, it would have to be The Juice Crew (and a favorite within the Juice Crew? Unpossible!). And, man, was I missing out back then. This record is one I'd dream about - literally! Sometime after "The Symphony II," when it seemed like the crew was winding down as a cohesive unit, I can still picture a dream I had of turning the TV to BET late at night to catch a music video for a huge, brand new posse cut from the whole line-up: MC Shan, Kool G Rap, Shanté...  Come to find out decades later, thanks to the internet, such a record actually existed!

The Juice Crew Allstars, collectively, put out a record back in 1987 on - of course - Cold Chillin' Warner Bros. And it's not just one Juice Crew super posse cut, it's two!

The A side is called "Evolution," and it's not just your typical braggadocio skill flexing. It's actually a serious song with a message, where each MC takes the role of a key figure in black American history. MC Shan is Martin Luther King, Kool G Rap is Malcolm X, Glamorous of The Glamour Girls is Maya Angelou and Debby Dee is Harriet Tubman. TJ Swan sings the hook, and it's produced, of course, by Marley Marl.

What? You don't remember any Debby Dee in the Juice Crew? Well, it doesn't help that they've spelled her name differently here; she usually put out records as Debbie D. No, I don't mean Dimples D. Debbie D was an MC who Marley was working with in the 80's. She probably didn't leave much of an impression because she went pretty poppy; but if nothing else, you should know her as one of the original Us Girls from Beat Street!  So yeah, she's an original Juice Crew member; now you know.

And, boy, does it sound like a classic Juice Crew track - it's got all the elements. Rough, echoed drums, a simple but funky bassline, just a hint of synths, Shan's distinctive voice and Swan's singing: it is pure, undistilled Juice Crew history. You might wince when you hear Glamorous mispronounce her alter ego's name (she pronounces the last syllable of Angelou like Lou Grant), and some of the early deliveries feel a bit stilted (especially compared to the later work of guys like G Rap), but it's still a treasure.

If you think that comes up lacking at all, though, the self-titled "Juice Crew All Stars" on the flipside fills in all the gaps. If the line-up to "Evolution" felt like it came up just a tad short, how about we keep Shan, G Rap and Glamorous, but also add Craig G, Tragedy and Roxanne Shanté? And this time we cut the shit and just have everybody go for theirs and flex skills. All over another traditional Marley beat with even bigger, "Kill That Noise" style drums and his trusty "Oh my goodness!" vocal sample.

This is nice and hardcore. G Rap opens up with some, "Kool G Rap terrorist, metaphor analyst, fans I enlist, foes I dismiss" shit, Shan brags about not only having a come prepared with a bullet proof vest, but "bullet proof sneakers," and Trag is in full teen-voiced Percy mode, but still coming vicious with a slick echo effect when he says, "my brain is the bomb, my mouth is the detonator!" Even the girls come tough. And how many other times do we get to hear Kool G Rap and Tragedy on the same track together? None! This is the only one in history; can you believe it?

These joints were never released on any albums, just this sweet, sweet 12". If you missed it like I did, it's pure Juice Crew wish fulfillment.  And if you were hip to it back in the day, it's still a great record to go back and revisit.

1 comment:

  1. If you can't find the 12", both songs are on the Traffic reissue...double CD/4-LP set with lots of extra gems. One of their best reissues.