Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Back When Everything Was Alright

In 1992, Father MC returned with his second album, Close To You; and it was heralded by this lead single, "Everything's Gonna Be Alright." This was his big reunion with Jodeci. He made them famous with his (major label) debut single, "Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated" in 1990. But since then they'd blown up in their own right. This was after "Stay" and Forever My Lady; Jodeci were two of R&B's biggest rising superstars, alongside Mary J. Blige, who'd also blown up by singing on Father's first album.

So when Father returned, everybody was asking if Jodeci and Mary were back, and indeed they were. Father MC released two singles off Close To You, first this one and then "One Nite Stand" with Mary. The downside was that Father was getting eclipsed by his back-up singers; and once he tried releasing an album without them, his career on Uptown/ MCA Records was done. But in 1992, who cared? Everybody was still working together and we were all happy.

"Everything" is produced by Mark Morales and Mark C. Rooney - in other words: Prince Markie Dee and the Soul Convention. This was the heyday for Markie Dee's smooth, R&B-heavy New Jack sounds, and Father MC's albums were the perfect fit. They'd done a big chunk of his debut album, including his three biggest singles, and the majority of Close To You. In fact, separating from the Fat Boy may've been as key to Father's downfall as separating from Mary and Jodeci.

But while the Soul Convention brought a lot of musicality and instrumentation to their records; there's not much to credit them with here, instrumentally, besides the core idea. Because on this record, they're sampling Chic's "Good Times." And they're basically using it exactly the same way The Sugar Hill Band replayed it in 1979, to the point where they could basically just be performing over the instrumental version of "Rapper's Delight" whole hog.

Of course, Mark and Mark also co-wrote the song (along with Hasan, also of the Soul Convention) and Father himself, so they presumably did more than just bring an old Sugarhill Records 45 into the studio. But here's where this record really falls short of their debut success - lyrically, it's not nearly as well written. I've talked about the impressive, even genuinely touching, songwriting show-cased in at least parts of "Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated." Well, there's just none of that here. There's nothing particularly wrong with Father's rhymes here, mind you - he doesn't say anything stupid or cringe-worthy, which is a lot more than you can say for a lot of rap records today - he's basically just saying a lot of fluffy filler that amounts to nothing. This song isn't about anything except that Father and his boys are here and isn't that nice?

But the upshot is that giving "Rapper's Delight" a 90's new jack spin works wonderfully. It has a whole new life here, sounds great with its old school hand-claps and more modern (though still vintage) syrupy keys, and Jodeci kill it. Revisiting this song over twenty years later, and it's immediately evident why Jodeci were going on to a huge career outside of Father's shadow. They stand out far and above all the generic R&B singers you'd hear providing hooks and bridges on countless other rap songs of the decade.

The 12" single, besides coming in a glossy picture cover; also provides a couple extended mixes. There's your Radio Version, which is basically indistinguishable from the album version, and it's Instrumental. Then there's a Club Joint, which really extends the track, almost doubling its length. There's no new verses from Father, but a lot more of Jodeci and plenty more "Good Times." The Club Version has an Instrumental, too. And then, finally, there's the misleadingly titled Soul Convention Dub Joint. I say it's misleading, because it's really not a Dub Mix, but a full vocal version with all of Father's raps and Jodeci's singing. It's just... even a little bit longer than the Club Joint.

And for my money, The Soul Convention Dub Mix is also the ideal version of the song. It puts more of an emphasis on Jodeci. I mean, obviously they have to sing a lot more just to fill up the extra running time (we've gone from three and a half minutes to six and a half), but they also have a different acapella introduction and perform a few more routines, including some "baby yeah"'s sung in the style of "Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated." Father's verses sound good just by virtue of them being rap verses that sound good over a track like this; but Jodeci are the absolute stars of this song, so turning this into a Jodeci monster cut that just happens to have some appearances by Father MC works to this record's advantage.

There's nothing especially different here. There's no version with a different sample set or versions by other big name producers. It's just one song spun out to longer versions. But in this case, that's enough. If you wanted to show somebody who'd never heard of Father MC, just what he was about; this encapsulates him perfectly. All of his strengths and why people bought his records back in the day, and his weaknesses and why he hasn't had the longevity of Kane or Biggie. Including the fact that Jodeci are totally stealing his show here.

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