Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sanford & Son, Part 1: MC Shy D Is Back!

I still remember what a bugged moment it was as a kid hearing The Fresh Prince rock with his human beatbox Ready Rock C on "Rock the House" in 1987, and he suddenly says, "yo Ready C, man, play 'Sanford & Son'!" And he suddenly starts beatboxing one of the funkiest sitcom themes in history. Despite being the title track of their album, it wasn't a commercial single. It was a live track, and you can hear the crowd go nuts at that moment as well. But it was a little less novel if you were a familiar with MC Shy-D, who had already rocked Sanford & Son last year.

MC Shy D is usually lumped in with Miami bass, but he's actually an Atlanta cat originally born in the Bronx. In fact, he's Afrika Bambaataa's cousin. So he brought a raw east coast feel to his hip-hop, especially on his early records. He was a real raw beats, rhymes and cuts guy in the beginning. He also imported some of New York's cornier elements, though, like the Fresh Gordon-style method of bringing silly cartoon and television jingles into rap records. Actually, that may've been some of Bambaataa's influence, too, since he was known for mixing all kinds of crazy, diverse records into his sets. And so, anyway, Shy D's first record was 1985's "Rapp Will Never Die," known for incorporating the Pink Panther theme.

That record made a lot of noise for him, so you know he had to do something like that again for his second record. In 1986 on 4 Sight Records, Shy D recorded "Shy D Is Back," which plays the Sanford & Son theme on every hook. And this was his signature for a while. The intro to his debut full-length on Luke Records starts out, "yo cuz, come here man, tell me, I got one question for you, brother. Who is this kid Shy-D? I was listening to the radio, man, I heard this tune, it sounded like the Pink Panther! dom dom dom dom, Da-dom, da-dom! This kid was doing the wildest scratching, the wildest rapping; I'm like, yo, this is def. Then it came back, cuz, with dun-dun-dun-da-dun, dun-dun-dun-na-dun-na-dun! I'm like, yo kid, I'm thinking I'm watching TV or what? This is def, man, who is this kid Shy-D?" In the beginning, he was that guy.

Of course, the secret is that Shy D and DJ Man were killing it on the (self produced) beats, rhymes and cuts, and those jingles were just like icing on a cake. You could strip away the Pink Panther instrumentation and still have a hot record. In fact, some would probably argue that it'd be better without it. But that goes less for "Shy D Is Back," because while the Pink Panther tune is a novelty, Sanford & Son's is a genuine funky riff. Did you know Quincy Jones made it? Yeah, there's a reason it endures.

But of course, those in the know (or who just looked closely at the label scan above) know that "Shy Is Back" is actually the B-side to his 1986 12". The A-side is "DJ Man Cuts It Up" (there was a "DJ Man Cuts It Up Again" on their Got To Be Tough album). And it is a testament to the fact that they didn't need any novelty tunes on their records, because it's a hot track based just on Shy D's rhymes, tough drums and especially DJ Man's cuts. Well, actually, there is a brief period where Shy D says, "give them a taste of our first song," and the Pink Panther plays once on this one, too. But it barely even registers under DJ Man going nuts with the turntables. You know, his cuts sound pretty advanced for 1986. Admittedly, there is a syrupy bassline that kicks in on the scratch hooks for this song, but it's not an interpolation of any TV themes or anything. And there's also a cool little mini-track called "XX-Rap." It's just 44 seconds of Shy-D kicking a hard, curse-laden (though barely X-rated compared to the kind of lyrics we'd start hearing a few years later after groups like 2 Live Crew and The Geto Boys) rhyme over some unadorned human beat-boxing.

But let's face it, no matter how dope those were and how they proved Shy-D didn't need gimmicks, the B-side is the one that got all the radio play and attention. Because they rocked the Sanford & Son theme! And they didn't even sample it, they interpolate it, with this chintzy fake harmonica as played on a keyboard. It doesn't sound half as good as the original sitcom; but on the other hand, the sitcom doesn't have Shy-D going hard and DJ Man cutting loose. That's the real strength of the record. So come for the cheesy tune, stay for the skills. And of course, after living with that record for a year, it wasn't quite as much of a mind blower to hear it on a Jazzy Jeff record. But of course, Shy D and Man didn't play it under water.  ;)

1 comment:

  1. Shy-D & Dj Man were the truth. they had a lot of national success with those first 2 Lps. Classic material!