Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Your Definitive Guide To The World Class Wreckin' Cru Line-Up

Can you identify these men? Hint: these are the easy ones. Answer below!
So, pretty much everybody knows that Dr. Dre got his start making records as a member of The World Class Wreckin' Cru. Well, after that Sofer record. Many also know that fellow NWA-member DJ Yella was there with him. And if you know your stuff, you know the leader of the crew was named Grand Master Lonzo. But here's thing: on every single record, their line-up changed. And I don't think there are a lot of people out there who could tell about all those subsequent members over the years. So let's go chronologically, member by member:

Cli-N-Tel) The World Class Wreckin' Cru started out as a DJ collective, but when they actually started putting out records on their own imprint, Kru-Cut Records, they were a four-man crew. Lonzo, Dre, Yella and Cli-N-Tel. In fact, since the other three were essentially DJs, Cli-N-Tel was basically their lead MC, rapping on their earliest singles "Surgery," "Slice" and "World Class." Not that he wasn't a DJ, too; he was often credited as D.J. Cli-N-Tel even. He does most of the vocals on "Surgery," too; although Dre does finally have a mini-verse on there. So the four of them was the line-up for their first album, World Class. But he quickly broke out as a solo artist, releasing records like "It Ain't Mine." He didn't release a full-length album until 1996, though; and that was overseas only. So I guess you could say his solo career never took off; but he's made little appearances here and there over the years.

Mona Lisa Young) Mona Lisa wasn't a member of the Cru originally, though she sang the hook to the song "Lovers" on their first album. She had already released a solo R&B album on Motown, though, so in a way she was bigger than all of them. So when they released their second album, the less electro-oriented Rapped In Romance, they had her on a bunch of songs. And while she didn't make the album cover, she's listed on the back as one of the five members, so she was official for a minute there.

Shakespere) I said five members on album #2, right? That's because, when Cli-N-Tel left, they brought in their dancer Shakespere. Remember, the other three weren't really rappers, so he got promoted straight to lead MC right away. He did make the album cover. He's the guy with the gruffer voice who's doing all the rapping on their singles "The Fly" and "He's Bionic." Since they'd singed to Epic Records at this point, though, I guess they all felt compelled to rap more, and they started releasing these love songs where everybody does a soft almost spoken word rap. So two of their singles, "World Class Freak" and "Love Letter" essentially became remakes of "Lovers," which was the song Mona Lisa sang for on the first album.

Michel'le) Unlike Mona Lisa, Michel'le wasn't really official, but you can't not talk about her. Like I was saying, these slow, four-way love ballads were becoming a Wreckin' Cru trademark. And after their second album they released one of their biggest singles, "Turn Off the Lights," which was another one of those, except instead of Mona Lisa, they had Michel'le singing the hook. And man did she hit it out of the park! Of course, you all know what happened to her. Produced by Dre, she put out a hit solo record, then they got married and things got dark after that.

The Uzi Bros) The Wreckin' Cru was more or less breaking up at this point. They still put out Dr. Dre's "House Calls" in 1987, but Shakespere seemed to be out and never went on to anything else. Meanwhile, more and more outsiders were being brought in to make the Cru's records. Their single "Must Be the Music" was an R&B duet with Mona Lisa and a guy named Derrell Black, who doesn't seem to have recorded anything else. They brought in Ice Cube's CIA posse for "The Cabbage Patch." And they brought in The Uzi Bros.

The Uzi Bros were a 3-man band consisting of Will Roc, Ken Strong and Bob Dog. They mostly played instruments, but when they put out their own album in 1990, Will Roc rapped. By 1988, the Cru was totally broken up, Dre and Yella formed NWA, and the latest Wreckin' Cru album was billed as Lonzo and The World Class Wreckin' Kru. Lonzo's sitting by himself on the album cover for Fast Lane, and for good reason. Will Roc wasn't rapping yet, rapping-wise, it was essentially a Lonzo solo album, although the Uzi Bros sung a few choruses and stuff. Mostly they handled all the music though. And since Lonzo still wasn't much of a rapper either, this album has a lot of instrumental stuff, and they slightly remixed "Lovers" with the original line-up's vocals. The credits say "featuring Mona Lisa and the Uzi Bros," but it's definitely Cli-N-Tel and everybody's vocals. They were really stretching on this album. Mostly Lonzo does spoken word stuff on this album, like Luke on his LPs, but without a JT Money in his pocket.

Anyway, The Uzi Bros went on to release their own album in 1990, like I said. They had a couple singles and a cool song on The Return of Superfly soundtrack; but they stopped making records after that. They stayed in the industry, though, producing and playing instruments for other west coast rappers, and Will Roc even released an instrumental album in the 2000s.

Tebo and Kim Brewer) Fast Lane also brought in a couple other vocalists. and they brought in more guest vocalists like Tebo and Kim Brewer. Kim's really only on one song, so it's tempting to just treat her like a guest, but Tebo's got credit on a solid half of the album. Meanwhile, Brewer's got far more music credits as a studio singer down the road, adding vocals to albums by tons of big artists from Whitney Houston to KD Lang.

Willie Z and Al Foote) In 1989, Lonzo and The Uzi Bros parted ways and he was left without a crew again. So he released the Crew's second greatest hits album (there had already been one in 1987) called Dance and Romance. This was re-released with broader distribution in 1991 under the title Turn Off the Lights (Before the Attitude) (a reference to NWA, natch). Anyway, it's just a bunch of their old records, except Lonzo does a little intro and outro to it. On the intro he says the group had split up, but on the outro, he said, "the World Class legacy is being carried on by Lonzo and two brand new brothers: Willie Z and Al Foote. Look for us in local record stores."

Bambi and Donette Williams) And sure enough, in 1990, there was a new World Class Wreckin' Cru album, called Phases In Life, with those three dudes on the cover. Al Foote's a French singer, and Willie Z plays the sax, and actually has a lot of credit as a studio musician in hip-hop and other genres. But as you can tell, that leaves them stupidly lacking in the Actual Rappers department. So you've got a lot of singing, including guest female vocals by Bambi and Donette Williams. And the raps are mostly just clunky spoken word patches again. Try and listen to the rap verse on "Love Lovin' You" without wincing. This album had a cover of "I'll Be Around" for a single, again with mostly singing (so why not just stick to the far superior original by The Spinners?), and they recorded a remake/sequel for "Turn Off the Lights" called "The Lights Are Out" with Bambi singing the chorus now. Ouch.

Curtis Bray) So, that looks like it's the last World Class Wreckin' Cru album, but not quite really. In 1994, they released Gold, which is ostensibly another greatest hits album. And it does feature a couple of their greatest hits. But more than half of is new material. There's another "Turn Off the Lights" sequel, this time with nothing but R&B vocals by Curtis Bray. All the new songs are by Lonzo and Willie Z. Al Foote seems to be out of the picture now, and in his place is Bray, who sings and writes on a couple of the new songs. This seems to be all he's done, however.

Meko) And that seems like the end of the Cru's recordings. It almost is. Remember when Thump Records was going hard on the reissue game, putting out tons of old school funk and hip-hop compilations, and albums by artists like Toddy Tee and JV The Nayba Hood Queen? Well, they also released a WCWC greatest hits album in 2001 called Greatest Hits Plus. Why "Plus?" Because the last two songs are new! One is an R&B song by a new R&B vocalist named Meko and produced by someone named G. Claiborn. You might wonder what the WCWC connection even is, but Lonzo is credited as co-writer of the song. I guess he was making a demo for her when Thump Records came to him so this is what he gave them.

Oh, and the other song is called "Boo Yaws." It's produced by a somebody named N Deed. It's a terrible dance song trying to move into the Southern rap song, with a hook that goes, "bounce ya boo yaws like ya do down South!" Lonzo does his own rapping, though, and it's the last Wreckin' Cru song to date.

So that's all of the WCWC rappers and singers. I wouldn't call all of them official members, more like affiliates or contributors. But Lonzo, Dre, Yella, Cli-N-Tel, Shakespere, Mona Lisa Young, Willie Z and Al Foote were definitely official members at different stages, and I think the Uzi Bros earned it for the 1988 album, too.

Oh, and that photo up top is the original line-up, from the back cover of their first album.
So left to right: Dre, Yella, Lonzo and Cli-N-Tel.

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