Saturday, November 13, 2021

Kool Moe Dee's Worst Hits?

I've been itching to revisit these tracks for a while.  See, at the end of his bounteous run with Jive Records, Kool Moe Dee sealed his contract with a Greatest Hits album.  It'll go down in history for including his famous and powerful posse cut, "Rise & Shine," with Krs-One and Chuck D, in the track-listing, but the song isn't actually on the album.  One of the great rip-offs of the ages.  The only reason I'm over it now is because I had the original Funke Funke Wisdom album already.  In fact, I had all his albums already.  Really, the only reason to cop this album for us dedicated fans was that he slipped a few new, exclusive songs in between the classics.  Four, to be precise.  And buying a whole album for four songs is already less than ideal, but it was made so much worse when it turned out they sucked.

At least that's how I remember them, and how they've been pretty much written up in history.  But the last time I listened to these songs was the very same year I checked them out and filed them away in disappointment: 1993.  A big part of the problem is that this is the first project Moe Dee made since his Treacherous Three days without Teddy Riley.  But, still, Kool Moe Dee is one of the great all-time legends, and it's been 28 years.  Maybe if I go back with slightly less exacting standards, I'd find some pretty decent material I'd written off just because it wasn't on the exact same level as his all-time greatest hits they were sandwiched with.

So new track #1 is "Whosgotdaflava."  Even that title is a red flag.  It's absolutely of its time and feels like something a couple of cornball studio executives would decide rappers liked to say.  And the same could be said of the whole song.  It just feels like this is the year Kool Moe Dee lost touch with the movement, turned his baseball cap backwards and asked, "how do you do, fellow kids?"  But then again, if we're casting blame, producers Hula & K. Fingers have to raise their hands.  These guys rode the line between R&B and Hip-Hop, giving things a pop jingle kind of sound.  You might know them best for doing the last two Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince albums or Gerardo's second album (that's right, he made more than one).  They did a lot with Mr. Lee and R&B groups, and really it's not so much that they were untalented; just the worst possible fit for Kool Moe Dee post "Death Blow" and "Rise & Shine."  You might as well have asked Young MC to write Bushwick Bill's solo album.

Not that it's super soft.  In fact, there turns out to be a little truth in the idea that there might be something worth revisiting here.  It starts off with some nice cuts and thunderous samples.  No DJ is credited - did Hula or K do 'em themselves?  Okay, I'm impressed.  But then it starts to get cornier.  The "four or five guys shouting in a studio" for the hook and back-up ad-libs sounds super dated now, and even in 1993, just didn't fit with Kool Moe Dee.  Again, this feels like Dee trying to play catch up with the trends instead of just being the microphone master he naturally is.  But he does have a fast, syllable-packed flow.  He can still kick it like a pro.  He doesn't have anything to say beyond, "let's make the party bounce," and the instrumental never really grabs you after those initial fifteen seconds, but it's respectable album filler.

Track #2 is "Can U Feel It," again by Hula & K.  And this is the one where they really indulge their sappy R&B predilections.  It has a bunch of soft studio instruments instead of samples, including a fake G-funk slide whistle kinda thing.  And it has a sung, poppy chorus of both women and men asking if we can feel it.  But it has a smooth bassline, and Dee seems eager to show he can ride a different kind of rhythm than he ever had before.  And he does have a funky, catchy flow where he waxes nostalgic about his early days with a vibe that's probably trying to replicate their only successful Fresh Prince collaboration: "Summertime."  So, on one hand, I can understand why they chose this to be the single.  Yes, they pressed one of these Greatest Hits exclusives up as a 12".  It has an exclusive remix that's veritably identical to the album version.  It's well done, but just such bad taste.  Some Jive exec thought this and "Boom! Shake the Room" were going to fly in the year of 36 Chambers?

Track #3 is "Gimme My Props" and now KMD is producing his own stuff, though he has two credited "Co-Producers," (Keith Spencer and Dale Hogan), so who knows exactly who did what?  It's got some tight drums and a cool bassline, but boy, all that shouting "ho" in the studio stuff grates.  Dee sounds great here, though.  He's coming hard and aggressive, like another "Death Blow," but swift and with a clever rhyme scheme.  But the Joe Tex "give it here, don't say nothin'" hook feels like it's been cut and pasted from another song.  And if he's going so hard, you kinda wish he'd just take it there and make it a proper LL diss.  But nah.  It makes me think these are left-overs from his previous album rather than new material recorded for this compilation.  I could see this song almost making Funke Funke Wisdom but getting cut to make room for something tighter.  These verses he's rocking are at least worth preserving, though.  I'm glad this track was saved.  Cut the studio posse buddies and replace them with some nice DJ cuts and you'd have a killer, top shelf Moe Dee track you'd want to own on 12".

Finally track #4 is "Look At Me Now," another ostensibly self-produced vehicle, but with Keith and Dale in tow again.  Vocally, this sounds like an older Moe Dee style, and I swear he's rapped over these same drums on a couple other records.  The hook is a variation of "How Ya Like Me Now," and it's got a cool sample to it, but this is no "How Ya Like Me Now."  The "fellas say 'ho,'" stuff feels out of step again.  In the second verse, he starts flipping different styles and damn if he doesn't get your head nodding.  But like the other tracks here, it never fully congeals into a proper song.

A strong producer could've pushed this material across the finish line and left us with some solid Kool Moe Dee bangers as he strutted away from Jive.  Just listen to "Good Times" he made the same year for the Zebrahead soundtrack with LG Experience.  But instead these feel like failed experiments left wriggling on the laboratory floor.  As a fan who grew up with Kool Moe Dee, I'm glad now that they were released so that we can sample them, if only as curiosities.  There's promise in each of them.  But they're still as unfulfilled as I remembered them.