Friday, 5 February 2010

One Time For The Rebel, or; why you need some Son Of Bazerk in your life

Every year or so, I’ll dig out Son Of Bazerk’s one and only release, Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk, and usually I’ll end up playing nothing else for about a week. It's not super-obscure or anything – after all, it came out via a major label and, although long-deleted, you can still find second-hand copies on Amazon here and in the US. Nevertheless, I do feel it’s massively under-appreciated, despite loads of people being up on it and waving the flag for how good a record it is. One of its most committed champions is Questlove of The Roots. Questo has, on several occasions, declared it to be one of his favourite albums of all time, placing it “next to Pet Sounds, Nation Of Millions, 1999, Here My Dear and the similarly neglected debut album by Son Of Bazerk’s labelmates, The Young Black Teenagers who, some of you may recall, were neither black nor teenagers (that Chuck D – what a kidder, eh?). I wish I knew what happened to my copy of that one…

Son Of Bazerk featuring No Self Control and The Band (to give them their full, unexpurgated handle) grew out of a Long Island rap crew called The Townhouse 3, who were managed by Sugar Bear of Don’t Scandalize Mine fame. One of the crew, T.A. (Tony Allen), became tight with the emcee for Spectrum City, a local soundsystem who also did a radio show on WBAU, the campus station for Adelphi College in Hempstead. Spectrum City eventually became Public Enemy, their emcee Chuck D staying in touch with Allen, and when PE founded their short-lived S.O.U.L. imprint with MCA, Allen (now christened Son Of Bazerk) was one of the first signings. Joined by The Almighty Jahwell, Sandman, Daddy Rawe and Cassandra a/k/a MC Halfpint (collectively No Self Control) and a DJ, The Band, they got stuck into their first album with The Bomb Squad producing (Incidentally, in an epic rap nerd fail, I only recently learned that the enigmatic Carl Ryder, the Bomb Squad member who never gave interviews and was never photographed, was a pseudonym for Chuck D). Anyway, as I remember it, the concept behind SOB was something akin to Public Enemy through a James Brown Live At The Apollo/old-school soul revue filter, with the emphasis on cross-genre hyperactivity rather than the black radicalism which PE had brought to the forefront of rap at the time. Not that the militancy had been toned down all that much, mind you – Allen’s lyrics are still pretty forthright, and only a little less hard-hitting and tightly-focused than those of his mentor.

Generally, though, the main reason Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk is held in such high regard by those familiar with it is because of the production. Alongside the aforementioned YBT album and Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, it’s probably the zenith of the mid-period Bomb Squad sound, still chaotic, but not quite so densely-layered as the first couple of Public Enemy albums. Yet in spite of how it crams so many styles - hip-hop, funk, metal, blues, dancehall, soul, electro, hardcore and so on - into one record, sometimes even one song, it's still probably one of the funkiest and, idiomatically speaking, blackest-sounding records the Bomb Squad ever made. Listening to it now, it also sounds like a last, glorious hurrah for the era of “fuck it, we’ll sample anything” Wild West recklessness within the realm of hip-hop production, before Grand Upright Music Ltd v. Warner Bros Records, Inc. finally brought the shutters down on the copyright free-for-all that had become a hallmark of rap’s so-called Golden Age. I’m usually lairy of the rose-tinted nostalgia through which many rap fans of my generation (more or less) attempt to make sense of the music’s past, but all the same, I do miss the days when it was all still relatively new and underground, all bets were off, notions of what hip-hop was or wasn’t hadn’t yet been set in stone, and the whole thing wasn’t being sold to you as another lifestyle option by the same people who’d have held it at arm’s length a decade earlier. Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk kind of reminds me of that time. It’s certainly not the kind of record that could be made now, and while it’s perhaps fair to say that a record like this oughtn’t to be made now, it wouldn’t do any harm for someone to try and match it for ambition.

Obviously Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk barely sold a tap when it came out, and with hindsight that probably had as much to do with the way in which hip-hop was beginning to change as it did with how awkward it might have been to market an act like Son Of Bazerk, who didn't much look or sound like whatever else was out there. In 1991 the majors hadn’t yet figured out whether or not they could make money out of gangsta rap, and were thus more likely to get behind the next NWA than the pre-existing SOB. As it turns out, there was a second Son Of Bazerk album recorded in 1994 that was never released. MC Halfpint (now a schoolteacher) has a YouTube channel under the name ‘rebelsista’, and she’s posted up a few tracks from it. It’s decent stuff, too. The production – upright bass samples and Power Of Zeus boom-bappin’ drums – leans more toward that mid-90s T-Ray/Lord Finesse/DITC sound, but there are still a few Bomb Squad-ish touches, although I’ve no idea if they were involved. The most heartening thing about it, though, is that it still sounds like Son Of Bazerk, which proves that it wasn’t all the work of The Bomb Squad. Tough as it must be to impose your personality upon career-best beats by one of the greatest production teams in hip-hop history, SOB managed it, and made a hugely enjoyable record in the process.

For those of you who like happy endings, I’ve discovered whilst writing this that SOB have reunited and are working on new material with PE’s Johnny Juice Rosado producing.

“Five, ten, fif-teen, twenny, twenny-five, thir-teeee...”


cosmobaker said...

Can't thank you enough for this post. "BBB" is without question one of my top ten rap albums of all time and also rates in the best of list cross genre.

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