My first time hearing Nice & Smooth*, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. I picked up their debut Cassingle for Fresh Records**, “More and More Hits” b/w “Early To Rise” and there was definitely something different about it.
The A-Side was a basic loop of Mary Jane Girls “All Night Long” with both MCs doing some sing-song lyrics for the ladies. It was catchy, but not really my style. The flipside cranked up the energy and was more suited to my taste. It’s also a better representation of their MCs abilities. Greg Nice is one of the early masters of abstract rhyming, after Rammellzee and alongside Ultramagnetic MCs and others. Meanwhile, Smooth B earns his namesake with every verse. You are hard-pressed to find a cooler man on the mic and he possesses one of rap music’s greatest voices. Ultimately, “Early To Rise” is also a song about getting the ladies, so I wasn’t completely sold, but it definitely sparked some interest.
When I saw the full length, self-titled album, I didn’t hesitate to pick it up. The album starts with “Early To Rise” and goes right into the R&B-ish Ballad, “Something I Can’t Explain”. However, before I could fully regret my buying decision track #3 puts me in my place…
“Perfect Harmony” is probably my favorite track on the album and single-handed took me from “unsure” to fan, with one listen. They start off with some harmonizing, suggesting they might be going into another R&B number, but then flip the script with a hyped up-tempo beat, that cleverly flips King Floyd’s “Groove Me”. Greg Nice comes in with his trademark stream of conscious style, “Humor, I’ll make you laugh/go take a bath, you don’t know the half/of my structure, it’s like a skyscraper/Greg Nice, not a comic book caper/Like Bruce Wayne or even Dick Grayson/I’m not Freddie and I’m not Jason/I hate basing, chasing clouds of illusion/Mass confusion, what drugs are you using…” Say What? In just a few bars he disses the suckers, drops a few DC Comics & Horror film references, and sends out an anti-drug message, all before going into another tale of skeezing.
Smooth B immediately follows with, “Rhyme, Rhymes, Rhymes, I just write rhymes”, but that’s as simple as it gets. From there he drops a series of jewels, classic quotes, subtle advanced techniques of word placement, and superior delivery. Proof? How about “Deny me is like fronting on Jesus” or his threat that he’s “subtracting cells from your brain” or the casual way he throws in a “uh huh” mid-swift flow, just to co-sign his own point…
Nice & Smooth-Perfect Harmony:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/03-Perfect-Harmony.mp3|titles=03 Perfect Harmony]
“We Are No. 1” mellows things out again for a quick second and comes off a bit like a “More And More Hits” Part Two with a Joe Cocker sample, the crooning of Pure Blend, and more raps about the ladies.
Then to take it back to the lyrics and abstract styles, “No Delayin” comes in with a Big Daddy Kane vocal sample, “Oh yeah, I’m with this” and the eerie samples of ESG’s “UFO”, before bridging into a nice mixture of samples; drums from Lafayette Rock Band (“Hihache”) and an intro piece from Prince “Starfish and Coffee”. The breaks drive the title home with Slick Rick, courtesy of “The Show” and DJ Teddy Ted makes great scratch work of Bob James “Nautilus” for a grand finale. Some many classic songs and artists excellently arranged thru out the song.
As for the lyrics, Greg Nice steps in with his classic, “Kicking wicked rhymes like a fortune teller” and then later explains his style with, “Got more songs than a record store/Some is sniffing and some is buffing/some is riffing, some ain’t saying nothing, but my pockets I am stuffing.” Smooth B’s verse on “No Delayin” is why I give him credit for possibly being the first to really speak on spirituality in Hip Hop. He touches on it with his opening, “My rhymes express awareness” and then drives it home with lines such as, “I’m at the top of the pile/ because my long rhymes span infinite miles/I’m building a new level/Thru bass and treble, I will abolish the devil”. He sprinkles a few more jewels later in the verse as well.***
Nice & Smooth-No Delayin':
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/05-No-Delayin.mp3|titles=05 No Delayin']
“Funky For You” is probably their most popular song. The foundation uses the classic “Impeach The President” drums by the Honeydrippers and tops it with a less obvious Parliament sample, courtesy “Do That Stuff”. Smooth D further cements himself as the Smooth talking, spiritual B-Boy from the streets of the South Bronx, with great quotes such as, “Smooth B, Notorious…glorious/Knowledge is infinite, I live in a fortress/I’m so astronomical, yet in the physical plane/My body’s just a shell, and in control is my brain/I strain to gain spirituality, so I can finally be…in unity/Harmony with thee, all eye seeing Supreme Being/Knower of histories and mysteries/I’m mystic, also stylistic/Not materialistic, simplistic/Humble…” When I heard that I bugged out. He was dropping knowledge in a whole different way, bragging about self-improvement. Most “conscious rap” sought to tell YOU what you should be doing in YOUR life, not how they could improve self. I admired his introspective look at things, on their “hit” song none-the-less.
To this day when I see the title “Skill Trade” my brain instantly expects that to be a stunning lyrical display, but they are more in story mode and laid back with an Old School vibe.
The rest of the album covers a range of topics and moods; “Ooh Child” is a dedication to their DJ, Teddy Ted (of the Awesome Two). “Gold” professes their love for the big thick gold chains that were a rap star standard of the time. “Dope Not Hype” kicks the tempo several notches past most anything else on the album and let’s them kick it freestyle. “Sum Pimped Out Sh**” is the album closer and is the only explicit track on the album. Although, tales of ladies and physical pleasure are touched on all thru out the album, it’s mostly pretty PG-13. They take it to the next level in the albums final minutes.
“Nice & Smooth” and “Dope On A Rope” appear back to back near the end of the album and oddly both use Yellowman’s “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng”. In any event, each track shines individually and probably would stand out more effectively if sequenced differently on the album. “Dope On The Rope” is actually one of my favorite tracks on the album. It features what is probably the best example on this album of Greg Nice’s party-rocking style that is still the way he is best remembered and also contains one of Smooth B’s best verses on the LP as well.
I often wondered if the album was rushed to get out, which might explain some of the small, but noticeable issues such as reused samples, some similar songs, and not the best song sequencing. That said, the album is definitely not without a few mis-steps, but there’s still plenty of cutting edge lyrics & styles. At the best moments, the production is creative, hardcore, and yet danceable. I suppose that is one of their greatest assets; being able to push the limits and showcase their “Skill Trade” while still keeping it “Funky For You” to ultimately come up with “More And More Hits”…
Bonus Joint: “No Bones In Ice Cream” is the bonus B-Side on the “More And More Hits” 12”. The hook, based on the title, perfectly illustrate they are on a different plane of thought. Plus it’s here where Smooth B drops his infamous line, “After the tour quits, we come back with more hits”, that was cut up for the class collaboration with Gang Starr, “Dwyck”.
Nice & Smooth-No Bone In Ice Cream:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/03-No-Bones-In-Ice-Cream.mp3|titles=03 No Bones In Ice Cream]
*That does not include hearing Greg Nice kill it with his Human Beat Box skills on a series of T LA Rock tracks, including his solo masterpiece “3 Minutes Of Beatbox”.
**They did drop an indie single earlier on Strange Family Records with “Dope On A Rope” b/w “Skill Trade”, but I have never seen that single and didn’t hear those tracks until the album dropped.
***This verse is also were Common Sense grabbed his vocal sample for “Resurrection”.
Written By Kevin Beacham