I admit, I've been off my writing game every since I got back from New York. A combination of coming back to mountains of work, plus since then I've acquired so much added research materials that I've been buried in studying and listening, rather than writing.
With that in mind, I didn't write a blog for today, but I just got the fantastic album, MC Shan "Born To Be Wild" back in stock. I remembered one of the first ever articles I wrote for the FE Blog was a review this, but I imagine most people missed it as I wasn't even promoting the blog yet, plus we didn't have the CD available to buy and it perfectly fits into our "Recommended Listening" section.
Here is it slightly updated...
I’m somewhat amazed by the fact that I may be in the minority in thinking that "Born To Be Wild" is clearly MC Shan’s best album. It’s just one of those things that has long bothered me. Not only that, but I know people who are fans of his earlier work that aren’t even really up on "Born To Be Wild". That could very well make MC Shan one of the most “unfairly” under-appreciated MCs of all time. By that I mean there are plenty of amazing talents who never got a chance to shine and most of those were only heard by a small select group of fanatics. On the other hand, MC Shan was once on top, but had a drastic change in position that is often viewed as a result of his war on wax with KRS One. It’s like people felt that if they were riding with KRS One, they couldn’t even check out Shan anymore. Ha. Worse yet, "Born To Be Wild" is MC Shan at his best. "Born To Be Wild" is among the best ’88 has to offer and could easily fall in the classic category.
All in all, it’s certainly one of Marley Marl’s best-produced full albums (I’d say only rivaled by LL Cool J "Mama Said Knock You Out"… maybe)*. Of course, albums such as the Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie debut albums are classic, , but at that time Marley Marl, like most producers of the time, was more or less just looping things at that point. It was here that he started to get more technical and creative.
The album comes out swinging with “I Pioneered This,” with Marley using the “Funky Penguin” drums to great effect. This beat has always captivated me. It's simple and subtle but has all the essentials: bass heavy, funky bass line, well arranged, and enough variations to keep it interesting (and then some). MC Shan holds up his end of the deal, delivering one of his all-time greatest vocal performances. Before this, many had toyed with the multi-syllabic style, but this was the first song I remember that perfects it. Nearly every line is a compound rhyme scheme and arguably some of the most creative ones up to that time, with lines like: "I'll sit back and write a rhyme stronger than Hercules/Funky parts I go back and circle these.”
The beats, battle rhymes, and tempo are intensified on “Juice Crew Law.” The rumors of Marley Marl making a lot of beats in the same week with the same sounds makes one wonder if this one was done within days of Kool G Rap’s “Poison.” MC Shan goes all out on this one, flexing his flare for style and charisma, particularly on the last verse, all the while discouraging the competition: “Suckers got the knack, but they lack my ability.” As an added bonus he takes another jab at KRS One with, “A sucker tried to violate law and I broke his/Albums, tapes, and his compact discs/And his boys stood around and said, ‘Yo he dissed you Kris’/Straight then I split like a hyphen/Cut you pieces without putting a knife in.”
“So Def” does the seemingly impossible in making a “Funky Drummer” sample sound refreshing in ’88 and then tops it all off with a clever use of a household funk standard, “Love Rollercoaster.” The lyrics take a more playful approach, relying more on flavor than complexity. I always thought this should have been a single.
A few of the album cuts have MC Shan reminiscing on the early days of Hip Hop in either style or content, sometimes both; “Words Of A Freestyle,” “They Used To Do It In The Park,” and “Back To Basics.” Although similar in theme, the songs are different enough in approach to stand on their own. The best of the batch is probably “Worlds Of A Freestyle” with blaring horns, chopped guitar lines, and spastic, yet controlled, drums. Lyrically, it’s an exercise in braggadocio with an impeccable flow. It comes to a close with a nice stutter-step style to capture the essence, as well as pay tribute to his classic, “The Bridge.”
Perhaps the most slept on joint here is “Go For Yours.” The drum programming and accompanying hi-hats on the breakdowns is pretty bonkers. It’s one of the first beats I remember listening to closely in order to try and understand what was going on. It’s his conscious song, but he still approaches it like a battle rap. He doesn’t just drop jewels for those in need, but he challenges the listener to get on his level… ha.
“Give Me My Freedom” debuted on Marley’s "In Control" album. It flips the “Get Up And Dance” sample while Shan urges the suckers to stop riding his jock so hard. The title track, “Born To Wild,” is another well-produced Marley beat. There are several bits and pieces dropping in and out the track. The first verse finds MC Shan rhyming from the perspective of a conversation with his conscience, which reminds him: “You rap for a living but you wish you could sing,” “You enjoy making music for the people to listen,” and “You acquired a rep now you’re labeled as villain.” Perhaps the highlight, by way of oddness, is the hook where Marley chops Steppenwolf’s famous line “Born To Be…” letting Shan finish it off with a somewhat awkward, “Wild, Wild.” MC Shan also takes a few shots at Rush Productions/Def Jam thru out the track, "Who needs a License To Ill, I was born to be wilding" (obviously in reference to the Beastie Boys ), "Never in a RUSH, I'm Cold Chillin", and taking it back to his old nemesis from "Beat Biter" with, "You never hear say I'm BAD, being wild is the sh**" (reference to LL's "I'm Bad" on Def jam) **
The album closes with “Never Rock A Party,” which is actually an excellent album-ending vibe, allowing Shan to “Debate Aristotle and question theories of Plato” and inform that his “Rhymes are mainly based on mathematical science.”
There’s only one other joint on the album, and truthfully, I don’t think I ever listened to the love song, “She’s Gone.” It just seemed out of place on the record. I guess I owe it a fair listen. However, if you have been sleeping on this album that doesn’t make us even ☺
Oddly enough I was just found a container full of old Rap Masters, Focus On Rap, and similar Rap Fan Zines from the 80s and 90s. In one of them there is a MC Shan interview right before this album drops and when they ask him his favorite songs on the album he mentions "She's Gone" as his favorite, with "I Pioneered This" as a second (which they incorrectly titled "As High As This" or something ridiculous like that, I had to use my decoder ring to figure it out). Not sure what he was thinking with that "She's Gone" choice, but he's definitely tripping...ha.
I also just picked up a CD version of MC Shan's third and last album, "Play It Again Shan" this past weekend. It's by no means a comparable album to this and I suppose the general consensus is that it is his worst album, but it has its moments. Upon listening to it this weekend I thought I should do a review on it also. If only to point out it's over-looked pluses and it's completely obvious flaws. I'll work on that soon....
The CD Reissue, courtesy of Traffic Entertainment, contains the 12" mixes to all the single tracks; "I Pioneered This", "Juice Crew", and "They Used To Do Out In The Park". As well as the "Juice Crew Law" Dub Version and "I Pioneered This" Acapella. It also sports a slightly different album cover than they original CD.
Go For Yours (Cause I'm Gonna Get Mine):
[audio:http://fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/05-Go-for-Yours-Cause-Im-Gonna-Get-Mine.mp3|titles=05 Go for Yours ('Cause I'm Gonna Get Mine)]
I Pioneered This:
[audio:http://fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/01-I-Pioneered-This.mp3|titles=01 I Pioneered This]
*Followed closely by Kool G Rap & Polo’s “Road To The Riches
** He also takes a stab at LL with his "Puma's the brand, cause the Klan makes Troops" and I assume his "taking out Rush, how? We know the ways" is another Def Jam/Rush jab... Both lines on "I Pioneered This"