The first thing I remember thinking when I bought “Kool & Deadly” is, “I wonder why Just-Ice completely abandoned Mantronik for the album production?” It wasn’t a huge issue, even though KRS One hadn’t quite yet established himself as a producer. In fact, this album is probably the most pivotal piece of him doing just that. However, the idea of them teaming up was of intrigue. The common ground of KRS and Just-Ice merging the worlds of Hip Hop and Reggae lent heavily to the direction of this album, sonically and vocally.
The song that best captures this is “Lyric Licking”, which I definitely consider one of the all-time best Hip Hop Reggae songs. The beat is pretty perfect, but simple. The foundation is bouncy drums with a light bassline and a touch of horn. Every once in a while during the verse things will thicken up with a full bassline, steel drums, and additional accents on the snares. Just-Ice attacks the mic with so much style, variety, and poise, displaying his superior chatting skills, with a heavy dosage of Echo Chamber..so necessary. At the time, I always considered it the start of what would become the Roll Of The Tongue style in Hip Hop*.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/07-Lyric-Licking.mp3|titles=07 Lyric Licking]
“Moshitup” flips a Reggae beat in a similar vein of “The Bridge Is Over” and features KRS One and Just-Ice trading verses. Truthfully, it doesn’t sound like KRS One or Just-Ice were really trying to go all-out lyrically, but more like they are just catching the vibe and having fun. The result is still fantastic. KRS One switches back in forth from chatting and dropping some quick conceptual lyric pieces on vegetarianism and the MCs who are stuck doing “Nuthin’ New, Nuthin’ New…” Just-Ice sticks to strictly chatting and sounds the most natural of the two in that department.
The title track, “Kool & Deadly” reunites Just-Ice with his partner in crime from “Back To The Old School”, The Original Human Beatbox DMX. DMX kicks a bare vocal drum track, but drops in these ill drum rolls that show his finesse. Just-Ice is just kicking some freestyle type rhymes. This sounds like it would be a perfect routine for rocking at a park jam. The crowd effects, used thru out, lend to the suggestion too. There’s also dialog in the breaks that slowly becomes part of the background behind the last verse, eventually getting so loud they are nearly drowning out the verse. It’s intriguing as a concept, but does make it difficult to fully appreciate the lyrics and it’s one of the few braggadocio tracks on the album. It would have been nice to have an alternate version and have this be the “Live In The Park Remix” or something to that effect.
The lead single, “Going Way Back”, is also the album opener and sets the tone for this record; minimal but distinctive drums, subtle break-beat usage, the musical influences of Jamaica, an ongoing profession of love for the Culture and the importance of acknowledging its history, and the powerful and strong-arm presence of Just-Ice.
My favorite track is easily “On The Strength”. It’s essentially basic drum pattern, but it has this bugged out rolling bass drum that abruptly ends with a quick studder-step pattern that just sounds refreshing. The only other added elements are some background noises that sound like someone working in a coalmine, marching footsteps and some dragging low tone voices that come in occasionally with the entrancing, “Hey Oh, Yo Ice. Hey Oh, Yo Ice…” Building off “Going Way Back”, Just-Ice drops more science on the days of old. He’s name dropping key clubs and unsung Pioneers, “To begin these chapters and make it complete/To all of the vets that kept up the beat/I’m giving dedication and music contribution/To all the Pioneers that stuck right thru this/ Thru thick or thin, however or when/Watching each others back because we’re more than friends/Back then hanging out the T-Connect/Where the best get respect and you get yours correct/The Back Door, Ecstasy Garage to deliver/P.A.L and the one, Bronx River/Yo, this is a fact and it must be told/That the Hip Hop history can never go old/So for all of you people that think you know/About the sound that was out a long time ago/Y’all don’t know jack, no if or maybes/I was rocking in the park when your a** was a baby/Peace to ones, the ones who started it/Added on to, perfected, but never did part with it…”
His passion for the Culture is piercing in such vivid detail when he proclaims, “This way of music that goes much deeper/Than a bass bottom boom, a hi-hat tweeter/Some brothers I know gave their life/So you know I’m not joking, don’t even think twice…” When the verse ends with “I’m willing to die for this”, it’s believable.
The second verse changes modes to flex more of his verbal prowess and technique, “Chance was blown, time was denied/You go to war with Just it’s like committing suicide/You sucker MCs, You toy joy rappers/Take heed to my wisdom, a few more factors/Have a sucker on my back I can’t afford/Give praise to the master, the MC lord/The greatest of the great on any subject/the epitome of science, the high intellect/Party rock on a stage when I’m doing a show/The most pressing of them all, you know how that go/I got a style that’s hard, a temper untamed/Saying lyrics that’s raw, make ‘em stick in your brain/I was born to destroy, never face to defeat/6’3” of terror, 11 gold teeth/All puppy(?) MCs who still want more/ I no longer have battles, it’s a rhythmic war…” What we have here is pure savage intelligence.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Just-Ice-On-The-Strength-radio-version.mp3|titles=Just Ice-On The Strength (radio version)]
The album also has an updated version of “The Original Gangster Of Hip Hop”. I’m not sure exactly what the motivation was for this. The Gangster Rap explosion hadn’t quite happened yet so it doesn’t seem like he needed to stake his claim with a reminder. It didn’t bother me though, I welcomed it because it is really a better version. His words have more clarity and there are some additional lyrics that added to the intensity. The Original DMX also adds some additional elements to the Human Beatboxing that improve on the original. The most noticeable difference is that he has made it far more profane. The more low-key sexual explicitness of the original version is taken to a XXX level here. The only other key difference is him stopping the rhyming in mid-verse to delete his shouts-outs from the first version and the lyrics become, “Diss Tragic Magic and throw him away, because we’re not down together as one big fam”. Tragic Magic being a reference to Radio Legend Mr. Magic who was in the midst of a war with KRS One, so perhaps it was loyalty to him that inspired the remake**.
For the album’s second single there was a unique approach, the A-side was a track not featured on the album, “Na Touch Da Just”. I can see that looking at the album there was no obvious second single to push that would really make the album bigger. It’s a great raw Hip Hop album, not really prime for the club or Pop radio, so it made sense to find another direction. The strange thing is that the new track certainly wasn’t likely to break any new ground either. “Na Touch Da Just” is a seven plus minute reggae chatting song that has Just-Ice flipping styles over a variety of backing beats provided by KRS One. This is probably the most pure Reggae song that Just-Ice ever did. Actually, it’s more like a collage of song snippets all strung together to form a Reggae medley.
The B-side track is the “Freedom Of Speech ’88 Single Edit”. It’s only slightly different from the album version. It uses the same primary music pieces, but rather than sample them, they are cut up by the DJ. It gives the song a rawer feel. It is also arranged differently with a series of breakdowns and acapella pieces and there is an overall better sound quality. Similar to the “Cold Gettin’ Dumb” Remix, it is successful in making only slight changes, but noticeably improving the song.
While the debut album had 3 songs about women in one way or another, “Kool & Deadly only reserves one song for the topic. “Booga Bandit Bi**h”, sounds like a KRS One track produced from fragments of some Mantronik ideas and It’s sort of a topical combination of 2 of those previous songs. The first verse paints a scenario similar to “Latoya”. While the second verse takes on a less profane rendition of “That Girl Is A Slut”. Once again the level of lyricism is in top form. In some aspects it’s the most lyrical song on the album. The track is just loaded with great quotes, starting with the opening line that lays it on the line, “This fascinating drama I’m about tell/It’s based on facts and exact as well.” He also changes focuses every once and a while to speak on his MC craft, by finding loose ways to keep it relevant to the theme, “I possess immortal power by the way I defeat/I’m ambidextrous to a rhythm that’s hard like concrete/When I’m on the mic there won’t be no debate/Cause my anger and humor it will fluctuate/ When I didn’t even know you I tried to speak/But your ignorant response made it incomplete/Tried to be real nice, arouse the talk/I heard a stupid response then I started to walk/Because my time’s consumed with energetic goals/When with radiant rhymes that always glow…”
Surely the title leaves no mystery that this song is not going to please the feminist community. Yet he also makes a point of saying that his comments are direct to a specific person and later a specific type of person, not gender in general. Do what you will with that. However, the best surprise is in the last verse where literally out of nowhere it becomes a bit of a battle rhyme for approximately the next two minutes. That is the spontaneous nature of Just-Ice or as he ends the song and album saying, “That’s that Old School Sh**”.
The CD reissue of “Kool & Deadly (Justicizms)” features the original 8-tracks, plus the “Freedom Of Speech ‘88” (12” Single Edit). It seems the general consensus is this Just-Ice at this best. Everything from the music to the cover (focused on his mouth full of gold) reveals the nature of Just-Ice; menacing, fierce, humorous, stylish, and proud of his Jamaican Roots!
Tomorrow we’ll explore album number three, “The Desolate One”!
*Obviously, the “Roll Of The Tongue” style was initially influenced by Jamaican Chatting. Also, much later I finally heard High Potent MCs “HP Gets Busy” with The Jaz and a young Jay-Z doing some “Tripling” styles which are similar to the Roll Of The Tongue, so they may have been the first, at least on record.
**The odd thing here is that the original versions shout-outs didn’t have anything to do with Mr. Magic. He says, “If you want to save this for a rainy day/Play my boy T La Rock or Crime Master Toure…” So I’m not sure if there was some significance of not mentioning them as well or he just merely used the opportunity to diss Mr Magic. Also, for those who don’t know Crime Master Toure = MC Tee of Mantronix.