When this album dropped it got a lot of play from me. It’s worth mentioning that 1988 was a hard year to compete for time in your Box (that’s a tape player for your young-uns), there was a lot of amazing albums dropping. Truthfully, Raheem wasn’t as intricate of a rhyme writer or have the most engaging style as other MCs that won my ear’s attention. Even the production, although interesting, didn’t blow me away. What the album did have was plenty of character. Where Raheem lacked, while still growing as an artist, he actively compensated with personality and raw talent.
The production has a real clean and vibrant sound and is credited to Karl Stephenson & James Smith. The album’s first three tracks give co-production credit to Davy D. I’m not 100% sure if that is the same Davy D from Queens, who has his own string of classics and otherwise impressive Hip Hop contributions, but I feel it might be safe to assume so. His early production work was known to seamlessly mix drum machines, turntables and live instrumentation, which is exactly what “The Vigilante” album does very well. I also love how the inside credits outlines all the studio equipment used to make the album. I remember reading that and being very excited to learn more about what they were using and dreamed of one day working with some of those same tools.
Another point of intrigue was Raheem’s age, which he reveals on the first single, “Dance Floor”, with the line, “16 years of fury is in effect!” It was inspirational to hear young MCs still in High School making quality records*. The music foundation on “Dance Floor” is very bright and bouncy. It has a touch of a New Jack Swing feel, but the raw drums, blunt scratching, and space age keyboards keep it from being too commercial. The prominent soundscape is an Eddie Kendricks “Keep On Trucking” sample, as Raheem kicks a series of battle rhymes and tough talk. Not all the battle rhymes are completely random as he throws out a few direct shots like “Jack The Ripper’s a punk” and “They call you Run/You were running at a early age, Dum Diddy Dum.”**
On the eleven-track album, there are three songs that I would generally always skip, two of which are the next couple songs on then album. Both tracks have him in player mack mode. I generally aren't interested in those types of tracks and these are no exception. One of the tracks, “Freak To Me”, does have a pretty interesting beat. It sounds like it would make a fitting Remix for the Teddy Riley produced “New Generation” by The Classical Two.
“Punks Give Me Respect” reveals one skill and another interest of Raheem, humor and Reggae music respectively. The beat is a slow Reggae groove with a driving guitar on the breaks. The lyrics are simple, but memorable as he delivers a fair share of outlandish comments. Listening now, I recognize that at least a couple of those are rather inappropriate, but I think his demeanor, which is a bit hard to take completely serious, made me overlook that. As an added bonus, if you thought his “Jack The Ripper” diss in “Dance Floor” was too indirect, he makes his beef crystal clear with an unapologetic, “Never rocking a a bell/Baddest dude to catch an attitude, F**k LL.”
“You’re The Greatest” is the third song that I would traditionally skip. It’s his love song and was just too soft for me to enjoy back in the day when I was hungry for raw lyricism. Listening now does give a new appreciation. The song still isn’t great, but it is actually a well-written and heart-felt sounding story. It outlines the story of a young Raheem trying to win the affection of woman, who has the utmost respect and admiration for, but already has her eyes on a older and more successful “full grown man.”
That puts us at the end of Side One, which reveals a huge problem with the record and that is that most all of the best tracks are on Side Two. It seems as if they purposely put all his potential commercial hits on one side and the underground joints on the flip. It made it convenient to focus on just playing one side of the tape I suppose, but not really a great way to format an album overall.
“Shotgun”, which became the second single, takes this album to new heights. It builds on that space age feel that I mentioned earlier or as Raheem puts it, “Never did you think to make a all Hi-Tech jam!” Imagine Roland TR-808 cowbells echoing in space, a variety of heavy electric guitars, outer-wordly synthesizers, and a touch of other studio tricks. Raheem sounds perfectly confident as he drops some science on the importance of artists knowing how to handle their business, “The world of Rap keeps moving so my Posse stands real strong/But we was dissed, therefore we don’t get along/You know time, Yo, it’s time to think Rap-A-Lot/And all you other crews, this is what you got/A pocket full of money, you were screwed on a contract/I read the same one, look boy, read that!/Percentage a small one, you better look son/But now you’ve signed, real dumb, real dumb/Managers laughing, teeth are chattering/You’re all alone with the record that’s shattering/Hitting every city, on the stage looking pretty/Flirting with the girls acting so high saditty/Party people waiting for your boss to unfold you/That’s just publicity, that’s what they told you/Laughing in your face acting friendsy, frenzy/You’re on the subway, me in a Benz see/Rapping on your records like you’re really paid in full/All the time you’re as hungry as a pitbull/You wanna be a star, bragging on the next man/Never did you think to make a all Hi-Tech Jam!” That is arguably the best verse on the album and “Shotgun” was certainly one of my favorite tracks. I remember blasting it in front of my High School, but turning down the breaks because I wasn’t so confident or secure about those raging guitar solos…ha.
“The Vigilante” keeps it simple with some stripped down drums for the verses and adds some dramatically replayed “S.W.A.T” theme music on the breaks. Raheem is just flaunting style and claiming his right to be in control of the mic and the self-professed, “Lord of all that’s writ.”
I recognize “You’re On Notice” as the album stand out track. It is not significantly lyrically better than “Shotgun”. It’s not even as musically dynamic. In fact, it shines mainly for the same reasons that this album does, character. The uptempo beat is a winning soundtrack for highway driving, courtesy a reworking of the Batman theme music. The scratched up James Brown “Get Up, Get Into it, Get Involved” on the breaks gives a B-Boy feel. Despite my comment about the lyrics above, “You’re On Notice” does have some of the best punchlines, but “Shotgun” has better structured verses, so it’s a matter preference. Raheem does display the best use of his flow here though. He comes out swinging from the opening line, “I put the beats to work and make the tweeters chirp/This ain’t a style, it’s a form of a man beserk!” However, perhaps my favorite line and flow on the album comes on the final verse, “The connoisseur of literature, backbone of a matador/Yes, I’m the killer of the sucker unaccounted for!”
The album comes to a close with two though-provoking selections. “Peace” is slow-paced, mellow and musical with a Reggae touch. Raheem details a series of stories filled with violence, struggle, drug addiction, and more. He never glorifies them. Instead he condemns those lifestyles and hopes we can eventually strive for “Peace”.
“Say No” takes a similar line of thinking, but picks up the pace, intensifies the style, and rather than merely view on the sidelines hoping for change, he decides to get involved and bring forth some of those results himself. While “Shotgun” clearly hints at gunplay, the only song were Raheem actually uses a weapon is on “Say No” when he guns down a drug dealer for selling drugs to kids who have come to admire the drug dealers flashy lifestyle. More than any other song on the album, “Say No” exposes his story-writing ability. He flawlessly weaves together grim stories of drug dealers who each meet their demise in the end. It’s an excellent balance of content and style. He displays some of the best early examples of a roll of the tongue style and I love his excellent use of a Jamaican accent. I liked this song from the moment I got the album, but it was honestly a few years later when I revisited the album that it really hit me. The beat has a unique Reggae rhythm with sprinkled in Steel Drums, Roland TR-808 snares, handclaps, reverse effects, and that classic Jamaican Guitar sound. These days it’s definitely my favorite track and the one I’m most likely to play for at least a couple of reasons; entertainment and DJ sets.
The CD version of the album has a bonus track called “Venom”. DJ Venom is the official DJ on the album (although some scratching is credited to Davy D, but it doesn’t specify who did which). “Venom” is Dub styled track, that has a very busy sound and although it suggests it’s the DJ theme song, there’s not a whole lot of scratching, mostly a variety of samples.
Later in the year after this album released, Raheem had a song featured on a movie soundtrack. The film was “Lost Angels” which featured AdRock (Beastie Boys) and Donald Sutherland. Raheem has what I believe to be the only Rap song on the soundtrack, alongside The Cure, Soundgarden, Soul Asylum, etc… The song, “Self Preservation” comes off better than most, and some ways everything, on his album. It pairs thick layered drums with a nicely placed “Funky Drummer” loop, a taste of Mountain “Long Red”, some commanding Rock guitars and the captivating words of Malcolm X. The lyrics show the world already weighing on Raheem’s mind. He’s already prone to give up on the hopeful sentiments proposed on his album. He questions, “Peace? Ain’t no peace in reality/Save that dream I’m going to stick to brutality!” For those that wish to debate his logic, he offers, “Pick up your paper and show me a peace sign/Day after day it’s the same ole headline/Someone’s dead, either a nine or twelve guage/They’re so current till it don’t make the front page.”
He continues with two more powerful quotes in verse two, “Look at the truth, then look at the image projected/Then you’ll see why the youth don’t accept it” and “Fact is fact, don’t try to blame the Rap/Because you can’t blame me for a world wide setback.” Each verse ends with the uncompromising words of Malcom X, “The First law of nature, that’s Self-Preservation!”
“Self-Preservation” had me excited for a follow up album to “The Vigilante”. Evidence suggested that Raheem was already improving as a lyricist, so a better album was highly likely. However, due to issues with his record label, A&M Records his sophomore album didn’t see the light of day until four years later, courtesy of Rap-A-Lot. This time being recognized as “The Invincible”, Raheem indeed did show growth as an MC. However, where “The Vigilante” maintained a balance of content, “The Invincible” went out guns blazing into gangster terroitory.
*Another interesting tid bit of info is that Raheem originally was a member of the Ghetto Boys a.k.a Geto Boys. That's something that I've seen mentioned a few times. I don't know when he was a member, for how long or if he actually recorded demos with them. I just know it was previous to this album and presumably before any of the Ghetto Boys a.k.a Geto Boys records that released. If that is the case that would put him at like age 14 or so as a Ghetto Boy...
**The verbal shots to LL Cool J and Run makes it a bit weird for him to be working with Davy D, who was connected to both MCs thru connections of their hometown, Queens, NY and association with Russell Simmons.
Written By Kevin Beacham