Continuing chronologically through my hip-hop cassette single rewind, I now find myself in 1992. At this time, I was almost exclusively purchasing hip-hop or R&B/Pop (e.g. Prince, Mary J. Blige) cassettes and CDs. I was listening to other music beyond these genres but my money was primarily spent here and here only. My re-introduction to rock, after casting it aside in the late 80s, wouldn’t come to fruition until the following year when I arrived at college. There was a lot of great hip-hop released in ’92 but the cassette singles I bought that year didn’t necessarily reflect what songs and albums from that year that stand the test of time.
Besides them all being east coast produced, another thing I noticed with the 5 singles I bought in ’92, are the tragedies or unhappy endings that either precluded, or followed most of these artists. I’ll touch on what specific tragedies I’m referring to along with each “review”.
Boogie Down Productions – We In There
BDP had been a staple in my tape deck since I saw “My Philosophy” on Yo! MTV Raps back in ’88. With their 5th (and final) album, Sex & Violence, the general feeling was that BDP had finally fulfilled the promise of creating a complete, dope album with strong production and a cohesive concept from beginning to end. A 4.5 mic review in The Source certainly indicated this album was potentially their best. In retrospect, this “fact” has sparked fan discussion and has remained up for heavy debate (I personally prefer Criminal Minded). One of the key singles from the album, “We In There”, was released as a remix by A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad along with producer Beetle. ATCQ were riding high from The Low End Theory’s critical and commercial success the year prior, so adding Muhammad’s strong & distinctive production for this remix was reason enough for me to pick up the cassette single.
The remix is hard hitting and adds aspects of the original recording with new production touches to create a new sound, which good remixes tend to do. To add additional purchase incentive, BDP included a non-album track, “Feel the Vibe, Feel the Beat” as the B-side. This is another track where KRS-1 rails against fake MCs and fake hip-hop, a common theme in his music. KRS sounds strong as usual on this track and the beat is effective, if unremarkable.
We In There (Remix) – 3.5/5
Feel The Vibe, Feel The Beat – 3/5
The tragedy that followed BDP/KRS-1 throughout their career(s) was of course, the murder of BDP co-founder Scott LaRock back in 1987. In the wake of LaRock’s death, BDP chose not to fold the group after their debut, Criminal Minded broke them onto the New York hip-hop scene. Lead rapper & songwriter KRS-1 picked up the pieces post tragedy and released By All Means Necessary in 1988, which included one of their most enduring singles, “My Philosophy”. LaRock remained an important presence for the group, even in death. As the back of the “We In There” single indicated, it was “Overseen by Scott LaRock, despite what others might think!”
Chi Ali – Roadrunner
Chi Ali was, by a long shot, the youngest member of the famed Native Tongues collective (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, etc.) when his Beat Nuts produced debut (and only) LP, The Fabulous Chi-Ali, was released in 1992. At only 14-15 years old when the album was recorded, Chi’s voice was still going through changes. His record label Relativity/Violator wanted to take advantage of his deeper vocal range that occurred after the recording of the album version of “Roadrunner” and Chi went back into the studio to re-record new vocals that would accompany the “Puberty Mix” recorded in ’92 after his 16th birthday. The “Roadrunner Puberty Mix”, like BDP’s “We In There” remix was also produced by A Tribe Called Quest (likely either a combination of Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad or just Q-Tip) which elevated the song significantly and was THE reason to buy this cassette single. Sure’s Chi-Ali’s voice is less grating thanks to puberty but at the end of the day, ATCQ could do no wrong in ’92 and the beat was fire.
I was eating up anything ATCQ were associated with at the time, even a remix of an average single from an average album. The ATCQ “Puberty Mix” included Tribe’s signature spacey synths and drumbeats along with some chopped up horn samples. Overall, a great treatment to what could have otherwise been a forgettable track. The cassette single also included an instrumental of the “Puberty Mix” version of “Roadrunner”, in case the strong beat was all you really gave a shit about plus another album track, “The Fabulous Chi”.
Roadrunner (LP Version) – 2.5/5
Roadrunner (Puberty Mix) – 3.5/5
The tragedy that followed Chi Ali after his short lived rap career occurred when he was only 23 years old. In 2000, Chi Ali shot and killed the brother of his girlfriend at the time and he spent over a year on the run from the law before being apprehended in 2001. He served nearly 12 years of a 14 year sentence and was released from prison in 2012.
Chubb Rock – The Big Man
Chubb Rock’s 1991 LP, The One, was a breakthrough for him but the album version of “The Big Man” wasn’t as big of a hit as “Treat ‘Em Right”. However, it was the “Smooth Vocal” remix of “The Big Man” that certainly made a mark on Yo! MTV Raps and hip-hop radio when it was released as a single in ’92. One of the reasons for its success was the strong radio ready production by Clark Kent and Sean Wan for Supermen Productions. They used a smooth Tavares R&B sample that really took the song to another level sonically and gave it more depth. The original Howie Tee production was tight but a little boring/simple and the “Smooth Vocal” mix was the version on the radio, on TV and in my tape player.
The Big Man (Smooth Vocal) – 4/5
Truth be told, Chubb Rock’s post early 90s life has been pretty stable with no notable tragedy or violence. Congrats Big Man!
Gang Starr – Take It Personal
Gang Starr’s third album, Daily Operation, was one of the most anticipated and highly regarded releases of 1992. “Take It Personal” was a no-bullshit banger which included one of DJ Premier’s most relentless beats. The way he chopped up and looped piano and drum machine samples in addition to scratching the “take it personal” sample within an inch of its life was/is legendary and immediately recognizable as a Gang Starr beat. The version of “Take It Personal” that was released for this cassette single was the album version, nothing edited, nothing added. Side A included an instrumental track as well.
The real reason to purchase this single if you already had Daily Operation was the B-side, “Dwyck”, a posse cut with Nice n’ Smooth. The title “Dwyck” is a meaningless slang term used as a silly response to “what’s up”, similar to how one might answer that question with “Deez Nuts”. The lyrics dropped by MC’s Guru, Greg Nice and Smooth B are clever battle or free-style rhymes but even more so than on “Take It Personal”, the beat used for “Dwyck” is a simple, repetitive, but hard as nails drum beat complete with more of DJ Premier’s scratching of the samples that make up the hook. The rest of side B includes a “Dwyck” instrumental track as well as an other instrumental of the basic drum track with added horn stabs for good measure. “Dwyck” would later be featured on Gang Starr’s 4th album, Hard to Earn in 1994.
Take It Personal – 5/5
Dwyck (feat. Nice n’ Smooth) – 5/5
The tragedy that befell Gang Starr was the untimely and early death of the group’s rapper/lyricist, Guru. Guru passed away in 2010 at age 48 after falling into a coma from cardiac arrest during cancer surgery. Guru was a super talented MC that had a distinctive voice and a flair for vivid imagery and was much too young to leave us.
Heavy D. & the Boyz – Peaceful Journey
The title track to Heavy D & the Boyz’s 3rd album, 1991’s Peaceful Journey, was released as a single in ’92 after previous hits “Is It Good to You”, “Now That We Found Love” and “Don’t Curse” already found their way onto the pop, R&B and rap charts. “Peaceful Journey”, produced by band member, DJ Eddie F, is a good song that touches on death in general and the process of accepting and moving on from the death of a loved one. The version on side-A of the cassette single is the album version, so it was something I already had when I bought it.
The real reason I bought this single was for the B-side, the non-album track, “You Can’t See What I Can See”. Heavy D had been previously known for his new-jack swing/rap hybrid style and was always considered a pop rapper with clout. “You Can’t See….” builds off the success of the album posse cut, “Don’t Curse”, which in spite of its G-rated concept, was a strong track with a heavy hip-hop beat and aggressive rhyming from all involved. “You Can’t See…” could also be found as the B-side to “Don’t Curse” but I came across it as the B-side to “Peaceful Journey” instead.
With its heavy, thumping drum track and Flavor Flav sample (“You’re blind baby”), this Dr. Cuess, Heavy D and Puff Daddy produced track was one of the dopest, and definitely the hardest Heavy D track he had ever released. Despite it only being a B-side, the song received a music video and plenty of Yo! MTV Raps airplay in ’92, which caused a lot of hip-hop fans to run out and grab either this single or the “Don’t Curse” single in ’92.
Peaceful Journey – 3/5
You Can’t See What I Can See – 4.5/5
The tragedy that led up to Peaceful Journey’s creation and release was the accidental death of Heavy D & the Boyz group member, Trouble T-Roy (Troy Dixon). Dixon passed away after falling 2 stories at an Indianapolis concert venue post-show in 1990. The entire Peaceful Journey album, not to mention several other notable songs from other artists (e.g. “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”), was dedicated to Trouble T-Roy and an air of sadness permeated this record and all remaining Heavy D & the Boyz albums in the 90s as a result of this tragedy.
Additionally, and equally tragic due to his young age, Heavy D passed away in 2011 at the age of 44 due to a pulmonary embolism that likely originated as a blood clot in one of his legs after a long airplane trip. Another hip-hop talent gone too soon.