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Bush Babees
Ruffneck Stylee
So to make the cipher complete, Mr. Man suggested adding a reggae toaster to the lineup. Enter a cat named Y-Tee, himself an immigrant from Jamaica. The trio called themselves Da Bush Babees, and after a few in..
Bush Babees: Ruffneck Stylee      by DJ VERB

Sometimes Mos Def and The Roots aren't enough...

 

Next to the category "Where Are They Now?" in which many goldern era rappers could be placed, I've created a category in my mind called, "What the fuck happened?" It's related to the former, yes, but the asking of it implies that something occurred that stunted the progress of a group that really should have made it further than it did. I tend to place Da Bush Babees such a category. In the here-today-gone-tomorrow world of hip-hop, putting out two whole albums (Ambushed and 1996's Gravity) is nothing to sneeze at, but a group with such potential should have at least made to three or four. Before we examine the wrong turn(s), let's take a look at that potential.

Da Bush Babees were founded by MC's Mr. Man and Babe-Face Kaos. Both were New Yorkers who were born and raised in Trinidad, and, as fate would have it, were drawn to each other after Mr. Man witnessed a live Kaos performance. The music of the West Indies, undoubtedly, influenced their hip-hop, so to make the cipher complete, Mr. Man suggested adding a full-time reggae toaster to the group. It ended up being a cat named Y-Tee, himself an immigrant from Jamaica. The trio called themselves Da Bush Babees, and after a few incendiary performances and live office auditions, they signed to Reprise records.

So far, so good, right? Lyrically, the group was a force to be reckoned with. Mr. Man and Kaos are both ruthlessly aggressive rhymers, ripping the mic a new one with every spit-soaked line. To his credit, Y-Tee is not only a chronic (pun intended) scene-stealer, but also an extension of the MC's already ragga-heavy style; a rude-bwoy stylee amplifier rather than just a gimmick. On the production side, Ambushed features head-banging contributions from the likes of Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Salaam Remi (credited here as Salaam Gibbs,) and a young Jermaine Dupri.

So WTFH? Why isn't this joint worshipped in the hallowed halls of hip-hop classic-dom alongside The Low End Theory and Bizarre Ride 2 tha Pharcyde? My theory is that Ambushed was the victim of overdone conference room conniving. Instead of letting the group flourish into its own thing, it seems the powers-that-be were just trying to mimic the success of contemporaneous releases. As dope as Mr. Man and Kaos are, at their most hyped they can't help but sound exactly like an Onyx posse cut featuring Lords of the Underground. They're capable of more subdued styles on cuts like "We Run Things (It's Like That)," but they continually fall back on harried rasps and references to carrying big bats.

Not that there's anything wrong with that; it's just not the most original approach. Their strong reggae style is cool, but the timing of this album's release reeks of cash-in. Reggae, especially the dancehall variety, was getting hot around this time. Chaka Demus & Pliers had set the world on fire with "Murder She Wrote" in 1993, and Born Jamericans' Kids From Foreign album, one of the most overt fusions of hip-hop and reggae, dropped the same year as Ambushed. I can hear the greedy A&R rubbing his hands and muttering, "this reggae thing is big right now, it's big I tells ya! The kids are gonna love it!"

Of course, I might be placing blame on the wrong party. Perhaps this was simply a case of jumping on the bandwagon. Onyx and LOTUG were blowing up the spot in 1993, so maybe the Babees were just overly-influenced by their local heroes. Another contributing factor is the fact that the production is good, but not great. There's plenty of head-crackin' drums and clever samples, but only rarely do they coalesce into a memorable track. The aptly-named "Ruff 'n Rugged" switches nicely between ill jazz bass loops and somber rhodes lines, and "Just Can't Stand It" benefits from heavily-layered strings and horns, but neither have yet to get stuck in my head.

"Remember We" and "Put It Down" get skewered on the end of their lame live keyboard sounds, while the Roots-esque "We Run Things" doesn't match the catchiness of material from said Illadelph ensemble. Things do come together on the jazz/hip-hop banger "Swing It" and the blistering "Pon De Attack," a near-perfect combo of rugged dancehall and razor-sharp hip-hop. For the most part, though, the onus is on Mr. Man and Kaos to give the listener that lasting hook. The two have punchlines galore, and their serious, well-thought-out being-black-in-America piece "Just Can't Stand It" is a definite highlight, but in the end, their shit is just not catchy enough.

Their second album, Gravity, was a more mellow, mature effort that featured production and guest shots from The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def, and others. It teemed with gems like "Love Song" and "S.O.S.," but like Ambushed, it failed to do much damage commercially. It seems they didn't make enough of a splash with their debut to garner the fans needed to blow properly with the sophomore effort. Had Ambushed been more of an expressive, varied affair, instead of a familiar hardcore retread, perhaps Da Bush Babees could have stayed on the map.

We got a glimpse of what might have been when Mr. Man made his show-stopping appearance on Reflection Eternal's 1997 classic "Fortified Live." Such performance should have created a demand for the trio's true-school sounds but alas, a Bush Babees reunion was not in the cards. For all its flaws, Ambushed remains a hardcore gem that deserves an occasional boom in any self-respecting hip-hop Jeep, Honda, Beemer, Legend, or Benz.

 

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