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3rd Bass
Derelicts of Dialect
Derelicts of Dialect finds Pete & Serch mixing a number of styles and moods, but there's a more mature, focused vibe going on here. Even the album cover hints at the fact that shi..
3rd Bass: Derelicts of Dialect      by DJ VERB

Back from the Grill, going Gold, and that's wrap...

Besides being a bona fide classic from a purely musical perspective, 3rd Bass's The Cactus Album is an important Hip-Hop landmark. Prior to it, the only white boys on the Hip-Hop map were the Beastie Boys. Licensed to Ill is dope, of course, but let's be serious; the cartoonish gangsterisms and macho posturing that litter the album smack of naive cultural voyeurism, regardless of how pure the intentions of MCA, Adrock, and Mike D were.

3rd Bass's auspicious 1989 debut, however, was the work of true, if melanin-deficient, Hip-Hop heads. They weren't from the streets, but they knew the culture. Despite his Columbia University pedigree, Prime Minister Pete Nice held down a Hip-Hop radio show on the college's station WKCR. MC Serch was a fixture on New York's Hip-Hop club scene, ripping up dancefloors and open mics with equal aplomb. Cactus may have had a free-wheeling, anything-goes feel, but subtext was clear: this Hip-Hop shit is no joke, and we as white boys want to participate in it, not exploit it. They even brought along heavyweights like Prince Paul and the Bomb Squad to keep shit extra real.

(Side note: 1989 also saw the release of the Beastie's Paul's Boutique, an equally, if not more, important Hip-Hop landmark album. Its creative 180 degree turn served to silence most of the criticism surrounding Licensed. Also, it took sampling and production to such an extreme other level that it almost exists in its own world. As such, I would argue that it's inappropriate and unproductive to try to compare Cactus' earnest funk and Paul's staggering cultural mish-mash.)

But we're here to talk about the follow-up. Derelicts of Dialect (one of the illest album titles, by the way) finds Pete and Serch still mixing a number of styles and moods, but there's a more mature, focused vibe going on here. Even the album cover, which features an austere black and white photo of the group as a trio of destitute indigents, hints at the fact that shit isn't quite as sweet as it used to be. Whereas Cactus kicked off with the boisterous "Sons of 3rd Bass," Derelicts opens with the laid-back, thoughtful title track underpinned by the cinematic strains of 9th Creation's "Rule of Mind." Even the album's most lauded posse cut, "Ace in the Hole," is a relatively subdued affair that finds KMD and 3rd dropping ice-grilled flows that are tempered only by whimsical Mexican guitar loops provided by producers Zev Love X and company.

Pete and Serch weren't afraid to get a little serious on Cactus, whether it was calling out the Beastie Boys on the aforementioned "Sons..." or getting scientifical on "Triple Stage Darkness." On this effort, they seem even more committed to leaving Hip-Hop in a better state then when they found it. That's not to say the album is a preachy conscious-fest, but rather that they're gonna call 'em like they see 'em. For starters, they had to address Vanilla Ice, who at the time was riding high on the success of his mind-numbing debut, To The Extreme. MC Hammer's lame Pop-Rap trash (which got dealt with on "The Gas Face") is one thing, but Vanilla Ice is quite another. Ice is white, and his crass Rap-sploitation was tearing down everything Pete and Serch worked so hard to build. Building credibility as white kids in the Hip-Hop game was difficult enough without Ice's slash-and-burn money-grubbing setting their movement back. Such were Vanilla's sins that he got his own song, "Pop Goes the Weasel."

It's as if the world was behind 3rd Bass on the topic of Vanilla Ice, because "Pop..." ended up being the group's most successful single. The catchy, recognizable loop of Peter Gabriel's hit "Sledgehammer" (served up by Dante Ross and his SD50 crew) probably didn't hurt either. Ice also gets dissed throughout the album, notably on "Ace in the Hole" and "Kick 'Em in the Grill," where a scene-stealing Chubb Rock suggests that Ice "wrap his lips around a big black cock." Elsewhere on the album, the duo addresses racism on "No Master Plan, No Master Race" and continue where Cactus' "Product of the Environment" left off with "Problem Child," which discusses the plight of troubled children. I originally had this album on tape, which means I didn't come up on the song "Check Yourself" until I found a vinyl copy a couple of years ago. While not the album's strongest, the LP-only cut is notable for its loose-limbed bebop jazz loop and Pete and Serch's freeform spoken word-style raps.

It's not as though the blazin' Caucasians lost their penchant for the humorous. The skits on Derelicts, however nonsensical, are still hilarious after all these years. Real heads know about "Eye Jammie," but "Al'z A-B-Cee'z," where some random character named Alan runs irately and hysterically through the alphabet with an accent that's half-Jamaican, half-Irish, is also a classic. "Sea Vessel Soliloquy" is another great one, where DJ Richie Rich gets sonned by his father, who claims that at age 8 he was the captain of a ship, and not messing with that "cuttin' and scratchin' bullshit" like his son. On the musical side, "Herbalz in Your Mouth" provides some goofy, light-hearted flavor, as does "Kick 'Em in the Grill," which throws back to the classic, upbeat and funky 3rd Bass style.

On the production tip, Prince Paul was still in the building, lending his unique ear to the likes of "Derelicts of Dialect," the Beck-esque "Come In," and the blunted, acoustic guitar-centric "Herbalz..." SD50 (also known as the Stimulated Dummies) shines on "Pop Goes...," and hectic Funk-fests like "Kick 'Em..." and the excellent "3 Strikes 5000," but it's actually the continually underrated Sam Sever who makes this album what it is. Cementing his rep as an expert sample-slayer, Sever (who happens to also be white) hits hard on funky throwdowns like "Word to the Third" as well as more offbeat outings like "Problem Child" and "Check Yourself," which we've already discussed. He dips into Miles Davis' fusion years for "No Master Plan..." and "Portrait of the Artist as a Hood," while turning to Blue Oyster Cult's hard-rock classic "Godzilla" for some drama on "Problem Child." He's never been the most distinct or original producer, but Sever has always been a musical version of macaroni and cheese; simple, yet consistently satisfying.

Despite Derelicts' solid entertainment value and relative success (it went gold after 28 days), it's almost as if 3rd Bass' best work was to come on a third album that never happened. Unfortunately, due to petty squabbles between Pete and Serch (reportedly over the presence of Serch's fiancee being on the road with 3rd Bass), the trio never got a chance to parlay their newfound dap into greater achievement. If you take another look at the album's cover, the image of a broke, apparently homeless Serch, Pete, and Rich could be construed as a bit of visual foreshadowing, a harbinger of the future of 3rd Bass. Solo albums from both MC's followed, but of course neither one matched the energy of 3rd Bass at its finest. They've carved out fine post-Rap careers for themselves, but I can't help but think about what could have come about had 3rd Bass kept the magic alive. Nonetheless, 3rd's musically funky and lyrically substantive sophomore effort is a necessary piece of anyone's golden-age Hip-Hop collection.

 

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