In 1990 rap had already truly arrived. As a white young male the Beastie Boys were the obvious outfit to get into. From the early Electro albums and Grandmaster Flash, etc the genre was fresh and exciting.
Cementing that rap was not a fad were Public Enemy with their first three incredibly strong albums. In the late 80’s NWA just blew the genre up with their truly explosive debut Straight Outta Compton. Whereas Public Enemy showed thought matched perfectly with outrageous tomfoolery from Flavor Flav, NWA we’re just like a dangerous rock band. True, we’d never heard danger racked up to this level before – the album still does not sound tongue-in-cheek.
I can recall vividly listening to the first three tracks on Straight Outta Compton and being stunned by what was pouring out of the speakers. Preceeding Tarantino films by a goof half-a-decade Straight Outta Compton, Fuck Tha Police and Gangsta Gangsta changed the landscape of rap. Again I can recall reading an interview in Melody Maker with NWA where the interviewer suggested to the outfit that they were the rap Sex Pistols – they didn’t even know who the Pistols were – this did not come across like a bad thing but further underlined they were the genuine article.
Whilst the Beastie Boys where a very accessible group steeped in hip hop and punk sensibilities Public Enemy where pushing the genre forward with an agenda to get a message across. NWA added the shock element and notched the slick production bar up at the same time. It really is a shame Straight Outta Compton cannot maintain the power of its first three tracks – if it did it may be one of the best albums ever released – but it loses its power with weaker tracks.
So, in the early 90’s one started scratching around for more rap outfits that matched these mentioned three. De La Soul were good, but just a tad too poppy maybe? Then one night unexpectedly The Late Show on BBC2 showcased Ice T. I’d never heard Ice T before, sure I’d seen his records in shops but there was little access to music pre-Internet.
Lethal Weapon dropped on The Late Show and it was leagues above what I was expecting – it’s possibly his best ever record. The track has a very doomy vibe musically. For the first time a rap artist was sounding equal with a rock / metal band intentionally or not.
Adding to this the freestyle delivery flows out of Ice T. He really was a great rapper. Fast urgent and oh so sharp. Lyrically promoting thought, education and peace the stereotype of his imagery is turned refreshingly on its head – by himself. Also the way the performance is shot by camera adds in a strong way too. A few times it actually looks like the cameraman is backing off and the lyrical delivery flows fast and coherently at the camera. Although I do not think Ice T ever made a classic album, before he started being distracted by acting he was a very fresh unique artist.