Thursday, April 05, 2007

Redman

After Erick Sermon (of the seminal rap group EPMD) spotted Redman freestyling in a New York nightclub, Sermon added him to the Hit Squad crew of aspiring MCs (along with K-Solo and Das EFX). Redman made his rapping debut on the EPMD songs "Hardcore" and "Brothers On My Jock" off their third album Business As Usual (Def Jam 1990). Redman's 1992 Def Jam debut Whut? Thee Album broke into the US Top 50, achieved gold status in the United States. Prominent hip hop magazine The Source subsequently named Redman the Rap Artist of the Year for 1993. Redman's solo career continued throughout the remainder of the decade, with each of his albums selling at least half a million copies. His musical style has remained very consistent, rarely deviating from a combination of Redman's unique braggadocious wit and hard, P-funk-influenced beats. In addition to releasing albums under his own name, he is part of the group Def Squad (along with Keith Murray and Erick Sermon) with whom he released the 1998 album El Niño, and also has formed a close partnership with labelmate Method Man (of the Wu-Tang Clan) with whom he released the 1999 album Blackout!. New Jersey rapper Redman made his initial impact with Whut? Thee Album in 1992. He blended reggae and funk influences with topical commentary and displayed a terse, though fluid rap style that was sometimes satirical, sometimes tough, and sometimes silly. Redman returned in 1994 with his second album, Dare Iz a Darkside, which was a harder album than his debut. Muddy Waters, Redman's third album, followed in 1996; he returned two years later with Doc's da Name. The 1999 album Blackout! was a collaboration with Method Man while 2001's Malpractice was another solo effort. Soundtrack appearances, acting (most notably a starring role in the film How High), and collaborations (including an appearance on Christina Aguilera's hit single "Dirrty") kept Redman away from his solo career until 2007, when Red Gone Wild arrived.

Whut? Thee Album is a terrific debut that established Redman as one of the top MCs on the East Coast. His aggressive delivery is more than hardcore enough for the streets, but Whut? is first and foremost a party record. Redman's subject matter centers around his love of funk and his equal love of pot, with some sex and violence thrown in for good measure. He's able to carry it all off with a singular sense of style, thanks to a wild sense of humor that results in some outlandish boasts, surreal threats, and hilarious left-field jokes. In "Blow Your Mind," for example, he announces, "watch me freak it in Korean!," stumbles through part of a verse, and mutters "ah, forget it"; another great moment is "Redman Meets Reggie Noble," a brief duet between himself and his own alter ego in the great Slick Rick tradition. Other offbeat highlights include the genuinely useful instructional track "How to Roll a Blunt" and the hilarious sexcapade story song "A Day With Sooperman Lover." Credit for the album's infectious vibe also has to go to producer Erick Sermon, who fills Whut? with deep, loose-limbed beats cribbed from P-Funk and Zapp. Slamming party jams like "Time 4 Sum Aksion," "Rated R," and "Watch Yo Nuggets" are the real meat and potatoes of the record, and Redman's driving, forceful rhyme style makes them all the more invigorating. Still the strongest, most consistent outing in his catalog, Whut? Thee Album clearly heralds the arrival of a major talent.

Redman - Dare Iz a Darkside (Nov 22, 1994: Def Jam)
Redman may have become a household name among the rap community by the end of the '90s, but there was a time when he garnered little more than a cult following. Why? Well, Dare Iz a Darkside illustrates this better than any of his other '90s albums — nowhere else has Redman ever been this odd, to be quite frank. It's fairly evident here that he'd been listening to his George Clinton records and that he wasn't fronting when he alluded to "A Million and 1 Buddah Spots" that he'd visited. In fact, this album often divides his fans. Many admire it for its eccentricities, while others deride it for being quite simply too inaccessible. It's almost as if Redman is trying to puzzle listeners on Dare Iz a Darkside with his continually morphing persona. In fact, there's actually little questioning his motives — it's a matter of fact that Redman's trying to be as crazy as he can without alienating too many of those who first knew him for his affiliation with EPMD. And while that affiliation does aid this album, since Erick Sermon plays a large role in production, it's not quite enough. If this album has one unforgivable flaw besides the debatable quirks in Redman's persona, it's the production. Sermon isn't up to his usual standards here, unfortunately, and the album could really use some of his trademark funk. But the reason most fans either feel devotion or disdain for this album isn't the beats, but rather Redman's antics. If you appreciate his wacky sense of insane humor, this album is a gold mine. If you're more into his latter-day Method Man-style rhymes, then this album probably isn't one you want to bother with. After all, though Redman became a household name by the end of the '90s, it surely wasn't because of albums like this.

Redman - Muddy Waters (Dec 10, 1996: Def Jam)
Despite a heavy dose of Redman's eccentric humor, Dare Iz a Darkside often threatened to disappear in a haze of blunt smoke, so for his third album, he and producer Erick Sermon backed off the muddled sonics of Darkside and returned to the hard funk of his debut set. There isn't as blatant a P-Funk/Zapp influence on Muddy Waters; the beats are more indebted to the new New York hardcore movement, and the tracks themselves are sparer and more bass-driven. Lyrically, Redman is as strong as ever, and if his subject matter hasn't changed all that much, he's still coming up with clever metaphors and loose, elastic rhyme flows. He projects more energy than Method Man (who appears on "Do What Ya Feel"), but isn't quite at the madman level of Busta Rhymes. The numerous skits tend to drag the album's momentum down a little, but overall, Muddy Waters solidifies Redman's growing reputation as one of the most consistent rappers of the '90s — even when the music is unspectacular, he manages to deliver the goods on the microphone.

Redman - Doc's Da Name 2000 (Nov 24, 1998: Def Jam)
In 1998, rap music experienced a high level of commercial acceptance and exploitation, the magnitude of which had scarcely been seen before. Most major record labels embraced artists whose images and portrayals revolved around financial decadence, violence, and substance abuse. These are issues that have always been somewhere in the mix of hip-hop culture, but in the late '90s such subjects took total precedence over previously, at least equally, appreciated subjects such as lyrical agility, humor, positivity, and self-awareness. Redman represents a few of these attributes — humor and lyrical agility in particular — on Doc's da Name 2000. The sound Redman achieves on this album is characteristic of his previous albums. With production credits going mostly to Erick Sermon, the bass-intensive and melodic beats on Doc's da Name 2000 allow Redman to deliver the raw Newark, NJ, flow for which he's known and liked. Redman produced a few of the songs on this album, including "Jersey Yo!." A mildly funny skit that describes the attitude of a certain "Little Bricks" resident precedes this selection. There are actually five skits on the album, which, like most skits on an often-played album, become very unfunny after a few repetitions. On "Jersey Yo!" Redman uses a slow and funky guitar sound over tight drums and a fluid bassline. Redman is also responsible for the production of "Da Goodness," a song that features Busta Rhymes. The instrumentation in this song has a futuristic, almost minimal, sound that mimics the music Busta Rhymes frequently flows over. Not stopping there, Redman spits lyrics in "Da Goodness" with what could be identified as Busta's lyrical style — and he does it well. The result is an entertaining song that exemplifies Redman's skill as a talented lyricist and producer. "Beet Drop," another cut produced by Redman, is a brief but funny cover of the Beastie Boys' "It's the New Style." Other MCs that join Redman here include Method Man on "Well All Rite Cha"; Double O, Tame, Diezzel Don, Gov-Mattic, and Young Z (of the Outsiders) on "Close Ya Doorz"; Markie and Shooga Bear on "My Zone!"; and Erick Sermon and Keith Murray on "Down South Funk." Fans should note that the latest episode of "Sooperman Lova (IV)" is witness to "sooperman lova switching to sooperman villain." The last selection on this album is a gem — a rhyme delivered over a jungle (aka drum'n'bass) rhythm track that was produced by the well-known Roni Size. A close look at the liner notes reveals an additional unique item on Doc's da Name 2000: Redman had A&R, marketing, and project coordination responsibilities on this album — a scenario not often seen in the music industry.

Redman - Malpractice (May 22, 2001: Def Jam)
During the three-year gap separating Redman's previous album, Doc's da Name 2000 (1998), from Malpractice, the crazed New Jersey rapper became a bona fide superstar thanks to his collaboration with the ubiquitous and ridiculously recognized Method Man. It now seems that the same sort of excessively brash attitude that somewhat burdens Method Man's superstar ego has become a staple of Redman's as well. That sort of lazy overconfidence often leads to effortless redundancy — this is a problem that creeps into Malpractice. After nearly a decade, Redman's countless skits and his ever-wacky but still-the-same antics just don't seem as fresh and amusing as they once were. Furthermore, with his newfound Method Man-like arrogance, his old tricks seem even tougher to stomach. It'd be different if Redman took a Missy Elliott-like approach to Malpractice and made an effort to continually flip styles and keep things fresh with each album. That's not the case, though. Rather, he turns in a repeat performance of his last few solo albums. Erick Sermon again crafts a number of the beats, and Redman returns to many of the same lyrical motifs that fueled his past work. So, in a sense, you can commend Redman for his consistency; after all, his rhymes are always a grin and he even produces a good chunk of Malpractice. Unfortunately, if you've heard his previous albums, this is going to feel very familiar. It's guests like George Clinton and the aforementioned Missy Elliott who keep things fresh, and there's no shortage of guests here, but even they can't salvage the record's déjà vu feeling. It's not easy criticizing Malpractice, since it is a relatively strong album with some nice moments such as the lead single, "Let's Get Dirty." But being Redman's fifth solo album, you expect a little more growth; instead you get what feels like a repeat performance.


Redman - Red Gone Wild: Thee Album (March 27, 2007: Def Jam Recordings)
Back once again with the ill behavior, Redman's Red Gone Wild: Thee Album is the kind of bumpy ice cream van ride through the ghetto that fans crave. The wit is there and as strong as ever with lines Kool Keith would salivate over like "I'm in my underwear like Damon Wayans in Colors" ("Pimp Nutz") or "My bitch be like 'damn, baby, wash your feet'/She say the hair on my chest look like taco meat" ("Sumtn 4 Urrbody") or a whole bunch of others that are way too nasty to repeat. Old friends like Def Squad kingpins Keith Murray and Erick Sermon are on the guest list along with a whole honor roll of old-schoolers who all feel as vital as ever. Producer Pete Rock brings a piano and horn banger to the album ("Gimme One"), Timbaland is more aggressive than usual with his beat ("Put It Down"), and Scott Storch mashes the Neptunes and Kraftwerk sounds with his inspired loops ("Freestyle Freestyle"), but as big and as diverse as the guest list is, the album hangs and flows effortlessly. It has everything to do with Red's bottomless bag of punch lines and his uplifting spirit, which could make you smile even as he's verbally cutting you to pieces. You could argue that the blaxploitation-flavored "Soopaman Luva" suite would be a better ending than the raw party starter "Suicide," but that's about it, unless you think party song followed by smoking song is redundant, which probably means you wouldn't enjoy any Redman album. That he's able to throw it back to the good old days after all this time, fame, and his ventures into other media just speaks to how much natural talent lives inside the man. How he makes it look so easy and backs up every outrageous claim of domination with whip-smart proof is nothing short of stunning.

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Mixtapes & EP


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