Monday, January 21, 2008

Black Sheep (Dres & Mr. Long)

Remembered for a couple of striking singles and their membership in the Native Tongues family of groups, Black Sheep also recorded one of rap music's most entertaining debuts, A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. Handling both production and delivery, Dres and Mista Lawnge appeared headed for a long, rewarding career, but unfortunately faded after the release of their long-delayed sophomore set.
Both members, Andre Titus (Dres) and William McLean (Mista Lawnge), were natives of New York who grew up in North Carolina, Titus the son of a military man. Both were also hip-hop fans during the mid-'80s, Dres as an MC and Mista Lawnge as a DJ. Looking for a record contract, Lawnge moved to New York -- where he'd spent time as a child -- and played a gig with DJ Red Alert, who introduced him to Mike Gee of the Jungle Brothers. Gee's connection to the newly christened Native Tongues family (headed by Afrika Bambaataa along with Queen Latifah) inspired Lawnge to form Black Sheep and recruit Dres as the group's MC. The duo's first release, "Flavor of the Month," was one of the hottest rap singles of 1991, and the ascendancy of Native Tongues groups De la Soul and A Tribe Called Quest only improved Black Sheep's fortunes. Their debut album, A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, released on Mercury late that year, hit number 30 on the album charts and the next single, "The Choice Is Yours," was an MTV hit (thanks to director Chuck Stone's video) and a surprising success at college radio (aside from specialty shows, rap rarely appeared on college play lists). The album eventually moved close to one million copies, and the pair appeared on the Brand New Heavies' Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1 next to the era's hottest rappers: Main Source, Gang Starr, Kool G Rap, and the Pharcyde.
Black Sheep's follow-up, Non-Fiction, was doomed from the start. Released in 1994, the record received close to zero promotion and lacked the imagination of A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. The single "Without a Doubt" got a little airplay, but the duo split soon after. Both worked on varying projects, and Dres released his solo debut, Sure Shot Redemption, in 1999. (One year later, he appeared in the film Once in the Life, Laurence Fishburne's debut as a director, playing a bagman for a drug kingpin.) Black Sheep reunited to produce a track for the film's soundtrack, toured with Das EFX, and announced the recording of a new album.


Black Sheep - A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (Oct 22, 1991; Mercury)
Playfully satirical, witty, and incredibly imaginative, A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing introduced one of the freshest talents in early-'90s rap, a self-produced duo who caught the tail end of the Native Tongues family. Though Dres and Mista Lawnge didn't match the brilliant wordplay of A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul, their topics were well-chosen, they were presented in a hilarious context, and every song was backed up by strong productions and great rapping. A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing wasn't a comedy record, but it was difficult to tell when the duo were half-serious or half-joking, especially since they were often the objects of their jokes. They poked fun at many aspects of black music and culture of the early '90s, everything from the persuasive gangster mentality ("U Mean I'm Not"), obsessions over the Afrocentric viewpoint ("Are You Mad?"), and lewd sex raps ("La Menage"), as well as an amusingly incorrect response to feminism ("L.A.S.M."). They also dropped a few of the best hip-hop club tracks of the era, the insanely catchy items "The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)," "Try Counting Sheep," and "Flavor of the Month." (Another smooth dance tune, "Strobelite Honey," was dreadfully honest about girls who look better under the lights than upon closer inspection.) Polar opposites to the ranks of somber political rappers, and deftly counteracting the indulgence and self-seriousness of many alternative groups, Black Sheep hit a height with their debut that few hip-hop acts would ever reach.

Black Sheep - Non-Fiction (Dec 6, 1994; Mercury)
Three years isn't an especially long time between albums, but in hip-hop an epoch separated 1991 from 1994. That made it especially difficult for Black Sheep to follow up their prescient debut, and unfortunately, it appeared they'd run out of significant ideas after just one LP. Non-Fiction is bland where A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing was exciting, stiff and rigid instead of dexterous, and most astonishing of all, unreflective and self-serious where their debut had been imaginative and playful. "Autobiographical" is an interesting opener, telling the story of Black Sheep's transition from New York to Carolina and back, but despite some smooth raps and interesting wordplay, nothing else here says anything. The smooth club single "Without a Doubt" is the only track catchy enough to rank with the first record, and Black Sheep's sharp social critiques were entirely missing. Similar to the Pharcyde, their stylistic brothers from the West Coast, the sophomore slump hit Black Sheep particularly hard, and practically destroyed them as creative artists.
Genre [Hip-Hop]
Quality/Size [44.1 @VBR 63,9 MB]
Grabbed from [CDDA]
Enc [Lame 3.97]
Website [http://myspace.com/blacksheep]
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01 01:48 U Mean I Don't
02 04:25 Grew Up
03 04:45 Be Careful Feat. Choklate
04 03:48 Whodat
05 04:04 Shorty
06 03:56 Sunshine Feat. Dinky Bingham
07 04:01 8wm
08 04:02 Novakane
09 04:11 Wonder Feat. Yummy Bingham
10 04:37 Heed The Word
11 03:40 Everyday Feat. Choklate
12 04:06 Hey
13 04:08 Novakane Groove

3 comments:

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