ALBUM REVIEW: Mecca And The Soul Brother MATTHEW HENGEVELD Twenty years after the untimely death of Trouble T Roy, hip-hop veterans Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth release a deluxe version of their classic album Mecca and the Soul Brother, completely remastered and grouped alongside 15 bonus tracks, featuring rare songs, instrumentals and acapella versions. Though I’m certain that I’ll always prefer the original gritty cut of this album; remastered versions are always exciting. Collectors, be sure to cop this fantastic set.

I’m not gonna lie. I never gave C.L. Smooth the props he is owed. C.L. Smooth has the type of voice that sinks into the beat. His tone exemplifies authority complimented by an overwhelming sense of righteousness— sounding like a mix between Ice T and Chuck D. It can become preachy. But, alongside Pete Rock, C.L. Smooth was a pivotal member of the early-90s hip-hop scene. Whereas A Tribe Called Quest was playful, Public Enemy was revolutionary and Gangstarr was fresh— Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth were a hybrid of these styles. Pete complimented C.L.’s voice with a boom-bap style that has been so heavily mimicked that it’s hard to recognize the duo as boundary pushing. Most songs utilize samples that have become utterly commonplace today. Not to mention that Pete Rock took the adlib to new heights with his sporadic “uhs” and “yeeeahhs,” foreshadowing adlib-heavy characters like Puff Daddy and Young Jeezy. PR & C.L. are the King Tubby to your Scientist, the Woody Guthrie to your Bob Dylan, the Howlin’ Wolf to your Captain Beefheart!

Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth may not be so cordial to each other anymore— but let’s hearken upon friendlier days. Fresh offa their debut EP, All Souled Out, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth formed a “sound” and wanted to roll-the-fuck-out with it. The resulting product was Mecca and The Soul Brother, a cornucopia of fresh boom-bap beats mixed with a strong message. The album’s stand-out track, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)—” a 90s anthem of hip-hop freshness— was created in remembrance of Trouble T Roy, a dancer and friend of Pete Rock who died after an accidental fall. Filled with obscure spinning saxophones and a plethora of angelic “oohs” and “aaahs,” this track remains unique and constantly tops “best of” lists.

Today, C.L.’s verses are more poignant than ever before. Songs that address Islam, racism and colonialism— like “Anger in the Nation”— would put pundits like Newt Gingrich in a rage-induced coma. In fact, the entire bullshit scenario incited by the tea-baggers brings Mecca and the Soul Brother back to the forefront. I was watching a Joan Baez documentary and PBS the other night, and I remember Baez saying that music is the strongest weapon for non-violent protest— if that’s true, this album might be the fucking atom bomb. It doesn’t just shed light in the political realm, but it forces modern listeners to turn a cold eye to today’s hip-hoppers. Where has the political edge gone? When are we going to get lines like this again?:

Listen how they word it, be observant
Then house negro; today, civil servant
I want to drop the bomb but remain calm
Strong like the power of the Fruits of Islam
Black is beautiful, hot like fire
Guess how many times they thought they killed the Messiah
Malcolm X, Dr. King, let’s sing
All around the world let freedom ring
Reality is real, so how do you feel
from being kings on a throne to picking cotton in a field?

We aren’t gonna see lyrics like that ever again. The problem transcends the realm of hip-hop. Commercialism has saturated deeply into the veins of the music. For years musicians and singers have traded their artistic voucher for a sack of cash. Artists of this generation lack visionary leaders, resulting in a saturated playing field— music stripped from any political value, artistry void of meaning. The Guthries, Ochs and the C.L. Smooths have long since left the building.

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