Retrospective: Pete Rock and CL Smooth's Mecca and the Soul Brother

By @SpeedontheBeat

When I hear people still hold "They Reminisce Over You" as one of their favorite songs twenty-some years later, I'm elated. It's a classic song, one that speaks on the troubles of being a young black man, violence in the communities, and so on. Even if you're not really a hip-hop fan, you can, at the very least, respect the song. 

But then comes the disappointment. See, some of the folks who speak on this song, they tend to forget the album from whence it came. 1992's Mecca and the Soul Brother is that perfect mix between conscious rap that makes you want to do better and, well, conscious rap that makes you want to do better. Some may look at that description and run away, as some did when the album was first released, as they don't know how to take it. It's still a fun album, but every ounce of fun is counterbalanced with life lessons. And through this balance, we get some pretty monumental songs--and instrumentals.

Some may argue that, for instance, speaking on death, the ghetto, etc., you need a beat that's more downtrodden. You need something like Too $hort's "The Ghetto." But, this was an album that, in some ways, spat in the face of convention. In fact, the vast amount of instrumentation and samples creates a sound that many have tried to duplicate even to this day; it's a sound that takes the idea of samples and further expands on what they can achieve in a hip-hop song. For example, let's look at "Straighten It Out." 

"Straighten" is a song with a simple premise. Pretty much, it's a classic song with the mantra "don't jack/bootleg my shit" firmly implanted within it. However, here's what makes it a classic track. The vast amount of samples on this track (some people list at least four), the bouncy, almost effortless flow of CL Smooth, and the fact that he paints a vivid picture without being coarse (sometimes, I'll be honest, a message can be lost if you've got a bunch of "fucks," "shits," etc. every other bar). Add onto that the fact that there's legitimate instructions on how to sample a track and you've got a song that teaches, reaches, and is infectious. 

And then the video! If it doesn't make you want to actually go out and support a musician's music, I'm not sure what will. 

One of my favorite tracks from the album is its intro. It goes several directions, from calm and cool to that classic boom-bap and back again. Pete Rock and CL's jazzy influences are two things that always stick out to me, as a listener and an artist. I mean, I don't always get it right, but I definitely try to incorporate something out-of-the-ordinary in my songs, even if it's a kind of half-sung bluesy verse (see: "Heartless" from Unhinged).

In short, if you don't already know, stop sleeping on this album.


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