PETE ROCK & CL SMOOTH Mecca And The Soul Brother (Elektra)
Acclaimed as a bona fide hip hop classic, Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s 1992 debut is dense but lean, as notable for what it leaves out – interminable skits and interludes; gangsta braggadocio – as what it includes. Brewed from a bewildering stew of funk, soul and jazz samples (even Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime” is in there somewhere, allegedly, although I haven’t found it yet) it mixes head-nodding beats and lyrical positivity, syllables cartwheeling through the wall-to-wall beats and rhymes.
“Ghettos Of The Mind” demonstrates the ever-trenchant social conscience expected of its title, yet by the next track “Lots Of Lovin’” they’ve segued smoothly from “What’s Going On” to “Let’s Get It On” mode. There are moments where the album quaintly betrays its age, for example the decisively pre-internet bootlegging concerns of “Straighten It Out” or the reference to pagers on “Can’t Front On Me”. Yet it’s mostly timeless, peaking on “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”, part childhood nostalgia, part elegy to a fallen friend (“Trouble” T. Roy, of Heavy D & The Boyz). Some rappers have built entire careers around less than this packs into its five minutes.
“Mecca And The Soul Brother” isn’t a perfect album. It’s unlikely to convert genre unbelievers in the way that, say, De La Soul’s debut has the power to. In vinyl form (and indeed on cassette, if you’re really being old school) its two bonus tracks make it even longer than it needs to be, and it’s no conspicuous sonic revelation. (Then again, given its sampled sources, it’s hardly likely to be on any format.) Yet it’s an album designed for the long haul, not showy or ostentatious, that has the heft and discipline to walk like it talks.