Sunday 18 May 2014

Grip It! On That Other Level - Ghetto Boys (1989)


Now this is some hip hop I can really get behind. Once I put on this cd I instantly started liking it. Ghetto Boys sound is not unlike their peers Public Enemy, NWA and Ice T, so I guess it had an immediate familiarity. Grip It! On That Other Level has that classic late 80s old school sound, so damn funky and full of great stories that are masterfully delivered. So this album is quickly heading up my hip hop classics list, with the bullet. Now, I remember reading about Ghetto Boys in the NME and Melody Maker in the late 80s. They were described as the most morally bankrupt bunch of thugs in hip hop. That statement should have had me running to my local record shop in Grafton to order a copy of this album ASAP (gee I was a sensitive lil' youngster). Still it wasn't hard to avoid them with no national JJJ radio at the time and I don't recall them getting played on Rage or The Factory which was the home of all things rap back then. The press led me to believe they were arseholes of the highest order. Some of the themes included rape, murder and even cannibalism. I do recall some journos being conflicted though because their beats were so damn good, they're songs were undeniable. A couple of years later living in Melbourne I remember talking to a friend and she asked me 'Should I keep going out with this guy? All he listens to is Geto Boys and it's all bitches and hoes.' I don't recall what my response was though. Anyway this was the first time I'd sat down to listen to a Ghetto Boys LP and I wasn't sure if I'd heard any of the tunes or not.

Grip It! On That Other level was their second album and it was issued in 1989. This album is usually considered their best. They were from Texas which was pretty different from the usual New York and LA. I guess they put southern rap on the map. In many ways they helped pioneer gangsta rap and horrorcore. Some of the samples here had already been around the block a few times such as Curtis Mayfield, Incredible Bongo Band and Dennis Coffey. They also sampled stalwarts Parliament and James Brown. Surprisingly they also sampled such white rock as Pink Floyd and The Steve Miller Band. Not forgetting a smattering of dialogue samples from the movie Scarface. I don't think Grip It! was particularly successful upon its initial release but became a sleeper hit, eventually selling hundreds of thousands of copies. In retrospect it has become a canonical album appearing on many lists of classic rap records. It was also repackaged with some trax remixed and released under the title of Geto Boys, put out by Def Jam the following year. This also must have coincided with the spelling change from Ghetto Boys to Geto Boys

It starts off in classy stylee with Do It Like G.O. The beats are gold with samples of Superfly, Apache and Scorpio (all staple breaks from the original NY street parties). Niggas, KK, bitches, guns, politics, mo-fos, racism and black history are all mentioned in this opening tune so they pretty much lay it all on the line from the beginning. Gangster Of Love is next and its a filthy tune that's perhaps a little misogynist. It comes with a pro condom message though with much bragging of how many chicks he can do in one night. There might event be a little romance amongst the nastiness. The sample of Steve Miller Band's 'Gangster Of Love' line from The Joker, as well as the guitar part, is genius and makes this pornographic tale so damn catchy. Gangster Of Love has got to be one of the greatest hip hop tracks ever recorded. Talkin Loud Ain't Sayin Nothin is a bleak ghetto tale. Its rapped with great aggressive gusto about having integrity and hating bullshit artists and pretty much everyone and everything. It also contains a choice James Brown sample. Read These Nikes is pretty self explanatory. Its a violent thug anthem  'Remorse what the f*%# is that? I'll beat your your mamas ass then go and get a six pack!' Size Ain't Shit is a brag about being scrawny but having a big dick, a big gun, a jail history etc. with a brilliant keyboard line that wouldn't be out of place on an an acid house or bleep and bass tune. Seek and destroy has the funkiest of beats with fabulous def rhymes like something from a rap battle. As stated several times during the track this is a dope jam and they even mention peace a couple of times?!

So that's halfway but I don't even think this was ever released on vinyl. Anyway the second half starts with a defence of Public Enemy. No Sell Out is a conspiracy theory about black music being kept down by the industry. I recall at some stage in this era Public Enemy's Prof Griff being accused of antisemitism. I can't recall if this claim was true or not. They even sample their hero's Fight The Power. Let A Ho Be A Ho could be a feminist manifesto or most probably misogyny of the worst kind. Scarface is like an ultra violent 80s movie in rap form. This is rap story telling in excellis with great minimal beats courtesy of James Brown I think. Life In The Fast Lane has a sweet Parliament sample. Harmonica really suits this funky disco jam.  There should be more harmonica in rap it really works well. This tune is a real old school 'day in the life of the ghettto' jam, reminding me a little of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five and it's absolutely brilliant. Trigga Happy Nigga is a party jam complete with exciting band intro and Al Pacino Scarface samples galore. Its funny how offended people were by this kind of thing when these kind of of stories were all over the tv, movies and the news. I always looked at rap as similar to movies like Westerns, Gangster films, Horror flix, blue movies etc. but for some reason people thought this was real (some of it was I guess), I assume because it's usually sung in the first person. People were quite willing to watch something like Rambo but were frightened by hip hop tunes with similar themes. People are strange. Mind of A Lunatic is like an aural video nasty. This track with its themes of insanity, mass murder, rape, attempted suicide and asylums is dark and horrific but it's set to a beautiful funk track. This was probably The Geto Boys at their most controversial. When you compare it though to some of the mid 90s underground Memphis rap is almost seems quaint now.

In the end they're nowhere near as morally bereft as I was led to believe. There's Black Power, advocacy for contraception, integrity and even mentions of peace. Geto Boys are also hilarious and compared to some of today's rappers they are nowhere near as amoral or wasted. There was militaristic aggression about them. Not forgetting these are some of the dopest hip hop jams ever committed to tape. I gotta say this is a bloody classic album, one of the best hip hop has to offer. I'm glad I had this idea for this series just to hear this gem.

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