Music Reviews

Pete Rock

Lost and Found – Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics


Legendary hip-hop producer Pete Rock has gone digging in the crates, and like many of us when we go to a used CD shop and look in the bargain bins, has come out with something that’s garbage and something that makes you think, “I can’t believe I was lucky enough to get this!”

Pete Rock’s Lost and Found•Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics is two discs that never got released from a label he started in the mid-1990s, Soul Brother. Back before the label, though, Pete enjoyed his time in the spotlight with partner C.L. Smooth: Pete laced the beat, and C.L.’s flow was the perfect complement to the laid-back groove Pete put down. After the two went their separate ways, Pete formed his own label and produced a couple of albums for his first artists, INI and Deda. The albums are just now seeing the light of day nearly a decade later because the Soul Brother label folded soon after it was founded.

INI tried to follow in C.L. Smooth’s footsteps with its album, Center of Attention, but also set out to come a little harder with their rhymes. Now, for a true hip-hop head, hearing that there’s a group rapping over a smooth jazz backdrop with lyrics talking about both positivity and being hardcore would remind one of Gangstarr. But there’s one big difference: Gangstarr has talent, something INI seriously lacked – and not just one of the guys in the group, but everyone in the four-man crew.

Here’s what I mean. You know how haikus have that syllable formula for each line? If it’s not followed right, you don’t have a haiku. Well, one of the most basic and necessary premises in rap is to flow over a full bar of music. When this isn’t accomplished, you have what I refer to as the Will Smith Syndrome – where the rhyming line falls short in syncopation with the previous line. (He’s the biggest culprit of this.) At that point, you might as well be just saying words, because you sure as hell aren’t rapping. And this problem runs throughout the INI album. Even the amazing music Pete Rock usually drops was brought down on this project.

Also, in what must have obviously been a favor to Pete, Q-Tip and Large Professor lent their vocals to a track, “To Each His Own.” Now, when you have two heavyweights like that on a song and it’s still mediocre, then something’s obviously wrong. Why this album is hailed as an underground classic I’ll never know.

On the flip side, however, is Deda’s The Original Baby Pa. While Deda doesn’t have many witty metaphors to share (“I got skill/ Like Shaquille O’Neal” on “Rhyme Writer”), the fact that he could rap about how bad-ass he is and how he would take out all sucker MCs over the course of a whole album is an impressive feat.

Deda had no time for storytelling on this: no messages of hope to share, no tales of his struggle and nothing about the riches (ha!) that he gained after signing to Pete Rock’s label. That would take away from him letting sorry rappers know who the man is.

The tracks Pete came up with meshed perfectly with Baby Pa’s delivery: He was able to work with someone that had a totally different style from C.L. Smooth, or those wannabe C.L. Smooths in INI – a thuggish, grimy dude that just wants to spit out rhymes.

This album would have been released around the same time as the first ones from Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z or Nas. While their abilities to tell stories about street life and the sweet life is unmatched, Deda’s flow and aggression is near the same level as what was found on the Big 3’s debut albums. Who knows what would have happened if the Soul Brother label hadn’t folded? Maybe Baby Pa could have kept developing and come close to their heights.

So Pete Rock’s digging-in-the-crates excursion turned up a miss and a hit. INI, I hate to be harsh, but you deserved to fall off. Deda, my man, you coulda been a contenda.

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