Not many duos have captivated the hip-hop world like Pete Rock and CL Smooth, as these two embody rap, period.
It all started back in 1991 when the duo released the EP, All Souled Out. While this six-track EP garnered a sizeable amount of attention from hip-hop heads around the nation, the fact that it was an EP lessened the impact that it had on the genre. However, everything changed when P.R. and CL released "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)," a single off of their debut LP, Mecca and The Soul Brother, in '92.
To this day, many consider "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" to be the best beat in hip-hop history. Containing a sample of Tom Scott's cover of Jefferson Airplane's "Today," the extraordinarily popular and acclaimed single boasts loud horns and a booming bass that Pete Rock made into a masterpiece. However, the funny thing is, "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" is not even the best track on Mecca and The Soul Brother. That should give you some insight in to how good this album actually is.
After releasing their debut in 1992, Pete Rock and CL Smooth went on to release The Main Ingredient two years later, but that was it. After that, the two had problems internally which resulted in an unceremonious (and gravely unfortunate) split of the duo, and outside of a couple of isolated tracks here and there since '94, P.R. and CL were never a team again.
Still, the seemingly permanent rift between the duo should not at all distract us from how good they actually were, as Pete Rock's jazzy beats and CL Smooth's consistently suave lyricism helped form two of the best albums to ever grace hip-hop.
1. Return Of The Mecca
The album starts with a fairly aggressive number, as Pete Rock throws on some thumping snares and hats for CL Smooth who displays his penchant for groundbreaking lyricism right off the bat: "Entice the price with the mic device, hit ya slice so precise that you never hurt twice, fierce how I pierce when you near the frontier, a world premier, so put the armor on your gear." Great way to begin a classic album.
2. For Pete's Sake
You're going to hear me say this a lot for the remainder of this review, but the beat on this cut is sick. It's actually one of my favorite Pete Rock beats, and that's saying a mouthful, not unlike CL Smooth on his second verse: "For Pete's sake, I break and update, wait, I radiate, the dub played to navigate the tune I make, I fit like a slipper, so catch The Big Dipper, vital signs are quicker, not the flat line picture." This man's flow is beyond incredible. Oh, and Pete Rock actually drops a verse on this track, too.
3. Ghettos Of The Mind
This sounds like something Black Moon would rap over, so therefore, I love it. "I want to stop the pain or the bad situations, but backwards wisdom I can't afford to give 'em, self-savior is much braver with the conscious behavior, designed in the ghettos of the mind." - CL Smooth.
4. Lots Of Lovin'
Well, if Pete Rock's beat doesn't put you in another zone the minute it kicks off, you might be able to pay attention to the actual content of this song, which is pretty damn good. As per the title, it's a love ballad, but CL does it extremely eloquently, spitting: "Look in your eyes 'cause I miss you much, the way you say, 'I love you CL' and your gentle touch, we reminisce with a French kiss, and out of all the girls, you're the first on my list." I don't know about you, but I think it's refreshing to hear something like this. "Lots Of Lovin'" was the album's third and final single.
5. Act Like You Know
I think we all already know that P.R. is incapable of making a mediocre beat, but I mean, so far, Mecca and The Soul Brother is just perfection. The hats are what really drive this production, and the usual hard-hitting snares add a fantastic element to the beat, too.
6. Straighten It Out
This was the project's second single, and a great choice for a single it was (even though you could pretty much say that about any track on Mecca and The Soul Brother). The beat on the hook is especially crazy, as blaring horns come into the picture to aid the sick kicks, deliberate hats, and light snares. Best song on the album.
7. Soul Brother #1
"Soul Brother #1" has "rider music" written all over it. It possesses some of the most booming kicks on the album, and the way P.R. chops the samples used is just crazy. The most notable part about this record, though? CL Smooth is not present, as Pete Rock actually raps on this by himself. He may not be CL on the mic, but he can certainly hold his own: "I'm full of motivation, handle any situation, hun said I'm so smooth they should call me lubrication."
8. Wig Out
This one actually isn't up to par with the rest of the album so far. It's not bad by any means, but the constant drum pattern grows tiring fast.
9. Anger In The Nation
The shakers throughout really make this track go, as do CL Smooth's bars: "Pre-Adam-ite, first to see the light, way before Adam and Eve took flight, bless the seed of Abraham, I came to jam, protest the teachings of another man."
10. They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)
Which brings us to the aforementioned "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)," regarded by many as the best beat in hip-hop history. You can easily see why one would come to that conclusion, as the old-school horns and hypnotizing bassline can (and probably will) put you in a virtual coma. What people sadly ignore, though, is what this song is really about. CL Smooth is actually reminiscing about key events in his life, such as the birth of his first child. That said, as sick as this cut is, it isn't even the best on Mecca and The Soul Brother.
11. On and On
The first one minute and fifteen seconds of this track consists of Grap Luva, Pete Rock's younger brother, freestyling while someone spits a beat (literally) in the background. That's basically a total waste of time, as it takes way too long. Anyway, the beat to "On and On" pretty much nullifies anything that went wrong with this track (like the freestyle, for example), with (unsurprisingly) blaring horns supported by some smooth kicks, snares, and hats. Sick cut.
12. It's Like That
This is the shortest song on the project, being the only track clocking in at less than four minutes. Booming hats drive Pete Rock's beat, and some light horns take control on the hook. "Enter the equilibrium in a medium, breaking your cranium with no ultimatum," raps CL.
13. Can't Front On Me
Let's ignore the fact that the song's title looks disgustingly generic and focus on how ill this beat is. There have been plenty of sick productions on Mecca and The Soul Brother, but not many of them approach the level of "Can't Front On Me." Of course, CL Smooth kills it: "Hit the pitch and then I'm gone as the funk lingers on, I don't publicize here to keep the black race torn, but steady at an altitude where you get the mental food, not to be rude, here's a fresh pot brewed."
14. The Basement
"The Basement" is one of only two tracks on Mecca and The Soul Brother where guest artists drop verses. In this case, the features are Grap Luva, Heavy D (Pete Rock's cousin), Rob-O, and Deda, and they all seem to fit in very well. The production is very simple, but it works. I particularly love the snares, but what P.R. joint doesn't have good snare drums?
15. If It Ain't Rough, It Ain't Right
What. A. Beat. There is so much variety on it it's ridiculous; not so much where it's "too busy," but just enough where it will keep you guessing the entire time. I really can't say enough about it.
"Skinz" is the other track where a guest verse is present. This time, it's Grand Puba dropping the bars. Honestly though, this track is pretty stupid, as it basically consists of CL Smooth and Puba talking about how immaculate they are in the sack.
What can I say? Mecca and The Soul Brother is, without a doubt, one of the best hip-hop albums of all-time. It was at this point that Pete Rock showcased his genius and began the path that would lead to many dubbing him the greatest producer to ever do it.
Still, despite the fact that the beats on this album are obviously the main attraction, let's not ignore CL Smooth's sensational performance on the mic. The dude is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated rappers to ever do it, and that probably has plenty to do with the fact that he was always overshadowed by Pete Rock's mesmerizing production. CL possesses one of the finest deliveries ever, and his advanced vocabulary and varying rhyme schemes make him an always interesting listen.
The funny thing about Mecca and The Soul Brother is that it is extremely lengthy (there are 16 tracks, and of the 16, seven are over five minutes long and only "It's Like That" is under four minutes), but it doesn't feel like too long of a listen at all. The production on this project is so phenomenal that a five-minute song will feel like two minutes.
While Mecca and The Soul Brother may not exactly be for everybody (you don't hear this kind of production anymore, so the younger hip-hop fans might simply push this one aside), no true hip-hop fan can deny that it is essentially unparalleled in terms of consistency and pure musical genius. There are not many albums that can legitimately stand next to Mecca and The Soul Brother, and those that can are elite records in the annals of rap history.
Going throughout your life without listening to this is an unpardonable sin, so go and do it now if you haven't; there may still be time for the hip-hop gods to forgive you.
Jeez...now I've gotta pick the top five tracks. Wish me luck.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Straighten It Out
2. They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)
3. Soul Brother #1
4. If It Ain't Rough, It Ain't Right
5. Lots Of Lovin'