(I just came across this album at a used cd store yesterday. I do like some of Ice-T’s later work, and since it was only a few dollars I figured, why not? Insert this one after Bigger And Deffer)
While Schoolly D is often given credit as the pioneer of gangster rap, when it come to late eighties West Coast gangster rap, one of two names instantly come to mind: NWA, and Ice-T.
Ice-T, born Tracy Morrow, was born in New Jersey, but after the death of both his mother and father before he even reached his teens, Tracy would relocate to Cali to live with his aunt. After graduating from high school, Tracy spent 4 years in the army (the old geezer just missed Vietnam by a few years), an after finishing his tour of duty went home and begin his pursuit of arap career. After years of recording demos and making cameo appearances in cornball early eighties hip hop films (i.e. Breakin’ and Rappin‘), he would finally sign to Sire Records and released his 1987 debut Rhyme Pays. Rhyme Pays would go on to earn a Gold plaque, and set Tracy up for successful recording career, which would eventually revolve into a successful acting career.
Unfortunately, success doesn’t always equal quality.
Intro/Rhyme Pays – Over an attempt at a epic instrumental (key word attempt), Tracy gives a brief spoken word biography of his childhood , the move from the east to the west, and his obsession of microphone supremacy. The intro goes right into Rhyme Pays were Tracy fires off – what feels like a zillion verses – over a decent drum and guitar sample, that sounds a bit messy at times (especially over the hook). Tracy gives it his all, but his lyrics sound rushed at points, and his breath control definitely needed improvement. This was a completely terrible listen.
6 ‘N The Morning – Tracy raps – or should I say speaks – a 7 minute tale of a day in his life, which turns into seven years in prison, his release from prison, and the song ends with he and a buddy hopping a plane and end up in New York: he also manages to beat a woman, kill a cop, kill random punks, steal a car, and of course, sex up his lady. While there were a few interesting moments in Tracy’s story overall the song is way to long (the liner notes print the lyrics and break the freakin’ song into two parts!) and the beat is less entertaining then watching the 49ers play the Lions.
Make It Funky – Not quite. The track is all over the place, and Ice-T’s breath control issues and rushed rhymes surface again. Tracy waste almost half the song shouting out the New York boroughs, so this nightmare could of been cut short. Ice-T is probably not in anyone’s top ten, but he sounds a lot better when he lays back on a track versus over aggressively screaming his lyrics on the beat.
Somebody Gotta Do It (Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy!!!) – Over a simplistic drum beat Tracy goes braggadocio about his luxurious lifestyle (sound like something Jay-z would do today). The intro was pretty funny: Tracy refuses an interview with a Billboard reporter, only to except it after his boy let’s him know the reporter is a woman. Most of the lyrics are so outrageous they’re mildly entertaining, and Tracy’s flow (which is more laid back) sound decent as he has fun with this one. While this was not a great song (maybe not even good) its hands down the best song on Rhyme Pays up to this point.
409 – I was hoping this was some kind of ode to Galveston, TX, but unfortunately I was wrong. Instead, Tracy somehow crafts a whole song based around your mom’s favorite household cleaner. Tracy’s playful lyrics confirm this was simply an attempt at a fun party song, but not only does it fail to accomplish that, it also fails to deserve any of your time to listen to it, even once . I guess I would never of thought to clean my sneakers with 409, you learn something new every day, thanks Tracy.
I Love Ladies – I bet you’ll never guess what this song is about: Tracy’s spins several verses about the one thing he cannot live without. This was an obvious attempt at a party hit. The beat was forgettable (like the majority of the production on Rhyme Pays up to this point) as well as Tracy’s lyrics. On a side note: this was the second consecutive song that Tracy gives a plug to Adidas, almost like he was trying to get an endorsement deal, maybe?
Sex – Tracy provides us with a juvenile porno rap, which would probably be rated G, compared to what we here in today’s rap music, but the third verse still seems pretty graphic. The thesis statement for this one? Tracy loves pussy. At this point assume the production sucks on each song, unless I state otherwise.
Pain – Tracy paint a vivid picture of the trials and tribulations of a gangster (think “Colors“, over a weaker track). Tracy sounds more focused and polished then any of the previous songs, easily making this the strongest song on Rhyme Pays up to this point.
Squeeze The Trigger – Over a terrible Atari 2600 era video game-ish track, Tracy makes his strongest lyrical contribution to Rhyme Pays. Not only does he flex his best braggadocio lyrics, he also addresses a few social issues that will make you think, without coming off preachy. This is more of the type of songs he would include on his latter work. By no means is this a great song, but it is a step in the right direction.
(The following songs were only included on the CD format of Rhyme Pays)
Make It Funky (12″ Mix) – Basically an extended mix of the original.
Sex (Bonus Beat) – Instrumental of the original…why?
Somebody Gotta Do It (Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy!!!) (12″ Mix) – This is just a trimmed down version of the original.
Our Most Requested Record – Ice-T and Evil E spend the first three minutes bragging about how cold Afrika Islam’s beat (and surprisingly it is a decent track). The core part of the beat is a rock guitar sample, and it ends up twisting in to a few other experiments before Ice spits his one and only verse, which sounds sharper than the majority of his material on Rhyme Pays. If this was going to be included on Rhyme Pays it should of been placed right after “Squeeze The Trigger“, since the 3 songs before it are just 12” edits and a instrumental track of songs already included on Rhyme Pays. Regardless, it wouldn’t of changed the overall quality of the album, so, whatever.
Rhyme Pays is riddled with issues, the main one being Afrika Islam & Ice-T’s production. Even by 1987 standards the beats seem outdated, boring, and generic. Ice-T, who will never be considered the greatest rapper alive, shows signs of decency on a few songs, but overall sounds like a amateur on the mic. Tracy’s flow consistently sounds rushed and sloppy (which in part you can caulk up to his breath control issues). Weak production + mediocre rhymes = weak album. Luckily for Tracy the record did go gold, which gave him another chance, that will discuss at another time. Well, at least he included Darlene on the cover, that should count for something, right?