Once upon a time (in the mid eighties) in Queensbridge, NY, there lived a deejay named Marlon Williams. In the early eighties Marlon was co-host (along with Mr. Magic) of one of the first rap radio shows, Rap Attack, on the legendary station WBLS. He would later try his hand in production, and in 1985 would produce a song for his cousin MC Shan, called “The Bridge”, which would be the first blow in what would become the legendary feud between the Juice Crew and KRS-One.
Marlon, who original went by the alias NYC Cutter, thankfully, change his name to Marley Marl, and would go one to co-found Cold Chillin’ Records, and put together a crew of formidable emcees called the Juice Crew (which just made me realize, I don’t own any of Biz-Markie’s albums…interesting). After producing releases from MC Shan, Biz Markie, and Big Daddy Kane (all on his Cold Chillin’ imprint), Marley decided to release his first compilation album in 1988, In Control Vol. 1.
In Control Vol. 1 is a 10 song compilation produced entirely by Marley Marl with songs from Juice Crew members: Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, Masta Ace, Biz Markie, MC Shan, Roxanne Shante, Craig G, Tragedy aka Intelligent Hoodlum, and unofficial member Heavy D.
Will an album produced by one of hip-hop’s best producers with contributions from legendary Juice Crew emcees live up to its potential? Let’s find out.
Droppin’ Science – Craig G opens the show over a vintage and funky Marley Marl track, turning in 4 solid verses. I guess when you run with great emcees such as Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, which is a shame because Craig G is a pretty formidable emcee himself (although his catalog won’t really support that claim). Nice start to tonight’s show.
We Write The Songs – This is a Biz Markie – Heavy D duet, which I must say is an unusual collaboration. Biz, whose better known for his comedy as oppose to his lyrical prowess, actually sound pretty decent over Marley’s drunken production (the sing uses the same sample used in EPMD’s “Jane” from Strictly Business). Heavy D, whom I’m sure isn’t in anyone’s top ten, even sounds serviceable on this one (he even gives a shot out to Coca-Cola whom he would eventually make a few dollars off of endorsing Sprite). While this isn’t a great song, it’s mildly entertaining.
The Rebel – A young Intelligent Hoodlum, also known as Tragedy, gets a chance to talk his shit on the mic. I think I may have found the source material for the title of the greatest hip-hop album off all time (and the name of this blog) in this song. While he mostly does a solid job emceeing, he does show a few suspect moments: according to Tragedy you won’t find the words in his vocabulary in the dictionary (does that mean his vocab is limited to just slang?), and apparently his biceps pulsate in his lungs (WTF?). Then things get really sloppy as his final verse is muted half way through his rhyme, and then a few seconds later he reemerges to shout out his people. Probably should have taken a little more time to clean this one up, Marley.
Keep Your Eye On The Prize – Marley Marl invites a young Master Ace to the party, to record what I’m pretty sure is Ace’s first official release. Master Ace (who is severely underrated and often forgotten) turns in solid verses as he keeps it positive, encouraging the listener to avoid the snares the inner-city may lay in your path and set goals (he also manages to mix in a little shit talking for good measure). Even more so than Craig G, the greatness of Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap, have hindered the respect that Master Ace, who is a hip-hop legend in his own right (and arguably has a stronger catalog then both BDK and Kool G) is due. Marley’s beat works well under Ace’s cerebral rhymes, making this an enjoyable listen.
The Symphony – This is arguably the greatest posse cut of all-time. Over a funky piano sample, Master Ace and Craig G warm things up and for Kool G Rap, who completely leaves the mic in flames; and Kane somehow manages to hold the burning mic in hand and destroy it before it completely turns to ashes on the booth floor. G Rap and Big Daddy’s verses provide a legitimate reason why Craig G and Master Ace are often overlooked, on this song. The only complaint I have with this song is the order of the verses: while Kane sounds great, the true star of this song is Kool G Rap, so it would only make sense that you save the best for last, right? Even with that slight mishap, this is a bona fide hip-hop classic, and any true fan of hip-hop must become familiar with it, immediately.
Live Motivator – Tragedy gets a second solo joint and displays his verbal dexterity over a funky Marley beat (I love the bass line in this one). Most forget, but the Juice Crew has a pretty strong army during it’s reign.
Duck Alert – Tragedy gets two solos, so it’s only right Craig G gets two. This time around Craig goes after wack emcees and specifically calls out the marketing genius (in my opinion) and Salt N Pepa producer Hurby LuvBug, accusing him of biting Marley’s beats (which I find ironic since the beat for this song would be bitten, chewed, swallowed, and regurgitated several times in the years that followed). Marley’s stripped down production is the perfect backdrop for Craig’s battle rhymes. This was nice.
Simon Says – Apparently Craig G, Tragedy, and Master Ace were the featured artist for In Control Vol. 1, as this is Ace’s second solo, which evens the score at two a piece for the three emcees. Unfortunately, Ace doesn’t take advantage of his second opportunity, since lyrically and conceptially, this sucked. Ace is only part to blame since Marley’s drum beat grows tiresome due to the fact he added nothing to it to help spice it up. Simon says: skip this song.
Freedom – Shan shows up to the show rather late, which is surprising since Shan proclaims on this song he and Marley are as close as a shave (I’ve always wondered why Shan didn’t get a spot on “The Symphony”). The content of the song has nothing to do with the song title, but I guess he had to call it something (this was also included on Shan’s second album Born To Be Wild, which was released later the same year). Shan sounds decent over a solid Marley track, that’s all I got.
Wack ITT – The first lady of the Juice Crew, most popular for her feud with KRS-One, Roxanne Shante closes out the show over a wack Marley Marl track, which was completely intentional in its wackness. Marley Marl’s track is a parity of JJ Fad’s “Supersonic”, and Shante is in full hater mode as she verbally attacks JJ Fad for putting out such a wack record, but, tries her hand at a similar record just to see if she could turn a gimmck into hit like her adversaries. Unfortunately, it didn’t work: which led to Shante eventually giving up to the mic all together to focus on education, where she would go onto earn her bachelor’s and later a master degree, so there is a silver lining at the end of the tunnel. Well, at least the song lives up to its name.
In Control Vol. 1 proves the old saying correct: less is more. Marley provides 10 tracks for his juice crew to spit over, and more often than not, the songs work. While “The Symphony” is without question the best song on the album with nothing else coming remotely close in comparison, its greatness (thanks largely to the ferocious rhymes from Kane, and more importantly, G. Rap), there are a bunch of solid songs to enjoy. Yes, there are a few hiccups at the end, but overall In Control Vol. 1 plays out how I prefer my women: short and sweet.