Back in the mid eighties Nathaniel Wilson, an inspiring rapper from Queens, was in search of a deejay to help jump-start his rap career. One night while out clubbing Nathaniel stopped at a local spot, bumping into a man carrying a crate full of records and the impact caused the records to crash from the man’s crates to the floor. Both men bent down to gather the fallen records and their hands met while retreiving Billy Joel’s 52nd Street vinyl (insert slow music as the two gaze into each others eyes) . The man carrying the crate was DJ Polo, and if you haven’t figured it out by now the inspiring rapper was Kool G. Rap.
Eric B actually introduced G Rap to Polo but you have to admit my Broke Back Mountain fairytale was a lot more entertaining.
Eric introduced G. Rap to Polo, who knew Marley Marl, and convinced Marley to let G. Rap and himself record at his home studio. Legend has it that Marley was blown away by G. Rap’s skill it led to Marley adding the duo to his Juice Crew roster and eventually inking deal on his Cold Chillin imprint.
After making a stellar cameo on Marley Marl’s “The Symphony” from Marley’s 1988 release In Control Vol 1, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo would release their debut album Road To The Riches in 1989.
Road To The Riches didn’t move a ton of units but it was well received on the east coast. Lets give it a listen and see how it stacks up today.
Road To The Riches – Over a funky Marley Marl piano sample, G. Rap goes straight to work, spitting potent rhymes in his signature lisped delivery about his journey to obtain wealth (which apparently has taken a few different routes). The intro was kind of funny as G. Rap refers to his partner (Polo) as plural, calling him “Polos”. This was a great start to the evenings proceedings.
It’s A Demo – One of the many things I hate about hip-hop these days is the industry imposed song formatting. Everybody’s so concerned with commercial success that every song has to have that mandatory 16 bar, 3 verse (maybe 4) format. Not G. Rap (in 89 at least). This song is all over the place, ranging from 2 bars verses to well over 16 bar verses. The track has a demo feel but G Rap’s vocal don’t. He ferociously rips this track with raw lyrics matching the rawness of the instrumental. This was sick, especially considering it’s just a demo.
Men At Work – Some of you younger cats might remember Black Thought paying homage to this song on “Thought @ Work” from the Roots Phrenology album. Again, G. Rap throws format to the wind, and spits freestyle rhymes for what roughly works out to be 2 and a half verses, sounding great in the process. The minimal break beat (which is credited to Marley Marl but it sounds like Dr. Butcher has something to do with it since G. Rap credits him with providing the “cement” for the song) works well as the foundation for G. Rap’s skyscraper.
Truly Yours – G. Rap kicks 3 hilarious verses about his ex, who left him for a drug dealer, and even dedicates the second verse to dissin’ her new street pharmacist (who apparently wants to be a woman?). After all the Karrine Steffans confessions (by the way the girl is still blazin’) it was kind of funny to hear G. Rap call out his ex’s new man for being a women beater. Pot, meet Kettle. I just listened to this song and I don’t remember much about the instrumental (take that for what it is), but the rhymes were hilariously entertaining.
Cars – This was an obvious attempt at a crossover hit. Marley’s beat is built around a sample of a pop song from the 80’s (although I can’t put my finger on the song’s title or the artist who sang the song) for G. Rap to spit rhymes about the benefits of having a fly car. Did I mention G. Rap’s hooks have consistently sucked throughout the album? Oh, well they do. In case you didn’t guess already, the song never crossed over. This was terrible, G. Rap.
Trilogy Of Terror – The beat, which sounds like a bunch of noise, gets so annoying by the middle of the first verse I thought about breaking the disc in half and slicing off both ears so I wouldn’t have to suffer any longer (or I could just hit the skip button, but then I’d be doing you a disservice). What’s up with the harmonica during the refrain? Really? When has a harmonica ever provoked a feeling of terror? Apparently, G. Rap, DJ Polo, and Dr. Butcher account for the three parts of this trilogy, so it’s safe to assume Dr. Butcher had a hand in producing this beat, even though Marley Marl gets the production credit (which was probably best for Dr. Butcher reputation). Unfortunately, the instrumental was so bad I don’t remember much of anything G. Rap spit. Oh, how fast the tide turns.
She Love’s Me, She Loves Me Not – One of the rare moments in G. Rap’s catalog that he shows some vulnerability. G. Rap get serious waxing poetic about his true love who has left him blue and lonely (maybe this was dedicated to Karrine Steffans?). But this isn’t a LL Cool J sappy rap ballad. This song actually has legs, thanks largely to a sick track provided by Marley Marl. Not bad, G. Rap.
Cold Cuts – G. Rap provides the opening (and only) verse, which works as an introduction for DJ Polo to do his thing on the wheels of steel (before he’s thrown out the studio by Marley at the end of the song while still giving his shout outs). It is what it is, and it was what it was. I’m just thankful it was short.
Rhyme I Express – Although the instrumental as well as G. Rap’s delivery sound dated, this song still worked for me. I love the scratched sample on the hook, and even though G. Rap’s delivery sounds a bit too old school for my taste buds, his content is still potent enough to hold your attention.
Poison – This is where Bell Biv DeVoe got the vocal sample for the hook (and bridge) of their mega hit under the same title (Roots fans will also recognize a portion of G. Rap’s second verse being recited by Black Thought as homage to G. Rap on “Boom!”, where he does a phenomenal job of not only reciting and mimicking G. Rap voice and delivery, but also does a great impersonation of Big Daddy Kane as well…check it out if you’ve never heard it). Marley’s raw instrumental (which uses a piece of the same sample from Kane’s “Raw”) is the perfect backdrop for G Rap to go completely bananas on. I’m curious on who (if anybody in particular) G. Rap was talking about at the end: as he accuses an unnamed “big fat sap sucka” of biting “It’s A Demo”. If anybody have info on this, hit me up in the comments.
Butcher Shop – This is pretty much G Rap’s ode to DJ Polo. And with that, we’re done.
Road To The Riches is a good introduction to one of the most greatly underrated emcees of all time. There is no question that G. Rap is sharp with the lyrics, even with his heavily lisped vocal. G. Rap probably would have fared well in construction as he demonstrates with his ability to build verses, with each line representing a brick for the next one to lay upon. Unfortunately, lyrics alone don’t make a great album; it only accounts for half of the equation, unless it’s an acapella album, and that would qualify it as spoken word… but I digress. Marley’s production (with help from Dr. Butcher) runs the gamut ranging from great to down right terrible, all packaged and wrapped up beautifully in the form of a 46 minute adventure. While Road To The Riches is far from a great album, more so do to the uneven production, it is worth a listen, if only to hear the foundational work of one the greatest to ever bless a microphone.
An interesting blog post there mate ! Thank you for it .
Far from great? You’re being harsh here. I think the rough spots on By All Means Necessary, Long Live The Kane, Follow The Leader and The Great Adventures are just as bad. The best three, four tracks here, while not as “classic” as a My Philosophy, Ain’t No Halfstepping or Children’s Story, are the absolute zenith of hip hop as an art in its most basic form, and I feel this album deserves to be in the pantheon of classics. Kool G. Rap is a monster. Like Nas said: Rakim was scientific with it, Kane was acrobatic, but G. Rap was like bloody chainsaws fighting each other lyrical style. He took it to the highest possible level.
I definitely respect your opinion and appreciate your passion for the culture. I’ve never heard that Nas quote before but its definitely a fitting description of three of the greatest emcees of all-time. Thanks for reading!