I was a pre-teen in 1989, and I can remember my mom would take my twin sister and I to Target with her for frequent household need runs, because in a house of 7 someone was always using the last bit of toilet paper without letting her know they used the last roll. Around the same time I begin receiving my first dosages of hip-hop in the form of music videos. Each Target visit for me consisted of a stop by the electronic section to check out the new music releases. On this particular visit I stumbled across 3rd Bass’ The Cactus Album (the compact disc was labeled The Cactus Ceedee, but it 89′ only a select few owned cds. It was all about the cassette tape, son). Their first single “Steppin’ To The AM”, was in heavy rotation on the video shows, so I proceeded to cohoarse my mom into buying it for me (even though they didn’t condone secular music in the house…I’m a PK), making The Cactus Album my first ever musical purchase (followed by K-Solo’s Times Up and BDP’s Edutaiment a few months later)…or my mama’s first ever musical purchase for me.
For those who don’t know (or can’t tell by the cover art posted above) the emcees of 3rd Bass, M.C. Serch and Prime Minister Pete Nice, are caucasian. Unlike the Beastie Boys, 3rd Bass weren’t former rockers turned clowns on the mic (although legend has it that Serch attempted to join up with the Beastie after signing to Def Jam), and unlike Mr. Van Winkle they weren’t posers pretending to be something they were not. Peter “Nice” Nash and Micheal “Serch” Berrin (whose personalities were completely opposite), who were born and bred in Brooklyn and Queens respectively, were two kids who took to the happenings of their environment, which happen to included hip-hop. Back in 87′ Sam Sever (who would be responsible for the bulk of the production on The Cactus Album) convinced then Columbia University english major Pete Nice (who also hosted a hip-hop radio show at the University) to start rhyming with M.C. Serch, who at this time was already performing solo on the NY club scene. Add DJ Richie Rich to the mix and 3rd Bass was born.
The trio inked a deal with Def Jam (ironically, right around the same time The Beasties defected to Capitol…coincedence, I think not. Sounds like Russell was looking for another hot white act to cash in on, now that his money cow was gone… but hey, white label Execs do it all the time to black groups, so now were even…well not quite even) released The Cactus Album in October of 89′ and eventually it would quietly reach gold status, thanks to a few mild hits, with “Gas Face” probably being there biggest. The duo (I mean trio, sorry Rich) would go one to release one more album together (more on that at a later date) before they disbanded, tried solo careers, then faded into the hip-op obscurity, forever. Serch actually reemerged in the mid 2000’s, trying the reality tv path (i.e., The White Rapper Show), only to fall deeper into the black hole with added taint on his reputation.
Nostalgia has a funny way of playing tricks on our memory. Lets see what 20 years has done to The Cactus Album.
Stymie’s Theme – Short instrumental from the Little Rascal…
Sons Of 3rd Bass – I’ve always loved this Sam Sever/Pete Nice concocted production. It serves as the perfect instrumental to kick off the album as Serch and Nice trade verses over the stellar instrumental. Pete Nice’s minute plus rambling of someone who apparently pissed him off in that past, is hilarious, but Sam Sever’s movie sample at the very end (“he is stupid, but he knows that he is stupid, and that almost makes him smart”) is hi-larious! Great way to start the show, fellas.
Russell Rush – Russell Simmons rambling about the group name…
The Gas Face – Hip-hop classic and probably 3rd Bass biggest hit to date. Prince Paul provides the backdrop for 3rd Bass and their invited guest Zev Love X (better known today as the masked one MF Doom) to give sucka emcees (including Hammer, and anybody else they don’t like) the gas face (another way of giving someone the finger). You’re probably familiar with this but if not, get yourself acquainted. This is essential hip-hip music.
Monte Hall – The Sever-Nice connection unite for the second production credit of the evening, providing a laidback-jazzy instrumental (someone else has used this sample before but I can’t quite put my finger on the song right now) for Serch and Nice to talk about ladies they’ve met at dance halls (which must be an inside joke as even in the late eighties they called them clubs). This was decent..far from great, but decent enough to listen to without hitting the skip button.
Oval Office – After meeting the ladies at the Monte Hall, natural progression would have the duo taking their feminine acquaintances home to explore their, oval offices (props to Search and Pete for the clever song title). Even more interesting is that the Bomb Squad provides the instrumental (and a few hi-larious vocal samples) for Serch and Pete to, take office over, and they actually sound pretty comfortable over the Bomb Squad production.
Hoods – Interlude…
Soul In The Hole – Serch and Pete use this Sam Sever beat as a simile comparing rapping to basketball, and do a pretty effective job in the process (I love the “you got your socks up to your knee like Michael Cooper” line). Sever’s instrumental makes for the perfect laid back backdrop for the duo to shoot over. Who said white boys can’t jump?
Triple Stage Darkness – Serch and Pete Nice provide some interesting rhymes, touching on a bunch of racial issues and misconceptions, with Pete even acknowledging that white privilege does indeed exist. Sever’s instrumental work matches the duo’s serious substance, perfectly. This was nice.
M.C. Disagree – Useless interlude…
Wordz Of Wizdom – The title doesn’t really fit the content of the song, as Serch and Pete’s rhymes jump all over the place, but Sever’s instrumental work, once again sounds very nice. That’s all I got, kids.
Products Of The Environment – I believe this was the third single off the album. Serch and Pete use this Sam Sever beat to let the listening public know they’re not just two white dudes from the burbs posing as hip-hop heads, but kids that actually grew up in the hood and took to the happenings of their environment. Overall this was a pretty enjoyable listen.
Desert Boots – Interlude setting up…
The Cactus – This. First there was the Jimmy, then the Bozak, and now…the cactus (which makes me think of Ice Cube’s line:black dude’s jimmies and white boy’s cactus…I know that was random but I had to throw it sonehow). The duo provide pretty entertaining lines, but the true star of this song is Sam Sever’s drum heavy instrumental. Wonder what Sam’s up to these days…
Jim Backus – …
Flippin’ Off The Wall Like Lucy Ball – Serch does his best Louie Armstrong impersonation over a jazzy Sam Sever sample. Twenty years later and this is still hi-larious!
Brooklyn-Queens – Okay, this might have been the third single and ” Product Of The Environment” the fourth? I can’t quite remember, but I know there are videos for both songs. Anyway, Sever samples The Emotion’s “Best Of My Love” for the meat of his instrumental that Serch and Pete dedicate to the
gold diggers ladies of Brooklyn and Queens. I remember this being a lot more enjoyable back in the day than it sounds today. That said
Steppin’ To The A.M. – I’m positive this was the first single off of The Cactus Album. I still remember Serch bustin’ a move in the video while Pete posted up with his cooler than cool poise. One thing I did overlook all these years is that The Bomb Squad is responsible for the production on this (which listening to it today I should have been able to tell). I can’t remember anything Serch or Pete said, but the instrumental was pretty entertaining.
Episode #3 – …
Who’s On Third – Sam Sever and Pete Nice cut up portions of the famous Abbott and Costello skit with random sound bites thrown in for good measure. Not great, but it’s short which makes it tolerable.
Wordz Of Wizdom (II) – Same lyrics as the original mix with a different instrumental. Sever’s instrumental this time around sounds empty, rendering the original mix the stronger of the two.
The Cactus Album is one of those hip-hop releases from the late eighties that is often overlooked or just plain forgotten about. This is understandable when you consider the monster hip-hip releases from the late eighties, if not 88′ alone. Sam Sever’s production is consistently solid (and at times brilliant) throughout, and while neither M.C. Serch or Pete Nice are great emcees, they both turn in serviceable performances, keeping pace with Sam Sever’s heat. Like most hip-hop albums there are a few missteps (and way too many skits), but overall The Cactus Album is a solid listen from beginning to end.