Most heads probably don’t remember when Pete Rock remixed Johnny Gill’s “Rub You The Right Way” back in 1990, and along with CL Smooth, spit a verse on it. Pete Rock already had a foot in the game at the time, producing tracks for his cousin Heavy D (rip) in the late eighties, but the “Rub You The Right Way” remix was PR and CL’s introduction to the world as a group. Most heads probably became familiar with the dynamic duo with the release of their EP, All Souled Out in 1991, which created a bit of a buzz, thanks to “Mecca & The Soul Brother” and more so, “The Creator”. They would return in 1992 with the release of their debut full length album Mecca & The Soul Brother.
The title, Mecca & The Soul Brother, is a reference to the duo’s other aliases (CL being the Mecca Don and Pete Rock the Soul brother). Like All Souled Out, Pete Rock would produce the entire project (with a little help from a special guest on one song, that we’ll discuss a little later), providing soulful loops over his signature heavy drum, for his partner in rhyme, CL Smooth, to spit over. While Mecca & The Soul Brother didn’t sell a ton of units, it did receive heaps of critical acclaim, as many consider it to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, and The Source even put it on their 1998 list of 100 greatest albums of all time.
Return Of The Mecca – Pete Rock kicks things off with a short spoken word piece, before his signature heavy drums come in, and CL (whose alias is also Mecca, hence the song title) goes right to work, constructing intelligently articulated battle rhymes, that can easily be missed if you don’t pay close attention. I’m not a huge fan of PR’s instrumental on this one, but it wasn’t terrible.
For Pete’s Sake – Pete Rock hooks up a beautiful backdrop on this one, that CL uses to spill more of his smooth verbals over. PR actually spits a verse on this one too (that he oddly recites half of before the song even begins), courtesy of Grand Puba, who penned it for him; but he’s a producer, so the ghostwriting is forgiven (Pete would actually pick up the pen for Main Ingredient, and write some pretty dope lines [see “Escapism”], but I digress). This is sick!
Ghettos Of The Mind – Hmmm…this PR instrumental sounds very similar to the one he used for “Return Of The Mecca”, which I wasn’t a big fan of. Too bad this one didn’t have a better backdrop to bring out the jewels CL drops, as he challenges all ghetto dwellers to first change their way of thinking, so they can then change their physical condition.
Lots Of Lovin – This was the third single released from Mecca & The Soul Brother, and the perfect example of what a hip-hop love song should sound like. Pete Rock creates a laid back melodic backdrop (with some keyboard work provided by Nevelle Hodge) that has good vibes dripping all over it, while CL articulates his love and affection for the lady in his life. CL avoids the corny clichés and cheesy lines (for the most part) that most of his contemporaries fall into when attempting this type of song, and provides a mature and manly perspective on love, without sounding sappy. Well done, gents.
Act Like You Know – Now this is a legendary production duo: Pete Rock and Large Professor. PR gets the production credit with a co-credit going to Extra P for this funky concoction. CL sounds, um, smooth as usual, but the PR/Large Pro instrumental is the star of this one.
Straighten It Out – This was the second single released from Mecca & The Soul Brother. Over a soulful mid tempo groove, CL confronts bootleggers, older artist that protest hip-hop heads sampling their music, and challenges his team to get things in order to keep their business tight. This was solid.
Soul Brother #1 – Pete Rock rolls dolo on this one, as he spits two more Grand Puba written verses over his own dark, funky, and yet, so smooth, instrumental. Dope.
Wig Out – This was pretty average.
Anger In The Nation – The lyrics on this one are credited to CL Smooth and his cousin, Adofo Abdullah Muhammad. CL states in Brian Coleman’s Check The Technique, “I wanted to make something real conscious, and be deliberate about it. Adofo showed me how to approach it and what I should say”. CL gets on his soapbox as he addresses the racial issues confronting America. Solid rhymes from CL but PR’s instrumental was hard to swallow, apparently even for PR, as he has been quoted as saying he could have done better with the production on this one. Agreed.
They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) – This was the lead single, and (brace yourself) it may be the greatest hip-hop song ever recorded. After a soulful instrumental intro that sets the mood for reminiscing, Pete Rock brings in the sickest horn sample ever used in hip-hop, and drops a glorious instrumental built around Tom Scott’s “Today”(which is where the horn sample was taken from as well) and monster drums. CL fittingly, takes a trip down memory lane, as he vividly repaints his journey from birth to manhood, sharing some of his memories along the way. The song title is a dedication to one of Heavy D’s back up dancers, Trouble T-Roy, who died a few years prior in a freak accident. This was and always will be brilliant. I’m sure they made their late homie proud.
On And On – This one begins with a Pete Rock beat box and his younger brother, Grap Luva freestyling. Then the beat drops and the real song begins. Not a terrible song, but quite a drop in quality compared to the monster that the previous song was.
It’s Like That – Filler that should have been left on the cutting room floor. You’ll forget everything about the song as soon as it’s over.
Can’t Front On Me – Now this is more like it. Pete Rock steers this ship back in the right direction with an aggressive instrumental that happens to sample the same song (Where Do I Go?”, from the Broadway play Hair) but a different version, that Pete would later use for easily one of his top 5 greatest instrumentals, Run DMC’s “Down With The King”. CL spits his battle rhymes in such a gentlemen like manner, that his adversaries probably wouldn’t even realize he was coming for their neck. This was dope!
The Basement – PR and CL invite a few of their crew members to the stu for this cipher session: Rob O, Grap Luva, Dido and the overweight lover Heavy D (rip). Each party kicks a verse, and honestly, no one really stands out. PR’s instrumental is decent but not what I would expect to hear behind a cipher session.
If It Aint Rough, It Aint Right – This is another one that probably could have been left off the final cut. CL sounds solid, but PR’s instrumental is only average.
Skinz – It’s only right that our hosts invite Grand Puba to join in on this one, as they each spit a verse about Puba’s favorite topic, and he easily walks away with this one.
Let me first start by admitting that I have severely underappreciated the skill and professionalism that CL brings to the table as an emcee. Pete Rock has and will always be respected as one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time, but I’m sure like me, many others have also overlooked the Mecca Don and not given him his just dues. After several listens to Mecca this past week, my respect for him as an emcee has gone up, tremendously. Now that I go that out the way, on to my feelings about Mecca.
The chemistry between this duo is undeniable, and for the most part, CL Smooth’s intricate and sophisticated flows sound perfect over PR’s soulful soundscapes, although there are a few dry spots along the way. Mecca has quite a few sick joints and undeniable classics (including arguably the greatest hip-hop song of all-time in “TROY”), but four or five songs should have been chopped off as they sound like filler material. Mecca is a solid full length debut from the duo, but I’d have to take a long hard look at The Source’s top 100 list, twice, before I co-sign their claim.