Dred Scott – Breakin’ Combs (March 22, 1994)

Jonathan “Dred” Scott is an emcee/producer who was born in New York but grew up in Los Angles. Jonathan’s alias, Dred Scott, was taken from the name of a slave who went to court an attempt to buy his freedom, and won the case at the state level, only later to have the decision overturned by the Supreme Court (bastards). Nonetheless, the case would become a pivotal milestone in the movement towards abolishing slavery in the United States…and that concludes your history lesson for today, folks. Both of Dred’s parents were artists (his father was a singer and his mother a dancer) who actually met on Broadway, so it was only a matter of time before Dred would spread his creative wings, choosing hip-hop as his art form of choice. After grinding on the chitlin’ circuit aka the underground scene, Dred Scott would sign a deal with A&M Records, where he would release his debut album Breakin’ Combs.

Dred Scott once told the O.G. hip-hop journalist Dr. Bombay in an interview that the “Comb” in the album’s title symbolizes rules and styles that hip-hop tries to put you in based on where you’re from. “So for me, I’m breakin’ out of all that”, said Scott. “I’m breakin’ boundaries. The comb symbolized boundaries.” The album’s liner notes have random quotes and one is from Dred Scott that supports this sentiment:”Labeling my style would be like trying to comb my hair” (which would be difficult, considering he rocked locks). Like his alias, I believe the album title also represents Dred’s Afrocentric pride, as in he’s so black that his nappy hair would break any comb it comes in contact with (plus the album’s artwork dons an afro pick). Dred Scott would produce the entirety of Breakin’ Combs (the liner humorously read “Produced & Arranged by Dred Scott (Yes, I do my own beats)”), which did produce a few singles that made some noise on the underground level, but both the singles and the album failed to chart, and Dred Scott would fade away in to hip-hop obscurity.

I found Breakin’ Combs a few years ago at a Pawn America that was getting rid of all their cds and selling them all for two or three dollars a piece (which is an amazing deal considering the cheapest you can find a used copy of the album on Amazon is for $43). Since I remembered a few of Dred’s singles being pretty dope, I figured I had…wait for it… “nutin’ ta lose”, so I bought it. Die hard Dred Scott fans will get that corny pun now and the rest of you after you read this post.

Back In The Day – Not to be confused with Ahmad’s song with the same name that was also released as a single in 1994 (stay tuned for more on Ahmad’s debut album in a few more moons). Over a fresh jazz drenched backdrop, Dred tells his story of humble beginnings, hustle and hunger that ultimately helped him secure his record deal. Ahmad’s single would go on to be the bigger hit of the two (I mean, its hard to out do the smooth hypotonicness of that ill Bobby Womack guitar loop that Ahmad used on the remix), but Dred Scott’s joint is still really dope.

Duck Ya Head – Over a decent mid-tempo backdrop Dred Scott shares a long drawn out tale of how karma can catch up with you when you’re involved in ill deeds, even though it sounds like the whole story is supposed to be a dream…I think. Dred raps the whole song with a slightly animated wacky delivery, which makes some of his rhymes hard to understand. I’m not a fan of this one.

Can’t Hold It Back – Dred combines a big horn loop with hard drums and a slick moody bass line, and turns it into a nasty backdrop for he and his guest, Da Grinch, to flex on. Dred gets busy, but Da Grinch (who reminds me of Freddy Foxxx aka Bumpy Knuckles on this one) takes the final verse and steals Christmas (which he does cleverly make reference to on his verse) and the whole show. This was dope.

Check The Vibe – I believe this was the third single released from Breakin’ Combs, and one of the reasons I bought the album. Dred lays down an instrumental that is equally melodic, somber and beautiful, as he waxes poetic with lines like: “I see the visions of my brothers no longer here, I hold back a tear, when he whispers in my ear” and “A young girl starin’ in the car to the right, I smile back taken by my own sense of sight”. His wife, Adriana Evans compliments the beauty of the track, blessing it with her sweet vocal during the hook. This one sounds better today than it did nearly 25 years ago.

Dirty Old Man Skit – I’m really not sure why this skit even exists. First of all, it interrupts all the beauty and depth that “Check The Vibe” brought. Furthermore, it’s pointless and adds nothing to the album. Next…

The Story – Dred Scott’s instrumental on this one reminds me of the dopeness that Premo created for Mos Def’s masterpiece “Mathematics”. Our host uses the solid backdrop to spin a tale about how a slow Friday night turns into a dramatic eventful evening that leaves Dred wishing he would have stayed his ass at home. This was decent and a lot better executed than the hot mess that was “Duck Ya Head”.

To Da Old School – This interlude opens with Dred and his label mate Tragedy aka the Intelligent Hoodlum, in the studio getting ready to record, before Dred drops the bombshell on his guest that his drum machine is broken. But have no fear, because Dred Scott can make beats with his hands as well as with his mouth. He drops a decent beatbox for Trag to spit an average freestyle over, and all this is to set up the next song.

Funky Rhythms – Our host lays down a dope mid-tempo groove (I’m a sucka for a dope organ loop) as he and Tragedy takes turns spittin’ rhymes on the mic, and both do a serviceable job.

Swingin’ From The Tree – Dred pulls out his wacky animated flow once again for this one (he actually sounds a little like Sadat-X at the start of his first verse), as he’s calling out the Uncle Toms and lighter shaded blacks who try to dissociate themselves from the rest of us black folks. But as Dred puts it, no matter how hard these sellouts try “there’s no escaping the noose around your neck in your light skin ecstasy, swingin’ from the tree right next to me”. Adriana Evans reappears and does her best Hillary Banks impersonation, as she plays a redbone female trying to explain away her blackness in between Dred’s verses. This song had good intentions, but Dred’s conscious content gets lost in his cartoonish delivery.

Intro – I’m left to assume that if you bought Breakin’ Combs on cassette, this “Intro” marks the beginning of side two. The short interlude has Dred Scott chomping on chips while doing a radio interview (so professional) and answering the interviewer’s request to describe his style. His response then bleeds into the next song…

Nutin’ Ta Lose – If my memory serves me correct, this was the first Dred Scott record that I ever heard. Over a hard bass-heavy backdrop (the bass line on this one reminds me of Nas’ “Halftime”) Dred grabs the mic and goes for broke because “like a runaway slave headed north with no shoes” he’s “got nothin’ to lose”. This was solid.

Liar – Dred lays down a smooth mellow groove (I love the guitar lick sprinkled in for good measure) and proceeds to drop gem after gem for the duration of this song: “If the beat is fat should I put it on a diet? If a crack fiend is selling me a pullout should I buy it? On the spot…on the spot…on the spot…on the spot…the soul leaves the body as the flesh starts to rot…the leaders with the little dicks have all the power, so the milk from the breast of the earth turns sour…sad is the man with the barefoot blues, ’til he sees the naked brother only having a pair of shoes…tell a girl you love her, but is that really true? Your genitals make you belief that you do, so she lets you ride her like the Lone Ranger, ejaculation makes the girl look like a stranger”. This joint definitely puts Dred Scott’s lyrical ability on display and is easily one of the strongest songs on Breakin’ Combs.

Rough E Nuff – Wait. Did he really just make light of getting molested by his female babysitter when he was eight? Regardless, this song is useless fodder.

My Mind Is Driftin’ – This may be Dred Scott’s magnum opus. Over a beautiful jazzy instrumental (Dred had beats, yo!) our host lets his stream of consciousness flow, spilling his best bars on Breakin’ Combs: “Mother says time flies when you’re having fun, Pop said it flies even if you’re having none”, “Visions of a Motherland that I never knew, see the gangsta take the forty top off the brew, pour it out for the G six feet below, like an African king many moons ago…it’s all connected, so don’t ask why, that’s cause I know how to kiss the sky.” Dred drops so many jewels and ill visual rhymes that this whole song is worthy of quoting. This is my favorite song on the album.

They Don’t Know – Coming on the heels of the greatness that was the previous song, this shit is almost blasphemous. Our host spits probably his most underwhelming rhymes of the evening, and both his instrumental and his guest Big Domino (not to be confused with the “Getto Jam” Domino) are trash.

Frankie’s Groove – The final song on Breakin’ Combs begins with Dred Scott sharing his theory on why there aren’t that many young black musicians (which is a pretty solid one). The song then morphs into a jam session with his friends: JMD on drums, Rastine Calhoun on sax, Danny Grissett on keys and Osama Afifi on bass. Collectively, they make pleasant jazzy album outro music.

I was familiar with a few of Dred Scott’s songs before this post and respected his rhyming ability, but after living with Breakin’ Combs for the past few weeks, I was pleasantly surprised with just how lyrical and conscious Mr. Scott could be. His less impressive moments on Breakin’ Combs come when he tries to be playful and light-hearted, rapping with his animated cadence and delivery (see “Duck Ya Head”, “Swingin’ From The Tree” and “Ruff E Nuff”), which almost feels like he’s (maybe at the label’s request) dumbing himself down so not to come off too conscious; but don’t sleep (no pun intended), Dred is very smart and as the kids say, woke. And he may be as dope a producer as he is an emcee, as he strings together some flavorful soundscapes with a handful of great instrumentals mix in the pot as well. Breakin’ Combs does have a few issues, but the good far out weighs the bad, making this a solid debut from Dred Scott, and leaving me wondering why the hell he didn’t continue making hop-hop music.

Dred Scott once said in an interview many moons ago: “I’m just an emcee who’s trying to do dope hip-hop, and every once in a while there will be a deep message in there”. That statement pretty much sums up Breakin’ Combs in a nutshell.

-Deedub

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One Response to Dred Scott – Breakin’ Combs (March 22, 1994)

  1. Tony A Wilson says:

    I never got this when it came out. I listened to it on google music as I read along with the review. I must say, I slept on this joint. This was a pleasant surprise. Maybe he got fed up with the shady record industry or he was in debt to the label and couldn’t get an advance for a second album.

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