Pete Rock & CL Smooth made quite the impression with their 1992 debut full-length release Mecca & The Soul Brother. The album showcased the undeniable chemistry between CL’s slick rhyming ability and Pete Rock’s jazzy production style, and while it wasn’t a commercial success, it was a critical darling that many consider to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time (The Source also included it on their 1998 list of the Top 100 Rap Albums of All-Time). It also gave us, arguably, the greatest hip-hop song of all time in “T.R.O.Y.”. The Mount Vernon duo would return two years later with their sophomore effort, The Main Ingredient.
The Soul Brother and the Mecca Don would use the same ingredients as their previous release: CL holding down most of the mic duties and Pete controlling the boards, and occasionally dropping a verse or two. Like Mecca, The Main Ingredient didn’t reap much commercial success, but it did help the duo build on the critical acclaim they received with the former.
Unfortunately, The Main Ingredient would be the last project Pete and CL would release together as a group. I recently heard CL in an interview promoting his new solo project on Sway In The Morning, and it doesn’t sound like the two have resolved their issues, So, we probably won’t be getting any new music from the golden era legends anytime soon.
But I’ll keep the faith.
In The House – After a short interlude with a bouncy instrumental and a Biz Markie vocal sample, Pete Rock drops a soulful loop, dripping with feel good vibes placed over his signature hard hitting drums. And the cherries on top are a few dope Q-Tip vocal samples (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check), with one shouting out the Mount Vernon twosome on the hook. CL sounds smooth on the mic, as usual (pun intended) and Pete even drops a decent verse sandwiched in between CL’s. Great way to start the show.
Carmel City – In the imaginary city called Carmel, “CL is God” and all the ladies want a piece of him: “Topnotch, butterscotch lyrics set the mood, to make the most gorgeous women wanna get nude.” CL drops clever couplets in his laidback easy going delivery over a silky smooth PR instrumental that completes the mood that the Mecca Don’s set with his rhymes.
I Get Physical – Pete Rock hooks up a dope Big Daddy Kane vocal loop and an ill guitar loop for the backdrop, as CL continues to spew his seemingly endless batch of abstract poetic rhymes.
Sun Won’t Come Out – I’m pretty sure that every prominent hip-hop producer from the nineties sampled Bob James’ “Nautilus” at least once. Add Pete Rock to that list. CL’s rhymes are sharp, but Pete’s instrumental is average at best. And his repetitive adlibs and nonsensical hook quickly become a nuisance.
I Got A Love – This was the lead single from The Main Ingredient. Over a soulful pimp strut inducing backdrop, CL’s in mack daddy mode, as he spits witty bars about his search for a woman with an “ageless body and timeless mind” whom when he “wines and dines she pays the bill…because it don’t cost much to go Dutch, baby”. Now that’s smooth.
Escape – This is Pete Rock’s solo joint. He serves himself up a monster bouncy bass-heavy groove and actually spits three solid verses over it: “Check the verse in the Bible says man should never covet, but in your life you put nothin’ above it, you seem to love it, invest some stock to clock what’s in my stable, sweatin’ me like Cain sweatin Abel, you’re unstable”. I’m not sure why they titled this one “Escape” and not “Escapism”, but regardless it’s a banger, and it might be my favorite song on the album.
The Main Ingredient – The album’s title song may be the most disappointing moment of the evening. CL delivers quality rhymes, but PR’s instrumental is drier than the Sahara Desert. I love the beautiful interlude that follows this song, though.
Worldwide – PR and his friend, Rob-O handle mic duties while CL takes a quick bathroom break and sits this one out. Or maybe he wasn’t feeling Pete’s empty instrumental and decided not to rhyme over it.
All The Places – CL uses PR’s laidback airy production work to talk about some of the places and things he’s seen. I absolutely love the Donald Byrd sample the instrumental is built around.
Tell Me – More solid rhymes poured over slick laid back production work. Side note: Most of the songs on The Main Ingredient end with a short sweet Pete Rock instrumental interlude, including this one.
Take You There – This was the second single from the album. Pete uses the same classic Keni Burke loop (“Risin’ To The Top”) that Buckwild used for O.C’s “Born 2 Live”, while CL continues to “Breathe some of the most power lyrics of our century”. Crystal Johnson (whose name you may recognize from singing on some of Heavy D’s joints) sings the hook, giving PR’s clean production an even more pop feel that hardcore hip-hop fans might not appreciate. I think its solid, though.
Searching – Pete loops up a portion of Roy Ayers’ classic record of the same name and CL uses it to rap about his love and devotion to his lady. The lovely Vinia Mojica stops by to sing the hook and sprinkles some beautiful adlibs over this well-executed hip-hop love song.
Check It Out – The Mecca Don’s in battle mode on this one, as he elegantly talks his shit and grabs his nuts: “We go back and forth, sending this out to my people up north, tell ’em if you ain’t from New York you’re soft, box or throw rocks, fish or cut bait, cause I fight great, but wait.” PR backs CL’s slick rhymes with a fast paced jazzy backdrop that I can never get enough of.
In The Flesh -PR and CL invite their comrades, Dedi and Rob-O to share the mic with them on this cipher joint. No one spits an extraordinary verse, but Pete’s mellow production work shines through.
It’s On You – Pete constructs a creamy backdrop with an angelic vocal loop on the hook that CL uses to call out his haters that pray for his downfall: “Smile in my face behind my back you talk trash, hope my pockets hit empty and my Lexus crash…but not in your wildest dreams, see my name in all the scandals and all the schemes, I rest in Queens.” This one sounds just as amazing as it did 25 years ago.
Get On The Mic – “It’s On You” should have been the last song on the album. This is a decent song. It just should have been sequenced earlier in the album.
The Main Ingredient finds CL Smooth continuing to sharpen his severely underappreciated and unique rhyming ability, while Pete continues to fine-tune his jazzy production style. Pete’s instrumentals definitely have a more polished sound than the dusty feel he gave us on Mecca & The Soul Brother. I’m sure some might assume the duo were seeking commercial appeal with the cleaner production sound, the female guest vocalists singing on a few of the hooks and CL’s handful of rhymes dedicated to the ladies. Maybe they were, but regardless I enjoyed The Main Ingredient. There are a few songs on The Main Ingredient that the world didn’t necessarily need to hear, but pound for pound, I think it’s a better project than Mecca & The Soul Brother. It’s too bad this dynamic duo couldn’t work through their differences and bless the world with more great music.