First things first, I’d be remiss not to say rest in peace to the NBA legend, Kobe Bryant, his daughter and all the other victims of Sunday’s tragedy. Please pray for their families in this time of sorrow.
If you read this blog with any regularity than you already know how I feel about the Native Tongue posse, and 1991 was quite the year for my favorite hip-hop collective. In May, De La Soul released their darker than expected, highly respected sophomore effort, De La Soul Is Dead and in September A Tribe Called Quest would drop an undisputed classic in The Low End Theory. October of 1991 would bring the debut album for the newest members of the Native Tongue, Black Sheep. A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing would go on to earn Dres and Mista Lawnge a gold plaque and produce a massive hit that 25 years later is still referenced in tv commercials (see “Choice Is Yours”). After A Wolf’s success, the Sheep would take a three year hiatus and return at the end of 1994 with their sophomore effort Non-Fiction.
Mista Lawnge and Dres would keep the production in-house, as they’re credited with producing the entire album, with “additional production and remix” (not sure what that means, but whatever) from the underappreciated Salaam Remi. Non-Fiction didn’t come with any radio hits, nor was it as commercially successful as its predecessor. It received mix reviews from the critics, and more importantly, the hip-hop community.
Let’s revisit Non-Fiction and see how it holds up 25 years after its release.
Non-Fiction Intro – The album opens with an airy instrumental, dripping with good vibes and seriousness, as Brother Arthur from the Nation of Islam welcomes the listener to Non-Fiction and attempts to explain the meaning of Black Sheep. He kind of sounds like Damon Wayans’ Oswald Bates character from In Living Color in the process, but whatever.
Autobiographical – Over a dope mid-tempo jazzy backdrop, Dres shares his upbringing, including his relocation from New York to North Carolina, and back to New York again. He also talks about the mischief he got into as a kid, which includes his attempts to be a street pharmacist. The fresh instrumental works beautifully with Dres’ brilliantly executed autobiography. This may be my favorite song in Black Sheep’s limited catalog.
B.B.S. – The song opens with a warm horn loop, before the beat drops and a slick Sonny Phillips’ loop comes in. Dres uses it to talk shit in his own unique eloquent way, and Emage sings the hook (which explains the acronym used for the song title) in her cool vocal tone.
City Lights – Black Sheep picks up the energy a bit with this one. The fellas combine a nasty bass line, with stabbing horns and hard drums, as Lawnge get his first bars off of the evening. He doesn’t embarrass himself during his two verses, but it takes Dres just one verse to show why he is the main emcee of the group.
Do Your Thing – This is the first blah moment of the evening. Dres doesn’t sound bad, and he actually drops some solid rhymes, but the instrumental is too bland to swallow. Did they sample a cow bell?
E.F.F.E.C.T. – Lawnge and Dres invite Showbiz & A.G. to join them on this one. A.G., Lawnge and Dres each spit a verse, while Showbiz is left to help out with the hook and supply the adlibs (and even though the liner notes don’t credit him, I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s responsible for the instrumental as well). The results are horrible. No one spits a strong verse, the hook is corny and the instrumental is terrible.
Freak Y’all – Chi-Ali makes a brief cameo as he introduces the song. Then the thick bass line and ill drum roll drops and Dres proceeds to murder the beat, and he spits one of my favorite Dres lines: “I stomp for reason not for feeling, cause one man’s floor is another man’s ceiling”. This one sounds just as good today as it did 25 years ago.
Gotta Get Up – Decent filler material.
Let’s Get Cozy – Mista Lawnge and Dres pick up with the misogynistic energy they left off with on A Wolf”s “Le Menage” with this one, as the two take turns sharing their freaky tales over a dope low-key instrumental. It would have been a nice change of pace to hear Too Short pop-up and add a third verse, but whatever.
Me & My Brother – More decent filler material.
North South East West – Dres and Lawnge don’t really have much to say on this one, but the heavy drums and slick guitar licks sound great.
Peace To The Niggas – Dres and Lawnge use this one to shout out their peeps and as a call for brothers to come together in peace and unity. I absolutely love the moody bass lines on this one, as they give the song a semi-dark feel. Mista Lawnge shouts out the Native Tongue at the end of the song, which of course includes A Tribe Called Quest, so that covers Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.
Summa Tha Time – This one feels like Black Sheep may have been aiming for a crossover hit, as the instrumental has a bit of a r&b feel, plus they invite Emage and Michelle Valentine to sing the hook and adlibs. If crossover success was the intent, it didn’t work, but I dig the song.
We Boys – All three members of The Legion join Lawnge and Dres on this cipher joint. I like the sporadic drum roll solos in the instrumental and Molecules’ bully rap energy. But Dres is the true star of this one, as he shuts shit down with the song’s final verse.
Who’s Next? – Dres and Lawnge each spit a verse about a promiscuous woman that’s been around, and ran through, by the block over a creamy smooth backdrop complete with a slick horn loop. Sweet T (remember her?) pops up to offer a rebuttal from the female’s perspective, which is a nice added touch to the song. This was dope.
Without A Doubt – This was the lead single from Non-Fiction. The fellas turn a rarely used Isley Brothers sample into a calm and breezy backdrop, as Dres and Mista Lawnge pass the microphone back and forth like a hot potato. Or as Lawnge so eloquently puts it: “Catch wreck like fat people breakin’ wind”.
Non-Fiction Outro – Black Sheep brings back the same instrumental from the intro along with Brother Arthur, who shares some parting words, bringing Non-Fiction to a close.
From the production to the content, Non-Fiction is a more mature project than A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing. The instrumentals are cleaner, crispier and more polished. Dres and Mista Lawnge tone down the misogyny, spitting more meaningful bars with black consciousness undertones (well at least Dres does), and even the album cover, donning two black sheep in a library (which I feel is symbolic for the duo’s desire for knowledge and truth), shows depth. But don’t confuse maturity for superiority. Non-Fiction comes with a handful of mediocre moments and three or four skippable songs, and with a 17 song track count and 75 minute runtime, it becomes a bit too much to chew on. Non-Fiction is a decent sophomore effort from the Queens/Brooklyn duo, but not nearly as consistent or entertaining as its predecessor, and easily forgotten in a heavy hitting hip-hop year like 1994.