I’m sure most of you can remember years ago before reality tv shows took over television, and MTV used to actually play music videos on their channels. They even had a platform specifically dedicated to hip-hop videos, called Yo! MTV Raps. From the late-eighties through the mid-nineties, Yo! MTV Raps played the latest hip-hop music videos, featured interviews with some of your favorite artists, and occasionally, the illustrious Fab Five Freddy would stop in and provide in-depth segments about the culture outside of rap music (i.e., break dancing and graffiti). Through its run, Yo! MTV Raps had a few different hosts, but the two most memorable ones would be the colorful and humorous combo of Ed Lover & Doctor Dre (not to be confused with the good doctor who practices musical medicine on the west coast). The duo (who were so popular at one point they starred in their own New Line Cinema backed flick, Who’s The Man? A movie I still haven’t seen to this day) were notorious for hosting freestyle sessions with their guests on the show and occasionally they would also partake in the ciphers, spittin’ lighthearted nonsensical freestyles. Neither Ed nor Dre sounded amazing when rapping, but no harm done, as it was all in jest. So, a year ago when I bumped into a used copy of an album called Back Up Off Me! by Doctor Dre & Ed Lover, I was perplexed for a few different reasons. One: I had no idea this album existed, and two: Why did it exist in the first place?
Back Up Off Me! was released on Relativity Records in 1994. Most of the album’s production work is credited to Franklyn Grant, but it also features production from a few highly respected hip-hop producers and cameos by some of your favorite emcees (more on that in a bit). Wikipedia claims that Back Up Off Me! went gold, but I couldn’t confirm that on the RIAA’s website, so I’m pretty sure that claim is false, or as the kids say, all cap.
Let’s take Back Up Off Me! for a few spins and see if it’s worth the wax it was pressed on.
Back Up Off Me – The first song of the night finds Ed, Dre and their homie from Yo! MTV Raps, T-Money clownishly paying homage to the old and (then) current schools of hip-hop over a sample of the way too frequently tapped McFadden & Whitehead record, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”. This sounds like one of their Yo!MTV Raps freestyle sessions, and they all sound equally silly.
It’s Goin’ Down – Ed Lover is joined on the mic by Def Squad members, Erick Sermon and Keith Murray, as all three parties spit a verse. Erick sounds solid over his smoothly rugged backdrop, while Keith easily shines the brightest, blessing us with more of his “ole ill shit in a paragraph” (I love his bar: “My style is funky like a six pack of muthafuckas”). If you remove Ed Lover’s malnourished verse and replace it with a Redman sixteen, this quickly turns into a flawless and fire Def Squad record.
Tootin’ On The Hooters – Ed Lover was obviously influenced by Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”, as he uses this one to rap praises to his favorite female body part, the breast: “Hey-yo, baby got back, yeah, it’s fat and all that, but I’m about to take a different route on this track, cause breast is the best thing, next to the wet thing, and if it is a sex thing, check it how I wreck things”. Franklyn Grant combines a couple of James Brown loops with a sample from The Ohio Players “Funky Worm”, resulting in a decent instrumental, but Ed’s rhymes are cornmeal and the bootleg Aaron Hall singing on the hook sounds atrocious.
East Coast Sound – Marley Marl hooks up a slick backdrop, as Ed is joined by DoItAll and Mr. Funke (from Lords of The Underground) for this East Coast hip-hop appreciation session. Similar to “It’s Goin’ Down”, Ed sounds like an amateur rapping next to his guests (yes, even next to DoItAll). But despite Ed’s lyrical mishaps, this still ends up being a pretty solid joint. Plus, Ed references an A Tribe Called Quest rhyme, so we can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this write-up.
For The Love Of You – Ed dedicates this one to…pretty much everybody: His childhood crew, his fans, everybody who went and watched Who’s The Man?, single mothers, and his daughter. Someone named Jolly Stomper (with a co-credit going to Franklyn Grant) builds the instrumental around “elements” from The Isley Brothers “For The Love Of You” (yet another sample that should be retired and hung in hip-hop’s rafters), while decent background singers (the liner notes credit Debbie McGriff, Diane Cameron and Route 4) sing the hook and adlibs, and Chris “The Sax Man” Charles adds some cool jazz solos. Ed doesn’t sound spectacular, but this song is the best he’s sounded so far tonight.
Who’s The Man – This time around Ed is joined by his Yo! MTV Raps alumni, Todd One, King Just and The Notorious B.I.G., who you could say got his first national attention, thanks to Dre and Ed putting him on the Who’s The Man? Soundtrack back in ’93 (see “Party And Bullshit”). All four parties get a chance to rhyme over 45 King’s hard stripped-down backdrop, and as expected, Biggie makes light work of it with his well-polished flow and delivery, and I was pleasantly surprised by King Just’s impressive verse. I wonder why his rap career never took off; that “Warrior’s Drum” song was dope, and he was backed by Wu-Tang. Things that make you go hmmm.
It’s Like That Y’all – Dre returns from his extended bathroom break, as he joins Ed on the mic for this one; and some guy named Teri Bieker drops in to spit a quick verse in German, which was kind of random, but whatever. F. Grant’s instrumental is decent, but there is no reason you should listen to this song more than once.
Knowledge Me Again – Apparently, the original version of this song was released on Dre’s old group, Original Concept’s debut album Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High. It’s also where Masta Ace would get the bangin’ beat for his classic record, “Born To Roll” from. This is pretty much five plus minutes of our hosts giving shoutouts (which includes a shoutout to ATCQ) in super annoying raspy frog voices and an over abundant usage of “yo, cuz”.
Intimate – Ed puts on his bedroom voice for this one, as he remakes the eighties jam, “Intimate Connection” by the band Kleeer. He and female vocalist, Naima Bowman exchange lustful bars, as she sings her verse and Ed, comically, I mean, romantically raps back to her. This was far from great, but I enjoyed the smooth instrumental groove.
Recognize – The final song of the night finds Ed attempting to defend hip-hop’s honor and pissing on anyone who opposes it, which includes Rev. Calvin Butts, C. Delores Tucker (rip), and Dionne Warwick, Anita Baker and Melba Moore for not letting rappers sample their music. It was a little uncomfortable to listen to Ed verbally disrespect these Nubian Queens (he calls them all types of bitches, which ironically gets censored out, yet they let every other curse word he says fly, freely) and almost laughable to hear him trying to sound hardcore over this horrible beat.
Back Up Off Me! plays like an Ed Lover solo album chocked-full of guest cameo appearances. It’s almost like Dre knew that making this album was a bad idea, so he sat most of it out, leaving Ed to sound like a drunk uncle who got a hold of a microphone during karaoke night. Thankfully, most of the production is solid, so Back Up Off Me! isn’t a complete waste of time.
The liner notes jacket for Back Up Off Me! features a seven-page comic book layout that paints Ed & Dre as hip-hop superheroes, whose mission is to defend hip-hop’s honor and rid the genre of wack emcees. Back Up Off Me! is proof that sometimes we are our own worst enemy.