Mad Lion – Real Ting (1995)

Through the years, I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that I’m not a huge fan of reggae or dancehall music. I absolutely love Bob Marley’s music, but after him, I’d be hard pressed to name another reggae or dancehall artist that I’d consider myself a fan of. Maxi Priest had a couple of smooth joints in the nineties, as well as Shabba Ranks, and Shaggy also gave us a few hot ones. Then there was the sexy Jamaican Queen, Patra. I can’t remember any of her songs, but it sure as hell was enjoyable to watch her in videos, boggling and winding that sexy chocolate body all over my TV screen. But I digress. If my memory serves me correct, the only reggae artist’s album I’ve reviewed on TimeisIllmatic was Jamal-Ski’s Roughneck Reality, and that was only because of his affiliation with Boogie Down Productions. Well, today we tackle our second reggae artist on this blog, who ironically, was also down with the BDP crew, Mad Lion.

Mad Lion (whose alias is a nonsensical acronym for Musical Assassin Delivering Lyrical Intelligence Over Nations) was born in London and raised in Jamaica. As an adult he would move to Brooklyn, NY on his journey to make his mark as a “hip-hop reggae” artist in the states. After arriving in Brooklyn, Mad Lion met Super Cat and begin working with him; legend has it that Super Cat’s responsible for suggesting the ridiculous acronym that makes up Mad Lion’s alias. Eventually, Lion would link with the legendary Blastmaster KRS-One (By the way, I’m pissed that I didn’t get a chance to watch he and Kane’s Verzuz match-up the other night. I’ll have to find it on YouTube), and his co-sign would help Mad Lion secure a deal with Nervous Records, where he would release his debut album, Real Ting in 1995.

I’ve never listened to Real Ting before now, but I do remember the lead single, “Take It Easy”. Back in the day, I stole a copy of the cassette single from Sam Goody so me and my guys could freestyle over the instrumental on side two. So, even if the rest of the album sucks, I know there is at least one banger.

Hopefully, my purchase of the Real Ting, decades later, will atone for me taking food out of the Lion’s mouth, twenty-five plus years ago.

Real Ting IntroReal Ting begins with a jazzy backdrop, a little singing, a few words from a bootleg Sir Nose, and an uncredited male and female (who I thought was going to spit bars at one point) assuming you (the listener) didn’t expect the album to start like this. Well, you’re right. I sure as hell didn’t, but I did enjoy the instrumental. It made me want to throw up my jazz hands.

Double Trouble – Mad Lion comes out the gate sounding aggressively hungry, spewing fiery reggae-tinged bars that left me wondering if he wants to verbally off his competition or literally, kill niggas. Either way, he sounds great over this rough and moody backdrop (credited to Mad Lion and Kenny Parker), and the chant on the hook makes things sound even grander.

See A Man Face – Mad Lion keeps the same energy from the previous track and comes off like a reggae version of M.O.P. Speaking of M.O.P., it would have been dope to hear Billy Danze and Lil Fame beat up KRS-One’s hard backdrop with enthusiastic verses. But even without M.O.P.’s presence, this is still a tough record.

Nine On My Mind – Our host uses this bouncy feel-good backdrop to rap and chant a love song to his one true love, his gun, as he recalls a couple different occasions when his nine saved his life. I love this instrumental, and Mad Lion’s hook is catchy as hell.

Shoot To Kill – KRS-One recycles his “Black Cop” instrumental and lets Mad Lion go on a violent chanting rampage over it. I was waiting for Kris to get off a verse, but no cigar. Instead, he stays behind the boards and lets the Lion tear this shit to shreds by himself.

That’s All We Need – According to Mr. Lion, all a “real nigga” needs is mad hip-hop, reggae and weed. Well, I could think of a few more things that might be beneficial in life (money, companionship, food, clothes, shelter), but I get his point.

Own Destiny – The Blastmaster loops up a commonly used Barry White sample for the instrumental, but I bet you’ve never heard anyone spit reggae bars over it. This was decent.

Crazy – This was too bland for my taste buds.

Big Box Of Blunts – What would a hip-hop/reggae artist’s album be without a weed dedication song? I hope Mad Lion’s weed is as fire as this instrumental.

Bad Luck – This one starts with a short interlude that finds a groupie chick coming to meet Mad Lion and she ends up getting mauled by his lion after she completely ignores his warning (you can hear him in the background telling her “Yo, don’t fuck with that cat…that cat will rip your head off”) and tries to pet it. Then KRS-One makes his only audible appearance of the evening, as he shares a few words and drops his dope dark instrumental that Mad Lion uses to get into some true emcee shit. Most of Lion’s rhymes are on point (how many rappers have left their competition “Dizzy like Gillespie” through the years?) and his guest, Squidley, sounds pretty decent on the hook.

Real Ting – The title track finds Mad Lion celebrating marijuana, again. This time he invites Marlon Steward to join in on the celebration, as he sings praises to the cannabis, while Lion chants about its greatness over a decent mid-tempo bop.

Real Lover – After an uncredited guest rapper spits a few bars that pay homage to Audio 2’s “Top Billin”, Mad Lion recycles Mary J Blige’s “Real Love” instrumental and tries to convince a certain young lady that he’s the only man that can love her right. Mad Lion’s voice on this one doesn’t sound as rough and raspy as the rest of the album, which leads me to believe that this song was recorded earlier than the rest of the album (the quality of the mix also sounds like it may have been an old demo). Regardless, this was still very entertaining (except for the opening and closing raps) and super catchy.

Body And Shape – The song opens with KRS-One’s wifey, G. Simone, singing some embarrassingly bad notes. Then Kris attempts to re-create the bass line from The Whole Darn Family’s “7 Minutes of Funk”, placing it over flat drums, as Lion chants about a chick with a bangin’ body. This one shouldn’t have made the final cut.

Take It Easy – This was the lead single from Real Ting, and the song that I would be introduced to Mad Lion through. KRS-One pulls one of the sickest instrumentals he’s ever produced out of his ass and blesses his mentee with it, as he continues to spew violent chants and threats over it. This record still sounds as dope as it did twenty-five plus years ago.

Play De Selection – I’m not sure what Mad Lion is talking about on this one, but the chill instrumental is soothing to my ears.

Teaser – Lion is trying to bag a chick who apparently can’t make up her mind if she wants to give him the ass or not. At least that’s what I think the premise of this song is. I couldn’t make out most of Lion’s lyrics, but the singing ladies on the hook brought me to that conclusion. If the powers that be with The Me Too Movement got a hold of this song, they’d have a field day. But since they only seem to pull the skeletons out of the closets of relevant celebrities, Mad Lion has nothing to worry about.

Baby Father – This one begins with what is supposed to be Mad Lion’s mom, snapping on him for being careless with protecting his jimmy. Then Lion uses Norty Cotto’s smoothly somber backdrop to share his reggae version of the “Billie Jean” story (I love the part when Lion asks his alleged baby mama, Caroline, “If the both of us are black, why is the baby Chinese?”). This was pretty entertaining and a nice change of pace from the rest of the content Lion had fed us for most of the evening. 

Stop Dat ShitReal Ting closes with Mad Lion and his homie smokin’ in the studio, then his homie throws on a beat to see what Mad Lion has for it. Unbenounced to Lion and his friend, the whole freestyle ends up getting recorded. This was dumb, pointless and useless.

In the liner notes of Real Ting, it reads: “Mad Lion represents hip-hop reggae, not reggae hip-hop”, which makes sense after living with Real Ting for the past few weeks. Throughout the album, Mad Lion displays reggae sensibilities with an emcee’s mentality and strong hip-hop tendencies. Unlike most reggae/dancehall artists I’ve heard, I can actually understand most of Lion’s lyrics, and even when I can’t, the texture of his ruggedly raspy voice, combined with he and KRS-One’s well-crafted boom-bap production kept me vibin’ and entertained. There are a few mediocrely bland moments, and the album runs a bit too long, but overall, Real Ting is a quality listen and a solid debut from the Boogie Down Productions associate.

-Deedub

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