Between the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill rock-rap and Vanilla Ice’s watered-down pop-hop, New York’s 3rd Bass — MC Serch (Michael Berrin), Prime Minister Pete Nice (Nash) and DJ Richie Rich (Lawson, not to be confused with an Oakland rapper using the same double-R handle) — turned up to disprove the whites-can’t-rap falsehood, a flipside to the blacks-can’t-rock prejudice faced by Living Colour and others. A straight-up and original hip-hop crew capable of delivering intelligent, serious raps but addicted to classic sitcom television, crazy found-sound samples and verbal slapstick, 3rd Bass concentrated on content more than presentation. The group got too silly for its own good and worked itself into a political corner by trying too hard to be down with almost everybody: in its righteous enthusiasm, Derelicts of Dialect‘s “No Master Plan No Master Race” moves from racial solidarity to unsupportable pretense. Overcome by the reality of shifting styles and the cliché of musical differences, the two rappers split up after two albums, leaving behind some great tracks that helped define the music’s turn-of-the-decade progress.
Produced by Sam Sever, members of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad and Stetsasonic’s Prince Paul, The Cactus Al/bum (aka The Cactus Cee/D) established the band’s talent as well as its legitimacy. Settling the fronting question in the autobiographical “Product of the Environment,” the trio makes a hysterical issue of putdowns in “The Gas Face” and packs in two other great singles: the dramatic “Steppin’ to the A.M.” and “Brooklyn-Queens.” Rarely able to keep a stupid idea from getting play (like Serch’s goofy Satchmo imitation in “Flippin’ off the Wall Like Lucy Ball”), The Cactus is uneven but seriously enjoyable. The Cactus Revisited, a remix record, overhauls (in one case updating) the sound and/or lyrics of six Cactus tracks (including all four of its singles) and a B-side. Rather than just recycle old material while working on a follow-up, the companion piece both summarizes and extends the flavor of The Cactus.
Unlike the generally outward-bound lyrics of The Cactus, Derelicts of Dialect — another sprawling, uneven hodgepodge in which Serch and Pete Nice continue to alternate verses — is more self-centered (the title track, the autobiographical “Word to the Third,” “Daddy Rich in the Land of 1210”), judgmental (“Pop Goes the Weasel” details the case against phony rappers), cranky (“3 Strikes 5000”) and dumb (“French Toast,” “Sea Vessel Soliloquy,” “Al’z A-B-Cee’z” and “Eye Jammie” are all broad joke skits). Production by the group, Prince Paul, Sam Sever and others gives the rhymes easygoing demi-funk foundations packed with amusing details. Too long by half but sprinkled with such febrile inventions as “Green Eggs and Swine” (which bites All in the Family and quotes Dr. Seuss), “Herbalz in Your Mouth” and “Ace in the Hole,” Derelicts of Dialect is a credible second — and final — act for 3rd Bass. (I Don’t Know.)
With 3rd Bass dissolved, Serch (already pursuing his future career as an impresario by developing such acts as KMD) made a strong and serious solo album. In a sinewy, seductive flow of political, cultural and personal opinion, Serch reasserts his ample skills, trimming away most of 3rd Bass’ extraneous furnishings and comedy to kick intricate and insightful verbal barrages about racism (“Hard but True,” “Social Narcotics”), programmed thinking (“Don’t Have to Be”), migraines (“Hits the Head”), hip-hop theory (“Scenes From the Mind”) and his own New York stories (the title track). The concise and contained Return of the Product makes no mention of 3rd Bass; if there was any bad blood between the former bandmates, it got left outside the studio. Likewise, Pete Nice and Daddy Rich offer no overt animosity to Serch on their album, but then Dust to Dust doesn’t offer much of anything. Unaided by weak comedy inserts, the bustling tracks (produced either by the duo or by the Beatnuts) are entirely ordinary, and the Prime Minister’s unengaging rhymes fish around fruitlessly in tired and repetitive look-at-me-I’m-rapping eddies of boasts and insults. On this flat platter, “Blowin’ Smoke” doesn’t refer to Nice’s stogie. Following a solo album, Serch moved behind the scenes to sign, produce and manage artists.