So few ’80s rappers managed to sustain recording careers for more than one or two albums that those who did must have had some telling skill or asset others lacked. Compton’s King Tee can point to a talented producer (DJ Pooh, who came out from behind the board to co-star with his sometimes client Ice Cube in 1995’s Friday) and the fly rides pictured on his record covers, but other explanations for the four mediocre albums that comprise his oeuvre are indiscernible. Other than the title track’s story of a player, Act a Fool has an informal rank session, an influenza sound-effects joke and a serious ode to “Guitar Playin’,” but nothing memorable enough to suggest a long-term relationship with the recording studio.
At Your Own Risk, which samples the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” for “Diss You” and raises sensible objections to gangbangin’ (“Time to Get Out”), is a slack essay of barely structured rhymes that go nowhere slowly — an object lesson that people with nothing to say shouldn’t make rap records. Tha Triflin’ Album benefits from two guest spots by Ice Cube (one, “King Tee’s Beer Stand,” is the beer jingle containing the immortal couplet, “get your girl in the mood quicker/get your jimmy thicker with St. Ide’s malt liquor”), a novel Marley Marl remix of the previous album’s “At Your Own Risk” and the usual gangsta obsessions, rendered with moderate conviction, lots of alcohol and gross sound effects. Tee’s sense of responsibility comes through the call for unity of “Black Togetha Again.” But the album — Tee’s most intellectually engaged — still can’t elude the distinct sense that the star would hardly be missed if he hadn’t turned up to drop his dull rhymes.
Switching labels and relegating Pooh to a minor production role, King Tee came back harder and funkier on IV Life, adding autobiography (“Down Ass Loc”) and legal issues (“3 Strikes Ya’ Out”) to the usual parked-in-neutral soliloquies about nothing. For all his old-school boasting, King Tee sounds like the kind of guy who can take the spark out of a party without trying. Ruff Rhymes is a compilation.