Introduced to the world by pioneering producer/DJ Marley Marl, Kool G Rap and DJ Polo remain among the less-celebrated alumni of the legendary Queens-based Juice Crew (which included Big Daddy Kane, Roxanne Shanté, Master Ace, Craig G., MC Shan and Biz Markie). But Kool G Rap’s streetcorner documentary thematics and raw, lispy, word-dense delivery were crucial to the development of East Coast hardcore; artists from the Wu-Tang Clan to Nas owe him.
The duo debuted in 1986 with the Marl-produced single, “It’s a Demo” b/w “I’m Fly,” a record that sounds like an LL Cool J outtake. A remixed version of “It’s a Demo” appears on Road to the Riches; while the title track (based on a Billy Joel sample), “Truly Yours” and “Poison” are solid offerings, the rest of the tracks are as dated-on-arrival as the gold ropes around their necks on the back cover. Wanted Dead or Alive, in contrast, is an album of considerable style. The slowed-down tempos (provided mostly by Large Professor) give Kool G the space to drop more striking imagery and change up his delivery; “Talk Like Sex” showcases him at his bawdy best; the sharply detailed “Streets of New York” is stunning, “The Message” updated with a ’90s photojournalistic detachment. Only Biz Markie’s horrible singing on “Erase Racism” mars the album.
In a hoped-for merger of West and Southwest with East Coast gangsta rap, Live and Let Die pairs Kool G Rap with producer Sir Jinx (Ice Cube, Del tha Funkee Homosapien), features guest appearances from Ice Cube and Geto Boys Scarface and Bushwick Bill on “Two to the Head” and generally raises the crime quotient. A tantalizing piano-and-guitar hook cements the Goodfellas-styled tale of “Ill Street Blues”; “Letters” punches poetic on every line, even revealing the rapper to be a De La Soul fan. Jinx’s thick funk suits Kool G well, but many tracks (“Go for Your Guns,” “Still Wanted Dead or Alive”) are way too obvious. (Killer Kuts anthologizes cuts from the duo’s three records, plus a remix of “On the Run.” The track selection is hard to quibble over, but G Rap was never a singles artist.)
Following the dissolution of the partnership, Kool G Rap (Nathaniel Wilson) returned with 4, 5, 6 (the title signifies the winning combination at celo, the street dice game). The contemporary mix of hardcore rhymes and slick soul fits him like a glove; the album hits its peak on “Fast Life” (with Nas guesting), “For da Brothaz” and both mixes of “It’s a Shame.”