One of rap’s earliest and most enduring stars, New York’s Kurtis Blow consistently makes solid records with workable grooves and lyrics that alternately address topics of social and socializing interest. In doing so, Blow has be come something of a modern African-American culture maven, singing the praises of Harlem (“One-Two-Five (Main Street, Harlem, USA)” on Party Time?), waxing eloquent about hoops (“Basketball” on Ego Trip) and competing Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” in discussing the urban challenge (“Tough” on the LP of the same name, “Street Rock” on Kingdom Blow). All of the records are state-of-the-art in an almost mainstream vein; Ego Trip makes a concerted effort to get hipper by having Run — DMC do a guest rap on “8 Million Stories.” (Kingdom tops that in the cameo stakes: the first voice you hear belongs to Bob Dylan.)
Taking a turn towards patriotism in the title cut of America, Blow (who also produced) shows off his dichotomous musical goals. In the same song he uses aggressive electronic percussion and mixing techniques to mimic the Bambaataa/Lydon Time Zone sound (with Art of Noise effects) and sings like Kool and the Gang. The rest of the album is passable but only the catchy and soulful strut of “If I Ruled the World” is worth remembering. (And “Super Sperm” is well worth forgetting.)
Kingdom Blow not only has Dylan and a homely but sincere paean to “The Bronx,” but George Clinton and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” to boot. Kurtis is nothing if not open-minded and adventurous. The eight long cuts, some more compelling than others, throw in just about everything (TV bites, Donald Duck, party sounds, Emulator gimmickry, etc.) except the London Philharmonic.
Dispensing with most of Kingdom Blow‘s ambitious frivolity, Back by Popular Demand finds the venerable but passé rapper in an understandably insecure mood, circling his wagons in a vain attempt to get with the new hip-hop generation. Boasting is traditional, but Blow spends far too much of this mild old-school record (that contains a few melodic soul excursions, including an appealingly sung version of Charles Wright’s old “Express Yourself” — is this Blow’s future?) claiming his preeminence in the field and too little proving it.