As much as I enjoyed kicking played-out nineties gimmick groups while they were down last week, it’s worth noting that this very same decade also brought the rap world some great examples of gimmicks done right, proving once and for all that even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Great examples of gimmicks done right
01. Das EFX
Primary Gimmick: Tiggity miggity
Only a few weeks after the Fu-Schnickens hit the scene, a somewhat similar but infinitely more credible crew hit town with their own brand of tongue-twisting Tom Foolery which was co-signed by the (at that point) faultless EPMD conglomerate. Their first LP, Dead Serious, made liberal use of a couple of classic old breaks and copious amounts of references to dumb eighties TV commercials to produce one of the most addictive rap albums of 1992. The following year, Books and Krazy Drayz returned with Straight Up Sewaside, which abandoned the catchy beats and iggity-biggity rhyme style for a more straight-forward approach which was technically amazing but dull as dishwater. Turns out that sometimes a good gimmick isn’t such a bad thing at all.
02. Tha Alkaholiks
Primary Gimmick: Getting drunk
An offshoot of King ‘Can’t Think Without A Drink’ Tee, Tha Liks delivered two great albums, one decent LP and two final long-players which I’ve conveniently obliterated from my memory. Thanks to the fact that DJ E-Swift had a great ear for beats and J-Ro and Tash were particularly great at rapping, songs like ‘Only If I’m Drunk,’ ‘Make Room’ and ‘The Next Level’ were less weed carrier tax right-offs and were actual legitimate classic rap jams based around the concept of getting heroically drunk at every opportunity and pushing the boundaries of Punchline Rap to the limit. Tha Alkaholiks also introduced the world to a young fella by the name of Madlib when he was still rolling with the Lootpack, hold the honour of having recorded the second best usage of ‘Seven Minutes of Funk’ and drinking 40’s of St. Ides like water when the company began dropping off promotional cases in a pioneering example of branding synergy.
03. Too Much Trouble
Primary Gimmick: Being more offensive than Scarface, Willie D, and Bushwick Bill.
When a group is dubbed as the ‘Baby’ version of a great rap group, it’s rarely a good sign. However, in the case of the ‘Baby Ghetto Boys,’ they were a spin-off of arguably the greatest Gimmick Rap group of all-time (sadly not eligible for this list on account of having started in the mid-eighties), and Ghetto MC, Drunk D, DJ Bad News Black and Bar None weren’t afraid to up the ante. ‘Oh, so the GETO Boys have songs about being a serial killer? Well here’s a song about raping your moms!’ ‘Wait up, the GB’s have a rapping midget? Here’s a white trash rapping midget!’ etc. Beyond the one-upmanship, Bringing Hell On Earth is a certified Ignorant Rap classic, featuring the best use of ‘Freddie’s Dead’ on a rap song, a track about purse snatching, a line about doing a drive-by on a tricycle and a skit dedicated to pissing on a very recently deceased ‘hy capper.’ Bloody genius.
04. Poison Clan
Primary Gimmick: Not rapping over Bass music.
Uncle Luke from Miami also created a spin-off crew from his infamous group, dubbing them the Baby 2 Live Crew two years before the aforementioned TMT were on the scene. JT Money, Debonaire and Drugz were blessed with an entire album of Mr. Mixx beats and made short work of songs like ‘The Bitch That I Hate’, ‘2 Bad Muthas’ and ‘Spoiled Rotten,’ with no sign of Miami Bass or Booty jams to continue the legacy of their 2 Live. Unfortunately, Deb and Drugz broke north and formed Home Team, which saw rejecting the traditional Miami sound by donning backpacks, dreads and baggy Guess jeans and rapping over ‘U.F.O.’ This resulted in JT Money steering the Poison Clan in a more conventional direction and abandoning the twisted sense of humour and dope breaks of their debut. Never again would be brag about, ‘wearing Polo as I play Polo,’ and the world is a poorer place for it’s loss.
Primary Gimmick: Being angry jailbirds
The first record from Rap-A-Lot’s Big Mike and Lord 3-2 is arguably the hardest rap album ever made. A cursory glance at the track listing tells the story of where these dudes are coming from: ‘Whoop Her Ass,’ ‘Fuck School’ and ‘Wash Ya Ass.’ If that wasn’t enough for you, one listen to ‘Illegal Aliens’ will still raise the eyebrows of even the most heartless tough guy as they go off at Mexicans, Koreans, and Nigerians in one of the most offensive tirades ever recorded in rap form. The pièce de résistance is ‘1-900-Dial-A-Crook,’ where Mike and 3-2 are joined by the GETO Boys as they run a 1-900 advice hotline for potential criminals, offering step-by-step instructions on how to steal a car, cook crack, play broads and…put a hit on Saddam Hussein? This album is pure #Problematic on wax.