Just in time for his national comeback on Rap-A-Lot, the first two Hi-C albums have been re-issued. If in the past you tried to obtain “Swing’n” and especially “Skanless” online, you know you had to be prepared to pay a collector’s price for these albums. We’re talking about anything between $50 and $100 for “Skanless” here. Obviously this was a simple question of high demand and low supply, but why exactly so many people wanted this apparently rare but not exactly historic album remains a mystery to even me, and I tried to get a hold of that sucker for close to ten years (at a reasonable price, of course). Why, you ask? To be honest, I’m not quite sure. Maybe it was the feeling that any Compton album from 1991 might be worth it. Maybe I heard it at least partially back when it was new. Maybe it was because I always assumed there had to be some early DJ Quik production on it.
The Louisiana-born, Compton-bred rapper initially introduced himself on the song “Skanless” off Quik’s debut, closing the album with a punchline that was guaranteed to tickle your fancy: “Boyfriend always talking ’bout doggy style / Wait a while – I can do it froggy style!” This was roughly 12 years before Ludacris suggested this rather mysterious sexual position on his hit “Splash Waterfalls”. Knowing he had people’s attention, Hi-C promptly followed up with the song “Froggy Style”. So let’s say you’re sitting in front of your record player, imagination running wild, looking forward to learning something useful – and what do you get? Fairytales:
“I got out of bed, then I seen this frog
I rubbed my eyes and I just tripped
He said, ‘Check it out, boy, listen to this…’
We talked and he whispered in my ear for a while
Now I be doin’ it froggy style”
But fear not, lovers of indecent lyrical behaviour, there’s plenty to go around here. “Skanless” may not be the Kama Sutra, but Hi-C certainly felt a strong pull towards sexually explicit subject matter. On “2 Ada Time” he suggests his duet partner KK of 2nd II None “work the front while I work the back.” That’s whispering sweet nothings compared to some of the other suggestions made on this CD. “Why I wanna kiss you with my nut in your mouth?” Quik asks on “2 Skanless”. AMG “can give you champagne, dick and a bad name,” KK wants to “fuck your sis’, that ass gettin’ fat / she might be 15, but she 21-stacked,” but it’s Hi-C who takes home the title of most scandalous on the closing posse cut:
“Mirror mirror on the wall
Who is the Skanless of them all?
The mirror said, ‘Hi-C take no falls
because he got a big fat dick and balls’
Maybe one day I might meet my match
jump in some coochie and never come baaaaaaack
Cause I got girls that’s deep
Dive in a pussy, drownin’ six feet
Now how your parents gon’ tell me I need to quit
talkin’ that Skanless shit?
Last time I bust a nut on your little baby’s head, nigga
Your child is born, now I’m fuckin’ the baby sitter”
To get the point, you’d have to remember the aforementioned DJ Quik song, but let’s face it, once a joke crosses a certain line, there’s little use in trying to explain it. So no more disgusting details. But we can still wonder what possessed the self-described “hip-hop hazard” Hi-C to talk so much shit. Hormones would probably the safest answer. Or more to the point: Hi-C was just another adolescent trying to come to grips with turning into an adult, covering up his insecurities with lines like “Now some girls like to trip cause I’m 17 / but I rip it damn good, so what the hell that mean?” Given his all too obvious intent to come across as mature, he can be ridiculously immature. He sure ain’t lying when he says, “Show me a bitch, I get to bullshittin’.” He even made a song about it, the aptly titled “Bullshit”, where he admits: “The bullshit I write is the ultimate.”
Or maybe young Crawford had been exposed to the raunchy rhetoric of Miami’s 2 Live Crew for a tad bit too long. Or he was simply attention-starved, knowing that people listen up at the mention of sex. Who knows. Who cares. Important is that Hi-C wouldn’t say just about anything. If you listened close enough, you could even catch the occasional message. A song like “2 Drunk ta Fuck” was not only educational, it also contained a healthy dose of self-mockery. That may actually be the strongest clue that we shouldn’t take “Skanless” too serious. And that goes for the rest of his high-pitched crew. Young, dumb and full of cum probably best describes their collective 1991 output (DJ Quik’s “Quik Is the Name”, 2nd II None’s “2nd II None”, AMG’s “Bitch Betta Have My Money”, Hi-C’s “Skanless”). But didn’t Quik claim to be “a younger brother that’s up on reality”? Well, so was Hi-C. “Yo Dick”, as brief as it was, made sure you didn’t forget about AIDS during all the debauchery.
On an interesting side note, in 2001 Hi-C was quoted by the Federal Communications Commission when it published its enforcement policy of broadcast indecency. In 1992, college radio station WSUC (Cortland, NY) was caught playing an explicit version of his song “I’m Not Your Puppet” in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. The FCC fined the station’s licensee, the State University of New York, for $23,750, a fine later reduced to $4,200. In 1978 the Commission had defined indecency as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities or organs,” demanding a restriction of “the broadcast of indecent material at times when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience.” This is all very reasonable, but a web search produces a 1998 FCC Record that includes a ‘transcript’ of “I’m Not Your Puppet”, which contains various misinterpretations and parts noted as “unintelligible.” For instance:
“But this girl was just (Unintelligible) nobody could lick it
and the bitch was just flappin’ as she was like buggin'(?)”
“But this girl was just fly, her body good-lookin’
I was a fish just flappin’ and she was like hookin'”
“Stopped the bus and (Unintelligible)”
“Stopped to buy some crack from my homeboy Pete”
“The trick (Unintelligible) was betting, played like Nintendo(?)”
“The trick I kicked it with was gettin’ played like Nintendo”
“I’m saying that this bitch (Unintelligible)
‘Cause why the fuck close the door this time of the night”
“I’m starin’ at this bitch wonderin’ if she alright
cause where in the hell we ‘posed to go this time of the night”
Now while I’m the last person in the world who wants to hear obscenities on daytime radio, I just hope no such decision will ever be based on a misheard lyric. Either way, as a seasoned rap fan I know better than to cover my ears as soon as I hear a bad word. “Skanless” has the benefit of containing a radio friendly version of “I’m Not Your Puppet”. Without cuss words, Hi-C actually gets his point across more convincingly as he spins his tale of a female drug addict who lacks respect for self and others.
Not to make it seem like “Skanless” is all about sex, Hi-C tackles other topics as well. “Jack Move” and “Punk Shit” introduce the more familiar, grittier side of the CPT. But one of the most memorable songs off “Skanless” remains “Leave My Curl Alone”. While elsewhere the Jheri curl was quickly going out of style, Hi-C proudly hold on to his, regardless of embarrassing side effects (juice stains, plastic caps):
“Most rappers in Compton won’t cut that curl
cause the boys be ballin’, got a gang of girls
My trick keep askin’ me to get it clipped
cause everytime I rip she get tired of the drip
I got grease on the do’, the bathroom flo’
Even moms is pissed off, she can’t take it no mo’
Every single night before I go to bed
I [use] Worlds of Curls, put the bag on my head
And if it comes off, the gel’ll get tossed
on my pillow case and all on my face
One day Quik picked me up in a jeep
He said, ‘Crawf, you can roll, but don’t sit back on the seats’
Cause before I leave the house you know I spray up
and if I lean back on your seats I wet ’em all up”
Hi-C’s comedic talent would soon be acknowledged by the makers of the gangsta rap parody ‘CB4,’ for which he recorded Chris Rock’s raps, whose character MC Gusto of course sported a curl under his baseball cap.
Little would have to be added to this retrospective if it wasn’t for “Sitting in the Park”. It’s Slick Rick meets The Fresh Prince, it’s the template for what a J-Zone is doing today, it’s possibly one of the best crafted songs in rap history. Like “I’m Not Your Puppet”, which is a cover/parody of James & Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your Puppet”, it remakes an old soul classic hip-hop style. The late Billy Stewart’s wistful romance “Sitting in the Park” is abducted from cosy 1965 and beamed into the cold nineties. In the original, Billy Stewart is stood up by is sweetheart. He croons: “Sitting here on the bench / with my back against the fence / wondering if I have any sense / something tells me I’m a fool / let you treat me so cruel / nevertheless I say, you gotta be waiting.” The same thing happens to Hi-C, and as you can imagine he isn’t quite as patient: “I’m sittin’ on a bench / with my back against the fence / Hi-C’s not dumb, I got a gang of sense.” The song’s got a surprise ending with a sly reference to “I’m Not Your Puppet”, but the true brilliance lies in how Hi-C, despite his carnal desires, manages to keep up the appearance of love-struck innocence. He eagerly awaits the evening rendez-vous at the park, is generous to beggars and bashfully hides the flowers he bought when his boys go by. It wouldn’t be complete without the original sample serving as the soundtrack. If we recall that one of Stewart’s own albums was called “Billy Stewart Teaches Old Standards New Tricks”, Hi-C’s rendition of “Sitting in the Park” comes truly full circle.
With so much promise shown on one song, “Skanless” is bound to be a slight disappointment overall. Hi-C makes up for it with an engaging, enthusiastic performance, virtually yelling most of his raps. You’d have to be extremely stubborn not to realize that “Skanless” is primarily about having fun. It may bounce back and forth between adult entertainment and teenage folly, between goofy and tongue-in-cheek, but that’s part of its charm. It’s part of hip-hop’s charm. Or at least it used to be. The legendary Quikster lends a helping hand here and there, Robert Bacon adds the occasional funky guitar lick, but mostly Hi-C and his DJ Tony-A self-produce this album back to back stacked with samples, some already popular, some later popularized by others. There’s scratches, a Scooby Doo sample, fake Jamaican accents, Crawf’s characteristic squawk, and a whole lotta fonk to keep the gangstas boogie. Back then, Hi-C and Tony-A just wanted “y’all to trip off this ol’ skanless shit.” Today rappers have people in business suits to come up with ‘scandalous shit’ that might help them sell some records. Listen to “Skanless” and maybe you’ll be able to tell the difference.