In 1994 two rappers debuted on Columbia Records that were both connected to former 3rd Bass members. One was Nas, who had been featured on MC Serch’s “Return of the Product” and whose “Illmatic” album was subsequently executive-produced by Serch. The other was Kurious, who had been a guest on Prime Minister Pete Nice & Daddy Rich’s “Dust to Dust” and whose debut “A Constipated Monkey” listed, among others, Pete Nice as executive producer. Among those others was Bobbito Garcia, co-host of the influential Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show. HoppoH Recordings was a joint venture between him and Pete Nice, which at some point was also meant to be the home of KMD. Kurious himself appeared on their shelved “Black Bastards.”
Like Nas, Kurious Jorge introduced himself to the world on a 1991 posse track, in his case Powerule’s “Young Stars from Nowhere.” Born Jorge Alvarez, the half-Puerto Rican, half-Cuban Harlemite was offered a production deal from Def Jam while working there as an intern in the early ’90s, but had already given his word Pete Nice. The title of his much delayed album referred to a phrase him and KMD’s Zev Love X bumped into (on a Last Poets record) while trying to find a particularly far out interpretation of the initials of the graf crew he had come from, CM. While Kurious delivered a clear solo effort with “A Constipated Monkey,” the crew concept was still very present. This Constipated Monkey was part of a greater whole (that included KMD). He was supported by hypeman Kadi and DJ Lord Sear, both of whom can be heard throughout the album.
There are also numerous songs that boast crowd participation in the chorus, a familiar feature of East Coast rap of that era. A classic example is “Uptown Shit.” The crowd backing raises from early signs of approval during the opening moments of the song to enthusiastic chants of “Yo, it’s the Uptown Shit / it’s the Uptown Shit / check the Uptown Shit / strictly Uptown Shit!” to support Jorge and guest rappers Kadi and The Omen. The stellar track, showing The Beatnuts at the apex of their jazzy jeep beats phase, makes “Uptown Shit” an all-time great Latin hip-hop joint, even if the Uptown business the three talk about is a touch on the vulgar side.
As potentially offensive as it was, “Uptown Shit” was easily turned into “Uptown Hit” for the 1993 single release. An equally incredible single had been 1992’s “Walk Like a Duck.” Another bulletproof Beatnuts production, it showcases the use of horns in hip-hop in absolute perfection, as subtle stabs weave in and out of a booming, majestically swinging rhythm track. Meanwhile, Kurious rides the heavyweight beat with ease, rapping with a nonchalant tone but still projecting enough emotion with his milky voice. While the intro successfully explains the ‘duck’ part, Jorge keeps his verbiage bugged out enough to leave you guessing whether he’s dropping elaborate wordplay or is just on a surreal trip through pop culture land:
“Kurious was never one for ring around
the rosie; not Josie, but I mosey on down
to a meadow where the flowers stay wilted
So what I ain’t hit as many skins as Wilt the Stilt did
It’s like that, never labelled the wack
And yo, they choose behind my back to do the Duckville quack
My style is cool, sweet like a Chipwich
But still (What?) you gossip like a bitch
It’s like that anna
Didn’t go to Georgia, took the train to Alabama
On the midnight tip like Gladys Knight and the Pips
My sole intention bein’ to move the marrow in your hips
Family confusion’s what motivates the rhymer
Got a aunt named Tom, uncle named Jemima
Kurious Jorge on the welfare line
Plus American Airline never prepared mine
ears for the poppin’, hands for the clappin’
If I sense turbulence, commence to see the captain
Two stripes, the motion got a notion of funk
I must prescribe a mint (Why?) cause your breath stunk
I paid the bills, sent a check to my mama
If you try to wreck my mind, there’s mad drama
I’ma deliver one worm for the hawk
Eliminatin’ quacks on the duck walk”
While not always as imaginative as in “Walk Like a Duck,” Jorge’s lyricism is often borderline abstract, yet thanks to the rapper’s laid-back manner continually stays on the cool side of things. Kurious delivers his verses with a natural, just slightly intoxicated grace (substance abuse is a recurring topic). Dubbing himself the Magician, he raps in a knowing tone, as if steadily saying the most sensible shit, all the while retaining a certain mystique. His mellow disposition doesn’t prevent him from rocking uptempo cuts like “Spell it Wit a J (Yes, Yes Jorge)” while underlining that he prefers “to lay back, twist caps and spark L’s.” This opening track, an absolutely gorgeous bass/drum combo circling around a “Jimbrowski” quote, is another Beatnuts stroke of demented genius. According to the writing credits, The Beatnuts on this album means Psycho Les (Lester Fernandez) and short-time member V.I.C. (Victor Padilla), the latter of which would be solely responsible for “Uptown Shit.”
Like “Walk Like a Duck” predicted, “A Constipated Monkey” is the “‘Nuts kickin’ butts” to the highest degree. On “Top Notch” (which features Frenchman Lucien of ATCQ’s “Luck of Lucien” fame), the most direct link to their own 1994 full-length, they inject jumpy drum programming with a variety of faint jazz and funk samples while they cheekily extract the sarcasm from a Posdonous quote off De La’s “Afro Connections at a Hi 5”: “(Now I hold my crotch) / Why the fuck you hold your crotch? / (Cause I’m top notch).” Quoting out of context has never been more fun. In the same spirit, “Tear Shit Up” combines Biz Markie and Rakim in the hook of what has to be the most relaxed track of the album. The Beatnuts have crafted some of the best hip-hop beats in history, and at least a couple of ’em can be found here.
The CD credits The Beatnuts for “Fresh out the Box” as well, but the writing credits indicate it’s the album’s other main production team that is responsible for the exuberant, fast-paced quirkiness – The SD50’s. Still “Leave Ya’ With This,” Kurious’ farewell to the late Subroc from KMD, has the same structure as a Nuts beat, a lot of room given to drums and bass as horns provide melodic highlights in the hook. “Baby Bust It” (featuring The Grim Reaper, these days known as MF GRIMM) is another minimalistic but highly entertaining beat largely reduced to drums and bass, while “What’s the Real,” a ground-breaking duet with Casual from the Hieroglyphics, would have blended right in on “93 ‘Til Infinity” (but not so much on “Fear Itself,” where it was originally supposed to be).
Two of the album’s more mainstream tracks come courtesy of the 3rd Bass connection. Bosco Money, partner of Sam Sever’s in Downtown Science, laces “Nikole,” a tale of getting over love, with a classic “Stoned Soul Picnic” sample. The 1994 single “I’m Kurious,” produced by Prime Minister Pete Nice & Daddy Rich, combines Blackbyrds and Midnight Star samples in a melodic, radio-friendly track. At the same time it shows Kurious at his most serious as he recounts the ups and downs in his life:
“At times I think I’m nice, clutch my genitalia
with the type of rhymes that’ll derail ya
train of thought – 2-3 Uptown
On the iron horse, self-esteem slopes down
A humble type of fella, I count my blessings, troop
but I’m countin’ more blessings than I count loot
Got a heart full of kindness, pocket full of lint balls
Everywhere I go, yo, tryin’ to avoid the pitfalls
I understand things don’t come easy
Tryin’ to stay away from those whose sleazy
ways portrays, it reflects on the business
I wanna know (Why Jorge?) Cause I’m curious”
One of the most significant ingredients of “A Constipiated Monkey” is humility. Which he’ll often counter with confident claims. But the fact that he humbles himself repeatedly is remarkable for a rapper in 1994. Maybe it was the humbling experience of being a starving rap artist: “Business got my head in a yoke / (Yo Jorge, I seen your video) Pfft… but I’m broke.” Maybe it was knowing that “what goes up has got to come down”. As he says in “I’m Kurious”: “I know the day’ll come when I’m broke and back around my old block.” But to him that was “cool, cause I love everyone.” And so, while often sounding pessimistic, Kurious was able to fight off the “Suicidal Thoughts” Biggie wallowed in the same year:
“I’m thinkin’ of the past reminiscin’ on a 40
Alcoholism started back when I was shorty
I prays the Lord my soul to keep
and think of how peaceful it is when I sleep
Cold lampin’ in my rest, all the stress and pain
Combination for success – razor and a vein?
Maybe, but my inner self saves me
got me in control when I’m feelin’ crazy”
Introspection on such a personal level wasn’t common in rap in 1994. On the album’s closer, the beautiful “Jorge of the Projects,” Jorge engages in a Slick Rick-esque conversation with himself over an understated, wistful SD50’s production, reminiscing on his childhood and adolescence, presenting himself as a real person that (as he put it) you don’t catch on cable, but outside in your backyard. But don’t think of “A Constipated Monkey” as an atypical album. It’s largely as zany as the title makes it sound, and while he repeatedly admits that he hasn’t been the most sexually active guy, he still likes to talk about sex a lot. One promise he flat out forgets about is to represent with “Spanish speakin’,” as he sticks to English throughout.
Musically, this was one of the last albums to be knee-deep in bass. It is more playful and upbeat than say early Boot Camp and more mellow than Wu-Tang, but clearly gives off the ‘underground’ vibe of New York hip-hop before they decided to get jiggy with it. It’s hard to imagine Kurious being part of the city’s commercial comeback circa 1995-1997. Not a rapper who admits, “Kilos ain’t flipped, so my ass is broke.” And in 1994 he also knew he had little chance standing up to the dominance of the west: “I may stay broke on the East Coast, but on the other side of town they gettin’ paid.” In the end, Jorge seemed quite content with lingering in relative obscurity. As he put it: “Might drink the brew, but won’t do the commercial.” Without feeling the slightest need to criticize others, here was one rapper willing to go against the grain: “If you predict I’m goin’ right I just might go left.”
With its freestyle aesthetic and blunted atmosphere, “A Constipated Monkey” is Uptown Manhattan as seen through the lens of a sort of humble, slightly hesitant Hispanic kid with more than just booze, broads and a fast buck on his mind (that too), who takes a refreshingly carefree approach to his music career. Today, as a prelude to Kurious’ comeback, it is re-released by Amalgam Digital with additional bonus tracks, among them the popular b-side “Mansion and a Yacht” with Mike G and Sadat X. It is a welcome re-issue because for once the words ‘overlooked’ and ‘slept-on’ are definitely in order.