Look beyond the superstar rap artists and groups to emerge from Philadelphia – Will Smith, Beanie Sigel, Eve and The Roots among them – and there’s a rich and diverse history of hip-hop artists doin’ the damn thang. With the passage of time and the accumulation of dust on old record crates many of these artists are being lost to obscurity, but back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s Philadelphia was a dominant force on par with L.A. and New York, with legendary DJ’s and rappers blowing shit up on the rap scene. Lest there be any confusion, Philly still kills it even today with the rough rugged ‘n raw, but back then there were a lot fewer artists releasing singles and albums than today and to my young eyes it seemed Philadelphia was a juggernaut on the hip-hop landscape. These days it seems every urban metropolitan area has its own thriving scene of local artists and major label breakout stars – back then you almost HAD to go to Philly, L.A. or New York to be noticed and get put on.
Three Times Dope were yet another in a long line of Philadelphia rap acts that were wrecking shit in those days, although they stood out even amongst a compartively less crowded field than today’s rappers by the suave distinctiveness of EST. EST has a lot of self-proclaimed nicknames including “The Lyrical Father” and “The Acknickulous One” but you could put his pride aside because the delivery and the vocal tone lived up to his own hype. Wait a minute – ACKNICKULOUS? EST was making up words that didn’t even exist in Webster’s dictionary (and unlike “w00t” or “Smackdown” probably never will) but it was all part of his confident charm. Incidentally the word was generally presumed to mean “dope” or “fresh.”
Ostensibly Three Times Dope (or 3XD for short) was a group effort, but so was Boogie Down Productions and we all know KRS-One was the star of that show. DJ Woody Wood played his part on the turntables and Chuck Nice produced some fly beats, but without EST rocking the microphone they would have packed it in long before “Original Stylin” became a seminal rap classic. Therefore by the time 1990 rolled around the group were poised to cash in on the success they already had, and “Live From Acknickulous Land” set out to hit the charts #1 with a bullet via “Weak at the Knees”:
“I won’t beat around the bush but come right up front
Miss Thang, you know you got some’n I want
It ain’t your daddy’s money, I got my own flunkies
It’s to get you all alone and doin that funky
To play footsie and tickle your soul
Cause I can get sweeter than a Tootsie Roll
So good to it that you wanna leave never
But feel what’s real always and forever
You want me for all the things I do
Workin to the bone for praise from you
Girl you inspire, me to perspire
Lost in the force of Earth Wind & Fire
Turn off the lights click on a slow tape
And I’ma show ya, just why they call me great
In a snowstorm baby it’ll be a hundred degrees
Bakin ya, makin you weak at the knees”
Thus did lascivious courtship meet suave crossover beats, spawning a slinky single and mackadocious music video. History and somewhat disappointing album sales reveal though that some thought EST was trying a little TOO hard to court a female audience. Looking at the album’s front and back cover doesn’t help matters. On one side the group seems cartoonishly animated, appearing to leap straight out of the pages of an Egyptian comic book adventure. On the other side the group has fades and buzzcuts that SCREAM BelBivDevoe, and for lack of a better way to put it everyone other than EST seems to be making “sex eyes” at the photographer. Despite the strong sexual overtones of the lead single, there’s no parental advisory on this CD, at a time in rap’s history where rappers were often judged to be more credible as opposed to more offensive simply by virtue of having one. Songs like “Mellow But Smooth” may not have helped matters, as rap already had one Big Daddy Kane and EST came across as trying to muscle in on his turf.
“Mellow, fellow, I burn like a turbo
Pick up the mic and I like let the fur blow
The man that you can’t understand take no BS
With a cut like this, it got to be the ES
So live, you break out the house for the single
Like you’ve got the fever for the flavor of a Pringle”
Seriously Acknickulous One, you’re comparing yourself to potato chips? I hope you do realize chips get CRUNCHED. Despite the occasional mis-steps EST’s mic skills redeem him throughout the album. “Make Dat Move” is a dancefloor anthem with plenty of braggadocious boasts as EST macks on a lady “tan as the motherland.” The funky fresh horns, fat snappy bassline and scratches of “In Effect” are vintage early 90’s hip-hop at its finest. “Peace Ya Self” seems a little over-the-top and corny in today’s jaded rap era but definitively fits into a time where the Stop The Violence movement was working hard to define urban tragedy through rap positivity. Still there’s a definitive “new jack swing” feel to the album as a whole that’s hard to shake.
Tracks like “No Words” and “I Ain’t Try’n 2 Hear It” have heavy doses of hi-hats and fat raps, but in an era where KRS-One’s formula got usurped and negativity started to come with a 45, the 22 that EST was packing simply wasn’t going to cut it. EST and 3XD seem to be acknowledging this on “Do U Wanna C It” by going with a predictable chorus sample, having a Sade impression on the track from a female fan, then failing to cash in with simplistic raps like “Thank you, and for that compliment/I’ma make your night one hell of a event/I wrote down my room number on a piece of paper/I gave it to her and said ‘I hope to see you later.'” Ugh. Even in 1990 that was just too damn polite. You don’t HOPE to see a girl later that you just gave your room number to dipshit! EST still had the strong vocal tone as he did when he started, but by trying to be Mr. GQ with the 3XD crew he lost too much credibility to recover. Not withstanding that “Live From Acknickulous Land” is still a fabulous fossil from a group that both by accident and their own design got lost to the annals of history, and is an overall pleasant and inoffensive listen. Perhaps it might be more well regarded today if it HAD been more offensive – c’est la vie.