“Pump it Up” had me convinced that Candyman was the next big rap star coming out when I was in high school. There he was chilling with Sister Dee at a slumber party with his entire crew, spending an entire hour playing all his hits while she gushed over how great he was (while simultaneously getting vexed she was left out of every party game they played). Given Dee had devoted entire episodes to hanging with Shock G and KRS-One, my young mind was easily influenced to believe Candell Manson was on their level as a rap star. Unfortunately with no disrespect due to the rapper with the sweet name, Candyman is little remembered in 2009. If you remember him at all you heard “Knockin’ Boots” came out back in 1990 or you heard him on the “West Coast Remix” of the Nas track “Where Are They Now.” Credit where it’s due to Nas though for making me think about a man whose album I hadn’t heard in over 15 years. In fact instead of dusting off my old tape of “Ain’t No Shame in My Game” (let alone seeing if my tape deck still works) I decided to pick up a used copy of his CD for review. Not like it was a hard choice given used is all you WILL find – new copies of his album aren’t exactly in demand after 18+ years – and the copy I bought only cost $2 and tax.
Oddly enough the first track on the album I chose at random after popping the disc in was “Today’s Topic,” a short song which opens with a skit for a fictional TV show called “Who Really Gives a Damn?” In the skit the pretentious host sarcastically questions why anybody should care about Candyman and his album. To the readers of this review, I must tell you, this was unintentionally comedic GOLD. While the fictional show and host were an ideal set-up in 1990 for Candyman to knock his naysayers and not just some boots, in 2009 the host is asking the same question you readers are. Here’s how Candyman responds to the doubters and haters:
“See nobody ever gave a damn about a brother like me
Being in the industry
Back in eighty-three Run-D.M.C. was all we played in the hood
And that was good, the way it should be done
But now for me and Run things are a little bit different
Our record’s on the hitlist
White, black, oriental or latino
Everybody wants to buy the Candyman single
When the hip-hop starts, I’m crossin over to the pop charts
Now here come the old farts
Poppin that junk about PMRC
Breasts are a part of the anatomy!”
For those who don’t get the reference, the Parents Music Resource Center or PMRC for short is the group of busybody do-gooders founded by Tipper Gore in the 1980’s who thought they could rid music of all porn, smut, drugs or violence – or at the very least shield children from it. The funny thing is that the PMRC eventually led to record labels voluntarily putting “parental advisory – explicit lyric” sticks on a large number of rap albums, while nothing Candyman says on “Ain’t No Shame in My Game” is controversial enough to WARRANT such a sticker. While his most famous song “Knockin’ Boots” is an allusion to the act of sex, none of the so-called “seven dirty words” are heard anywhere in the song, and nothing he says in the track is actually that graphic. In fact the very fact “Knockin’ Boots” became such a huge crossover hit is due to the fact the lighthearted rap is matched with a catchy beat and a chorus referencing Rose Royce’s “Ooh Boy.” Even though Tone-Loc’s deep baritone warns us that Candyman is “on the prowl” in the intro, there’s nothing in the song that would scare any man or woman alive.
“Knockin, while I’ma hip-hoppin
Many people say my lyrics are shockin
Just because of the simple subject
Everyone should love this, cause everybody does it
Whether they admit it or if they deny it…
You better keep quiet!
Or else you might have to see a few skeletons…
But girl that’s irrelevant
Break out the bottle of Asti Spumante
Pop off the top and rock wit my posse
Fila Al, Big Deal, and D Fly
We ask the questions, you give the reply
MC Chip, Big Rob and Bud
Rockin on the waterbed, knockin on the rug
I’m just playing, what I’m saying ain’t ill
Girl you should know I’m real”
Yes Candell, you’re real – real soft. Now hold up, that’s not such a bad thing! Ever heard Will Smith try to be hard on a song? It doesn’t fit. It’s perfectly possible for a rapper to be friendly and cheerful on wax. Besides it’s a ridiculous stereotype to assume everybody’s got to mean mug and spit curse words all the time. Soft != whack. While Candyman’s raps may seem cornier than candy corn by today’s standards, in 1990 they fit in perfectly into hip-hop’s crossover efforts. It’s no coincidence that he’s so closely associated with Tone-Loc, going so far as to be described as one of Loc’s “backing artists” on Whackypedia before breaking out on his own as a soloist. Candyman was carefully treading in the footsteps made by songs like Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing” and Young MC’s “Bust a Move,” hoping to sell millions of records with an album of songs that were at best mildly raunchy. Songs like “Playin’ On Me” suggest the soft-spoken, emotionally sensitive verses LL Cool J spit on “I Need Love,” even while sampling hardcore rapper Ice Cube during the breakdown growling “But I don’t give a hoot – huh – because I knocked boots.” Candyman and his producers (chiefly Johnny J and the Candyman Band) may be aware of the hardcore hip-hop, but they’re far from hard. If Candyman ever came close to controversy it was with the song “Nightgown,” where he wines and dines the objects of his affection all while fantasizing about what she’d look like in ALMOST nothing. The music video for this song was pretty fly back in the day, as it featured Candyman playing with a magic pair of glasses that showed just how ladies looked without their working clothes on. Unfortunately for fans of this video the song was remixed, so the version on this CD isn’t nearly as fresh or hard hitting.
In the end when listening to “Ain’t No Shame in My Game” one gets the feeling Candyman considers himself kin to the entire range of hip-hop styles making noise in 1990, even though the end of the range he ends up representing musically is the lightest of light fare. The truth is it’s not lacking in authenticity though. To use Will Smith again for an analogy, no one gets the feeling Candyman is trying to act like Will’s cousin Carlton Banks on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” He’s not trying to force a fake air of proper behavior and manners in his crossover raps, he’s just naturally not prone to cussing a lot to get his point across. Unfortunately for Candyman the skits on his album ARE voiced by someone sounding like Alfonso Ribeiro and it’s irritating as all hell. Skip them with no regrets, but if you skip “Ain’t No Shame in My Game” you might actually have a few. If you’re among the “shit has got to be real, hardcore and raw, rough and fuckin’ rugged is how I love it” set then Candyman never has a chance, but if you remember an era of pop rap from the late 80’s and early 90’s fondly it’s safe to say Candyman is among the best representatives of that group. Unfortunately he just wasn’t the star Sister Dee made him out to be, as “Knockin’ Boots” was his only big hit and a fickle pop audience lost interest while an even more fickle rap audience moved on to the more hardcore artists of the day. The fact Nas would even ask where Candyman is now though suggests he was at one time relevant, and Johnny J’s production has held up reasonably well over the years, so this is a used purchase no rap fan can regret spending $2 on.