Time for a game of Hip-Hop Trivial Pursuit. Today’s category is “Before They Were Famous.” Before Reggie Noble took the world by storm as Redman, what fellow New Jersey rappers did he deejay for while breaking into the music industry? I’ll give you 30 seconds. Take your time. Ponder this one for a little bit.
Are you still stumped? The answer is below.
Given these rappers hail from Newark and made a splash in hip-hop around the same time, it makes perfect sense for Reggie and Lords of the Underground to be linked, but before doing my background for this review I’d never made the connection between the two. It’s slightly more obvious when you see his cameo on LOTUG’s sophomore album “Keepers of the Funk,” but today we’re talking about their “Here Come the Lords” debut. That album was predated by the 1992 single “Psycho” produced by Marley Marl, a furious audio and lyrical display that set Mr. Funke, DoItAll and Lord Jazz apart from the rest of the rap scene.
“Well I’m not playing with a full deck, my marbles gone like missing
So now it’s time for the Funke man to start dissing
other rappers, who front and perpetrate is if they’re crazy
Pumping that weak shit, they know it just don’t phase me
So hit the showers, I rock for mad hours
Never more will I +Snap+ shit, cause yo +I Got the Power+”
If Elektra Records was looking for a lead single with crossover potential, they could pretty much forget about it from the title let alone the intense bars DoItAll and Funke were spitting. It was a shot fired across the bow of the rap scene punctuated by Marley Marl’s harrowing bass and screeching sound effects. It’s amazing in retrospect how the song manages to be both head nodding and eerie at the same time, truly living up to the “Psycho” title, and LOTUG isn’t even a horrorcore rap group. With song titles like “Grave Digga” you might be somewhat confused about that. DoItAll explains the concept well though. “Once platinum, and now he can’t sell a tune/I wonder how it feels to have your life go kaboom […] Started off hard, ended off soft/You should have stayed street G, you paid the cost.”
Even though they are Lords of the UNDERGROUND, the trio is not working in the cemetery, nor are they obsessed with gore, zombies, or skeletons. This is the traditional meaning of the term “underground” as it pertains to rap — an artist who comes from the grassroots scene, hustling to get put on, never compromising their ideals even a major label offers you a deal to cash in. LOTUG was patient and consistent in building their fan base until they got a deal from Pendulum/Elektra Records, and they rewarded those same fans and made new ones at the same time with tracks like “Lord Jazz Hit Me One Time (Make It Funky).”
“I bet they’re not believing that you come from Cleveland” quips DoItAll, but that Ohio scene was soon to boom in the 90’s too. The more surprising thing in the song was hearing Lord Jazz grab the mic for a verse, threatening that he’d be “quick to do a deejay when he’s walking on my turf.” At only 2:46 the song wasn’t long enough to command its own video, having to split that honor with the titular “Here Come the Lords” single, but that just made for an incredible one-two punch to knock out the competition.
Both songs exemplify what made “Here Come the Lords” a special album from what now feels like a uniquely special time in hip-hop. Co-produced by Marley Marl and K-Def, the booming tracks remain remarkably strong for a full 63 minutes. People had inexplicably started writing off Marl as a great from the 80’s who wasn’t capable of getting the job done in the 90’s, but the “House of Hits” laid the foundation for “the Lords to break ground” perfectly. With Lord Jazz on the turntables, the excitable DoItAll on the mic and the high pitched Mr. Funke grabbing your attention, LOTUG won again and again even on album B-sides like “Sleep For Dinner.”
“How the fuck did you get a F in Home Ec?” Not only is the song hilarious, complete with DoItAll doing a Busta Rhymes impression and then trying to jack a delivery man for his pizza, the track narrates a personal tale of growing up in poverty and hearing an echo when the fridge door opened. It’s a relatable song for their fans as Funke drops line like “I know what it’s like not to have,” while DoItAll celebrates the success they’ve achieved and says “Now we’re eating kind of swell.” Very few of us in this life are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, so whether from the hood or the woods, it’s a message that resonates to the listeners.
“Chief Rocka” may be the best remembered Lords of the Underground single for a variety of reasons. Funke’s “boom shaka locka” intro and reference to a famous Michael Jordan/Spike Lee commercial are instantly memorable, Lord Jazz scratches the track lovely before DoItAll jumps on for his verse, and the instrumental samples everything from John Coltrane to The Mohawks in an intricately layered production. Ironically though it wasn’t Marley Marl or K-Def who made the song most memorable — EASY MO BEE did that by sampling Mr. Funke’s line “I live for the funk, I’ll die for the funk” on Notorious B.I.G.’s classic song “Machine Gun Funk.”
Ironically the original version of this song from “Ready to Die” has now become obscured over a sampling lawsuit, although in both versions the LOTUG hook remains in tact. There’s a lot to love about “Here Come the Lords.” The anthemic vow to “Keep It Underground”, the funky horns and brash bars of “Madd Skillz” (not to be confused with the Virginia rapper), the upbeat and uptempo “Flow On (New Symphony)” and the crazy funk of the track that gave the group their “L.O.T.U.G.” acronym among others. There’s a playfulness throughout the presentation that’s hard to miss. “Lords of the Underground can rock from here to Sing-Sing/Grab the microphone, everybody rides the ding-ding.” It’s a silly line and yet it sounds perfectly natural coming out of Funke’s mouth. LOTUG was a hardcore rap group, but they weren’t afraid of having fun or making their fans smile with their lyrics. Some rappers try too hard to be TOO HARD, but the Lords had a natural self-confidence that came across on every track.