“The Blackwatch, a vanglorious reality
A state of mind or again a mentality
It’s my place to warn my race
Arise! And face the bass!”
For a hip-hop head of the early 1990’s, the phrase “This is protected by the red, the black, and the green, WITH A KEY, SISSSSYYYYY” was a familiar refrain thanks to X-Clan’s “To the East, Blackwards.” Professor X punctuated Brother J’s deep voiced verses by intoning the phrase or variations thereof throughout the album. Although Lumumba Carson passed away in 2006 his voice lives on in the catalogue of X-Clan group and solo albums, including the debut of Isis a/k/a Queen Isis on “Rebel Soul.” To be honest I gave little thought to his appearing all over the record at the time it was released. She was a member of the Blackwatch movement, she was a protege of Carson’s, it was only natural for the more well known Carson to show her some love.
The titular track of “Rebel Soul” not only finds Isis echoing Carson’s famous phrase but flowing to a track which might as well be on a X-Clan album. The familiar samples from Eddie Kendricks, Dexter Wansel, and KC & the Sunshine Band would not be out of place amongst the R&B, P-Funk and soul samples of “Blackwards.” Even though that’s a strong point to start from, Isis and company quickly branch out into areas of sound and style not previously explored by Carson and company. “Face the Bass” would be more at home in a loud night club — a pulsing uptempo house jam to lose yourself to in a shower of sweat. “Hail the Words of Isis” pushes that envelope even further. I don’t think X-Clan here — I think Black Box.
I suppose that just goes to show the versatility of Clause “Paradise” Gray, the sole producer of all but two songs on “Rebel Soul.” What about those other two though? The first is “To the Crossroads” which is not to be confused with a similarly named Bone Thugs-N-Harmony track. In fact you’re more likely to think of The Staple Singers, who are interpolated on the song’s hook, or at least are when Carson isn’t speaking. Will Downing does the Staple-esque crooning while Robert Reed provides the beats. The other song with outside help is “The House of Isis” and thanks to Todd Terry and the Stereo MC’s it REALLY lives up to that “House” part.
If I’m being honest looking back on this album over a quarter of a century later is a little confusing. Isis (also known as Lin Que) has a powerful voice and commanding flow on the mic, yet the frequent cameos by Professor X seem to disrupt the presentation as opposed to offering her the support he intended to. Perhaps he naively believed she couldn’t carry the weight of an entire album on her own, or it may be that he was such a towering figure in his own crew that no one would tell him to back off and give the young sister more room to breathe. The insistence on pushing her militant words into a genre that doesn’t seem to reap the benefits of it is also strange. Tracks like “The Wizard of Optics” serve her lyrical style much better.
The upshot is that a sister with a lot to say on “Rebel Soul” often finds both the music and her mentor getting in the way. It’s somewhat amusing to find that Discogs describes the album as both “conscious” and “hip-house.” They’re not wrong, but that’s the problem in a nutshell. She really shouldn’t have been trying to be both before she was even established as a solo act, and by the time you’re done listening you end up wanting Professor X to stick to playing Brother J’s side man instead of constantly interjecting himself into her songs — and if you think Isis sounds out of place on a house track, Carson is ten times more so. Unfortunately for Lin Que this would be the first of MANY times that her hip-hop career got derailed by forces that were ultimately out of her control.