“Don’t carry a gun, cause my mouth does the shooting.” – Steady B
Steady B unintentionally penned one of hip-hop’s most ironic rhymes on the opening track of “What’s My Name.” To this day “Believe Me Das Bad” always makes me think of Diamond D’s remix of “Soul on Ice” when Ras Kass opens with the punchline “The waterproof emcee, you ain’t wetting me/you need to stop rapping and start robbing banks like Steady B.” That’s right. The same man who said he won’t carry a gun because his mouth does the shooting was found guilty of second degree murder in 1996. One could argue that because he was the getaway driver while fellow Philadelphia rapper Chris “Cool C” Roney was the trigger man in their attempted bank robbery, B was actually a man of his word about not using a gun. A police officer was shot though, which means Roney is literally stranded on death row. As a fellow participant in the botched heist B is considered culpable in the the officer’s death, serving life without the possibility of parole.
“And for all y’all people out there who ain’t down with hip-hop, JUST SHUT UP AND LIKE IT!” The level of frustration B expresses on “Funky Drummer” might just be indicative of what ultimately drove (pun intended) B to make a fatal mistake on January 2nd, 1996. Although he released five albums as a soloist and one with Cool C as C.E.B., the mid-1990’s saw B as a largely forgotten rapper left out of a scene increasingly dominated by rappers from New York, California and the Third Coast. While the East and West beefed and the South rose in prominence, old school Philadelphia artists like Steady B were just that — OLD. He didn’t seem to fit into the landscape. The “Gangster Rockin'” rapper “down with the Hill Top Crew” reached a point of diminishing returns on his rap career and decided to go for broke.
“First name Warren, last name McGlone” rapped B, seemingly predicting what he’d have to say to a judge at his arraignment. Okay, I know. My British friends would say I’m taking the piss here. It’s not B’s fault that everything about “What’s My Name” became unintentionally comical in light of his incredibly poor life choices. At the time this album came out in 1987 he was clearly a rapper on the rise. He managed to hit #40 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop charts that year, starting a trend which would see the next two albums he released go gold. Singles like “The Hill Top” were a large part of Steady B’s rise to prominence. “The story teller, with a story to tell” proclaimed B, as samples from Manzel and Gaz punctuated his matter of fact delivery of lines like “I love what I’m doing, wouldn’t trade it for nothing/The heat on the stage with the woofers steady pumping.”
There’s a refreshing unpretentious atmosphere to early Steady B records. You wouldn’t imagine the friendly Philly rapper who told you about his sexual misadventures on “Rong Ho’le” and bragged about his whip on “My Benz” would ultimately become an easy slam dunk for a clever Cali emcee. The latter song in particular is indicative of what I love about this record. It’s little more than a pounding drum beat, some scratched in samples, and B’s trademark braggadocio. “I cherish my Mercedes, just like a lady/Her name’s Lynnette, and she’s my black baby!” Go on B, tell me more.
Let’s be clear about something though — neither the rough around the edges appeal of Steady B’s vocal stylings nor the minimalistic 1980’s production from Lawrence Goodman (a/k/a L.G. The Teacher) can make B something he’s not. The simple verses he spits have their charm, but they also limit how deeply you can invest in his persona. To put it another way, he’s an above average emcee in his delivery, and a below average emcee in depth. He’s like a poor man’s Slick Rick. If you want to be known as “a story teller with a story to tell” you’ve got to really take it to the next level with making listeners visualize your rap. I wasn’t even thinking about the obvious comparison that they both went to prison, but in Rick’s case it was an act of self-defense instead of robbery, one for which he’d ultimately be paroled (and even pardoned). I don’t see B getting out now or ever, and unfortunately in the COVID-19 era a “life sentence” might as well be a death sentence. He made his bed though and it’s his to lie in.