The “Roughneck Reality” album by Jamal-Ski was in many ways a victim of unfortunate timing. Although his reggae chattah had been introduced to the rap world by association with Boogie Down Productions, BDP disowned him (and a large percentage of the crew) on “Sex and Violence” in 1992. It was undeniably stating the obvious that KRS-One and BDP were synonymous, but it was still shocking to see such a sudden purge of the group without any explanation other than “stop frontin'” in the liner notes. Whom was fronting on whom then? Was KRS ego tripping, or did he have a legit reason for dismissing everyone before ultimately going solo? It’s a mystery of rap history that has persisted for 30+ years and may never be solved.
“Well in a time like dis!
All rudebwoys ready fi stop get dissed
I don’t get mad, I get pissed
Hear dis selection cause this one is dedicated
to all ghetto yout’ around the globe”
There’s an even bigger irony when you consider that “A Piece of Reality” was released as a single the same year that KRS cut his ties with Jamal-Ski. The pounding drums and righteous anger are cut from the same cloth as KRS-One maxims like “If negativity comes with a .22, positivity comes with a .45!” It even features a shoutout to him: “Big up KRS! Big up BDP! Big up Chuck D and big up Public Enemy!” He clearly didn’t know what was about to happen to him. It makes me smile to hear a hook with the lines “David Duke is a piece of shit! Ronald Reagan is a piece of shit!” That’s exactly the kind of fervor and fury I look for in political rap.
The video for “Jump, Spread Out” (inexplicably mistitled above) contains a different mix from the one on “Roughneck Reality,” but I appreciate both versions. The fact that a pair of singles and accompanying videos made it off this album shows that Columbia Records believed in Jamal-Ski more than BDP, and given the success of dancehall/reggae crossover in rap at the time via Shabba Ranks, Ini Kamoze, and Yellowman among others. A sample of any random record from rap or reggae at the time could feature one side meeting with the other, from Ice Cube’s “Wicked” to Super Cat’s “Dolly My Baby.” It was a glorious time for the diaspora in rap.
“You see weed is not a dope! The Drug Enforcement Agency is a bunch of dopes! Weed is an herb, alriiiight?” Word up. The sentiments of Jamal-Ski on “Holy Sacrament” are certainly relatable to rap heads, and the choice of Smooth B saying “I want to get blunted” and Das EFX saying “spiggidy spark the blunt” were a perfect fit. Jamal even fits a tribute to the Shabba Ranks hit “Trailer Load of Girls” into the track that makes me smile. In fact that’s true for a majority of “Roughneck Reality.” This is an album that makes me smile. I realize there’s a tint of rose colored nostalgia to it, but it takes me back to a very specific time in rap where different cultures intersected and made dope music together. “Don’t you know the Constitution was written on dirty hemp?” He’s spitting real facts here. On “Recognize” he’s showing mad love to all of the deejays and emcees of hip-hop too, with another ironic shoutout to KRS-One in the process.
I feel like this album never stood a chance in the wake of BDP’s dissolution. Columbia Records was undoubtedly counting on KRS-One to work with Jamal-Ski, to promote his music, to take BDP on tour and to have Jamal-Ski perform these songs live. There’s a saying in pro wrestling that WWE CEO Vince McMahon only believes in the talent he signs honoring their end of a contract. If you don’t like the deal you can’t break it, but if he doesn’t like the deal he can break it at any time. I’m not saying Lawrence Krisna Parker is Vince McMahon, but Jamal-Ski is showing a lot of love and loyalty to Kris on “Roughneck Reality” that is clearly not being returned. That’s a shame.