Guest appearances come a dime a dozen in rap music. There are, however, a handful of artists who make themselves so rare and have so much to add with a cameo that each appearance is cherished by the fans. Bumpy Knuckles, formerly known as Freddie Foxxx, falls into that category. In the early '90s he added a string of reputable guest verses to his name. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's "Money in the Bank" ('91), Boogie Down Productions' "Ruff Ruff" ('92), Naughty By Nature's "Hot Potato," The Flavor Unit MCs' "Roll Wit Tha Flava" ('93) and The Almighty RSO's "One of Those Nightz" ('94) raised expectations high for what many people thought would be his solo debut. While the record was covered in The Source, it failed to come out. Only in 2008 were we able to fully assess what "Crazy Like a Foxxx" could have been.
Not one to be discouraged, Foxxx returned after a short hiatus, now calling himself Bumpy Knuckles, to lend his unmistakable fervor to classic collaborations like O.C.'s "Win the G" ('97) and Gang Starr's "The Militia" ('98), finally earning a 'Hip-Hop Quotable' for his part on MOP's "I Luv." The rebirth eventually resulted in "Industry Shakedown." Quite a few people were under the impression then that "Industry Shakedown" was the Long Island native's official full-length debut. Before the internet revealed all collectors secrets, it wasn't easy to prove them wrong, unless you could present them with the actual record, 1989's "Freddie Foxxx Is Here."
Despite being a major label release, "Freddie Foxxx Is Here" always lingered in obscurity. Not that James F. Campbell didn't have the necessary connections. The album is, according to the credits, co-produced by none other than Eric B. The two share a history that goes beyond Foxxx purportedly working as a bodyguard for Eric B. & Rakim. There is some credence to the scenario that back in the mid-'80s they could have wound up a duo instead of Eric B. & Rakim. Either way there's a lasting loyalty at work, Fred sticking to Eric even when the latter jeopardized his legacy with a questionable solo album. Those questioning Eric's role in the monument that was Eric B. & Rakim will not have much to analyze on "Freddie Foxxx Is Here" since the rapper went on record saying he produced it by himself.
The album starts intriguingly enough with a sample that sounds like it could have been culled from a martial arts epic. Keeping in mind the song's title - "The Master" - this could easily be mistaken for a lost Wu-Tang Clan gem at first. The serenity soon makes way for the raging main track built on a "Give it Up or Turnit a Loose" loop. Ripping through the long verse with the power and energy he's still known for, Freddie paints himself as the undefeated champ who's harder, faster, and stronger in every respect. He's "a terror and danger to beats and basslines" with rhymes that "are like a loaded Tec-9." Rappers who "are breeded on disrespect" "can catch it like a shortstop, right in the chest." In short, "if you was nice before you ain't nice no more / Freddie Foxxx tops the score." Wu-Tang fans especially should hit up YouTube to watch the kung-fu flick-inspired video that accompanied this single. Remember this was still some time before GZA was hollering "Come Do Me" and RZA had girls chanting "Ooh I Love You Rakeem"...
If such outbursts ring familiar, you'll be surprised by the following tracks. The second single, "Somebody Else Bumped Your Girl," ponders infidelity over an ominous, stripped down beat adorned with suggestive moans. In typical Freddie Foxxx fashion, he brutally unveils the truth to a deceived lover. "It makes you mad, don't it?" he asks knowingly in the hook, as if he had been there himself, either as the dupe or 'the other man.' "Somebody Else Bumped Your Girl" is likely the only hardcore rap song you'll ever hear where a man sits down with another to discuss hurt feelings. But all the sensitivity on the narrator's part doesn't prevent the drama that ensues:
"Jesse stood up, the train came to a stop
Had a look on his face like he was about to pop
I said, "So what's up?" Then he looked in my grill
Kinda like I look myself when I'm 'bout to get ill
He was lookin' on a platform, right by a can
his girl lockin' lips with another man
Jesse broke stupid, and pulled out a tool
and started lickin' off like a crazy fool
The brother went rambo, actin' wild
and shot sixteen people at the turnstyle
The girl got sick when she saw blood flowin'
The brother she was with did a Jesse Owens
I couldn't believe the brother ruined his world
all because somebody else bumped his girl"
To drive home the point that male jealousy is a dangerous thing, the third verse ends tragically as well. If it appears that Foxxx is out to demonize women, "The Ladies Jam" will quickly rectify that impression. Over a part swinging/part pumping beat built from a James Brown tune (and later including a surprising xylophone solo), the rapper is again completely upfront:
"If there wasn't no girls in the house here tonight
I wouldn't be standin' here, rockin' the mic
Fellas admit it, the music is slam-o
but it's all the girls that make you wanna go
You wanna be in on the skins like a rap star
If your bass is strong, it shouldn't matter who you are
Girls wear pants, tight and slender
lookin' so good, she'll make a man a pretender
On the mic when I'm rappin', I look in the crowd
women in the front row screamin' out loud
It sends chills through the body
makes me rap more and hype up the party
Letters in the mail, sexy lipstick
I had to write a song for the ladies real quick
So all the ladies, clap your hands
And let's call this one The Ladies Jam"
Ultimately addressing the men rather than the women, "The Ladies Jam" can be considered the answer to "Somebody Else Bumped Your Girl" when he observes, "Brothers get jealous, fightin' over ladies / Somebody else did your skins, now you're crazy / But there's more women in this world than men / so why can't all of us fellas be in?"
Time for a little bit of one-on-one, you say? Don't fret, "Forever" is just around the corner, an R&B-infused ballad where our man turns into "the black love bandit." He goes to lengths to please the woman ("You don't have to cook / got my butlers waitin' on you hand and foot / I bought you minks and furs / a white cat that purrs / and two matching poodles named His and Hers"), but all she can think of is "bein' real hateful and very ungreatful / tryin' to disrespect the man that made your whole plate full." There's a lot to criticize here, from the cheesy instrumentation to the golddigger theme, but "Forever" still displays a basic songwriting ability that is all too rare in rap.
The remaining 8 songs don't require the same amount of critical attention. They generally go into the same direction as "The Master," without duplicating the intensity. On "Stop, Look and Listen" there's a subtle nuance in the violent imagery (compared to "The Master"), as the damage is always tied in with a musical analogy. He's "the microphone mangler, MC strangler." "If you cover your ears, the beat'll bust your nose." Foxxx portrays himself as an athlete whose "lyrical fitness" will triumph over any challenger: "Rappers wanna strong-arm, but they ain't strong enough / to bite a rhyme, cause their wind ain't long enough." The stage is the ring, and you're likely not "gonna last on stage with Fred" when the bass pounds "to the body" and "to the head." When's the last time you heard a battle rapper literally tag-team with the beat?
But despite not yet fully crossing the line towards actual physical threats, Fred still sees himself as an MC who brings a new level of aggressiveness to the artform when he argues, "Would you rather see a basic MC? / If so, leave, cause that ain't me / The brag-and-boastin', so-called hostin' / need a little lesson in burn-and-roastin'."
Late '80s Freddie Foxxx is a very graphic MC. His "rap juices flow like a river / around your heart and down past your liver." He invites you to "lay back and relax while I climb / into your mind, every opening hole / walk through your body and take over your soul." He threatens to "open you up and then wear ya, drag you all over like Raggedy Ann." All in the spirit of his mantra disclosed on the album finale "I'm Ready": "This is a contact sport, it's called hip-hop."
"Serious" is one long succession of lyrical images intended to intimidate:
"The microphone's burnin' like a flaming torch
and my lyrics are hot, so they can burn and scorch
So serious - when I take the stage
kinda like lettin' a pitbull out of a cage
When I speak you turn chicken
scared to death because my bassline's kickin'
When my voice hits the mic, it'll sound like I shot him
Bring the stretcher, jumpstart the brain and heart
of a rapper that's been torn apart"
But there's variation in the theme. "Keep Doin' it Like This" deals with the rapper's will to succeed. The more relaxed flow matches the festive, go-go-like groove courtesy of The JB's while the rhymes paint the picture of a man who finishes what he starts and applies his work ethic fully to his art. When he snarls, "Nobody leave until the record is cut," it's easy to imagine him take the lead in the recording process. Still it's important to note that a lot of the tracks feature the same keyboards that can be found on Eric B. & Rakim's "Follow the Leader" album, which not only suggests "Freddie Foxxx Is Here" was recorded in 1988 as well but also that Fred had at least some kind of help crafting the tracks.
Underpinning the quintessential '80s hip-hop sample "UFO" with a gangster bass reminiscent of "Power"-era Ice-T material, "Busted" deals with biters. The sample-free "Make 'Em Feel It" further illustrates his hands-on approach and disses "pros on their third LP's / soundin' like a bunch of schoolyard MC's." The title track aims for the dancefloor with a muffled "Funky Drummer" loop kept in line by mechanical bass and keys. "Ain't No Sunshine" is a lovelorn but also completely amateurish rap adaption of the Bill Withers tune. With sparse rock guitars supporting heavy Love Orchestra drums, "I'm Ready" finally recalls L.L. Cool J's "Bigger and Deffer" while Foxxx relates that there's more to being a rap star than wearing gold, that "you have to have a listenin' ear for new ideas / and speak your words fluent, so everything's clear."
To accord "Freddie Foxxx Is Here" the same candor as its creator, it can't compare to well known albums from that era. Like the somewhat similar King Sun debut it sounds a couple of years older, and even if you'd treat it as a '87 or '88 album its sound remains somewhere between conservative and crude and places it far below works like "Yo! Bum Rush the Show," "Lyte as a Rock," "Down By Law," or "Criminal Minded." The dated appeal is mirrored in many parts by the rapping and rhyming. Still Foxxx had a clear profile as a hungry MC. He can absolutely make you feel that he's "mad for the mic, waitin' in a rage / tight and all anxious to rush the stage."
If it only came down to being a fearsome figure on the mic, this MC could be a factor anytime, anywhere. If you've already enjoyed watching Freddie Foxxx/Bumpy Knuckles rhyme rappers into submission, there's no reason you can't enjoy "The Master," "Serious," or "I'm Ready." If you're into unknown '80s albums that are a product of the times and circumstances (from major label influence to giving the man behind the wheels - DJ Kut Terrorist - credit), you might even enjoy the LP as a whole.
Music Vibes: 5.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5.5 of 10
Originally posted: March 23, 2010