The first Ghetto Boys album from 1988 doesn't nearly get enough props as a pioneering effort of badass, browbeating, menace-to-society thugging. Name any other album from that year with songs comparable to "Snitches" and "Assassins." You can't. Sure they took their musical style from Run-D.M.C, the Beastie and the Fat Boys and the whole thing was still rather artificial, but preceding the LP's majority of mid-'80s New York-influenced material are four tracks that go beyond the humble beginnings of gangsta rap that are usually brought up when the events leading up to "Straight Outta Compton" are discussed. That album sampled Tony Montana several times, before one Brad Jordan came out with the single "Scarface," let alone was chosen for the substitute team that came to be known as Geto Boys, where he would begin to shed his DJ Akshen moniker and fully morph into Scarface.
As someone who is interested in rap history I'm curious as to how exactly Scarface went from Short Stop to Rap-A-Lot Records. If "Making Trouble" the Rap-A-Lot album with its Tony Montana samples predates "Scarface" the Short Stop single, doesn't that make "Scarface" look like an application on Brad Jordan's part to become a Ghetto Boy? The circumstances of the other replacements that took place are not much clearer. According to Willie D (as told to AllHipHop.com), when he was still a Rap-A-Lot solo artist he was asked by label owner James Smith to write songs for a new Ghetto Boys record: "I said "Okay," and I wrote some songs. I wrote s**t like "Do it Like a G.O.," "Let a Hoe Be a Hoe," and they didn't like it. They were like it was too graphic. At the time them ni**as had wives and s**t. So I understood where they were coming from, but Lil J gave them an ultimatum; "Either y'all rap this s**t or I would have to move on." They chose the latter. I then came in as a member of the Geto Boys and J was telling me about this dude he had named Scarface but at the time his name was DJ Akshen, and J was like, "It's going to be Juke Box, Akshen and [you]." Juke Box was one of the ones to stay. But Juke Box got a letter from his girlfriend at the time saying that he needed to find a real job because s**t wasn't working. So he ended up leaving the group."
From what I understand, however, Juke Box' cause for leaving was a pending prison bid, while it was Prince Johnny C who left for professional reasons. Going back to "Making Trouble," according to DJ Ready Red, "most of that album was already written with K-9, Raheem and Juke Box. "Making Trouble," "No Curfew," "Snitches," that was pretty much Lil J and Juke Box and the other MC's. Johnny C saw something and he wrote "Assassins." It's just that "Assassins" isn't any less graphic than "Mind of a Lunatic." Ready Red, who had originally directed the rapper from Trenton to Houston, insists that on these harder tracks "Johnny C was shining, but that wasn't in his heart to do that."
If I had to speculate on one specific creative difference that prevented Prince Johnny C from being part of the Scarface-era Geto Boys, it would be drugs. The statement "The dope game's a conspiracy" may just be his answer to Brad Jordan's beginning adventures. Then again there are these darn 'Scarface' samples... Fact is that the new Ghetto Boys album Willie refers to, "Grip It! On That Other Level" (the one that would include the song "Scarface"), didn't feature former vocalists Juke Box and Johnny C. But the latter was still involved as a producer, as he had been in "Controversy," and would soon be in Rap-A-Lot releases by the Convicts and Too Much Trouble, and, most importantly, 1991's platinum-selling Geto Boys album "We Can't Be Stopped."
In 1992 it was apparently time for a Prince Johnny C album. By that time the 26-year old's role in the Ghetto/Geto Boys saga was eclipsed, or it had only just become apparent when "Making Trouble" was re-issued in 1991 to cash in on the national success of the Geto Boys. Unfortunately most newcomers to "Making Trouble" were inevitably disappointed by the fact that it didn't feature any of the current members.
All of the above is completely ignored by "It's Been a Long Rhyme Coming." Johnny C shouts out his "former partner in rhyme the Sire Juke Box" and "the brother Raheem," plus name-drops Lil J, Rap-A-Lot and the Ghetto Boys a number of times, but never explicitly Willie D or Scarface. Ghetto Boys here appear to be a concept rather than a specific group of people: "Ghetto Boys is a posse and I'm down because I wanna be," he points out. While his '88 Ghetto Boys single "Be Down" declared "You gotta be down," in '92 Prince Johnny C was all about being himself - and the single "Gotta Be Me" was the theme song. He starts his emancipation proclamation by recounting his own rocky road towards being an artist:
"Mama's always tellin' me what I should be
I wanna be myself, I tried to tell her this
Now my bags are in the street, she took it as a diss
And I'm takin' a trip deeper into poverty
But I don't wanna be a doctor, I wanna rhyme, B
My father never talks, man, all he does is shout
Said he brought me into this world, he'll take me out
Bro Radee's the only one who understands me
and as a friend he took me in, it's abandoned, but the rent's free
Wanna live my life the way I wanna live
(But C, you oughta do what makes your family happy, B)
Nah, I gotta be me"
After listening to "It's Been a Long Rhyme Coming," it's safe to conclude that Jonathan Carmichael and his dad were often at odds, see further into "Gotta Be Me," see "Me and Baby Brother," or even "Momma Shoulda Poppa Woulda," where the father is portrayed as an underworld figure in whose footsteps the narrator has to follow. Not to mention "Pop You Need to Stop Drinking," another disheartening family drama:
"Sweet 16, baby sis' birthday
Punch bowl full of punch, had it goin' on the right way
Invited her friends to get together and party
and mom baked a cake big enough for everybody...
's hip-hoppin', all backs off the wall
Heard a knock at the door, turned out the lights, screamed: "Surprise!"
It was pops all funky 'n his bloodshot eyes
Thought it was his party, so he tried to dance
Blew his nose in his shirt, big urine stain in his pants
Said, "Give me the mic!" - He snatched my chicken leg
and now he's tryin' to rap smellin' like a boiled egg
So mom tried to get him to come to bed
He called her a -, balled up his fist, punched her in the head
In the mornin' he'll try to say that's the last time
but Johnny C know that a drunk speaks a sober mind
He pulled out his wine bottle, said, "I'm in control"
took a sip, then called Earl in the punch bowl
Now here comes baby sis and it's time to sing
Happy birthday to ya - no one said a thing
We know she couldn't be happy, she couldn't fake
Pop scratchin' his behind diggin' in the cake
She said, "The party's over," all her friends left
Pop still lookin' like the devil with the dragon breath
Then mom rushed down the steps, asked if the party was over
Pulled out a pistol and tried to blow him sober
(I wish you dead) she said
Yo, I'm thinkin' about movin' to the Y
Somebody's gonna die
Pop, you need to stop drinkin'"
Later they call a priest "to exorcise that alcohol demon," yet he ends up praying "for his own life - pop tried to cut him with a butcher knife." There may be an old-fashioned touch to the drawn-out storytelling, but it's one of the things Prince Johnny C has going for him. The graphic yet comic narration also re-establishes a connection to the Geto Boys. In at least one case he might just outdo Scarface and Bushwick Bill. On "Love Crazy" he hooks up with a violent lover who likes to bring a gun to romantic encounters. Let's just say Tech N9ne's Psycho Bitch got nothing on her...
Prince Johnny C has a strong voice and a physical delivery, a vocal tone not unlike Scarface's, although without the emotional range but a certain affected arrogance. He's not a bad rapper. But outside of the aforementioned tales he struggles to make sense. Among the album's worst tracks is the opening "Young Girlies Want Nothing But Sex." Based on the same twanging groove as Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's classic "Talk Like Sex" insufficiently covered up with beat additions, the song itself is ten times worse than the questionable title suggests, Johnny rattling off so much incoherent nonsense that in '92 you would have gladly traded it in for the nearest available Father MC tune. Other romantic efforts like the carefree dance track "Sunshine" and the quiet-storming "Ready to Give it All to You" are accpetable, but in the nine-deuce and on Rap-A-Lot they were fighting a lost cause. "Comin' to Get Ya" fares better as a slick tale of conquest set to a funky, booming track; "A Thing For Big Women" is more to the point than Lord Finesse's "I Like My Girls With a Boom" from the same year; but the sleeper is "Searching For Momma Feel Good," a mysterious track where we join C on his quest for a soulmate, the Barry White groove supported by female vocals and a sax.
Normally you couldn't go wrong with a song titled "From the Ghetto to the Get Mo." Clumsy wordplay or not, the message is bound to be clear, right? But between Islamic undertones, an irritating West Indian accent that pops in and out and an akward way of putting things that message gets lost. Even "Momma Shoulda Poppa Woulda" is compromised when a female perspective is brought in by a guest rapper who may make worthwhile observations about skin tone but doesn't fit into the concept. Finally, while not living up to East Coast standards in any way, "Kevey Kev Is a Dancer With Soul" (guaranteed the only song to ever shout out Michael Jackson, Bushwick Bill and MC Hammer combined) and "For the Love of Hip-Hop" (with a nod to the Bronx), clearly express the rapper's passion for the artform.
"Lil J will take it to the extreme," Johnny recalled on "For the Love of Hip-Hop." Unfortunately not here. The '80s style cover, the edited curses, the missing production credits - too many indications that Rap-A-Lot didn't get fully behind "It's Been a Long Rhyme Coming." Prince Johnny C himself, who had claimed Houston's 5th Ward on "Making Trouble," now would rather take it all the way home to Trenton, New Jersey.
But contradiction is just as much part of early Rap-A-Lot history as controversy. After all, this is the same guy who ended "Be Down" with "So if you see a crook in action, be down and call the police," only to go on and be part of "Snitches." Torn between spicy storytelling and feelgood rap songs, Prince Johnny C despite "Gotta Be Me" fails to create an identity for himself on his only album. While delivering several solid songs like "Gotta Be Me," "Momma Shoulda Poppa Woulda," "Love Crazy," "Comin' to Get Ya," "Searching For Momma Feel Good" and "Pop You Need to Stop Drinking," "It's Been a Long Rhyme Coming" mainly suggests James Smith felt he owed the ex-Ghetto Boy a favor and since he was in the business of putting out records anyway, it was worth a try.
Music Vibes: 4 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 3 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 3.5 of 10
Originally posted: April 20, 2010