King Sun :: Righteous But Ruthless :: Profile Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

"Now everybody's wearin the red black and green
Here's the point: do you know what it means?
Red for the bloodshed, black for the people
Green for the land to be utilized equal
"Yo I'm from Africa!" Boy you're just a faker
Name one city - "Uhh, Jamaica!"
WRONG... and I think that's a shame
An African look with an American name
You might fool others but you can't fool Sun
Wanna build with the brother, then I am the one
Play connect the dots, all the way to the motherland
What have you done for your nation my brotherman"

We haven't touched on "Black History Month" too much on RapReviews during the cold February months. There's no particular design in this approach, no one on staff has been asked to cover it more or less, but my own personal philosophy is that "Black History" is not something you simply set aside the shortest month of the year for. The truth is that it's the WORLD'S HISTORY, 365.25 days a year, and can be understood in any context at any time regardless of the weather outside. Scholars and historians all recognize that the civilization we enjoy today would not exist without the science and knowledge laid down on the continent we call Africa since before the time of Christ. Literature, philosophy, mathematics and the arts are just the start, and even if one looks no further than Egypt the vast array of documented proof is there of just how far advanced these ancient cultures were. Regardless of your race, color or creed take a moment right now to look around you and understand that without the Kings and Queens of Africa you wouldn't be living in the modern world as you know it today. King Sun understood that and was very proud of that heritage - a man proud to "Be Black":

"You can't even do the right things for self
Then you got the nerve to criticize somebody else
If it wasn't for Chuck you wouldn't know of Farrakhan
I understand that the man is a paragon
Open up your eyes and ears and try to learn
Stop perpetratin with your false concern
Even some rappers, frontin in their videos
Nothing but Oreos, tryin to be memorial
I'm not impressed, by the way some stars
perpetrate to be original, you know who you are
I diss my people who choose to lack
cause there's more to learn on how to be black"

It should come as little surprise that a man so fiercely proud would name his 1990 album "Righteous But Ruthless." Sun espoused an Afrocentric view that was as strident as it was funky, as powerful as it was provocative. Even in his own day Sun's raps put him at odds with other hip-hop artists, and his message in the third verse of "Be Black" may be even more vital in 2007 than it was over a decade ago:

"As modern day God, I do analysis
To find out what makes them hard like callouses
Instead of being sweet, truthful and soft
They wanna be false and that turns me off
Your hair's not real, neither are your eyes
And your makeup is swine plus a big disguise
Your clothes are tight, I can see every inch
And then you wonder how I get this urge to pinch
Sellin your sex, without makin love
I'm not Keith to be Sweat-in you and that's unheard of
If I got dollars, I'm good for your number
If I look fine, I get a one night slumber
Wham, bam, but no thank you ma'am
Wanna knock the boots but you don't know who I am
This is not a diss to my black sista
If I screamed on ya daughter, pardon me mista
The point I'm makin, such a visual fact
Teach her to be original, and how to be black"

With all the complaints you here today about "video hoes" and how women are being objectified, Sun makes it patently clear here that women need to have dignity and self-respect and CHOOSE not to go the hoe route. That goes for any woman of any skin color really - you can argue it's a man's world like James Brown but nobody makes you take your top down but you. In fact what's REALLY more sexy than a strong intelligent woman who takes no shit from a man? Hoochies don't impress me - lawyers and doctors do. It's a beautiful message that transcends the title of his song, where you're not just proud to "Be Black" but to be conscious of self and carry yourself with dignity and pride. That's what King Sun is all about and it shows through again and again on tracks like "King Sun With the Sword":

"Size havin nothin to do with this matter
My name is like bullets, let off and they all scatter
Breakin north, south, east, west to vacate
Severe distruction, the god creates and waits
I never mentioned the Sword that I use to remove
Those heads of the mentally dead fools
I wanna build with the brothers who claim to be
A said person of righteous ability
Bits and pieces of math your quotes mean nothin
To my knowledge the father never taught frontin
Just some mystery gods tryin to come aboard
But you're dissed by the 5, by King Sun with the Sword"

Sun swings his deep baritone vocals like Excalibur, blessing the track and taking off heads all in one fell swoop. The ruthlessness of his righteousness comes though on cuts like "Big Shots," where he criticizes those in the community who want to come up fast regardless of the consequences:

"Nothin could go wrong, the world was his
Until one day somebody gave him a quiz
To see if he was thorough or just a front
A kid pulled out and got smoked like a blunt
The brother knew how to react on impact
Bust him in the shoulders, opened up his back
Three more to go, what was four deep
Who were sent on a mission to put him to sleep
He dipped in a Benz, bein pursued by a van
Picked up the cellular phone to call his man
They strapped up and loaded up in the trucks
With A.K.'s, nines and Uzis, ready to buck
Now homebody was doin like 100 quick
Down the block cold jettin and not sweatin conflict
Bullets were flyin from the van behind him
His boys were rollin, but they couldn't find him
The city was large, and they had to think fast
He had on a vest, but what if he crashed?
The brother made a right, and what happens then?
A big yellow sign that read 'dead end'
Now he could give his soul to the essence to keep
All of a sudden there were shots from a black jeep
It was his young girl who met him at the spot
Cause she was always taught first hand from a big shot"

It's the attention to detail that sets King Sun apart from other Afrocentric rappers of his era. He's doing more than just lecturing to the audience on his records, he's creating the whole scene and letting you take it in, becoming immersed in the scenario set to funky beats by King Shameek, Troy Wonder and Tony D. They even gave Sun a chill groove to get his mack on to on the sneak tip for "Undercover Lover":

"Some say it's wrong to be so discrete
The way we meet and go some place to eat
I wine you and dine you and hold your hand
Baby, your wish is indeed my command
A wonderful time we have sitting and talking
Or even down by the pier just walking
Then we depart our little rendez-vous
It's nice to have an undercover lover like you"

Sun definitely hasn't forgotten about the physical pleasures in pursuit of spiritual truths and enlightenment, and like all life it's the balance between the two that defines existance. Unfortunately what has been forgotten is King Sun's legacy in hip-hop, because 17 years after the release of "Righteous But Ruthless" very few people remember to herald this album as a hip-hop classic. Sadly what hurts King Sun in this regard is the same thing that people knocked him for back then - an uncanny resemblance to Rakim on the mic. To my ear he actually sounds a little more like a cross between Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, but regardless it's easy to see how he got accused of being an imitator and a rip-off. Sun can't help that he was born with that vocal tone though, and instead of trying to hide from the comparisons he went all out with the rap to prove he was NYC to the death on "Cold New Yorkin'":

"Cold New Yorkin, and yes, I can hold mine
If rhymes were gold, then I would have a gold mine
I diss your favorite MC, and the whole nine
I'm Universal, indeed I control mine
Like the master from an old kung-fu flick
Killin MC's with a lyrical death kick
Laid-back in the track like a contour
Wonderin what they wanna quote 'Word is bond' for
When they can't quote the power of god degree
They must wanna be down universally
In that case, I'm ready to start punishin
With many stripes I snipe you so astonishin
I leave a shine on your mind like a pledge
Push you off the edge if you don't know the ledge"

It's not even a coincidence that the chorus of the song "Cold New Yorkin'" scratches in a sample of Rakim saying "it ain't where you're from, it's where you're at." Sun was acknowledging the comparison and simply obliterating it, saying if you're going to compare me that's a compliment because I'm just as lyrical and deserves to "get props" because "I drop hip-hop freestyles non-stop." True indeed God, true indeed. The next time you pass "Righteous But Ruthless" at the used record store take a second look. The image of Sun standing with his hands clasped in front of him on a cold and barren (possibly even snow-covered) plain may look a little bit cornball, but the musical contents within are nothing but dope. King Sun's greatest drawback may simply have been that he was ahead of his time by 20 years.

Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 10 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9.5 of 10

Originally posted: February 27, 2007