Everybody in rap seems to be happy these days. Happy to floss, happy to drink champagne and wear ice, happy to smoke mad weed and fuck whatever tens of the opposite sex they can get with. The female and the males, the grown-ups and the kids, the East and the West – it’s one big lovefest of hip-hop’s growing commercial appeal and success.
In the early 90’s though, rap was still angry. Not angry in the cliched gangster way that we have today of killing rivals who mess up a hustle or cock-block a sexual escapade, but DAMN MAD at the racism and impoverishment of the lower classes. When N.W.A declared themselves “Niggaz 4 Life” they weren’t just throwing down a cheap shock tactic Eminem style – they were making a political declaration of intent to never stop being mad at the injustice of America. In that tradition we find the highly slept on album “Neva Again” by Kam – a foot soldier in the legions lead forward by Ice Cube to send messages to the black man and wake AmeriKKKa up to it’s own nightmare.
Produced by Solid Scheme, Torcha Chamba and D.J. Pooh, “Neva Again” is a righteous mixture of funkadelic beats and pissed off lyrics. Fully steeped in the tradition of Ice Cube’s “Death Certificate,” Kam came on the scene cocked and ready to do battle with the devil. Unfortunately for Kam, this album marked the end of an era – the afrocentricity of X-Clan and Poor Righteous Teachers was on the way out and the era of champagne and bitches was on the way in. Perhaps that’s why this album never achieved the critical success levels of Cube’s work, or perhaps Kam was just too strident to cross over to a wider (or if you prefer WHITER) mainstream audience.
The album’s commercial failure is certainly not the fault of the beats, rhymes, or the lyricist. Kam has a powerfully deep and commanding vocal tone that is at least the caliber of Chuck D’s if not more mesmerizing. Combined with the kind of lyricism he displays on songs like “Hang ‘Um High” the hard-hitting rapper pulled no punches about even blaming his own community’s failings and not just laying it all on whitey:
“Next up on the rope
is y’all niggaz still tryin to sell dope to blacks
That’s how you got your milk and honey
Yeah, off of that blood money
And have you foamin at the mouth, y’all had to contract rabies
to make a whole generation of crack babies”
The beats throughout continue to bang and thump, and even in today’s modern rap era would bump hard in any kitted out whip. Even when relying on well-used funk beats like Roger Troutman’s “Play Some Blues” or George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” on the song “Y’all Don’t Hear Me Dough” the pure indignation of Kam’s rap keeps it from being stale. Kam never loses his anger on any of the cuts – rallying against pledging allegiance on “Ain’t That a Bitch” and lampooning the absurdity of the perceptions of ignorant people on “Stereotype.”
“They say a negro ain’t good for nothin but a show
Talkin slang and walkin with a radio
Drippin sweat on basketball courts
Dominatin but that’s at all sports
Or inventin a new kind of handshake
To get they picture on a box of pancake mix”
Even though songs like “Neva Again” and “Holiday Madness” may be too pissed off for today’s “relax and pass the blunt” rap crew, a lot of the problems Kam addresses on this album still continue to perplex inner-city communities to this day. It’s too easy to bemoan the fact that rap is no longer as combative as it used to be, but if you do see this album at a pawn shop or a second-hand CD store pick it up and find out why Kam was accused of “being racist for loving my people first.” Rap may never get this edge back, but this album stands as a testament for all time to the channeling of sheer fury into a display of pure power lyrically and musically. When you hear “Peace Treaty” and think about the organized rebellion to bullshit a hundred gangs with guns could create, it don’t get no harder.