I was living in Denver, Colorado in 1991 when I met a young guy from London, England by the name of Antoine Provost. I lived a few doors down from him in the local dormitory and it was hard not to notice the nice sounds reverberating up and down the hallway, courtesy of his exceptional stereo and his open door. One day, I heard a track that sounded a hell of a lot like Masta Ace (one of my personal favorite hip-hop artist), but I was POSITIVE that I already owned just about every record created by any member of the Juice Crew collective. I dashed to Mr. Provost’s room to ask him where he was able to come across a Masta Ace record that dope (could not resist the throwback slang on that one) and, if it would be possible, could he possibly find it in his heart to dub me a copy.
Note: To anyone out there young enough to be scratching your head over the term ‘dub’, it was the universally accepted term for making a copy of a cassette tape â€“ history lesson by Nervous. Now back to the review.
Mr. Provost just cracked a smile and proceeded to inform me that the Masta Ace record I was listening to was not Masta Ace at all; it was a cut off an album by a very popular hip-hop act out of the UK. Then he ever so kindly made me a copy of the album “Positive Reaction”. He was also kind enough to give me a bit of background on the artist, as well as dubbing me several copies of the various mixtapes he had brought over from the streets of London. Antoine may have done more to help broaden my musical horizons with a few Memorex cassettes than any amount of time I spent listening to the radio or gazing out the trick box checking out the videos on Rap City or YO! MTV Raps.
Back in ’91, the whole notion that hip-hop could possibly exist in any serious capacity outside of the United States was a difficult concept to wrap my teenage brain around. True enough, I owned a copy of the albums “Bullet from a Gun” and “Ragamuffin Hip-Hop” by the UK hip-hop artists Derek B and Asher D/Daddy Freddy respectively. However, back then, there was no internet around to research and learn about the various hip-hop scenes on an international level and I was mostly buying music I had heard off various radio hip-hop mix shows I tuned into over the weekend. Also, keep in mind that back in those days, most UK hip-hop appeared to appropriate an American accent and slang for their recordings instead of using their native British pronunciation and dialect. The casual listener would have sworn, as I did, that the rapper on that song was birthed and raised within the boundaries of New York City’s five boroughs. Antoine would do much to educate me on all of the quality hip-hop I was missing because of my inability to peep the music from way across the great waters. The Caveman album would go on to be one of my favorite albums of the year. To me, it was as if I had just discovered this INCREDIBLE Masta Ace album with improved vocals, lyricism and music production. I know that it may be just a bit unfair to keep comparing the vocalist MCM (lead rapper for Caveman) to Masta Ace, but the voice resemblance and flow are quite uncanny in their similarity â€“ it would have been difficult for me to convince any of my fellow hip-hop brethren back in Alabama that we were not listening to a missing album by the Ace himself. I do not think that the resemblance was intentional, you cannot help what your voice sounds like, but I do not think that it is a bad thing to sound like one of the illest hip-hop artist to emerge from the Second American Hip-Hop Golden Era.
Anyway, I decided to pull the album out the old proverbial vault to see if my youthful review of “Positive Reaction” would stand up in the refined and matured perspective I possess as a grizzled old middle-aged veteran. Surprisingly enough, not only does it stand up, but also I have an even BETTER appreciation of the album now, as opposed to then. The tracks “Pages and Pages” and “Caught Up” still jump out of the speakers with the same verve as they did when they were playing through the speakers of my old Fisher double cassette boombox.
The album, as a whole, is very much a product of the era of hip-hop from which it came. It contains all of the staples of the American East Coast hip-hop music scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s in that there is a strong emphasis on samples from “the hardest working man in show business” and the Ultimate Breaks and Beats series by Breakbeat Lenny. From time-to-time, a sample will sneak up on you that can be a bit hard to place, letting me know that there was a conscious effort on the part of the group to try to give the people something a little different. The lyrics are mostly centered on positive messages and black pride and upliftment. There are not a lot of references to the UK on this album that, to my understanding, frustrated many UK hip-hop fans because of the perceived slight to UK hip-hop culture. Because of this, and the very American accents, most American listeners should have no problem listening to this music right along side any of the other “Golden Era” recordings that they may own.
Had Caveman been located in America at that time, there is not a doubt in my mind that they would have fell right in with either the Juice Crew, Native Tongues, Brand Nubian and the like and been right at home. There is a sheen of refinement and pure professionalism that permeates the entire album that allows it to possess both raw and gritty hip-hop qualities, yet it comes across as a well-planned and superbly executed effort.
Listening to this album again has reenergized my interest in listening to hip-hop albums from certain eras that I may have missed because of either narrow interest or lack of access. I am so glad that Antoine took the time to introduce this American youngster to some music from across the waters, as well as introducing me to some American music I had never heard before. Like most of the Profile Records discography, this album is out-of-print and I do not see where there appears to be any interest in reissuing it. If you should run across a copy (or a download link) and you are a fan of the SP1200 hip-hop era, check it out and let me know if you have a “Positive Reaction” to the music you hear.