Ever since I first heard the words “The Legion’s in the house” uttered on the seminal Showbiz & A.G. record “Runaway Slave” there was a spark of curiosity about the group. Who are The Legion? Why are they here? What are they going to do? This was unintentionally intensified by the sheer number of times “Runaway Slave” stayed on repeat. The tape stayed on repeat in my Walkman. I bought a CD adapter for my car’s tape deck just so I could play that version when I upgraded. I memorized Andre the Giant’s lyrics and wrote them down to further burn them into my brain. The Legion benefited from being in the right place at the right time, and I wanted to know what ANYBODY who made a cameo appearance on the album was up to next. (I never did get more words from the “maniac street monster” D’Shawn and I’m still disappointed about that.)
Unfortunately Legion’s debut album “Theme + Echo = Krill” barely even made a blip on the radar in 1994. It was released via an imprint fronted by Dres (of Black Sheep fame) and distributed by Polygram only out of contractual obligation, long after they had clearly lost interest in anything beyond “The Choice Is Yours”. Last year’s re-release of the album probably did more to raise The Legion’s profile than any of the various appearances group member Molecules made as a soloist (he’s stayed busy over the years, props for that) but staffer Matt Jost was decidedly underwhelmed by the project, scoring it an impressively harsh 4 out of 10 across the board. For that reason if no other I had to check out their long overdue sophomore album “Three the Bronx Way” and see what they could do reforming so many years after their debut to bring their style up-to-date.
Chucky Smash, DiceMan and Molecules aren’t interested in “up-to-date” though. If anything “1980 Something” is taking us back even further than the early 90’s aesthetic of their debut, giving us an accompanying video that reminisces about President Reagan’s ill advised “war on drugs”. Honestly this makes sense. If people are going to come at you for being out of date, even when a reissue sounding dated is hardly your fault, you can either try to revamp your whole style or say “f**k you” and double down on what made you a crew in the first place. I appreciate the vibe but I think that they more accurately achieved their “we won’t change for anyone” sound on “Drop the Beat”. Molecules does just that — his instrumental could easily be a Gang Starr record from their heyday and fits the group’s attitude laced “more bars than jail ciphers” delivery well.
Even though Ill Adrenaline Records dropped Benifence’s “Make It Hot” featuring Dres and The Legion as an unofficial sequel to The Legion’s old school single “Jingle Jangle”, the song wound up on this album and is a welcome addition to the mix. It’s clear that despite their record label woes the friendship between Dres and The Legion did not suffer — the chemistry of all the people on the song makes it a welcome update to what is for most readers an obscure 1990’s rap song. The samples of Notorious B.I.G. and Method Man’s “The What” only add to the pleasantly nostalgic feel.
Now this album may be tailored to me and my tastes in a way that doesn’t work for Mr. Jost or anybody else. Referencing the late Craig Mack on “Word” featuring Sadat X put me in a good mode even before the hype Brand Nubian’s nasal delivery gave me a Kool-Aid smile at the end. I’m not going to hate on somebody for sampling The Main Ingredient either, so building “Heard We Quit” off “Girl Blue” worked for me too. There may be a basic simplicity to snaps like “Bad Boys to the bone, no Sean Combs” but to me that’s not a negative — it’s a refreshing reminder of a different time. Once again the samples are on point too — this time taking a snippet of Smooth B’s sly delivery on the Gang Starr classic “DWYCK” and using it to great effect as the hook.
I’m not here to tell you “Three the Bronx Way” is a classic in the making. In fact I’m more than willing to admit that rose-colored glasses are tinting my perception of this album. At the same time there’s so much cornball silliness in rap these days that I can’t help but feel good listening to a group that said “we may be out of date, but we are PROUD OF THAT” and took it as far as they could go with it. There are many modern artists who are trying to remake the sound of the 80’s and 90’s even though they were born far beyond the point they could have grown up with it, but these brothers lived it and never left it. If it’s a time machine back to the past you’re in the mood for then “Three the Bronx Way” is your TARDIS. They’ll bring you “Joy.”