I can’t tell the world how to start a review of K-Solo’s “Tell the World My Name,” but there’s only one way that I can do it. Having come of age listening to the EPMD affiliate spell out words in single after single like “Your Mom’s in My Business” and “Letterman,” I was STUNNED when I heard Kevin Madison on Redman’s 1996 single “It’s Like That (My Big Brother).” It sounded like K-Solo’s vocal chords had been put through a grinder and stuffed back down his esophagus, to the point he was choking trying to growl out each syllable in the song. If it weren’t for the fact he spelled out microphone as “M-I-K-E” I wouldn’t have known it was him.
Mr. Madison, I think “M-I-C” would have made more sense. Regardless I was stunned this was the same rapper from the “Spellbound” music video. Thanks to regular rotation on Yo! MTV Raps, K-Solo was a star in my eyes, though I had no way of knowing if other people took to the gimmick the way I did. Make no mistake that I mean “gimmick” as in “he wouldn’t be famous without it.” K-Solo spells out the words that he raps, and he’s so singularly known for that that he and DMX of all people had beef over who invented this rap style. I’ve never heard Earl Simmons spend any significant amount of time rapping that way, so even if he did invent it he didn’t stick to it for the rest of his career.
The best song on “Tell the World My Name” drops the S-P-E-L-L very W-E-L-L style completely. “Your Mom’s in My Business” samples Maze & Frankie Beverly’s “Before I Let Go” for the bassline and the hook, and it’s an incredibly smooth track as a result. Mr. Madison tells an intriguing story of a young man who is so suave and seductive that older women are fawning over him, even though their lust would be statutory to pursue — except that at the time of this album K-Solo was 22. The song and the video don’t make that clear, because if you’re hanging out with your friends and “mom” is in “your business,” that premise sounds like a very youthful situation.
To go back to why “It’s Like That” was so shocking though we need to reference another chapter of K-Solo’s first album — the one named “Speed Blocks” where he openly brags that he raps “a hundred words a minute.” It’s a bit misleading since he’s not Twista by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly a faster performance than the shocking one we’d see from him half a decade later.
Although it was never released as a single, “Fugitive” is a standout track for me from the album. It too makes use of a sample that will be very familiar to rap heads — Grover Washington Jr.’s “Knucklehead” — which was used that same year for King Tee’s dope posse track “Played Like a Piano.”
There’s a lot to like about “Tell the World My Name.” Despite the fact he was pigeonholed as the rapper who spells out words, a trap very much of his own design, Kevin Madison is an excellent story teller with (at the time at least) a very smooth and pleasant vocal tone. Thanks to his friendship with EPMD the production is one funky jam after another. The loops and breaks on tracks like “Real Solo Please Stand Up” and “Renee-Renee” may not cover new ground, but they also don’t insult your ears by being unpleasant. He even gets his political and spiritual flow on with “The Messenger,” and for those who only know him for spelling the song will be quite a revelation. A re-release from the 2000’s with bonus tracks is now long out of print as is the original, so do yourself a favor and cop this one D-I-G-I-T-A-L-L-Y.