It's very easy to get caught up in a nostalgic mindset and convince yourself that the music of yesteryear was VERY superior to anything released in the here and now. All it takes is tuning in to a college station while driving around on a weekend or attending a hip-hop show where the DJ is spinning what amounts to being the "greatest hits" of one of your favorite music eras, whatever that era may be. Soon, your head is nodding, and if you're not driving, your body might start swaying to a rhythm that was popular back when you was actually a part of MTV's demographic. If you're not careful, you'll hear yourself utter something similar to what I heard my pops say back when I first began buying hip-hop albums in the ‘80s: "They sure don't make music like they used to make it!"
When it comes to pleasant memories, hindsight sure has a way of distorting how you may have felt about what you are reminiscing about when you were experiencing it. The passing of time has this way of making things that were good seem great. However, any time I need some perspective of what I really thought of the music of the ‘80s (or the ‘90s, for that matter); all I need to do is reach into a box I keep in my closet. You see, this box holds quite a few of the cassettes I purchased back when I REALLY had expendable income and a fiend-like hip-hop habit to provide for. True enough, the box contains the standards of which many of us measure the quality of the "Golden Era" (albums by Big Daddy Kane, Nas, Mobb Deep and so on). However, that box also contains its fair share of albums that made for less-than-precious purchases. I know how I feel about those albums; they're the ones you can still read the printing on both sides of the tape. There are a lot of those in the box.
One of those albums that look as if I'd never bothered the case, much less the tape within, would be King of Pressure's "Slang Teacher". How I came to purchase this album requires a little bit of back-story.
Back in 1988, when I used to stay up all night recording hip-hop mix shows to swap with friends, there was one song that saw its' way onto just about every single one of our blend tapes. That song was a tune called "You Know How to Reach Us". The group was a crew out of New York called Kings of Pressure. "YKHTRU" is an almost perfect slice of hip-hop that defies any classification a listener may try to place it in. It's just some raw ass hip-hop. The track is composed of a combination of Morse code beeping, a classic horn sample ("Bouncy Lady" courtesy of 70's funk/soul band Pleasure) and an energetic, but rugged lyrical performance by the emcees. The song is a pure hip-hop delight that manages to combine everything I love about the art form into a sexy-as-hell six minutes. My friends and I spent MONTHS looking for anything we could find about KOP...all to no avail.
Fast forward to 1989, my friends and I are making our weekly sojourn to the Record Bar (RIP) to scope out which cassettes will show up in the tiny rap section sequestered in the far right hand corner of the record shop. As my eyes roll over the K section, I find something that gets my little sixteen-year-old heart thumping at turbo tempo and sends my grubby little hands snatching at the object of my arousal: KINGS OF PRESSURE FINALLY PUT OUT AN ALBUM! I rushed to the counter to pay the cashier and begged my friends to "hurry the hell up" so we could get back to the car stereo as quickly as possible.
I was so excited to have found a full length by the group that it took a moment for me to examine the album cover and get a funny feeling that something just wasn't right. The album cover featured three gentlemen dressed in suits in a classroom setting appearing scholarly and kinda passive looking. True enough, an album cover isn't always an indicator of the music that lies beneath, but considering the performance I'd been listening to on "YKHTRU" for the past year, I really expected those guys to be rocking fat gold chains and blue jeans. I also didn't see the song I was looking for anywhere on the track listing on the back of the cassette. The song that seemed to come the closest to being what I thought the song might be was a track called "Call Me on the Telephone". That could be the one, I hoped, but the track I was looking for featured a beeper. Why would the title mention a telephone when the song features the sound of a beeper? I was sure that I had the name of the song right, but I was seriously hoping that I was in error. This was the ‘80s back when so many ambivalent song titles were being passed around and information was so difficult to come across that any damn thing was possible.
Anyway, I'd already ripped the plastic off the cassette case as soon as we stepped foot outside the mall. By the time we reached the car door, I was already holding the tape in my hand, ready to insert it in the player as soon as everyone was buckled up inside.
The music that came out the speakers sure as shit wasn't the same group of guys I'd been worshipping for the past 365 days. Sometimes a voice would sound familiar, but the music was all wrong. Where was the energy? Where were the gritty voices? Where was the CRAZY HOT production I just knew was in store for me if I could find more material by these dudes? I looked around the car at faces that went from blah to smirks to outright laughter. Yep, I'd just purchased a ten-dollar blank. You see, the fate of a garbage hip-hop album you could not return for a refund would be some scotch tapes over the copy protection holes and a trip to the recorder side of a double cassette player. I never dubbed over it; I kept it in a box along with all the other heartbreakers I'd purchased over the last few years.
Today, I feel like reassessing the album with mature ears. Because I like the idea of exposing people to music that they may not have heard of before, I will be reviewing the "Slang Teacher" album and seeing if the way I felt then is the same way I feel about it now. Let's give it a go, shall we?
One thing that hasn't changed is the way I feel about the instrumental intro: it still sucks. It's a blend of a sample from "UFO" by ESG combined with a loop from "Mind Power" by James Brown with someone yelling out "Gator Posse" over the top of all of it. It was not lined up very well and does not make for an engaging opener for a major label debut and there is nothing in the cassette case that says who or what "Gator Posse" is.
Moving on to the first vocal track we run into a song titled "Rappers Have Feelings". The subject of the song is the protagonist apparently impregnated his girlfriend and she is using the child as a means to abuse him after the breakup. I have to admit that the track itself is not bad at all. In fact, I would be comfortable using that instrumental for a pop act provided they were not trying to rap over it. However, ANY other vocals would be better than the guy who's singing on it right now. The guy singing over it is warbling out some odd interpretation of "You Send Me" by Sam Cooke, but trust me when I tell you that there is no threat of this guy winning over any fans of the original. This track would be kinda cool if it wasn't for the bizarre vocals featured over the music. These vocals are really strange. I'm not sure that quoting them will be enough to emphasize how truly weird these vocals are, but I will give it the ole OJ stab so you can understand why I feel this way.
"Act three, why can't you see
I would love to have my own family
It's takes two to raise a child, I say
You said, "Thanks for my child" then you ran me away
You took the best year from me
To make a swing in the backyard tree
To hold him in my arms, to hear goo, goo, da, da
da, da, da, da, da, poo, poo
To cap it off, the dude in the background keeps singing and the lead rapper begins making "Oooh, Oooh" sounds right before the third verse. The song ends with a brief argument between the rapper and his angry baby mother, while the singer is belting out, "Now, I'm in jail" as the music fades.
Moving on to the second track "So Simple", a paean to the careless days of youth, we run into a similar situation as the first track. The track is not bad, but the vocals are devoid of any type of energy and presence. The featured rapper comes across like the Fresh Prince, but he does not have the same vocal charisma or stay-on-topic discipline that made Will Smith a pleasure to listen to back in his Jazzy Jeff days. In addition, those strange conversations they keep interrupting these songs with do nothing to create any type of positive replay value. I HAVE to quote some of these lyrics to help you understand what I mean.
"But life goes on, two wrongs don't equal a right
Or two lefts don't make it a right
Or two wrongs don't equal another wrong
Or two lefts don't make it a wrong
Or two rights don't make it another left
Or two wrongs don't make it a uh, uh, uh
Two wrongs don't make it right, something like that
You know, it's simple"
I refuse to believe that part of the verse was written.
The next track was the one I thought might have been the one I was looking for. "Call Me on the Telephone" is a rap slow jam of the variety that became mandatory for every rapper after "I Need Love" became a smash hit. Again, the track is actually okay, but these vocalists are breaking my heart. This song follows the same pattern as the previous delivering tepid vocals with strange conversations taking place either in the middle of the song or at the end. The truth is that these songs seem to spend most of their time with these "on the scene" conversation bits that may have been hot if the overall rhyming would have been better. WHO IS THIS GUY SINGING? If you are going to have singers on your track and you want the singing to be taken serious, GET GOOD SINGERS! There is no excuse for half-ass singing when there are so many competent vocalists available.
The vocals step up a notch on "Who's Gonna Take the Bait". Once again, the tracks are a step above the primitive production that dominated the ‘80s, plus this guy on the turntables is killing shit! Some may say that I'm too harsh about on the vocals, but the reason why I'm so upset is because, at times, they seem to be competent rappers and these are the same guys behind one of my favorite hip-hop tracks ever. The potential was there, but they seemed as if they were phoning in a performance for a greater portion of the album.
The remainder of the album, except for the odd instrumental "Smooth as a Violin", treads down the same path as "Who's Gonna Take the Bait", delivering slightly improved vocals over slightly above average ‘80s (almost ‘90ish) hip-hop production. The songs are better than what was front loaded on the album, yet it all never rises to the height they achieved with "You Know..."
I would love to know who the producer was for this album. What I find particularly impressive is that the "Funky Drummer" break does not appear ANYWHERE on this album! For anyone familiar with ‘80s hip-hop, you know that it is almost impossible to find a record between the years of 1987 to 1989 that doesn't use some or the entire "Funky Drummer" loop at least once. Odd note, I know. I would also like to know what happened to the vocalists between this album and the single "You Know..." It's the same group, but for a majority of the album, it doesn't seem to be them at all.
This album, along with many others I own, is one that I can listen to that anytime I begin to lament the lack of creativity and production values in hip-hop today. It reminds me that not everything that came out, when I was young lad was top-shelf material. The truth is that there is plenty of music out there and I fall in love with new tracks all the time. It is important not to forget that the reason why so much of the music I grew up with seemed great was because a style I was into was the mainstream sound of the day. There were a million Nas, Primo and Pete Rock soundalikes back in the early to mid ‘90s. When many of the groups were making that style of record back then, they were not trying to keep it "real" or do that "real hip-hop", they were just trying to get on the radio. Many of them had the formula memorized, but most of them still were not able to make it work. My box is full of guys who knew the formula, but didn't have the intangibles it took to become a legend.
It's funny to think when I attend a hip-hop show featuring an act like Wu-Tang that these young guys don't remember, nor can they conceive, that Wu wasn't always an strictly indie crowd favorite. Those songs they are lip-synching were once part of many radio stations' Top 40 play list. Me? I'll keep looking for that new shit; keep my eyes on the future while remembering that not everything in the past was "golden."
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 3 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5 of 10
Originally posted: December 11, 2007