Part Four – Nice & Smooth ‘Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed’
Columbia Records 1991
Track List –
1. Harmonize – (feat: Horace Hampton on keyboards and Pure Blend on backing vox) 3:31
2. Cake And Eat It Too 3:58
3. Down The Line – (feat: Asu, Bass Blaster, Gang Starr, Melo T and Preacher Earl) 4:16
4. Sometimes I Rhyme Slow 2:50
5. Paranoia – (feat: Don Barron on guest toasting) 4:45
6. Sex, Sex, Sex 3:38
1. Billy – Gene 1:05
2. How To Flow – (feat: Entouch on keyboards/strings, Pure Blend on backing vox) 4:25
3. Hip Hop Junkies – (feat: Horace Hampton on keyboards, Pure Blend on backing vox) 3:26
4. One, Two And One More Makes Three 3:21
5. Pump It Up 2:19
6. Step By Step – (feat: The Black Flames & Kisha Black on backing vox) 3:42
Gregg Nice – Rapping/vocals and co-production on all tracks.
Smooth Bee – Rapping/vocals and co-production on all tracks.
St. Nick – Scratching and breaks.
Little Louis Vega – Co-production on ‘Paranoia’.
Additional Production by D.J Premier (Gang Starr).
Art – The Drawing Board, photography by Jules Allen.
“Nice & Smooth are funky, also Hip Hop junkies”, I don’t doubt it; “all we want to do, is huh huh with you!”, ok, now their pushing it with ryhming skills that only just about pass muster. The chorus line of the New York duos ‘Hip Hop Junkies’ sexual innuendo packed romp, betrays their comic knock-about and none-too-serious observations on life; you could quite easily imagine these guys fronting a Fresh Prince style comedy, swanning around some Bel Air mansion, performing one of their customary cross-over Hip Hop cuts to a Kid’n’Play house party crowd of honneys.
Channeling the New Jack Swing of Tony, Toni, Tone, and even Bobby Brown – the Smooth, Daryl Barnes, of this partnership is said to have written lyrics for both Brown’s ‘King Of Stage’ and ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ LPs – they manage to successfully intergrate R&B and harmonious soulful Hip Hop together.
Following their self-titled 1990 debut with this crunchier beat driven and harder-edged 91 , ‘Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed’, they use a cast of equally doo-wop backing groups, that include harmony outfits Pue Blend and The Black Flames; pre-empting the likes of Puff Diddy’s similar cross-over commercial style by a mere decade. What saves this album from being written-off, and considered lame, is the grinding well-placed breaks and clever use of samples. Stand-out, on-message track, ‘Sometimes I Ryhme Slow’, utilises Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ guitar melody for a anecdotal warning to addiction. A taut 808 pre-set drum beat and constant ticking away tidy hi-hat lay down the tempo, as Gregg Nice eloquently relays a tale of woe.
“Me and this Jane doe was living in heaven,
We were inseperable, no one could sever,
At least that’s what I thought,
But later I fought with a substance and almost ended up in supreme court”.
This sad forloin ode continues.
“When I was on the road doing shows getting endz,
She was in my Beinz getting sniffy with her friends.”
If that wasn’t bad enough,
“As time went on I started noticing weight loss, then I had to ask her was she riding the white horse”.
Re-hab beckons as his gal confesses to a peculate taste for the Columbian marching dust.
“I need blow”
To which our narrator snaps back,
“I said wooh!, little hottie,
I’m not Deloren, Gambino or Gotti,
I don’t deal coke, and further more you’re making me broke.”
This paean to the white stuff poved to be their biggest radio hit.
Drug heavy references persist on the following tune ‘Paranoia’, a doyen to the schzoid “p-noid” – as our duo say – effects the weed can have, namely a desire for Pink Floyd and waffling pseudo-bull glag. Produced by Masters at Work’s Little Louie Vega – spelt out as Louis Vega in the credits – this sax-blasting, tightened coiled snare compressed track features a skat breakdown by toaster Don Barron.
Highlights of considerable note include the crushing, compacted rollicking beat, barrage throwdown ‘How To Flow’, a chance to flex those skills, as Joe Cocker’s ‘Woman To Woman’ piano motif underpins the song. Smooth Bee lets loose with restrained angst,
“Now, countries at war, little kids cry rape,
Some lieing, dieing, pulling on my cape.
Massive meltdown, bring the red tape.”
Political and social refains aside, Gregg Nice chooses to follow the usual bragging pathway,
“Excellency to a level in time not like a vagabond,
Not like a rattling snake, I’m not from Babylon.
Much like a prince on a throne, within a state of my own,
I’m not a kid, I’m grown!”
‘Step by Step’ features a lampooned comedy turn from Quincy Jone’s – Americanise Steptoe & Son copy – theme to Sandford & Son, ‘The Streetbeater’. A gaggle of admiring female fans with back-stage passes work themselves up, hoping “to see them sweat”, before a sonorus pit of the stomach bass drum kicks in. Like the Meters turning out a sexed-up street banter diatribe, crowning themselves “Ladies loves” and disclosing their love of “Kim Basinger”, this Spanish flytrap funky number bellows bravado.
Macho hype rears it’s head – careful – throughout, especially on the “say it loud, say it proud” chant of “sex,sex, sex”. Think Two Live Crew but with a more swinging candour to their step, Nice & Smooth plow into a pornographic mantra of viagra-laced steamy phone-line sex. Resident velvety-toned Nice boasts,
“When I get you to my crib, you’ll love my layout,
Close you in and I’ll eat my way out.
Go on a mission of love espionage, and let me give you a tongue massage”.
The Jackson parodied skit, ‘Billy-Gene’, plays-out a phone conversation between Smooth Bee and one of his past conquests on the one-night stand tip. A bombshell is dropped, with Smooth retorting in sympathetic terms, “This ain’t no Billy-Gene shit bitch”, before hanging-up on the expectant faceless woman.
As on nigh every other Hip Hop album, the obligatory role-call guest jam makes an appearence. ‘Down The Line’ features a worthy cast of Asu, Bass Blaster, Melo T, Preacher Earl and Gang Starr – though it’s of course the Guru who we hear, but Premier has a credit for production duties. Rolling with the punchlines and showboating uppercuts, the stand-out lyricist is the stark, dry and cutting Guru, “My format is all that, my concepts refined”. Charlie Parker & Miles Davis’s ‘A Night In Tunisa’, The Honey Dippers ‘Impeach The Prsident’, The Soul Searchers ‘Ashley’s Roachclip’, and Krush Groove All Stars ‘Krush Groovin’ all sloosh around in the background, whilst a repeated long James Brown yelp punctuates every line. It’s on one of these courtersy assembly guest spots, two years previously, that the duo fist earned their spurs appearing on Big Daddy Kane’s ‘Pimpin Ain’t Easy’ (off the ‘It’s A Big Daddy Thang’ LP). They subsequently made appearences on records by The Beatnuts, GangStarr and Tony Touch.
Of their four albums in total that stretched from 1990 to 97, this seminal old-school mixed with 90s sophisticated flair album, cemented a potential commerical bent; don’t get me wrong, this record hardly panders or censors itself, as it maintains a hip quality and cutting displays of rhymes. Tupac Shakur intended, at one point, to sign them for his own Makaveli imprint, but suffiesed with recording a track with the New York flat-top duo for his ‘one Nation’ album instead.
Accorded a notable respect, especially on the East Coast, Nice & Smooth captured a particular epoch and blended R&B to underground Hip Hop. In some ways their zappy 80s dry-ice synth melodies, are a throwback to the old skool; thier rap delivery taking a pause for breath and alluding to the block-partying fun that kick-started the whole genre.
Harmonize – Sometimes I Rhyme Slow – Paranoia – How To Flow – Pump It Up’
Check These Out –
Nice & Smooth – ‘Jewel Of The Nile’ 1994 (Columbia)
Black Sheep – ‘A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing’ 1991 (Mercury)
Special Ed – ‘Youngest In Charge’ 1989 (Profile)
Main Source – ‘Breaking Atoms’ 1991 (Wild Pitch)