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Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Mecca & The Soul Brother" - The 20 year anniversary

On June 9, 1992, Mt. Vernon duo Pete Rock and CL Smooth released what is often considered one of the absolute greatest hip-hop albums of all time; "Mecca & The Soul Brother". Today marks the 20 year anniversary of its original release date, and the double LP still sounds as innovative, daring and timeless as when it was first introduced to the world. There are plenty of things that makes the album the masterpiece it truly is - from emcee CL Smooth's wise beyond-his-years verses, infectious hooks and distinct vocal tone, to beat maestro Pete Rock's masterful fusion of musical styles; crafting a seamless audio collage of deep basslines, Rhodes, live drums and distinct horns, sampled from his gigantic record collection of jazz, soul, rock, funk, and so on. "Only a few people have ever changed the way that records are made. Pete Rock is one of them... He had a true signature sound, and that's so hard to get", Elektra A&R and producer Dante Ross who worked on the project has been quoted of saying.

The majority of LP:s considered classic material, regarding of genre, rarely clocks in at much over 40 to 55 minutes. This is another remarkable feat separating "Mecca..." from its competition. With 18 tracks placed over two vinyl sets, the original album runs close to 90 minutes of music. Despite its length, it is undoubtedly a musical joyride that is best experienced as a complete set from front to back. However, due to the limitations of the Compact Disc format, the exclusive remix of "The Creator", and the title track had to be left off from the CD, leaving the intended original tracklist for vinyl and cassette buyers only. Therefore, CD buyers might have missed out on these two cuts, which in my mind most definitely adds something great to the experience. For this reason, I have included both bonus cuts in digital format; with the recommendation that you add them to the set list next time you upload the album to your iPod's .

Both artists came from musical families, and although Pete Rock was the producer of the entire album, CL was credited as co-producer on every song. As both were very knowledgable of old jazz, funk and soul records, CL has described how the recording sessions by all means was a mutual collaboration. They both picked out records and found loops that Pete would hook up to his trusted SP1200 (which the entire project was created using)."Pete was like a mad scientist when he was doing tracks", described his former rhyming partner about the beatmaking process. "And if you weren't up in the same zone with the same intensity, then he was on your ass. But that was great, because you knew that it would be the best music possible". And the best music possible is exactly what the dynamic duo managed to create in The Basement and Greene Street Studios back in 1992.

"Mecca & The Soul Brother" followed the duo's original debut EP, "All Souled Out", which showed a glimpse of what Pete and CL was capable of, but it was the full-length on Elektra that earned them their undeniable place in hip-hop's Hall of Fame. Considering how some albums are recorded and fine tuned for years, it's an interesting fact that the double album took about six months to record, mix and complete. All pre-production was done at The Basement, Pete's own home studio that was later moved to Heavy D's close friend Damien's place. Once the production got bigger and more advanced, Elektra Records booked Pete and CL at SoHo's Greene Street Studios, where they hooked up with engineers Jamie Staub and Rod Hui who added an extra sonic quality to the already superior music.

The album originally sold just under gold, in the lane of 400,000 copies, but considering its cult following it's not unlikely that the LP has hit platinum by now, 20 years later. Whatever the case, Pete Rock and CL Smooth become an underground phenomena, and singles like "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" and "Straighten It Out" are still often listed amongst the greatest hip-hop jams ever created. The chemistry heard between Pete Rock and CL Smooth was almost unbelivable, as they truly and constantly brought out the best of eachother. Few MC/producer duo's have ever come close to matching the working relationship the two young New Yorkers showcased during the early '90s. But after only one more full-length, '94s equally terrific "The Main Ingredient", the relationship soured, and the group split up once and for all. Could it be that they simply shined too bright for too short a time, and the break-up was unavoidable? Whatever the case may be, Pete Rock and CL Smooth's legacy will continue to live on through their three classic albums, and if these releases have yet to found their way into your record collection... Shame on you!! Better late than never though, you can always grab the 2xCD Deluxe Edition which features the entire album, bonus poster, interview/article booklet and a bonus disc with instrumentals and B-sides.

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