Monday, April 30, 2007

Making All Of My Rhymes With No Teeth Marks

Steady B - Just Call Us Def (Radio Mix)
Steady B - Fly Shanté (Radio Mix)
Steady B feat. Roxanne Shanté - Fly Shanté (Def Mix)

I haven’t posted any old school hip hop for a while, so tonight I’m sticking up a few tracks from one of my favourite 12”’s of the golden mid-80s period. I’ve already recounted my record buying experiences as a teenager here, and this was one of my many purchases from Groove Records, made when I was about 12-years-old. Steady B was just 16 when he recorded the 12”, ‘Just Call Us Def’ / ‘Fly Shanté’ for Lawrence and Ann Goodman’s fantastic Pop Art label. It was a prodigious debut for the teenage rapper, who was one of the first wave of Philadelphia-area MCs (along with Schoolly D and the Fresh Prince) to gain notoriety during this era. Steady B aka Warren McGlone had a vocal talent and range that made him sound much older than he actually was, learning his trade - as the majority of rappers at this time did - through freestyling and battling rival crews. With his trademark chunky, square glasses, he always reminded me of an older, more streetwise version of Doc from the Red Hand Gang!

Produced by Lawrence ‘LG the Teacher’ Goodman himself, the A-side, ‘Just Call Us Def’ is a barnstormer, and doesn’t bother with any trickery or complexities to make its point. It follows a basic pattern – over a thunderous 808 drum track and precise yet agricultural scratching from Grand Dragon KD, Steady B unleashes his skilled wordplay, with non-stop bragging about his talents, and some choice lines about his DJ, including these -

“The only way you can beat him is if you cut off his hands,
But he’s so versatile, there’s little you know,
If you cut off his hand, he’ll use his elbow”

It’s all fairly rudimentary, but like punk before it, it is this raw simplicity that makes it such an exhilarating listen. Beats + rhymes + scratches = perfection.

The flip side is the real treat, as Steady raps the praises of his Pop Art label mate and star of the Roxanne Wars, Roxanne Shanté. ‘Fly Shanté’ is an unusually sensitive treatment (despite the hardcore sound), avoiding the usual derogatory commentary that male rappers took towards females, and instead documenting Steady B’s fruitless quest to woo the object of his affections. He sounds every inch the frustrated teenager, out of his depth and unsure of how he can get her to notice him and this was a song I related to at that time, as the whole boy/girl dynamic started to become of real interest to me. I don’t suppose Steady would have dared to dis Shanté, seeing as she was pretty much the Queen of Hip Hop at this point, but it is still sweet to listen to his raps, as he pines for her attention. Ultimately, there is a kiss-off that leaves Steady in the ascendancy, but what did you expect? Again, the beats are pounding, and KD’s grinding heave-ho scratching and cut-ups of Shanté’s name are unrelenting. I’ve also posted the ‘Def Mix’, as Shanté herself makes a brief cameo. The drums take centre stage here, so if you like heavy as fuck 808 drums, you’ll love this version. I do.

After such a promising start to his career, it’s a real shame that the Steady B story has such a sad ending. Despite enjoying some success during a patchy five-album career that spanned a decade, he is currently serving a life sentence for his part in the botched robbery that resulted in the death of Lauretha Vaird, the first female Philadelphia Police officer to be killed in the line of duty. Fellow Philly rapper Cool C, who actually pulled the trigger (McGlone was driving the getaway car), was sentenced to death by lethal injection, but was recently granted a stay of execution.

Search eBay for Steady B - the classic early Pop Art 12's sometimes come up if you're patient.
Steady B discography at Discogs
Steady B at Wikipedia
The official Steady B My Space page
Document detailing the court case against Warren McGlone here