REVIEW: Ultramagnetic MCs – Critical Beatdown

Critical Beatdown

Artist: Ultramagnetic MCs

Album: Critical Beatdown

Label: Next Plateau Entertainment

Rating: 10/ 10

Reviewer: RJ

Some old school hip-hop albums age better than others. Often we will dig into our music collections with a grin and pull out a dusty album we have fond memories of, pop it in the stereo, sit back and reminisce. All too often, however, we will put that album back in it’s place afterwards, and forget about it for a couple of years. Whatever the reasons may be, older hip-hop seems to be gradually fading from the public consciousness, and with many of the older labels either defunct or unwilling to repress their back catalogues, it is increasingly harder for today’s hip-hop audience to explore the roots of the music. This hurts the most for those younger headz in the making, who may never get a chance to hear Boogie Down Productions, Marley Marl, Special Ed, or Main Source, just to name a few.

Once in a while, however, we get lucky. Some time ago, an enterprising executive at Roadrunner Records (interestingly a Def Jam subsidiary) decided it would be prudent to start re-releasing the Ultramagnetic MC’s very early work. Initially starting with the various 12″ singles, finally last year we were blessed with a re-release of their groundbreaking debut, “Critical Beatdown”, complete with a slew of extras that were left off the original release.

This is an album that goes beyond easy classification. While many albums from 1988 would sound ‘dated’ by today’s standards, this one withstands the test of time, and then some. In its day, and even to this day, it remains one of the freshest and most innovative hip-hop albums of all time. One of the original pioneers of sampled beats, they certainly got their money’s worth out of their SP-12, as chopped and cut drums, horns, banjos (!), synths, and the like explode off the wax with a frenzied energy seldom seen in hip-hop production since. It’s hard to listen to this album and not start bobbing your head; this is party music par excellance. ‘Give the Drummer Some’ stands out in my mind to this day as probably the best drum sampling I’ve ever heard in the genre. And the rhymes :

” :MC’s I stack up,
Foreign precinct rappers need backup
Quickly, I’ma rip your brain off,
Throw it down so the blood can drain off
My hands, while I wave to a fan;
I’m Kool Keith not a Bill or a Dan
But a general, equal to a mineral,
Pushin’ a crowd to keep on dancin’
I’m housin’ things”
(‘Kool Keith Housing Things’)

Wack MC’s get smacked, dissected, burned, executed, and sent to Saturn by two MC’s who are so confident they don’t limit themselves to anybody in particular : they just dis EVERYBODY. And with good cause; Ced Gee and particularly Kool Keith are using vocabulary and rhyme styles that would make most rappers today reach for their dictionary to figure out how they just got burned three ways from Sunday. The lyrics are so over the top that the album is a laugh riot the entire way through, but it’s so cleverly executed that it stays fresh instead of growing clichéd after all this time. Peep this:

(Kool Keith)
“Well I’m the equalizer, known to be graphic,
I clear static breakin’ up traffic
Move, while I enter the groove,
I’m on top and happy to prove
To wack MC’s who claim to be better than-
No way I’m frankly more clever than
All of you – each and every one my son;
Pay close attention
I’ll take your brain to another dimension,
Hold it, mold it shape it,
You got a knife, yes I wanna scrape it
Up and down, sideways, anyway I can
Be rude to you, but I’ll rap and be crude to you
And eat up, toy ducks I beat up,
I am the oven, your brains I wanna heat up
Mega, supersonic degrees,
I come around roasting MC’s with fire
To burn the toy liar, raw meat
Turn the flame higher, cook it,
Like a fish I hook it,
For any beat it’s time that I took it,
Rise, correctly to the top,
With the rhythm and as your head bop
I’m hype : for the critical BEATDOWN!”

(Ced Gee)
“I’m attacking them, my job is stacking them,
For every rapper must I be smacking them once,
Or twice in the face, with rough beats producing the bass
That blow out, cause power to go out,
In a spark, I’m ready to blow out
Like this, altitude level, reachin’ forth stompin’ every devil
In sight, you might just wanna bite,
My allusions mental confusions,
You’re a moth, skulls I’ve been abusin’
Losin’, any rapper who follow me,
Your girl loves me now the wanna swallow me
Back up, move on to the rear,
When I’m on the stage should be clear,
Speaking, going ear to ear,
Places far, ducks would appear for the countdown,
So you wait to rhyme and twist,
Stuttering uttering, Parkay margarine everything butter
And another thing, you should have been a muppet,
A toy-boy, a thin-string puppet,
I’m takin’ titles and punks better up it
To me, Ced Gee on the mic
And I’m hype : for the critical BEATDOWN!”
(‘Critical Beatdown’)

This album encapsulates a raw spirit sadly lacking in current hip-hop. Throughout the album, Ced and Keith are out for the kill; but this is not the mundane “beef” that permeates rap today. These guys are smarter and more talented, and they mean to prove it; not by boasting about the platinum records on their wall or their car collection, but by showcasing skills light-years ahead of their contemporaries. But they still keep it real, never coming off as “cerebral” or nerd-rappers.

But it gets better: as I mentioned earlier, the album is in print again to school a new generation of ducks, and we get a couple of gems thrown in as bonus tracks. Peep the original 12″ version of ‘Funky’ for a certain Joe Cocker sample that Dr. Dre would make famous a couple of years later (you’ll recognize it, trust me). My favorite addition however is ‘A Chorus Line’, which introduces us to Tim Dog (of ‘Fuck Compton’ fame). Although best known for dissing NWA (and most of the rest of the West), this track is his first recorded appearance, and his over-the-top, quick, verbose (ie big words) rap style complements the rest of the Ultramag’s perfectly (and his verse is hilarious). If you never got around to picking up this album the first time, there’s no excuse now; this is a welcome addition to almost any hip-hop fan’s collection.

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