Another forgotten mystery of the 1990′s was Black Sheep’s A Wolf In Sheep s Clothing, an incredible debut album from Dres and Mr. Lawnge, of the then functional Native Tongue family, (which also consisted of Brothers in the Jungle and cousins on a Quest, as well as De La Soul, for those that slept.) A Wolf In Sheep s Clothing was a brilliantly produced and penned magnum opus that showed incredible promise for the duo, only to be followed up by a disappointing second album, and a fate of later fading into obscurity.
This album will forever remain legendary for several reasons. Musically, it remains a classic in hip-hop’s past, as sampling was “free” back then, allowing the producers of this album to create vast audio landscapes for the Sheep to graze upon. This was an album that stepped to everyone else and proclaimed “Take the funky drummer and give him back to James!”, and instead of continuing to rape the Godfather of Soul’s catalog, created a new sound, along with related albums of the time such as Low End Theory and De La Soul Is Dead. The use of Slick Rick’s beat-boxing as a breakdown for “To Whom It May Concern” or simply the cohesion of several layers of samples on songs like “Similak Child” or “Butt…In The Meantime”, were brilliant as they were beautiful.
What also made this album a classic was the fact that, unlike many emcees, Black Sheep had an incredible knack for song structure, knowing exactly when to break a song down (“Engine engine number nine”), or when to insert a cameo from Q-Tip (“La Menage”). And each song on this album had a purpose; it was entirely conceptual, without becoming so pretentious that only they understood it.
But most of all, it was funny. Dres and the self-proclaimed “Sugar Dick Daddy Mr. Lawnge”, came off like two of the biggest assholes, but had such a sense of coolness that you secretly wanted to be a part of their little club. They had their own slang (“Van Damme!”, “I said later, man!” , “slamming!” ), and even classified “hoes” (note: “Ho is short for honey, we just dropped the “ney”, like when you drop to your knees”) into different categories, such as sexual chocolate hoes, milky hoes, and triple h hoes (“happy to have hoes”). And they didn’t give a damn what you thought, with hooks that begged “Gimmie The Finger”, and an operatic outro “For Doze Dat Slept”, which took the phrase “fuck you” to a whole new level. On top of all this, it still wasn’t gimmicky songs like “Strobelight Honey”, focusing on club-going women with “slamming” bodies, but not-so-slamming faces, or the opposite “Similak Child” (“they gave her no food, strictly similak”), were so well written and so well produced that you couldn’t help but enjoy them, no matter how offensive (although there was a definite heavy sense of sarcasm here). As a matter of fact, during this era when it was considered wack to be a commercial artist, Black Sheep brilliantly silenced all gangster rappers with “U Mean I’m Not”, and pop rappers on “Flavor Of The Month”.
After the album was released, the duo showed great promise with some of their best cuts not included on the LP. Both remixes to “The Choice Is Yours” and “Strobelite Honey” excelled past the album versions, and classic B-side / non-album tracks like “Still In The Ghetto”, “A State Of Yo”, “On The Wall” (not to mention collabos “Bounce To This” and “Jingle Jangle”) made it seem like the Sheep would never fall off. But they did. The second album, Non Fiction was not a success, as they distanced themselves from the Native Tongue sound, and instead flocked to the street savvy sounds of fellow crewmembers of the time, Show & AG and The Legion. While the album did have it’s moments, the humor was gone and the sound simply wasn’t as fresh.
Ten years later, the Native Tounge family is dead, Black Sheep alum Chi Ali is a murderer, the Violators soak in a jiggy sea of sin, Mr. Lawnge is M.I.A., and Dres struggles to please us with an independent release here and there. But for those of us who were listening those ten years ago, Black Sheep amazed us all with a classic debut album, and you can’t beat that with a bat.
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