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In the glory days of the early 90′s, one half of the Native Tongue duo Black Sheep had a dream. To him, it was more of a nightmare, as Dres woke up in it in a cold sweat. After calming himself down, he turned to his partner in shock and said, “I had a dream that I was h-h-hard”.

But back then, it was only a dream, and an intro to Black Sheep’s classic debut album A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing , a jazzy collection of humorous interpretations of everyday life, such as strobelight hoes, similak children, and of course, the choice drugs of the era, 40′s and blunts.

Following the Sheep’s classic debut was the avoidable Non-Fiction LP, which did little to maintain the sound of their debut, with lackluster sales causing them to lose their deal with Mercury. Fast fowarding to the present, in the new wave of former hip-hop allstars finding new life on the independent railroad, Dres the Black Sheep returns. But minus Mr. Lawnge, Dres has nobody to wake him up from the nightmare of being hardcore.

If this LP had a video, you’d be more likely to see Dres chillin’ on a corner with six or seven street cats, than in a field with a flock of sheep. But the shift in image doesn’t necessarily make this a bad album. What it isn’t, is anything remotely close to the group’s magnum opus debut. You really won’t find any clever parallels here, and few conceptual joints like the group showed in their debut. The uniqueness and careful planning of songs like “La Menage”, “Strobelight Honey”, “Flavor of The Month” and just about every other track is not here. But then again this is a Dres album, not a Black Sheep album.

Don’t get the wrong idea, Dres is in no way trying to be the next DMX with this album. He’s actually just been influenced by the brothers he’s been kicking it with forever, The Legion, who lend a large hand in production and rhymes on the LP. It’s actually easier to accept this album when you look at it as some underground street shit, almost on a Show & AG kind of vibe. For example, tracks like “Grand Groove”  really exhibit the boom bap like it should be done, and while a much more edgy sound than we re used to from Dres, it still works.

But then again, if Dres was going for that kind of sound, it might have suited him better to get with producers who have mastered it, such as Showbiz, for instance. The Legion’s contributions are actually the lowest point of the album, as their beats and rhymes aren’t awful, just a bit out of place. Dres actually saves himself with the majority of his own self produced tracks, which tiptoe back into the jazzy fields of the first album. “You’re So Vain” is a quintessential hip-hop love song with a twist, as it begins praising the Dres s former object of affection, only to flip the script when the hook comes. “You’re so vain, I bet you think this song s about you” sings a for once appreciated Horace Brown, as Dres then points out he would have never realized the value of his new shorty, if not experiencing the mistake he made with his ex. “Night Time” is another R&B flavored jazz track that is pulled off nicely, as Dres simply praises the nocturnal hours. Finally, “Tru Kings”, the album s closer, is candidate for the most uplifting song of the year, just leaving you feeling positive about everything.

Listening to the LP, while Dres s metaphorical style seems a little bit dated ( Yo, I be in the cut like a knife ), the brother still possesses true mic presence that is still a pleasure to listen to, unlike other past favorites, who seem like it s been exorcised out of them. What could have made this LP better would have been A) if Dres had either stuck to doing what he does best, that is, practicing the Native Tongue style, or B) if Dres had gotten a better team of producers to back him up with higher quality street soundtracks. Ultimately, this is where the battle of independent vs. major labels comes in.

If signed to a major, Dres could have possibly gotten a budget to afford some better producers. He could have also tended to the advice of the right A&R, who could have either transformed Dres into a more reputable street rhymer (i.e. A.G., Guru ) or taken him back down the path of the black sheep. But many would argue that being an independent artist is keeping it true, or whatever. That as an indy artist, you call the shots, and you make the music how you want it. Well, this is exactly where the problem lies. There’s no A&R around to tell Dres that it may be how he wants it, but this isn’t how we want it.

Similar to the case of Kool G Rap’s recent Roots of Evil , from an indy vs. major standpoint, the independent emcee loses. Until we see a reunion with Lawnge, or even a second Dres solo album more on the original Black Sheep vibe, Dres may need to rethink his style and character.

But maybe we ve been reading it wrong the whole time. Maybe Dres really is a cash crazy street thug, who can appear to be an intelligent emcee when he wants to, truly a wolf in sheep s clothing.

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