21 January, 2007@12:00 am
In 1986, Kool G. Rap and DJ Polo made their debut with the classic track “It’s a Demo”. However, unless you owned the 12″ single or had access to a radio station with enough sense to put the song into rotation, chances are you missed this song in its original state. Even with the advent of the internet and programs like Napster, classic hip-hop tracks only available on vinyl and cassette remained elusive. The main problem being that the user could never be certain their downloaded copy was the best replication in existence. This caused fans to endlessly chase and replace the same tracks in an attempt to secure a copy possessing the highest quality of sound. Fortunately for Kool G. Rap and DJ Polo fans, this tiresome search is over. Enter the Road To The Riches digitally re-mastered, deluxe-edition double CD. Those who already own “Road To The Riches” on CD may be understandably skeptical about purchasing the reissue. Rest assured, for the money, this product is a great value. Not only is the original 11-track album included, but also an abundance of bonus material providing a comprehensive catalog of Kool G. Rap and DJ Polo’s material from 1986 to 1989. Not to mention, a well done 22-page booklet consisting of photos, lyrics and a brief rundown on the group’s origin.
On disc one, the original album is followed up by freestyles and excerpts of G. Rap and Polo on Marley Marl’s “In Control” radio show on WBLS. This portion acts as a dividing line between the original album and the material that preceded it. The excerpts successfully supply a nostalgic context for the era that generated classics such as “It’s a Demo”, “I’m Fly”, and “Riker’s Island.” Disc one concludes with the hard to find alternative version of Big Daddy Kane’s “Raw” featuring Kool G. Rap. A classic in which two lyrical geniuses trade verses and syncopated syllables over a loop of Bobby Byrd’s “Hot Pants”; without a doubt, one of the strongest collaborations ever. Those familiar with the Cold Chillin’, “Droppin’ Science” compilation know this track. However, what they probably don’t know is the version on “Droppin’ Science” is missing the first nine seconds. Those nine seconds are intact on the “Road To The Riches” deluxe edition, a must have for any Kool G. Rap aficionado with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Disc two contains 14 tracks of material either previously unreleased or only available on vinyl. It is on these tracks that the nascent, raw essence of Kool G. Rap’s remarkable word play and delivery is captured. Only to find its perfect compliment in Polo’s cuts and Marley’s sample heavy, break-beat laden tracks. Although digitally re-mastered, all the tracks retain that early, authentic sound unique to Marley Marl’s second floor apartment in Queens known as The House of Hits. The spontaneity and unrefined nature of the tracks shine through in songs like the original 12inch version of “It’s A Demo”. There is no re-editing of the scratches that sometime fall off-beat. There is no sonic synthesis between the 808 hi-hats and the loops lifted off LPs. And there certainly is no studio polish added to the Kool Genius of Rap’s lispy vocals. This is hip hop in the raw; just beats and rhymes. The original 12inch of this release was backed with “I’m Fly”, another true-school track that consists of nothing more than a drum machine generated beat, scratches and vocals. No melody, no bass line, no groovy samples. Just hard snares in-your-face, coupled with heavy cuts and formidable articulations. “Riker’s Island” follows suit, but remains unique in its subject matter as G. Rap poses a warning to young hoods selling drugs and engaging in violence. In “Rhyme Tyme” and the 12inch version(s) of “Poison”, the production and lyrical formula is slightly elevated by the use of classic samples and G Rap’s noticeably more confident delivery. For the discerning production head, the deluxe edition also provides instrumentals for all of the aforementioned original 12inch releases, except “Poison”. However, also included in the deluxe version is the instrumental for “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not”, plus an A capella version of “Men At Work”. The former showcases Marley’s production prowess, the latter is a lesson in lyrical acrobatics and breath control.
One of the intangible benefits of the deluxe edition is a clear understanding of the group’s progression. This is a snapshot of a revolutionary moment in which Marley Marl’s ingenuity changed the production game forever, while G. Rap’s gave birth to today’s Queensbridge gangster rap. From their first single in 1986, to the full album in 1989, this group raised the bar for all hip-hop releases that followed. And it doesn’t take an enthusiast to appreciate the comprehensive collection of previously unreleased and vinyl-only singles the deluxe edition offers. All heads will appreciate this re-release, not only because of the digitally re-mastering that preserves the original sonic flavor, but also for the piece of history captured within this two disc set. Do not sleep on this reissue.
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