Oct. 30, 2005
In the mid-80’s a young man named Mohandas DeWeese became part of one of hip-hop’s earliest crews, The Treacheries Three. A few years later he would depart from the group to attend State University of New York, where he’d earn a degree in communications. After graduating he would go to work as a solo artist. In 1986 he collaborated with a then-17 and unheard of DJ named Teddy Riley. Their first single was titled, “Go See The Doctor.” This song landed the then 24-year old DeWeese a contract with Jive records and Kool Moe Dee was born. (Riley went on to produce albums for Guy, Aaron Hall and Blackstreet, and became known as “The King of New Jack Swing”).
Before “Go See The Doctor” DeWeese performer at various clubs around Manhattan and quickly established a reputation as a rapid-fire, quick-witted rapper. His verbal jousting with another New York rapper, Busy Bee, were legendary and an important part of hip-hop history. DeWeese rapped about social issues and encouraged black youth to seek knowledge of self. He sometimes commented on sex, women and life on the street, but never in a derogatory, in-your-face manner, but with a lighthearted braggadocio. Subsequently, he became the first rapper to ever perform onstage at the Grammy Awards and was one of the architects of the Stop The Violence Movement, contributing to the single "Self Destruction."
Today, young artists have gone overboard with gangsta rap. The message is no longer “stunningly frank and enlightening,” but stunning in its vulgarity and the cavalier approach to all things sexual.
In “Go See The Doctor” DeWeese talked about a sexual encounter that led to a case of venereal disease. The message was “safe sex”, which was an important since it was released at the height of the AIDS epidemic. This track appeared on his self-titled LP which featured another conscience-raising song, “Monster Crack,” which spoke of the ills of crack cocaine use.
Moe Dee scored even bigger with his next effort, “How Ya Like Me Now”, which contained the anthem “Wild, Wild West” and “No Respect.” This was followed by what I consider to be one of the best rap albums ever made, 1989’s “Knowledge Is King.” The album contained the single of the same name along with the black pride rant, “Pump Your Fist.” Other hits included “I Go To Work”, “The Avenue” and “They Want Money,” a take on gold-diggin’ women. This is the LP where Moe Dee’s career peaked.
Moe Dee followed up in 1990 with the single “God Made Me Funke,” then in 1991 released the album “Funke, Funke Wisdom” which contained the title cut and the uplifting ”Rise ‘N Shine” (with Chuck D and KRS-One). This LP featured “Death Blow”, a brutally funny diss-mantling of his nemesis LL Cool J. Their back and forth was a real, and not contrived feud. I viewed it as a battle of lyrical styles rather than egos.
The rivalry with LL Cool J was sparked by DeWeese’s belief that the younger rapper had no respect for the rappers who paved his way. Moreover, he accused LL of “biting” (copying) his style. The men exchanged disses with Moe Dee winning the duel with tighter and funnier lyrics in such songs as “How Ya Like Me Now”, “Let’s Go” and culminating with what many consider rap’s greatest diss, the aforementioned “Death Blow.”
In a 2002 interview Moe Dee said, “I always brought a different analysis to the equation, even with the battles. I would take a person and break down their weaknesses and put it in rhyme form and a lot of Emcees don’t know there is a humor element to battle , an insult element, a truth element, and you can even add a spiritual , or Afrocentric element like KRS does…I always said that the reason LL can never win a battle is because he talks so much about himself, that he cant talk about anything else . He used his charisma , energy and vocabulary, which is basically a combination of my style , T La Rock & Run but in battling its more . Like when I hit him with the Ls ( a series of insulting L-words in the song, “Death Blow”) it wasn’t just insulting , but it had poetic value to it .”
Rap battles nowadays, like those involving Nas and Jay-Z (in which a truce has been called), 50 Cent and The Game and Eminem against (fill in name of pop star here) are less about art and reputation. These are built around threats of violence, unflattering remarks about each other’s women and subsequently result in physical confrontations. (Sadly, it also sells records).
When NWA (Eric “Eazy E” Wright, MC Wren, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, the D.O.C., et al) introduced gangsta rap to the world, it was loud, but sincere. The profanity was overridden by the message: That the day-to-day existence in the ghetto was a literal battle for survival, and cops were little more than overseers and assassins. Ice-T’s song “Cop Killer” was widely condemned by those in the mainstream, but it summed up the feelings of a lot of young black people, who saw it as “the truth” if nothing else. Even Too Short’s labeling women “bitches” and “hoes” was overlooked, as it was seen as his “kickin’ game” or “keeping it real.”
Then along came the “studio gangsta” and it’s poster boy, Vanilla Ice. (A “studio gangsta” is one who boasts of criminal exploits, but who in reality have no street cred or criminal history). This was followed by a bunch of kids with catchy beats who used cussing and misogynistic messages for shock value.
It is this style of rap that Moe Dee shunned. His political stances were not divisive, but rather called for the education and unification of black people. This is a message that young brothas and sistas could use more of. Moe Dee says it best:
On the street, surrounded by sin/ I never sell out, and I wouldn't give in/ God said: you can win, look within/ See your skin, you're my kin/ And I made you funke
Kool Moe Dee (1987) How Ya Like Me Now (1989) Knowledge Is King (1989) African Pride EP (1990) Funke, Funke Wisdom (1991) Greatest Hits (1993) Interlude (1994) The Jive Collection, Vol. 2 (1995)
About the author: Timothy Stelly is the 46-year old author of "Tempest In The Stone" and "The Malice of Cain". His third novel, "Darker Than Blue" is under consideration for publication. Mr. Stelly currently resides in Pittsburg, California with his three youngest children Dante, Kimberly and Lawrence. Excerpts from The first two books and the first two chapters of his upcoming anthology, "Frankenigga--And Other Urban Tales" can be viewed at:
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