The second coming of Def Jam’s Jews

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The marriage between Def Jam Recordings and the Beastie Boys did not last that long. After the release of their debut blast of an album Licensed to Ill, and a terribly stressful tour promoting the album, friendships began to sour. The Beastie Boys claimed that Russell Simmons did not pay them their just dues and earnings from the album and tour proceeds. They also became tired of their outlandish personas and nihilistic live show performances. They wanted to evolve, yet they were not allowed as the powers that be at the label prodded them to remain sloppy, ugly, and provocative. This spurned their relationship with the label, which remained for quite some time as heard through the various name drops they used in various lyrics. One example is from their song “B-Boys Makin’ With the Freak Freak” from their fourth album, Ill Communication. In the opening salvo of the first verse Mike D. belts out that they “Got fat bass lines like Russell Simmons steals money,” showing that they held the grudge for some time. So, who’ next for Def Jam besides their roster of black MC’s? Let’s turn to the second Jewish crew to blow up on the label. Or actually, two Jews and a black man.

3rd Bass, consisting of MC Serch (Michael Berrin), Prime MInister Pete Nice (Peter J. Nash), and DJ Richie Rich (Richard Lawson) became the next big thing on the label. This came in the guise of two Jews, Serch and Nice, and an African American, being Richie Rich. MC Serch performed solo before getting together with Nice and Rich, honing his MC skills and getting the street fred he needed to sound authentic as he could. Like the Beastie Boys, these guys were Jewish so they lived on the fence. They performed a black art form while refusing to compromise their true passions for the art. They were also courageous enough to be the minority in a majority black art, and that at this point in the late 1980’s became far more political. Hip Hop acts of the late 1980’s were far more hard hitting capturing the mood of the black communities from the Bronx to Compton and as far out from Kingston, Jamaica to Johannesburg, South Africa. 3rd Bass came together amidst all that, and solidified their stance by creating a video that gave them the street fred they so desired, “The Gas Face.”

The visual open with a guy who makes sure that his name is not mistaken with Tracy Chapman. In the background we see a black  militant fatigue wearing crew, which is an imitation of their label mates, Public Enemy’s the S1W’s crew. We then hear the opening piano hits from Aretha Franklin’s hit, “Think,” thanks to the almighty producer, Prince Paul. The video is full of celebrities including the cream of the crop in the game such as EPMD, Salt-N-Pepa, and Flavor Flav from Public Enemy. They also cut MC Hammer down to size, making fun of him and his perceived inauthentic performance style. In order for them to be viewed as a legitimate Hip Hop group they had to do two things in the video. First, they had to show their hate for what was deemed manufactured rap music, in the guise of Hammer and Vanilla Ice at the time. Second, they needed to show their credibility by using many African American artists and actors in order to show that they officially “down.”

This is another video from their debut album. The track is “Steppin’ to the A.M.”

The interesting side note to this is that MC Serch actually tried to join the Beastie Boys crew, but was refused entry. They were signed to Def Jam at the same time as the Beastie Boys departure from the label. They broke their contract and fled to Capitol records, which made certain people at Def Jam rather upset. Hence, 3rd Bass not only dissed Hammer both in their song and in the liner notes (calling him “M.C. Household Tool”), they also dissed the Beastie Boys. It seems that this feud was manufactured, but 3rd Bass did not want to be seen as the replacement Beasties, so they fought back. On their debut album they took a few pot shots at the Beasties, such as on the song “Sons of 3rd Bass” where Serch rhymes:

“Swarm to the lyrics cause search is your father screaming “Hey Ladies,” why bother?”

Here’s a link to the whole track:

they were taking dead aim at the Beasties and their song “Hey Ladies” off of their critically acclaimed masterpiece, Paul’s Boutique. They continue the salvo on the song, but the battle was rather one-sided as the Beasties didn’t care enough to reply. At least they didn’t reply until they tried to get the last word in. They replied on their song “Professor Booty” from their slept on third album, Check Your Head. In it they make fun of Serch and 3rd Bass being all up on TV, dancing and acting the fool.

Here’s a link to their song: 

It should also be mentioned that the special guest MC is non other than Zev Love X, from the group KMD. We all know him now as the illustrious and mysterious under-indie- and beyond MC with many names, but we commonly call him MF Doom!

They made many banging videos for their debut album, including the remix to the first album titled The Cactus Album Revisited. Another great anthem to all the Brooklyn/Queens heads is their great ode to the place where the planet began….and ended.

You gotta love how they drop through all the great spots in Brooklyn while using stock footage of Brooklyn’s past days.

Another great tune from their first album is the track titled “Product of the Environment.”

This is another ode to the place they call home, Queens and Brooklyn in good ol’ New York City. Rhyming about their upbringing while streaming it along with the inner city narrative is what made this song so poignant. As you hear in each chorus section the words, “Here it is, black and white” you get a sense that they are akin to other minorities in their environment.

They followed up their remix EP with their second album, Derelicts of Dialect, dropping in 1991. This time they devoted a good amount of the album to attack Vanilla Ice. It’s very interesting seeing their videos and hearing their lyrics accosting Ice as a cultural thief. The Jewish guys were dissing the waspish white guy who apparently stole the soul of rap music. He was accused of watering down the rap sound in order to pander to all the teenage white girls buying his music. The most scathing visual beat down came in the form of their video for the song, “Pop Goes the Weasel.” In the video they show themselves as the legit, authentic and respectful rap act, while beating on Ice both verbally and physically. In the video ex-Black Flag member, and all around town documentary sweet heart, Henry Rollins dressed up as Ice, and proceeded to get beat down by the group.

It’s funny how they literally condemn Ice by going pop and weaseling out of the process of performing, and becoming legitimate in the eyes of the Hip Hop gods. Another irony is that at this point Vanilla Ice was getting a lot of flack from music and cultural critics for sounding inauthentic. The video, and in turn their album, was hugely successful as it rode the wave of hating on Ice. The All Music Guide reads that this was a “Much-needed damage control” because this was a white rap group who were “openly distancing themselves from one of their peers.” I think this is a bit wrong as race seems to be the glue, yet MC’s and rap groups come in all shapes, ideas, and sizes. 3rd Bass and Vanilla Ice were never in the same league, let alone the same sport.

The group broke up in 1992, seeing Serch go off on his own to release a hard hitting and very underrated solo album, Return of the Product. One of the most notable tracks on the album is a group effort with Serch leading the helm alongside Chubb Rock, The Red Hot Lover Tone, and the very young Nas who went by the name Nasty Nas.

The other two members also formed their own group, but it didn’t last long. They are in their own worlds at this point as Pete Nice is a writer, he wrote a book on Baseball in the 19th century in Brooklyn, and MC Serch is a talk show host a la Steve Wilkes.

No matter what, they are still very important due to their role in Hip Hop history, and folk lore. They replaced the Beastie Boys, and took the burden of stepping out of their shadow at Def Jam and recording some solid rap albums. Two Jews and an African American formed the group and were able to make it work. We should all hope to see the reunion for the 25th anniversary!!! coming soon to a bodega production near you.

Peace

#3rdBass #MCSerch #BeastieBoys #DefJam

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