Pros: A mix of conceptual and battle tracks; KMD is ahead of (most of the) pack.
Cons: It hasn’t aged well; some battle tracks are superfluous in length and inclusion.
Note: Virtually all internet retail stores and information databases -- including this one -- inexplicably list the CD with its artwork as some sort of Kool Moe Dee compilation called Best -- a record that does not exist, and even with the album title clearly printed on the cover jacket. Either that, or it is named after one of the album’s songs. Weird.
Harlem native Mohandas “Kool Moe Dee” DeWese is an anomaly in hip-hop history, an interesting anomaly that is not often noted by even the most seasoned music critics or historians. Still fresh off the splintering of the Treacherous Three -- one of rap’s first groups, with singles like “The New Rap Language” and “The Body Rock” -- Kool Moe Dee, even at the young age of 24, was already an old fart in the new, still-floundering world of hip-hop. But so were the rest of the acts particularly responsible for the birth of recorded rap. The difference, though, between Kool Moe Dee and the rest of his peers of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was that he refused to be stuck in the old school and thus fade into obscurity. No, he was going to make that transition into the new school.
And that meant cutting an album: his debut. Putting the time provided from the Treacherous Three’s break-up to good use by earning his communications degree from the State University of New York, KMD grabbed a fellow Harlemite -- a precocious 17-year old by the name of Teddy Riley -- to produce his first solo single, “Go See the Doctor”. With an enticingly sparse assortment of whistles, bells, and synth stabs wrapped around a thudding beat, Kool Moe Dee recounted a hilarious tale about unprotected sex and the unpleasant consequences: the sexual encounter; the regret; the embarrassing visit to the clinic; and ultimately, the personal pledge not to do something that stupid again -- all transported in amazingly crystal-clear enunciation and robotic precision that barely anyone around that time could even match, let alone surpass.
“Go See the Doctor” was a primer for what was to come: with 1986’s I’m Kool Moe Dee. Not surprisingly, the aforementioned song is the very first cut in the album, although its immediate successor is equally as impressive, if not more. “Dumb Dick (Richard)” is a clever pun-riddled account of a womanizing friend. (Choice lyrics: “If the school was all boys, he’d been dropped out/[…]/And if you ask me, he had the right name/‘Cause he hated to go, but he loved to come/That’s why I call him ‘Dick’…”). Clearly, he had the propensity to carve out moralist tales, as attested by other cuts like the synth pad-bathed “Little Jon”, where the titular protagonist, tired of being broke, turns to street pharmacy); the much better “Monster Crack”, in which the drug is personified as some sort of horror antagonist terrorizing the neighborhood; and the pinnacle, “Do You Know What Time It Is?”, in which he uses the clock as a metaphor for the squandered time on materialistic women. Ironically, though, it is cuts like these that outshine what had already become his modus operandi: battle rap.
With his roasting of Busy Bee Starski at the now-defunct club Harlem World in December of 1981, Kool Moe Dee is mainly responsible for kicking off a tradition unique to hip-hop. And he was just getting started. Indeed, him name-checking LL Cool J’s “Dear Yvette” (off 1985’s Radio) in “Bad Mutha” as stylistically insignificant to him -- even as he quickly claimed that he wasn’t “dis[sing]” the young rising star -- nevertheless became an omen of the fierce war of words that would develop in a year between the two MCs, a lyrical engagement that only extended his legacy as the major progenitor of battle rap. Unfortunately, though, in I’m Kool Moe Dee, the barbs and bragging are not as engaging as when they are performed live. Blame it on possible first-time jitters or the still-novel idea of committing such raps to wax without the benefit of feverish crowd sounds. And don’t get me wrong, none of the songs are bad outright. But with little amount of lines to distinguish one from the other, only “The Best” in his roaring guitar sound stands apart from “Bad Mutha” and “I’m Kool Moe Dee”, which almost sound alike in their skeletal, drum-machine sound.
And that brings me to the music clothing the lyrics: In their first outing, KMD and Riley were far from hitting their peak as collaborators. In fact, in a time which rap records were garnering more sonic flesh, about half the songs in I’m Kool Moe Dee now sound antiquated. Thus, it is a relief to have exceptions like the previously mentioned “Little Jon” and “The Best”; and “Rock Steady”, the latter which throws in a synth twist to the bassline of the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” to create a good natured, old-school party starter in the vein of the classic singles KMD spawned with his former group.
So, ultimately, Kool Moe Dee’s self-titled debut is worth a shot. Of course, be mindful of its rather dated feel -- a trait that features quite prominently, actually, in all KMD albums. Even discounting that shortcoming, I’m Kool Moe Dee is good enough -- and still is -- to crown him as the only rapper in recorded rap’s old-school period (circa 1978 to 1983) to viably extend his career lifeline into its golden era, at a time when fellow pioneering acts like the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Kurtis Blow were fading away, still stuck in a singles-oriented mentality and still aping the ridiculously extravagant garb typical of R&B and rock stars of the day. And better yet, Kool Moe Dee would only get, well, better.
1. Go See the Doctor
2. Dumb Dick (Richard)
3. Bad Mutha
4. Little Jon
5. Do You Know What Time It Is?
6. Rock Steady
7. Monster Crack
8. The Best
9. I’m Kool Moe Dee
REVIEWS IN MY KOOL MOE DEE SERIES:
I’m Kool Moe Dee (1986)
How Ya Like Me Now (1987)
Knowledge Is King (1989)
Funke Funke Wisdom (1991)
Greatest Hits (1993)