I’m often quite aware of the anniversary dates for albums considered landmarks in their genre and in the grander scope of music history. As we’re now into April 2017, I’m just counting the days towards celebrating the 20th, 25th, 30th, and 50th anniversaries of albums (so many!) as varied as Whitney Houston‘s Whitney, Love’s Forever Changes and Guns ‘N Roses Appetite for Destruction. But I, however, forgot to set aside balloons for the 1992 release of Das EFX’s Dead Serious. Wax Poetics put me on and while I recognized the name and cover, I was not as keen on its impact on hip-hop culture since its debut twenty-five years ago until late last night.
Das EFX’s album cover I recalled because it reminded me of Digable Planets and the darker version of a neon tone color scheme for Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space). (This was actually released a year later, so the art direction could’ve been inspired by Das). Fashion-wise, I thought of the bohemian style, displayed with cadence, of Arrested Development. (And I’m not going to lie. A little bit of Kriss Kross with the athletic-based streetwear). They too debuted with 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of… in 1992 and that record contained the Prince’s “Alphabet St.” sampled “Tennessee.” Noticeably garnished in bluegrass, it was one of the biggest tracks of the year and earned the group MTV VMAs and a Grammy.
Dead Serious was released on April 7, 1992, and Wax Poetics commemorated the anniversary with an exclusive to their blog mixtape by Chris Read. The 24-minute mix is a fantastic tribute to the influence of the samples used on the album, infused with the original rhymes of Das EFX. It is a well-rounded take on the cycle of what is old is new again. The new here, being at the time, Das EFX, took it upon themselves to tell similar stories of city life and youth culture with the latest chapter of what is classically the verve of a new generation verve exercising their voice.
Wax Poetics wonderfully included all forty-six sources Read used and included are tracks by James Brown, Eric B. and Rakim, Run DMC, Otis Redding, Chubb Rock, and seemingly the only women enlisted, the Emotions. It was likely them that I heard around 16:11 and I loved the ascension of their harmonies against the hip-hop background that bowed down.
The mixtape goes by swimmingly and will leave you curious to hear the 1992 album that is hailed as one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade (and executive produced by the eminent EPMD). It’s also, in my fair opinion, one of the most underrated, overlooked for favorites such as Ready to Die and Illmatic.
Track one is “Mic Checka”, one of the singles, and immediately, it is clear that Read’s mixtape was a faithful addendum. Das EFX, who are still together today, and since 1988, consist of Dray and Skoob (both 1970 babies). I have likely said this before in past reviews, but honestly, you will bump your head to their music. Resisting the urge to do so would be a shame with “Jussussmen”, in which I instantly pictured a legion of people at a basement house party breakdancing and dancing the angst away, and “Looseys” (which I couldn’t figure out was “Lucy” or “Loosely” until I took my phone out of my pocket and checked the song title again) on deck. Das EFX has a real level of thoughtfulness to their brash delivery of rap linguistics that is also fast and playful. These features are otherwise overshadowed by violence and irreverence on records like The Chronic, or subtle and a possibility on the chaos of the streets exhibited on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.
“Black music” was a revolving door of hardcore rap, ripened for their age R&B acts like En Vogue and Toni!Tony!Tone!, jazzy hip-hop and lounge and eventually “neo-soul.” Throw in a little bit of neighborhood rock, and lessen the R&B dial a bit, (though it is still there, only layered) and Das EFX’s Dead Serious is an unexpected culmination of the early ’90s era that remains so damn golden today.
Happy 25th, Dead Serious.