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3rd Bass: Derelicts of Dialect (1991)

April 11, 2013

3rd bass artwork

Roll: 8-1-6
Album: 3rd Bass, Derelicts of Dialect

Being white guys making rap music must’ve been a pretty hard gig in 1991. As I mentioned in my Tone Lōc review, you wouldn’t want your listeners to pick up any hint of Vanilla Ice. But it would almost be inevitable not to have since Beastie Boys hadn’t dropped an album in a couple of years, House of Pain hadn’t dropped their debut yet and Eminem had only just dropped out of high school. In the public eye, white-boy rappers in ’91 meant Vanilla Ice and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch or, up here in Canada, Tom Greene (yeah, that Tom Greene) with Organized Rhyme. So it must have been tough going for MC Serch and Prime Minister Pete Nice.

Well, probably not as tough going overall as as it was someone like Ice-T or Eazy-E, but it must have been tough to be taken seriously by the public and the industry. #whitepeoplesproblems

I know my impression of 3rd Bass was decidedly not that they were the next Beastie Boys.  Without ever actually hearing any of their music, I lumped them in with the Vanillas and Marky Marks. Their name didn’t do them any favours. Nothing says smirking white people like a sexual euphemism blended with a clever pun on street parlance. When I heard “3rd Bass” I just assumed people meant, at best, some Technotronic type house-rap band. So I completely missed out on their debut, The Cactus Album (1989), now considered one of the most influential white-boy rap albums of the golden age.

Although the truth is they were never really a white-boy crew. One 3rd of 3rd Bass, DJ Richie Rich, is black and (unlike the Beastie Boys who’d only used white producers) they worked with the African-American production team, the Bomb Squad. Being a racially integrated unit is probably why they seem more “authentic” than the average white rapper of the time.

The killer production is a bit of a blessing and a curse. Listening very closely to their second and final album, Derelicts of Dialect (what does that title even mean?), you can hear how the thick funk, soul and jazz-sampling beats really prop up the shortcomings of Serch and Nice as emcees. At times their lyrics come off just a little too white-bread and a little too clever (Nice was an English major at Columbia University before going pro). Their voices lack the gravitas and grit that Everlast and Eminem would later display. Replace the hardcore beats and Peter Gabriel sample on the Vanilla Ice bashing  “Pop Goes The Weasel”  with with the now infamous “Under Pressure” sample and they’d actually sound a lot like…  well, Vanilla Ice.

Which isn’t as harsh a diss as it might first appear. Vanilla, for all his overexposure and shortcomings away from the mic, wasn’t really that terrible. Okay, side-by-side with Chuck D, yeah, he was that terrible. But if you let your tastes run towards the Young M.C. end of the spectrum, and with some selective editing to the track list, To The Extreme is actually a pretty listenable disc. Not everything has to be Led Zeppelin, sometimes The Bay City Rollers are a good time too.

Of course, no one wants to be The Bay City Rollers.

Derelicts of Dialect is kind of that middle ground between Zeppelin and the Rollers and kind of not. It’s not remotely a pop-rap album and, like The Cactus Album, it’s definitely as golden age hardcore as anything else on Def Jam circa ’91. But it’s a little less believable than works by EPMDPublic Enemy, or L.L. Cool J. Compared to attitude found on House of Pain’s 1992 debut, 3rd Bass’s bravado comes off a little unnatural and forced. I can’t help but feel they would have been better suited to the positive/progressive stylings of De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest instead of trying to sound “street”—something they were actually more successful at on their debut.

Beastie Boys nicely side-stepped this trap (post-Licenced to Ill) by intentionally not trying to sound like EPMD or Run-DMC (and dropping Def Jam which earned them the ire of 3rd Bass). While being generally known as the most-accepted white rappers (until Eminem, at least), the Beasties spent their entire career placing themselves just outside of the scene. They’d keep a toe in with the current trends, but they always focused on developing a vibe that was uniquely, unmistakably their own (the secret of their success).

3rd Bass’s records, though both very good (whatever faults I may have pointed out in this review), are the type you put on in a blind listening and it might take a while to figure out just what’s spinning. Familiar, solid, legit, but not distinctive—other than you can instantly tell it’s white dudes on the mic.

Bottom line: There aren’t too many white-boy hip-hop albums that can top the two issued by 3rd Bass and, given the how high the golden age bar is set, they weather well.

One final note: Too many skits. Skits have got to be just about the worst things to ever happen to rap and the ones on Derelicts are particularly cringe-worthy.

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