Cold Chillin / Epic Street, 1995
At the end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s, the duo or groups of producer/rapper are legions, it is in fact a very classical schema in Hip Hop, but also very logical with a natural need of an MC and a beatmaker and/or DJ. From the beginning of the 90s, this pattern will gradually fade, and the lead artists will come to continue on a solo career, sometimes by separating permanently from the group, sometimes simply for a few asides, KRS-One, MC Eiht, Guru, Rakim, Ice Cube, etc. The reasons for these separations are quite different and are often to the detriment of producers/DJs who have more difficulty to relaunch.
Kool G Rap will be no exception with DJ Polo. In this case, the contribution of DJ Polo was purely that of a DJ, the production was provided by Marley Marl, Eric B. or Kool G Rap himself accompanied by co-producer. After a third album in 1992, Live and Let Die, the duo will separate for some strange reasons. A new group of Hip Hop will undergo the censure of its record company, more precisely its distribution company Warner Bros, which will stop the distribution of the album because of its cover, dare we say it, hardcore, which will result in the rupture of the contract with Cold Chillin. Justified or not on the part of Warner and Cold Chillin, the debate is not there and I do not wish to dwell on this subject here, but the consequences will be the separation of the duo. The funny thing is that Kool G Rap will sign a new solo contract with Cold Chillin after Warner is no longer the distributor of the legendary Juice Crew label. And this album will be the last release of the label before its definitive disappearance in 1997, a page of the history of the Hop Hip which turns.
The destiny of DJ Polo is more ambiguous and I admit that I have very little information on his future at the time. To my knowledge, it does not seem to me to have seen him on other albums following this separation. For Kool G Rap, the future will be brighter. Already in 1995, Nathaniel Wilson a.k.a Kool G Rap had a well established reputation in Hip Hop and was not far from the status of legend, if it was not already done. This first solo album, 4,5,6 will confirm this status, at least on the underground scene.
With his first three albums, Road To Riches, Wanted: Dead or Alive and Live and Let Die, Kool G Rap was one of the pioneers of mafioso rap with street and hardcore content. In fact, in the late 80’s, New York Hip Hop did not tend to be violent, but were rather Afrocentric or entertaining, Kool G Rap was an exception. In this sense, he will be a great source of inspiration for the generation to come that will have a much more gangsta tendency, the Wu-Tang, and particularly GZA and Raekwon, Notorious BIG, Jay-Z or Nas. All of these artists quote him as one of their primary sources of inspiration.
4,5,6 will continue the mafioso rap lineage that made the reputation, and the legend, of the Queens rapper and Juice Crew member. Even before listening to the album, you know that Kool G Rap is continuing in this direction, after all it’s his style and probably what he does best. The title of the album describes the dice game frequently played in the urban streets, called Cee-Lo, where 4,5,6 is the winning combination. The cover reflects this three-dice money game in a slightly mafia-like environment. The eponymous song describes this game where G Rap will show off his skills in a flamboyant and ostentatious way.
In content, Kool G Rap is as hardcore, street and gangsta as ever with incredible lyrical ability. He is one of the inventors of complex multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, as well as being one of the greatest storytellers with unprecedented narrative quality and fine descriptions. The single It’s A Shame is one of the best examples, G Rap describes himself as a heroin kingpin with an extravagant lifestyle in a first person narration, even though the sung chorus implies that he feels some remorse about his life choices. Fast Life also describes this mafia business and lifestyle, this time accompanied by Nas.
Excecutioner Style, Kool G RapI gets rid of niggaz quick cause ain’t no bullshit permitted
I’m a outlaw, the motherfuckin’ villain doin’ killings, I won’t stop
Until the morgue got bodies stacked up to the fuckin’ ceiling
And ain’t no drivebys, a mag and a bag lady, disguised and surprise
You got a hole between your fuckin’ eyes
Niggaz is grazed, catchin’ strays from the blaze
Amazed by the ways I lays em down when my shit sprays
Crazy brains hangin’, and niggaz veins are swingin’
Bangin’ and gunslingin’, even my own fuckin’ ears are ringin’
Like his Juice Crew buddy Big Daddy Kane, G Rap is boastful and ostentatious, with a strong attraction to wealth and money being one of the central themes of the album. He touts his wealth generated by the profits of his dubious business dealings on multiple occasions, though these dealings lead him to violent scenes. Tracks like Excecutioner Style and Take Em To War describe grimy scenes that are as barbaric as they are freezing with a precise and graphic narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
If the lyrics can be frightening, so can the productions. The producers give him a perfect playground with sinister and street-wise rhythms. In fact, the construction is relatively simple but ultimately very effective, most tracks follow the same pattern, a drum beat, a bass and a carefully selected sample. The piano keys of Ghetto Knows are as cold as they are gripping. The bass riff taken from Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon on Money On My Brain gives the perfect stressful jazz touch, while It’s A Shame is closer to a funk with a cover of Love Is For Fools by Southside Movement. The mostly jazzy rhythms of Dr. Butcher, who produces five, accompanied by Naughty Shorts, T-Ray and Buckwild for two productions each, are finally perfect for the theme, glamorous enough to ensure extravagance and lust, like For Da Brothaz, and street enough to support the violence, like Money On My Brain.
After entering the legend and the disappointments of Live and Let Die that almost left him on the shelf, Kool G Rap ensures a good rebound in his solo career with 4,5,6, supported by some successful singles. It may not be the best of his overall career, but it’s probably the best of his solo career. This album came at a time when mafioso/gangsta rap was rife in the streets of New York, Kool G Rap was definitely the pioneer and the one who inspired the next generation in the matter. But in 1995, he seemed to be caught up by the newcomers who took up his torch. Don’t get me wrong, 4,5,6 is an incredible album and a classic in its genre, but it remains more underground than other achievements of the time such as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ready To Die, Liquid Swords or Reasonable Doubt.