Saturday, April 15, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1635: Salt-N-Pepa

Two amazing hip hop albums in a row! This next album is from what is sometimes called the Golden Age of Hip Hop. And you know what? It really was...

Disc 1635 is…Blacks’ Magic

Artist: Salt-N-Pepa

Year of Release: 1990

What’s up with the Cover?  Salt, Pepa and Spinderella gather around an ancient grimoire to summon the spirits of Black musicians. From left to right we’ve got Billie Holliday, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong and Nina Simone. I have happily summoned three of these artists into my collection over the years, Louis Armstrong being the exception. I don’t jam with the jazz.

I assume Salt-N-Pepa are summoning these spirits to inspire them musically, or maybe just to let them know they’re going to be using a sample or two. Or could they be summoning them to unleash their vengeful ghosts on their enemies? Jimi Hendrix had army training, making him a potentially dangerous poltergeist, and it well known that no one fucks with Billie Holliday or Nina Simone without regretting it. Not sure about Louis Armstrong. As I said, I don’t jam with the jazz.

How I Came To Know It: I’d wanted this album for a long time but hip hop from this era on CD can be devilishly hard to come by in the record store. I was complaining of this while hanging out with friends on a music listening night when my friend Chris pulled out his phone, found a used copy on some website and five minutes later had ordered it for me on the spot.

Chris is a lot more internet savvy than I am.

How It Stacks Up: I have two Salt-N-Pepa albums and they are both awesome. I must reluctantly put “Blacks’ Magic” in second place. I didn’t want to, but in the end, it was very necessary. Get it? Get it?

No? Well, it’ll make sense one day when I roll the other album.

Rating: 4 stars

Salt-N-Pepa are a refreshing reminder that art can be uplifting and positive without sounding like an after-school special. “Blacks’ Magic” will make you feel good and still hits as hard as anything you’ll hear from the era.

So what do they ladies sing about that’s both fun and tough? This being the early years of rap you get a lot of “I rap better than you” songs with a side of “let’s party” and “what is it about men?”

The thread through it all is about standing strong, trusting your talent and respecting yourself. So much of modern hip hop I hear (usually when I’m doing a channel surf through some awards show) is full of empty status-symbol focused garbage. Salt-N-Pepa are focused on a message of positivity and a ‘hell no!” in the face of anyone trying to put them down.

It also helps that they also funky as hell. Their flow hits hard and fast, with a level of internal rhyme that is far advanced beyond what most other artists were doing in the late eighties and early nineties. Here’s a selection from “Doper than Dope”:

“Salt and Pepa's gettin' funky on a brand new track
And more up-to-par, swift like a car
Stickin' to your mouth like rooftop tar
Leaving a scar on those who spar
So pass the cigar, get a drink from the bar
Lyrics gonna flood your mind like the reservoir
Here they are, come and join the Salt and Pepa seminar”

Deliciously dizzying rhyme flow. On “Swift” they take this same intricate rhyme flow, double the cadence and miss exactly zero beats. I was favourably reminded of the great Rakim.

While “Swift” is a brilliant technical display, on the title track the ladies show that they’ve also got the funk. “Blacks’ Magic” is a song that will make your head bob. If you don’t sing along with that refrain of “magic!” then your groove is broken. See a doctor.

The worst thing about this record is the low recording level. This copy came out in 1990, at a time when a lot of albums recorded for vinyl were getting transferred to compact disc without much thought on how to set the levels. To hear it properly, I had to crank the volume about 30% above normal.

Fortunately, turning up a record like this isn’t a chore, it’s a pleasure.

Best tracks: Doper than Dope, Swift, Black’s Magic, Let’s Talk About Sex

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