Graded on a Curve:
Son of Bazerk
Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk

Son of Bazerk suffered the double whammy of arriving too late and also too early. Instead of the success they deserved for their enduringly brilliant debut Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk, they had to settle for cult status.

Production by Hank Schocklee and The Bomb Squad insured that the group was in no way behind the times on a musical level, but in terms of presentation and content, they unfortunately fell outside the zeitgeist; savvy in conception while also possessing the requisite intensity, this still underappreciated classic fits rather snuggly into the niche of rap as extroverted, highly social party music. Problem was, by 1991 the hip-hop tide had changed toward socially relevant, politically conscious, often angry tracts as exemplified by Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet and Ice Cube’s Amerikka’s Most Wanted, both released the previous year and both notably produced by The Bomb Squad. Instead of righteous platforms of truth-telling and uncensored depictions of ghetto existence, Son of Bazerk was a crew dedicated to elevating and extending the time honored tradition of rocking the block and the club with finely tuned precision.

Comprised of MCs Son of Bazerk (Tony Allen), Almighty Jahwell (Jeffery Height), Daddy Rawe (Gary Staton), and Half Pint (Cassandra Jackson), the group mingled their contrasting styles into a seamless whole; Jahwell and Rawe both possessed strong straight-ahead microphone methods respectively accented by reggae and R&B inclinations. Half Pint brought in a unique high-pitched hype flavor, and Bazerk’s barking Bobby Byrd-esque vocal technique led (but didn’t dominate) the show.

And a show it most definitely was, modeled boldly upon the exalted ideal of performance as ritual perfected by R&B units of the ‘60s, James Brown’s Famous Flames in particular. Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk’s bold homage to Brown’s suave and suited image from the 1964 reissue of The Godfather’s debut LP Please Please Please is no shallow gesture in search of cred; to the contrary, the record legitimately adapts a variety of stylistic precedent into their attack. In addition to the aforementioned reggae and R&B, they also smartly applied a bedrock of ‘70s derived funk (more James) and as icing on the cake managed to integrate bits of vocal group harmony, hard-rock guitar, and even a burst of hardcore to the mix in a thoroughly non-lunkheaded way.

As one of the earlier and most successful examples of blending live instrumentation (“the Band” of their full moniker) with hip-hop’s unique blend of samples, scratches, drum programming, and production methods, Son of Bazerk was well qualified to expand beyond the still dominant paradigm of two turntables and a microphone. Getting Funkadelic’s Michael Hampton to play guitar certainly helped in insuring a high level of quality, but most of the credit should go to the group and the Bomb Squad for not turning Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk into a mere stylistic hybrid.

The rap aesthetic wisely dominates here, and to powerful effect; opener “The Band Gets Swivey on the Wheels” explodes out of the gate ala Public Enemy’s “Louder than a Bomb,” an unrelenting blast of vocal sparks and torrid musical elements weaved together with the perfect balance of density and velocity. And that atmosphere hardly dissipates even when the pace and tone necessarily shift for the purposes of variety.

Speaking of variety, the record’s first single “Change the Style,” easily their most well remembered song (courtesy of a video that made the rounds on Yo MTV Raps) drops excursions into dancehall reggae, doo-wop, and Bad Brains-style thrash into a breakneck slice of rap ‘n’ soul showmanship. It’s the sort of cut that would’ve went down a storm with the “old-school” obsessed hip-hop mavens that proliferated just a few years hence, listeners that helped make Guru’s Jazzmatazz and deep crate wielding DJs like Premier so successful. In 1991 this backward looking but forward moving contingent was still in embryo, which is also partially why Paul’s Boutique by The Beasties was such an initial commercial disappointment a couple years earlier, and it’s a huge part of the reason Son of Bazerk languished without a crowd to call their own. By the time interest in the old school had been properly cultivated, Bazerk were unsuccessfully struggling to get a follow-up into the racks.

What’s interesting about Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk is while securely in the tradition of the party jams that dominated rap in the ‘80s, it was still very up to date for the year of its release. Part of the credit for this can be given to The Bomb Squad, whose production suits the group’s sensibility to a tee. Lacking the air-raid siren attack that was so brilliantly utilized with Public Enemy, the sound is instead built on a strong, funky rhythmic backbone accented with choppy guitars, horn vamps, live percussion, and even piano. A particularly standout example of their production expertise comes via “One Time for the Rebe,l” which slyly utilizes a guitar dirty with distortion (playing a line loosely grabbed from “Whole Lotta Love”) and expands upon the killer template of PE’s “She Watch Channel Zero” (also courtesy of The Bomb Squad), The Beastie’s “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” and Schoolly D’s “Kashmir”-lifting study in street corner incorrectness (aka slinging the smack-talk) “Signifying Rapper.”

But Son of Bazerk’s lyrical content and delivery also avoided falling into the realm of mere throwback; “Trapped Inside the Rage of Jahwell” and “Lifestyles of the Blacks in the Brick” are both solidly formed societal commentaries that would fit perfectly on any mix-tape of hardcore rap from the period, and the obscenity laced “What Could be Better Bitch” (which was included on the soundtrack to the motion picture Juice) is a steady stream of pissed-off boasting.

However, my favorite moments on Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk are those that don’t fit the norms of the time, such as the Run DMC-like soliloquy in self-aggrandizement that is “Are You Wit Me” or the ‘80s R&B love-jones groove of “J Dubs Theme.” But the whole platter is a shining example of just how deep and diverse the state of hip-hop was back in ’91, and if a commercial casualty then it has stood the test of time far better than the records of some of their more famous contemporaries. I could’ve dealt with a bigger helping of Half Pint, but I’m just quibbling.

In 2009, Son of Bazerk reemerged with a new record titled Well Thawed Out via Chuck D’s Slam Jamz label, and that’s what’s called a happy surprise. But the slept on science of Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk will always be their calling card, an extended essay in Soul Power that deserves a much wider fan base.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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