Stream: UBC “2 All The Serious Thinkers”
Long Island rap group UBC’s 1990 album 2 All Serious Thinkers spawned a minor hit single in “U Treat Me Right,” but is rarely discussed two decades later. It’s a quirky but hardly inaccessible record whose elements combine without friction; lead emcee E-Spectacular’s on-beat/off-beat style and eccentric lyrics enliven the bouncy, break-beat driven, danceable beats. The album sounds decidedly 1990 and yet it has aged nicely, at times resembling a cross between Three Times Dope and Kid N’ Play with a hint of D.A.I.S.Y. Age De La Soul influence. In spite of the lighthearted mood that prevails throughout most of 2 All Serious Thinkers, the best song is the the title track, an overtly political mission statement.
“2 All Serious Thinkers” begins with a skit in which E-Spectacular insists on dropping some more “bugged rhymes” to the angry protests of the other group members. It reminds me a little of the skits at the beginning of the two versions of Brand Nubian “Wake Up”; in the skit from the original version of the song, Grand Puba is identified as the type of rapper who only “talks about skins all the time” but on the SD50s remix he is noted as having attained “knowledge of self.” The skit from “2 All Serious Thinkers,” on the other hand, has no precedent. The song is placed near the middle of the album, so when listening for the first time one has no idea what the rejection of “bugged rhymes” will entail.
A cut-up snippet of Louis Farrakhan explaining that “the names and the faces have changed but the game is still the same” doesn’t clarify much. What follows is unexpected and impressive. E-Spectacular launches into verses that address the key issues of the day in a conversational style, a definite shift from the lunacy of the album to that point. He describes the impact of institutionalized racism and poverty on inner city residents (presumably, the conditions that are “still the same”) ,warning that America is beginning to resemble “a big plantation.” But E-Spectacular’s interests are not limited to reporting the concrete truth of the matter. He is a theorist at heart, and on this track he makes the case for the adoption of a plainly spoken form of political rapping that contrasts with the unabashed hyper-radicalism of acts like Public Enemy.
To E-Spectacular, his anger is a state of inspiration, out of which flows a well-considered advocacy of individual self-improvement. By refining his style, he writes a new, mature, more serious persona into existence. He makes a conscious decision to sound like the dignified master of an orderly style, less like the brainy court jester one hears elsewhere on the album. On other songs he experiments with his delivery to varying degrees of success by cramming syllables and pausing and starting in unpredictable spots, but on “2 All Serious Thinkers” he flows within the pocket and enunciates clearly. He fills nearly all available musical space with weighty ideas but delivers them in a most lucid manner, sounding like a calmer, more focused version of KRS-One’s emcee-as-seminar-speaker ideal.
But despite claiming that he’s anything but a game-playing clown, E-spectacular retains a small amount of the trickster-like playfulness that is so endearing on the less serious songs. He reasons that his newly adopted approach qualifies him as a serious thinker who must play a number of different roles to hold the attention of listeners. He acknowledges that an explicitly radical stance sometimes repels listeners but he also knows there is no use in suppressing all of his righteous indignation or reverting to frivolity. Instead, he takes down both the corrupt establishment and its complacent denizens with some of the most patently constructed and uniquely phrased lyrics of that famously outspoken era of rap. Listen to how he flexes lines like “I ain’t no bandwagon rider on a temporary flamed tip/ that’ll eventually burn off/I’m presenting it to you like a friend/’cause to some, militance is a turn-off” without missing a step.
I have no doubt that today’s stonefaced political rappers could benefit from incorporating this level of finesse into their polemics. — Thun