Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth The Main Ingredient

[Elektra; 1994]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles:  hip-hop
Others: Gang Starr, A Tribe Called Quest, Main Source

The mid-'90s was comprised of a fairly awkward series of painful transitions for the hip-hop generation. No longer slagged as the passing fad shortsighted critics had predicted for its first many years of existence, the suits in A&R land had light bulbs beginning to flash above their heads as they chomped their cigars; they came to the inevitable and greedy conclusion that there was money to be made in this genre after all. And like any genre that the music industry grasps a firm, slimy hold of, it was time for the soul-sucking sob story we all too often hear when any musical movement, whether it be punk, disco, or even rock 'n' roll, finds itself primped for the mainstream.

In 1994, hip-hop heads were still strongly adhering to its punk-like ethics of authenticity, and anyone who'd dare throw in any concessions towards Mr. CEO was bound to be a target of intense scrutiny. During this time, R&B was still "rap-&-bullshit" (in the words of De La Soul), and not the easy-access marketing tool that would become ubiquitous during Puffy's initial reign. Without much of a counterpoint, "selling out" was an embarrassing blunder few hip-hoppers at the time would forgive. Yes, these were more optimistic days for a young head-nodder, and as more and more of hip-hop's heroes slowly began to strive for the dollar as the year's passed, hip-hop's no-crossover values once so staunchly ingrained where eroded away without much critical analysis.

When Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth followed-up their early '90s masterpiece Mecca And The Soul Brother, easily one of the top twenty, if not ten, hip-hop albums ever released, with a sophomore full-length that obviously strove in certain parts for more potential with an R&B audiences, there was some grumbling to be had, and rather unfairly, The Main Ingredient got lost in the shuffle of classic releases spewing forth during those tumultuous 365 days (this was the year that saw Illmatic and Ready To Die among others after all).

While it's obvious the MC C.L. Smooth assumes that "lover-man" guise of Mecca's "Lots Of Lovin'" much more prominently, evidenced by the pillow-talk fixation on such tranquil productions as "Carmel City" and "Searching," the myth of The Main Ingredient as a change of battle plan on par with Big Daddy Kane's career-stifling misguided "love rap" bid is an outright distortion. Sonically, The Main Ingredient is one of Pete Rock's most multifarious and sturdy statements as a producer, a reinforcement of his strengths as a master of mining the richest and tenderest of soul and jazz breaks. "In The House" and "I Get Physical," featuring an incessant Big Daddy Kane sample on the hook, are the kind-of beats any late-night mixtape connoisseur would treasure without flinching; hearing the effervescent sample at the end of "Physical" play on its own just reinforces Rock's brilliance in his ability to morph the source into an authoritative new weapon

Despite the extra attempts to woo the ladies into the sack, C.L. still proves himself as one of hip-hop's most unsung MC's, especially on the battle-minded classics like the title track and "Get On The Mic," one of the record's most unsurpassably perfect moments. The interplay between Rock and C.L. was the kind of producer/MC partnership that has been endlessly imitated, but the obviousness of each ones attention to one another's considerable nuances and strengths makes their seamless collaborations incomparable. While Rock was laying down classic tracks and remixes for a significant number of cult favorites and future legends at the time (Das EFX, Lords Of The Underground, Nas), it was his blatant chemistry with C.L. that most were consistently excited to come across, as evidenced by the anticipation awarded to their
infrequent collaborations in recent years.

As befell many hip-hop records at the time (even Diamond D's otherwise flawless Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop is interrupted by the god-awful "Confused"), there stand a few moments of the supposed label-mingling that stick out with subtle grotesqueness. While "Lots of Lovin'" was the most saccharin the Mecca LP got, it was nowhere near as insipid as the dreadful R&B hook on the otherwise decent "Take You There" or the borderline banal "Tell Me." Yet perhaps most undeservedly criticized is the record's first single "I Got A Love," which goes the "Lots of Lovin'" route with considerably more panache and inventiveness; it's one of those rare hip-hop singles where all the elements mingle into a flawless cohesion, all emphasized by Rock's considerable talents as a DJ.

As a whole, there's not much to complain about, save a moment or two, after experiencing The Main Ingredient, and considering it's now over ten years old, the sophomore slump cliché tagged to this technically weaker follow-up to their career defining first full-length is less of a glaringly ominous apparition hanging overhead. Sadly, hip-hop took an arguable turn for the worst as the years after The Main Ingredient's release slowly trudged ahead. Rock and C.L. would go their separate ways, and Rock's endeavors for his new Soul Brother label (including the essential lost I.N.I. album Center Of Attention) would be scrapped by the suits over at Elektra, an action not too far-removed from the increasingly hostile attitude the majors would harbor towards any hip-hop that wasn't dressed in a flashy suit or toting fifty guns. In 2006, every hungry hip-hop die-hard would kill for an entire album produced by Pete Rock, and for those who ignored it all those years ago, The Main Ingredient is just waiting to
be re-evaluated.

1. In The House
2. Carmel City
3. I Get Physical
4. Sun Won't Come Out
5. I Got A Love
6. Escape
7. The Main Ingredient
8. Worldwide
9. All The Places
10. Tell Me
11. Take You There
12. Searching
13. Check It Out
14. In The Flesh
15. It's On You
16. Get On The Mic