The 7A3 ~ Coolin in Cali (1988)

Posted on July 28, 2012

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1988 is universally recognized as the greatest year in rap music history, and justifiably so. That year, many rap artists now considered legendary (Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, EPMD, etc.) released the best albums of their careers; albums that that would be mentioned in reverential tones, and regarded as the best albums in the history of rap. With such a staggering amount of stellar material coming out in ‘88, it was inevitable that some artists would be slept on, and not get the respect that they deserved. This album represents one such group; a trio of New Yorkers living in the City of Angels, who called themselves The 7A3.

Though they called Los Angeles, California their home, each member of The 7A3 had roots in New York City. MC’s Brett B (Brett Bouldin) and Sean B (Sean Bouldin) were siblings from the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, and the third member, DJ Grandmixer Muggs (Lawrence Muggerud) was born in Queens. Brett, the elder of the Bouldin boys, left Brooklyn for the West Coast in the mid-80’s, and was followed by his brother Sean in 1986. Grandmixer Muggs would move West in 1982, and begin DJ’ing in 1984. In 1986, the Bouldins linked with West Coast pioneer Ice-T and his Rhyme Syndicate crew, and through this connection, they met their future DJ Muggs in 1987. Taking their name from the Brooklyn apartment unit the Bouldins were raised in (7A) and the number of members in their group (3), 7A3 was officially born in early ’87; and later that year, they released their first single, “7A3 Will Rock You”, through Hollywood music distributor Macola Records. After another 7A3 track, “Mad, Mad World”, appeared on the soundtrack to the film Colors in early 1988, rock label Geffen Records came calling with a recording contract. Seeking entry into the then-burgeoning rap market, Geffen chose The 7A3 as their first rap act, and in the fall of ’88, the transplanted trio released their first – and last – album on Geffen: the underappreciated Coolin’ in Cali.

Coolin’ in Cali has many of the elements that made many Golden Era rap albums timeless: lyrical depth and versatility, energetic performances, dope beats, and song ideas executed to perfection. But, unlike many Golden Era releases, this album utilizes live instruments as much as it does breakbeats, no doubt due to the experience of engineer-producer Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo and Stetsasonic founder Daddy-O, who together produced 11 of the album’s 12 tracks. The other track, the album opener “Coolin’ In Cali”, is laced by Public Enemy producers Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, Hank Shocklee, and Keith Shocklee (a.k.a. The Bomb Squad); and, not surprisingly, they steal the show with their lone contribution. “Coolin’ In Cali” is an instant dance floor filler, and the best anthem for the Golden State this side of “California Love”. On this cut, The Bomb Squad performs their typically brilliant beat alchemy; melding supporting breaks from Kool & The Gang (“Hollywood Swinging”) and Sly and the Family Stone [“Thank You (Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”] with the scorching fadeout from Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand”; and Brett B and Sean B skate across the track with precision, and create a historic tribute to their adopted home. Joe the Butcher, who produces nine of the album’s songs, steps in for the first time to handle “That’s How We’re Livin”, a back alley creeper with a steely blend of guitars, bass and live drums; and tight, poker-faced verses from Brett and Sean, who take us through lives of opulence and excess, and come across like stone-cold macks. “Everybody Get Loose” is a rugged underground thumper with expert cutting from Grandmixer Muggs, forceful verses from Brett and Sean, and a nice beat assist from Philadelphia icon Schoolly D, who co-produces and supplies the multilayered backdrop. “A Man’s Gotta Do What A Man’s Gotta Do” is a wry tale of encounters with insatiable women; all-day sexcapades with young hotties, and feverish female fans chasing 7A3 through the streets. But this song’s real star is the track; a velvet-plush track with bass, guitars, organs, and hazy sax riffs, that sounds as though it was lifted from a jam session. On “Freestyle ‘88”, Brett B introduces his kid brother Sean B; then, over a low, insistent gurgle of live drums, bass, and guitars, the 17-year-old young gun spits two verses of heat, and freaks an agile flow before stepping off and letting the musicians play on. And “Goes Like Dis” is a spirited party mover that’s co-produced by Philadelphia turntablist DJ Cash Money, where Brett and Sean rock like a harder version of Kid n’ Play, while Muggs gets buck on the turntables.

The 7A3 has fun and offers plenty of soul clap on this album, but as with many artists of their era, they do vary the template at times. The Joe Nicolo-produced “Express The Mind” is a moody number built on Bobby Byrd drums and a horn loop from The Lovomaniacs, and it features Brett B and Sean B pontificating on social ills, racial strife, power mongers that aim to stamp out subversion, and many other thoughts that happen to arise. “Drums Of Steel” derives its irresistible bounce from the War classic “Cisco Kid”, and while Brett and Sean free-wheel on the microphone, guest drummer Bobby Rae Williams takes over completely, with his masterfully intricate clangs on the timbales. “½ Bouldin, The Other ½ Ince” has a special guest appearance from Stetsasonic, the first official Hip Hop band. Stet leader Daddy-O produces the track; Stet member DBC co-produces; and Stet drummer Bobby Simmons bangs out the beat. Daddy-O’s track, a slow and heavy mixture of bass booms and a Bar-Kays vocal sample, gives Brett and Sean the space to explore their genetic makeup; the DNA codes from their father (Bouldin) and mother (Ince) that created the Bouldin boys, and helped create this album. And the kinetic closer “Lucifer” gives listeners one to grow on, as the Bouldins drop science on lies and deception, and the destruction of man by the Devil’s machinations, over a bumping track that uses the wah-wah guitars from the Bar-Kays’ “Son Of Shaft”.

Coolin’ in Cali may or may not have been constructed to be a massive seller when it was released; that is a matter of personal opinion. But clearly, the material on this album should have afforded it a place in the pantheon of dope albums released in 1988. Geffen Records had no experience marketing Hip Hop when they signed The 7A3, and their inexperience showed, both in their handling of this album, and the group’s career in general. The label paid The Bomb Squad a sizable amount of money to lace the first single “Coolin’ In Cali”; then, inexplicably, refused to fund a music video to accompany the song. Not surprisingly, Geffen’s lack of support led to the album going nowhere commercially, and, within two years, The 7A3 would be a memory. After having a song on the soundtrack to the 1990 film Rocky V, Geffen Records shelved 7A3’s second album, causing the group to sever ties with both the label and each other. But the individual members of the group would impact the industry in different ways in the years to come. Not long after 7A3’s demise, Grandmixer Muggs became DJ Muggs, linked with Los Angeles emcees B-Real and Sen Dog to form Cypress Hill, signed a deal with Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo’s label Ruffhouse Records, and became one of the most respected producers in rap history. Brett B went on to become a prolific songwriter and collaborator; conceiving and co-writing Cypress Hill’s “Hand On The Pump”, and appearing on albums with R&B quartet Portrait and Cypress Hill affiliates Funkdoobiest. And Sean B, the youngest of the trio, left the industry after 7A3’s demise, only to return in a behind-the-scenes capacity, and ultimately become a successful music executive. Though The 7A3 disintegrated, its members remained on good terms with one another; so much so that, in April of 2010, the group reunited on Soul Assassins Radio, the satellite radio program hosted by DJ Muggs. Coolin’ in Cali has not been in wide circulation since the early 90’s, but it is still a fantastic album, and one that has held up very well over the years. The next time you revisit Hip Hop in 1988, check out Coolin’ in Cali if you can. It’s an underrated gem.

To listene to Coolin’ in Cali, click here.

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