Pete Rock and CL Smooth ~ All Souled Out (1991)

Posted on November 11, 2012

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This release was the dope intro for one of the most talented rap acts to ever enter a recording studio: Pete Rock & CL Smooth. Representing Mount Vernon, New York, a working-class town just north of The Bronx, Pete Rock (Peter Phillips) and CL Smooth (Corey Penn) upheld a proud tradition of Mount Vernonites making notable contributions to the world of music, following in the footsteps of rap legends Heavy D & the Boyz, new jack swing icon Al B. Sure, and Hip Hop mogul Sean “P-Diddy” Combs. In the span of just four years, Pete Rock and CL Smooth dropped enough jewels on the rap world to fill King Tut’s tomb; and in the process, they left an impression on rap listeners that would last for decades.

In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been surprising that Pete Rock & CL Smooth would create such breathtaking music. For starters, both men were highly skilled at their respective trades: the “Chocolate Boy Wonder” Pete Rock with his mesmerizing, multilayered jazz and soul tracks, and the “Carmel King” CL Smooth with his meticulously scribed verses and masterful flow. It also didn’t hurt that each of them had Hip Hop greatness in their bloodlines; as both Pete and CL were first cousins to revered rap figures Heavy D (Pete) and Grand Puba Maxwell (CL) respectively. Pete and CL practiced their crafts diligently through the late 80’s and early 90’s; with Pete gaining traction with his productions on Heavy D’s first three albums, and CL Smooth shining on collaborations with R&B acts Basic Black and Johnny Gill in 1990. Before 1990 drew to a close, the dynamic duo scored a deal with Elektra Records, a Warner Bros. affiliate with a talented rap roster that included Leaders of the New School, KMD, and the Grand Puba-led quartet Brand Nubian. In the summer of 1991, as veterans like NWA, 3rd Bass, and the Geto Boys dropped high-profile new albums and rode to Billboard glory, Pete Rock & CL Smooth eased in quietly, with a sublime 6-song EP entitled All Souled Out.

All Souled Out offers a brief taste of the brilliant flavor Pete Rock and CL Smooth brought to Hip Hop in the early and mid 1990’s. It’s couched in the craftsmanship that came to define their releases, with song after song of blissful heat, and not an ounce of filler. The set begins with “Good Life”, a grand ode to opulent living, and general contentment. This cut introduces the harmonious synergy that typified Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s music; with Pete Rock constructing a breezy shoreline groove and scratching breaks from Mountain and James Brown, while CL Smooth theorizes on elevating one’s station in life, finding inner peace, and leaving ghetto misery and trivial concerns behind. “Mecca & The Soul Brother” is a dazzling precursor to Pete and CL’s first full-length release (1992’s Mecca and the Soul Brother); employing the shuffling drums and cascading jazz horns that became Pete Rock’s calling card, along with milky parables from CL, that always seemed to gel perfectly with Pete’s tracks. Track number three, “Go With The Flow”, is a slice of heaven laid on digital tape, and one of the most underrated songs in Pete and CL’s catalog. On this cut, Pete Rock ingeniously chops the drum line from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, lays a melodious bassline over it, along with airy flutes and woodwind sounds, and then scratches an incurable itch on the turntables; and CL Smooth does his part by channeling Big Daddy Kane on the microphone: flipping admirably nimble verbs, and throwing silver-tongued gem stars by the fistful. Grand Puba lends a writing assist on “The Creator”; a role reversal number powered by a spry, jook joint track, where Puba’s signature slickness is dispensed through three verses by Pete Rock, as CL Smooth assumes one of Pete’s roles, and cuts it up on the 1s and 2s. On “All Souled Out”, Mecca and the Soul Brother resume their usual roles, and CL glides swiftly over a brisk, organ-splashed jazz groove from Pete; spitting parables at warp speed, but still maintaining his articulate flow. And All Souled Out concludes with “Good Life (Group Home Mix)”, a reworking of the set’s first song, with the same drum line, but with alternating gangsta-lean funk chords, gleaming organs, and more mixing majesty from Pete Rock.

During its initial run in the summer of ’91, All Souled Out entered a crowded marketplace, loaded with dope albums from rap artists both new (Cypress Hill, Two Kings In A Cipher) and established (Chubb Rock, Nice & Smooth). But Pete Rock and CL Smooth still managed to lay the groundwork for a short but spectacular run. In 1992, barely a year after this EP’s release, the duo dropped their magnum opus Mecca and the Soul Brother, and moved scores with the subtle elegance of their work. Sadly, Soul Brother #1 (Pete) and the Mecca Don (CL) illuminated our sphere for only a brief time; bringing us two excellent albums – Mecca and the Soul Brother and 1994’s The Main Ingredient – before disbanding in 1995. But their work has stood the test of time, and is as stunning now as it was in the early 90’s. All of Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s releases are recommended listening. But for a thorough look at their output, you should listen to All Souled Out, and see the beginnings of their virtuosity.

To listen to All Souled Out, click here.

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