Compton’s Most Wanted ~ It’s A Compton Thang (1990)

Posted on January 13, 2013

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Compton, California, a city of about 90,000 in south Los Angeles County, is known by many monikers: the Hub City, the home of gangsta rap, or quite simply, the C-P-T. No matter the appellation, Compton has become both famous and infamous in global circles, firstly as the home base of several Southern California gangs; and secondly as the birthplace of several notable entertainers and athletes. In the late 1980’s, Compton also began to develop a rep as a Hip Hop hotbed; and over the next few years, several West Coast rap legends would emerge from the C.P.T., including Eazy-E & NWA, King Tee, DJ Quik, Coolio, and producers DJ Pooh and DJ Aladdin. In 1990, three years after NWA kicked in the door with aggression, a crew of poker-faced gangsters slid in silently from the Hub City, and began what would become a lengthy, two-decade run in the rap game. They were known as CMW; short for Compton’s Most Wanted.

Between the four members of Compton’s Most Wanted, the crew had all of the bases covered for making bomb records. For the rhymes and wordplay, there was the charismatic and cavalier frontman MC Eiht (Aaron Tyler) and his subtly forceful comrade Tha Chill MC (Vernon Johnson). For the turntable mixology, there was DJ Mike-T (Michael Bryant), who replaced the group’s original disc jock (DJ Ant Capone) after their first single “This Is Compton” dropped in 1989. And for the beats, CMW had both DJ Slip (Terry Allen), and an unofficial fifth member, electro pioneer Unknown DJ (Andre Manuel). After the underground success of “This Is Compton”, C.M.W. landed an album deal with Orpheus Records; and in the summer of 1990, they laced the rap world with a signature brand of smooth street thump, on their full-length debut It’s A Compton Thang.

From beginning to end, It’s A Compton’s Thang is an exercise in mellow gangsterism. Whereas their counterparts NWA shocked the nervous system with their combustible releases, Compton’s Most Wanted chooses to play it cool, with soulful grooves laid over hard drum lines; and rugged, detached verses laced with street wisdom scattered on top. The first cut “One Time Gaffled ‘Em Up” is an inspired example of CMW’s template, with MC Eiht spinning visceral tales of police harassment in two extended verses, over an affecting midnight creep beat you can pimp-walk to. “I’m Wit Dat” uses the ultra-butter melody from Isaac Hayes’ “Joy” for rhythmic support, and accents it with a crisp drum pattern, which Eiht and Tha Chill MC use to slow-flow side by side, and show they can rock the mic with the best of them. “Duck Sick” is a perfect joint to max to, with its tranquil blues-soul instrumental that bops with quiet precision; and it appears to be a diss track aimed at a specific rival, presumably DJ Quik, who is alluded to in some of the vocals, and who’d have a very public war of words with Eiht in the mid-90’s. “Late Night Hype”, one of the best songs in the C.M.W. catalog, may be one of the smoothest rap songs ever made. Beatwise, Unknown DJ intersperses snippets of Rick James’ “Mary Jane” with the liquid-cool chords from Anita Baker’s “Will You Be Mine”; and lyrically, Eiht and Chill MC trade unflappable verses like EPMD, reflecting on a night of robbery, skirt-chasing, and random homicide in the streets of Compton. “I Mean Biznez” is a dose of West Coast gangsta boom-bap, and features MC Eiht and Chill dishing out dope rhymes and dirt naps, over a foundation of clanging drums, and the same piano loop used for Lord Finesse’s “Strictly For The Ladies”. And on “It’s A Compton Thang”, Eiht struts across a nicely tweaked sample of Juicy’s “Sugar Free”, with a stoic rhyme flow Rakim would admire.

Though gangsta music is their forté, Compton’s Most Wanted also proves to be well-versed in basic, true school skill flexing. On “Final Chapter”, MC Eiht’s menacing flow and metaphorical abilities are on full display, atop a rumbling track that melds two James Brown breaks (“The Payback” and “Hot Pants”) with an interpolation from one of Brown’s affiliates, “(It’s Not The Express) It’s The J.B.’s Monaurail”, by The J.B.’s. “I Give Up Nuthin” picks up the pace, with a vigorous multilayered track Big Daddy Kane might get loose to, and the normally reserved Eiht is more than game for this boost of energy; sporting an agile flow, and slicing through the track like a blade. “This Is Compton” and “Rhymes Too Funky, Pt. I” both show the genesis of CMW’s sound, and offer insight into how their style evolved. “This Is Compton” utilizes thick drums and a rolling piano loop you’d expect to hear on an early 90’s New York record; but it matches them to foreboding, thugged-out verses from Eiht and Chill, and admirably melds influences from both Coasts. And on “Rhymes Too Funky, Pt I”; MC Eiht and Chill bounce off one another with youthful verve, and Eiht sounds as though he’s barely out of high school. That’s not surprising, being that it was recorded in 1988, when Eiht was just 21 years old.

With the release of this album, Compton’s Most Wanted carved out a clearly defined space for themselves; both within the environs of West Coast rap, and within the world of Hip Hop in general. It’s A Compton Thang would mark the start of a long and respectable run in the rap game for Compton’s Most Wanted, most notably its frontman MC Eiht. In the two years that followed this release, C.M.W. would release two extremely tight albums (1991’s Straight Checkn ‘Em and 1992’s Music to Driveby) before unofficially disbanding, at which point MC Eiht would begin a successful solo career that ultimately stretched into the 21st century. Unfortunately, Tha Chill MC, Eiht’s talented partner-in-rhyme, would not be able to bask in his crew’s success. In early 1991, Chill became a ward of the state, when he was sentenced to a three-year term in prison, thus removing him from the sessions for Straight Check’n Em and Music to Driveby. By the time of his release, CMW would be a not-so-distant memory, and MC Eiht would be off on his solo trek. CMW became one of the most popular gangsta rap acts in the history of rap, but, inexplicably, their debut release would go out of print in the early 2000’s. If you’re a fan of gangsta rap in general, or Compton’s Most Wanted in particular, you should definitely grab It’s A Compton Thang if you can find it. You’ll see the depth and dexterity of one of the West Coast’s greatest groups, and the craftsmanship that etched their name in the rap history books.

To listen to It’s A Compton Thang, click here.

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