Kool Moe Dee ~ Kool Moe Dee (1986)

Posted on March 17, 2013

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Kool Moe Dee is a true original: one of rap’s first highly skilled emcees, as well as a human bridge between the Old School (1979-86) and the Golden Era (1987-94). Like his Bronx-bred contemporaries Grandmaster Caz (of the Cold Crush Brothers), Melle Mel (of the Furious Five) and T-La Rock, Manhattan native Moe Dee operated on a higher plane than most emcees of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Whereas many artists of the day (e.g. Sugarhill Gang) relied on stage presence, showmanship, and basic rhyme templates to move crowds, Kool Moe Dee and the Bronx trinity employed lyrical precision, flow versatility, and boundless poetic value to impact the audience. And, along the way, each of them would leave an indelible mark on the artform, with Kool Moe Dee himself having a direct effect on future microphone lords Rakim and Big Daddy Kane.

Representing Harlem, the longtime mecca of Black New York, Kool Moe Dee (Mohandas Dewese) began his Hip Hop journey on the streets of Upper Manhattan in the late 1970’s. As Hip Hop began to grow and flourish in that time period, its influence spread from its homebase in The Bronx, and out across New York City. In 1977, a pair of local legends, Harlem’s own DJ Hollywood and Bronx icon Lovebug Starski, captivated a teenage Moe Dee with their dynamic performances in both Harlem and the neighboring district Washington Heights, and inspired the teen to pick up the mic for the first time. The following year, Moe Dee formed the Treacherous Three with childhood friend L.A. Sunshine and Harlem acquaintance Spoonie Gee. When Spoonie Gee departed soon thereafter for a solo career, Moe Dee replaced him with schoolmate (and T-La Rock’s kid brother) Special K; and from 1980 through 1985, the reconfigured trio recorded for first-generation rap labels Enjoy Records and Sugar Hill Records, and became one of the old school’s most respected acts. After tiring of Sugar Hill’s artistic constraints, and feeling the clamor of fans to go solo, the Treacherous Three parted ways in ’85, and Kool Moe Dee went for self. In 1986, Moe Dee signed with Jive Records, an imprint he’d help make into one of the most successful rap labels in the business, and later that year, he made his solo debut, with the self-titled Kool Moe Dee.

Like many rap albums of its day, Kool Moe Dee is fairly short; with only nine songs that collectively clock at about 45 minutes. The supple digitized beats that would propel most of Kool Moe Dee’s later works are present here; supplied by Moe Dee himself, and a production team he’d work with on several of his albums, including Harlem new jack swing king Teddy Riley, and Jive Records affiliates Bryan “Chuck” New, Pete Q. Harris and Lavaba Mallison. From beginning to end, the caustic wit and consummate poeticism that made Kool Moe Dee a legend are clearly visible, no matter the subject or storyline. The album’s first cut, the Teddy Riley-produced “Go See The Doctor”, deftly displays these attributes, along with Moe Dee’s dark humor. Over the subtle strut of Teddy’s 808 drums and hushed bassline, Moe Dee explores the perils of unprotected sex; playing an unfortunate Romeo who hooks up with the neighborhood hottie, and gets an unwanted going-away gift: gonorrhea. The tales of woe continue on “Dumb Dick (Richard)”, but this time with Moe Dee as a mere observer, peering at a girl-crazy childhood friend, whose lust for the fairer sex consumes him, and ultimately ruins him. “Do You Know What Time It Is” is a precursor of sorts to “They Want Money”, the lead single from Kool Moe Dee’s 1989 album Knowledge Is King, where Moe addresses materialistic women, their perpetual prowl for men to use and pockets to squeeze, and his refusal to fall victim to their schemes. The slinky jitterbug groove found on “Rock Steady” typifies the sound of a late-80’s dance floor filler, and Moe Dee matches the beat’s energy with a Casanova persona, portraying a super lover that can pull any woman he desires.

After his humorous exploits conclude, Kool Moe Dee concentrates on his strongest lyrical suits: storytelling skills, keen social awareness, and expert battle rhyming. “Little Jon” has a twinkling electro-funk track that recalls Whodini’s sound of the early to mid 80’s, and it focuses on a troubled youngster who seeks street fame to ease his pain, but ends up becoming a homicide statistic. “Monster Crack” is a vividly detailed allegory on drug abuse, with rock cocaine as the star of a macabre horror film; entrancing naïve souls with his charms, then thoroughly destroying them once they’re in his grasp. On “Bad Mutha”, Moe Dee is at his most potent: flowing like the Hudson River, over a fist-pumping instrumental; and illustrating why most emcees couldn’t even glance at his microphone, let alone touch it. “The Best” has grinding rock guitars and drum drives similar to Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and has Moe living up to the song’s title; wielding his microphone like a scalpel, making lyrical incisions like a neurosurgeon, and leaving listeners completely spellbound. And, to permanently embed his greatness in our minds, Moe Dee lays his platform bare on “I’m Kool Moe Dee”, the album’s last cut. Using an echoing, hollowed-out swing track for support, Moe Dee meanders through space, history, and time to demonstrate his mic skills, and cement his rep as one of Hip Hop’s most masterful lyricists.

This album was a quiet success upon its release in 1986; selling several hundred thousand copies on the strength of its lead single “Go See The Doctor”. But this album merely hinted at things to come, as its author soon became one of the most commercially successful artists in rap music. Kool Moe Dee would sell close to two million copies of his next solo set (1987’s How Ya Like Me Now), and soar into the commercial stratosphere. As the 1980’s drew to a close, Kool Moe Dee found himself both in league with, and at odds with, several newcomers who’d each attain iconic status. He developed a strong allegiance with Jive Records labelmate KRS-One, as well as both Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, who were inspired by Moe Dee’s lyrical ingenuity and intellect, and modeled their own styles after his. But not all of Moe Dee’s interactions with greats from rap’s Golden Era would be this constructive, as a war of words soon started between Moe Dee and LL Cool J, a cocky Queens native Moe considered disrespectful toward those that came before him. The feud between Moe Dee and LL created one of the most notable battles in rap history; one that lasted into the 1990’s. Though younger rap fans may not be intimately familiar with Kool Moe Dee or his work, they may have felt his power in ways they don’t even realize. Through the family tree of MC’s influenced by Rakim and Kane (and, arguably, LL Cool J), and the followers of these mic holders, millions of people have had the Kool Moe Dee experience by proxy. In the 30 years since Mohandas Dewese first grabbed a pen and pad, he has created a legacy that may outlive him. How “Kool” is that?

To listen to Kool Moe Dee, click here.

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