Pete Rock and CL Smooth ~ Mecca and the Soul Brother (1992)

Posted on May 19, 2013


This album embodies the word “classic”; an overused term in modern Hip Hop, but one that certainly applies in this case. Mecca and the Soul Brother was the first full-length set from Pete Rock & CL Smooth, a duo from Mount Vernon, New York that debuted in the summer of 1991, with a sublime 6-song EP entitled All Souled Out. With that EP, DJ-producer Pete Rock (Peter Phillips) and emcee CL Smooth (Corey Penn) unveiled a distinctive and meticulous soul clap; that helped them stand out in a market filled with new releases from established acts like NWA, the Geto Boys, and 3rd Bass. As tight as All Souled Out was in its briefness, it only hinted at the skill level of its creators. In the summer of 1992, the brilliance of Pete Rock and CL Smooth was revealed through this stunning masterwork, which went down in history as one of rap’s best albums: past, present, and future.

Mecca and the Soul Brother is a magnificent album that runs on cruise control. Its sixteen tracks flow seamlessly; propelled by sterling soundscapes (from Pete Rock) and masterly wordplay (from CL Smooth, and a few guests) that rival anything else produced in rap’s Golden Era. The opening cut “Return Of The Mecca” sets the wheels in motion perfectly, with Pete splattering cascading horns over a humming bassline, and the thundering intro drums from Mountain’s “Long Red (Live)”, and CL dipping into his notebook, pulling out his choicest metaphors, and flowing with breathtaking ease. On the next selection “For Pete’s Sake”, the Chocolate Boy Wonder (Pete Rock) does the job of three men: constructing a bubbling jazz-funk track with melodic pieces from Sly & The Family Stone, scratching with precision on the turntables, and then joining the Carmel King (CL Smooth) on the microphone, to spit braggadocio verbs. The pensive thump on “Ghettos Of The Mind” is based on echoing horns and the reused drum line from Mountain’s “Long Red (Live)”; and CL Smooth uses this canvas to flex his allegorical might: playing a hood dweller that does dirt on the regular; and painting pictures of urban blight and misery for the world to see. “Lots Of Lovin” is a fly love song laced by Pete Rock and R&B producer Nevelle Hodge, where CL Smooth serenades his girl with suave poetics, over a milky, quiet storm instrumental built on an Ohio Players sample. Pete and C.L. quicken the pace on “Act Like You Know”, through a thumping, horn-laden, Kit Kat Club type track, and a cerebral, stream-of–consciousness flow from CL that moves as spryly as the beat does. “Straighten It Out” has a lovely twilight bounce, thanks to its sampling of the Ernie Hines number “Our Generation”, and it finds CL stepping over potholes in the path of many Golden Era rap artists: rampant bootlegging of their music, sampling feuds with older recording artists, and lack of promotional support from their record labels. “Soul Brother #1” is a sleek jeep knocker with surrogate support from CL Smooth’s cousin Grand Puba (of Brand Nubian), who writes nickel-slick verses for Pete Rock to recite by his lonesome, over a mellow yet booming track that once again utilizes the “Long Red (Live)” drums. On “Wig Out”, CL Smooth gets deep and campy in the same motion; dropping layered pop culture references, over the insistent drum clangs and serene vibraphone groove of Pete Rock. And on “Anger In The Nation”, C.L. Smooth pumps his fist for African people everywhere: addressing historical fallacies and the plight of the Black man, while Pete Rock raises the heart rate with an aggravated track built on James Brown and Sly Stone loops, along with lacerating cuts on the turntables.

The second half of Mecca and the Soul Brother is just as inspired as the first, and it begins with one of the most spellbinding songs in rap music history: “They Reminisce Over You”, also known as “T.R.O.Y”. This track’s title is a tribute to Troy Dixon (Trouble T-Roy), a member of the Mount Vernon quartet Heavy D & the Boyz who passed on in 1990; and the song itself is Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s finest hour. Pete Rock concocts an exquisite jazz track, filled with shuffling drums (from James Brown), wandering horns (from Tom Scott) and airy bass flourishes; and CL Smooth speaks on life, death, and the lessons learned from both; beginning in his formative years in Mount Vernon with his family, and ending with a salute to Trouble T-Roy and his loved ones. Pete Rock’s brother Grap Luva leads in “On And On” with a lively, beatbox driven freestyle, and then gives way to his Pete and CL, for Pete to roll out a festive soul-funk track meant to shake the boulevard, and for CL to kick spirited cipher gems in multiples. “It’s Like That” picks up where “On And On” left off, with pert syncopation that works the body electric, and more random rhyme science from CL . On “Can’t Front On Me”, CL gets abstract and metaphysical on the mic; and Pete merges the drum kit from the Five Stairsteps “Don’t Change Your Love” with a folkish sample from Alyn Ainsworth’s “Where Do I Go”. And Pete Rock & CL Smooth rock the avenue one last time on “If It Ain’t Rough, It Ain’t Right”; with Pete melding jubilant horns, a repeating Stetsasonic vocal break, shimmying drums, and the bass line from the Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime”, and CL using Pete’s backdrop to throw punches like a heavyweight champ.

Pete Rock & CL Smooth handle most of Mecca and the Soul Brother in tandem, but there are two collaboration cuts on the album; both of which are family affairs. “The Basement” is a strutting freestyle session that splices the intro warbles of Keni Burke’s “Rising To The Top” with thick drum taps and the melody from Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam”, and features Pete and CL flowing down the line with Pete Rock protégés Grap Luva and Rob-O (of the group INI) and Deda, along with Pete’s legendary cousin, the “Overweight Lover” Heavy D. And on the album’s closer “Skinz”, Pete Rock and CL Smooth chase skirts with Grand Puba, and Puba steals the show with his typically flavorful lingo, while Pete Rock takes us home with halting horn hits and a rolling drum pattern.

Mecca and the Soul Brother had a somewhat bizarre commercial impact when it touched down in 1992. The album was ubiquitous in the United States, and could be heard blaring in cars, Walkmans, and stereo systems across America in the summer and fall of ’92. But, strangely, this album’s widespread popularity did not reflect in its sales numbers, as Mecca and the Soul Brother would only sell a few hundred thousand copies officially. Nonetheless, fans from the four corners of the world have marveled at this album’s quality and replay value, and in a short time, Pete Rock & CL Smooth became one of Hip Hop’s most revered groups. Sadly, their blissful union would not last long, as they’d make another exceptional album (1994’s The Main Ingredient) before splitting up in 1995. They weren’t together long, but Pete Rock & CL Smooth left a permanent imprint on the rap world while they were one. To this day, Mecca and the Soul Brother stands as one of rap’s greatest albums. If you want creativity and a taste of what real Hip Hop sounds like, give this album a listen. It’s everything you could want, and then some.

To listen to Mecca and the Soul Brother, click here.