Obey gravity because it’s a must for you.
Da Bush Babees had a lot of potential. Loosely affiliated with the Native Tongues collective, the West Indian crew (by way of Brooklyn) of Mr. Man, Lee Majors, and Y-Tee had the backing of the legends A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, as well as a best bud in a young squirrelly unknown going by the name of Mos Def (or now, Yasiin Bey). The crew appeared on the scene in 1994 with their debut record Ambushed, a boom-bap record with a strong reggae and soca vibe, reflecting Mr. Man and Lee’s home of Trinidad and Y-Tee’s home of Jamaica (JA, stand up!). While Ambushed was notable, it was a debut mostly ignored by the masses. In 1996 Da Babees regrouped, and in closer collaboration with the Tongues, who were staging a comeback (as both Tribe and De La were returning after three-year hiatuses to a very different rap scene), dropped a little album known as Gravity.
Gravity is the very definition of a forgotten classic. The record’s striking title was a testament to the group’s humbleness and down to earth mentality, as well as a call out to the bling-obsessed mainstream rappers of the day. You know, the ones who surrounded themselves with bitches and money and had heads so gassed up that they floated high up in the atmosphere? Yeah, the group figured it was time to take them back down to earth. Throughout Gravity the group raps about the precarious juggling of a rap career with the slightest hope of fame versus their tireless minimum-wage existence, as well as chiding the blinding excess that was creeping its way into hip-hop music in the mid-‘90s. Followed up with production provided by Posdnous of De La Soul, Mr. Man, and The Ummah, a beatmaking collab of J Dilla and Tribe members Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, the record is a potent listen. Gravity was essentially my life for a good two months when I first heard it years ago, and it’s a record that I still bump frequently.
After narrowing it down from four songs to two, I had to flip a coin to decide which song to post up. “S.O.S.” just barely edged out the title track for tonight’s post. The beat, courtesy of Mr. Man, is catchy and oddly fitting for a struggling trio, and the group puts in some great lines about perseverance, the balance between rap and life (I particularly like that line “it’s hard to be a prophet and still make a profit”), the state of hip-hop, and of course, that irrepressible hook. The icing on this one is when Mos Def (who got a huge boost in his career with his repeated appearances on Gravity as well as his guest spot on De La’s Stakes is High from the same year) jumps on the song and puts on a show in the way that only the Mighty Mos can do it.
With joints like this, it’s a damn tragedy that Gravity was slept on by the rap world. You owe it to yourself to listen to this one.
Originally posted on my old Tumblr blog, Emaciated Wildebeest, on April 12, 2011.
But wait, it’s 2018 and I’ve got more to say about this one!
Da Bush Babees weren’t the greatest group around, but during my early college years, they were a revelation. In Gravity, they had a quality album that had some real heavy hitters associated with its creation. So why didn’t it get more burn? Well, it was 1996. Hip-hop was reaching new heights and new levels of excess. The Native Tongues wave which dominated East Coast hip-hop in the early ’90s was giving away to mafioso, drug, and money raps of the mid-’90s, and lines were being drawn in the sand. That year was something of a last hurrah for the mainstream relevance of groups like De La and Tribe. Hell, De La Soul’s Stakes Is High dropped on the same day as Nas‘s It Was Written, a perfect example of the dichotomy. Gravity got caught up in the clash. I maintain that if this record had dropped maybe two years before or after 1996 it probably would’ve received a bit more attention: In ’94, a cosign from De La and Tribe would’ve gone further. In ’98, the group could’ve hopped onto the conscious rap renaissance which included Tribe’s comeback record, The Love Movement, Outkast‘s Aquemini, and Mos and Talib Kweli‘s Black Star project. Such is life. Still a gem, regardless!