Honestly? The reason why it took me so damn long to get around to speaking about Pete Rock & CL Smooth, lowkey one of the nicest duos hip-hop music has ever seen, is because it’s truly too damn difficult to pick one song to introduce them. In their short tenure the group put out two records (and one EP) before they called it quits (well, for about 16 years), and I’m not lying when I say that both of those albums are legit classics, and I love both of ’em. But anyway, let’s get to it.
From “Money Earnin'” Mount Vernon, NY, Pete Rock and CL Smooth brought an utterly cool and composed vibe to hip-hop on their arrival in the early ’90s. As a producer, Pete Rock was (and still very much is) damn near unparalleled, having an innate knack for creating snappy and soulful sounds and an excellent ear for dusted rare grooves. As an emcee, CL Smooth was on the same wavelength, and a cut above many other rhymers of the day. CL was mature and assured. He rarely rose his voice and rarely swore on tracks. He captivated with his intelligence and confidence, and his choice of lyrical content erred more on the side of philosophical and deep ruminations, as well as simply legit, grown-man stuff. He was very much a playboy on the mic, smooth with women, street smart, educated, and ambitious. Together, they had the rap game on lock. Their first LP, 1992’s “Mecca and the Soul Brother” (with CL being the Mecca Don and Pete being the Soul Brother #1) remains one of the genre’s greatest achievements, with one song in particular becoming an enduring classic. That particular listen is “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),” a song celebrating life and family, dedicated to a fallen friend. That one song pretty much cemented the duo’s place in popular music history, but don’t call them one hit wonders, though!
And yeah, that song absolutely wrecked my plans to write about them, because, it is a damn great listen, one which I wholeheartedly recommend you check out ASAP, but for this post, I’m not going to talk about it.
Nope. Instead, I’m heading to their second record, 1994’s “The Main Ingredient,” an album which in my opinion, trumps their first record (well, only slightly). It doesn’t have that uber-significant, career-highlight listen like “T.R.O.Y.,” but from start to finish, it’s definitely a bit more rounded, and deeper when it comes to the production.
Pete and CL were definitely in top form for “Ingredient,” with each man stepping up their abilities, Pete especially. He was on some next-level ish when it came to creating the sound and vibe of this album, and I still haven’t heard a rap record come close to replicating the outright intoxicating vibes and late-night relaxed feel of this record’s best tracks. Seriously, this is one album you put on at night and just…lay back and take it in. I definitely commend Pete with what he did here. CL too kept up that cool playboy aura, and together, “The Main Ingredient” is a record which still gets plays from me some 20+ years later.
“Carmel City” is a terrific example of the record and the group’s brilliance: A seductive, late night burn. Just listen to how Pete hooks this one up…I mean really, those airy and defiant vibes and that scratched whistle towards the end? Too good, and CL effortlessly puts it down with his lyrics. A top listen.