While as not as well known as some of their contemporaries of late ‘80s hip-hop, the Ultramagnetic MCs brought some unique stuff to the table. Rappers Ced Gee and Kool Keith, along with the Love Brothers, deejay Moe Love and T.R. Love…who I’m sure did…something, had a pretty significant debut with Critical Beatdown, a great record that was nearly lost in the scorching pyroclastic flow of utterly fantastic rap released in the magical year of 1988.
Critical Beatdown is your quintessential old school rap album, packing solid braggin’ and boastin’ rhymes along with excellent, sample-heavy beats. Much of Beatdown’s charm could be attributed to Ced Gee, one of the golden age’s unsung heroes (along with producer Paul C, rest in peace, who had a major hand on this record along and many other classics from the era), who brought some innovative production to the album. In fact, Ced had a hand in several classic rap albums of the late ’80s, such as producing Boogie Down Production’s hip-hop-redefining debut, Criminal Minded. As well, he’s a hell of a rhymer, holding it down as a streetwise Bronx-reppin’ Godfather who–
BUT NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT KOOL MOTHAFUCKING KEITH!
Sorry Ced, you’re swell and all, but the star of the show here was undoubtedly Kool Keith, whom, with this record, cemented himself in hip-hop history as one of the oddest motherfuckers the genre has ever seen. Legend has it that Keith had spent some time in a psych ward, explaining his freely-associated, non-sequitur-laden lines, one of the earliest rappers to do it. Of course, Keith had to rhyme about how much better he was than you, but in his raps he cooked his foes (repeatedly), compared them to animals (such as gerbils), suggested their heads were similar to fruits (such as mangoes), called inferior rappers “Cupid,” and that’s only the tip. On Beatdown Keith gets plenty of airtime, and he keeps you wondering about just what he’s going to hit you with next. Often Ced was on hand to just to rein him back into low-earth orbit. It’s no wonder that Keith would go on to become a significant figure in alternative rap for his odd lines and even odder personalities (Dr. Octagon, anyone?).
“Ease Back” is a knockout, thanks to Ced and Keith’s tag-team rhymes and those organs and hard-hitting drums. This track also has some of my favorite lines by Keith, particularly these quotables (I’ll refrain from posting the whole damn verse):
“I bought a Saab, a 1990 Turbo / Shining, fog lights in the front / I’m by myself, no seats for a stunt / ‘Cuz I it want like that / I got it like that / I have it like that / I need it like that / It’s better like that / I made it like that / I bought it like that / I’m livin’ like that, for… / You whack emcees!”
I mean really, this song is from ’88, he’s bragging about owning a car that doesn’t even exist yet. But hell, it’s Keith, he just has it like that.
(Oh, and if you’re a fan of Nas these bars were sampled for the track “Take It In Blood” off It Was Written.)
Originally published on my old blog, Emaciated Wildebeest, on February 16, 2011.
But wait! It’s 2016 and I have more to say! Listening to this record today Ultramag definitely were the pioneers of non-sequiturs and weird rap in general. The DNA of this record can be found in artists like Wu-Tang Clan, Tyler the Creator and so on. It’s amazing how damn strange they were here, and the sound, the snappy samples, hurried breakbeats and almost scientific approach to the production really helped to emphasize that too (hell, I’m forever smitten with the Star Wars vocal sample they used on “Break North”). Classic listen.