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Swimming in beats like a dolphin

close up of a dolphin's head

Image: Yash Patel via Unsplash

  • Track: The Basement
  • Artist: Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth (feat. Heavy D, Rob-O, Grap & Dida)
  • Album: Mecca and the Soul Brother
  • Year: 1992

This time out it’s the turn of Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, and they’ve brought along a few friends. This underground-themed number comes from the not-at-all-underground explosive 1992 debut Mecca and the Soul Brother. The duo were contemporaries of the New York scene with our last post’s protagonists Digable Planets. Given how many MCs turned up to the basement, it’s statistically surprising not to see one of the Digables here.

Sorry to get all academic early doors, but this is what we hip-hop scholars refer to as a ‘posse cut’ (Bambaataa, A. et al, 1980). A posse cut is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of MCs passing the mic around like teenagers sharing a Mad Dog 20/20. But with less puking. Wikipedia asserts that the minimum number of MCs needed for a posse is four. Don’t tell G-Unit.

This particularly prime example features, among others, Rob-O and Grap. They comprise 40% of InI, who I’m not too proud to admit I’ve never heard of. But as it turns out, Grap Luva (to give him his full name) is Pete Rock’s little brother. How sweet. History doesn’t record if he ever went by Pete Pebble. It couldn’t be a worse name than the one he settled on. Also along for the ride is label owner, frequent collaborator and Rock’s cousin Heavy D. Maybe they’re all related.

At over five minutes, this one is a bit of an epic. And an overly long intro does its similes per minute score no favours. While each of the six MCs gets an equal piece of the pie, few slices contain sufficiently juicy simile strawberries. Yes, tortured metaphors are as welcome around here as tortured similes.

Even if you’re not a hip-hop fan, you’ll probably recognise Pete Rock and C.L.Smooth, or at least their sound. Producer Pete Rock favours lush soul and jazz samples, with lots of parping horns. And like Digable Planets, they’re notable for producing ‘positive’ hip-hop at a time when relishingly-violent gangsta rap was exploding all around them. It’s also rare to hear a naughty word on a Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth track. They lampoon this on another posse cut (this is one posse who sure loves its cuts) featuring Heavy D – along with Grand Puba and Kool G Rap, who we’ve both met before.

I think it’s fair to say that Rock and Smooth didn’t like to stray too far from the template. For me, getting to this track (the fourteenth on the album) can feel like a bit of a chore. But to be fair, the pair’s heyday was pretty short. They only released two albums and parted ways in 1995, until an ill-fated reunion 15 years later. It sounds like things between them were generally more rock than smooth. 

This track’s menagerie of MCs takes us up to 50 in total, and we’ve not even reached 30 entries. We can surmise from this that:

  • the average posse size in hip-hop is around 1.92 (though I can’t be bothered to discount all the solo tracks)
  • rappers sure are a collaborative bunch

When I run out of options and start featuring repeat rappers (probably around 2033), I’ll be able to work out who is hip-hop’s most simile-loving rapper. I’m excited about that. Right now, Pharaoh Monche is our undisputed king.

Anyway, let’s flick on the light and descend the narrow steps to this overcrowded basement.

The lyrics

View full annotated lyrics on genius.com

[Intro – Pete Rock]

Ahh yeahh!! Feel the funk bay-beeee
That’s right, this is called The Basement
And my man C.L. Smooth kick it for you like this

As well as producing and taking a verse, multi-faceted Pete Rock is also trebling up as our meta-MC tonight. He’s here to introduce us to his band of merry men. This appears to be one posse with a strict ‘no girls’ policy. And no, that ‘kick it for you like this’ line doesn’t count, for two reasons:

  • at some point I said I’d omit all spoken word bits, samples and intros (they’re also removed from word counts)
  • the law of the one sided-simile forbids us from including similes that don’t have at least one discernable ‘thing’ being compared

[Verse 1- C.L. Smooth]

From the Heights, not what, am I right? Simple I can do this
Like Popeye to Brutus, I’m your host like a stewardess

As we get to the track proper, it’s good to see a double simile right from the off. Brutus is obviously Popeye’s hirsute nemesis. What does Popeye do to Brutus? Normally, he beats and humiliates him, before laughing in his face. Popeye was a dick.

Fly with the neighbourhood hijackin’ fella
So prepare for landin’, and crash into a cellar
Bodies in the buddha cloud, misty in the tune
Like a show all nights, a figure eight in a lagoon

I’ve been generous here and awarded C.L. another double, counting this as two separate similes. Two nonsensical similes.

A Genius contributor reckons this is a reference to strip clubs and women who look like the number eight from a distance. I’ve been dragged to exactly one strip club in my life, in Torquay in February. It was not an erotic experience. So even though I find the link dubious, I’ll take their word for it.

With Pete Rock, the complete lock and beat stock
Now, all the horny heifers wanna dangle on my errr!
Down by the dungeon with the cracks on the wall
Buffoon, I’m like a mink while you’re soon to pimp a raccoon stall

Glossing over the awkward horny heifers thing, Smooth is still clearly not in the mood for straightforward similes. I don’t know what a raccoon stall is, or why anyone would be pimping one. But it appears that C.L. is the luxurious furry coat to someone’s raccoon hat. Or something.

Vocal arrangement, ready, set to hit the pavement
But not before the kid leave The Basement

Smooth’s done with his overview, and with that final title drop (which all the verses end on), he’s passing the mic over to Grap Luva. After Pete’s done his thing.

[Bridge – Pete Rock]

The Basement, put the Funk in Grand
Here comes my man, my brother…
Grap Lover, get wreck cousin, c’mon

Introducing someone as both your brother and cousin is asking for trouble. If this verse is anything to go by, Rock the younger has got a lot to learn about using similes.

[Verse 2 – Grap Luva]

Call me the Grap Luva, yes, the younger Soul Brother
Keep your eyes on the prize ’cause you won’t find another
When the funk is played, the rhyme I display
Quick to bust a ditz so don’t slip in the way
Of the kid, with the flavour, the party people saviour
Clockin’ all the honies, eyes sharp like a razor

It’s by no means a bad rhyme but this is the total sum of Grap’s simile contribution. Grap (which is too easily pronounced as ‘grape’ for me) is using his razor-sharp eyes to leer at the women. But he’s not sticking around, just planning to have a little dance then leave us to it.

Maybe there’s a one-in-one-out policy at Rock and Smooth’s basement? I hope so, because I’m starting to get a bit anxious about fire regulations.

I kick a dance step, you’re soon to discover
Yo, that’s the kid from ‘Mecca and the Soul Brother’
Yeah, once in a while I be with C.L. on the DL
Or I flow with Pete and find my placement in The Basement
The Basement, yes, where the beats and the rhymes flow
Peace, I gotta go, Grapster’s out the door of The Basement

Bye, Grapster! See you next time. Be a dear and pass the mic over on your way out.

[Bridge – Pete Rock]

Of the Basement!
Next we got… a special guest
I ain’t gonna tell you who it is…
C’mon, rap along

Don’t be such a tease, Pete. We all know it’s the legendary Heavy D. But he is not a legend among simile spotters, limping in with a simileless verse. I’d ban him from the basement for that, even if he did own the record label. It’s a good verse though, so maybe he can stay.

[Verse 3 – Heavy D]

Tick, tock, tick, things are gettin’ thick
Here comes the Heavster and I know it makes ya sick!
To see a black man gettin’ paid on the regular
Car with the cellular, fellas, I’m tellin’ ya
I got plots and plans, pots and pans
Stocks and grands, so make room for the big man
I walk the streets in peace and I’m never strapped
But I know a crew of Young Gunz that’ll send you back
So easy does it on the DL
Peace to Pete Rock and the Mecca Don C.L
Heavy D’s on this track, lettin’ you know there’s no replacement
Peace, signin’ off, check one, two straight from The Basement

A little disappointing simile-wise. But that’s ok, because once Pete has indulged in some meta-meta-MCing by introducing himself, we’ll be straight back on track.

[Bridge – Pete Rock]

Straight from The Basement
I’m tellin’ you now, kid, it’s crazy fat
I wonder who this is comin’ up?

Hmm, yes, I wonder.

[Verse 4 – Pete Rock]

Fourth but not least, the backbone of the Wig Out
Freestyle, crazy hardcore, no sellout
Speakin’ upon where I dwell from the dungeon
All over the U.S. states, even London
Pastime present, black to the future
Swimmin’ in beats like a Dolphin, so call me Don Shula

What looks on the surface like a pretty straightforward – dare I say it, mundane – simile has a trick up its sleeve. And as opposed to CL’s gibberish, this one is easy to unpack. Don Shula was the coach of the Miami Dolphins you see. Nice.

And as we know, one obscure US sports-based simile often leads to another (especially if you’re Pharoahe Monch).

A Raider well like Art Shell, crazy defence
A Pro Bowl with soul for local events

You guessed it: Art Shell Jr was a player for and coach of the LA Raiders. Nerds might be interested to know that Mr Shell is the fifth person connected with the sport to go into the simile database.

The crew name is C.L. Smooth and Pete Rock
Here to sail when I prevail and stare into the dock
The Pimp Daddy of the funk flavor, catch you later
Clever like a secret agent comin’ from The Basement

Uh-huh. Nice enough I guess. Nothing to see here to be honest. We’ve still got a couple of the posse left to take their turn, and this is where you might find yourself struggling to concentrate. But hang in there, we’ll be out of the basement and into daylight soon.

[Bridge – Pete Rock]

Uhhhhh, that’s right, it’s crazy funky
Aww my man
He’s crazy funky, his name is Rob-O, c’mon baby

Time for Rob-O to strut his stuff. We’ll gloss over most of this bit, because he’s only got the one simile to bring to the party, and it’s hardly a classic.

Alakazam, you’ll never guess what I am
Motto is that nothin’ ever changes but haircuts and kicks
To stacks of vocal breaks like days

Upon reflection, maybe I’m being too harsh on Rob-O. It’s a cleverish bit of wordplay, just a little clumsily put together.

Rob-O’s now about to give everyone the directions to the basement, as if things weren’t a bit cramped already.

What kid said, “Pete makes beats in The Basement”
Cool, hit the pavement, over to the chill side
The real side, the 7-7 hillside
I thought I’d just chill, take a breath
Straight up Columbus Hill, make a left
And get fixed, plus the ghetto chicks got flicks
Of me stacks of kicks, my joint’s bumpin’ lovely
Walkin’ down the street, much props, on the sin
Yo I hear voices sayin’, “That’s Rob Odindo in The Basement”

There’s no let up for Pete Rock as he introduces our sixth and final MC. And he’s saved the one with the worst name until last.

[Bridge – Pete Rock]

Ahh ha ha ha! Hah yeah! This is funky! I can feel it
My man from the Vernon, his name is Deda, Baby Pa

His name is what now?

[Verse 6 – Deda Baby Pa]

Fly like an eagle, a seagull
Always into somethin’, like Snoopy, the Beagle

It’s interesting to me that after quite a few bird-related similes (admittedly mostly thanks to one track), we’ve yet to see an eagle. Or a gull actually. But as Regional Chair of the Council of Pedants, I am duty-bound to point out that there’s no such thing as a ‘seagull’.

That slightly-forced rhyme there also sees our first mention of Snoopy, but that’s perhaps less surprising.

People, grab a tight hold of yourselves
Pa snatchin’ raw tapes off the shelves
Blowin’ up spots from state to state
I’m comin’ to town but you just can’t wait
Check the station for conversation at six
Blah Uno here to put suckers in the mix
I get deeper than oceanography
Diggin’ up crazy shit like psychology
So, speak the peace, then slide like grease
The beat is fat, but the rhyme is obese in The Basement

Well. Just as I was beginning to nod off, here comes a triple whammy of similes. Nice, easy to interpret ones as well. Deda Baby Pa may have the most puzzling name of any MC out there, but he’s won me round with this.

And all that leaves is the irrepressible Pete Rock to grab back control of the mic and for reasons best known to himself, INTRODUCE THE WHOLE POSSE AGAIN. IN THE OUTRO. Madness.

[Outro – Pete Rock]

In The Basement is where I dwell, sucka MCs fell
‘Cause I am crazy funky
C.L. Smooth, my man Rahsaan, Rob-O, Deda Baby Pa
The Heavster, my brother Grap Luva
Everybody

So that’s  a healthy but not amazing 16 similes for this posse. If this tune were two minutes shorter, the story would be a different one.

Ridiculously-name Deda Baby Pa does a lot of the heavy lifting (unlike the inappropriately-named Heavy D) with six similes, closely followed by C.L. Smooth. 

It’s getting a little stuffy down here, should we call it a day?

The stats

Similes:16
Words:646
Words per simile:40.38
Length:5m 22s
Similes per minute:2.98
Size of Pete Rock’s basement:Considerable

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