So Ruff: The 20th Anniversary of Redman’s Whut? Thee Album
Redman had a few distinctive traits that made him not only stand out but made him an innovator in Hip-Hop early in his career. First off, while Cypress Hill had already released their first album the previous summer they weren’t as known for their stance on weed until their second album dropped in 1993. In addition, Redman dropped Whut? Thee Album three months before Dr. Dre released The Chronic. Cats had been bumping Redman’s “How To Roll A Blunt” (which was the B-Side to his hit debut single “Blow Your Mind”) for close to three months before Whut? Thee Album dropped. Redman was one of the cats that made weed ultimately blow up and go mainstream within Hip-Hop.
Redman also made a choice that was equally bold and risky, especially being that he was an East Coast MC. Redman announced that he was only going to Rap over Funk or only sample Funk. People simply didn’t do that in Hip-Hop at the time. The sound and direction of Whut? Thee Album simply entranced listeners and took them to another world. Redman was not only lyrical but he injected a much needed level of humor and fantasy into his rhymes, so he appealed to everyone. His music was equally street, underground and yet still accessible to the mainstream. Whut? Thee Album was hailed as a masterpiece by both the Hip-Hop press and the fans alike.
Even though Redman’s singles “Blow Your Mind” and “Time 4 Sum Aksion” blew up and eventually crossed over to the mainstream, it still took nine months for Whut? Thee Album to earn itself an RIAA Gold plaque. Redman’s entertaining skits and his ability to deliver a varied and even listening experience on his debut project influenced many artists that followed him. All of a sudden, artists were declaring that they’d only Rap over beats sampled from one particular genre of music. They often failed miserably at it as well (anyone remember Jazz B. Latin? Anyone?). Redman also effortlessly went from hardcore to hilarious right back to serious. He managed to be accepted by the everyday cat on the street even though he was a superstar. He’s also managed to maintain that same appeal for the past 20 years.
Take a listen to Whut? Thee Album. Note how Redman goes from the hyper “Time 4 Sum Aksion” to the muddy “Da Funk” into the bouncy “So Ruff” seamlessly into the hard “Rated R.” The sequencing of this project is arguably just as genius as the rhymes and production in my opinion. If you listen to “I’m A Bad” you can hear a perfect example of Redman’s unique approach to songwriting and track construction. It fell somewhere between EPMD, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Cypress Hill’s but it was distinctly Redman. Who else would think to put a skit/break within their own damn song? After Redman did it, a lot of others tried. Twenty years later? I’m only writing about Redman.
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For example, take Redman thinking out of the box and freaking it in Korean on the original version of “Blow Your Mind” (which is listed as the remix). Refer to Reggie Noble trading bars with Redman on “Redman Meets Reggie Noble.” Cite Redman’s storytelling a la Slick Rick on “So Ruff”, “How To Roll A Blunt” or “A Day Of Sooperman Lover”. Lastly, consider the sheer rawness of “Rated R”, “Watch Yo Nuggets”, “Jam 4 U”, “”Hardcore”, Tonight’s Da Night” and “I’m A Bad.” All you need to do is include Redman’s skits that turned this into a cohesive project and what you ultimately have is a classic debut album that is also timeless. Twenty years after it was released it still bangs like the first day I unwrapped the cassette and popped it into my Walkman.
Another reason why Whut? Thee Album is all the more incredible is by the time Redman dropped his third single, “Tonight’s Da Night,” EPMD had already broken up. He continued working that album amidst the fallout of the Hit Squad’s dissolution and began making his classic follow up, Dare Iz A Darkside, on an Akai MPC 60. Salute to Reggie Noble AKA Redman, the Funk Doctor Spot.