Gangsta Lean

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In the 1990s, countless R&B acts incorporated hip-hop, but not many of them incorporated outright gangsta rap. Hip-hop-minded R&B artists -- who ranged from Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, and Lauryn Hill to Erykah Badu, Janet Jackson, and Aaron Hall -- steered clear of gangsta rap's violent, bloody imagery. But on two rare occasions, West Coast groups brought gangsta rap to R&B: first was D.R.S. in 1993, then came G.A.T. in 1995. While G.A.T. managed to bridge the gap between N.W.A. and classic soul groups like the O'Jays, the Chi-Lites, and the Dramatics, the equally obscure D.R.S. (whose name stands for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) was coming from more of a new jack R&B perspective. If Babyface, Johnny Gill, Bobby Brown, or Prince had been singing the lyrics of N.W.A., Ice Cube, the Geto Boys, or Ice-T, the results might have sounded something like Gangsta Lean. One of the high points of this overlooked CD is a cover of Prince's "Do Me, Baby," but much of the time, the Los Angeles quintet doesn't sing about love or romance, it sings about gang violence, drug dealing, carjacking, and other problems plaguing the inner city. Like Ice-T, 2Pac Shakur, or Ice Cube, D.R.S. embraces a first-person format and gives you the perspective of the gang banger, the criminal or the thug, which, of course, makes its violent accounts all the more disturbing. Gangsta Lean was among the most unique releases of 1993, but unfortunately, D.R.S.' experimentation didn't pay off commercially. It does pay off creatively, however, making Gangsta Lean a gem that's worth searching for.

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