Let It Swing

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In the 1990s, the Philadelphia-based Ruffhouse records became a major player in rap and urban contemporary thanks to the Fugees, Cypress Hill, Kris Kross, and others. But in 1989, Ruffhouse had yet to secure a distribution deal with Columbia or put out any gold or platinum albums. Ruffhouse was still being distributed by Enigma, and it was still a small mom-and-pop operation -- what a difference several years can make. One of Ruffhouse's pre-Columbia, Enigma-era releases was Let It Swing by Blackmale, an East Coast duo that has been compared to Eric B. & Rakim and Special Ed. Unlike some of the CDs that Ruffhouse released after hooking up with Columbia, this 1989 release wasn't a multi-platinum smash. But it's still a decent, if less than mind-blowing, example of late-'80s East Coast rap. Anyone who was seriously into hip-hop at the time could easily tell that Blackmale was from the Northeastern part of the United States; there are no traces of West Coast gangsta rap or Florida bass music (both of which were becoming increasingly popular in 1989) on Let It Swing. The minute rapper EZ Tee starts to flow on "Body Talk" or the amusing "You Sorry Bitch," you can tell that he is a Northeastern MC. And Tracey Cobb's producing is as Northeastern-sounding as Tee's rapping. Obviously mindful of New York producers like Marley Marl and DJ Mark the 45 King, Cobb favors the sort of sampling/scratching/drum machine approach that New York and Philly hip-hoppers were known for at the time. Let It Swing isn't among 1989's essential rap releases, but it's a likable footnote in the history of Ruffhouse records.

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