“The Turnaround,” Real Live’s (K-Def and Larry-O) one and only album, is a brilliant slice of mid-90s New York Boom Bapism. It would easily be dismissed with the generic “gangsta rap” label by liberal white racists and even those who walk the uneven line between classic rap and “conscious” rap, uncomfortable with its violent disposition.
It probably had little to do with promotion and more about Boom Bap’s descent into obscurity that Real Live’s album never garnered significant attention. Of course, we’re talking about a very short period of two to three years; after all, Biggie’s “Ready To Die” has to have been the most sought after and notable Boom Bap album ever–and it was released in 1994. But we should remember that by late 1996, when “The Turnaround” debuted, the East Coast was losing it’s homogeneity both due to the rise of producer Swizz Beatz who broke with every convention of traditional New York hip-hop, and the ascendency of New Orleans rap which, while taking some influence from West Coast G-Funk, eventually absorbed it.
Real Live unfortunately caught it on the down slide.
“The Turnaround” plays like a noir film; the beats are dark and congruous with the lyrics which revolve around gun play and substance distribution. Larry-O hurls visceral and articulate lyrics that are as cold as a Charles Dickens novel in winter and would make any Carlton urinate himself. “I’ve seen dice games turn into Helter Skelter.” His voice is deep, but he has no need to yell. K-Def’s ominous but rich compositions makes ironic the typical musical simplicity of Boom Bap beats. So complete yet so consistent. One would think he was producing from a lectern–”cue the violins, cue the bass drums”–instead of a producer’s chair.
My introduction to them came the same way I was introduced to most artists of that era: Rap City. It was too bad that I never got to hear their entire album until last week, when my partner Luke mailed me a copy.
They will remain as obscure as they were when they surfaced, for reasons chiefly beyond their control, but this album is a must-listen. This isn’t post-Boom Bap Boom Bap that insists on calling itself Boom Bap and where, as K’Naan says, “underground rappers rap about rapping.” The stories are familiar, but they are told in a way that clearly makes the distinction between a story teller and one who tells stories. Larry-O is the former. K-Def proves that Boom Bap production is an art, not just a few audio tracks behind an MC. These two artists are complementary; they mutually nurture each other.
Hip-hop’s greatest strength is its democracy, but democracy isn’t antagonistic to talent. And talent is clearly the red thread through “The Turnaround.”