With Redman slated to end his six-year hiatus next month with Red Gone Wild, its tempting to forget how great he was in his prime. Thanks to recent forays into the worlds of film, television, and advertising, it’s easy to dismiss Red as another washed up rapper that sold-out. Hard. Certainly no one’s about to forget the Red and Meth deodorant commercials, the sanitized television sitcom, nor to the St. Ides spots that single-handedly convinced me that Special Brew is the only fruit-flavored malt liquor manly enough to consume in public. A theory I continue to stand by.

But for all the money he’s still hoarding from the Red and Meth sitcom, Redman is inarguably one of the most consistent rappers of all-time. 7 albums deep, including Def Squad’s sorely underrated El Nino and the similarly undervalued Blackout), nearly everything Redman has dropped soars with his growling blunt-scorched baritone, animated flow and witty but still razor-sharp lyrics. Yet out of his deep catalogue, I consider Reggie Noble’s finest work to be 1996’s Muddy Waters.

Muddy Waters is the purest distillation of Redman’s sound: funk-sampling trunk-rattling Erick Sermon beats supplemented by clever lyrics that stick to the three B’s: Bricks, blunts and (crackin’ cold) Becks. Unlike other great rappers who strain feebly at making party records (Nas, Eminem), Redman is that rare great rapper able to carry an entire album on party cuts and shit-talking alone. Its not hard to see why Red was pegged as a natural fit in the entertainment world, managing to produce a half-dozen solid albums on sheer charisma and witty punch-lines alone (with an assist from some of Erick Sermon’s greatest beats).

But I Think We All Knew This Was a Bad Idea

Commencing off with the Fab-5 sampling, dusty rattle of “Iz He 4 Real,” Redman lets loose a head-spinning array of pop culture references, befitting the man who had the most grimy MTV cribs ever filmed. In just 8 bars he name-drops Scottie Pippen, NBA Jam, Hennessey, Slick Rick and Vance Wright and claims that if “weak MCs…come to Jersey/they’ll get jacked like Jill, G.”

“Rock the Spot” flips Biggie’s “Unbelievable” for its hook and features another flurry of brilliant one-liners, including boasts that “my palms be swift with the pen like Lynn Swann,” and “you can quote this, I’m the Moby Dick of dopeness.” Other highlights include the album’s third single, “Pick it Up,” (one of the finer hip-hop 12 inches ever released with “Yesh, Yesh, Y’all), and its existential qustion: “if you see a bag of weed on the floor, motherfucker what the fuck you gonna’ do? (pick it up, pick it up.)”

“Smoke Buddah” finds Redman effortlessly creating another stoner classics, riding Rick James’ “Mary Jane” to craft a cut worthy of a place alongside Whut thee Album’s, “How to Roll a Blunt.” “Whateva Man” makes you wonder how much better EPMD would’ve been if Red had been there instead of Parrish Smith, not to mention its brilliant Blues-Brothers inspired video (with Method Man mysteriously replacing Erick Sermon).

Redman: Presumably Not Heeding GZA’s Advice About Sandals

Like most classic hip-hop albums of its era, Muddy Waters manages to turn in funny, well-constructed skits, including a painfully clueless news crew who come to Newark and get their gear stolen and shot at. Not to mention a “chicken-head convention” full of wayward clucking. The album is a bit overlong, running 1 hour and 7 minutes, but track-for-track there aren’t any duds, each verse studded with inventive similes, brash claims, and molasses slow stoned funk.

If you think Redman is all histrionic gestures and commercial shills, you need to own a copy of this record. If you like hip-hop at all you need to need to own this record. I’m not expecting much from Red Gone Wild but if it’s half as good as Muddy Waters, I’ll be a happy man. Hell, I’ll even buy a Special Brew to accompany the listening experience.

MP3: Redman-“Whateva Man”
MP3: Redman-“Do What Ya’ Feel”

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