Hero vs. Villain: Mr. Hood

As our MF DOOM tribute continues, the esteemed rap journalist and historian Dart Adams goes in on KMD's debut album.
By    January 8, 2021

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Peace, but why call Dart Adams the money guy?

One of our Christmas gifts in 1990 was finally getting cable; it gave us access to ESPN, TNT, TBS, SportsChannel, MTV, and BET. Since it was the last week of December, both MTV and BET were counting down the biggest videos of the year. It was a landmark moment for rap, due to it being the first year that a rap single hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the first year that not just one, but two rap albums occupied the #1 spot on the Top Pop Albums sales chart.

MC Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em reigned for 21 weeks in total — including straight 18 weeks between July 7th, 1990 and November 3rd, 1990 — while Vanilla Ice’s To the Extreme took over the top spot for the final eight weeks of the year (November 10th, 1990 – December 29th, 1990). That’s 29 of the 52 weeks in 1990; the music industry was reeling, and with artists like Candyman, Gerardo, Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch and P.M. Dawn in the offing, it was highly likely that rap would continue to rule the charts the next year too.

We had officially entered the Pop Rap Era: the backlash was swift and immediate from artists, fans, and music critics alike.

Once January began, we started seeing the new 1991 videos — among them was KMD’s “Peachfuzz.” I remember us seeing the young Ansaars being informed how much each item was for sale at their table and being told to not holler at the girls during their shift. Grand Puba Maxwell, formerly of Masters of Ceremony and now of Brand Nubian, was playing a xylophone with Lord Jamar and Sadat X — Don’t ever call him Derek ‘cause that’s not his righteous name — also making an appearance with fellow R.I.F. Productions mates 3rd Bass.

Pete Nice limps on screen with his cane and MC Serch reveals he had the name “KMD” cut into the back of his hair (where he once had the 3rd Bass logo). The catchy, playful song stood out amongst the current singles by Ice Cube, Paris, Intelligent Hoodlum, and Brand Nubian. The girls teasingly saying “peachfuzz!” made for a clever hook as the young Zev and Onyx talked about how smooth they were in comparison to their more famous emcee peers. It was a memorable debut single.

KMD were signed to Elektra, home of Brand Nubian, and the recently signed Leaders Of The New School and Pete Rock & CL Smooth; Dante Ross was assembling a squad. KMD’s “Peachfuzz”/”Gasface Refill” 12” dropped in December 1990, but it took a while to climb up the charts. Once the video hit BET’s Rap City and Yo! MTV Raps, it steadily gained more and more traction, even getting frequent play on college radio shows like MIT’s “Dope Jams Show” on WMBR 88.1 FM, Emerson College’s “Rap Explosion Show” on WMBR 88.9 FM, and Northeastern’s WRBB 104.9 FM — which was among the first in the nation to regularly play rap on air.

My younger brother and I had two VCR’s connected to each other to dub the VHS tapes rented from nearby VideoSmith locations. But now we needed more cassettes to record videos, since the signal came in clear thanks to having cable. These early videos included Ice Cube’s “Dead Homiez,” Son Of Bazerk’s “Change The Style,” EPMD’s “Gold Digger,” Chubb Rock’s “Treat ‘Em Right”, Main Source’s “Looking at the Front Door,” A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?,” Brand Nubian’s “Wake Up”, Jungle Brothers’s “Get A Kick Out Of You,” and Digital Underground’s “Same Song,” featuring the debut of 2Pac.

I still own these VHS tapes and keep them in crates in my bedroom to this very day.

On February 16th, 1991, KMD’s “Peachfuzz” finally cracked the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart at #30, and the next day they visited Stretch & Bobbito at WKCR to promote the single and their upcoming album. “Peachfuzz” steadily climbed the highly competitive Rap charts over the next two months, eventually climbing to #11 on April 6th, 1991. Unfortunately, with all the new singles being released and new hot songs shooting up the charts, KMD stalled at #11 for three straight weeks before falling to #14, then #22, then falling off the Hot Rap Singles chart altogether by May 11th, 1991 — the same week KMD’s debut album was set to drop. It ultimately came down to some of the shittiest timing in rap history to try to climb the charts.

They were ultimately squeezed off those charts after an 11 week run by a historic collection of hot new entries like The Genius’ “Come Do Me,” K-Solo’s “Fugitive,” Yo Yo’s “You Can’t Play With My Yo Yo,” EPMD and LL Cool J’s “Rampage,” Gang Starr’s “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?,” Nikki D’s “Daddy’s Little Girl,” DJ Quik’s “Born and Raised in Compton,” LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” Ice T’s “New Jack Hustler,” Edo.G & da Bulldogs’ “I Gotta Have It,” Monie Love’s “It’s a Shame (My Sister),” Terminator X and Bonnie & Clyde’s “Homey Don’t Play Dat,” De La Soul’s “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey),” Kool Moe Dee, Chuck D and KRS One’s “Rise n’ Shine,” and label mates Leaders Of The New School’s “Case Of The P.T.A.”

To make matters even worse? KMD’s debut album Mr. Hood was to be released the same day as De La Soul and Ice T’s highly anticipated albums, De La Soul Is Dead and O.G. Original Gangster (in addition to Chubb Rock’s The One), all but ensuring it would be completely overshadowed. Given the set of less than ideal circumstances, Mr. Hood dropped on May 14th, 1991 and found its initial audience. On June 8th, 1991, Mr. Hood entered the Top R&B Albums chart at #77 (how fitting). That was 30 spots behind De La Soul Is Dead, but this was an all time great release date for influential rap albums. My brother and I rotated cassette tapes for our Green Line trolley rides to Boston Latin School, trading between these four tapes, but marveling at the creativity of Mr. Hood: the random ass records sampled on that album, how they were assembled in a collage/pastiche manner where skits bled into songs and songs seamlessly bled into extended skits.

The album’s approach was made apparent by color pictures of Zev Love X, Subroc, and Onyx the Birthstone Kid being pasted onto a vintage black and white Arthur Leipzig photo from 1950 — of Black children playing in the streets of New York, with another person off to the side in a red hoody, part of their face obscured above the name “Mr. Hood,” which was repeated five times. Extra elements added to the vintage photograph demanded you to scrutinize it further while you played the album, no doubt, in hopes of trying to find extra clues about its meaning. My younger brother Jeff and I used to scan the cassette J card as Mr. Hood blared out of our stereo speakers, like when we read the ingredients to the cereal we ate on Saturday mornings as children, while cartoons played in the living room. Zev Love X and Subroc were spiritual heroes to us.

Zev Love X was only four years older than me and Subroc was born two Augusts before me. My younger brother Jeff was three years my junior, but we often did everything together. I tried to do what my older sister and brother did, but they were eight and six years older than me. By the time I was fifteen and had a growing obsession with rap music, they were either in college or graduated and had full time jobs . At home, it was me and Jeff. We listened to the same music, watched the same anime, and played against each other in TurboGrafx-16, Super Nintendo and Genesis. We battled each other in Tetris on Game Boy, using the super short Game Link cables to play head to head, while standing in front of a lamp with no shade because Game Boys didn’t have backlit screens. We dug for records, analyzed music, and read liner notes together. It was no surprise that we both became immersed in everything rap production related and wanted to make our own music — much like the Dumile brothers Daniel and Dingilizwe did.

I remember listening to Mr. Hood and being in awe of how forward-thinking they were. It took planning and forethought to tie together a full narrative involving off the wall characters like Mr. Hood, Crackpot Jenkins, and Preacher Porkchop. To open Side B of the cassette — titled 2 And Ya Don’t Stop! — the song “Nitty Gritty” featuring Elektra labelmates Brand Nubian was followed by a song called “Trial ‘n Error” that was bridged by a vocal sample of Q-Tip from the A Tribe Called Quest song “Push It Along,” where Q-Tip utters the lines “It’s the nitty gritty” and “This ain’t trial and error/more like Tribe and error;” except they chopped it up so that Q-Tip’s sped up vocals instead said “It’s the nitty gritty” seven times then “more like trial and error,” “it’s the trial and error,” “more like trial and error.”

We wondered when they came up with that idea? Did they pre plan it or did they hear the song playing after the fact then realize they had two songs recorded named “Nitty Gritty” and “Trial ‘N Error”? These are the kinds of things we stayed fixated on, as we listened intently, over and over again.

The out there song concepts, Zev Love X’s unorthodox flow and rhyme construction, the layered and complex sampling and album sequencing were reminiscent of things we had heard on Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Ultramagnetic MC’s, and Public Enemy albums; but KMD were something new and entirely different. While O.G. Original Gangster, De La Soul is Dead, and The One all went on to be regarded as undisputed classic rap albums from 1991, Mr. Hood was definitely regarded as the redheaded stepchild out of the albums released that day, even if it had its fierce advocates and admirers. Among them being The Source, Rob “Ref” Tewlow gave Mr. Hood a glowing 4 mic review in the July 1991 issue. The next month, in the August 1991 edition of The Source, Chris Wilder’s KMD article “I’m is a God” gushed about the album and the group’s innovative approach.

It didn’t help to move the needle commercially, but it it did cement that the album was brilliant to the heads who all paid attention from jump.

De La Soul Is Dead was certified Gold on July 18th, 1991, Ice T’s album was certified Gold on July 24th, 1991, and Chubb Rock’s The One yielded three #1 Rap hits — “Treat ‘Em Right,” “The Chubbster,” and “Just the Two of Us,” falling just short of reaching Gold. Mr. Hood, however, topped out at just over 100,000 units sold. It never climbed higher than #67 on the Hot R&B Albums chart in late June and spent its final day charting on August 3rd, 1991. All it could muster was a nine week run in Billboard. It never even came close to cracking the Top Pop Albums/Billboard 200.

The second single from Mr. Hood, “Who Me?” spent eight straight weeks on the Hot Rap Singles chart between June 15th and August 3rd, 1991. The video became popular on BET’s Rap City and creeped up the Yo! MTV Raps countdown until it was replaced by more popular videos that seemed to drop weekly as we approached the fall. I’ll never forget the “Who Me?” video ending with Phife of A Tribe Called Quest making a cameo and jumping out of a barber chair with jheri curls. August 3rd, 1991 was not only Subroc’s eighteenth birthday, it was also the last day his group’s album and their second single charted in Billboard.

New albums dropped to further obscured the release of Mr. Hood that spring. By the time August had rolled around, we were bumping the Geto Boys’ We Can’t Be Stopped, Heavy D & the Boyz’s Peaceful Journey, Terminator X’s In the Valley of the Jeep Beets, Slick Rick’s The Ruler’s Back, Shabba Ranks’ Raw As Ever, Daddy Freddy’s Stress, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s Homebase, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s All Souled Out EP, 3rd Bass’ Derelicts Of Dialect, N.W.A.’s EFIL4ZAGGIN, Leaders of the New School’s A Future Without a Past…, P.M. Dawn’s Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopia Experience, and Cypress Hill’s, Cypress Hill. No matter how many of these new tapes entered our rotation or became popular, my younger brother and I kept revisiting Mr. Hood, whether it was simply to play “Subroc’s Mission.” “Humrush” or “Bananapeel Blues.”

By the opening of the 1991-92 school year, all of the attention had shifted to Cypress Hill, Naughty By Nature, Scarface, Public Enemy, Nice & Smooth, Leaders Of The New School, Poor Righteous Teachers, Freestyle Fellowship, Del The Funkee Homosapien, Digital Underground, Ice Cube, Black Sheep, A Tribe Called Quest and The UMC’s. The video for “Nitty Gritty” had failed to catch on, although the remix became a favorite on college rap radio programs and the mixtape circuit. But enthusiasm for Mr. Hood had died out. If you didn’t cop it by now? Chances were you never were going to. However, that didn’t stop myself, my brother, or someone in our circle of friends from pulling the cassette tape out of our collection to play “Figure Of Speech,” “Hard Wit No Hoe” or “Boy Who Cried Wolf,” then remark about how hard people were sleeping on it.

Almost 30 years later, it’s pretty much where we’re stuck in regards to Mr. Hood. Over the last 30 years, my brother and I have become fast friends and instantly bonded with people who cite this album as being highly influential to them and their musical endeavors, or who simply regard it as an excellent and overlooked album from one of the most competitive years in rap. We both looked up to Zev Love X and Subroc and couldn’t wait to see what they did in the future. Zev Love X inverted is X EVOLVEZ. Following the tragic passing of his other other half Subroc, Zev entered a deep depression and re-emerged as who we know now as DOOM. Even to this day, I can’t think about my initial reaction to hearing De La Soul is Dead without acknowledging I was playing it in tandem with Mr. Hood.

Rest in eternal peace to DOOM and Subroc. A positive kause in a much damaged society forever.

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