Back For The First Time: Hip-Hop Comebacks Pt. 1

Yo-Yo was at one time, the voice of many. Before Kam, before Mack 10, it was Yo-Yo that Ice Cube endorsed. She was a star in his first movie, and he was all over her classic debut, Make Way for the Motherlode. This album was a touchstone for many women, who were witnessing the first successful California female rapper in LA since J.J. Fad, Dre’s protégés in the Reagan era. Then, Yo-Yo’s I.B.W. Crew (Intelligent Black Women) supplied listeners with uplifting jewels such as “Sisterland” with just enough gangsterism to fit in alongside the CMW’s and the NWA’s in the mix.

Yo-Yo recounts her good intentions. “It wasn’t the fame I wanted. It was the money. It was sayin’ something. It was being the voice of women,” she says. “We need somebody to represent that independent, strong Black women.” But as other female rappers started peeling off clothes, the labels started peeling off female rappers. In the wake of poorly received albums in the mid-90’s, Yo-Yo hung up her mic, and called it quits.

There was a time when comebacks came easier. Twenty years ago, Tina Turner proved that when she stumbled into a hit, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and launched spin-off success that damn near kicked Mad Max’s ass. Equally, recall football star Doug Flutie. The former Wheatie’s cereal-box quarterback returned to the NFL after an eight-year hiatus to lead the Buffalo Bills to the seemingly unreachable play-offs. In sports, in entertainment, everywhere – there is the comeback. In the immortal words of MC Shan, “You love to hear the story, again and again.”

But what about Hip-Hop? This culture which began in the parks of the South Bronx has literally become Times Square. The artists, the lyrics, the images, are electric. The pace is faster than any car in Mannie Fresh’s garage. Back in the day, Hip-Hop had more options.

But fifteen years ago, things were different. Less than fifteen miles apart in New York, The Jungle Brothers and Grand Daddy I.U. recall those days.

For the JBeez, style was largely based upon peace and unity. The album was Done by the Forces of Nature, a break-beat and Funk sample canvas of enriching messages and pro-Black wisdom made for a hit record that still leaks onto dance-floors and mixtapes today.

Over in Queens, Grand Daddy I.U. was flipping a whole different script with his Smooth Assassin debut, one of the last great Cold Chillin’ artists (along with GZA). This album featured tracks like, “Nobody Move” and “Mass Destruction” that countered some of the science that The Jungle Brothers promoted. Neither was right or wrong. Like Malcolm and Marvin, Kerry and Bush, Roe and Wade, each side had a different spin on the same struggle.

By the mid-90’s, the texture of Hip-Hop started to head where it was today. Then, one wrong move, one bad album, one lousy label, and career’s crashed.

Mike of the Jungle Brothers reflects. “There was a time where we just weren’t communicating. Right after Jbeez Wit The Remedy, we had bills, and families, and record label problems. We needed to sit down, we had to separate our issues.”

Nevertheless, touring has recently kept The Jungle Brothers in the mix. But in the commercial US market, their most current albums have yet to equate the relevance and success of their first two albums.

For Grand Daddy I.U., the event was similar. He faded to a background due to label disputes. Despite his critically acclaimed Lead Pipe follow-up in ’94, the end seemed near for Cold Chillin’ Records.

“Big Daddy Kane got on that singin’ s**t, that Barry White s**t. The [label] just went. That was it right there.” And so came the dark ages. Grand Daddy I.U. remembers with bitterness the cold reality. “That mother f**kin’ money ran out! We wasn’t doing shows. We wasn’t doing s**t. They wouldn’t let me out of my deal.”

I.U. is quick to name names – yet he has no regrets. He said he wouldn’t change a thing if given the change.

In Texas, The Geto Boys –Scarface, Willie Dee and Bushwick Bill- were facing a similar struggle to The Jungle Brothers. Inner turmoil and personnel changes prevented the group from matching its success in the late ‘80’s and early 90’s.

With the drama deep, Bushwick Bill explains, “Each one of us was looking at doing our own projects when they put us together as The Geto Boys.” Bill and Willie explored solo options, as ‘Face filled the group with different people. Although the music was never compromised, the initial reaction to the ‘original’ lineup was unmatched. For the purist, it’s been nine long years without a Geto Boys album, but the group has another opus slated for release on Rap-A-Lot Records. Still through the years, their music might’ve been there, but the group’s heart wasn’t.

The genuine love seems to leave when hip-hop heads turn their eyes away from artists, but that’s often when they become busier. Who realized that Kwame was making beats for G-Unit, or that Daddy-O of Stetasonic was still bringing out artists like Eamon? Nobody cared to look over and see Tone Loc’s move into cartoon voices, or Flavor Flav’s sneak attack on reality TV. Big Daddy Kane tours regularly as did Run DMC prior to JMJ’s death. These things happened because the public wasn’t looking. But while one may use the term “comeback,” do realize that these artists really haven’t gone anywhere. They simply altered their hustle.