Happy 25th Anniversary to Akinyele’s Debut Album Vagina Diner, originally released July 6, 1993.
“Live at the Barbecue” is one of hip-hop’s best posse cuts. Appearing on Main Source’s debut album Breaking Atoms (1991), it’s best known for its opening verse, which was Nasir “Nas” Jones’ first appearance on record. But aside from Nas and Main Source frontman Large Professor, the song features two other emcees making their debuts. Both give standout, yet oft-forgotten performances.
A talented emcee but one who only made a scattered number of appearances afterwards, Joe “Fatal” Burgos delivers the second verse. In the third slot was Akinyele Adams, an emcee hailing from LeFrak, Queens. Besides his ability to craft clever punchlines, he possessed a deep and gravelly voice and utilized a memorable style, dropping his already deep vocal tone an octave or so at the end of his lines.
Akinyele may have been overshadowed by Nas’ coming out party, but listening to his verse, it was apparent that he had a bright future ahead of him as well. Akinyele continued to be tied to Nas in some respects. Like Nas, he recorded a verse for MC Serch’s “Back to the Grill” in 1992, but his lines ultimately weren’t used on the finished product.
Regardless, Akinyele was the first of these featured emcees to release a solo album. A quarter of a century ago he dropped his debut album Vagina Diner on Interscope Records. It remains a dope, albeit uncouth piece of work. Whereas a rapper like Nas exuded understandable smooth shit, Akinyele’s voice was a gruff, blunt-force instrument. He was apt at crafting rhymes, but was incredibly rough around the edges.
“My whole shit was just to be rude,” Akinyele told Elemental Magazine in 2004. “Rap is supposed to be rude going against the grain. If you could be rude and still accomplish cutting through without radio and without everybody, now you’re standing out.”
Akinyele was sort of like The Notorious B.I.G. before The Notorious B.I.G., and Vagina Diner is like Ready to Die (1994) without the radio and club friendly tracks and the suicidal musings. The result finds Akinyele traversing some pretty bumpy territory, often with skill and humor, but occasionally with a peerless crudeness. At least three of the album’s eleven full songs fall into the category of “would never get released in 2018.”
On the production side, Large Professor guides Vagina Diner. It was the first album produced in its entirely by the Queens beatmaker/rapper (he shared behind-the-board duties on Main Source’s Breaking Atoms), and he is in fine form. With the ascendance of producers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock in the mid-’90s, Large Professor contributions often went overlooked. Vagina Diner features some of his best work, particularly in the realm of digging up basslines, as he uses his beat alchemy to create gems out of obscure soul, jazz, and rock tracks.
Before he dedicates himself to being an asshole on record, Akinyele first demonstrates his ample mic skills on Vagina Diner. On “Ak-Ha-Ha! Ak Ak Hoo Hoo?” the album’s first single, he utilizes his clever metaphors and unique delivery as he raps, “I throw rhymes like children throwing balls on project bricks / In other words I be kicking that old off the wall shit.” “The Bomb,” the album’s second single, is a solid jeep banger, as it balances Ak’s verbal skills with Large Pro’s beat-making ability. Not many producers can combine the bassline breakdown of pop artists LeBlanc & Carr’s “How Does It Feel (To Be in Love)” with a saxophone stab from jazz artist’s Woody Shaw’s “New World.”
Ak realty lets loose with his verbal dexterity on tracks like the album-opening “Worldwide” and the rugged “Dear Diary.” “Checkmate” is the album’s best display of Ak’s skill, as he rips over a sample of the bassline from Miles Davis’ “Yesternow,” rapping, “I been around the world like Lisa Stansfield’s tour bus / Tearing n****s up from here to West Bumblefuck.” DJ Rob Swift of the X-Ecutioners (formerly known as the X-Men) is an important component to these songs, and throughout the album, as he provides sharp and precise scratches behind the turntables.
“Exercise” is another of the best songs on Vagina Diner, and one that demonstrates flashes of Ak’s humor. It’s Ak’s two-verse dissertation on why he eschews physical activity. Ak details why he’s “not a good sport” over a heavily-filtered sample of John Klemmer’s “Free Love,” explaining that “I never participated in gym / I hated the thought, to even have to take a loss to begin” and warning others “Don’t throw your soccer balls this way / The name is Akinyele, not no motherfucking Pele.”
Ak’s storytelling ability remains overlooked, but it was on full display throughout Vagina Diner. Often it concerned dealing with the perspective of living outside of the law. “Outta State” concerns Akinyele’s resolution to leave home to start selling drugs in an unfamiliar place. Ak frames the decision as one he’s made out of necessity, not desire, since he can’t afford to go to college and he doesn’t want his parents viewing him as a parasite. Meanwhile, “30 Days” sees Ak as a criminal kingpin celebrating his last month of freedom before he begins his one to three year prison bid. In a realistic touch, Ak explains that while he isn’t looking forward to prison, he knows he can use the time to make connections to become a better criminal.
When Ak expresses his aforementioned rudeness on Vagina Diner, he goes all out. “Bags Packed” features Ak expelling his ex-girlfriend from his home because she’s jobless and not paying rent, occasionally threatening violence. Meanwhile, “No Exit” plays like the reverse of “Bags Packed,” as Ak assumes the role of a psychologically abusive boyfriend, refusing to let go of a woman who wants to end their relationship.
But the song that received the most attention is “I Luh Huh,” where Ak discovers that his girlfriend is pregnant and cycles through his conflicted thoughts. Panicking because he feels he’s not ready to be a father, he runs through the gamut of emotions and wild thoughts in his heads. Over a sample from Don Covay’s “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way” and the bassline from Sly & The Family Stone’s “Babies Making Babies” and goes from hoping she has an abortion to, in a particularly disturbing passage, fantasizing about punching her in the stomach or pushing her down a flight of stairs. In the end, he acknowledges that these were all just outrageous fantasies, and raps, “Just cause I talk this shit don’t get me wrong, I still luh her / Nobody touch her, because I luh her.”
Even operating under the premise that the song was all fantasy, it’s admittedly a tough listen, and it prompted a harsh response from Kierna Mayo, one of the editors of The Source. In an editorial for the magazine, she wrote an open letter to Ak, calling him a “bitch ass n****” and a “pitiful, psychopathic, sorry ass sucker.”
Ak responded in a letter to the editor in the next issue, writing, “Your article condemns me for my thoughts instead of giving me credit for not acting on my impulses. This leads me to believe that you would rather have a person repress his thoughts and explode through his acts instead of giving him the freedom to express his emotions through music.”
Though Ak survived the “I Luh Huh” controversy, another song that didn’t make the album turned out to be a bridge stretched too far. “Break a Bitch Neck,” featuring Kool G Rap, went beyond “rude” and well into the realm of vile. It arguably warrants inclusion among the top 3 most misogynistic hip-hop tracks ever recorded. The song was left off the album, but was slated to be released in 1995 on an independent 12” via radio legend Stretch Armstrong’s label, but that fell through as well. Somewhere between ten and eighteen test copies of the singles were pressed, and as a result it remains one of the most expensive and sought-after hip-hop 12”s ever produced.
It’s always seemed odd that an album called Vagina Diner featured very little if any sexual content. Akinyele would more than remember that as he career progressed. After leaving Interscope, he signed with Loud Records to release the Put It In Your Mouth EP, featuring the title track and “Fuck Me For Free,” two of the best known tracks he recorded. His material continued down the more “adult” oriented path, as he released Aktapuss (1999) and Anakonda (2001). In 2004, he released Live At the Barbecue: Unreleased Hits, a compilation of mostly shelved material (like “Break a Bitch Neck”) along with some newly recorded tracks.
Ak eventually gave up rapping in favor of adult entertainment. He was the co-owner of Lolipops, a Las Vegas-based strip club. It was both oft-reported (and widely disputed) that it made $5 million in its first weekend. Ak then moved his operations to Miami, where he planned to open his King of Diamonds strip club. There was considerable controversy when it appeared he was attempting to open a branch of the club in the heart of South Beach.
Vagina Diner is brash, crude, and at times a tough listen, especially 25 years removed from the era during which it was recorded. But it’s also the unvarnished thoughts or, as Ak says on “I Luh Huh,” the “diary of a Black Man” from LeFrak, surrounded by crime and poverty, determined to do whatever it takes to get himself out of that situation. These thoughts and experiences aren’t always enlightened, but they reflect the environment in which Akinyele was raised.
Akinyele found success both through his music and his other pursuits on his own terms. Unlike Nas, he hasn’t performed at Carnegie Hall and no books have been written about Vagina Diner. But the album is still damn good and has helped Ak establish a respectable legacy for himself as an artist.