Happy 25th Anniversary to Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s debut EP All Souled Out, originally released June 25, 1991. [Stream album and watch videos below]
I’m willing to bet that, beyond the diehard hip-hop heads among us, most folks first discovered the brilliance of Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth by way of their 1992 debut full-length masterpiece Mecca and the Soul Brother. More specifically, I suspect it was the album’s unforgettable lead single “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),” a tribute to the late Trouble T-Roy of Heavy D & the Boyz, that convinced people to pay close attention to the dynamic duo from that point forward.
However, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s history on wax actually predates their classic first long player by just shy of a year. By the time that the summer of 1991 arrived, cratedigger extraordinaire Rock had already begun refining his production resume by collaborating with the likes of the aforementioned Heavy D & the Boyz, Kid ‘n Play, Main Source, and Brand Nubian. Around the same time, both Rock and the gifted rhymesmith Smooth contributed vocals, along with their heavyweight hip-hop brethren Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Grand Puba, and Q-Tip, to the Rock-produced posse cut “Don’t Curse,” which featured on Heavy D. & the Boyz’ Peaceful Journey album.
One week before Peaceful Journey hit store shelves, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth released their debut song suite, in the form of the All Souled Out EP. Indeed, the jazzy, boom bap imbued six-track set offered a stellar preview of the Chocolate Boy Wonder and Caramel King’s more expansive debut album that would follow twelve months later. But All Souled Out stands as a damn fine work in its own right, irrespective of its chronological place within the pair’s recorded repertoire, and showcases Rock’s sampladelic sonic wizardry and Smooth’s buttery rhyme flow to glorious effect.
Resurrected for an Android TV spot last year, the ebullient “The Creator” remains the EP’s most recognizable single, and one of the rare Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth tracks in which Rock dominates the mic and not just the mixing board. “That was just somethin’ I wanted to do, you know, just for the fun of it,” Rock explained to The Source in 1991. “You know, [Grand] Puba wrote the lyrics. I just memorized off the tape, wrote it down while I was in the studio and did it off the beat.” As he has proven time and time again since, though most revered for his production Midas touch, Rock is a far stronger emcee than some have given him credit for.
The other indisputable standout is the buoyant opener “Good Life,” which seamlessly merges samples from Eddie Kendricks (riff), Mountain (vocals/drums) and O’Donel Levy (horns), reinforcing Rock’s unparalleled penchant for connecting rather obscure sonic artifacts for magnificently melodic end results. With his signature conversational cadence, Smooth shines as usual, as he delivers an uplifting message that extols the universal virtues of aspiring to spiritual, familial, professional, and financial fulfillment, while never forgetting where you come from. The “Group Home” mix of “Good Life” that concludes the EP is a worthwhile addition, though the original remains the superior version.
A reference to the group’s other aliases of The Mecca Don (Smooth) and Soul Brother #1 (Rock), as well as a direct harbinger of the follow-up album, “Mecca & The Soul Brother” unravels as a more subdued groove, with even more respect paid to the underappreciated jazz guitarist O’Donel Levy with not one, but two samples embedded throughout. Smooth flips a braggadocious triple verse, across which he drops clever references to a wide range of pop culture icons, including Agatha Christie, Faye Dunaway, Billie Holiday, Magic Johnson, and Doctor Ruth, among several others. The flute-driven “Go With the Flow” and organ-laced title track make for enjoyable listens as well.
Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s partnership regrettably proved an ephemeral one, but their output from 1991 to 1994 yielded some of the greatest and most enduring records in hip-hop history. Earlier this year, the Get On Down record label reissued All Souled Out, Mecca and the Soul Brother, and The Main Ingredient (1994), renewing interest in the duo’s classic discography and, hopefully, introducing their music to a brand new generation.
In even more promising news, the pair reunited for a recent west coast tour in conjunction with the anniversary of All Souled Out with a handful of overseas dates slated for later this summer, and reports have surfaced that the duo have returned to the studio together. Fingers crossed that a new album comes to fruition soon, as the return of Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth on wax will be a welcome one indeed.