Happy 30th Anniversary to Audio Two’s Debut Album What More Can I Say?, originally released June 7, 1988.
It’s weird to think of how important Audio Two’s What More Can I Say? is to my love of hip-hop. Released 30 years ago, it’s an album that’s known mostly because of one song, considered one of the best tracks of hip-hop’s golden era.
Truthfully, I associate this album mostly with “I Don’t Care,” the group’s second single, because it was one of the first non-Run DMC hip-hop videos I’d ever seen. There was a point where I listened to What More Can I Say? more than any other album I owned. Its excellence still endures, even though I now appreciate it for different reasons than I did three decades ago.
Audio Two was comprised of Brooklyn-raised brothers Kirk “Milk Dee” and Nat “Gizmo” Robinson. Milk Dee rapped while Gizmo worked behind the turntables (and occasionally rapped), and both handled production. Audio Two was the flagship group on their father’s record label, First Priority Records. The group, along with label-mates MC Lyte, Positive K, and members of the Alliance, were products of the New York City hip-hop club scene, and fixtures at the infamous Latin Quarter.
What More Can I Say? is a product of those bygone days of no-frills hip-hop, when less was more. It presents rap at its rawest essence: an emcee rhyming over a drum track. In my younger years, I enjoyed the rapping side of the equation the most. Milk Dee will never be confused for Rakim or LL Cool J, but he had panache. He possesses a high-pitched vocal tone that gives him one of the most distinctive voices in the genre, and always had that edge of brash arrogance that some of the all-time great rappers carry with them like the proverbial chip on the shoulder.
However, as decades have passed, I find myself very appreciative of the production side of What More Can I Say?, especially when it comes to drum programming. Audio Two and their occasional production partners’ subtle yet expert manipulation of the SP-1200 and other drum machines is a huge part of the album’s artistic success. As I’ve gotten older, I thoroughly enjoy picking out the intricacies and shifting patterns throughout the songs.
Audio Two’s biggest and most familiar hit “Top Billin’” owes much of its success to an extremely recognizable drum track. Given Audio Two’s skill as drum programmers, it’s almost ironic that this unique drum track was apparently the result of an accident. Depending on the story, either Gizmo or Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O, who received production credit for the track along with Audio Two, was trying to loop the Honey Drippers’ “Impeach the President” drum break on the SP-1200, and pushed the wrong button. The mistake resulted in the stuttering drum pattern that runs through the song.
Taken as a whole, “Top Billin’” is an exercise in pure hip-hop minimalism, as Milk keeps it raw over driving beats and echoing shouts of “Go Brooklyn,” taken from Stetsasonic’s “Go Stetsa!” The drum track would later be used by Mary J. Blige as the backbone of one of her biggest hits, “Real Love.”
The album’s second single, the aforementioned “I Don’t Care,” remains a personal favorite, with Milk Dee spitting raps that often don’t rhyme over the bassline to the Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” and furious scratches by Giz. It’s all in the delivery, as Milk kicks off-the-wall boasts, adding brief pauses for effect, “To my left to my right I have bodyguards / And in my wallet: credit cards / In my pockets: hundreds and more / I give it to your mother, cause your mother’s a – stunt.”
Time has mostly forgotten that “Top Billin’” was actually the B-side to “Make It Funky,” an old school exhibition of the production skills of Audio Two and Daddy-O, who pull out all the stops. They layer varied drum tracks, splicing in James Brown and other vocal samples, and laying down precise cuts. There’s little structure to the lyrics from both Milk and Giz, who piece together old school routines to keep the track moving.
“I Like Cherries” is the goofier cousin of “Make It Funky,’ using the same production techniques and even modifying the same lines. Since it’s built around the falsetto refrain of “I like cherries because cherries taste better, and grapes are sour!” it’s hard to imagine the song was ever supposed to be taken seriously.
“Hickeys Around My Neck” is a breezy song about trying to eliminate the evidence of infidelity. The song is structured so that Milk kicks his verse, and then the song “repeats,” this time as a dubbed out instrumental. The technique allows the fluttering drum rolls and scratches by Giz to get their shine. The pair later utilized this same song structure with MC Lyte’s “Paper Thin.”
The album’s title track is another non-traditional track. Over a loop of James Brown’s “Escapism,” Giz kicks a few solid verses, proclaiming that “rolling with Milk feels just like a convoy / Transporting rhymes by the hecksa tons / And it ain’t no fun if we don’t get none.” Still, the majority of the song consists of Milk and Daddy-O improvising ad-libs in the background, marveling at the weather and mocking those who “throw their records in my face like I’m surprised to be proud of it.”
Milk and Giz team up on the mic once again with “When 2 Is On the Mic.” The lyrics aren’t particularly complex, but the production stands out again, particular the live drumming by Stetsasonic’s Bobby Simmons. Most of the lyrical content on the album does consist of Milk celebrating his own dominance. In the case of “Giz Starts Buggin” he derides other emcees’ insecurities, “pulling out knots” in order to prove that they have as much money as him.
“The Questions” features Milk Dee raging at unnamed enemies that doubt his ability. The anger in his voice does feel authentic as he blasts non-believers who talk trash both to his face and behind his back. The beat, created by Audio Two and King of Chill (a member of First Priority’s The Alliance), mixes keyboards from the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” and grooves from Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love.”
What More Can I Say? was a mild success mostly driven by the success of “Top Billin’” as a bona fide club classic. A few years later, the pair released the much more ambitious I Don’t Care: The Album. It was also quite good, but didn’t have anything nearly as iconic as “Top Billin’” or “I Don’t Care.” Audio Two continued to work as producers, and eventually Milk Dee dropped a solo EP on Rick Rubin’s American Records. Milk still occasionally works in production, and Giz continues to ply his trade as a sound engineer.
What More Can I Say? will always have a special place in my musical memory. I may not listen to it as much as I used to, but I oddly have even more appreciation for it now. And whenever I do give it a spin, it’s guaranteed to put a smile on my face.