Happy 30th Anniversary to Big Daddy Kane’s second studio album It’s A Big Daddy Thing, originally released September 19, 1989.
It’s hard to strike that balance between being a smooth fly guy and verbal assassin, so it’s understandable that Antonio “Big Daddy Kane” Hardy only pulled it off once. But when the Brooklyn-born icon properly incorporated songs that appealed to the ladies with battle-oriented hip-hop tracks and pointed social commentary, he did it better than anyone before or since. It’s A Big Daddy Thing, released 30 years ago, is correctly regarded as a great album, and it succeeds because Kane was so effective in switching gears.
Kane stayed busy in between releasing his first album Long Live The Kane (1988) and Big Daddy Thing. He dropped “Wrath of Kane,” one of his best tracks, as a B-side to “I’ll Take You There,” and recorded “Rap Summary,” the “theme” song to the film Lean On Me. Each song bookends a different side of Big Daddy Thing, albeit in different forms: there’s a live version of “Wrath of Kane,” and a remixed version of “Rap Summary.” The former, recorded at the Apollo, shows just how popular Kane was at the time, as he whips what sounds like a capacity crowd into a frenzy.
It’s also notable in that these are two of three total tracks on the album produced by Marley Marl. Marley, one of the leaders of the infamous Juice Crew, was credited as producing Long Live The Kane in its entirety, though that has since come under dispute, mostly by Kane himself. Here Kane produces the majority of Big Daddy Thing, but also drafted then up-and-comers Prince Paul and Easy Moe Bee, as well as R&B veteran Teddy Riley, to work behind the boards.
Length-wise, Big Daddy Thing is a hefty undertaking, comprised of seventeen tracks and lasting nearly seventy-seven minutes, which was heavy runtime for a hip-hop album released three decades ago. I’d guess that it was among the longest hip-hop albums ever released at the time.
Big Daddy Thing was Kane’s most commercially successful album, and much of that success was built on the development of his talents as an emcee who could write dedications to the ladies without sounding…well…soft. Kane was uniquely talented in walking the line of appealing to a female audience while still maintaining his no-nonsense edge. He positioned himself as the consummate suave ladies man, able to kick fly raps and leave the party with your girl.
This persona was central to the album’s first two singles, both of which were Kane’s biggest hits. First up was “Smooth Operator,” where Kane most effectively strikes a balance between verbal technician and woman-pleaser. As impressive as Kane’s performance on the microphone is, he also shines as a producer. Here he expertly mixes the bassline and sax solo from The Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” with the horn breakdown from Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing” and bits of Mohawk’s “The Champ.” He even slides in the “Impeach the President” drum break during the third verse breakdown.
Kane leans all the way into his role as the roguish player on the album’s second single, “I Get The Job Done” ready to creep into any man’s bedroom to give his girlfriend/wife the romantic fantasy of her desires. With Teddy Riley providing the closest version of a boom-bap New Jack Swing track, complete with layers of synthesizers and keyboards, he creates a perfect musical accompaniment to Kane’s decidedly PG-13 tales of extra-marital creeping.
Though both of these tracks were a change of speed for Kane at the time, neither diminishes his status as one of the fiercest emcees of his era. On Big Daddy Thing, he’s even more adept at unleashing a barrage of lyrics and kicking clever lines and rhymes as he was on his first album. In fact, the album features a trio of Kane’s best lyric-centered tracks in his discography.
“Mortal Combat” showcases Kane at his most ruff and rugged. Who knew that adding James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” break to a loop of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “I Get Lifted” could make such a menacing musical backdrop? Kane sounds absolutely murderous as he raps, “When I react like a volcano erupting / I step to you and say, “Now, what’s up?” then / Every word’ll be just like surgery / Cutting you open so rush to emergency” and later “I combine a line designed to find behind the mind / So divine the other rappers resign.”
On “Young, Gifted, and Black,” Kane delivers a two-minute-plus verse chock full of lyrical heat over a sample of the live version of Albert King’s “I’ll Play the Blues” for you. This would also be the last time that Kane would rap over a Marley Marl beat on one of his own albums. Kane wasn’t even supposed to rhyme over the beat, as it was originally intended for MC Shan. Now it’s hard to imagine anyone else rapping over it, as Kane turns in a tour-de-force performance.
Nearly the whole endeavor is quotable, as he raps, “Rappers I replace, rub out, and erase / Competition? You must be on freebase / Smoking or choking, bound to be broken / Man, get your damn hands off the mic that I’m choking!” He also gets pretty vicious as he targets artists filing lawsuits against rappers for sample clearance issues, noting, “We sample beats, you sue and try to fight us / Maaaan, you’d still be home with arthritis! / If we didn't revive ’em, bring back alive / Old beats that we appreciated? You wouldn't survive / You’d be another memory to us / Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”
“Warm It Up, Kane” is in the vein of “Raw” or “Set It Off” from Long Live The Kane, as it features Kane going for broke over a nearly 120 beats per minute track. Though it sounds ominous and almost threatening, with its sparse bassline and horn stabs from Big John Hamilton’s “Big Bad John,” it still turned out to be a hit in the clubs. Kane demonstrates that he hasn’t lost a step at flowing over fast tracks, proclaiming, “I can slice and dice a Fisher-Price emcee that thought he was nice into Minute Rice.”
Easy Moe Bee received his first production credits on the album, creating a pair of well-crafted beats for Kane to flex his socially awareness entries. On “Another Victory,” Kane explores the social dynamics of racism in New York City, while decrying the rise of the drug epidemic, while flowing rapidly over a loop of Booker T and the MGs’ “Melting Pot,” rapping, “Lips are sealed because all of this is real / I’m not about fronting, I tell the real deal of society / So how we living? / Like a turkey on Thanksgiving or like Robin Givens?”
Meanwhile, “Calling Mr. Welfare” infuses some humor into the proceedings. Accompanied by the legendary DJ Red Alert on backup vocals and ad-libs, he documents multiple riches to rags stories of wannabe criminals who dreamed big but ended up being in over their heads, each ending up on government assistance. Easy Moe Bee sounds positively seasoned with this early effort, blending samples of James Brown’s “The Chicken” with Myrna Barnes’ “Message From the Soul Sisters.”
Kane moves from socially conscious to uplifting on songs like “Children R the Future.” The slow, dancehall-tinged track has Kane pleading for everyone to work to build a better world for future generations, which is fine in principle, but a little mixed in its execution. The song goes off the rails when Kane and crew break into a barely in-key rendition of George Benson’s “The Greatest Love Of All” towards the end. They’re probably trying to channel Whitney Houston, but sound more like Randy Watson.
The Prince Paul produced “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” is much better, even as it borrows quite liberally from the McFadden and Whitehead song of the same name. The track preaches empowerment of the Black community and encourages all to take control of their own destiny. He raps, “There comes a time where we can’t be in the rear / We gotta step up front, to get our share / Make the change, cause we're not inferior / For example, there was a Black Ms. America.”
It’s A Big Daddy Thing does move from uplifting to raunchy rapidly, with the song “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy.” The extremely vulgar song is also a stylistic departure for Kane. To hear him go from “Let me sneak into your life, like a thief in the night” to “if you wanna see a smooth Black Casanova, bend over!” in the space of two songs is somewhat startling. Which doesn’t mean it’s not a good song, as Kane seems to relish playing the bad guy, teaming with his dancer Scoob Lover, as well as Nice & Smooth on the track. This song was the first time I’d personally heard Greg Nice and Smooth Bee, even as they’d released their first album together a few months prior. They never got as ribald on record before or since.
Big Daddy Thing has only a few bumps, but they’re both pretty noticeable. I’ll give credit to Kane for putting the love song and the house song back to back on the album, so I only had to use the fast forward button once each time I listened to the album on my boombox or Walkman (even though fast-forwarding for such a long period would invariably drain my batteries). The only good thing I can say about “To Be Your Man” is that while it’s worse than the misbegotten “Got Me Waiting,” it’s STILL not the worst love song that Kane ever recorded. The instrumental “House That Cee Built,” which runs an interminable five-and-a-half minutes, also isn’t the worst hip-hop house song ever recorded, but that doesn’t make it worthy of inclusion on an otherwise great album.
If we’re being truthful, It’s A Big Daddy Thing is arguably Kane’s last great album, as he began to hit more and more speed bumps as the years wore on. Like LL Cool J, he began to embrace more and more of an image as a rapping ladies man, striving to be the “combination of Malcolm X and Marvin Gaye of rap,” but ended up creating a lot of R&B-drenched material. As a result, the quality of his subsequent albums definitely suffered.
But future stumbles don’t take away from the potency of what’s displayed on It’s A Big Daddy Thing. It’s not often that an album’s “pop” singles are as fondly remembered as the “real rap” by the hip-hop purists of the world. But that’s why it’s still correctly regarded as one of the greatest albums of its time.