Happy 25th Anniversary to Boogiemonsters’ debut album Riders Of The Storm: The Underwater Album, originally released August 9, 1994.
It should come as no surprise whatsoever to those reading this that I’m obsessed with music. In my daily life, I frequently manufacture circumstances that allow me to listen to music for long periods of time. At my day job, I often look forward to mindless drone work because it allows me to listen to my iPod for hours uninterrupted. I enjoy taking a long drive because it allows me to blow through at least one album getting to and from somewhere; if I’m lucky, I can get through two.
I always like to think that my favorite artists are as obsessed with music as I am. I usually assume that they are, given that they make music for a living. However, when it comes to most rappers’ subject matter, they usually try to convey their life stories or delve into their, say, passions beyond music itself. But Boogiemonsters dedicate nearly the entirety of their debut album Riders Of The Storm: The Underwater Album to the subject of what making music means to them.
Boogiemonsters were made up of Sean “Vex Da Vortex” Pollard, Mondo McCann, and brothers Sean “Myntric” and Ivor “Yodared” Myers. Three of the crew’s members were born in New York City but later moved with their families to Virginia. The four formed Boogiemonsters while attending Virginia State University and began to build their reps. They notably won first place at the talent show portion of Howard University’s Hip-Hop Convention and secured a record deal soon after.
Riders Of The Storm is built around the transformative power of music, and how it drives the group and allows them to cope and excel while living on this chaotic planet. Released 25 years ago, it’s as good as any album at capturing the vibe and rush that enjoying great hip-hop can create. A care-free love letter to hip-hop and its role as a source of positivity in their lives, the album stands as a unique release during a period considered by many to be the best or second best year for hip-hop music.
As the title indicates, a running “theme” throughout the album is water, and its importance to life. Often the album’s production, handled almost entirely by Derek “D!” Jackson, follows this theme. The album’s beats and sometimes the emcees’ verses are coated with heavy effects, suggesting that they’re being filtered through layers of water. The technique makes the album sound otherworldly and ethereal, as if it’s some sort of alien creation that's being transmitted from leagues below the ocean.
Boogiemonsters’ thesis throughout much of Riders Of The Storm centers on how hip-hop can indeed cure what ails you. “Recognized Thresholds of Negative Stress” is built around the idea of how hip-hop can be used to eliminate the negative in your life. Clocking in at nearly six minutes, the song is considerably longer than most singles of the era, but all four members of the group get their money’s worth, packing the wailing, yet soaring keyboard-driven track with verses upon verses. Vex in particular shines, as he raps, “Feel the blast as the format of the rap smacks the skit / No profanity but the tongue is rough spit.”
“Strange” is one of the highpoints of Riders Of The Storm, as the track’s shifting, almost psychedelic backdrop fits the song’s title. Multiple synthesizer tracks gurgle and burble along, joined by a deep siren-like wail, as heavily distorted vocal samples from Cameo’s song of the same name echo in the background. The vocals do sound a little murky, but the effect fits given the track’s vibe.
Songs like “Jugganauts” and “Altered States of Consciousness” are mellow lyrical exhibitions, with the four emcees making use of their laid-back conversational style of delivery. “Boogie” and “Bronx Bombas” are extended tributes to hip-hop’s old school era, both sporting the feel of a live party jam. “Boogie” features some of the earliest recorded keyboard session work for Roots member and eventual super-producer Scott Storch. Meanwhile, on “Salt Water Taffy,” the crew illustrate how their zest for life makes hip-hop sound as fresh and exciting as when they first experienced it.
On “Muzic Appreciation (Sweet Music),” one of the album’s peaks, Vex offers one of the earliest examples of envisioning hip-hop as an object of affection, hitting the market just months before Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” During this solo track, Vex describes his complete infatuation with the object of his obsession, as he croons, “I treat this as my first and last only love / My chocolate compassion descend from above.”
Riders Of The Storm occasionally shifts gears, as the four emcees do ground themselves every once in a while. “Honeydips in Gotham” sticks to the album’s mostly bright atmosphere. Mondo and Vex detail their affection for the opposite sex, setting themselves on the streets of New York City in order to find some female companionship, albeit for largely “positive” purposes. As Mondo raps, “Give me a day in the life of you, you smile with contemplation / Starting off the evening with some pure conversation.”
The album also features two serious entries that are far cries from the hymns of love and togetherness that populate the rest of the album. The first is the apocalyptic “Mark of the Beast,” an appropriately bleak retelling of the majority of the Book of Revelation. “Old Man Jacob’s Well” is possibly even grimmer, as it’s the first person account of a serial killer who stalks and murders children in order to “save” them from the pain of this world. It even includes a harrowing verse from the child’s perspective. There’s at least the suggestion of hope on “Mark of the Beast,” whereas “Old Man Jacob’s Well” wades in pain and death.
Truthfully both songs could have been left off Riders Of The Storm. While these songs are excellently crafted and poetically arresting, the shifts in tone are too severe to fit into the album’s overall vibe. They do suggest the more serious tenor of their sophomore album, God Sound (1997), however.
In between Riders Of The Storm and God Sound, Yodared and Myntric left the group, ostensibly for religious reasons; they felt that their spiritual beliefs were clashing with what hip-hop had become during the late ’90s. Vex and Mondo then recorded God Sound, which is a much more somber endeavor than its precursor. The content is even overtly religious, and the two deal more heavily in political issues and the type of subject matter covered in William Cooper’s controversial book, Behold a Pale Horse. The album wasn’t nearly as successful, and Mondo retired from rapping soon after its release, also citing religious reasons.
Albums like Riders Of The Storm are a rarity in hip-hop music, mostly because many rappers and groups take themselves so seriously. The approach of using your pulpit to advocate for what the love of music can accomplish has not been adopted by many artists in this genre, as many emcees would rather concern themselves with what they’ve done or are about to do. But I’ll always take pleasure in knowing that Boogiemonsters went through the trouble of demonstrating that it was possible to record a highly listenable album about how music makes you feel. For that, I’ll always be grateful.