Happy 30th Anniversary to Chill Rob G’s debut album Ride The Rhythm, originally released May 23, 1989.
I’ve been fortunate enough to write a lot of anniversary tributes for Albumism. In the process, I’ve helped celebrate a multitude of albums that are both important to me and to music, more generally speaking. I’ve paid homage to three of my five favorite albums of all time and six of my top ten. I’ve tried to be eloquent about long players that are considered culturally significant touchstones to all who enjoy music, as well as those albums that are integral to its development.
However, some of my favorite features to write are about the lesser-known gems. I love crafting celebrations of albums that have fallen beneath the radar and aren’t recognized nearly as much as they should be for their quality and innovation.
I specialize in writing about hip-hop, a genre full of legitimate works of genius that don’t receive their proper due when they’re first released. Hip-hop’s Golden Era is dotted with albums by artists who really only got one shot at major label success and weren’t able to follow it through, despite the excellent quality of their music. Chill Rob G’s Ride The Rhythm falls into this category. It’s a brilliant debut album that represents all of the best qualities of rap music, and it’s one of my favorite hip-hop albums ever.
I’ve bonded with hip-hop heads over our shared love of Ride The Rhythm. It’s an album that slipped through the cracks, and is mostly known for “The Power,” an unofficial, unauthorized dance remix that wasn’t even on its original pressings. Regardless, back in the ’90s and the early ’00s, if I ran across someone who knew and loved Ride The Rhythm, I knew that person was really up on their hip-hop shit.
Ride The Rhythm is an exercise in lyrical and musical mastery. Rob “Chill Rob G” Frazier had complete command of the microphone whenever it was in his grip. His voice was reminiscent of Chuck D and James Earl Jones, with its resonant bass and power, and he could command respect just with his vocal tone. But there’s also influences of Kool Moe Dee present in his raps, particularly in his stylistic expression and expansive vocabulary. Rob was a master of lyrical flow, constantly changing and adapting the way he rhymed over each beat. He was never limited to the basic A, B, A, B rhyme form, often rhyming multiple words within each singular line.
Co-pilot with Rob throughout Ride The Rhythm is the legendary producer Mark “The 45 King” James. The 45 King produced the vast majority of Ride The Rhythm, digging deep in the crates to provide the musical backdrop for Chill Rob’s rhymes, creating a palette that’s often dark but always banging. Chill Rob G and 45 King both were both members of the original Flavor Unit, a New Jersey-based collective of artists, that included such emcees as Queen Latifah, Apache, and Lakim Shabazz. The crew’s catalogue during the late ’80s and early ’90s remains seriously underrated, with Ride The Rhythm arguably the best album to come out of the camp.
When most people think of Chill Rob at all, they think of “The Power.” To make things simple and plain: Fuck “The Power.” It was a corny remix created by German producers Michael Münzing and Luca Anzilotti. The pair sampled some of Chill Rob’s vocals from an a cappella version of “Let The Words Flow,” and laid them down over a sample of Mantronix’s “King of the Beats” and some Euro techno-crap. Later, after the song began getting traction in Germany and in the United States, the two producers eventually removed the majority of Chill Rob’s lyrics, replacing him with an inferior soundalike named Turbo B and re-released the single as the group Snap!
After the success of “The Power,” Wild Pitch re-released Ride The Rhythm in 1990, featuring a slightly modified version of the song. It’s understandable why they felt they had to reissue the album to include it, as the label was trying to capitalize on a hit. But it in no way reflects the feel of the rest of the project.
Ride The Rhythm remains an impressive effort by Chill Rob G. Topic-wise, Rob runs the gamut. There’s straight lyrical braggadocio, alongside surreal storytelling, odes to upliftment and self-improvement, and warnings against street crime. All are excellent, but Chill Rob finds his sweetest spot in delivering lyrical exhibitions. As he brags on “Motivation,” “I’m an aristocrat, a ghetto diplomat / And I’m blessed with the gift of rap.”
On “Dope Rhymes,” the album’s first single, Chill Rob fires off rapid stanzas over a funk-filled track. After reminding listeners of his crew’s bona fides, he raps, “Fresh rhymes crowd my mind, sometimes I get insomnia / I can’t wait to break so I can bomb me a / Soft, silly, stupid, simple, slow dumb chump / Been sitting on his ass like and old tree stump.” Like most of the album’s other entries, the song lacks a traditional hook, as 45 King lets the sample breathe a bit for the song’s “chorus.” The beat-master does keep things interesting by shifting the song’s drum track, by switching it up every few bars.
Meanwhile, the album opening “Future Shock” is the informal sequel to “Dope Rhymes,” albeit with a considerably slower tempo. Chill Rob is more deliberate on the mic here, but remains as precise as ever. The lyrics that he delivers over sharp piano stabs and scratches are often hauntingly poetic, as he raps, “The edge of night opens doorways to horror / I’m the guiding light as you search for tomorrow / Dark shadows terrorize the young and restless / I’ll crash the spot if I’m not on the guest list.”
It’s a shame that relatively few people know of the existence of “Let the Words Flow,” an exercise in pure lyrical heat by the Chill One. As mentioned earlier, the acapella version of the song served as the “source material” for “The Power.” The original exceeds the remix in every way possible. In two effortless verses, Rob annihilates “stone cold back-biters and bold wack rhyme writers,” continuing to lay down the verbal beatings, lashing out against “diabolical fools pursuing happiness lack finesse; I’m left unimpressed.”
Chill Rob inserts some social commentary onto Ride The Rhythm with “Court Is Now In Session,” the album’s second single. Chill Rob rocks his rhymes over a percussion break from Graham Central Station’s “The Jam,” warning others about the consequences of getting caught up in a life of crime. He then turns his attention toward racist police officers and corrupt politicians, threatening to serve them his own form of justice for their transgressions.
With “Bad Dream” Chill Rob provides a stark description of taking violent action against virulent racists. First, he’s confronted by home invaders looking to inflict grievous harm because he “wasn’t selling out.” Then, confronted by a burning cross and a troop of Ku Klux Klan members outside his domicile, he continues to provide retribution, repelling the attackers with a hail of bullets, proclaiming, “Now let me hear you say n***a!” Though it all turns out to be a nightmare, it’s an intimate look into a psyche forced to snap in the face of racial violence. Trip-Hop/Electronic artist Tricky would later cover the song on his second studio album Pre-Millennium Tension (1996), transforming it into a chaotic, cacophonous screed.
The crowning moment of Ride The Rhythm comes with the title track. The 45 King was one of the first to flip Baby Huey’s “Hard Times,” and Rob certainly does it justice. He seemingly changes his flow pattern each and every line, from bar to bar. In one sequence, he spits, “Fluid as I do it, the motion is similar to the ocean / Bringing waves of emotion / This feeling, that I’m dealing is so appealing / It’s shocking, look how I got you rocking and reeling / My rhythmic rhythm is reminiscent of a river when it’s roaring / The King’s raining, I’m pouring.” He later asserts, “Word is weird when your song is wrong / On the strength, I go the length, ’cause I'm long and strong.” The result is honestly one of my five favorite hip-hop tracks of all time.
After the release and re-release of Ride The Rhythm, Chill Rob disappeared from the hip-hop scene for a while, in part disheartened by a shady record deal with Wild Pitch. He later reappeared in the late ’90s, putting out a few singles on Echo International, before finally dropping his sophomore release Blackgold (2000). Years later, he released Chill Not, Frozen (2015), a four song EP of new material, including a guest appearance by longtime admirer RA the Rugged Man.
I have often wished that Chill Rob had released more material in the prime of his recording career. Ride The Rhythm seemed to show that he had so much to offer as an artist during that period. I’ve envisioned a possible reality where things didn’t fall apart with the original Flavor Unit or Wild Pitch, and Chill Rob and 45 King continued to record music through the early ’90s and beyond.
Even if that reality doesn’t exist, it doesn’t lessen the greatness of Ride The Rhythm. Those who know really know and will continue to celebrate the album’s stature and Chill Rob G’s contribution to the genre. Meanwhile, for all of Snap!’s record sales, there is now a punchline. Fair trade? Not sure. But, personally, I’d rather be the guy who made Ride The Rhythm.