Happy 25th Anniversary to Tim Dog’s debut album Penicillin on Wax, originally released November 12, 1991.
They don’t make rappers like Tim Dog anymore. And albums like his Penicillin on Wax sure as hell would never get released today.
Timothy Blair a.k.a. Tim Dog, of the South Bronx, came up under the legendary Ultramagnetic MCs, first appearing on the group’s 1989 single “The Chorus Line.” In the nearly 25 years that followed until his death in 2013, he carved out a place for himself in hip-hop as a true “character.” This is not to say that he was playing a role, but he was a character in the sense that he created a unique identity and presence as an emcee and personality.
He became known from going up against N.W.A at the height of their popularity, and for attempting to position himself as a champion for real, uncompromised hip-hop. “Controversy” for most rappers these days entails taking too much promethazine. Controversy for Tim Dog entailed lingering rumors that he faked his own death, and having it sound believable. But more on that later.
Tim Dog is best known for his 1991 debut album Penicillin on Wax. The album is an hour-plus dissertation on hip-hop beef, ruff rhymes, over-the-top violence, and crude storytelling. It’s an album that’s confrontational and isn’t afraid to offend. Tim Dog is a commanding vocal presence on the mic with his booming baritone voice and slight lisp. He puts together multi-syllabic rhyming phrases while expertly walking the line between taking this rap shit seriously and knowing when to inject the right amount of humor. It’s the type of album where the ad libs and the trash-talking at the beginning and end of the record are just as memorable as the rhymes themselves. And that’s a good thing.
Though almost all discussion of Penicillin on Wax usually concerns the N.W.A and West Coast disses, which remain entertaining, there’s a lot more album here to be enjoyed. And at its core, Penicillin on Wax employs the hallmarks of an Ultramagnetic MCs album, particularly the dusty break-beats and disses that travel at the speed of thought. Production for the album is handled by Tim Dog himself partnering with members of Ultramagnetic (Ced Gee, TR Love, and Moe Love), and Ced Gee and Kool Keith, the o.g. hip-hop eccentric, contribute verses as well. Louis Flores (a.k.a. the creator of the famous Ultimate Beats and Breaks records) and Bobby Crawford (best known as an R&B singer in the group Ol Skool) also oddly receive production credits.
Most heads immediately associate the album with “Fuck Compton,” Tim Dog’s attempt to take down a whole city worth of rappers, and N.W.A in particular. Tim Dog later clarified that he didn’t have anything against West Coast rappers as a whole, the Los Angeles area, or even Compton as a city. Rather, he was dissing: 1) N.W.A, because he thought they were wack, 2) artists that he thought were using their Compton lineage as a means to get signed to record deals, and 3) the record labels themselves that were ignoring other talented artists in favor of Compton-born rappers and groups.
Regardless, Tim Dog spends the first quarter of Penicillin on Wax taking N.W.A to task, issuing the harshest and most prolonged tongue-lashing this side of Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline.” The album’s intro is a send-up of the intro to N.W.A’s Efil4zaggin (1991), complete with Tim Dog proclaiming to the Compton-based crew that “I stole’d your beat and made it better, to show the whole world y’all ain’t nothing but a bunch of pussies!” After a litany of fake “endorsements” (mostly members of Ultramagnetic MCs doing funny voices), Tim takes up for the honor of Dee Barnes (formerly of the TV show Pump It Up) who was famously assaulted by Dr. Dre, stating, “I get sick and tired of hearing how you like beating up on women, why don’t you and I get in the ring so I can fly that motherfucking head.”
The infamous “Fuck Compton” soon follows. The production is stark and sparse, with Tim Dog rapping over the slowed-down “UFO” sample by ESG and quick guitar stabs. After first proclaiming to be “so bad that I whupped Superman’s ass!”, he continues his lyrical assault: “Why you dissing Eazy? ’Cause that boy ain’t shit / Chew him in tobacco and spit him in shit / I’ll crush Ice Cube, I’m cool as Ice-T / but N.W.A ain’t shit to me!” He later belittles LA’s continued gang warfare with jabs like, “Fighting over colors? / All that gang shit is for dumb motherfuckers! / But you go on thinking you're hard / Come to New York and we'll see who gets robbed / Take your jheri curls, take your black hats / Take your wack lyrics and your bullshit tracks!”
After DJ Quik catches a bad one on the aptly-titled “DJ Quik beatdown” skit, Tim Dog launches into the super-hyped “Step to Me,” throwing more haymakers at N.W.A: “I’ll wax you, tax you, I’ll just fax you / Put you in some minis and pumps and cold mack you /You think your rhymes are so fine? / I’m rolling through Compton with a Tech 9.”
The second part of the album begins with “Bronx Nigga,” Tim Dog’s three-part street tale demonstrating his hardcore credentials, as he details: 1) robbing and killing a stick-up kid who messed with his younger brother, 2) enjoying a wild night of sex with a female companion, and 3) shooting a police officer who messes with him during a traffic stop. The beat pairs a sample of Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” with the guitar intro to Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” giving the track a dark and sinister feel.
The tracks “You Ain’t Shit” and “I Ain’t Having It” target the growing pop-rap movement. On the former track, he preaches against rappers who he deems are relying on a gimmick to get over. Over a classic James Brown break, he singles out Kid N’ Play, Kwame, Young MC and MC Hammer (“a wack-ass rapper but a dope-ass dancer“). On “I Ain’t Having It,” Tim Dog and Kool Keith trade verses over a jazzy horn-driven beat. Despite the slower tempo, Tim Dog unleashes his furious anger: “Look at all this pop rap, this happy rap, this wack ass rap / No more selling the fuck out / It's time to get the mother fucking hell out.” He ends the song with an angry screed against “all you motherfuckers walking around, focusing on a gimmick, wearing polka dots, putting dye in your hair like you got it going on. Your shit is wack. I'll tell you to your face,” and adds “Rap is nothing that you can take to arenas and sell as a dancer! Rap Isn’t something you can put it in a movie with a bunch of turtles!”
Which isn’t to say that Tim Dog only targets rappers with pop sensibilities. He sprays everyone with his lyrical assault weapon on the rolling “I’ll Wax Anybody,” where everyone from Snap to Biz Markie to Monie Love to Poor Righteous Teachers catches a round. He also further demonstrates his lyrical dexterity with his rhymes: “Punching MCs in their third eye / Bitches are laughing, now they're calling you ‘Dead Eye’ / Wearing that fucking Raider hat / Giants won the Super Bowl, take that shit back / I'm so mad that I could kill a fiend / I'm putting heads in a motherfucking guillotine / I'm def, don't take me lightly /Fuck Eddie Murphy, I'm rolling with Spike Lee.”
Tim Dog seems particularly comfortable rhyming over the up-tempo, faster tracks. “I Ain’t Taking No Shorts” features him rapping over harsh electric guitars and the “Synthetic Substitution” drum track. The muted overdubs on his background vocals make the song sound somewhat unsettling. “Can’t Fuck Around” has the feeling of a rougher version of Big Daddy Kane’s “Warm It Up Kane,” with Tim Dog displaying his ability to kick “metaphor,” a.k.a. simply to display his lyrical skills: “Yo, that I committed, rhymes get with it / Suckers try to get it, but they can fit it / I flow like a river, rhymes I deliver, make emcees shiver / Woo, woo, woo, and I’ll give ya / A devastating rhyme that is good to go / Fuck with the Dog, you just don't know.”
Meanwhile, “Dog’s Gonna Get Cha” is one of the more unheralded great “fast rap” hip-hop tracks. Here Tim Dog literally growls and snarls his way over a drum break from Duke Williams and the Extremes “Chinese Chicken” and a warped bassline, spitting rhymes like, “They can't make me out to be another wack MC, cause that's garbage! / Tim Dog ain't going out like that, black! / Matter of fact, come back / I'll be waiting with a baseball bat! / I'mma smack you in the dome / And I'mma send ya ass back home!” DMX never sounded this menacing in his wildest dreams.
“Patriotic Pimp” is another of the album’s best songs, but stands in contrast to the unbridled fury of earlier tracks. Here Tim Dog creates a song with a smooth, “rolling in your Cadillac on a Saturday night,” Blaxploitation flick type of feel, complete with thumping drums and funky guitar licks. It’s a refresh change of pace, but also allows Dog to put together tongue-twisting flows that stand in contrast to the mellow backdrop.
Penicillin on Wax gets shockingly raunchy, at times on a level that would NEVER fly in today’s record business. The album closes with “Secret Fantasies,” where Tim Dog is joined by Ultra cohorts Ced Gee and Kool Keith to recount their graphic fantasies of sexual escapades with various female artists in the music industry. While Keith retells an x-rated encounter with Pebbles and Ced-Gee gets freaky with the (now departed) Vanity, Tim Dog recounts committing rather unspeakable acts with all four members of En Vogue in extreme detail. While it may seem like poor taste to some, all three make it clear that they’re talking about fantasies. If nothing else, it stands as an example of exactly what a major label artist could get away with 25 years ago.
Penicillin on Wax was Tim Dog’s high water mark. He followed the album up with 1993’s Do or Die, where he abandoned the East Coast/West Coast beef in favor of making a traditional gutter East Coast hip-hop album. The most notable track on the release was “I Get Wrecked,” his collaboration with fellow South Bronx native son the Blastmaster KRS-One. In 1996, after Ultramagnetic had dissolved due to a myriad of issues, Tim Dog reunited with Kool Keith to form simply “Ultra” and release the album Big Time. The album enjoyed moderate success on the underground level, but made few ripples beyond that.
Tim Dog spent the subsequent decade recording little-heard or acknowledged albums (including 2003’s Immortal and 2007’s BX Warrior), and “developing” talent in the Atlanta area. Kool Keith recently said in an interview with the Combat Jack Podcast that Iggy Azalea “worked” for Tim Dog, hinting that he employed her as an escort. Word of Tim Dog next resurfaced in 2011, after he filed an Alford plea to grand larceny after scamming a woman out of $32,000 in an online dating scam. He reportedly told the woman the money was for the release of a Tim Dog boxset. It was all part of Tim Dog’s alleged second career as a grifter. He was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to repay the woman $19,000 in restitution.
When Tim Dog died of complications due to diabetes in 2013, his passing became a source of even more controversy, as there were reports of him faking his own death to get out his restitution payments. His funeral was cancelled, his autopsy report and death certificate were suddenly unavailable, even the obituary that had run in The Source magazine disappeared. Noisey featured an in-depth article about the sordid tale, cataloging the weird inconsistencies and shady characters Tim Dog associated with towards the end. However, a year and a half later NBC News found his death certificate, which noted he died while in hospice care in Atlanta, ending the speculation.
Rappers like Tim Dog rarely exist anymore. What amounts to most rap beefs these days usually stem from bruised egos over trivial slights. These days, most “dis tracks” amount to six minutes of whining. The rough edges and unpolished finishes that used to thrive in hip-hop music have largely been smoothed over. Penicillin on Wax harkens back to an era when rappers were all too happy to offend anyone and everyone. Now we live in more enlightened times, but it’s easy to miss an emcee who really didn’t give a fuck.