Dead Serious Track by Track
By: Rob Parkour
Sometimes being outside of the echo chamber can be healthy. Das EFX members Dray and Skoob met through a mutual friend on a road trip while attending the HBCU Virginia State University. The man sitting between Dray and Skoob leaned back, so the two could hear each other’s raps. Dray (Teaneck, New Jersey) and Skoob (Brooklyn) had roots in the New York City area, but this was before the internet and the two had to rely on their imagination to come out with an original sound: necessity is the mother of invention. The two up and coming MC’s eventually formed a group and were discovered by Erik Sermon at a college talent show, who rigged the contest so the two MC’s would lose and famously gave them an easy ultimatum “would you rather have a hundred dollars or a record deal?” The duo kept in touch with EPMD and eventually signed to their label, and what followed were words, styles, flows, references and sounds that were completely unique, but soon spread throughout hip-hop. Let’s unpack their classic 1992 debut Dead Serious track by track.
“Mic Checka” – The catchy, hard driving second single leads off the album. References to Gadzooks, Geronimo, Gladys Knight, The Flintstones and Annie in the first handful of bars lets the listener know they’re in store for something different. The “Iggity” suffix the group added to words sets them even further apart than their unique pop culture references. Adding iggity to the end of words came about because Skoob and Dray didn’t like pauses in their verses, so they tried to figure something to say to fill those pauses. In conversation and music, the small moments of silence tell their own story. One would think logically that emoving these breaks of silence would hurt the music. Wrong. The iggity and other made up sounds the group uses to fill in the pauses actually add rhythm to their rhymes. The iggity sound became their signature and many groups jacked the style as the group moved away from the sound after their debut. DJ Clark Kent put it best, when he said the group using “iggity” was them playing DJ and scratching their words.
The group barely finished the song before the album because they couldn’t come up with a hook on the song, until one of the producers came up with the idea to loop one of Dray’s lines in the same song for the hook. May seem like a lazy cop out, but it worked and proves a looped sample of a hard line is always better than a forced “melodic” hook.
“Jussummen” – Dray and Scoob weren’t backpack rappers, gangster rappers, pimp rappers or punch line rappers: they were just two friends getting busy on the mic. The “La Di Da Di” Doug E. Fresh sample, “just some men that’s on the mic,” provides the simplicity needed for the track.
“Well I’m the jibber jabber, jaw like Shabba/Ranks making bank, operating like Trapper John M.D./yea, that’s what folks tell me/I plan on going far and be a star like Marcus Welby.” If you read that opening line, you’d probably be confused and wonder why a golden age hip-hop song could make references to Trapper John M.D. and Marcus Welby, two Doctor sitcoms that, um, didn’t quite stand the test of time. I love the logic: everyone is rapping about women, money and status, but we’re going to reference TV shows that no one will remember in 20 years. If you have a sense of humor like mine, you’ll listen in glee as Dray and Skoob reference Shaka Zulu and Orville Redenbacher in the same line. Who else would apologize to Mr. Keebler for loving Nabisco-Brand Vanilla Wafers, and reference Stella Doro breadsticks in the same verse?
A good sense of humor can only carry you so far. Go back to the first line and listen to how the pauses and bar breaks are manipulated to break up Shabba and Ranks. It may seem easy but there’s a high degree of difficulty in pulling it off right. Their unique lyrics and wordplay rightfully get the attention, but their incredible knack for understanding pauses, cadences and rhythm is what makes their music flow and bump.
“They Want EFX” – The biggest single of the group’s career was written when the two were poor, struggling college students. The beat came from two friends from Brooklyn, and the duo tinkered and looped James Brown’s “Blind Man Can See It,” until they found what they were looking for.
I tried getting into Das Efx many years ago, but gave up when I found out, after a deep internet rabbit hole that there’s no explicit version of Dead Serious available. Fans hoped that the 25th anniversary release of the debut would finally give them the explicit only version of the album to no avail, and it doesn’t seem the explicit version is coming any time soon. Only an edited version being available is a unique circumstance, but oddly there’s not much information about this anomaly online, other than Das Efx fans complaining about it to each other in hip-hop blogs. The dirty version of this album has to exist somewhere, right? Das Efx fans deserve closure on this strange case, just tell us A.) if dirty version album exists B.) why the dirty version was never released and C.) why the hell can’t you release it, we’ll give you money?
In this particular case I was wrong for giving up. Listening to a clean version of a Das Efx song is different than trying to listen to a clean version of “Murder” by UGK. There are certain rappers that curse so often that censoring the curses leaves too many gaps for the listener to fill. My best friend Sam put the clean version of Capone-N-Norega’s War Report on my phone, and the pauses were so numerous and frequent that I had to turn the album off while I cursed Sam off in my head for what I perceived as a cruel joke. Das Efx doesn’t suffer from this fate: their curses are infrequent and the breaks and cuts used to cover curses actually sound pretty good. I finally decided to give the album another shot a few years ago and was shocked that I immediately forgot the songs were edited, and got swept up in their sound once I stopped looking for edited curse words.
Skoob heard KRS-One say, “they want effects,” and instantly knew that’d be the hook for the song. Other than Wu-Tang, I can’t think of another rap group that just said, “fuck making hooks, I’m either going to sample a line or forgo the chorus.” This is a great thing that could have saved us a lot of boring hooks if more groups/rappers adopted this method for a chorus.
Think about how creative and interesting your voice and delivery have to be to make these lines work in not just a song but a worldwide single:
“My waist bone’s connected to my hip bone
My hip bone’s connected to my thigh bone
My thigh bone’s connected to my knee bone
My knee bone’s connected to my hardy-har-har-har”
It’s not all about jokes and pop culture references: okay it’s always about pop culture references but Das Efx can sound hard too. “A-Blitz shoots the breeze, twiddly-dee shoots his lip/Crazy Drayzie shot the sheriff yup, and I shot the gift.” Now that’s not a hard line in the Kool G Rap sense, but go listen to the line in the song and tell me it doesn’t give you that fearless, I’m-better-than-you vibe that the hardest rap instills in you.
What is the most important cultural moment for “They Want Efx?” In the 24th episode of the 2nd season of Beverly Hills 90210, future radio host/rapper David Silver (played by Brian Austin Greene) is relaxing in a lounge chair, listening to his Walkman as he raps along to Das Efx’s breakout single. “But I can fe-fi or fo, diddly-bum, here I come/So Peter Piper, I’m hyper than Pinocchio’s nose/’Cause I’m the supercalafragilistic tic-tac pro/I gave my oopsy, daisy, now you’ve got the Crazy I’m Crazy with the books” Poor David Silver is about to rap through the entire verse, before Steve Sanders comes over in a AC Slater style tank top and, without asking, turns off Das Efx and tells David “we have to talk business”. This is a very important footnote to the history of the group’s biggest single and should be treated as such.
“Looseys” – Das Efx holds the honor of being the first (only?) group to rap about having to take a shit in public. In the days where all rappers were too cool for school, this humorous take on a very relatable situation must’ve been a breath of fresh air. In hip-hop it takes big guts to rap about different subjects and situations, and not be afraid to make yourself the center of the joke.
For the fourth straight track, Das Efx samples a rapper for the hook, using a line from Special Ed’s “Hoedown” song, and again the decision pays off. This song has maybe my favorite sequence on the whole album, “I scored 26, I caught a fake and now I’m outty/I’m takin it to the hoop and then this kid tried to foul me/Boom to the gutter, I hit the floor, I wanted to flip/I couldn’t, damn, all of a sudden I had to shit.” Having to shit in the middle of a basketball game when you have 26 points (what were they playing to, first to 50?) is funny, but I’m more impressed that Skoob didn’t settle for a contested midrange jumper, instead opting to take contact and go for the more efficient shot at the rim. Dray and Skoob have the same chemistry in songs that a point guard and center have after doing thousands of pick and rolls: if I don’t point out the basketball and Beverly Hills 90210 references than no one will.
Solid Scheme produces every song on Dead Serious, except “They Want Efx” and “Klap Yo Handz,” which ironically are my two favorite beats on the album. Solid Scheme (Chris Charity and David Lynch) did an incredible job producing this project: they put different spins on samples and concepts we’ve already heard. There’s an unfounded rumor that EPMD ghost produced the album since they discovered the group and have the Executive Producer label on the album. The production shares some qualities with EPMD’s early 90’s work and it’s common practice in hip-hop for the master to help his protégé: 50 Cent “giving half of his sophomore album” to Game, D.O.C. writing Doggystyle or Dr. Dre allegedly ghost producing Eminem’s beats. This is not the case here: these beats have their own flavor and are plain better than any 90’s EPMD project. Had EPMD came up with these beats they would’ve kept them for themselves.
The bigger mystery of the album is what the hell happened to Solid Scheme after 1993. They went on to produce Das Efx’s sophomore album Straight Up Seweside, which I haven’t given a long enough listen, but strikes me as one of those albums that was rushed to capitalize on the sudden success of a debut, using cutting room floor tracks to make up the majority of the album rather than starting from scratch. Has anyone ever compared Straight Up Seweside to With The Beatles? Solid Scheme produced only three songs on the group’s third album while DJ Premier, Easy Mo Bee and Pete Rock handled the rest of the project that was critically panned. Side note: I need a hip-hop 30-for-30 on how Easy Mo Bee, Pete Rock and DJ Premier in the mid 90’s wasn’t enough to make a good album for a group as talented as Das Efx.
The rest of Solid Scheme’s production career consists of three Das Efx credits from their ’98 LP, a handful of PMD solo tracks, and one track for a rapper named Crown that I’m afraid to find out more of. That’s it. What the hell happened? How do you go from producing one of hip-hop’s greatest debuts to obscurity in two years without having a musical drop off or scandal? Where the hell did Solid Scheme go?! Reach out to Myriad Muzik Solid Scheme, and tell your side of story!
“Dum Dum” – Solid Scheme comes up with another great beat by sampling Otis Redding’s “The Happy Song (Dum Dum),” and Run DMC’s “Here We Go (Live at The Powerhouse). Solid Scheme has a knack for infusing old school samples with 80’s rap hits.
This is the second straight song where Dray and Skoob get on their Slick Rick and give us story time, except this time it’s not about being away from home base when you have to take a dump. This track is about the how females don’t want anything to do with you when you’re down and out, but when you start achieving success, they want you. The beat is really cool, the content is fine, but overall this is the weakest track on the album. It’s a great sign for an album that the weakest song is a solid song that is enjoyable enough that you don’t skip over it.
There is one song in particular that could take this spot. “Hard Like a Criminal” was the B side to the “Straight Out the Sewer” single. It’s another banger from Solid Scheme and is also a storytelling song but with more substance. Dray proves himself to be master of the pen and Skoob better at the ridiculous pop culture punchlines. The song appears on the 25th anniversary edition but for some reason was left off the 1992 release. In general, its better to keep albums shorter and tighter, forcing you to cut the fat, but in this case it’s different: Dead Serious is only ten tracks, has no fillers, and clocks in at under 40 minutes. “Hard Like a Criminal” is a great loose track that would’ve been a top 4 song on the album and should’ve been included.
“East Coast” – It’s fitting that Rakim, Erik Sermon and KRS-One are sampled in the hook of a song titled East Coast. The bridge for the song shouts out more legends but there’s one name in there that doesn’t fit, let’s see if you notice which name doesn’t belong with the rest:
Slick Rick the Ruler
A Tribe Called Quest
Kool G Rapper
I understand that K-Solo, like Das Efx and Redman, were signed under EPMD but come on, you can’t put his name next to those legends. When I hear the names of all those classic artists, I’m instantly brought back to their classic material, but when I hear K-Solo’s name all I think about is the Keith Murray fight, and him taking a lie detector test on Beef II to prove to ex-cellmate DMX he wrote “Spellbound,” (SPOILER: the results were inconclusive.) I would totally watch a show where rappers took lie detector tests to settle beefs. Come on my new Rap Lie Detector show 50 Cent, and let’s find out how much of The Documentary you actually wrote.
As I mentioned earlier, having a base knowledge, but being removed from New York City radio forced the group to come up with their own sound and style while they went to school in Virginia. Many acts tried to copy their style like labelmates Da Youngstas. Jay-Z, who has a history of being liberal in borrowing styles (what up, Young Chris?), is said to have taken Das Efx style, but in reality, he was just using the style of his OG, Jaz-O. Funkdoobiest and Fu Schnickens were the most brazen in their use of the duo’s distinct style. Common before he found his voice and was still known as Common Sense also borrowed from the duo. Dray said that everyone wanted to “wear Carhartts and Timbos.” That’s such a great way to describe that hard, gutter, winter time sound that groups like Onyx and Wu-Tang perfected. Carhartts and Timbo music!
“If Only” – Another incredible beat that many choose as their favorite instrumental on the project. The beat flips Stanley Turrentine’s “The Man with the Sad Face.” The beat is a departure from the “Straight from the Sewer” grimy, Boom Bap beats. The beat is richer and would sound more in place on a Spice 1 album. Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick’s “La Di Da Di” is sampled for either the second or fifth time on this album, I can’t keep track.
Dray has a hilarious line in his fourth verse where he says “I’m kniddity Gnarly Dude!” in a tone that sounds like he’s mocking a Saved By The Bell extra who won’t leave him alone. I could transcribe their funny lyrics, but you don’t get the full effect unless you listen to the record and hear the tones, inflections, and mannerisms in their voices.
“Brooklyn to T-Neck” – Since I’m from New Jersey I get excited anytime a random New Jersey city gets shout out in a bar, let alone a song title. For the 8th straight song, and last time on the album, the duo uses a sample as a hook but this time you can’t blame them. Rapper Chubb Rock shouted out both of the rapper’s hometowns in his song “What’s the Word”. When something that unlikely happens it’s meant to be.
The beat stands out as different from the rest. Joe Tex’s often sampled “Papa Was Too” is used here as well as The Bar Kays’ “Humpin,” but with two great samples at hand, it seems like Solid Scheme should have produced something a little stronger. Like the beat, the raps are fine but leave something to be desired.
“Klap Ya Handz– My favorite beat and song on the album. The beat is produced by someone from Brooklyn named Dexx. It’s this song that the duo performed at the talent show that lead to them being discovered and signed by EPMD which forced them, against their parents’ wishes, to drop out of their senior years in college.
Similar to how Digital Underground used Parliament’s “Flash Light” on “Rhymin’ on the Funk,” then for the sick beat on “Danger Zone”, Das Efx uses the same “Blind Alley” by The Emotions sample they used on “Jussummen” for this track. If you just went to YouTube to listen to “Blind Alley,” all you will hear is Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” sample. A great part about sampling is you can use the same song for a sample over and over because they all have tiny cracks and crevices to make the beat sound your own, despite the original song already being synonymous with another artist.
It doesn’t seem possible that the first ever recording of the group could be my favorite song, but I can’t lie, this is the song I’m most excited to hear when it comes up and the most disappointed when it’s over. Skoob sounds like a veteran as he glides over the smooth beat. I’m not sure why I love this beat so much but it’s just great. I tried to look up Dexx to see if he produced anything else and not only did I not find anything else by him but I now know who Famous Dexx is. Bad Times.
“Straight Out the Sewer” – The hook was born when Dray, waiting in the booth for the beat to start, was messing around and said “blah blah blah straight out the sewer” and Parrish made him repeat what he said birthing the hook and the song. I love little antidotes like this that prove that a lot of artists’ greatest sayings and lines happen by accident rather than trying to force it.
Creepy moment: the line “So give me the mic check, get respect, dude, I’m gnarly/
I betcha if I was Ken, then I’d be fuckin’ Barbie.” This whole time I thought the line was “I betcha if I was ten, then I’d be fuckin Barbie.” Not only did I not find it weird they were rapping about underage sex with Barbie, but I thought it was a funny Das Efx-y line. Obviously, it’s way cooler and makes more sense to say if you were Ken you’d fuck Barbie.
Das Efx was more than just a ‘new rap duo’ they were different, they were really underground, like in the sewer with rats and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles underground. This was the last song recorded from the album and the stir-crazy, high-in-the-early-morning sound comes across on the song. Credit to Parrish for realizing that “The Sewer” would be the groups identity, shooting videos in sewers and making their logo look like the Sewer manhole covers you see in streets.
Dead Serious is a certified Hip-Hop classic. Despite being only 10 tracks and 39 minutes, Das Efx’s debut deserves to be in the Top 100 all time. The originality, great production and lack of filler stand out even in an era where there were many New York choices and different regions of the country started popping up. Let’s see where Dead Serious ranks in the classic year of 1992.
Albums better than Dead Serious:
Dr. Dre – The Chronic
Redman – Whut? Thee Album
Gang Starr – Daily Operation
Pete Rock & CL Smooth – Mecca and the Soul Brother
Eric B. & Rakim – Don’t Sweat The Technique
Diamond D – Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop
Grand Puba – Reel To Reel
Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Live & Let Die
Showbiz & AG – Runaway Slave
Albums that are on a similar playing field as Dead Serious:
Spice 1 – Spice 1
Compton’s Most Wanted – Music to Driveby
UGK – Too Hard to Swallow
Albums that are worth mentioning but not as good as Dead Serious:
Ice Cube – The Predator
EPMD – Business Never Personal
Boogie Down Productions – Sex and Violence
Lord Finesse – Return of the Funky Man
Common Sense – Can I Borrow A Dollar?
Da Lench Mob – Guerilla’s in the Mist
Too Short – Shorty The Pimp
Fu-Schnickens – F.U. Don’t Take It Personal
Double X Posse – Put Ya Boots On
Twista – Runnin off Da Mouth
DJ Quik – Way 2 Fonky
N2Deep – Back To The Hotel
MC Ren – Kizz My Black Azz
Albums released by rappers who haven’t gone through puberty yet:
Chi-Ali – The Fabolous Chi-Ali (Just wanted to mention Chi-Ali in two straight articles)
Kriss Kross – Totally Krossed Out
“Classics” that I can’t rank because I haven’t had a long phase with them yet:
Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride to the Pharcyde
Beastie Boys – Check Your Head
Arrested Development – 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of…
The early and mid-90’s were the golden age for the Hip-Hop LP. 1992 doesn’t ring in my head as the best rap year ever but the top four albums, The Chronic, Mecca & The Soul Brother, Whut? Thee Album and Daily Operation are top 25 albums. You could easily construct an argument that Dead Serious is not a top ten album from 1992, but to me it gets the nod out of the other three choices for the 10th spot. Spice 1 isn’t as memorable and UGK hadn’t entered their prime. Das Efx ability to truly stand out during rap’s most competitive era proves to be their biggest accomplishment.