Black Sheep Track by Track
By Rob Parkour
De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest are the two groups that come to mind when you think of the Native Tongues Collective. If you’re having a conversation with an OG, he may bring up the Jungle Brothers, but often times the New York via North Carolina alternative hip-hop group Black Sheep gets forgotten. Part of the reason Black Sheep gets overlooked is their sophomore slump, the disappointing ‘Non-Fiction’ album that bricked commercially and critically. Another reason they’re overlooked is that Black Sheep members Dres and nymphomaniac Mr. Lawnge don’t have the star power Phife Dawg or Q-Tip have. Regardless, it can’t be denied that 1991’s ‘A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’ is a golden era classic. Let’s unpack the album track by track:
“U Mean I’m Not” – I’ll never forget the first time I pressed play on the album and this 84 second song got me so amped I wanted to punch someone in the face. It’s such a hard track that I literally checked my iPod to make sure I had the right album. I thought, “no way a Native Tongue group could come out the box with something this hard.” Dres, the star of Black Sheep, goes hard even on a parody track of gangsta rap. Obviously Black Sheep wouldn’t be who they are if they just did songs like this, but if you can make a song and beat this hard you shouldn’t be afraid to dip back into those waters every now and then.
“Butt….In the Meantime” – Of course Black Sheep follows up the hardest track on the album with the softest. The listener gets so hyped off the first track and then gets brought down with the wimpiest track on the entire album. Following up the hardest track with the most boring? I bet it was Q-Tip’s idea. Lyrically the song is fine, it’s the beat that isn’t good. “The Bridge Is Over” sample is the only thing saving the beat from being one of those Native Tongues songs that’s so slow and boring you skip it.
“Have U.N.E. Pull” – Chi Ali (much more on him later) reminds current listeners what era they’re in by wishing he could fly like Jordan, and knock people’s heads off like Mike Tyson, before settling on wanting to be like Prince so he could “bag all the honeys”. This is a typical Black Sheep song: a lot of their songs make you feel like you’re walking around with Dres as he schools whoever’s willing to listen, and Mr. Lawnge as he tries to find his next girl to smash. Their songs take on a back and forth conversational tone. In your mind’s eye, you can picture them chopping it up on the corner after a long day. A lot of duo’s compliment each other, but you can tell they don’t hang out with each other outside of the studio. UGK is an example of that. It was clear from their music that Bun and Pimp C had a great working relationship, but went their separate ways once the music was done. You don’t get that vibe from Black Sheep: they seem like best friends which makes the rest of their career that much more puzzling.
“Strobelite Honey” – Dres goes to a club and sees the silhouette of a shapely lady he’d like to talk to. Said girl steps out of the club lights and Dres tells the girl “I thought you were someone else.” This answer doesn’t satisfy the young lady, she demands his number, Dres gives her a 1-900 number, and he tells her he forgot his coat, and that he’s double parked.
“The Choice is Yours” – The following songs are my favorite examples of when a song is remixed and fundamentally changed:
“Boyz-N-Da-Hood” (1986) – The original is on N.W.A.’s forgotten debut LP but the beefed-up version with an additional verse appearing on Eazy-Duz-It is the classic.
“One More Chance” (1994) – Ready to Die doesn’t have any tracks you feel the need to skip but this one is one of the weaker ones, unless you love hearing Biggie talk about having sex. With a Debarge sample, along with Mary J and Biggie’s wife Faith Evans, the remix takes the original to a whole different level. The remix is impossible to hate.
“All I Need” (1994) – Method Man was the first member out of Wu Tang to get a solo record. Tical is a gritty, raw record that gets maligned because it’s not Cuban Linx, Ironman, or Liquid Swords. The “All I Need” that appears on Tical fits with the rest of the albums vibe, but the remix featuring Mary J Blige in one of her best moments is an all-timer, the ultimate song to play for your hip-hop appreciating girlfriend during the honeymoon stage.
“It’s All About The Benjamins” (1996) – The only song on this list where the original has its own lore. The original version featured just Jadakiss and Sheek Louch and was released on a DJ Clue Holiday mixtape in 1996. It was such a banger at the time that Funk Flex allegedly played it for one hour straight at the Tunnel which comes out to around 17 times in a row. I need to know more Tunnel antidotes like this: we need a Tunnel: Oral History of rap’s greatest hip-hop club. The remix has Missy Elliot on the hook, an incredible Lil’ Kim verse and Biggie over a beat change that he was born to spit on. Puffy thought he could do no wrong with the concept and made Rock remix the accompanying record with a video directed by Spike Jonze. “It’s All About The Benjamins (Rock Remix) enlists Tommy Stinson, Rob Zombie, Dave Grohl and something/someone named Fuzzbubble: it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
“I’m Real” (2001) – The original that appears on J-Lo’s second studio album is nothing more than a filler R&B/pop album cut that’s way too long. When Ja Rule added flavor and his verse over the new beat the rest was history. The remix is a best-case scenario for mixing R&B and Rap. Most importantly hundreds of thousands of pre-pubescent boys, like myself, fell in love with J-Lo during the video. J-Lo in a pink Velour zip-up and shorts made me recalibrate everything I knew about women.
“Ignition” (2003) – R. Kelly put both Ignition’s back to back on his Chocolate Factory album. The original is forgettable, and the remix was on MTV every hour and became R. Kelly’s last mega hit. The universal approval of the remix is clear: anytime you’re dancing and you hear “Now usually I don’t do this but uh
Go head on and break ’em off wit a lil’ preview of the remix” everyone goes “Ohhh!” and starts dancing in a slow, melodic grind.
“Outta Control” (2005) – The original version is included on The Massacre and features one of Dr. Dre’s worst beats from his last relevant run from 2002-2005. The remix is also produced by Dr. Dre, features newly signed Mobb Deep, and sounds nothing like the original. Due to the remix not having an advanced single, listeners were confused and downloaded the original “Outta Control” thinking it was the remix. This caused both songs to chart. Something about the weak original “Outta Control” accidently charting and counting as a Billboard “hit” makes me laugh. The remix replaced the original on the special edition of The Massacre, and also appeared on Mobb Deep’s lone G-Unit album Blood Money (Me, my best friend Sam, and a crackhead Sam met at a bus stop in Summit are the only people that still stand by Blood Money). “Outta Control Remix” was 50 Cent’s second to last street hit (“I Get Money”) and a sign of the beginning of the end. However, in 2005 you could not tell that to me and my friends during our epic summer fueled by G-Unit mixtapes, copious smoking, and The Documentary.
“To Whom It May Concern” – A song attacking all the unoriginal artists at the time who were using the cherished art form to sell out. Mista Lawnge provides maybe his best verse on the album, complaining about artists that crossover and go double platinum. It’s been said his line gave EPMD the idea for their ironic hit single “Crossover.” Dres has so many different ways to complain about how rap is becoming commercialized that you sense he could go on for 300 bars. My favorite part about this song though is Dres telling rappers to give the funky drummer back to James, shout out to Clyde Stubblefield.
“Similak Child” – White moment: I didn’t know what Similak was. My Google research and this song tells me that Similak is a brand of baby formula, an alternative to breast milk. I was still confused, how the hell can you look at someone and tell if they were breastfed or not?! Who’s volunteering this information, is this a common topic of conversation?
In my mind this song takes place in the same club that Dres had issues with the “Strobelite Hoes.” Please bear with me, I’m also trying to learn if being a Similak child is a good or bad thing. At first, I thought it was a bad thing because it meant the woman’s mother wasn’t around to breastfeed, but the more I listened to the song, I think being a Similak child is a good thing because your parents not only were there but went out of there way to pamper you. Most importantly, because formula has lots of nutrients, it means you developed a nice body. Dres ends his verse with the line, “Your mind is brighter than your booty, it’s the carton that I seek.” I’ve spent much time contemplating what that bar means and I’m still not quite sure: again this song makes me feel very white.
“Try Counting Sheep” – I can’t quite put my finger on the production. It’s not a jazzy slower beat like some Tribe songs, and it’s not ‘hard’ like a lot of early 90’s New York production: it’s an inimitable sound that belongs completely to the duo. Some of the beats have an unusual pace that forces Dres to change his flow on a dime: his ability to be agile with his flow may be his greatest strength. His flow isn’t the most effortless but there isn’t a type of beat it doesn’t work on.
“Flavor of the Month” – Mr. Lawnge’s contributions to this song are limited to him debating between ice cream flavors. “Do I want vanilla or chocolate?” he asks himself (chocolate’s the obvious choice). Mr. Lawnge decides neither of these options will do and asks the poor ice cream employee what the “slammingest flavor out this month?” The last time I went to get ice cream shop, I nearly went into the bit before I realized that no one except for me would know what the hell I was talking about, but by all means next time YOU get ice cream, ask them what the slammingest flavor out there is.
As usual, it’s up to Dres to do the heavy lifting which begs the question: are you part of a rap duo if you’re only rapping 30% of the time? I haven’t done the math, but Mr. Lawnge is absent on over half the songs and on the other songs he usually has just one verse. It works for the Black Sheep, because Dres is the better rapper, and Mr. Lawnge’s comic relief would get old on every song. Still, not having even a third of the verses makes you less a member of a duo and more like Cappadonna “starring” in Ironman.
Because rap is so competitive the hierarchy in duo’s is clear. Prodigy of Mobb Deep, Andre 3000 of Outkast, Bun B of UGK, Erik Sermon of EPMD, Noreaga of C-N-N, 8ball of 8ball & MJG, Kurupt of Tha Dawg Pound, Pharoahe Monch of Organized Konfusion, Billy Danze of M.O.P. and Pusha T of The Clipse. The only other prominent album I can think of that has one group member starring so clearly is Smiff-N-Wesson’s Enta Da Stage album where 5ft was only on 4 of 14 songs, while Buckshot had 10 solo songs on the project. Looking at it from that angle makes Enta Da Stage seem like a Buckshot solo album. I wouldn’t go as far to call Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing a glorified Dres solo album, but it’s an interesting question.
“La Ménage” – *VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED*
Dres gets the first verse and stays pretty clean until he “starts five play.” The young lady informs Dres she’s about to come: Dres response? “It wasn’t foreplay because I used my thumb.” What a genius, right? Dres starts his second verse, before Mista Lawnge realizes it’s a song about sex, and kicks Dres out the booth. Mista Lawnge was born to make a song like this, I imagine he wrote 10 verses for this type of song, and Dres made him pick his best one. In the song, Mista Lawnge enters in his drawers as the young lady questions if he lives up to his “Mr. 9.5” nickname. Mista Lawnge ends his verse with one of his most classic lines, “Don’t get offended by the position I recommended/Doggy-style is my shit/The bottom is what I hit.”
Let me preface my Q-Tip rant: Q-Tip is one of the best producers of all time. His production on the three classic Tribe albums are up there with the smoothest production in hip-hop history. He held his own as an MC on those albums, and will go down as one of the 50 or so most important musicians in hip-hop history. Before you feel bad for him, remember Q-Tip has done and said some morally questionable things in the past, and this era of hip-hop is completely different than the current climate.
With all that said, you have to chill Q-Tip. I never understood the appeal of a two-guy threesome/running a train. Call me old fashioned but I don’t want to see another man while I’m having sex, and don’t want a man looking at me while I have sex. In his biography, Pimp C had a great rant about how suspect two-male threesomes are. I’d try to find it to quote, but his biography is 700 pages long. First off Q-Tip, you start your verse by immediately referring to Mista Lawnge as Sugar Dick. Hey Tip, I think that’s a nickname only his girlfriends call him. Just two lines later Q-Tip challenges the said MC to, “live up to your label Mista Lawnge Sugar Dick.” WHOA, pass the remote control so I can pause Q-Tip. It’s weird to refer to another rapper as Mista Lawnge, and doubly weird to refer to him as Sugar Dick twice in four lines. Q-Tip approaches the young lady to “finish the task,” but not before telling “Lawnge, she wants it.” Yeah Q-Tip, she’s in a hotel room with three strangers, I think she’s down for some sex. After he’s done, Q-Tip does the math of the night as Mista Lawnge is still on his mind: “Tip plus Lawnge plus ho equals wet sheets.” Q-Tip has like 9 bars and refers to Mista Lawnge in five of them. One thing is for certain about this studio session: Dame Dash was not there!
“Gimme The Finga” – Another interesting beat that sounds simple but was probably difficult to come up with and produce. Dres’ hooks are pretty good, he uses them as a vehicle to break up a song, and often the hooks come out of nowhere. This song has two of my favorite lines, Dres rapping about eating and washing down a Knish, and telling us his favorite show is “Who’s the Boss?” Not Fresh Prince, not A Different World, not In Living Color… nope Dres has more eclectic taste than that and only Tony Danza will do.
“Hoes We Know” – The most Native Tongue beat on entire album. Dres refers to the casualness of his sexual encounter in an amazing way: “we stepped off and we Niked, we just did it”. You’d think based on the title of the song that Mista Lawnge would have a verse, but he has a much more important role on the song. After opening a book entitled “Hoes I Knows,” Mista Lawnge transforms into an old uncle whose voice sounds like the grandfather in The Boondocks. The following types of hoes (their words, not mine!) are mentioned:
Black Sheep Hoes: Very promiscuous, “down to swing.” Uncle Lawnge has caught the rumors “I heard dem hoes be swinging.”
Triple H Hoes (Half and Half Hoes): AKA milky ho, very stuck up. They “act like invented poonani,” but that doesn’t stop Uncle Lawnge from yelling excitedly, “Half and Half Hoes!!!” before admitting he knows them.
Similak Hoes: Hey I know what Similak is! Similak hoes “bring an instant erection”.
Red Light Special Hoes: “Hold the fly complexion.” White moment: At first, I thought the red light referred to “happy ending after massage” chicks. Apparently, it refers to women on their period. I don’t feel as bad because Uncle Lawnge was also confused: “Red…what the, what the fuck is that boy?!”
Sexual Chocolate Hoes: Complicated “like a game of a bridge”. Uncle Lawnge is very familiar with this genre of female. “I knows about sexual chocolate hoes, I knows.”
Goya Hoes: Are fly but “will wear anything.” They also excite Uncle Lawnge, “Wooh!!!”
Pork Fried Rice Hoes: These ladies “don’t understand the language,” but that doesn’t stop Uncle Lawnge enthusiastically yelling, “Oh, gimme some!” once Dres inaudibly describes them (cracks me up every time).
Someone, Mr. Lawnge I’m assuming, spends the last minute of the song begging to pee on a girl in the same tone of voice a child uses when asking for a toy.
“Black with N.V.” – My personal favorite beat and song on the album. If Mr. Lawnge was born to rap on “Le Ménage,” then Dres was born to rap on this type of beat. The song is about how African Americans’ history is hidden from them and the ensuing effects of such ignorance. Native Tongue groups and backpack rappers have the challenge of rapping about conscious matters, while maintaining the bounce and confidence boosting sound hip-hop is known for. 2Pac and Rakim are the standard of how to tow that line. Dres obviously isn’t in their league, but this song is the shining moment of his career. He goes from rapping smoothly on the hook and immediately turns it to level 10 and starts ripping shit. Dres does so many great things on the song: it’s his version of David Robinson’s Quadruple Double game.
“Pass The 40” – Is it still a posse track if it features a 14-year-old, not one but TWO A&R’s and a rapper named Hot Dog? The glory days of the posse track were still to come but that’s no excuse. Two years earlier, label mates De La Soul released “Buddy,” featuring The Jungle Brothers, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Q-Tip, and Phife Dawg. Two months earlier, label mates A Tribe Called Quest released Low End Theory, featuring the Leaders of The New School, allowing Busta Rhymes opportunity for his breakthrough verse. In 1989, D.O.C. released the first West Coast posse track, “The Grand Finale,” a personal favorite. If that wasn’t enough examples, Black Sheep could have just listened on repeat to the greatest posse cut of all, “The Symphony,” from Marley Marl’s In Control Vol. 1 album. You’re on a label with De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest, and all you could get was a teenager, two A&R’s and a flunkey Jamaican rapper?
Let’s start with Chi-Ali because his story is interesting. Being billed as a rap prodigy at such a young age must come with certain baggage. Being the Tracy Austin of rap must be hard. Wait, you’re telling me there’s no cross section of golden era hip-hop and 70’s Women Tennis? As a grown man I can’t imagine chopping it up in the studio with some of history’s best rappers, but that was Chi-Ali’s life before he even started high school. Imagine being an 8th grader, having a rap video on Yo! MTV Raps, and having your own album (while wearing Infared 6 Jordans on the cover). After his debut, Chi-Ali didn’t pursue a rap career any further, and stayed out of limelight, until in 2000 he fled New York after being featured on two “America’s Most Wanted” episodes. He served 12 years of a 14-year manslaughter sentence. After coming home, he briefly dipped his feet back into rap and released a single for a song titled “G Check,” featuring Jadakiss. The video looks like a lost episode of Money & Violence. A documentary about Chi-Ali’s life is set to release in 2019. If rap had 30 for 30s, Chi-Ali’s life story would have been one of the first handful of episodes.
It’s great to finally hear Chris Lighty’s voice on an album. Just kidding, it’s terrible. Chris Lighty fans can rejoice for he had the best A&R verse on the album. The second best A&R verse belongs to someone named Dave Gossett who raps with a hitch in his flow and these little yelps at the end of his lines that make me physically cringe every time. These A&R’s must have have had some serious dirt on Dres or something. Chris Lighty was probably in bed one night and his girlfriend was like, “it’d be so cool if you also rapped.” He turned to her, “oh you wanna hear me rap, babe?” and proceeded to call Dres and demand a verse on the album. When Dres told Chris Lighty he didn’t have enough people for a posse track, Chris gathered the most motley crew in the history of posse tracks, and grabbed whatever A&R’s, teenagers, and struggle rappers he could find. I don’t think we’ll be bouncing our grandkids on our knees telling them about the time we heard two A&R’s rapping on a same song.
This brings us to Mr. Hot Dog. Black Sheep bucked the popular trend of having a reggae influenced track on their album, opting instead for a Jamaican rapper. If Hot Dog doesn’t sound like a rapper, that’s because he’s a dancer. Hot Dog is a member of the A.T.E.E.M. not to be confused with Ransom and Hitchcock’s A-Team. You’re probably familiar with A.T.E.E.M.’s star member, Chubb Rock. In 1992, Chubb Rock was one of most popular rappers following his radio friendly singles on his 1991 sophomore album. You’re definitely familiar with the production duo Trackmasters who are known for “Juicy,” “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By,” “If I Ruled The World,” and many others. The A.T.E.E.M.’s debut album is entirely produced by Trackmasters and has the greatest album title in the history of hip-hop: “A Hero Ain’t Nuttin but a Sandwich.” I’ve never heard the album, but based off the title, it’s made my sacred top 100. “A Hero Ain’t Nuttin but a Sandwich” needs to be discussed and referenced more often. I just need that album title in my life, someone make it happen.
It’s a shame Dres had to run with the bench unit for this track but he does his best to clean up at the end of the track. The beat on the song is one of the better ones on the album, but I guess you have to have a good beat if half the rappers on the songs are A&R’s. In no particular order here is a list of my favorite dozen posse tracks (not including the already mentioned classics):
B.G. ft. Big Tymers & the Hot Boys “Bling Bling” (1999)
Main Source ft. Nas, Joe Fatal, & Akinyele “Live at the Barbeque” (1991)
Jay-Z ft. Beanie Sigel, The Lox & Sauce Money “Reservoir Dogs” (1998)
Master P ft. Fiend, Silkk the Shocker, Mia X & Mystikal “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!” (1997)
Nas ft. AZ, Foxy Brown, & Cormega “Affirmative Action” (1996)
LL Cool J ft. Fat Joe, Foxy Brown, Keith Murray & Prodigy “I Shot Ya (Remix)” (1995)
Heltah Skeltah ft. O.G.C. “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka” (1996)
Ma$e ft. Black Rob, The LOX & DMX “24 Hours to Live” (1997)
Snoop Doggy Dogg ft. Nate Dogg, Kurupt & Warren G “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)” (1993)
Noreaga ft. Nature, Big Pun, Cam’ron, Styles P & Jadakiss “Banned from T.V.” (1998)
The Luniz ft. E-40, Spice 1, Shock G, Richie Rich, Dru Down & Michael Marshall “I Got 5 On It (Remix)” (1995)
50 Cent ft. The Game, Lloyd Banks & Young Buck “Y’all Niggas Ain’t Fuckin With Us” (2004)
“Choice Is Yours (Revisited)” – Classic hook and classic beat. The song is frequently listed on all the greatest rap singles lists. KRS-One, Nas and N.O.R.E. have all made songs paying homage to the iconic single. The tragic part about the song is it will forever be known as “the song that’s in the KIA Hamster commercial.” To be clear, I’m not mad that Dres and Mista Lawnge got a check for the commercial, it’s great that without having to get up off the couch they can guarantee money for future generations of their family. But at what cost? If your greatest artistic achievement is forever linked with driving Hamsters, does that make the money worth it?
“Yes” – The song is fine. It doesn’t stand out, and would have been better served following, “U Mean I’m Not.” I’m not so much against the song as I am with the placement. Having a ho-hum song wrapping up the album is a curious enough decision, but placing it after your best and catchiest song is unforgiveable. Going from “Choice is Yours (Revisited)” to “Yes” is a bummer…and then the album ends.
A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing certainly deserves to be in consideration for the Top 100 rap albums of all time. The uniqueness of Dres and the album probably gives it the edge over albums that may otherwise be a more enjoyable listen. As far as Native Tongues albums go, I have it ranked either fifth or sixth. It’s clearly behind the first three A Tribe Called Quest albums and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. I struggle with placing it above De La Soul Is Dead, because of the incredible Prince Paul production, but I think Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing deserves the nod for fifth because it’s more consistent and has much more actual rapping. Until next time Dres and Mista Lawnge (who now goes by the more professional Mr. Long).