Tricks Of The Shade
Record label: Ruffhouse/Columbia
Format: CD
Release date: 17 November 1992

considering the ultra-patriotic times we live in, a look back at this album is key. first off, its initial release was during George Bush, Sr.'s presidency. also, its multicultural, sociopolitical perspective of America is certainly one that most stateside residents wouldn't take kindly to in a post-9/11 U.S.A. you will NEVER see a re-release of this album, and i feel just as strongly about it as my man tonypuma obviously does, as evidenced within his brilliant review. it originally appeared in the ON THE VERGE newsletter about two years ago, but i had to dig it up and share it with you all. {macedonia}

About two weeks ago, I finally picked up a copy of the Zebrahead soundtrack. Despite the fact that my dollar joint has little flecks of paint all over the wax, this is an important record. It's even more important if you DON'T know why. The observant ones will note that, yes, this was the first wide scale appearance of Nas, back when he was still Nasty instead of jiggy. But aside from the appearance of "Halftime" two years before Illmatic, Zebrahead also debuted someone else to the world - the Philly collective known as The Goats.

But wait, I wasn't checking for movies back in '92. I didn't care what Michael Rappaport was up to, I was buying punk rock records and the occasional hip-hop joint. I don't know how I got my hands on it exactly, but I went home from the store with a sample cassingle (did i just say that?) for the Goats. You know, one of those cassettes they do up like 12"s - album, radio and instrumental versions of "Typical American" and "Burn The Flag". Right now, I doubt I'd even chance such a thing, taking a shitty industry cassette home just to see what the hell it was. But back then, it whipped my ass with a vengeance.

The A-side was one of the most powerful and angry rap tracks I'd ever heard, with the three rappers dropping lines like "the hell with Stormin' Norman, I write rhymes Black, they be political and plus they be all of that," " you're pounding sand for another man's sins...but when you come home in a box, green drawers, green pants, green socks..." The B-side took it over the line, with a hardcore anthem to flag-burning - "so he can exercise his right to ignite the flag." For real, some of these lines hit me upside the head, and there's no explaining what these guys were saying: "we don't hate the people, but the government's a drag," "the Goats are staging this political protest, to make you aware of the economical unrest," and of course, "Columbus killed more Indians than Hitler killed Jews, but yet on his birthday we get sales on shoes." That's right, it was 1992, George Bush was in office and shit was wound up like Morton Downey, Jr. By the time I got to the Radio Edit of "Burn The Flag" - over three minutes of nothing but beep - I was down with these guys.

Don't get the wrong idea - this stuff was slamming hardcore hip-hop. It proved that you didn't need to tax George Clinton's drawers to make a great head-nodder in '92. It had so much of an "edge" it was virtually an subgenre in itself, but it was a total rap album. As the story goes, Oatie Kato, Madd and Swayzack met while all pushing pushcarts in Philly and got together. They hooked up with the famed Joe "The Butcher" Nicolo (in Philly, who else?) and he put them together on his Ruffhouse label. The messed-up part was until you read the liner notes (ALL the lyrics), you didn't realize that most of these grooves were made live with live instruments and turntables. The album simply didn't sound like a bunch of musicians - more like the Bomb Squad smoking weed.

"Tricks Of The Shade" just might be the opera of the early '90s. It's a theme record, of two characters (Chicken Little and Hangerhead) making their way through Uncle Scam's Federally Funded Welfare & Freakshow to find their mother who was jailed for attempting an illegal abortion. They meet Manny Noriega selling drugs, Leonard Peltier locked down as the last Native American, Officers Daryl Gates and Stacey Koons who 'tattoo' their heads, Rovie Wade The Sword Swallower who has no control over her own body, and multi-ethnic shooting galleries where whoever doesn't look like you is the target. It's a journey and each song breaks the flow of the story by taking it down another road to tell another story. The beats are lush and funky, but dark and full of minor keys. There are eerie resonating beats, samples that just stick out in their pure oddity and repetition, and an overall air of frustration in these songs between the headlines and rolling paper. Like I said, it's got more edge than most records, but it slams more often than not, between hard, fast lyrics and harder production.

Of course, this record after-burned over most everyone's head and then buzzed the budget racks on its way to the cutout bin. When I tried to see them on my birthday at Wetlands, Madd and I discussed the situation on press outside the club. Basically, one of Playboy's rock critics flat out loved it, and that was all. Wetlands dissed my underage ass and I missed their set with Chuck Treece, but got Maad's phone number after a great talk. I didn't actually see the Goats until the second record dropped and Oatie had already left the fold.

Oatie, the Italian kid in the group, was nice lyrically (check out "NotNotBad" for a nice assessment of Italians and Blacks), but according to Madd he flipped before the act was supposed to tour Europe with Fishbone and The Bad Brains. Before their set at Maxwell's in Hoboken a few years later, Madd told me that Oatie basically jetted because the rest of the act was too involved in smoking dope. This might seem dumb now, but sadly Oatie was on the right track. At the end of their mind-blowing set that night, after watching them throw down all the killers from Tricks and their ill live drummer freestyling while laying down a mean 4/4 at the same time, Madd and Swayzack literally went to sleep on the stage after all the weed they puffed. It was only a few months later that they broke up and Columbia ended a last ditch promo effort on the weaker album No Goats, No Glory.

And now, what's left? The members have all gone different ways, and the closest thing to new material is Incognegro. But once in a while, you'll find someone who knows about how dope the Goats were. Don't believe me? Vernon Reid, someone who KNOWS about misunderstood music, drops the Goats in his piece "Hard Left: Hip Hop's Forgotten Visionaries" in The Vibe History of Hip Hop. Need more? Check the dollar bin.


RealAudio samples:
Typical American ||| Burn The Flag ||| Do The Digs Dug? ||| Hip Hop Ola

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