You can tell by looking into MC Ren's Geronimo Pratt inspired eyes that he is ready to clear out the excess that has become hip hop nowadays.
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One of the west coast's original, premiere rappers believes his new album, The Villain In Black (Ruthless/Relativity), will set everyone straight. Ren was thoroughly focused preparing for his third solo album. Among other themes, The Villain In Black takes aim at the "studio gangsta" trend that has presently overwhelmed some aspects of rap music. "I'm putting my energy into bustin' rhymes. I'm a lyricist and that's what I want to be recognized for. I'm not about flossin' and tryin' to be harder than I am. I respect rap and I respect artists who sell records based on how tight their skills are, not on how much hype they make up or how many girls, cars and homes they get for props in their videos. Bustin' rhymes is why fools got into rap in the first place and that's why I'm here.
Just scan Ren's MC credentials: 17-year-old recruited straight outta Compton, California from high school by Eazy-E to join his trailblazing rap group, NWA (Niggaz With Attitude). The stern-faced rapper became known as the villain in black and with NWA took the music industry and music fans by storm by selling multi-platinum records with no radio or video support. The group took their music and message to the street and made history with the notion of "gangsta" rap. Ren's solo career began with a gold industry buzzing EP called Kizz MY Black Azz (singles "The Final Frontier" and "Behind The Scene") in 1992 followed by his acclaimed `94 first album, Shock of The Hour, featuring "Mayday on the Front Line," from the rap spoof movie CB4.
Although Ren was less outspoken with the media than Eazy-E or Ice Cube, heis regarded by many as the NWA member with the strongest rap skills. Today, a more confident and outspoken Ren is hoping to continue to build on his reputation as one of rap's most articulate urban griots. Ren believes The Villain in Black will remind his fans of the skills and baritone voice that have made him consistently one of hip-hop's most respected MC's. "I want people to be like `damn, Ren still sound the same," Ren said. With The Villain In Black, Ren sought out producers (Cold 187um, Madness 4 Real, Doctor Jam, Jess "Big Jess" Willard) who could keep the funk true to his Compton roots and give his fans a variety of recognizable west coast flavor to bounce to.
The album's first single, a bass heavy, speaker-ripper called "Mad Scientist," is a typical Ren blend of braggadocio and mental tidbits of knowledge. Hip hop fans eager for Ren's emerging balance of hardcore teacher and original Compton gangsta will also definitely dig "Great Elephant," which he named after the great African warrior Shaka Zulu. Cold 187um of Above The Law pumped in some of his group's trademark layered funk on five tracks. On thick, synthesized songs like "It's Like That" (featuring J-Rocc) and "Keep It Real," all the bandwagon rappers of today are dissed in an old school battle style of rhyming. Ren is proud of his continued black consciousness-raising efforts after joining the Nation of Islam a few years ago. The album's last track opens with fiery N.O.I. speaker Khalid Muhammad dropping philosophical footnotes on slavery before the roaring "Bring It On" closes out the 1 l-track LP. The track features Ren asking African Americans to take an inventory of their own government and themselves after "439 years of slavery and we still ain't free."
While Ren is aware the assault on brash rap music leveled by America's conservative politicos isn't about to subside, he's prepared to stand up for rap music like NWA did with "Fuck Tha Police." "Things have got to change but people ain't listening. So, all you can do is tell somebody-each one, teach one-for now," Ren said. The half moon ring on his right hand represents some of the changes Ren's made in his own life "I've learned to look at things differently. I've got a more balanced down-to-earth outlook. We're all responsible for learning what's real. Otherwise, laws will be changed and we won't have any say in what gets changed. Everybody is still wondering how the three-strikes-you're-out law got passed. It iust goes to show we all gotta learn the truth and act."
There's no doubt the original villain in a black Raiders hat and jeans is back. The Villain In Black is as authentic as it gets and Ren's determined to keep it real with food for your mind and funk for your soul.
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