New York is the mecca of rap. DJ Kool Herc, Rakim, Nas, JAY-Z – the list of foundational legends and internationally-recognized icons from NYC might match the number of the city’s subway stations. Yet, the number of prominent rappers from New Jersey – less than a mile across the George Washington Bridge – pales in comparison. With all due respect to Jersey natives The Fugees and Naughty By Nature, no rapper has repped the Garden State like Newark’s Reggie Noble, AKA Redman.
Redman began his career as a DJ. A funk music obsessive, he delved into the catalogs of artists like Parliament, Funkadelic, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, all of whom he would sample or reference in his work. (This might also explain his other alias, Funk Doctor Spock.) After Redman met rapper/producer Erick Sermon, though, he started rapping and became part of EPMD’s Hit Squad collective (later known as Def Squad) alongside artists like Das Efx and Keith Murray.
In the 90s, Newark was the third most dangerous US city according to the FBI. When Redman went solo with 1992’s Whut? Thee Album, he emerged with rhymes as rough and rugged as the city over beats informed by his affinity for funk. He didn’t debut, he kicked in the door, going Gold while peaking number 49 on the Billboard 200 and earning 4.5 out of 5 mics from The Source. This was “cosmic funk” from the man who dined with the devil, communed with the cosmos, and downed handfuls of psychedelics while ensconced in blunt smoke. If you dissed him, he would verbally assault you, laugh, and light another Philly. Witty, deranged, hilarious, and an excellent writer, Redman sharpened his skills, and became even stranger, on subsequent 90s classics Dare Iz a Darkside and Muddy Waters.
After linking with Method Man in the late 90s, Redman became a fixture in pop culture. He and Method Man co-starred in the stoner comedy How High and the short-lived TV show Meth & Red; Redman starred in 2004’s horror-comedy Seed of Chucky; and he was a playable character on three Def Jam video games. Today, though, Redman remains best known for delivering some of the most bruising and blunted verses in rap history.
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The Funkadelic Devil
(“Time 4 Sum Aksion”, “Funkorama”, “Smoke Buddah”)
As chaotic as Redman’s rhymes can be, he had a clear vision of his on-record persona. He was as brash as he was purposefully cartoonish, listening to funk and blowing funk in your face. There was no clearer introduction of his mission than “Time 4 Sum Aksion,” the opening track from Whut? Thee Album. It was aggressive and playful, rap as pro wrestling.
Redman maintained his colorful persona throughout his career, but he experimented with darker hues on his second album, Dare Iz a Darkside. 1995’s “Funkorama” doesn’t appear on Dare Iz a Darkside, but it’s in the same vein. Over a mellow but banging beat from Erick Sermon, Redman delivers one violent boast of mic supremacy after another. One second he’s swinging nunchucks like Bruce Lee, the next he’s dropping bombs like dictators.
No list of Redman’s best songs is complete without a song devoted to weed. It is Redman’s fuel, part of his essence. He taught you “How to Roll a Blunt” on Whut? and took you to “A Million and 1 Buddah Spots” on Dare Iz a Darkside. But “Smoke Buddha” might be his best ode to Mary Jane. Over Rick James’ “Mary Jane” (of course), Redman delivers a smoker’s anthem that is all punchlines and pure joy. He smokes in the car, in the hotel lobby, and the hotel room. According to Redman, the contact high will make you vogue like Madonna. When a connoisseur like Redman tells you about the strength of the chronic in his Dutch, you believe him.
Method Man & Redman
(“Got My Mind Made Up”, “Rap Phenomenon”, “Da Rockwilder”, “How High”, “Left & Right”)
Method Man & Redman. You’d be hard-pressed to find a rap duo with greater synergy. They pass the mic like Jordan and Pippen on a breakaway, never losing rhythm or forward momentum. In the 90s, they were two of Def Jam’s juggernauts, dropping acclaimed solo albums that retained their singular styles but sonically embodied the same spirit. They both had alter-egos (Meth’s was Johnny Blaze), a penchant for vivid and clever rhymes, and a predilection for the most potent weed money could buy. “[Redman] gets versatile on every line, it seems to me. You expect him to say this, and he’ll say that,” Method Man told Rap Pages in 1995. “As far as his style as a person, I sat with the brother, I smokes [sic] weed with him. He bugged out. He reminds me a lot of myself.”
Meth and Red first linked up on record for the aptly titled “How High,” which appeared on The Show soundtrack. Produced by Erick Sermon, the beat sounds like it was recorded in a smoke-choked basement. It served as the perfect score to Meth and Red trading lines about melting their minds and exercising their trigger fingers. “How High” committed their compatibility and respective styles to wax while creating a template for all of their future work together.
The pair later wound up on “Got My Mind Made Up” on 2Pac’s heralded All Eyez on Me. Redman took the anchor leg over Daz Dillinger’s dank, downtempo beat to boast about getting weed in the mail and “flip[ping] MC’s like ki’s.” They were also the first voices you heard on the DJ Premier-produced “Rap Phenomenon” from Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumously released Born Again. Method Man compares himself to Han Solo while Redman rides with George Jetson and rolls up to your residence with crowbars and tucked guns. They wanted to blast off into space and destroy everything in their path. A perfect match.
The duo’s chemistry was so clear that they somehow found themselves gliding over the off-kilter funk of D’Angelo’s “Left & Right” on Voodoo. A neo-soul classic that explored spirituality as much as it did sexuality, Voodoo was improved by the levity of Meth and Red’s hilarious come-ons. But the essential Meth & Red collab is their first joint album, 1999’s Blackout! The album’s second single “Da Rockwilder” remains a club classic, the clearest distillation of what made them the most energetic stoners to ever grab the mic. Method Man is smooth, delivering damaging bars with the precision of a swordsman, while Redman’s delivery hits like bare knuckles. They were the perfect fit, Method Man softening Redman’s blows while he landed his own.
(“Head Banger”, “Dirrty”)
If you want your song to feel grimy and fun, you call Redman. He’s the lovable dirtbag. Throughout his career, he’s been solicited for dozens of guest appearances. It began with his mentors, EPMD and “Head Banger.” The “Funkadelic devil” bursts in shouting “Surprise!” and then never lets up, spliff between his fingers as he likens himself to Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.
Redman appeared on songs with everyone from A Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes to Snoop Dogg and Limp Bizkit. But his most conspicuous feature, and the one that brought him into the world of pop, is Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty.” The lead single from Aguilera’s quadruple-platinum Stripped, it was a reinterpolation of Redman’s “Let’s Get Dirty (I Can’t Get in da Club).” Barking and channeling the spirit of ODB, he raps about wrecking his car and being well-endowed on a song that introduced him to millions of suburban teens. They probably hadn’t heard Muddy Waters, but Redman left the imprint of his mud-caked Timbs on their minds forever.