As a protégé of the hugely popular EPMD, Reggie “Redman” Noble caused an immediate sensation on the duo’s 1990 track “Hardcore,” dropping a guest verse so impressively packed with attitude and alliteration that his skills seemed barely contained by his allotted sixteen bars. Less immediately evident was the fact that the Newark MC was far more than just a fierce battle rapper. Leaning into the raucous side of his stoner imagination, Redman’s debut album, Whut? Thee Album, announced the arrival of one of hip-hop’s most entertaining personalities, an off-the-wall misfit whose merging of rhyme cipher tough talk, comic derangement, and self-deprecating slacker storytelling produced one of the genre’s most fully-realized first efforts.
Though the album’s bloody hands cover art and sanitarium doctor’s diagnosis intro portend an ominous ride, Redman doesn’t take himself seriously enough to come off committed to anything so much as his wandering creative impulses. The cumulative effect is a glorious haphazardness. Songs are interrupted mid-verse by sound collages (“Da Funk”), subject to false endings (“Time 4 Sum Aksion”), sidetracked by botched boasts in Korean (“Blow Your Mind”), or infamously heckled by Red’s crew as too soft before re-commencing with cuss-filled glee (“Tonight’s Da Night”). Red’s not above sparring with fictional horror flick villains – taking down Chucky, Michael Myers, and Freddie Krueger in one verse on “Rated ‘R’.” More notably, he’s never afraid to cast himself as the butt of scenarios gone topsy-turvy. On his lampoon of sexual conquest tales, “A Day of Sooperman Lover,” one would-be rendezvous partner unexpectedly turns out to be every bit the man his titular hero is.
Like one of his obvious role models, Slick Rick, Redman is astute enough to celebrate the absurdity and tragicomedy lurking around every corner. Even a self-explanatory instructional, “How to Roll a Blunt,” is motivated by his observation of lousy personal etiquette (“‘Yo light the blunt, here’s the lighter’/ I would if the shit would stop drippin’ with saliva/ And if you gonna lick it don’t drown it with ya spit/ Shit, I don’t know what dick or last puss you licked quick”). Borrowing a more explicit trick from Ricky Walters, Reggie Noble shares plenty of mic time with his vocal alter egos, whether in the guise of rap foils (“Redman Meets Reggie Noble”), skit characters (“Funky Uncles”), or the array of unspecified voices that cajole him throughout. Sonically they form another layer atop the already dense convergence of expertly mixed and matched P-Funk/James Brown/Roger Troutman sampled grooves largely maestro-ed by EPMD’s Erick Sermon.
Murky, chaotic, and clever, Whut?’s post-Bomb Squad wall of funk is of a piece with the haze-filled aesthetic vortex Redman’s drawn up. Yet it’d be too simplistic to characterize that milieu as solely the attention-hopping musings of an inspired weedhead. Redman’s too talented and intentional of an artist for that. You’d have to be in order to write like he does on the aforementioned “Tonight’s Da Night” – offsetting bars of his hilariously no-nonsense m.o. (“But if you wanna see a fly but frantic/ Cool romantic, more slicker than my man Rick/ You better check the Yellow Pages under smooth s–t/ ’Cause Red ain’t down for the bulls–t”) with the album’s most lucid profundity (“I don’t claim to be a big rap star/ ’Cause no matter who you are/ You’ll still catch a bullet scar”). At such moments Whut? Thee Album’s inpatient architect is clearly crazy like a fox.
In celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, uDiscover Music is publishing 50 album reviews throughout 2023 that highlight the breadth and depth of the genre. The Hip-Hop 50 logo was designed by Eric Haze, the mind behind iconic graphics for EPMD and LL Cool J.