The early days of hip hop were littered with colourful, eccentric characters: artists adopted pseudonyms such as Grandmaster Caz, Grand Wizard Theodore and Kool Moe Dee, draping themselves in almost comically ostentatious garb, a la George Clinton. Whilst these characters adopted striking personas, they largely devoted their rhymes to party-starting, feel-good vibes.
In the mid-'80s, immediately prior to hip hop's most striking evolution, the Bronx-based Ultramagnetic MC's married their offbeat sensibilities to their lyrical content. Kool Keith spits, Moe Love scratches, TR Love produces and Ced-Gee pulls a double duty on production and the mic. Just as Ced-Gee pioneered production techniques, Kool Keith took lyricism to another level with his jargonistic bars just fifteen months after Rakim championed internal rhymes on Paid In Full. In just a single verse, Ced-Gee manages to incorporate complex, multi-syllabic words such as “frequencies,” “approximate,” “chemistry,” “nuclear alarms,” “penicillin” and “medical utensils,” a showing of his relentless scientifically-derived vocabulary. Despite this, it’s Kool Keith who reigns on the mic, his manic pace and stilted delivery dishing out the vivid visions of a cartoonish evil genius.
Ced-Gee contributed production to all but three tracks on Boogie Down Productions' seminal 1987 debut, Criminal Minded, and he's often credited as contributing to Eric B. & Rakim's Paid In Full, though that claim seems less ironclad than his BDP credentials. This helps explain how a record as influential as Critical Beatdown fell so late in '88 - singles were released as early as '86, and Ced-Gee's hand in earlier projects helped expand his peerless sampling techniques. These efforts would influence acclaimed production team The Bomb Squad, whose magnum opus, Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, was released four months prior to Ultramagnetic MC's debut.
Both It Takes A Nation and Critical Beatdown pushed the art of sampling to its technological limits. The records were not only sample-rich, but musically innovative: both eschew looped samples, experimenting instead with chopped and screwed soundbites. What's more, Critical Beatdown includes work from late production prodigy Paul C, who produced "Give The Drummer Some" and engineered the entire project. The album's final single, "Give The Drummer Some" would be one of a handful of tracks credited to the young talent, though Kool Keith recalls Paul as an all-encompassing creative force:
"Paul C was the person that really made me get tight on my lyrics... he was the coolest person, and the first person of my studio life to get me in that area of not rockin' a bad verse. He would say, 'You didn't sound like you meant it on Break North, you didn't sound like you wanna hit it on Ease Back'."
Chuck D said they "changed the whole game." Posdnous of De La Soul called them "the only people that we looked to for a blueprint." Guru recalled how "that shit used to make [him] go crazy." In celebration of the record's thirtieth anniversary, we're diving into the samples that comprise Ultramagnetic MC's wacky debut!
"Watch Me Now"
The album opens with a Jimmy Castor-centric lyrical display, showcasing two verses apiece from the MC's of Ultramagnetic MC's, Ced-Gee and Kool Keith. There's a little scratching from Moe Love, though it's far from his most prominent performance on the record.
The guitar riff that runs throughout the opening of "Watch Me Now" is courtesy of James Brown's onetime backing band, The J.B.'s. "Gimme Some More" was included on the group's first solo album, 1972's Brown-produced Food For Thought, which featured famous J.B.'s members such as Fred Wesley and Clyde Stubblefield.
The frequently sampled track is a favourite of acts such as A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy.
The piano hit at 0:05 is the handiwork of notable one-hit wonder Melvin Bliss, whose 1973 12" single, "Reward / Synthetic Substitution," has become one of the most sampled tracks of all time.
The funky scream layered atop the scratching at 0:10 clearly belongs to the one and only James Brown. It's lifted from the very start of his 1976 standalone hit, "Get Up Offa That Thing."
The titular phrase is taken from another oft-sampled '70s cut, The Jimmy Castor Bunch's "It's Just Begun." The 1972 hit was an early example of disco, the sound that would go on to commercially dominate the coming decade.
Skywriter, the outfit's eighth album, was released amidst turmoil: as Michael launched his solo career at 13 years old, he became more outspoken about their direction. The group struggled throughout the mid-'70s, prolific but commercially unsuccessful.
Produced Ced Gee makes use of yet another incredibly common breakbeat, inserting elements of The Winstons' "Amen Brother" at 4:22.
The 'Amen break' is amongst the most defining breakbeats of all time, appearing on a stunning 2,900 different tracks. Despite its pervasiveness, the break hasn't featured on many classic hits, and remains most identifiable through its brief appearance on N.W.A's "Straight Outta Compton."
Moe Love wilds out on the opening to "Ease Back," his infrequent but impressive scratching techniques only amplified by the album's brilliant production and engineering. The track was issued as the a-side to "Kool Keith Housing Things" in '88, the second 12" comprised entirely of album-included joints.
The drum sample that kickstarts "Ease Back" is taken from a 1973 track by German jazz rock outfit, Passport. "Puzzle" was included on the group's fourth album, Hand Made, and drumming was contributed by onetime member Curt Cress. Cress would go on to play drums on a 1984 international German pop hit, Alphaville's "Forever Young."
"Puzzle" is an infrequently sampled song, and "Ease Back" marks its first ever sample.
The mixed-and-matched horn riff that underpins "Ease Back" at 0:18 is the work of production team The Bomb Squad. The Public Enemy-affiliated outfit produced "Terminator X To The Edge of Panic," released earlier in 1988 as a part of the group's seminal LP, It Takes A Nation.
PE emcee Chuck D was a member of The Bomb Squad, alongside siblings Hank and Keith Shocklee and Eric "Vietnam" Sadler.
The "ultramagnetic" vocal sample at 0:42 is taken from the opening of the group's third 12" single, "Funky Potion."
Released in 1986, that single arrived alongside staples such as "Eric B. Is President" and "South Bronx," though whilst Eric B. & Rakim and BDP were releasing their sophomore albums in '88, Ultramagnetic MC's were only just dropping their debut effort.
The old-school loop at 0:48 is courtesy of early funk luminaries, The Meters. "Little Old Money Maker" was included on the group's 1969 sophomore LP, Look-Ka Py Py. It wasn't until 1970 that the New Orleans outfit incorporated vocals into their repertoire.
The vocal sample that announces Kool Keith's entrance at 0:58 is taken from another early Ultramagnetic MC's single.
The most subtle of the samples on "Ease Back" comes at 2:07, where producer Ced Gee scratches in a self-shoutout sampled from the group's third single, "Ego Trippin'."
Though it was originally released in 1986, "Ego Trippin'" was included on Critical Beatdown. Some pressings of the album include the MC's Ultra Remix, whilst others include the original 12" version of the track.
Originally released as a single in 1986, "Ego Trippin'" was remixed for inclusion on the group's first fill-length release. Though the original was their third offering, it was the earliest of their singles to feature on the record. Ced-Gee's "to hell with childish rhymes!" presages a more outright Slick Rick diss on "Feelin' It."
The drums and piano hits from Melvin Bliss' "Synthetic Substitution" reappear on "Ego Trippin'," having previously appeared on album opener "Watch Me Now."
The 1986 12” single was the first to sample the 1973 original, which subsequently featured on joints by Schoolly D, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane and Audio Two. It's now been sampled more than 700 times, making it one of the most sampled breakbeats of all time.
One of Brown's classic ad-libs interjects at 0:06. This particular "get down!" is taken from "The Boss," one of the tracks Brown recorded for the 1973 Black Caesar OST. That album was co-composed by J.B.'s member and future Parliament-Funkadelic mainstay Fred Wesley.
Ced Gee follows up this 1973 Brown sample with - what else - another 1973 Brown sample. The ad-lib squeal at 0:36 is lifted from the beginning of another one of Brown's energetic cuts.
"Make It Good To Yourself" also appeared on Black Caesar, and was credited to Brown, Wesley and prolific Brown writer Charles Bobbit. Though sampled less frequently, it's still appeared on tracks by Public Enemy and Kool G Rap.
At 2:34, Ced Gee scratches his way through a now-famous sample. T La Rock & Jazzy Jay released their 1983 single "It's Yours" on Def Jam, and it was the first vinyl to feature the label's logo. The titular refrain would later be sampled on Nas' "The World Is Yours," further immortalising the track.
The track marked the first production by Rick Rubin, who would go on to become arguably one of the most influential producers of all time.
The sounds scratched into the mix at 2:39 are lifted from an LL Cool J’s “Rock The Bells.”
“Rock The Bells” was released as the third single from Cool J’s classic debut, Radio, in 1986. The single and album tracks featured no bells, though the titular percussion was littered across the original version, released exclusively on 12”. He later sampled the track on his 1990 not-a-comeback single, “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
A great example of Ced Gee's innovative approach to sampling comes at 4:13, when he chops and screws an incredibly famous and otherwise instantly recognisable sample. Whilst it can just be made out, the sample isn't looped - it's chopped.
Freedom's "Get Up And Dance" was most notably featured on Grandmaster Flash's 1982 DJ mix, "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel."
"Moe Luv's Theme"
“Moe Luv’s Theme” is not a straightforward exhibit of Moe Love’s scratching skills, instead featuring Kool Keith singing the turntablists praises throughout two verses. It does nothing to lessen the impact of Love’s scratching, scattered across his title track. Interestingly, the track misspells Moe Love's name.
The "Moe Love" shoutout that opens his 'theme' is lifted from the heart of the album's first single, 1986's "Ego Trippin'."
Though Ced Gee, like fellow sample-heavy contemporaries The Bomb Squad, is prone to self-sampling, "Ego Trippin'" has also been featured on tracks by MF DOOM, Jedi Mind Tricks and Method Man & Redman.
The string-based instrumental sample that starts the track at 0:02 is courtesy of Jackie Robinson and her 1976 disco single, "Pussyfooter." That track was included on her first and final studio LP, I'm Different, an album devoid of any other oft-sampled joints.
The drums overlayed on Robinson's string hits are taken from Upp's "Give It To You," another occasionally sampled track. The jazz fusion group released their self-titled debut in 1975, featuring guitar and production from Jeff Beck, who went totally uncredited in the accompanying album booklet.
The string hits that enter at 0:05 and run throughout the track are taken from La Pregunta’s version of “Shangri La.” The original 1957 track was performed by Pennsylvania-born vocal quartet The Four Coins.
"Kool Keith Housing Things"
On "Kool Keith Housing Things," titular emcee Kool Keith actually disses Rakim, flipping a famous bar from hip hop standard "Paid In Full."
"Housing Things" opens with a sample of the opening riff to Dennis Coffey's 1972 cut, "Ride Sally Ride." Coffey worked as a session musician for Motown Records throughout the late '60s, appearing most famously on tracks such as Edwin Starr's "War" and Freda Payne's "Band of Gold."
In the early '70s, Coffey cut "Scorpio" alongside the Detroit Guitar Band. That track has since become a frequently sampled hip hop staple.
The beat atop which Kool Keith lays verses is assembled from a sped-up, pitch-shifted J.B.'s riff.
1972's "Givin' Up Food for Funk" was released as a two-part 7" single on Brown's own People Records. Written by Brown and trombonist Fred Wesley, the single arrived the same year as Brown's own Get On The Good Foot. Though seldom sampled for a Brown-associated track, "Givin' Up Food for Funk" has appeared on over 50 songs.
The frantic drum fill that first enters at 0:15 is taken from the break on James Brown's "Cold Sweat."
"Cold Sweat," originally released in 1967, has been cited as the first-ever funk song. Credited to Brown and his early outfit, The Famous Flames, the Pee Wee Ellis-penned track signified a seismic shift in popular music, presaging Brown's funk-heavy dominance.
The ad-lib at 0:46 is clearly Mr. Brown. "Can I Get Some Help" originally appeared on 1988's Motherlode, a compilation of unreleased material dating from '67 to '73.
The compilation would have been released with sampling in mind: Brown released In The Jungle Groove, effectively a compilation of his most popular breakbeats, in '86. Whilst sampling reinvigorated his catalogue, Brown struggled throughout his tumultuous later career.
The scratched vocal sample that announces "Kool Keith" at 0:54 is taken from another previously-released Ultramagnetic MC's cut. "M.C.'s Ultra (Part II)," originally released in '87, was earlier sampled on "Ease Back."
The track features verses from Ced-Gee and Kool Keith, and a remix was later included on 1997's The B-Sides Companion.
"Travelling at the Speed of Thought (Remix)"
The shortest track on the album, "Travelling at the Speed of Thought (Remix)" features one verse apiece from Kool Keith and Ced-Gee. Despite the length, it manages three samples.
Though it's not a popular sample, the track is considered an incredibly important instalment in the evolution of rock music. The 1963 version by Washington-based garage band The Kingsmen remains an enduring hit.
The drums that enter at 0:08 are taken from another classic British rock staple, this time taken from the late '60s. The Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman," released in 1969 as a standalone single, quickly became one of the group's most successful tracks.
Released just one day after the death of former member Brian Jones, it was one of 8 RS singles to hit #1 on the Billboard 100.
The mix of female and male ad libs introduced at 0:30 are courtesy of Lyn Collins and James Brown. The frequent collaborators joined forces on Collins' most memorable hit, 1972's "Think (About It)."
Whilst that might not sound particularly familiar, the track has been sampled more than 2000 times. It features an oft-utilised break, some frequently used Brown ad-libs and a famous hook, which goes: "it takes two to make a thing go right."
Keith isn't done coming at the game's best spitters, and on "Feelin' It" he puts both Slick Rick and LL Cool J on notice. Launching a few subs by way of "Toy Ballys [and] sharkskin suits" and a sly reference to Cool J's 1987 hit, "I'm Bad," Kool Keith showcases his true battle pedigree. He even comes for R&B singer Al B. Sure, perhaps to his Teddy Riley-produced Slick Rick collaboration.
The intricate breakbeat that enters at 0:09 is lifted from the start of Rick James' 1979 song, "Fire It Up." The title track to the party legend's third LP predates his commercial apex, Street Songs, by two years.
The horns at 0:12 are comprised of two samples juxtaposed to create melody, though both of these samples are sourced from the same section of Mongo Santamaria's "Cold Sweat."
The 1968 cover of the 1967 James Brown classic has been sampled just twice: once by Ultramagnetic MC's, and once more by another act almost 20 years later.
The three-note descinding progression underpinning "you've got the feeling!" is taken from Dennis Coffey's "Ride Sally Ride," included as an album track on Coffey's first solo album, 1972's Goin' For Myself.
The vocal sample that plays alongside the subtle Coffey sample - "you've got the feeling!" - is taken from Kid Dynamite's "Uphill Peace of Mind," a slightly obscure track turned exceptionally popular sample. The group released just two albums, both in '76, before going their seperate ways.
The emotional vocal sample that bursts forth at 1:06 is lifted from a 1988 R&B track. Al B. Sure!'s "Nite And Day," released in February '88, hit #7 on the Billboard 100. The overly-melodramatic tone of the track dates it almost as much as the new jack swing percussion throughout.
"One Minute Less"
"Yo, Ced, we only got a minute left," notes Keith. "What are we gonna do?" Ced decides to bust a brief rhyme on Critical Beatdown's second-shortest cut.
"One Minute Less" is propelled by a sample of the break from Juice's defining track, "Catch a Groove." The otherwise obscure group turned out a frequently sampled breakbeat with their 1976 b-side, which has since been sampled on over 150 different tracks.
The track was featured on Volume 2 of Paul Winley's Super Disco Brake's, the first ever breakbeat compilation series, released in '79.
The quiet instrumental loop that enters at 0:18 is taken from a 1974 funk cut by British band The Olympic Runners. The group, comprised of session musicians, used spare studio time to record their debut single, "Put The Music Where Your Mouth Is."
"Ain't It Good to You"
This drum-and-organ fuelled sprint features some of the most relentless rhyming and scratching on the record.
The track opens with a rapid juxtaposition of synthesizer hits, courtesy of instrumental funk outfit Manzel.
"Jump Street" was the included on the b-side of the group's first 7" single, "Space Funk," released in '77. The unbelievably obscure group released just four tracks, only achieving notoriety after the "Midnight Theme" breakbeat became popular. That track has since been sampled more than 100 times.
The hits of horn-buoyed psychedelia that are scratched in at 0:54 are the work of Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band. That outfit, comprised of legendary Motown session musician posse The Funk Brothers, recorded just two LPs between '71 and '72.
The track was most notably sampled on another 1988 cut, Eric B. & Rakim's "Put Your Hands Together."
The titular phrase, quietly scratched into the hook at 0:54, is the work of nigh-omnipresent funk legend James Brown. The vocal sample is taken from Brown's "Escape-Ism, Pt. 1," included on his 1971 LP, Hot Pants.
You'll probably recognise the opening to "Funky," which samples the same Joe Cocker track as Tupac's Dre-produced classic, "California Love," released 8 years later. Interestingly, Ced-Gee also samples percussion from MC Shan's contentious feud-starter "The Bridge," despite the fact that Ultramagnetic MC's hail from the Bronx.
The group would go on to release the first recorded hip hop track, "King Tim III (Personality Jock)." Though it dropped a full five months before Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," it was under-promoted as a b-side before being reissued.
The drums that run atop the Fatback Band brass is courtesy of Dyke and the Blazers. The NY funk outfit were active between '65 and '72, releasing eight singles and a sole LP prior to Dyke's sudden shooting death.
"Let A Woman Be A Woman," originally released in '69, was one of the group's most successful charting singles. It's since been sampled on over 160 tracks.
The tinny, electronic drum machine bursts that align with the Cocker-sourced piano hits are taken from the opening to mid-'80s classic, "The Bridge."
"The Bridge" kickstarted one of hip hop's formative feuds, now known as The Bridge Wars. Misconstruing claims about the birthplace of hip hop, Boogie Down Productions responded with a diss, "The Bridge Is Over." The feud was recently reignited in 2016.
"Give the Drummer Some"
The only track on the album produced by young prodigy Paul C, "Give The Drummer Some" remains one of the late producer's most complete and impressive works. Though he worked as an engineer on many projects, including this one, Paul didn't get many opportunities to produce entire tracks before his sudden and unexplained shooting death in 1989. Questlove called him "damn near the J Dilla of his day."
The horn blast that opens the track is sourced from the same track as the horn trill that kickstarts the verse at 0:09. Both these instruments are lifted from Dr. Lonnie Smith's "Spinning Wheel," a 1970 jazz track lifted from his classic Blue Note release, Drives.
The drums that kickstart "Give The Drummer Some" are sourced from an esoteric three-piece jazz outfit. It's a sample of their 1969 track, "There Was A Time."
Hailing from Ohio, Dee Felicie Trio released just two records in a single year: one solo outing, In Heat, and a collaborative LP with one James Brown, Gettin' Down To It. "There Was A Time," was produced by Brown himself.
The recurring horn hits that debut at 0:06 are taken from another Brown track. This time, producer Paul C lifts the horns from "Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose," a 1969 R&B hit.
"Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose" is a particularly special Brown track because of its role in the creation of hip hop: the track was one of three used by DJ Kool Herc as he pioneered the art of the breakbeat in the early '70s.
Another sample of Brown's "Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose" appears at 0:18, though it's taken from a slightly different version of the track. Whilst the horns were lifted from the original 1969 single, the guitar riff that follows was taken from the 197 instrumental, included on Brown's 31st studio album, Ain't It Funky.
Five of the seven tracks on that album were instrumental versions of previous hits.
You could hardly title a song "Give The Drummer Some" if it didn't feature hip hop's premier drummer, the late Clyde Stubblefield. The titular phrase appears at 4:42, launching the track into the drums from James Brown's "Funky Drummer."
That 1970 track is as essential as any one sample can get: it's appeared on over 1450 tracks, and ranks amongst the most popular breakbeats of all time.
"Break North" finds Moe Love scratching Star Wars quotes amongst Steve Miller samples and Bowie progressions, as though the record hasn't already displayed the interplay between producer and DJ.
The slightly mystical haze underpinning "Break North" is actually little more than a split-second fragment of Steve Miller Band's hit, "Fly Like An Eagle."
The track has particular reverence in hip hop, and though it's been frequently sampled since the golden age, it peaked when Seal covered it for the Space Jam OST. That album remains the most successful hip hop soundtrack of all time.
The familiar "rebel base" vocal sample that opens and closes the track is from exactly where you expected. The dialogue comes from the final Death Star assault in Star Wars: A New Hope.
The dialogue is delivered over an Empire intercom system, and as such belongs to an unidentified actor.
The sample is most recognisable at 0:25 - it's the three-note guitar lick that builds to the explosive psychedelic release, one which is borrowed from yet another '70s oddity.
The psychedelic burst that's juxtaposed against Bowie's R&B work is taken from a 1979 Funkadelic tune. At fifteen minutes long, "(Not Just) Knee Deep" takes up most of side one on Uncle Jam Wants You, the group's militant sequel to One Nation Under A Groove.
The recurring "break!" vocal sample, which first appears at 1:10, is lifted from T La Rock's 1985 track, "Breakdown." The song was included on his debut EP, He's Incredible, which arrived just one year after his enduring hit, "It's Yours."
Whilst "Breakdown" has been sampled more than 30 times, "Its Yours" - the first single to be released with the Def Jam logo on the sleeve - has appeared on almost 300 seperate songs.
The titular track falls late on the record, but delivers exactly what it promises: an intricate battle rap akin to an actual beatdown. Whilst Keith and Ced-Gee have been displaying their battle rap skills all over the album, "Critical Beatdown" is as good a joust as any.
The drums that open the title track are an edited sample of Lyn Collins' "Think (About It)." That track features a famous and oft-sampled break, complete with ad-libs from Collins and producer James Brown. Her wordless exclamation can be heard looping throughout the track.
This next sample is a real showing of Ced-Gee's sampling prowess: he lifts a split-second Brown ad-lib from an entirely different song, following it up almost immediately with a spoken word sample from yet another piece. This kind of microsample shows just how rapidly-advancing the art of sampling was in the late '80s.
Impressively, Brown's "Turn on the Heat and Build Some Fire" has been sampled just 3 times.
The dialogue that first enters at 0:05 - "fellas, can we still do it? yeah!" - is taken from Fred Wesley and the J.B.'s' "If You Don't Get It the First Time, Back Up & Try It Again, Parrty." That song, written and produced by Brown, was included on the first record to be credited to 'Wesley and The J.B.'s', 1974's Damn Right I Am Somebody.
The tracks were purportedly recorded during the same sessions as Brown's 1973 LP, The Payback.
The three-note ascending chord progression that opens the first verse is courtesy of Portland-based R&B outfit, Pleasure.
"Let Me Be The One" was included on the groups 1977 LP, Joyous. Though the title track has been featured on tracks by Eric B. & Rakim, LL Cool J and Sugarhill Gang, "Let Me Be The One" has only ever been sampled once.
"When I Burn"
Ced-Gee encourages Kool Keith to double down on his metaphorical, highbrow raps, and Keith delivers on the promise with his abstract rhymes and stilted, unorthodox flow. Though Ced-Gee functions as a subdued hypeman, and even shouts out engineer Paul C, this is Keith's moment.
The frantic looped drums that open "When I Burn" are taken from Brother Soul's 1974 funk track, "Cookies." The group released just five tracks in their short-lived career, which ran from '72 to '75.
"Cookies" is the only one of these five to be sampled, and it's appeared on almost 20 tracks. It first featured on a 1988 track by Coldcut, and was soon featured on joints by Stestasonic, De La Soul and Kool G Rap & DJ Polo.
The vocal sample that says "fresh!" at 0:10 is lifted from MC Shy D's "Rapp Will Never Die." The 1985 single marked Shy D's debut, and it wasn't until 1987 that he released his first LP, Got To Be Tough.
Though hardly a commonly known track, "Rapp Will Never Die" has been sampled an impressive 55 times, appearing on tracks by Gang Starr, 2 Live Crew, Viktor Vaughn and Killer Mike. What's more, the Bronx-born MC is Afrika Bambaataa's cousin.
The guitar riff that quietly underpins the chaotic verse from 0:19 is lifted from the opening to The Blackbyrds' 1975 track, "Rock Creek Park."
"Ced-Gee (Delta Force One)"
If "When I Burn" was Kool Keith's joint, then the aptly-titled "Ced-Gee (Delta Force One)" is Gee's kingdom. A solo rap performance atop one of his own beats, Ced-Gee is only assisted by Moe Love's formidable scratching, and even then, he does little more than cut "Ced-Gee" into the mix.
The vocal samples that greet the audience at the open - "hello!" - and announce Ced-Gee at 0:05 are taken from Ultramagnetic MC's own "Feelin' It." The seventh track on Critical Beatdown, it features a Ced-Gee verse that proves useful in his flagship album closer.
The atmospheric sample that loops throughout "Ced-Gee (Delta Force One)" is taken from Bob James' 1974 cut, "Nautilus."
The track, included on James' One, has since become a legendary sample, appearing on over 300 different tracks. It's most famous for appearing on cuts by Slick Rick, Eric B. & Rakim, Main Source and A Tribe Called Quest.
Critical Beatdown peaked at #57 on the then-named US Billboard Top Black Albums chart, failing to break into the Billboard 200. The lack of commercial success did little to impede the critical praise heaped upon the album: critics, audiences and peers alike held the album in high esteem, and popular retrospectives have called the record "an undeniable hip-hop classic" and "a flawless album."
Ultramagnetic MC's released their sophomore effort, Funk Your Head Up, in '92. That album proved a disappointment, largely due to allegedly label-mandated production assists. The Four Horsemen followed in '93, just a year and a half after Funk Your Head Up: production duties largely reverted to the Ultramagnetic MC's, and the record represented a return to form for the group. Despite an all-time best performance on the charts, their third record proved to be their last. It wouldn't be until 2007 that the group released their fourth LP, The Best Kept Secret, which reunited members Kool Keith, Ced-Gee and Moe Love. Keith contributed to the record under an inexplicable pseudonym: "Underwear Pissy."
Throughout the early '90s, the group imparted their unrestrained weirdness onto the underground, identifying a niche that would come to be closely associated with one of their own. Kool Keith would go on to pioneer alternative hip hop throughout the late '90s and early '00s, releasing bold concept albums such as Dr. Octagonecologyst, Sex Style and First Come, First Served. These records, artistically singular and unflinchingly eccentric, continued to champion his unconventional lyrical trappings.
It's more difficult to appreciate the impact of the group's irreverent attitude from the present: quirky hip hop personas are par for the course, and non-sequiturs are often more tired than titillating. Their complex rhyme schemes and novel lyrical content set them apart from their contemporaries, whilst their eye-catching garb and wild personas did nothing to soften their harsh disses.
Ultramagnetic MC’s were some of the golden era’s most vibrant characters, and the mark they left on 1988 would be felt for years to come. The sampling techniques pioneered by Ced-Gee, first introduced via Boogie Down Productions, would help revolutionise hip hop’s interaction with the past, whilst thematically inspired projects such as the nerd-rap works of De La Soul would become the vanguard of alternative hip hop throughout the early ‘90s. Though their unabashed quirk held them back from the mainstream success of N.W.A and other more commercially palatable groups, Ultramagnetic MC’s Critical Beatdown remains an all-time great debut from an essential outfit.