Never heard of Grand Daddy I.U.? You’re certainly not alone.
You’ve probably heard him spit, though, thanks largely to his feature on Big L’s “Da Graveyard.” He plays anchor on that cut, closing out the song with his distinctively deep and refined delivery. Grand Daddy’s distinctive vocal timbre was perfectly matched this his tailor-made image: one of excess and luxury, furnished by the suits, scarves and canes he appeared in throughout NYC. Though he fell to the wayside in the ‘90s, Grand Daddy is still a much-loved player in the golden age scene. “He’s a homie for life,” said Kool G Rap in 2014. “There’s always gonna be a love for Juice Crew, period. He was kinda like the glue behind the scenes that made us stick and held it down.”
Smooth Assassin, Grand Daddy’s debut album, was released in September 1990. It’s been embroiled in an ongoing credit dispute for some time now: though it’s still officially credited to Biz, who signed Grand Daddy in ‘89, the emcee himself remembers things quite differently. “Me and my brother did everything besides ‘Soul Touch,’” he maintains. “Biz did that… me and [Kay Cee] formulated all the tracks before we went to the studio. So, when we went in, we knew what we wanted to sample, what drums we wanted to put in, you know? And Doc was the engineer; he just made it happen. And Cool V was there; he was like the overseer. Biz was like never even there in the studio, really.”
Indeed, many Cold Chillin’ signees have been vocal about dishonest credits from the golden age: Marley Marl has been accused of taking credit for others’ work, with MC Shan going as far to say that the only record Marley actually produced was his 1987 debut, Down by Law. The revelation that Biz took credit, however, is far more surprising. Even though the record was produced by Kay Cee, the hallmarks of Marl’s style - namely, scratched vocal refrains and a selection of frequented samples - persist. It’s an interesting album insofar as it shines a light on Marl’s influence on the Cold Chillin’ roster: whilst he wasn’t the label head, as is sometimes assumed, Marls aesthetic seemed to dictate the sonic palette with which the signees composed.
As a part of our Juice Crew series, we’re giving some time to one of the most maligned members of hip hop’s formative crew by breaking down the samples throughout his 1990 debut!
“The U Is Smooth"
Even a cursory look at the album cover should let you know that ‘smooth’ is what Grand Daddy I.U. is going for. In case you missed it, this track will let you know: over a pronounced bass riff, the emcee puts his deep vocal to use with an ambling assertion of his cushy lifestyle.
The compelling bass that opens “The U Is Smooth” and, by extension, Smooth Assassin, is courtesy of Grover Washington Jr. “Hydra” was included on 1975’s Feels So Good, which featured bass playing from both Gary King and Louis Johnson, the latter of whom played on Off The Wall, Thriller and Dangerous.
If you’ve been in the game for a while, or you’ve done your reading about hip hop sampling, you’re likely familiar with Beside’s “Change The Beat.”
The track boasts of the most frequently sampled sounds of all-time, a vocoder-laden passage in which Fab 5 Freddy says “ahhhhh, this stuff is really fresh.” The word “fresh” proved to be a malleable sound for scratching, and is used to texture scratches throughout.
"Pick Up the Pace"
It’s not particularly fast-paced, but when taken alongside the rest of the album, “Pick Up The Pace” is a refreshing change. Grand Daddy I.U. prides himself on his nonchalant delivery - it pairs well with his ostentatious image - and even here, where he pushes the tempo up, he’s still remarkably refined.
The bassline and organ trills that kickstart lead single “Pick Up The Pace” is courtesy of The Blackbyrds, a jazz outfit assembled and produced by noted jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd. The group came together at Howard University, where Byrd was teaching music as he studied for his Juris Doctorate.
Whilst it wasn’t the last time Byrd would start a class band, The Blackbyrds were most successful.
The crisp drum break that enters at 0:05 isn’t taken from some old school funk track: instead, it’s sourced from an early hip hop jam. The drums on Spoonie Gee’s “Love Rap” were entirely original, credited to ‘Pumpkin & Friends.’
The feminine vocal at 0:54 - “steady, are you ready?” - is taken from Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life.”
Interestingly, three of the records in this retrospective series - Masta Ace’s Take A Look Around, Intelligent Hoodlum’s self-titled debut and this one - all contain samples from Soul II Soul. Whilst the other two albums are produced by Marley Marl, the appearance of Soul II Soul on this song exemplifies Marl’s influence over Biz.
Described by some blogs as Grand Daddy I.U.’s only hit, “Something New” never actually appeared on any Billboard-certified chart. The official music video for the track does allude to the minor hit potential: not only was it a well-produced visual companion (featuring Biz Markie in a dress), but the ripped copy also shows it was getting airtime on Yo! MTV Raps.
Though hardly a hit, Joe Tex’s 1966 soul single “Papa Was Too” has since become an oft-heard composition. The breakbeat that opens the track is amongst the most popular in history, starring on a mean 280+ tracks from artists such as Wu-Tang, Das EFX, Jay Dee, Method Man and EPMD.
James and Bobby Purify were an R&B duo who experienced their greatest successes in the mid-’60s, released “I’m Your Puppet” in 1966. The pair were cousins with different surnames, but Bobby - born Robert Dickey - adopted James’ surname for their stage name.
The sample was a favourite of Marley Marl, who used it on an Intelligent Hoodlum b-side and one of his own tracks. This might explain Biz’ use here.
"I Kick Ass"
Ah, the double James Brown combo: a fairly standard practice in golden age hip hop production. Brown’s upbeat funk is peppered with instrumental excellence and vocal vigour, both of which are frequently utilised as backing tracks and percussive ad-libs.
The guitar lick that loops throughout “I Kick Ass” is taken from James Brown’s “White Lightning (I Mean Moonshine),” a cut from his 1973 Black Caesar soundtrack. Brown would record another blaxploitation soundtrack, but it would be rejected by the producers of the film: that album would be released as The Payback, one of Brown’s greatest LPs.
As for the horns, they’re from a mystery source…
Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It)” may be the sample I’ve written about the most throughout these breakdowns. It’s an omnipresent breakbeat, a cadence so agreeable that it’s well suited for almost any track when properly adjusted.
Though Collins performed the track, famous for the central refrain of “it takes two to make a thing go right,” it was written and produced by Brown. Both Brown and Bobby Byrd contribute their ad-libs.
At this point, it’s worth noting that “Mass Destruction,” at a mere four minutes, is one of the shortest tracks on Grand Daddy’s debut. He’s clearly not a fan of brevity: 11 of the 16 tracks on the record are longer than four minutes, with four clocking in over five minutes long.
“Storm King,” a 1976 track from keyboardist and composer Bob James.
He’s primarily remembered in hip hop for his numbered trilogy - One, Two and Three - from which many samples have been sourced. One featured “Nautilus,” sampled more than 300 times, and Two featured James’ cover of “Take Me To The Mardi Gras,” which has accrued more than 400. “Storm King” has been sampled just 27 times.
"Gals dem So Hot"
The strongest example of Grand Daddy’s island heritage comes on “Gals Dem So Hot,” a sample-free cut that fuses reggae and rap. I’d say more, but there’s nothing about the emcee’s heritage online and I don’t know enough about the intricacies of these languages to confidently identify the dialect or the source.
"Girl in the Mall"
Though clearly unintended, “Girl in the Mall” might best show the limitations of Markie’s production prowess. Whether it stems from inability or poor curation is unclear, but the latter certainly seems more likely: this isn’t, simply put, a particularly interesting song.
One of the barest beats on the whole album, “Girl in the Mall” finds Grand Daddy ambling atop a slowed breakbeat from The Main Ingredient’s “You Can Call Me Rover.”
Afrodisiac, the album on which it appeared, was the second Main Ingredient record to feature replacement lead singer Cuba Gooding Sr. His first son, Cuba Gooding Jr., was just five years old at the time.
"Kay Cee Is Nasty"
There’s something certifiably old school about a track dedicated to the skills of ones DJ. They just don’t do it anymore: the lack of reliable scratching in mainstream hip hop means that only seldom are turntablists able to flaunt their skills. Here, Kay Cee scratches any and all vocal performances into the cut, a true one man band.
Melvin Bliss was a one-hit wonder back in 1973, so it’s kind of incredible that we’re here talking about him almost half a century later. He never even intended to be a musician when he laid “Synthetic Substitution,” which boasts an enviable breakbeat played by legendary drummer Bernard Purdie.
“Synthetic Subsitution” was actually broken in - that is, introduced as a sample - by Ultramagnetic MC’s on their incredible 1988 debut.
Another largely familiar sample, “Escape-Ism” features one of Brown’s most distinctive sounds: the wailing brass that peppers “Kay Cee Is Nasty.” That’s not the only sample: Brown’s ad-libs are sourced from 2:42 and 2:46 on the single.
That wailing brass may be most associated with Public Enemy, who used it on “Don’t Believe The Hype” in ‘88. The track itself was apparently recorded whilst waiting on Byrd to arrive in studio.
Sure, it’s a stick up, but it’s a smooth stick up. Not even the immediacy of a high-stakes gambling house robbery can push Grand Daddy into more than a verbal stroll: he oversteps the mark when he robs a bank, kills a cop, watches his friend die and gets sent up north. “Nobody Move” is a cautionary tale indeed.
Another single-sample song, another spacious and relatively simplistic instrumental. This time, it’s the handiwork of jazz fusion artist Billy Cobham, a Panamanian-American drummer who played on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson.
“Yo U, what's your response to the MC's down there on the corner, man?” So opens “Dominos,” the U’s strong refutation of any emcees scheming on his lot. The last three bars really typify what this track is all about: “Touch the U? Boy, you must be drugged up / ‘Cause fake MC's, enemies, and foes / I just smack em and watch em fall like dominos.”
First up, we take drums and a bass lick from James Brown’s “Blues and Pants.” That track was featured on Brown’s Hot Pants LP, the same album which included “Escape-Ism,” sampled just two tracks prior.
The far heftier bassline that walks in following the spoken word open marks another appearance of Donald Byrd, though this time, it’s from one of his solo works. Grand Daddy also takes the title from “(Fallin’ Like) Dominoes,” a cut from 1975’s Blue Note-released Places and Spaces.
Though never sampled by Marley Marl, the song was significant in that it appeared on “Self Destruction” by the Stop The Violence Movement.
The vocal sample that splits the verses is taken from Slick Rick’s “Lick the Balls,” a suitably lewd track from his classic 1988 debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. The album helped pioneer narrative storytelling in hip hop.
Here’s an interesting coincidence: the most recently introduced sample before “Behind Bars” is a Slick Rick bar. Four years after Grand Daddy’s debut, an imprisoned Rick released Behind Bars, his third studio album. Random facts aside, U’s “Behind Bars” is another warning to would-be crooks, this time focused on the trials of prison time.
The Pointer Sisters’ “Yes We Can Can,” itself a hit single, opens with a throbbing bass that effectively preordained it a popular sample.
It was broken in by The Treacherous Three in ‘82 - you might remember they were previously sampled on “Pick Up the Pace” - and later starred on cuts from De La Soul, N.W.A, MC Lyte, Heavy D and H.E.A.L., the latter of which was a KRS-One helmed project featuring Grand Daddy U.I..
The sampled-and-scratched bar that divides the three verses is courtesy of Grand Daddy affiliate and onetime Juice Crew member Kool G Rap. It was taken from “Rikers Island,” a 1987 non-album single that was ultimately included on 1990s Wanted: Dead or Alive and re-released as the album’s fourth single in ‘91.
“Rikers Island,” like “Behind Bars,” warns of the dangers of prison.
Whilst there’s definitely a second sample on “Soul Touch” - namely, the piano lick throughout - it’s yet unidentified. What we do know is that the central refrain is lifted from Ronnie Mitchell’s “Soul Touch,” though it doesn’t take a detective to figure that one out. Grand Daddy himself has claimed that this track was the only one actually produced by Biz.
Ronnie Mitchell’s “Soul Touch” was released in 1968 as the a-side of a 7” single. Born James, Ronnie recorded a string of singles throughout the ‘60s without once releasing an album. In his early days, he sung songs composed by contracted writers in the legendary Brill Building.
There’s scant information on what happened to Ronnie, and this very sample marks the only time he’s ever appeared by way of the turntables.
"This Is a Recording"
You can really hear the sample-free nature of this one: it uses preprogrammed synthesizer sounds which, in the late ‘80s, were sorely lacking. It’s actually one of the reasons that sampling took off in the years prior, as it gave financially insecure artists the ability to utilise studio-ready instrumentation.
Another of the more popular songs off the record, “Sugar Free” is buoyed by a funky, radio-ready hook. Any mainstream appeal is sadly undercut by two factors: it takes a whole two minutes for the U to start spitting, and the track runs for just over 5 minutes.
I take it that if you’re in the know about Grand Daddy U.I., you’re probably all over AZ. You’ll recognise Grand Daddy’s “Sugar Free” as similar to AZ’s “Sugar Hill,” and that’s because both tracks interpolate the hook from Juicy’s “Sugar Free.”
On Grand Daddy’s version, it’s sung by Mary Brown in her first guest appearance. She’d go on to sing alongside Guy, Bobby Brown and Miss Jones, who sung the same interpolation for AZ.
You might think someone such as James Brown would be clamouring for a “funky president,” but it turns out that’s a bad thing. Brown’s “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” was released during the Ford administration and lamented that America had gone from one funky president to another. Things, in other words, weren’t getting better.
“Funky President” has been sampled more than 850 times… nothing but respect for my president!
"Phuck 'Em Up U"
On a soul-backed cut that feels tighter than much of the record, U talks down to his competition with some real malice, telling them to “kiss [his] black ass” and “suck [his] dick.” It also ends with a few shout outs, which are largely superfluous given that the very next track is dedicated to them.
Biz elects to let Grand Daddy “phuck ‘em up” alongside Vicki Anderson, an early member of the James Brown Revue who was replaced by more famous Brown associates such as Marva Whitney and Lyn Collins. She married Bobby Byrd, the soul act who discovered Brown, in the mid-’60s.
“Message from a Soul Sister” is Anderson’s most memorable hit, a feminist anthem that’s been sampled almost 60 times.
If you happen to know what this sample is, I’d love for you to comment it below. It’s guitar-centric, languid and atmospheric, and if I had to guess I’d say it sounds like something Santana would put together… but that’s just me. I’ve been wrong before, and I’m ready to be wrong again.
Assassin in the Shadows
Smooth Assassin may have held promise of a bright future, but nothing is promised in hip hop. Though U’s second album, Lead Pipe, wasn’t properly promoted due to the demise of Cold Chillin’, it did hit #88 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Even though the record failed to maintain momentum, the dapper emcee was abreast of some hot up-and-comers: in a pre-release interview, Grand Daddy sung the praises of a little-known collaborator, claiming to be hanging with “a new guy coming out on Columbia, his name is Big L.” After Lead Pipe tanked and Cold Chillin’ dissolved, Grand Daddy lost interest in his own career: he disappeared for some time before re-emerging as a producer for acts such as Heltah Skeltah, Das EFX and KRS-One.
The smooth assassin made a comeback in 2007 when he released his third studio album, Stick to The Script, featuring assists from producers such as Marco Polo and Large Professor. This was followed by a 2008 mixtape, J-Love Presents Grand Daddy I.U.: Return of the Smooth Assassin. In the years since his return, U has dropped three more solo projects: Self-Made Man and Shots Fired, both self-released in 2012, and P.I.M.P. (Paper Is My Priority), put out through Steady Flow Enterprises. The latter label seems to be Grand Daddy’s own: it has a mere ten credits to its name, and all are U’s with the exception of early ‘90s records from Biz and Roxanne Shante, both of which he worked on.
One of the quietest members of the Juice Crew, Grand Daddy I.U. has had a remarkably storied career. Whether it’s his unique debut, his intermittent yet high-profile production work or his lowkey comeback, he’s almost always been involved in hip hop from the moment he first rocked a mic. In releasing new music as a veteran, U is rapping for the sake of it. The youthful hunger of a hustling emcee has been replaced by the self-assured wisdom of adulthood, and listening to “Old Soul,” it’s a good fit for the Grand Daddy.