Jon Shecter – Funk From Hell

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Redman—the “funkadelic devil”—has naughty in his nature

Redman has tissue sticking out of his right nostril. Actually, it’s not a tissue, it’s a twisted-up paper napkin. On his head is a worn-in cap reading Red Man, with the logo for a popular chewing tobacco.

     I’ve seen him rock the tissue before, like when we were at sound check for the party that The Source put on with the Hit Squad during the Seminar. Him and K-Solo slap boxed while a few dozen onlookers watched and pretended not to be watching. Redman had a yellow pick in his afro. Nobody said shit about the tissue, and it hung there like the hardest ghetto accessory ever.

     “What’s up with that tissue?” I ask after I hand Redman the napkin in question off my desk at The Source on day.

     “My nose is fucked up, mu is real fucked up,” he says. “I had a allergy since I was two. So I just stuck a tissue up my nose for the longest—not no video imagine or no shit like that. That’s some real shit.”

     And real shit—not pretty shit—is what Redman is all about. This latest installment in the Hit Squad saga of dopeness ain’t no spinoff. At age 22, Reggie Noble steps up to bat with the best an MC can offer: a rugged rhyme flow, a sense of humor, split-personality skills, and an immovable presence. On his new LP Whut. . . Thee. . . Album?, Redman weaves poetic tales rich in detail and metaphor, full of surprise twists. He’s a super ghetto dweller who favors afros, blunts and ‘70s funk. He’s the “funkadelic devil” and the “original P-Funk.” Produced by Erick Sermon and Redman, the tracks flow like peach Snapple with the flavor of the classic funkateers.

     “I’m a big fan of George Clinton, Johnny Guitar Watson, Parliament, Stanley Clark, James Brown—all that shit I listen to daily,” Redman tells me when we meet for the first time at Columbia Records. “I don’t just use it as a sample, I listen to it daily for my personal reasons. The funkadelic devil—I’m just bringin’ funk from hell. The funkenstein funk from hell!”

     The hip-hop masses first got a taste of Redman when he “rocked ruff rhymes” in a cameo appearance on EPMD’s third album, sending a shout to his hometown Newark, New Jersey. Newark is a troubled urban center that erodes in the shadow of New York City—it’s the least educated city in the conutry and the third most dangerous, according to the FBI. These volatile streets were Reggie Noble’s stomping ground until fate and timing elevated him into the inner circle of one of hip-hop’s most prosperous crews.

     “I hooked up back in like ’89,” Redman remembers. “I started working on my shit after I met [Erick and Parrish] at this club called Sensations in Newark. And I was DJ’ing at the time and yo, I got down after I kicked a verse. I wasn’t even goin’ in there talkin’ about me, I was goin’ in there talkin’ about this kid who I DJ’ed for. I was like, ‘yo, can I kick something too.’ I only had one rhyme to my name, kicked that one on stage and got paid and shit. Then later on, moved out to Long Island. ‘Cause I got kicked out of Jersey ‘cause I was doing a lot of dumb shit.”

     “Kicked out by the authorities?” I ask.

     “Kicked out by eh-yee-body—authorities, parents, eh-yee-body. They wasn’t tryin’ to see me, I was in too much shit.”

     Reggie and Erick struck up a friendship, and soon Reggie moved into Erick’s crib on Long Island, where he ended up staying for over two years. It was there along sleepy tree-lined streets that the foundation for Redman’s LP was laid down—first with one turntable, a tape deck, and some good ideas, and later with more sophisticated sampling and sequencing equipment.

     “It was me and Reggie, downstairs in my basement,” Erick recalls with his trademark lisp. “He was just so dope. He can rhyme off of anything. I used to sit there and just tell him to rap to me. Reggie is funkadelic. I think he’s like one of them guys that used to hang out with George Clinton and them. He’s not a battle rapper, he’s a funky rapper.”

     Russell Simmons, CEO of Def Jam, has known a lot of rappers in his day, but he too is taken by Redman. “He has more of a presence than probably any artist I’m aware of,” Russell said. “Did you see the season premiere of ‘In Living Color’? He ripped the frame out niggas asses on that shit!”

     This past summer, Redman, Erick and other members of the Hit Squad went out with The Source’s “Hip-Hop Heatwave” van tour—following out 4,000 watt bass machine with their own squad-mobile through fifteen cities. Redman remembers the experience fondly: “Kevin [the van coordinator] and them got mad props. It was a good experience for everybody. . . I think I was high for like seven weeks.” J-Mill, a staffer who was part of The Source van squad, got to know Redman on the road. “From listening to his album I expected him to be super hardcore, to not be as much of a joker. But he puts a combination together and comes off like nobody you’ve ever met. He’s got a real funny attitude, but at the same time it seems like you don’t want to fuck with him, because you don’t know what could happen. He’s real crazy, he’s real spontaneous. You don’t know what he’s gonna do.”

     That unpredictability comes through on the LP, with Redman displaying the lobotomy style: rapping against himself, like on “Redman Meets Reggie Noble.” That and his storytelling skills is why I’ve heard some people compare him to one of rap’s all-time greatest MCs, Slick Rick (check “A Children’s Story” and “The Moment I Feared”). I ask Redman about the double identity stuff.

     “That’s some ill shit. To show how creative and versatile I can be. I can be Reggie noble, I can be Redman.”

     “What’s the difference?”

     “One’s chill and one’s not.”

     “Which one’s chill?”

     “Reggie Noble’s chill.”

     Yes, chill and down with the Phillies, as he makes abundantly clear on the album (as in “How To Roll A Blunt”). Does Redman see any conflict in endorsing marijuana use? “Everybody smoke weed, man. It’s not really no big fuckin’ deal. . . More people die from cigarettes than weed. More people die from drinkin’ and a whole bunch of other shit.” Redman’s eyes light up and he laughs. “Cigarettes and surgeon general—I ain’t never seen no surgeon general on the side of my dime bag! Fuck the surgeon general—his ass probably puff! He get up there high as hell and go, ‘yo check it out’.”

     “So is that the shit for ’93: afros, blunts and funk?”

     “Afro symbolizes the funk,” Redman explains, “Muthaf*!?ckas don’t know that. You see B-Real’s afro—his afro is huge, that’s the funk. B-Real is a funky motherfucker.”

     “I know girls out there like the muth*!?kas with the bald heads and the crew cuts and the fades,” he continues as he flips through the latest issue of The Source. “For all them girls, fuck y’all because you know wy? I be havin’ more hair than some of them girls out there. They don’t know afro is the strength, afro is the shit—that’s back in the days shit. I ain’t tryin’ to look good on TV any fuckin’ way.”

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