Timeless Affairs: Black Sheep - A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Welcome to Timeless Affairs, the corner within Steppin' Into Tomorrow, where we'd like to shine a spotlight on essential albums that have shaped our culture (and lives in some cases). We lovingly revisit, explore and zoom in on these gems in their full length. Digging out stories and fun facts from the making of the masterpieces that have built the foundation of the music today and continue to shape the future.
One of the most memorable albums of the 90's 'A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing' has reached its dirty thirty on Friday so we're about to do the honors in this corner of our web. The Native Tongue duo Black Sheep has really hit the scene with a bang by dropping this album in the fall of 1991, with tunes like 'Flavor of the Month' & 'The Choice is Yours' sweeping the worldwide nation like nobody's business and the record hits just as hard today as it did at the time of its original release.
"Who’s the Black Sheep? What’s the Black Sheep?" Power duo formed by Andres 'Dres' Vargas Titus & William 'Mista Lawnge' McLean (dope DJ/producer who also referred to himself as "Shorty Doo Wop", “The Sugar-Dick Daddy” & “Mister 9.5,"). They connected in North Carolina although they both are from New York (Queens to be exact). Honorary members of the legendary Native Tongue's collective alongside the likeminded De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Beatnuts, Monie Love, Queen Latifah and the Jungle Brothers, known for pioneering jazz-influenced beats and positive-minded Afrocentric lyrics. As we all know though, every fam's gotta have a black sheep and Native Tongues was no exception to the rule by any means.
“The Native Tongues Family consists of De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, but lo and behold there’s always a black sheep in the family. The Black Sheep, the low lives of the family tree.” (Intro)
They landed a record deal on Mercury and a joint management deal with Chris Lighty. Before Black Sheep dropped any of their own productions, they were featured on De La's sophomore classic 'De La Soul is Dead' (on the skits and 'Fanatic of the B Word'), which came out the same year, along with Tribe's 'Low End Theory', which we also zoomed in on last month. The first time the world was fully exposed to the notorious witty, imaginative and unique style of Black Sheep was on this 22-track strong debut release 'A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing', which eventually got certified gold by 1992 and eventually platinum by now. Definitely one of those records from the vein of sounds that end up taking you to another universe and get your head boppin uncontrollably. Exhibiting their playful sense of humor with joke-heavy lyrics, much more edgy and explicit lyrical content than the rest of the Native crew. Cross-referencing tracks on the album before they even arise. An album that's designed to be enjoyed in its full length repeatedly. Thirty years later, we can say with confidence that it's way more than just a Flavor of the Month.
You can find plenty of nourishing features, like the guest verse by Q-Tip on 'La Menage', topped off with 'Pass the 40' where Mista Lawnge, Dres, Chi Ali, Diggedy Dogg, Chris Lighty, and Dave Gossett exhibit their rap skills while passing a bottle of 40 (this track also happens to be Chi Ali's rap debut as a 14-year old). Funnily enough, the more familiar extended revisited version of 'Choice Is Yours' that won so many people's hearts is not to be found on the vinyl record. Big, big, big party tune(!) However, if you bought the CD, it's most definitely there. This is all most likely due to sample clearances which can be quite an expensive and lengthy process, as we all know. While Mercury was busy with clearing the samples (which took about a year), Mista Lawnge decided to rework the tune instead of sticking with the original: “Production-wise, I appreciated what I did a year earlier, but I was on a next level [by the time the album came out] with finding samples and putting stuff together,” he said in a 2016 Ambrosia For Heads interview. “I was evolving with the samples.”
Our beloved DJ Leroy Rey dissected this classic track's samples beautifully on stage during our 12-hour ADE event at Sissi's, demonstrating the utter creativity behind the sampling method in music production on this particular tune. Bassline sample by McCoy Tyner (John Coltrane's bass player for a long time), riff by Iron Butterfly, "ughs" by Sweet Linda Divine, foundational drums taken from The New Birth's 'Keep On Doin It' and another riff by Bar-Kays. Sample galore, as you can see. Production-wise, Lawnge was on another level. Other than that, all of the jazz-infused sounds (and more) used on this album can be found in our playlist below for those of you that like to dive even deeper into these rabbit holes. Hurry up and get a scoop before it's gone ;)
“You can get with this, or you can get with that. I think you'll get with this, for this is where it's at” (The Choice is Yours)
Black Sheep as a unit is no longer in force, however Dres remains active, working on various solo projects. For a moment, him and Jarobi of the tribe formed a groupe called Evitan (Native spelled backwards), he has released a solid 'Tortured Soul' album back in 2018 and he's got an upcoming album planned for 2022 with unreleased beats from the late great J Dilla and features by Bun B, Chuck D and more (peep the snippet).