The Four Horsemen…Is Not A Pillow by Dennis Lehto
Coming to you live from the Bronx (or a space station near Mars, I’m not sure), Ultramagnetic MC’s are best known for their debut album “Critical Beatdown” released in 1988 – a certified 5 mic classic in the Source magazine back when that actually meant something. Aside from Kool Keith’s over-your-head lyrics, and around the same time Ced Gee did some production on BDP’s Criminal Minded album, they brought sampling to a whole new level on Critical Beatdown, using the SP-12 for much of the records production. It set the standard for that whole Golden Era sound, and as such it’s a damn shame their names aren’t mentioned right alongside Rakim, PE, BDP & NWA in the history books. Their influence can be heard from Marley Marl (sampling techniques) to Dr. Dre (California Love) to backpackers everywhere (I hate that term)… But it’s like either you know this stuff already or you may never grasp it, so I’m not here to talk about Critical Beatdown.
Their follow-up was “Funk Your Head Up” released in 1992 – a disappointing record for those who were expecting Critical Beatdown part 2. Lyrically, the album was tight, but mostly it suffered from uneven production (you can blame label politics, namely Mercury records for that). It did however, spawn one of their biggest tracks to date and personal favorite of mine with “Poppa Large” (sorta… keep reading)… Specifically I’m referring to “Poppa Large (East Coast Remix)” but that particular remix, produced by Da Beatminerz, is sadly absent from the Funk Your Head Up tracklist. The album does feature a couple of notable Tim Dog appearances… But again, I’m not here to talk about Funk Your Head Up.
No, instead, the slept-on album of the week, inspired by the Bronx dedication show (brought to you live last Friday night by Professor Mike Jordan) and my personal favorite Ultramagnetic MC’s release is…
The Four Horsemen …
14 tracks deep, no skits, it starts with “We Are the Horsemen” and gives you a good idea of what to expect on the rest of the album: references to spaceships, baseball, Kool Keith trading verses with Ced Gee, DJ Moe Love on the Cuts & funky beats a plenty…
It should be noted here and now that although it may not sound as such at first, much of the production was handled by a live band on this album. This gives it a healthy blend of funk and jazz with that whole boom-bap vibe alive and well. Beyond rhyming, Kool Keith takes Bass guitar credits. Ced Gee takes alto sax credits. Ultramagnetic producer (and former Grimace at local McDonalds openings) TR Love takes piano and percussion credits. Godfather Don takes production credits on a number of tracks as well.
Four Horsemen had 2 big singles to its credit. The first was “Two Brothers With Checks (San Francisco Harvey)”… It’s the story of 2 fly brothers from the south with “big big checks and pretty white cadillacs” – oh, and baseball, I think… Honestly it makes little sense to my ears but it sounds dope. The random Montreal Expos shoutout always made me proud as that was my team growing up. It’s story telling Ultramagnetic style, for lack of a better description.
“Raise it Up“, the other single, has a video that opens with Kool Keith walking down the street wearing a purple cape and talking into a “cell phone” with a chord on it as only he can do. Over the top? Maybe, but I think he was gonna do that anyway. It also features the only listed guest appearance on the record with Godfather Don (a slept-on MC in his own right) and to my knowledge was the first time he and Keith collaborated. They went on to form a side crew named the Cenobites and release an EP. It was dope, but is hard to find these days.
A number of solo tracks can be found on Four Horsemen. There is “Adventures of Herman’s Lust (Moe Love III)” which serves as the obligatory DJ cut … Ced Gee has “Delta Force II” – a sequel to “Ced-Gee (Delta Force One)”, the closing track off Critical Beatdown, his signature flow still in tact … But it’s Kool Keith with 3 solo tracks of his own, a couple of which are album stand outs, that make the most noise. The first one is “See the Man on the Street“, a standard battle track… Solid, but it’s “One Two, One Two” and “Yo, Black” that make the biggest impact. One Two, One Two has Keith doubling up all his words in a way I can’t explain here here, you’ll just have to check, check it out for yourself self. Yo Black has Keith under the alias Rhythm X (one of his early and many personalities) going off lyrically on a classic James Brown loop. It’s Kool Keith at his best.
Aside from the singles, I can’t write this without special mention of “Saga of Dandy, the Devil, & Day” – a track co-written by Baseball author and historian James A. Riley that pays homage to Negro League Baseball. The title refers to Ray Dandridge, Willie “Devil” Wells & Leon Day, respectively. It’s a stand alone track and may very well be the most serious track Ultramagnetic MC’s ever recorded. The results are dope and serve as a record highlight.
The vibe continues over the record on tracks like “Checkin’ My Style“, “Bring it Down to Earth“, “Time to Catch a Body“, “Don’t be Scared” (which features a couple of unnamed MC’s and if anyone can tell me who they are that would be great) & “Big Booty” closing the album. These tracks all feature Keith with his high pitch vocals and off the wall styles & Ced with his deep voice and a very consistent flow throughout.
Despite label politics (the record was released on the now defunct Wild Pitch records) Four Horsemen is not a pillow! I believe Ultramagnetic never gets enough credit because no A&R on this planet ever knew how to handle them. Released in 1993, I probably listened to Four Horsemen more than anything else that year. Considering ’93 was one of the strongest years in Hiphop history, I believe that’s saying something. Every track was solid, no filler here… Shit, even the liner notes were memorable. Highly recommended, I listened to the cassette so often back in the day that it melted. That statement alone says it all.