Chill Corner – Pete Rock & CL Smooth: Hip Hop, Jazz and Soul

Pete Rock & CL Smooth were a successful hip-hop duo from New York, and a staple of 1990s East Coast Hip-Hop.

As a duo, they released one EP and two studio albums. Each were exceptional examples of smooth, jazzy beats, created by Pete Rock coupled with substantial, straight forward and creative lyrics, supplied predominantly by CL Smooth. The duo released its EP “All Souled Out” in 1991, its first album “Mecca and the Soul Brother” in 1992 and its second album, “The Main Ingredient” in 1994. The duo catapulted into success with the popularity of its hit single “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.).”

Its EP “All Souled Out” only had a handful of songs, which had a sound that was largely influenced by the “Golden” Era of hip-hop in the mid-to-late ‘80s. It featured a strong presence of drums and fast rhythms. Lyrically, this album was essentially several different freestyles that didn’t necessarily zero in on a specific topic. This album started the duo’s clear tendency toward jazzy beats. One notable song from this album is “The Creator.” Though Smooth is most frequently the only rapper on songs, Rock also tried his hand at rapping – and had exceptional flow and lyricism.

The duo’s first album was “Mecca and the Soul Brothers.” This album was measurably different from the previous EP, and signaled a higher degree of artistic freedom in Pete Rock’s beat production. The sounds produced in this album were far more creative and varied. Though jazz continued to be a large influence, additional aspects of spaced out rhythms took place. The lyrics also had more of a pointed direction, rather than being all directionless freestyles. A notable song from this album is the duo’s smash hit “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.).” Lyrically, Smooth discusses his fallen friend named Troy [a member of a hip-hop group called Heavy D and the Boyz], whose death was highly traumatic for Smooth. It’s accompanied by a somber, yet catchy and fast-paced saxophone melody. Writing the lyrics and hearing the accompanying sound caused CL to frequently get emotional.

Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s second album was “The Main Ingredient.” At the time, this album performed worse than the preceding one, but over time, appreciation for it has grown. Personally, I see “The Main Ingredient” as their greatest album, and one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. It included the similar soulful, jazzy samples associated with the duo’s music, but the spaced out sounds occasionally found in the preceding album increased dramatically, and perfectly blended with the jazz samples. A new aspect on this album is the addition of R&B hooks, which enhanced its soulful sound even further. A notable song from this album is “Searching.” With a catchy R&B hook, spaced out sound and lyrics composing of Smooth hitting on women, this song is a great “chill out” tune. Another notable song from the album is “It’s On You.” It’s a chill and soulful sounding song which tells people “it’s on you” to stop the violence that frequent the cities.

Rock’s smooth producing and Smooth’s exceptional lyricism injected an element of soul into hip-hop that was seldom seen before in hip-hop. This duo remains one of the greatest and most influential hip-hop artists ever.

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