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The Goats
Tricks of the Shade
In 1992, The Goats (who were backed by a group of live musicians) stomped onto the scene with Tricks of the Shade, an ambitious, if somewhat unfocused, album that takes on a number..
The Goats: Tricks of the Shade      by DJ VERB

All the way live, pre-1995...

           In the wake of Don Imus and his racially insensitive comments, everyone is now coming out of woodwork decrying hip-hop, saying that rappers utter the kind of language Imus used every day. Hip-hop moguls like Russell Simmons and Kevin Liles are on Oprah defending hip-hop artists , making the "just-a-reflection-of-what-they-see-in-the-hood" argument while some members of the black community are saying, "this stuff is offensive to us, what do we do about it?" There are many good points being made, but I hear very few people offering the suggestion that people could listen to better, more positive hip-hop instead the ignorant trash they've been so adamantly vilifying. People on TV act like there's gangsta hip-hop and then there's nothing. Instead of Snoop, why don't you buy your children some De La Soul, Talib Kweli, or some other artist that inspires just a little bit of thinking? Why don't you work to get that kind of stuff on commercial radio instead of all the bitch-and-ho shit?

What does this have to do with the Goats, you ask? It has to do with the fact that artists who are actually saying something meaningful always get left hanging by the mainstream. With the exception of Public Enemy, groups that actively engage in social commentary always end up tagged in the history books as "underrated," "overlooked," or "loved by the critics, slept on by the fans." Philadelphia's The Goats are one of these ensembles. Made up of MC's Oatie Kato, Madd, and Swayzack, The Goats (who were backed by a group of live musicians) stomped onto the scene with Tricks of the Shade, an ambitious, if somewhat unfocused, album that takes on a number of serious, and not-so-serious topics.

Their organic sound pre-dated fellow Illadelphians The Roots by a year or so, and their socially and culturally-charged lyrical content recalled the aforementioned Public Enemy. Whereas PE's message was one of unwavering black pride, The multi-racial Goats speak out for the uplift of all who are restrained by the system, be it Latinos, Asians, or the Native American community, of which several of the Goats are a part. They also have some choice words for the world's oppressors and abusers, whether it's George Bush Sr. (their favorite target), David Duke, or, not surprisingly for a group with Native Americans, Christopher Columbus.

Because the songs themselves don't really relate to one another, TOTS can't be considered a concept album, but its numerous skits tell a story of two wayward youths who wander into a twisted carnival in search of their mother and their nefarious Uncle Scam. There they encounter Noriega's coke stand, the Columbus Boat Ride, and a group of rich punks called the Georgie Bush Kids. The pacing of the skits is leaden at best, and the conclusion is mildly satisfying, but they manage to work in a number of subtle commentaries on abortion, racial tension, and imperialism, along with all the overt disses. "Aaah D' Yaaah" supports the pro-choice side of the abortion issue, while "Do the Digs Dug?" takes a number of shots at Bush Sr, including one related to the controversial imprisoning of Leonard Peltier. The line that exhorts the then-president to "put down the golf club and stop takin' away the pensions!" is also choice.

"TV Cops" discusses police misconduct within the context of the Rodney King situation, while the title track decries the effects of gentrification as well as hitting us with the oft-quoted line "Columbus killed more Indians than Hitler killed Jews, but on his birthday you get sales on shoes." The bangin' single "Burn the Flag," sums up a number of issues in a convenient package for thought-provoking club/mixtape burn. I don't mean to suggest that TOTS is one long tirade, because the Goats have plenty of fun. Their brisk flows are typical of early-90's fast rap; nimble and clever. Plus they enjoy the finer things in life, like a bit of sensi on "Got Kinda Hi." Imagine Pharcyde's legendary Bizarre Ride 2 the Pharcyde if the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were executive producing it.

But what good is soapbox hollering unless it's accompanied by some free-wheeling funk? Although the Goats' MC's are backed by skilled instrument players, the beats are definitely not on some watered-down, corny acid jazz shit. Live basslines, organ stabs, and guitar grooves are readily apparent, but they are nearly always accompanied by classic drum breaks and high-pitched, Muggs-esque squeals. "Typical American" is a perfect example of this. A muscular electric bass groove pounds under a drum loop (which sounds like it was jacked right off of a Soul II Soul record) while a flock of atonal whines and whirrs fly overhead.

The slick Latin Jazz sample used on the bridge is just icing on the cake. Even an organic track like the horn-laden "Hip-Hopola" gets laced with 808 bass and crusty drums for maximum jeep-shaking potential. Smoother grooves like "TV Cops" and "Aaah D' Yaah" provide nice counterpoints to the cutting, emotionally-charged lyrics.

Engineer and Ruffhouse honcho Joe "The Butcher" Nicolo is behind the boards (you'll know him for his work with labelmates Cypress Hill and others) and he keeps things tight, meshing the samples and instruments perfectly, often to the point where they're indistinguishable. Are, for example, the muted horn bits on "Burn the Flag" real, or are they Memorex? When a nice bright keyboard riff or fingerstyle bassline happens to shine through, it's because Nicolo allowed it. I feel the need to allude to the Pharcyde again, as TOTS shares Bizarre Ride's fluid, consistent combination of new and old sounds. On their less-than-successful follow-up No Goats, No Glory, the tracks were almost all live, for better or for worse. Here, however, the balance is perfect. Just enough instruments to sound fresh and creative, and an equal amount of drum machines and sample-flippage to satisfy the hardest of head-nodders.

If you've been digging on the thoughtful-yet-funky styles of Dead Prez, The Coup, and Public Enemy but haven't gotten up on Tricks of the Shade, then consider this your invitation. If you think politically-conscious hip-hop is kinda weak, you especially should check this. If you tune out the word, you can bang this right next to your old Fu-Schickens and Original Flavor tapes. Ignore the lyrics at your peril, however. These cats spoke the truth, and the things they have to say apply just as much to today's Bush Jr. as they did to his pops. If you're talking all this and that about "hip-hop is dead," then you need to get with this. Not only was hip-hop alive back in 1992, but thanks to the Goats, it had teeth.

Visit The Goats website for more info and album downloads.


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