Recommended Listening: Tuff Crew "Back To Wreck Shop" (1989)

January 30, 2012 9 min read


Editor's Note: Make sure to peep the bottom of this article for a special announcement about a new Dope Folks Release from the Tuff Crew archives!!!!

Besides enjoying the music of the Tuff Crew, I was also intrigued by how the group was set up. In true Old School fashion, the group name was centered on the DJ, but in a slightly more subtle way. Rather than being DJ Too Tuff & the 3 MCs or something of that nature. They were simply named the Tuff Crew, with DJ Deuce Ace Detonator Too Tuff at the helm on the turntables, while on the mic you had Ice Dog, L.A. Kidd, and Tone Love. Generally it was commonplace that the DJ handled the production. However, on “Dangerzone” it was a collective effort of Too Tuff, L.A. Kidd and Tone Love. Then on the second album it says “Produced by L.A. Kidd & The Tuff Crew Band”. Plus, both the first two albums credit the lyric writing to Ice Dog and Tone Love, leaving me to believe that one or both of them wrote lyrics for L.A. Kidd. The Tuff Crew did things a little differently…

Their debut full length album* in ‘88 made some noise, specifically due to their hometown anthem single “My Part Of Town”, but the album was filled with underground grimy B-Boy fueled Hip Hop. It helped generate interest in the group and set the bar high for their second album, “Back To Wreck Shop”.

For me, this album is a definite improvement from “Dangerzone”. That’s saying a lot because that album is great in it’s own right, I feel as if the productions, lyrics, scratching, and song structure is all improved on “Back To Wreck Shop”. I actually assumed that was a common belief amongst Tuff Crew fans, until I recently had a debate with Slug (of Atmosphere) on which of the two albums was better and he was 100% riding for “Dangerzone”. We had limited time to discuss, so we have agreed to a more formal debate later. Yes, we take this Rap stuff pretty seriously…ha. Mind you, I don’t there’s a huge difference in the two, just that “Back To Wreck Shop” edges it out by a noticeable margin.

The strength of the Tuff Crew are based on a few choice characteristics; the excellent scratching techniques of DJ Too Tuff, quality production that uses standard break beats and drum machines as the basis, but is enhanced with stellar programming, & finally, their great MC voices.

The album comes in with a dramatic intro that loops Run DMC’s “Sucker MCs” drums with the Rocky “Going The Distance” theme music on top. It’s a nice and simple instrumental piece that sets the tone. It’s easy to imagine it working great for a stage show intro.

Then the album officially kicks into gear with “Show Em Hell”, that raw Boom Bap Hip Hop. The quick cuts, with a slight dragging technique, by DJ Too Tuff, using the song title is nearly hypnotic. Vocally, the last verse, by Tone Love, is what best represents the essence of showing the competition hell, “Contagious, I spread, you catch it/Tell the next man, ain’t a crew to match it/Lots of knots coming in so I stash em/Nuts’ll bluff to be tuff so I smash em/Then I make a move or dash/Right past the garbage and put out the trash/Like a rash I’ll soon break out/To hunt down another soft brother to take out/Like a semi-automatic assault weapon/Spray a sucker with rhymes and keep stepping/Further…my songs are murder/Just for the New Jack acts I never heard of.”

My favorite track on the album is “Come On & Go Off”. The drum programming and tuning is superb. Also, the usage of the choice sampled pieces, with a touch of echo at key points, is stellar. The unique drum pattern encourages each MC to flow perfectly off-kilter and make creative use of cadence. Ice Dog executes this perfectly with the second half of his verse with so much style, “Now you know once I throw and let go/Rhymes flow natural/Yo! pump the beat up cause you’re about to meet a/Brother, heat up to eat up your mind with rhymes like a bag a cheeba/But some call me buddah/Taking all suckers out, now who the/Hell wanna try and fail/Do Tell, posses fail because I rock well…” It’s just a bugged out style, effectively using techniques of elongated bars & run-on sentence rhyme schemes. As he says earlier in the verse, “Rhyming more ways than the others, because I don’t play games/Not your average MC…”

However, the most shining lyrical moment comes from the guest MC, Mechanism The Articulate One. When I heard this dude I bugged out. I knew there was no way he wasn’t coming out with an album, he was just to ill to be ignored, but that day never came. I got revived hope a few years later when The Source Magazine Unsigned Hype Winner was DJ Too Tuff & MC Mechanism for a new demo that The Source praised for it’s greatness. I thought, “OK, there’s no way labels will sleep a second time, particularly with a co-sign by The Source!” Wrong. Mechanism would never release any other material besides this one verse until a few years ago when DJ Too Tuff dropped the “Lost Archives” CD, which contains more proof that Mechanism should have been a priority to some record label.

As for his “Come On & Go Off” moment, his verse reflects that title concept perfectly and relentlessly. There’s dynamic use of technique, vocabulary, lyric content and style, “A portion of knowledge you’re sworn to inquire/A test of matter submitted to the sire/Mechanism will lead em, if not beat em/Take away the hand that feed em/Kick it to the North Side, do not abide/To objective criticism, facing it eye to eye/You’re in danger, I rearrange your tone/Take your style and stand like stone/You write your rhymes fabricated, I hate it/Now you wonder why you took the fall, so bow, say it/Poetical justice, raise the roof, teach the youth, bump this rhythm/To prove a point, house the joint/Dip your soul in the wax to anoint yourself/I’m the judge and the jury, force of fury/on MCs who perpetrate!” Certainly a verse worthy of considering in any conversation of the best lyrical guest spots of the 80s and perhaps beyond.

[audio:|titles=07 Come On & Go Off]

I just realized that this is the first time that I’ve listened to this whole album in full in a long time and now I realize what the greatest problem is, consistency. If you shave a few songs from the track listing and get this down to 10-11 songs, you make a tighter album. Though I suppose there can be some debate because I’m not sure what sort of effect the songs I would eliminate had on their career.

I’m guessing they had some good feedback from the lower East Coast on the debut album, at least in part, because they had the heavy Roland TR-808 Bass and while the music wasn’t completely up to Miami Bass speeds, it was definitely uptempo. The only thing they were lacking to please the Miami Bass crowd on their debut album were the sex filled lyrics, as that first album was purely B-Boy braggadocio. They flipped that up this time, assumably in an effort to capitalize on the lower East Coast crowd. There are two songs that represent that here, “Gimmie Some” and “She Rides The Pony”. I pretty much hated both of these songs when the album came out and not much has changed now. I always thought they were too corny. However, the scratching on “Gimmie Some” is pretty stellar, but I get enough of that on other tracks, so I can live without hearing it here. The production on “She Rides The Pony” is pretty fresh and that just further aggravates me because it could have been an iller song with different subject matter. However, perhaps these songs actually gave them new legs in their career in select regions. Yet, no one I know or talk to about Tuff Crew ever cites these songs as something they care about, so it seems they may have been a distraction to their core audience.

The only other songs that I would consider filler are “Got To Be Funky” and “Danger Zone Assault”. Neither one of them is completely a throw-away, but they just lack the punch of the rest of the album. “Got To Be Funky” has the album’s most uninspired production and the MCs reflect that lack of energy in the lyrics, as it sounds like they are just going thru the motions of getting the song done. Immediately following is “Danger Zone Assault”, which is one of the albums four instrumental tracks. Again it just doesn’t have that spark to hold your attention. It’s a cool collection of break-beat loops and some vocal samples from the crew, but what adds flavor to the other instrumentals (besides the intro which serves purpose on its own) are the cuts of DJ Too Tuff, which are noticeably absent here.

A big problem in these issues is the sequencing. Putting those two tracks, “Got To Be Funky” and “Danger Zone Assault” back to back was a mistake. By then you are six tracks into the album and already have heard 3 of the albums least impressive tracks, an easy way to damage an albums overall impact. Even moving “Danger Zone Assault” to the end as an Outro, which it sounds like anyway, would have been strategically a better move.

“What You Don’t Know” is a better attempt at tapping into that Uptempo Miami Bass/Dance market. The foundation of the beat is the club hit Strafe “Set It Off” with Too Tuff cutting up some Prince vocals like a maniac, “Shut Up, Already, Damn!” Lyrically, they just keep it in the pocket and ride the beat, focusing on the strength of their flow and distinct voices. Definitely a lot of flavor on this one.

“Down With The Program” takes them slightly out of their standard lyrical element and hits a bit on the positive lyrics tip. It’s evident from the start that it’s not where their focus is. They don’t really stay on topic, but just touch on some important issues amiss some freestyle lyrics, but it’s still a nice twist. The production on here is probably the best on the album. Very well put together with bits and pieces, accompanied by Too Tuff supporting on the cuts, a perfect marriage. Speaking of which…

[audio:|titles=13 Down With The Program]

Another album highlight is “Soul Food”, an instrumental with Too Tuff showing off the musicality of his turntable skills, on a track that makes a great fusion of “Darkest Light” by Lafayette Afro Rock Band and “Shaft In Africa” By Johnny Pate, the same sample combination used again many years later by Jay Z on “Show Me What You Got” from his Kingdom Come album.

[audio:|titles=12 Soul Food]

The rest of the album is solid also. You have “Mountain’s World” which samples Spoonie Gee “Love Rap” and Bob James “Nautilus”, which is another Hometown anthem featuring rarely heard Tuff Crew member Monty G a.k.a Mountain doing his thing. “Behold The Detonator” is an all out turntable exhibition allowing Too Tuff to flex his range of skills. “Nut” is fun track based on another Tuff Crew thing, slang. Well, a Philly thing really. Crews from Philly were always introducing new slang words to the game. “Nuts”, as I interpret it, was their way of calling someone a sucker. The track mixes their stone-face serious B-Boy style with a touch of humor. The title track “Wreck Shop” has a vibe similar to their biggest hit, “My Part Of Town” and showcases their knack to make tracks that are danceable, but still maintain a hardcore essence. Finally the album comes to a close with “My Parta’ Town Remix”, which is essentially a souped up Dub Version, which was probably appreciated by the DJs.

I think the argument can be made that the their debut album, “Dangerzone”, is more raw and pure in it’s underground appeal, but “Back To Wreck Shop” shows clear signs of elevated skill levels all-around and a wider range of appeal, all while they were still trying to figure out their place in the ever-growing Rap industry. It’s that kind of growth that could be best maximized on a third album, but that opportunity never quite came for the Tuff Crew. A couple years later they did have a third album, but it was minus two very key members, DJ Too Tuff and Tone Love. Plus it took a more street direction, making it very different from the Tuff Crew we hear on these first few projects. Regardless, the Tuff Crew left a powerful mark on the Hip Hop map with their short, but strong discography, most of which is still available.

Tuff Crew/Krown Rulers “Phanjam”
Tuff Crew “Back To Wreck Shop”
Tuff Crew “DJ Too Tuff’s Lost Archives”

I’m currently looking into why “Dangerzone” hasn’t been reissued yet, I’ll update soon as I know!!

BREAKING NEWS: The good people at Dope Folks are about to release a Tuff Crew related project; Danger Zone Mobb Sqwad, an EP that was originally a cassette only release**. This was a project by Tone Love and Too Tuffafter they split from the Tuff Crew and it is awesome!! It sounds exactly what I would hope a third Tuff Crew album would sound like...

*The Tuff Crew debuted with a split EP in ’87 with the Krown Rulers called “Phanjam”. The original is a bit of a collector’s item but it has also been reissued on CD and LP. Get it HERE.

**There were also about 20 copies of vinyl pressed for local radio DJs…mega rares!

Written By Kevin 'Waiting For Tuff Crew related Dope Folks Releases" Beacham

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