Monday, September 12, 2011

Big Daddy Kane -- "Smooth Operator" (1989)

I give nightmares to those who compete
Freddy Kreuger walkin' on Kane Street
Confuse and lose, abuse and bruise the crews
Who choose to use my name wrong, they pay dues
Destruction from the exterminator
But in a calm manner, 'cause I'm a smooth operator

Unlike De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, Big Daddy Kane (whose real name is Antonio Hardy) was "old school" all the way -- and no one ever did "old school"-style rap better.

Big Daddy Kane got his start writing rhymes for his friend Biz Markie (more about him shortly).  Both were members of the "Juice Crew," the Queens-based rap collective headed up by producer Marley Marl.  (You "Hip Hop 101" students who have been doing your homework will remember that name from my lecture on UTFO and the "Roxanne Wars.")

Big Daddy Kane
Kane was cool and smooth, like an ice cube -- he had style (no one ever had a better-looking high-top fade haircut) and he overflowed with flow.  

Big Daddy was no gangsta.  Like other old school greats, his weapon of choice was a microphone, which he used to spray killer rhymes at less talented MCs.  He could rap slow, and he could rap fast -- but no matter how quickly the rhymes came, he always sounded calm and relaxed.  

While Big Daddy Kane's first two albums (which were released in 1988 and 1989) are considered to be his best work, he is still performing today.  He is highly respected by  other rappers.

In 2006, Ice-T said that Kane "will devour you on the mic.  I don't want to try to out-rap Big Daddy Kane.  Big Daddy Kane can rap circles around cats."  Eminem referenced him in one of his raps, freely admitting Kane's influence on his style.

Freddy Krueger
The first two lines quoted at the beginning of this post refer to Freddy Krueger, the ultra-creepy bad guy in director Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street series of horror films.  Big Daddy's rapping is so good it gives his competitors nightmares -- not nightmares on Elm Street, but rather nightmares on Kane Street.

The next two lines are a tour de force of sorts, with no fewer than eight rhymes -- confuse, lose, abuse, bruise, crews, choose, use, and dues.  Note that the first seven of the rhyming syllables are separated from one another by only one nonrhyming syllable, so the rhymes pile up thick and fast.  But you have to wait awhile for the eighth and last rhyme in the series -- dues is separated from use by five syllables. 

With that kind of rhyming skill, Big Daddy Kane destroys and exterminates his competition -- but he does so calmly.  After all . . . he's a smooth operator.  

Let's look at some lines from a subsequent verse:

Now ain't that the pot callin' the kettle black
Sayin' I'm a new jack, you need to be smacked
The smooth way I say 'em and the way I display 'em
To make them sound different in a way that's gifted
And hey, I'm makin' sure every lyric is done fine
And I make one line, bright as the sunshine
Attack you like Robitussin on a cough
If you know like I know . . . step off!

In the first rhyming couplet of this verse, Kane laughs off those who call him a "new jack" -- a term that refers to a novice rapper, or to anyone who is new to the scene and has a lot to learn.  (It's more likely just the opposite, of course.)

The second rhyming couplet -- the third and fourth lines -- may throw you at first, because display 'em and gifted don't come close to rhyming.  The third line contains an internal rhyme -- say 'em and display 'em -- so the lack of a rhyme at the end of the fourth line is even more jarring.  But Kane gives you the rhyme you're waiting for at the beginning of the next line: hey I'm.

Gangsta rappers would no doubt use a Glock or MAC-10 to silence their rivals, but Kane is a smooth operator -- all he needs is over-the-counter cough medicine.

Here's the music video for "Smooth Operator."  It's an eponymous track of sorts, since Big Daddy Kane was as smooth an operator as ever existed -- both while on stage and with the ladies after the show.

Click here to download a copy of this song from Amazon:

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