It’s been 25 years since Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth released All Souled Out, arguably the greatest EP in hip hop history. A near flawless introduction to the duo, it paved the way for their full-length debut in the summer of 1992. Mecca and the Soul Brother was one of the defining albums of rap’s so-called “golden age”, arriving five months before Dr. Dre and Death Row Records began their gangsta takeover which with The Chronic.
A protege of Marley Marl and his cousin Heavy D during the late 80’s, Pete Rock’s sophisticated sampling of obscure soul and jazz records have left an indelible mark on the genre. From helping to popularise the use of jazzy horns and smooth basslines alongside A Tribe Called Quest and others during the early 90’s, to inspiring forward-thinking producers like Madlib and the late J Dilla, the influence of Pete Rock runs deep.
With so much of the focus on Pete Rock and his game-changing production, the ability of C.L. Smooth on the mic has often been overlooked. There were certainly no shortage of great MC’s during the early 90’s, but C.L. Smooth wasn’t just there to make up the numbers. Technically he was faultless, with a style that sounded like a cross between Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, while his rhymes were philosophical, ghetto (but never thuggish) and virtually expletive free.
Several short-lived reunion attempts have been made since they parted ways in 1995, a year after their second album The Main Ingredient. But despite some intermittent collaborations and a 2003 best-of album titled Good Life, a lasting reunion never quite materialised. The pair finally put their differences aside in 2010, hopinh to avoid the same fate as Guru and DJ Premier of Gang Starr who failed to resolve their relationship before Guru passed away after a battle with cancer.
Since their official reunion six years ago touring has become more frequent, with rumours of a new album also circulating regularly. As part of their 25th anniversary tour, the New York duo stopped off at Liverpool’s 200 capacity Arts Club for an intimate gig. Both men may be approaching 50 but they’re still in great shape. Playing for just over an hour, their energy levels remained high throughout. C.L. Smooth in particular hadn’t lost any of his rapping ability, with his vocals sounding as strong as they did back in the early 90’s.
Pete Rock warmed the audience up by mixing few soul cuts, before C.L. Smooth made a delayed entry while rapping over “Return of the Mecca”. Tracks from their 1992 classic Mecca and the Soul Brother featured throughout, including fan favourites “Straighten It Out” and “Lots of Lovin'”. The stop-start nature of the set which saw tracks often being cut short caused some frustration, with Pete Rock repeatedly urging the audience to shout “take money money, take money money” somewhat cringeworthy. However, when Pete Rock let the set run and C.L. Smooth was allowed to flow they were on fire.
Tracks from their other two releases also featured, with “I Got A Love” and “I Get Physical” being highlights from The Main Ingredient. Pete Rock also got up on the mic to show off his own rapping skills on their modest hit “The Creator” from All Souled Out. The audience knew their signature hit was being saved for the encore, but when “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” finally arrived the noise was deafening. One of the most instantly recognisable songs of the early 90’s, it’s not every day that you get to hear a bonafide hip hop classic performed live.