Around third or fourth grade, my mission was to listen to every cassette tape my father owned. His music collection had always been a treasure trove of sorts and having already learned not to mess with his vinyl, the tape collection was the safest choice. They were easy to slip in and out of their cases without detection and he had enough of them out of their cases strewn around the house, enough so that if he went to look for one and I wasn’t the first person he came to the cassette wasn’t there. I grabbed Quincy Jones’ Back On The Block one night and made my way up the stairs for bed.
Retreating to my room, I slipped the cassette into a white Aiwa personal radio/tape player, my most valued possession at the time. Any hopes of a sound night’s sleep were quickly dashed once the opening drum roll of “Back On The Block” hit my eardrums. The combination of Ice-T, Melle Mel, Big Daddy Kane and Kool Moe Dee was almost too much for me at once and, as soon as the song was over, it was instant repeat status. All four emcees had their own distinct voice and flow and I wanted nothing more than to commit it all to memory. Ice-T was the toughest to get – mostly due to the length of his verse and slang – forcing me to frequently rewind in 2-4 bar clips while mouthing the words so I wouldn’t wake my little brother up.
The last third of Ice’s verse has always been embedded in my consciousness.
“But the dude knows the streets ain’t no kiddie game,
You don’t know the dude, Quincy’s his first name,
He told me, Ice keep doin’ what you doin’ man
Don’t give a damn if the squares don’t understand,
You let ‘em tell you what to say and what to write,
You’re whole career will be over by tomorrow night…”
Once I had that mastered, there was little time for celebration because Melle Mel was up next. His verse wasn’t difficult by any stretch of the imagination, but his voice was so mesmerizing that I would forget the task at hand, only to snap out of it when Tevin Campbell would come in with the chorus.
The same goes for Big Daddy Kane and the aura of cool that permeated from voice. The manner in which he causally strolled though our history in America left me swelling with more pride than any Black History Month lesson. However, I was left confused that he referred to his self as an Asiatic descendant and it would be years before I understood where he was coming from. Last up to bat was Kool Moe Dee and his booming delivery. Once again, I didn’t have a full grasp of what he was saying at the time, but it sounded cool and that was all that mattered.
I’ll always remember “Back On The Block” as the first tune I actively tried to remember, although there are countless songs stored in my noggin where a better grasp of trivial things like math equations and scientific theories should reside. All in all, the memorization process took about a week to get the words down pat, but it was a week well spent. Once I finally had everything down, the sense of accomplishment felt akin to surmounting Mt. Everest.
Quincy Jones Feat. Ice-T, Melle Mel, Big Daddy Kane & Kool Moe Dee – “Back On The Block”