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Three Times Dope
Arista Records, 1988
Three Times Dope consists of Illadelph natives E.S.T. (emcee), Chuck Nice (producer), and DJ Woody Wood. At the time of Original Stylin’s release the crew was known to be down with Philly’s own Hilltop Hustlers (the infamous Steady B and Cool C) as well as BDP. Although Chuck Nice’s beats are bona fide bangers and Woody Wood’s expert scratching is an integral part of the album’s appeal, it is E.S.T. who steals the show. E.S.T. is a vintage emcee’s emcee of the late ‘80s, a garrulous mic controller, an adroit, personable storyteller, and a street commentator with a gift for straight wrecking shit.
A proud protégé of KRS-One, the ‘Acknickulous One” maneuvers between show-off wordplay, juvenile misogyny, and everyman musing with charisma and confidence. He attacks the granite snares with gruff tenacity but maintains the fluidity necessary to flip seventy-five cent words alongside lively slang. This energized lucidity sets E.S.T. a world apart from the era’s horde of sloppy BDK impersonators who feverishly cram Latinate syllables into every bar.
The self-proclaimed “Unusual Fellow” flows in concert with the ringing, insistent, layered tracks cooked up by Chuck Nice, L.G., and Steady B, resulting in a palatable, unpretentious form of edutainment. The somber “Increase the Peace” is both a scathing critique of petty jealousy, crass materialism, and unthinking aggression as well a poignant, reasonable plea for harmony. The urgency of the song, which was recorded at a time when Philadelphia’s homicide rate was four times higher than that of New York City, is underscored by musical and vocal samples borrowed from slain peacelovers Marvin Gaye and Martin Luther King. Even the infamously overplayed single “Funky Dividends” interrupts its barrage of stylized pomp and comic levity with moments of self-effacement.
The music as a whole is perhaps somewhat over-dependent on the James Brown catalogue, but the producers do a fine job of constructing funky, shifting backdrops for E.S.T. to kick his conversations. “Greatest Man Alive,” is an undulating, stirring jawn that just teems with witty one-liners and rugged flows. It may be the album’s most masterful cut and unfortunately, its superlative dopeness is only approached in a few spots during the rest of the record. Regardless, Original Stylin’ is a walkman and boombox classic that still sounds invigorating, engaging, and brand new today.