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Interscope Records, 1993
The fact that Ak’s spot in hip hop history is firmly and solely secured by his bawdy runaway club smash “Put It In Your Mouth,” is a genuine travesty. Many if not most of the Queens (Lefrak City) native’s recordings, from his LPs and EPs to his rare cameos, feature clever wordplay and consistently ill beats. Although his raspy delivery and crude sexuality have caused many to stereotype him as a novelty act and his career has been a roller coaster ride from near-crossover success to label limbo to independent hustle, Ak perseveres at every turn. He retains a devoted cult following in this fickle, unforgiving rap game and recently released a compilation of his unreleased and rare joints. Shamefully, his debut LP Vagina Diner, undoubtedly the finest work in his highly respectable catalogue, remains mired in OOP obscurity.
On paper Diner is a true school geek’s dream come true: it is the only full-length album entirely produced by Large Professor apart from that fabled producer’s solo efforts or Main Source’s Breakin’ Atoms. Large Professor and his SP-1200 never disappoint the listener. The hard funk is poured thick onto every track and Large Professor showcases his supernatural ability to isolate majestic moments of pure boom-bap on unlikely jazz, soul, and funk records. To the immense credit of Large Professor, the tried and true method of layering chopped samples over titanium drums results in songs that show a wide range of sonic textures.
True school aficionados prone to indulge in fantasy league “What If…” parlor games might dismiss this album in favor of an imagined Nas/Large Pro full-length collabo, but a judicious listener will observe that Akinyele employs his idiosyncratic delivery in ways that are highly complementary to Large Pro’s eclectic, moody tracks. “Ak Ha Ha! Ak Hoo Hoo?” is a high-spirited affair that swings in a manner reminiscent of Main Source’s “Atom,” while “The Bomb” is a tough party track with searing horns meant to pack the dance floor at the Tunnel or the Muse.
Ak is a great match for the music. He is a mirthful storyteller and a master of ribald double-entendre whose verses overflow with candid wit. Although the title and packaging of this album foreshadow his later reliance on smut raps, Diner is long on heart and short on shock. Even in his more salacious moments Ak confronts the trials and traumas of economic displacement and social alienation. During the course of his exhaustive accounts of impoverished and unstable living conditions we are introduced to characters who suffer and subsist in varying levels of poverty and desperation. “Outta State,” is an interstate hustler’s hugely ambivalent declaration of purpose that sounds appropriately hypnotic, enervating, and foreboding.
Diner’s crown jewel has to be “I Luh Hur,” a darkly honest and at times humorous glimpse into the torturously conflicted emotions experienced by an anxious father-to-be. Over a track that is understated but not soft, shimmering and yet touchingly soulful, Ak uses Large Professor’s faithful snares as guides to anchor his intensely sentimental rhymes to his endearingly gruff vocal shifts. Although hunting down this album requires a yeoman’s effort nowadays, these efforts will be well rewarded with a most distinctive end-to-end burner that will hook listeners for some time to come.