Rock On

All that changed with Bring the Pain, a special named after a Method Man song -- perfect for a man who once owned the Def Comedy Jam. Suddenly the kid beneath the flattop fade was the funniest, angriest, smartest, sharpest, slyest motherfucker who ever dared take Richard Pryor's place behind a microphone. The guy discovered by Eddie Murphy in an L.A. comedy club a decade earlier proved himself, in 60 too-short minutes, to be far funnier than Murphy ever was. Murphy's politics started and stopped with his dick; he never met a woman he didn't want to bend over a chair. Murphy's moment had come and long gone by the time Rock took the stage in 1996 and told the brothers and sisters he wished he could join the Ku Klux Klan so he could do a drive-by all the way from D.C. to Brooklyn. Rock's comedy, in a blazing instant, had turned hysterical and oddly profound; since then no one's been able to lay a glove on the champ, who would return to SNL later that year as host and have the first, last, and best laugh.

After Bring the Pain, Rock would no longer receive fourteenth billing in shitty Steve Martin movies based on Phil Silvers TV shows; there'd be no more roles like Yuck Mouth in Panther, the funniest drama ever about the Black Panthers. He moved from B movies to the A list; look only at the picture of Rock standing next to his hero Woody Allen in Esquire to see how far he's come since his days turning out the lights on the In Living Color set.

It's easy to fit Chris Rock on the comedy family tree; he's the branch just beneath the ones holding Richard Pryor, Don Rickles, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, and Bill Hicks. His is an anger, a humor, a pain that knows no color line; who else but Rock would appear on the cover of Vanity Fair in Sambo black face? He's the man who said that what white people hate about black people, black people hate about black people; he's the man who tells the brothers and sisters to boo, "but y'all know I'm right." He may insist his comedy "isn't political," but that's only to defuse the punch line. After all there's nothing funnier than the truth, the ability to laugh it off before it knocks you out.

Hence the references on the new album to Social Security ("The average black man dies at 54; black people should get Social Security at 29"); why a brother can't get health insurance ("I broke my leg; Daddy poured Robitussin on it"); and taxes ("They take money out your check every week, then they want more money in April -- what kinda gangsta shit is that?"). Give Cornel West some of this material, and he might kill on the lecture circuit after all.

Bigger and Blacker (which will be released on July 13) plays like Prince Paul's recently released A Prince Among Thieves without any songs to get in the way; even the stand-up routines feel incidental, like Harpo Marx harp solos during Animal Crackers. There's nothing as biting as "Niggas vs. Black People," nothing as prescient as "O.J., I Understand." The closest he comes is a routine about how "there ain't a white man in this room [who] would trade places with me, and I'm rich." But even that seems like a tap instead of a punch, or maybe it's just hard to top yourself when you're Muhammad Ali and everyone else around you is Butterbean.

The disc's best moments are the sketches and songs; one features Rock singing to strippers, wondering what it takes to get a table dance. But there's none better than Rock's parody of Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," perhaps the most insipid pop song ever based on a dreadful newspaper advice column aimed at college graduates. In Rock's version (titled "No Sex") the comedian addresses "the GED class of 1999," doling out nuggets of wisdom such as "If a woman tells you she's twenty and looks sixteen, she's twelve," "Cornbread -- ain't nuttin' wrong with that," and, "If a homeless person has a funny sign, he hasn't been homeless that long." Chances are "No Sex" will be the first single from the album -- at least once free of the line about how "if a girl has a pierced tongue, she'll probably suck your dick."

Rock likes to talk about how De La Soul's Buhloone Mindstate and Public Enemy's Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age have been highly influential on his stand-up, but he can't quite explain how. "You just gotta listen to it," he says of those records. "Like, on Muse Sick, that song 'What Side You On?' Please. I ripped off that whole thing. And Buhloone was basically the same thing as Bring the Pain -- same themes, different presentation." That's why he keeps coming back to Prince Paul, the man who virtually defined the between-rap sketches on De La's 1989 debut 3 Feet High and Rising. Rock also appears on Paul's A Prince Among Thieves, playing a wacked-out junkie. And if Paul turns his album into a film, as planned, Rock likely will reprise the role.

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