Take it from an expert.
"Anywhere you go in Florida, you can party," says rapper Prince Rahiem. "Jacksonville." He laughs. "Miami, Tampa, St. Petersburg. . . It's the atmosphere," the Hollis (Queens), New York, transplant explains. "Miami, the South, is a very sensual place. The less you wear, the better.
"You see these girls in they Daisy Dukes with they hair done nice. That's how 'Pull It All the Way Down' came about," he says, referring to one of his earliest tracks. "We were in this club and all these girls were on-stage. They havin' a contest, and I said, 'Pull it all the way down.' We just sat and wrote the whole thing right there."
A seven-year resident of Miami, Rahiem Thomas pairs the skills he developed as a fan of early hip-hop in Hollis with the faster, skittering rhythms of his adopted region's bass sound. The just-released On a Ride, Rahiem's second solo album and major-label debut (on Island's 4th & Bway imprint), blends bass's celebratory feel with a storytelling approach and the occasional sobering interlude.
The bottom line, Rahiem stresses, is staying true to his school and avoiding pigeonholes. Although On a Ride cuts such as "Party" and "Get It On" stick closely to typical bass tactics -- chanted lyrics, frenzied tempos -- other tracks speak to a diversity of influences that deepens the record's worth. "Cop One, Smoke One" is a funny Floridian version of West Coast-style chronic tales; as one-half of a new double A-side single, it's due for a promotional push in California. "That Old Funk" lives up to its title with sped-up, cartoonlike voices reminiscent of prime Parliament. And the album's most striking tune, "Ride," opens the disc with a savvy meld of danceable beats, R&B harmonies, and images of Miami jeepsters out to rock. Rahiem hopes to see its release as a single.
"What I try to do in my music is paint a vivid picture," he points out. "I want people to see what I'm tellin' them. 'Ride' is a song for all youth -- and middle-age people, too -- who like to go to the beach, have a couple of beers, and ride out with your friends. It's somethin' you can just put in the tape deck."
Rahiem seems most proud, though, of "Round & Round," which juggles scenes of broken promises from a romantic relationship gone bad, and ends with a gangsta who gets "careless" and pays the ultimate price. "I want someone to receive a message from 'Round & Round' that regardless of what you do to people, it all comes back to you," Rahiem says. "It's just about life. I feel bad that the music is looked down on. It still isn't respected. We are put in a certain kind of label, as being just 'booty artists' with no lyrics." He cites Poison Clan, Total Kaos, and Dr. Ace, along with himself, as breakers of that rule. Kaos and Ace guest on Ride.
"As far as my album," Rahiem continues, "I've tried to do somethin' totally different, which is promote other artists. It's a togetherness that really doesn't happen in the South unless the artists are on the same label."
Rahiem's status as the first solo bass artist signed to a major label resulted from the interest of veteran local music man Joe Galdo, a former drummer with disco demigods Foxy and with Robert Palmer; he now works as a staff producer-A&R scout for Island Records. A tape of music by Clay D and Rahiem -- who cut four albums together as members of Beatmaster Clay D and the Get Funky Crew (the aforementioned "Pull It All the Way Down" was a Crew track), and who continue to collaborate (Clay produced half of Ride's twelve songs) -- fell into Galdo's hands a couple of years ago.
"That really made my tail wag," Galdo recalls. "As soon as I heard Rahiem, I thought of Professor X. He had the sound, a lot of youthfulness and speed A like Professor X on amphetamines."
Galdo hopes that despite the absence of the song "Hydraulic" (the flip side of "Cop One") from the first pressing of On a Ride A "The record company said, 'We're not gonna swallow it'" A the cut will prove to be Rahiem's breakthrough on a national level. Although several bass hits, such as Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)" and 69 Boyz's "Tootsee Roll," have become ubiquitous mantras across the U.S., both Rahiem and Galdo bemoan the fact that the music remains an underestimated resource.
"They really do not give bass any credit," Galdo says, alluding to the hip-hop establishment. "It's totally fucked up. It's every bit as street, every bit as groovin', as the other stuff. I see bass as like a heavy-metal alternative to rap, at 140 beats per minute or more."
Galdo speaks highly of Rahiem and his producers (Clay D, Vortex, Calvin Mills) and says he mostly stayed out of the way in his role as executive producer of On a Ride. "I didn't want to get in the way of their creativity," observes Galdo. "The only time I'd change something would be when the mix sounded local and cheap, which happens because sometimes these guys don't hear what's gonna make the record work on a national level. They have to listen to the record before and the record after, and realize that it's gonna kick their ass if the shit isn't right."
But Galdo's definitely a fan, both of Rahiem's album and of Orlando's 69 Boyz, a group he almost signed to Island before their "Tootsee Roll" hit. "I really thought the production on this stuff was great, as a musician, which I am," he says. "I loved their music."
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The problem that the Boyz would have faced had they signed to Island is now the battle Galdo and Rahiem must fight, even with Island having already picked up the rapper's option for another CD. "I don't know that Island could have defined 69 Boyz the way an independent label like Rip It did," Galdo theorizes. "There's a push and pull with me and the record company over Rahiem. I have the full support of Chris Blackwell [Island Records boss], but I don't know if the other people in the company are behind me."
Rahiem acknowledges the potential difficulty in Island's handling of a genre whose established association with small companies can seem essential to its appeal. Not incidentally, On a Ride spent a year and a half in the can before finally seeing the light of day. "This album has been sitting," he says with a laugh. Last year the record label released a single of "Rock Wit' It," which shows up on the album, but the track didn't make much noise. Like Galdo, Rahiem speaks quizzically of the corporation.
"Really, I feel that they were experimenting with something new," Rahiem speculates, "and trying to tap into it without the know-how that it takes to market it. You can't market bass like any other kind of music. You have to go to the underground and the street first. You work your way through the streets and get club play from the streets, then you go to radio from the clubs."
Rahiem knows that with the right push, On a Ride can have a long life, and cites his "Loose My Money" as proof. "It came out in '92," he explains. "It caught on the following year. I've been doing shows off that record for two years.