Attention all rappers. Class is in session. Your instructor--the one and only Kool Moe Dee, the rising rap star who had a major club hit earlier this year with "Go See the Doctor."
Now he's back--and he's got his red pencil ready. Not merely content with creating rhymes ("I'm no phony, I'm the only real macaroni") and boasts ("Rap is an art and I'm a Picasso"), Moe Dee has used his new album, "How Ya Like Me Now," to stake his claim as America's first rap critic.
In fact, he's even adorned his new record with an official report card that grades 25 of today's top hip-hop performers on such skills as vocabulary, articulation, originality, versatility, stage presence and (our favorite category) "sticking to themes."
Rap is not a particularly hospitable medium for the shy or self-effacing--in fact, many critics would say that rap's major contribution to pop culture is its elevation of the art of braggadocio. So it goes without saying that Moe Dee gave himself a 95 A+, tying him with Melle Mel for the highest grade on his chart.
Other A students include Grand Master Caz, Rakhim and L. L. Cool J. But Moe Dee gave barely passing grades to the Beastie Boys (70 C-), with the Boogie Boys next-to-last with a 77.
"I listen to everything that comes out--and I mean everything-- so I figured that I'd make a pretty good critic," said Moe Dee, 25, who began his rap career as one of the Treacherous Three before going solo. "It's all a matter of knowing your competition. The idea of a report card wasn't meant to be insulting. I try to have good relations with all my rivals."
Moe Dee chuckled. "Though I don't know what L. L. Cool J's gonna think of all this."
It's not that Cool J got chilled on his grades--he still rated an A. But on the back of his report card, Dee threw down the gauntlet to his rap rival.
Noting that Cool J has claimed that he's the "Baddest Rapper in the history of rap," Moe Dee retorted: "If you feel that way for real, you've got to prove it--to me !" (Moe Dee's new album cover also depicts him driving his new Jeep over a skull-hat that looks suspiciously like Cool J's trademark cap.)
"Cool's problem is that he's beginning to believe in his own myth," said Moe Dee, an earnest, articulate guy who attended--and graduated from--New York State University at Old Westbury while pursuing his rap career. "He's been going around saying that he's the (king) of rap, which is a deep insult to Melle Mel, who's the real grandmaster."
Why is rap so competitive? "Rap is basically an egocentric art," Moe Dee said. "Anytime you have music made by teen-agers where the whole idea is to appeal to your peers or girls, then you're gonna have an awful lot of rivalries. Rap isn't very far removed from the street. And on the street, one of the ways you survive is by getting recognition and respect. So if you can get the guys to laugh and get the girls' attention, then you got it made."
Here are Moe Dee's grades--and capsule assessments--of some of his key rivals:
L. L. Cool J (90 A): "When you break him down, he's a very good rapper. However, on his last record, he really went overboard capitalizing on his popularity. He kept bragging on himself over and over to the point of subliminal hypnotism. It was as if you were thinking of the best rapper, you'd be forced to think of him."
The Beastie Boys (70 C-): "They're pretty awful. I gave them a lot of 6's. They don't have any vocabulary and they try to make up for their lack of originality by screaming and yelling. Besides, our tour followed theirs and wherever we went, we couldn't get into hotels or restaurants 'cause the Beasties had been there two weeks before and gotten into trouble."
Run-D.M.C. (82 B-): They definitely have this aura about 'em--they've converted the whole rap world. But they don't impress me lyrically at all. They're very predictable--you always know just what they're gonna say next."
Rakhim (91 A): "He's one of my favorites from the New School of rappers--he gets a 10 for creativity. He's real articulate, he uses syncopation well and doesn't harp on all the boasting stuff--he does what he has to do and just gets it done. I saw him the other day on 125th Street and he was real humble. I asked him how he was doing over at Def-Jam (his record label). And he just said: 'Hey, I'm still learning.' "
And how does Moe Dee justify giving himself such high grades (95 A+)? "I just wrote down the scores by each category and when I added them up, I came out on top," he said, adding with a quick laugh: "It seems pretty accurate to me."