Kurtis Blow, The Breaks

Hip-hop owes a lot to God for letting it borrow Kurtis Blow a few years, giving us this album's title track and one of the most influential transitional tracks during the old school crossover days. Being a transitional album, however, it is neither fish nor fowl by its nature; the musical chops are solid but the sometimes impressively sumptuous R&B backings periodically clash with his otherwise competent rapping. There isn't as much stylistic variation as you might think, either: all three tracks on the first side are basically the same riff ("Rappin' Blow Part II," "The Breaks" and "Way Out West"), with the latter track in particular overstaying its twelve-inch-length welcome. On the other hand, the second side has the amazing "Throughout Your Years," an even better outing than "The Breaks" itself, which manages the unbelievable trick of making rap simultaneously meaty yet poignant and heartfelt. The briskly breezy piano and bass really help though, which brings me back to that point I made before about the musical backing. In fact, when he sings "All I Want In This World (Is To Find That Girl)" he actually puts his rapping to shame with vocals at least as melodically lyrical as the backing band even if the words themselves aren't really all that special. Not all of it comes off well (especially the incredibly ill-advised Bachman-Turner Overdrive cover "Takin' Care of Business," where not even the hot guitar licks can rescue it), but it's hard to fault him for being the pioneer (the superfunky "Hard Times" in particular accurately predicts where the genre was heading). In that sense, then, give God a shout-out for this album leading the way; perhaps the breaks are just part of His cosmic plan after all. The CD reissue includes an instrumental version of "The Breaks" and an unusual Christmas-themed rap that gets points for an original topic but loses them for another recycled beat. These are fine as far as they go, but I found it curious they omitted the B-side instrumental for "Rappin' Blow Part II" which, despite being good enough for the samplers, apparently wasn't good enough for Mercury. (Content: no concerns.)