Picks and Pans Review: The Cactus Album

updated 02/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

3rd Bass

White rappers have acquired a bad reputation as cultural carpetbaggers. At worst, they're perceived as thieves; at best, as sincere buffoons. But then no palefaces, even the Beastie Boys, have brought as much to the party as the two young New Yorkers in 3rd Bass.

Their beats are tough and persuasive. The strongly rhythmic couplets of MC Serch (Michael Berrin) and Prime Minister Pete Nice (Peter Nash) are delivered with appropriately dismissive snarls or insouciant smirks, depending on the song.

They're also cleverly unpredictable when it comes to grafting borrowed musical quotes onto their raps. "Sons of 3rd Bass," a preemptive attack on any potential imitators, is matched to a reworking of Blood Sweat and Tears' "Spinning Wheel." "The Gas Face" is set to the syncopated piano roll that opens Aretha Franklin's "Think." "Monte Hall" semi-spoofs an old Grover Washington Jr. riff, and they thwack Tom Waits's vocal style but good on "Flippin' Off the Wall like Lucy Ball." On the album's most captivating jam, "Wordz of Wizdom," they even take off Gary ("Dream Weaver") Wright—with a little Steely Dan thrown in at the end for good measure.

Between songs, the boys throw in little snatches of cartoon voices, TV theme song music, phone machine messages and other strange echoes. Throughout their debut, the duo show a genuine appreciation and flair for the genre. Fans of rap music will recognize that with The Cactus Album, 3rd Bass just stole home. (Def Jam/Columbia)

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