20 Years Ago: Black Sheep – A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

This is the first of  a new series here on IlliotGould.com, where I’ll take a look back at classic and not-so-classic albums that came out 20 years ago. Feel free to comment and make suggestions, and enjoy the nostalgia.

On October 22, 1991, Black Sheep’s debut album, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, was released. The newest member of the Native Tongues posse (which also included De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Jungle Brothers), Black Sheep brought wit, sex, and irreverence to a genre that took itself pretty seriously in the early ’90s. Dres’ silky smooth voice and ladies man persona matched perfectly with DJ Mista Lawnge’s eclectic beats, a melange of funk, disco, soul, and rock samples and concepts. The album was fairly successful at the time, and tracks like “Strobelight Honey” and “The Choice is Yours” have become classics, the latter even currently appearing in a Kia commercial in its popular “Revisited” form. That forever recognizable intro bassline can still get a party jumping.

Black Sheep are sometimes classified as “alternative” hip-hop, but that’s really a bullshit categorization. Sheep’s Clothing was real, slamming, vibrant, creative hip-hop that was way ahead of its time. Dres was a unique voice of his era, and did not seem to care about expectations of the genre. Although gangsta rap was in its nascency at the time, Dres clearly felt the pressure to be “hard.” He expresses as much on the album’s joke of an opening track, “U Mean I’m Not,” a gangster nightmare from which he fortunately awakes to commence spitting great song after great song.

Almost every track on this album delivers, and even the scattered skits, popular at the time, are relatively clever. One, “Go To Hail,” is a precursor to Danny Glover publicizing the trouble African Americans can have getting a cab in NYC. The first single was the jazzy, funky “Flavor of the Month,” the song that introduced me to the group. The track is still irresistible, its descending bassline and light-as-air trumpet solo providing the perfect background for Dres’ couplets and metaphors. “Similak Child” is lovely and bizarre, built around a pyschedelic guitar and barking dog sample. The posse cut, “Pass the 40,” was one of the greatest, a round robin of good-time rhymes and schoolyard humor. And let’s not forget that this was the album that introduced the world to Chi-Ali, who unfortunately ended up murdering his sister’s boyfriend in 2000 and is serving a 14-year sentence.

The group is sort of still in existence, although it’s really just Dres these days. He released an album last year, but Sheep’s Clothing remains the classic that stands the test of time.