Black Sheep

views updated May 29 2018

Black Sheep

Rap duo

For the Record

Selected discography


Black Sheep became part of musics hip-hop landscape in 1991 with the release of their debut album, A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing, whose single Flavor of the Month sealed the duos popularity. At the time of their debut, Black Sheep were one of many New York Citybased hip-hop and rap groups attracting national attention; Cypress Hill, Naughty by Nature, Brand Nubian, and L.O.N.S. had all paved the way for Black Sheeps appearance.

Black Sheeps members, Dres and Lawnge (pronounced Long)two friends raised in New York Citys boroughs met in 1983 in Sanford, North Carolina. Dres, who is black and Puerto Rican, was born Andres Titus and grew up in the Astoria housing projects in Queens. By the time he finished high school, he had served time in jail; this early brush with the criminal justice system convinced Dres not to glorify crime in his music.

Lawnge, whose real is William McLean, was raised a few miles from Dres in Brooklyn. Citing early

For the Record

Members include Dres (born Andres Titus in Queens, NY) and Lawnge (name pronounced long; born William McLean in Brooklyn, NY)

Released debut album, A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing, Mercury/Polygram, 1991; embarked on U.S. promotional tour with III Al Skratch and the Legion, 1994.

Awards: Gold album award for A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing.

Addresses: Record company Mercury Records, 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019. Management Shakim Compere, Flavor Unit Management, 155 Morgan St., Jersey City, NJ 07302.

musical influences, Lawnge told The Source, When we were teenagers, like teenagers are now about rap, thats how we used to be. We worshipped Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh, [L.L Cool J.], Run-DMC. Dres added, Those [rap artists] were Gods.

Dres and Lawnge are both members of the black separatist movements Nation of Islam and Five Percent Nation of Islam, although Dres is also affiliated with the religious sect of Jehovahs Witnesses. My father is a Jehovahs Witness, Dres revealed in The Source, I listen to my father. Both also claim that seeing miserable living conditions for black people throughout the United States made them want to reach out to the black community and provide inspiration through their music. Details magazine described Black Sheep as having their own mythology: street without gansta pretensions.

When Black Sheeps Wolf in Sheeps Clothing was released in 1991, it sold close to 900,000 copies and went gold. Lawnge played the role of the producer, and Dres performed as the rapper and primary lyricist. The album boasts two hit singles, The Choice Is Yours and Flavor of the Month, and is marked by broadsides, or skits, which are humorous parodies of songs and contain witty, thought-provoking lyrics.

A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing established Black Sheep as part of the unofficial Native Tongue Posse honest hiphop groups that are known for following their own beat without concern for public opinion or current trends; a concern for social issues; and the ability to shun commercialism for originality. Other Native Tongue groups include A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, and the Beatnuts.

According to Billboard magazines Havelock Nelson, Black Sheep singles from the duos first album remained popular as recurrents on rhythm and blues and Top 40 radio stations for three years after they were released and were not likely to fade from the minds of original listeners. The Choice Is Yours spent 16 weeks on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart and generated excitement and demand for a second album, which would take more than two and a half years to make.

Black Sheeps second album, Non-Fiction, was created and designed as a counterpart to A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing. Lawnge told Nelson that Black Sheep is showing new dimensions in its music and that the groups second album was built conceptually on the first. The titles Non-Fiction and A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing are metaphors for each albums lyrical content. Lawnge commented to Nelson, A Wolfin Sheeps Clothing not what it appears to be, and nonfiction [literature] exists because theres more for you to know.

By 1995 hip-hop and raps popularity had extended far beyond New York City-based musicians and encompassed Los Angeles rappers as well as musicians from the South and Midwest. Black Sheep remarked in The Source that with their second album they wanted to avoid being branded as just another one of those New York acts with the same ol beats. In the single North, South, East, West, for example, Black Sheep call for an end to regional competition in rap and hip-hop. The Source described 1994s Non-Fiction as seventeen testosterone-filled odes to the crew they grew up with, set to jazzy hooks and classic New York beats. This time there is more freestyling, Lawnge on the [microphone], less ho rhymes [usually degrading lyrics about women] and, most surprising for this crew, no skits.

Non-Fiction reveals that Black Sheep has a deepening awareness of social issues pertaining to black Americans. Freak Yall calls for courage and action with such lines as, I wish my people had the heart to start a revolution. Another song, Peace to the Niggas, warns against being impressed with or seduced by violent videos. Dres told The Source that Black Sheeps philosophy is Elevation. We dont try to knock people over the heads. But we want them to open up their eyes.

Rolling Stones Touré described Black Sheeps Non-Fiction as the album that shows that Lawnge has matured as he laces tracks with interesting musical ideas like combining sharp percussion and high-note piano on Lets Get Cozy or letting an antique-sounding piano dominate Summa the Time. New York News-days Jon Young declared, The easy-rolling groove of Without a Doubt is guaranteed to jump-start the dullest party, while Billboards Nelson pointed out that Black Sheep did not fall prey to the trend of making a record that intentionally sounds East Coast or West Coast.

The tone of Black Sheeps second album is grittier than their first and the lyrics are far more serious. Utilizing a technique different from their first album, Dres and Lawnge alternated roles when creating Non-Fiction; both artists rap on the albums tracks and both master the production duties.

Because it was considered credible to listeners on the street as well as palatable to radio audiences, Without a Doubt was chosen as Non-Fictions first single. A commercial promoting the album ran on music television stations and featured a bull walking the streets of Manhattan. The ad also depicts black sheep running noiselessly through a public library. To further spread the word about Non-Fiction, in October of 1994 the duo embarked on a U.S. promotional tour with fellow rap act III Al Skratch and the Legion and also performed in Toronto, Canada, and London, England.

The Sources Clarence Mohammed pointed out the importance of the message contained in Black Sheeps Non-Fiction: In an age of modern day Negro Gangstas being praised for killing half their own people, Non-Fiction is definitely a missing component in the hip-hop world. [Black Sheep] present a perfect picture of black men coexisting in peace.

Selected discography

A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing (includes Flavor of the Month and The Choice Is Yours), Mercury/Polygram, 1991.

Non-Fiction (includes Without a Doubt), Mercury/Polygram, 1994.


Billboard, September 24, 1994.

Details, January 1995.

New York Newsday, January 8, 1995.

Rolling Stone, February 9, 1995.

The Source, January 1995; February 1995.

Vibe, March 1994; December 1994.

B. Kimberly Taylor

black sheep

views updated May 21 2018

black sheep • n. inf. a member of a family or group who is regarded as a disgrace to them: the black sheep of the family.