Song: "Hard But True"
Album: Return Of The Product
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While it is a rare occasion when a single artist can be pointed to as the sole pioneer in any style of music, the fact remains that even when the opposite is true, many of the most important performers are often lost in the glare of those who find commercial success. That is to say that behind every "hit artist," there are a handful of performers that were of equal stature, but did not have similar record sales. Though one can find this trend in every genre, it is perhaps no more obvious than during the rise of hip-hop that occurred during the first few years of the 1990's. While the style itself was being pushed in countless new directions by artists like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, it was the "gangsta" sound that would dominate the charts and become the standard for a majority of the decade. However, there was one performer of this era whose contributions cannot be overlooked, and one cannot deny the massive amount of influence that can be found within the recordings of MC Serch. Standing today as one of the most highly respected emcees in history, it was MC Serch that retained the "street cred" for white rappers, and his 1992 album, Return of The Product, remains one of the most hard-hitting and lyrically brilliant records ever released. Each track on the album has a unique feel, but it is the defiant, unapologetic "Hard But True" that stands out above the rest, and quickly proves why MC Serch stands among the greatest performers in hip-hop history.
The opening sample on "Hard But True" perfectly sums up the song, as well as a majority of the album, when the sampled voice states, "This is probably the most challenging record you have ever put on your turntable." The song manages to quickly deliver on that promise, as the musical arrangement hits hard, yet avoids the bass-heavy, cliché sound that dominated a majority of the hip-hop of that time. There is a great diversity within the music, and it shows the amazing talents within the production duo of Wolf and Epic. The deep bassline that runs throughout the song gives it much of its personality, and it is also this element that lends and almost jazz-like feel to the song. When the bassline wavers in tone, it helps to give the song a sense of movement, and there is a brilliant simplicity that runs throughout all of "Hard But True." This mood is furthered by the keyboard progression that moves in and out of the song, and it is also the interplay between these two instruments that gives "Hard But True" a distinctive groove. The only other sound on the song is a stripped down drum progression, and this sparse musical arrangement not only helps to keep the focus on the lyrics, but it also proves that even without excessive bass or other instruments, one can create a sound that is just as hard-hitting; and it is this idea that defines much of the music of MC Serch.
Whether one was looking for speed in delivery or fantastic lyrics, there have been few emcees in history that were up to the combined level that one finds in the work of MC Serch. Bringing a clear and measured delivery style, there is an impact that can be felt with every word he speaks, and there is never a moment where is vocals feel forced in any way. It is this straightforward, almost "calm in the storm" style that sets MC Serch apart from his peers, and it is also this element that lends him a large amount of authenticity in his rhymes. Yet even as great as his sound is, there is no question that the key to the status of MC Serch lives within his absolutely amazing lyrics, and there are few emcees from any point in history that have been able to deliver lines as powerful with the consistency of MC Serch. On "Hard But True," MC Serch drops some of his most unapologetic and challenging rhymes, and there were not many other performers of any style that were willing to approach many of the issues he does on this song. Case in point: there is perhaps no more a scathing critique in hip-hop history than when MC Serch rhymes, "...too many times crimes get backed up, case comes up, oops, switch all the facts up...three kids rape a sister at St. John's, and become graduates, instead of cons...instead of washin' drawers or be somebody's whore, college whack buffed and polished and they kept the doors closed, jail time, wasn't even phasin' 'em, probably one of the fathers gave the school a gymnasium..." While other emcees might have rallied against injustices, it is impossible to find as "in your face" and unrelenting an attack as one finds here, and it is moments like this that remind listeners of the true purpose and power that can be achieved within the world of hip-hop music.
The social critiques continue throughout "Hard But True," and the song presents quite a contrast to a majority of the songs that MC Serch had been known for to that point. From his days in 3rd Bass, as well as the singles released from Return Of The Product, most were familiar with his more light-hearted style, and yet with "Hard But True," he quickly proves that he can be far more on the attack, without sacrificing any of his talents. Yet MC Serch takes a more positive approach on the song, as he encourages people to move beyond color, when he rhymes, "...so sit down and mingle with the devil over supper, the only difference between us and a brother is the color...instead of hittin the last nail in the coffin try to pull it out, and find out what the hard but true is all about..." This, in many ways, is the true essence of MC Serch, as he attempted to make the listener think, and proved that at so many levels, "we're all the same." It is the co-existence of this stance, along with the heavy criticisms of society that enabled MC Serch to cross so many musical boundaries, as there are elements of his music that would appeal to the "hardcore" hip-hop fans, as well as parts that could be enjoyed by fans of the more socially aware style of rapping. Even in this fact alone, one can easily understand why MC Serch remains such an icon of hip-hop, and nearly twenty years after its release, few songs can compare to the sound and power that can be found within MC Serch's 1992 classic, "Hard But True."