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Reality check

Hitting the court with G Love and Special Sauce



Any pick-up game of basketball can be improved if someone brings a boom-box and a bit of G Love and Special Sauce. Aside from the fact that G Love has written several songs concerning basketball (“Shooting Hoops,” “I-76”), his music actually parallels the rhythm of the game. The meandering rhythm-and-blues-meets-off-the-cuff-raps-and-vocals comes off as pleasantly sloppy as a behind-the-back pass that shoots out of bounds. In such situations, it’s style, not execution, that is important.

G Love doesn’t take himself too seriously. Even if his vocals stretch out too long, the beginning of a new stanza landing on the wrong beat, it’s done in such a way that it really doesn’t matter. To put it another way, these slippery blues raps are much like the finger-painting of a pre-schooler in the midst of a post-apple juice sugar rush. The painting that results may appear chaotic, but somewhere, there is a method to the madness, and this is what keeps the painting hanging up in that toddler’s parents’ house until he or she is not a toddler anymore.

And then there’s a side of G Love that is not sloppy. This is the side that took to the court for the well-wrought, fine-tuned sounds of 1997’s Yeah, It’s That Easy. Still good music for that pick-up game, but this time around it works better with a bread-and-butter smooth pick-and-roll. Loose and freeform or tight and well-managed, G Love and Special Sauce clearly have the skills to pay the bills in rap, blues, jazz and, occasionally, rock.

The hilarious opening line to Steve Martin’s film breakthrough, 1979’s The Jerk, finds Martin’s lovable idiot Navin R. Johnson stating, “I was born a poor black child.” What does this have to do with G Love, you ask? Well, consider that G Love grew up in an era when rapping was generally reserved for blacks, particularly those in ghettos. Sure, Blondie had done her thing, but no one really knew what she was saying (to this day, I think). And here’s G Love, this white kid from Philadelphia, making a go at what had basically been an exclusively black sound. It was as if G Love had been born a poor black child.

G Love’s blues/rap sound has withstood the test of time thus far, probably due to the fact that, from the onset of his group’s existence, these guys have bucked the rap trends. When others were rapping about ghetto life (something G Love wouldn’t really relate to personally), G Love rapped about love, friendship and the simple joys of sitting down with a bottle of soda pop and a fresh comic book.

When those others stopped rapping about ghetto life and started rapping about cars, money and girls, G Love rapped about homelessness. Which is not to say G Love is some sort of patron saint—after all, he did sell the rights to the song “Cold Beverage” to Coors for one of those beer commercials where everyone becomes incredibly sexy because they are drinking a certain brand of beer.

Nonetheless, G Love and Special Sauce have never fallen into the trap of becoming a novelty act. The “Yo, this white dude can rap” thing only takes you so far, as Eminem is finding out. What Eminem is grappling with these days, and what G Love and Special Sauce knew when Eminem was still scrawling rhymes in his high school English journal, is the importance of establishing oneself as a musician, as opposed to “the white boy who can rhyme” (see Vanilla Ice for details on the grisly conclusion to this approach). G Love and Special Sauce have focused on their musicianship, and it has paid dividends.

Still, you have to wonder exactly how “special” Special Sauce feels, since the press has understandably flocked to photogenic and charismatic lead-man G Love. But it’s really Jimi “Jazz” Prescott on upright bass and Jeffrey “Houseman” Clements on drums that keep G Love on track. Prescott’s walking basslines are at the forefront of the Special Sauce sound, embellished by Clements’ wonderfully erratic snare hits. By the time G Love has chimed in on guitar and harmonica, it’s all over. The crowd is in their hands—as well they should be. In an era of rappers selling shock value in between mic checks, G Love offers a much-needed reality check, especially for those of us who can’t possibly relate when Puffy raps of “More Money, More Problems.”

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