Cast your mind back over 2 decades to a time when gangsta rap was the most popular sub genre in hip hop, and N.W.A. where arguably the most influential gangsta rap group of them all. With their highly controversial lyrics, ice cool personas and “don’t give a f**k” attitudes, every teenage rap fan across the world was bumping “fuck the police” whilst somehow managing to keep the music from reaching the ears of their parents.
After reaching the highest heights of rap stardom the group eventually disbanded, with Ice Cube and Dre going on to have huge solo success while Yella traded music production for porn production. It was the villain MC Ren that would continue to carry the torch for Ruthless records even after Eazy E’s passing in 1994. After the initial success of his platinum selling debut EP “Kizz My Black Azz” in 1992, the rest of Ren’s Ruthless catalogue seemed to pass by relatively unnoticed, including his 1993 classic “Shock Of The Hour”.
Not long after “Kizz My Black Azz” dropped, Ren began working on a highly anticipated follow up project called “Life Sentence”, but this was later scrapped while he converted to the Nation of Islam. Armed with a new philosophy, the Life Sentence project morphed into “Shock of the Hour” which dropped late 1993. Shock Of The Hour plays out in a very similar fashion to that of RBX’s 1995 debut “The RBX Files“. The first half of the album is standard MC Ren. “Same Old Shit”, All Bullshit Aside” and “You Wanna F**k Her” are all reminiscent of the hard edged gangster lyrics that he pioneered in his N.W.A days, but as you progress to the second half of the CD (or side 2 for those of us who owned the original cassette tape) you can quite clearly hear the influences of his new found faith.
“The album may have isolated a large demographic of fans who where just not ready for this new radical incarnation of MC Ren”
Back in 1993 as a teenage white boy from the north of England, the albums concept and militant lyrics where a little difficult to comprehend. It sounded nice musically but it all felt a bit surreal that I was buying an album that called for an all out war on white people. Ironically it was the second half of the album with it’s NOI theology, apocalyptic imagery and scriptural references that I grew to love the most and as time passed and my understanding of world affairs deepened so too did my understanding of the concepts behind tracks like “Attack On Babylon” and the urgency to bring down the Babylonian system that enslaves all who are blinded by it diseased ideology. It is my belief (for the reasons stated above), that this album may have sparked a sudden decline in Ren’s popularity. My theory is that Ren undoubtedly had a huge fanbase and of that fanbase I estimate at least half were of the Caucasian persuasion and that’s just a modest estimate when you take in to account the massive European hip hop scene. I feel that the album may have isolated a large demographic of fans who where just not ready for a radical new incarnation of Ren. Even with all the follow up albums with titles that hinted heavily at a return of the original Ren (“The Villain in Black, Ruthless for Life and Reincarnated) it was always going to be hard to regain the momentum.
In my opinion, Shock Of The Hour is the greatest of all Ren’s solo work and it’s the album that I always regularly return to. Everything on it sounds classic. Production is mint with the bulk of it coming from Tootie and Dr Jam who really manage to create a dark apocolyptic backdrop for Ren to get down on. In terms of guest appearances Ren pretty much handles the album himself but there are a couple of great posse cuts, “One False Move” with Dollar Bill, Da Konvicted Felon, and Don Jaguar and one my favourite tracks on the album “Mr Fuck Up” that has the Villain teaming up with ‘The Whole Click’.
Like many other early 90’s Ruthless albums, including; “Above The Law – Uncle Sams Curse” and “Kokane – Funk Upon A Rhyme“, Shock Of The Hour is also one of the hardest Ren albums to come by with prices fluctuating wildly. When you see one listed for anything less than £25 you can be pretty confident it’s a bootleg or a Japanese re-press.
To sum it up, “Shock of the Hour” is a strong effort from one of rap’s more underappreciated contributors.