If I asked you to name the most underrated rapper of all time who would you answer? What about the most underrated album of all time? I used to hesitate at this question, not anymore. Not since I found “Youngest In Charge”, by Special Ed.
The little known Cosby Show guest is of Jamaican descent, an apparent unique touch on his music, a fruit fallen off the HipHop apple tree: Brooklyn, or as the natives call it “The Bush. You can catch the bustle of NYC in the background of his music videos, another reason why I like him so much. This man was sixteen years old at the time of recording his first album, Youngest In Charge. He couldn’t even drive a car, yet he was driving some of the purest hip hop of the era to the ears of his listeners through the vehicle of choice…….the microphone. As I write this at sixteen, he makes me wonder what I’ve done with my sixteen years thus far.
I just implied Special Ed was the most skilled rapper of all time. I meant it. Every time I hear one of his songs, I get lost in anything I am doing. I forget that I’m even listening to music. Transfixed by his endless metaphors, similes, and downright rhythm and flow. It sounds like authentic free style, taking me on a ride and then dropping me off at the doorstep of the real HipHop residence. Every time his last verse comes to an end, even though I knew it was coming, I just sit there in shock and am almost upset that it’s over.
We are all familiar with “I Got it Made.” But take for instance his song “The Mission” to catch a glimpse of the talent flowing off the tongue of the sixteen year old. The song begins with a nasty cut up of Salt ‘n Peppa – a group deserving an accolade all their own. The homemade beat is the kind that when it comes on, you just break out in rhythm. It only gets better, Ed captures his lyrics in a net of, (again), metaphors and similes. And it’s not like those lines are completely disconnected, just being spat into a microphone, but those lines are part of a story. He literally goes on a mission to Japan, hunting down a pirate copy of his music. As he goes on, the rhyme feels endless, it has everything you could ask for.
Rewind. How about those metaphors and similes again? If you couldn’t tell, this might be my favorite part of HipHop because it highlights the creativity and skill required in commanding language and word play. All the essential ingredients that make a real emcee. When it comes to true emcees, Special Ed is like the Michael Jordan of HipHop. Don’t believe me? When you’re done reading this, go and listen to the album right through.
Now let’s talk about his rhyme scheme for a second. I can’t name anyone who has done it better. Special Ed took cross rhyming to another level. (For those who don’t know, cross rhyming is, put simply, when an artist rhymes the final syllable of one line with a middle syllable of the next. This allows him to take us on those complete stories all while maintaining his pattern and getting new words to rhyme with. For example, “And I make all the money from the rhymes I invent / So it really doesn’t matter, how much I spent, because, yo / I make fresh rhymes, daily.”) Maybe it’s the innocence of his rhymes that really gets me, “And when my dishes got dirty I got Cascade. When the weather was hot, I got a spot in the shade.” Who wouldn’t love a kid rapping about the dishes?
“Special Ed got caught in the crossfire between the slapstick rhymes of Slick Rick and the serious tones of Public Enemy and NWA.”
So then what happened to Edward Archer? After his follow up album “Legal” in 1990, Ed would surface here and there. He joined the Brooklyn super group “Crooklyn Dodgers” with Masta Ace and Buckshot to record a couple of Spike Lee movie soundtrack joints. He even turned up for an unaccredited 2 second clip in the 1992 movie “Juice”. But it wasn’t until 1995 that he would make a significant return to hip hop, when he released his third studio album “Revelations”. I think by this time hip hop had already shifted a couple of gears. Many huge game changing albums had been and gone, raising the bar to new heights. It all comes down to timing. By the time “Youngest In Charge” was released 1989, HipHop was already in a transition period. It was moving away from the innocence and happiness of Kurtis Blow and Biz Markie and quickly on the move towards a much needed call to action and representation of the hardships of black life in America. Special Ed got caught in the crossfire between the slapstick rhymes of Slick Rick and the serious tones of Public Enemy and NWA. I often wonder how different things might have been had Special Ed came along a few years earlier. Despite this Ed’s debut still managed to shift over 500 thousand units.
The next time someone asks you for the most underrated rapper of all time, play them a song off “Youngest In Charge” or “Legal“. Just make sure you don’t go hitting play when you’re in a place you don’t want to start pulling out moves you never thought you had in your bag, because that’s the magic of Special Ed. Caught in crossfire or not, this man is one that goes way too unrecognized and must be thanked for his contributions to HipHop culture.