'Critical Beatdown' By The Ultramagnetic MC's At 35

'Critical Beatdown' By The Ultramagnetic MC's At 35

Published Wed, October 4, 2023 at 3:15 PM EDT

Kings Of The 12" Single

Public Enemy front man, Chuck D, once called the Ultramagnetic MC's, "Kings of the 12 inch single, and perhaps truer words have never been spoken in Hip-Hop.

If ever there was an example of a group releasing groundbreaking singles which created hype and demand for a full-length album, it would be Ultramagnetic. From their 1986 "Bait" DJ Red Alert radio promo to their Next Plateau Records debut single "Ego Trippin'" the same year, Ultramagnetic was an unorthodox crew from the start.

"Ego Trippin'" with its "Synthetic Substitution" loop highlighted Kool Keith and Ced Gee's non-linear and scientific wordplay which no MC's were doing at the time.

Ced-Gee spits:" Usin' frequencies and data, I am approximate/leaving revolutions turning, emerging chemistry/with the precise implications, achieved adversely/explorating demonstrating, ruling, dominating/igniting causing friction with nuclear alarms/separates competing biters from me, the scientist/as I execute, lyricist, known as predators/when by strippin' high potents and makin' penicillin/I will surely sort out, and stomp, every pest/I'm the rampaging paramedic, Ultra is my title/to inform other worlds of such, a hellacaust/quick serve as a purpose, preparing first aid/with medical utensils, the wizard Ced Gee is advanced with elevation, astonishing with rhythm".

"Funky Potion," the B side of "Ego Trippin," is another example of the scientific and spaced out flow that Keith and Ced brought to the table. Classic A sides and dope B sides became the norm for the next few Ultra singles.

1987's "Funky" is one of Ultra's most celebrated singles. A loop of Joe Cocker's "Woman To Woman" provided the sound bed for this Ultra classic almost a decade before Dr. Dre would sample it for 2Pac's "California Love." The B side of "Funky" is "Mentally Mad," one of Ultra's best B sides, and a slept on gem in their discography.

"Traveling At The Speed of Thought" was a departure from the previous Ultra singles — with its Run-DMC- inspired flows, and interpolation of "Louie, Louie" by The Kingsmen.

The first video by the Ultramagnetic MC's is a remixed version of "Traveling" which is just as odd as the lyrical content of the group. Keith gives a precursor to his future solo output with the line "I'm travelin' onto Bellevue (mental hospital) 'cus I'm sick." The B side of "Traveling At The Speed Of Thought" is "MC's Ultra PT II," a follow up to "Ego Trippin.'"

Critical Beatdown

In October of 1988 the Ultramagnetic MC's released their debut album Critical Beatdown to a hungry underground Hip-Hop audience. Even the album cover provided entertainment — with the group standing on the corpses of several deceased MC's.

The 15 song album is a master class in sample based-production, (provided by Ced-Gee and engineered by Paul C) and is considered by many one of Hip-Hop's best full-length releases.

Critical Beatdown starts with "Watch Me Now," an uptempo banger complete with scratching by Moe Luv, followed by "Ease Back," which contains a perfectly executed loop of Public Enemy's "Terminator X To The Edge of Panic," and the popular Kool Keith line "I want it like that, I got it like that/ I have it like, I need it like that/ It's better like that I made it like that I bought it like that/ I'm living like that for you wack MC's," famously sampled for Nas' "Take It In Blood."

"Moe Luv's Theme" is a dedication to DJ Moe Luv which uses the foundational breakbeats "Frisco Disco" and "Assembly Line," with Kool Keith handling the vocal duties which praise Moe's cuts and scratches. The Paul C- produced "Give The Drummer Some" is another stand out cut which contains Keith's often quoted. "Smack my bitch up" line used by The Prodigy. "Ain't It Good To You," with its shuddering drum loop and organ stabs, is another standout on a nearly perfect album, and Keith and Ced ride the up tempo beat perfectly.

"Feelin' It," "Kool Keith Housin' Things," "Break North," and "When I Burn" round out an album with no fast forward moments. Expanded reissue versions of the album contain the original version of "Funky" (the album contains a remixed version), "Traveling At The Speed of Thought," and "Chorus Line" featuring Tim Dog. 35 years later Critical Beatdown stands as a definitive release from one of rap music's most creative era's.

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