MC Shan's 'Born To Be Wild' At 35

MC Shan's 'Born To Be Wild' At 35

Published Thu, October 26, 2023 at 12:00 PM EDT

Cold Chillin'

It was 1988, the year regarded as the genre's best for full length releases.

Marley Marl released and produced his compilation album In Control, Volume 1, Biz Markie's debut album Goin' Off and Big Daddy Kane's debut Long Live The Kane. Marley Marl, The Juice Crew, and their recording home Cold Chillin' Records were amongst the most talked about and celebrated entities in Hip-Hop. Although MC Shan didn't appear on the groundbreaking track, "The Symphony," from In Control Volume 1, his critically acclaimed song, "Give Me My Freedom" appeared on the project and was the first thing that he'd released since his debut album Down By Law the year before.

MC Shan

Perhaps it was the "bridge wars," which Shan was a principal player in, or the fickle nature of Rap fans, but history seldom position's Shan and his influence accurately. His 1985 breakout hit, "Marley Scratch," although not nearly the first DJ dedication song was one of the most influential. Shan's cadence and laid back vocal tone was a departure from the more aggressive in your face delivery of Run, LL COOL J and many MCs of that time.

Shan's "Feed The World" was far from a hit, in fact it's actually the source of KRS-One's line, "You got dropped off MCA 'cus the rhymes you wrote was wack" on "South Bronx." What the single did represent, was one of the first instances of an independent Rap artist being picked up by a major label, in this case MCA Records.

Shan's verse on 1987's "Juice Crew All-Stars" marked the first time that a posse cut verse went "viral." His line, "Write one rhyme and for years you run it, I sit and write a rhyme, when I'm done get blunted" gave birth to the still popular phrase "get blunted" as the act of smoking blunts.

Down By Law was the first release on Fly Ty and Marley Marl's Cold Chillin' Records which later partnered with Warner Brothers on the strength of Shan's debut project. When Shan's sophomore album Born To Be Wild was scheduled to be released he was asked to delay the release so that Juice Crew newcomer Big Daddy Kane could release his debut, and Shan obliged.

Born To Be Wild

The word underrated is used often in Hip-Hop, sometimes accurately, sometimes not. Born To Be Wild is definitely an under-appreciated and underrated album. It contains what is arguably some of Marley Marl's best production and MC Shan's pen was on fire. The first single, "I Pioneered This," with its "Risin' To The Top" loop and Rufus Thomas drums showcased Shan's top tier lyricism. "This is the long, 'cus I can't take a short take/ you're softer than creme between pieces of short cake," he spit at competitors.

While many MCs created Rap ballads (Shan was early with "Left Me Lonely"), Shan flipped the idea into break up songs. "She's Gone" is musically similar to '87's "Left Me Lonely" with Andre Booth's keyboard work and Shan reflecting on lost love. "Juice Crew Law" with its hard drums, and Shan's aggressive delivery marked one of the last time's that Shan would address KRS-One and their ongoing war of words that started with '87's "South Bronx."

"Words of A Freestyle," "Never Rock A Party," "So Def," and "Back To The Basics" are some of the best examples of the chemistry that Shan and Marley share, and some of the strongest moments on the album. "Born to Be Wild," "Go For Yours" and "They Used To Do It Out In The Park" complete what many fans consider Shan's best output. Born To Be Wild holds up extremely well as a gem from one of rap's most creative periods.

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