Redhead Kingpin and the F.B.I. :: A Shade of Red :: Virgin Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[A Shade of Red] Redhead Kingpin would be an almost forgotten note in hip-hop history if he hadn't gotten a shoutout in the very first line of Nas' song "Where Are They Now." That shoutout led to Kingpin rising like a phoenix from the ashes to make a cameo appearance on the 1990's Remix of said same song, bringing back fond memories of a time when you could pull up the staples inside an issue of The Source and take out a poster featuring Kingpin and his F.B.I. crew.

Four years have passed since that watershed moment, and unfortunately we haven't heard from the Kingpin again. Fortunately old music never dies, the record jackets just get a little more dusty. I'm blowing the dust off my copy of "A Shade of Red" and taking a trip down memory lane. Most of you my age will probably remember his new jack swing crossover song "Do the Right Thing," a song which fit squarely between the musical vibes of Teddy Riley and Heavy D, and the track was quickly embraced by fans of both. Redhead's vibe may seem a little cornball in 2010, but considering the "Stop the Violence" era the song comes from, it's hard to hate on him for urging people to do good on a song that was also pretty good to dance to. In fact given how many rappers have been slain in the last decade, maybe it's time again for Redhead to be "sendin out a message on a positive note." The Riley family helps this song swing both in the chorus and on production but it's Redhead's rap that holds it down:

"Do the right thing, not talkin about a black or white thing
Cause that will cause conflict and make this illegit
But your definition of legit, and illegitimate
is confusin now the Redhead one is sent
To make things clearer, cause in about a year or
two what you do is take a look upon the mirror
And what you see is the image of hate
that you shed upon the others, the sisters and our brothers
Now in my opinion you need someone to teach
The whole world is actin like a giant Howard Beach
I asked my man Victor what he used to do for fun
He said he learned to shoot a gun before the age of 21
Crime and abortion, all kinds of mind distortion
This is very important but just a little of portion
of what you can do, just a clue, and it's true yo
Throw on a brand new sweater and make your life better
and do the right thing"

Teddy Riley would go on to produce the entire "A Shade of Red" album supporting this single, and his influence would continue to be felt in terms of the album's up-tempo hip-hop meets R&B swing. The electronic sound and hard hitting drums of "Pump it Hottie" are hard to forget if you were a hip-hop head in that era, a fast beat met by a slow Redhead rap strongly reminiscent of Young MC.

"Stepped into this jam with the F.B.I. crew
People dancin up a sweat, you know, just doin the do
I didn't know this girl, but she walked up like she knew me
Wrapped her arms around me and began to kick it to me
She explained, the way she was in love with my red hair
She said she had a room, and she wanted to take me there
The crew was sayin NOPE, but my body's sayin YUP
So I listened to the crew stepped back and told her pump it pump it hottie!"

Redhead Kingpin turned down a hot girl's advances? Well to hear him tell it, this kind of thing went on all night long, so if he accepted every single invitation he'd be overwhelmed and severely oversexed. Besides who knows what random medical conditions one might suffer if that went on unprotected? Run out and get your jimmy hats, but in the meantime if you really want to know how to impress the F.B.I. crew, you have to be able to keep up with them on the dance floor - no blood allowed. If you can't "pump it up" and keep up with their swing, you have to step off, that's just how they roll.

The rest of "A Shade of Red" reflects this attitude in varying degrees, moving from almost pure dance tracks to late 1980's hip-hop machismo song by song. "We Rock the Mic Right" has the expected Slick Rick sample along with the same "Impeach the President" beat used in a hundred songs and the "Risin' to the Top" loop from Keni Burke that Big Daddy Kane made famous on "Smooth Operator." Yes - this was from an era before sample clearance made digging in the crates a hazardous occupation. Redhead's full of braggadocious bravado, calling himself "Superbad Superslick" on one of his speedier raps, and declaring himself the quintessential "Redhead One" on another - the king of red fades, there are none higher. More than anything though, the Kingpin, the Riley and the F.B.I. just want you to have fun and "Do That Dance" until it don't move.

"Call me a schoolboy, cause I'ma school you boy
Come inside the classroom and think about the last tune
The silence was sweet you can eat, if you was hungry
Because I rest in Jersey don't think of me as turkey
Now Red is provoking you to do this dance
For those that didn't pump it up I said you had to scram
And DAMN! Sorry mom
Aiyyo I meant to say darn but let me carry on
Upon lookin on the dancefloor, I notice something strange
When they played my record, the dance style changed
The F.B.I. was swinging, my mad shake was zinging
all around the Latin Quarter, word to your daughter
Yeah yo!"

There's a playful and enjoyable innocence to "A Shade of Red," a nostalgic throwback to times when you could have a top rap hit without a menacing swagger, and nobody angrily insisting you "LISTEN TO THE TRACK" before the actual rap comes on. That said the rhyme scheme is fairly advanced for a pop rap aimed album, but fairly simple compared to the advanced techniques mastered by emcees in the 21st century. Even if "A Shade of Red" wouldn't hang in a rotation of hardcore hip-hop today, Teddy Riley's production and the Redhead One's flow can still be appreciated as a slice of hip-hop from the era in which it came. The beats still thump, the raps are delivered with no shortage of confidence, and even cornball lines like "I keep it fresh like aluminum foil" actually SEEM fresh in context. Look for this one in your local dollar bin, even though it's worth ten times that much.

Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10

Originally posted: May 4, 2010