The record that ended Pete Rock & CL Smooth as a duo - as one of the most complementary and elegant duos in hip-hop history - relives, 18 years after its first release. The deluxe edition is gloriously re-mastered and includes a second CD featuring instrumental versions, remixes taken from the singles and a cappella versions. The re-mastered section is particularly remarkable, as this revitalised version of “The Main Ingredient” - with a cleaner and brighter sound - makes you feel like you are rediscovering it, sample by sample, beat by beat, as if it were the first time you heard it. It smells like new.
Now that time has given us the opportunity to put things into perspective, it's understandable why “The Main Ingredient”, originally released in 1994, caused the feeling of disappointment and demotivation that preceded the breakup. The duo never really digested the commercial failure of the record at a time when their sound was at a peak, acclaimed by both press and public. They, especially Pete Rock, had been working extremely hard on the recording of the album, taking over a year to slowly cook the material with which they wanted to take a big step forward as artists. They had expected so much more. The reception of the LP, though warm, was not as anticipated - and that left a deep mark on the aspiration for the future.
But it's legitimate to conclude that the content was not the only reason the album went by relatively unnoticed. In the first place, we have to keep in mind that “The Main Ingredient” came out 1994, a year when, if you didn't release a masterpiece, there was no way you were going to rule the North American market. That same year, Nas, Notorius B.I.G., Outkast, Method Man and Jeru The Damaja all made their debuts - and there were important albums by Organized Konfusion, Common, Gang Starr, UGK, Scarface, The Roots and Redman, among many others. With all that talent, freshness and novelty, it's understandable that Pete Rock & CL Smooth's didn't generate the same enthusiasm or catch everyone's attention. Secondly, we must not forget that the duo came from “Mecca And The Soul Brother” (1992), an impressive debut which included the generational anthem “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” - one of those rare tracks that marks the rest of a career.
Those who wanted a new “T.R.O.Y.” never got it, and people were quick to judge that the “difficult” second album wasn't as good as the first. It's true that “The Main Ingredient” doesn't contain a single as convincing and explicit as its predecessor. Furthermore, the duo milks a formula that in the end can become monotonous, redundant and simply too long. Also, it's hard to defend the lyrical part of the record - divided between a CL Smooth who sounded like he had used up all of his thematic fuel on “Mecca And The Soul Brother” and a Pete Rock who, in spite of his limited talents on the mic, wanted to play a bigger role as an MC. But even so, the album remains inexhaustible and extremely creative. Pete Rock’s production work can be considered some of the most meticulous, elaborate and complex of his career. Countless samples of Jazz, Funk and Soul make a sonic web through which the New Yorker expands his ideas: relaxed, settled, sweet and accessible.
“The Main Ingredient” is an inexhaustible and deep record of summery Rap, in the best sense of the term. It sounds sunny, optimistic, refined, light and pleasant. It's a strange oasis of relaxation in a year when all the big records were serious and menacing. You can hear the couple was looking for a more accessible and melodic sound that could have a bigger impact on the sales charts, yet they never lose their well-defined identity. It's a subtle evolution, unforced and not abrupt, which you only realise after you've listened to the album. There is no trace of a new “T.R.O.Y.”, yes, but “I Get Physical”, “I Got A Love” and “Take You There” are three fantastic hits that convincingly define the aesthetic and expressive imagery of the two. I’m sure Marley Marl would agree.
“The Main Ingredient”