Way before gangsta rap became the dominant and domineering style in the region, California’s hip-hop flavor of choice was electro. In stark contrast to ‘90s gangsta rap’s recycled P-Funk grooves and obsession with street authenticity, the more style-conscious West Coast electro of the 1980s looked to European synth innovators like Kraftwerk and, with keyboards and drum machines in tow, melded post-disco innovations with rap bravado to create a slick and sleek brand of futurist dance music. Unfortunately, this pivotal era of West Coast hip-hop is often ignored, both by broader musical histories and even some of the artists themselves who have a certain image they’d like to maintain (if you really want to listen to some of Dr. Dre’s best work, I’d recommend seeking out the tracks he cut in the ‘80s with the decidedly un-gangsta World Class Wreckin’ Cru).
The Egyptian Lover (real name Greg Broussard) was one of the most noteworthy exponents of West Coast electro. Taking inspiration from silent screen heartthrob Rudolph Valentino, the burly Broussard portrayed himself as an imperial lothario who could enthrall women with his deadpan come-ons. However, the Egyptian Lover’s true knack lay with his mastery of dancefloor sounds—conjured up using his beloved Roland 808 drum machine (a go-to gadget for many ‘80s dance maestros), Broussard’s grooves were ominous-sounding metallic mechanizations, forbidding and exciting at the same time.
In case you are unfamiliar with this particular side of early hip-hop history, Sound Affects aims to get you started with a listing of five essential Egyptian Lover offerings. Never short killer breaks or references to pharaonic times, the Lover is fully aware of what he has to offer, and wrings every last bit he can from it.
The Egyptian Lover has never been shy about playing up his image, and “Egypt, Egypt”, his most recognizable number, is the apotheosis of his obsession with the ancient civilization. The song is so swathed with its author’s beloved Egyptian trappings, ranging from roboticized utterances of the country’s name to generic Middle Eastern riffs, that the song could have in lesser hands come across as nothing more than a hokey novelty. However, “Egypt, Egypt” is no laughing matter, for any doubts about the track’s merits divorced from its iconography are dispelled by the righteousness of Broussard’s beats—sleek, stainless steel constructs that glide to and fro with crackling energy. Rightly, this single today remains a stone cold electro classic.
If “Egypt, Egypt” is the Egyptian Lover’s calling card, “Freak-A-Holic” is his piece de resistance, an earth-shaking, body quaking paean to its author’s insatiable lust. Amazingly, though the song’s groove is built upon the Lover’s trusty Roland 808, the forward march of technology has not diminished any of its power—its beats slam with the force of heavy industry, and can more than hold their own with today’s offerings. Lyrically, “Freak-A-Holic” paints the Egyptian Lover’s sexual appetites as so compelling that he might want to schedule an appointment with a therapist—“I’m kind of desperate / So let’s get it on,” he admits at one point, a fascinating mixture of desire and desperation for a song ostensibly intended to turn up the heat on the dancefloors. “Freak-A-Holic” never resolves its underlying tension—even its chorus neglects to provide the sort of release expected of such sections, instead opting to cling tight to the groove—and it’s all the better for it.
Be it the song’s four-minute album edit or its nine-minute single incarnation, the bloops and bleeps of early ‘80s British synthpop get plenty of play in “My House (On the Nile)”, one of the Egyptian Lover’s more melodic grooves. The song’s sartorial signifiers do cross over in outright cheesiness in spots—“My camels will bring you home” is a line that Broussard actually utters on record—but as usual, the rapper’s no-nonsense delivery manages to make the hokum sound totally boss. This cut’s Egyptian-styled hook is less cliché and more haunting than those heard in “Egypt, Egypt”, wafting in at the right moments to add a hint of danger to the Lover’s invitation.
“The Dark Side of Egypt” is certainly appropriately titled. Restless kick drum thuds and foreboding bell tones set the tone for this 1986 offering, while a chilly synth melody and the Egyptian Lover’s forbidding declarations add to the otherworldly sense of unease. “Everybody come along let’s leave this boring USA”, the Lover intones with an authorial air befitting royalty, “Egypt is the place to be where all the lovers play.” Near the song’s conclusion a cascade of “uhs” and synth tones rush jostle with one another, ratcheting up the urgency level to unsettling proportions.
Relatively sparser and less doomy than the other entries on this list, what distinguishes “The Lover” is its b-boy-friendly breaks. Got mad breakdancing skills? This is a track to help you prove it. Though the Egyptian Lover’s reputation rests (rightly) rests largely upon the caliber of his beats, his rapid-fire rhymes on the verses to this song show that he is perfectly capable of rocking a mic. Not that “The Lover” is bereft of the expected portentous declarations—“So suave / So cool / So debonair / So smooth,” Broussard coolly exhales in the chorus, his conviction unshakable that he lives up to such nonchalant boasting.
// Notes from the Road
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