Pimp of the Year (or is it)
“And then… Suga Free had walked down from the mountain of Pomona. And I saw that he had two tablets in his hands. And on these tablets, were pimp rules and regulations…And he dropped one of the tablets and it busted into a million, a bazillion pieces and could never be read again. But one of them was left for human consumption and, right there in front of me, he named it Just Add Water.
—Katt Williams, “Intro”
Ladies and Gents, Homies and Haters, Players and Squares:
I’d like to welcome you to the 2006 Player’s Ball. Unlike the high profile banquets to which you’ve become accustomed, we’re gonna bring the funk at the outset, like it ought to be brought, without mouthwash sponsors and without commercial interruption. We’re gonna start things off with the award you put your feet to the concrete in order to see. That’s right, the Award for Best Pimp in a Pimpstramental Situation. Leave the mystery to that little lady from that TV Show Murder She Wrote because I’m gonna tell you right now who the winner is: it’s Suga Free, playing himself on his album Just Add Water. Also unlike those other banquets, we don’t hand out plastic trophies or Mini-Me statues. If you win an award at the Player’s Ball, you’ll get the ultimate respect: a tip of the player’s hat. So go ahead and give it up for Suga Free. Tip your hat at your boy.
Of course, when it comes to pimpin’, we here at the Player’s Academy know how touchy this subject can be. Rumor was, Malcolm X, Mr. Tibbs, and the Fresh Prince (that is, Denzel Washington, Sidney Poitier, and Will Smith) persuaded Terrence Howard (nominated for his pimpalicious role in Hustle & Flow) not to perform “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” at the 2006 Oscars because the song might be offensive. Mr. Washington said the rumor was nonsense and that, of course, takes care of that. But even after Taraji Henson and our Three 6 Mafia homies got on the Oscar stage and laid the smack down, people were still heated. Writer Jill Nelson stated that the song’s Oscar win was “a measure of how far we haven’t come” and “[a]s if the performance of that number weren’t enough, we were treated to Three 6 Mafia, barely able to speak English, accepting their award”. Check that out..
Brothas and sistas, Ms. Nelson gets major props for her writing, in particular Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience and Finding Martha’s Vineyard: African Americans at Home on an Island. Her view on the Oscars is noteworthy and seemingly shared by others. Nevertheless, we at the Academy ain’t mad at you players for being players. Like The Godfather‘s Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) told Virgil “the Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) in the Don’s polite refusal to join the latter’s drug trafficking scheme, “It doesn’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand.” We like to keep our zone hater-free.
Likewise, instead of debating the anti-pimp position, I suggest you aspiring young players recognize that the sentiment is out there and, as long as hip-hop continues to be dominated by testosterone, the arguments will rage on. What y’all need to do, then, is learn the rules of the game, as demonstrated by brotha Suga Free. That way, if you do end up in the mix, you can catch up on your pimpin’ and be nonstick to the commentators like Teflon. Here’s the top five:
Rule #1: Learn from past players
One of the original gangstas from back in the day, Rudyard Kipling, wrote his own “hard-out-here-for-a-pimp” poems called “If” and “White Man’s Burden”. In “If”, he advises against being a player hater, saying don’t “give way to hating” when you’re “being hated”. Suga Free heeds this advice. On the DVD that accompanies Just Add Water he discusses his beefs only to say that he’s not into making dis records. “That right there [the microphone] is for teaching, it’s not for disrespecting another Black man.” Also in “If”, Kipling says, “And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise”. Again, Suga Free takes heeds, leading off his song “Peace of Mind” with a dialogue in which he and one of his lady friends get into an argument over cleaning up the house. The house is a mess and when he brings it up, homegirl lets him have it. He definitely took Kipling’s “don’t look too good” advice to heart.
In true player fashion, Suga Free peppers his album with words of wisdom, such as this gem, “As long as you get all the chickens in one bunch, you ain’t gotta worry about goin’ to the fox. The fox gon’ come to you”. When he says, “Love don’t mix with this pimpin’”, he’s taking a page from one of the master pimpologists, Niccolo Machiavelli, who said this: “Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved…”
Some business schools make Machiavelli required reading. If it’s good enough for future management, it’s good enough for a future HPIC (Head Pimp In Charge).
Rule #2: Have a sense of humor.
In addition to Kipling and Machiavelli, Suga Free got his game and his lingo from more contemporary sources, specifically from singer Morris Day and rappers Too $hort and E-40. Suga Free’s voice often sounds similar to Too $hort’s and he keeps his flow on par with 40-Water’s breakneck pace on tracks such as “Like What”, “U Ain’t Knowin’”, and “So Fly”.
But it’s in the image department where Suga Free shows his true knowledge of the game, rolling out a comedic persona that rivals Morris Day’s show stealing antics in Purple Rain. In that movie, Morris Day was straight pimpin’ when he made the Kid’s (Prince’s) girlfriend Apollonia the lead singer in his Victoria Secret wearing trio, singing the song “Sex Shooter”. We forgave Morris’ devious ways because he was likable and, in the end, he looked like he was going to start crying all over Jerome during the Kid’s grand purple finale.
Similarly, Suga Free, who says on the DVD that he worked with members from The Time, displays plenty of personality in the dressy, flashy photos and funny poses in the CD booklet. Introspective and surprisingly forthcoming songs like “The Ranger” and “Peace of Mind” also give you the feeling you’re listening to a pimp who, deep down, has a heart of gold. Moreover, it doesn’t hurt to have funny guest appearances by comedian Kat Williams to keep things light. As a result, Suga Free arguably presents a parody of pimpdom in which the Iceberg Slims of the world are seen as caricatures in a funhouse mirror. The result is entertainment that borders on incisive cultural critique.
Rule #3: Be unpredictable.
There ain’t nothin’ worse than a predictable pimp. If everybody knows what’s comin’, they can dodge your slaps before your hand even starts to move. Suga Free knows how to maintain a strong pimp hand, keeping his listeners guessing on every song, which isn’t easy when you’ve got 25 tracks, including interludes. From James Brown, he got the album’s first full song, “What U Want”, an introduction to Suga Free’s world in the form of a funk workout built over Brown’s “Mother Popcorn” groove. Along with some wicked horn play, Suga Free’s imitation-is-flattery routine of Brown’s showmanship is hilarious. Pick any song in the bunch and Suga Free is sure to say something you’d never expect. At times, he can say things that go over the top but, by George Jefferson, I’d be lying if I said Just Add Water wasn’t one of the freshest approaches to music this year.
Want more surprises? If you didn’t think a brotha would sing on a hip-hop album, you might want to reconsider that, as Suga Free shows decent chops on the ‘80s-tinged “U Know My Name” and the fabulously bouncy R&B song “Don’t Worry”. Would you expect a rapper to sing an entire song in a falsetto? No? Well, think again, Players. Suga Free belts it out on “The Ranger” something like Pharrell Williams did on “Frontin’” on the Neptunes’ The Neptunes Present… Clones. I bet y’all didn’t see that comin’. It’s like Suga Free listened to Prince’s “Kiss” one time too many and became supercharged with funk. Speaking of which…
Rule #4: Be like Prince
As demonstrated by his appearance on the 2006 American Idol finale, Prince is cool. People like Prince. He could comb his hair in the middle of a performance (which he did) and nobody would say anything about it (and nobody did, ‘til now). On Just Add Water, Suga Free has plenty of Princely moments. For one, “Peace of Mind” features a combination of samples from Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and Prince’s “Erotic City”. The result is brilliant. For another, there’s the “Con-tra-ver-see” chant in “U Ain’t Knowin’”. Later, on track 24 (yeah, the album is over an hour long, which could be its main weakness), the lyrics in “Boyfriend” (constructed around the phrase “If I was your boyfriend…”) recall Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend”. Meanwhile, “Happy” has a synthesizer and percussion combo that will remind you of Prince’s ‘80s work with Sheila E. Even when you’re in Cali, you can never go wrong with Minneapolis Funk.
Rule #5: Hang with other (respected) players
Pooling your player resources is not only economical, it’s appealing to consumers. Don’t forget, Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah), is Swahili for “cooperative economics” and one of the seven principals of Kwanzaa. Here, Suga Free shares the mic with a VIP list of guest stars: Blaqthoven (“Person 2 Person”, “Boyfriend”), Marlon (“Happy”), Kokane (“Suga Cain”), Short Khop (“Short Khop Interlude”), and Snoop Dogg (“So Fly”). There’s also his West Coast-meets-Japan joint, “If You Feel Me”, where he puts the theory behind Ludacris’ “Pimpin’ All Over the World” to the test. Suga Free’s California love plus singer Asami’s lilting voice, in what at least partly sounds like Japanese, is a winner. Other hot and fresh tracks are the reggae-laced “Put Ya Hands Up” and the Parliament-worthy “Suga Cain”.
And there you have it, Players and Playerettes. Suga Free has shown us the way. While it’s a lengthy project, its humor and musicianship represent the best of the West Coast while taking an expansive approach to making music that goes beyond its genre. One more time, everbody. Tip your hat at your boy.
Suga Free - Thinking