Redman’s ‘Muddy Waters’ Album Is His Crown Jewel – 20 Years Later
Coming off of the release of his sophomore album, Dare Iz a Darkside, Redman was at a crossroads. Although Dare Iz a Darkside would be a commercial success, earning the New Jersey native his second consecutive gold plaque and building off of the fanfare Red had garnered from the release of his explosive 1992 debut, Whut? Thee Album, all was not well in Redman's world, with the rapper turning to hard drugs like acid to cope.
"Success happened real quick, so I was just all over the place and damn near lost my mind on the second album," Red recalled in an interview with Revolt touching on the tumultuous period in his career. Named The Source Magazine's "Rap Artist of the Year" in 1992, Redman wowed the rap fans with his debut effort, but while Dare Iz a Darkside was far from a complete dud, with tracks like "Rockafella" and "Can't Wait" both gaining traction, the album was seen by a large segment of fans as a regression from Whut? Thee Album, with Redman's increasingly trippy lyrical content leaving listeners scratching their heads in an attempt to make sense of it all.
Taking note of the mixed reviews, along with inventory of self, Redman headed back into the studio in 1995 with the sole goal being to create good music that would move the crowd and revert back to his original form. "I was telling about a Darkside, which was in myself, and as far as what's going on in the world, which people wouldn't get too open off of, but it still went gold though," Redman said in an interview.
Released on Dec. 10, 1996, Muddy Waters would be indicative of Redman's new lease on life - personally and artistically. "The whole Muddy Waters title is not about things look or how deep it can get or it can be," he explained in an interview with Joe Clair of Rap City fame. "It's just the slouchiness of the album. I surfaced from the last album, I was in the dirt last time, covered to my head. Now it's like I can surface with the mud on me now, I done came out, so it's time for me to get back open like I was on the first album."
Redman delivered what has been cited by critics as being the definitive album of his career. Hitting listeners over the head with the first single, "It's Like That (My Big Brother)," which saw the Funk Doc sparring with fellow Def Squad member K-Solo to serve up an updated take on Just Ice's classic 1986 single, "Cold Gettin' Dumb." The album itself begins with a visit from Redman's sinister fictional alter-ego Dr. Trevis urging the rapper to "stay focused" and "focus" his mind, possibly an acknowledgment of the destructive path that Redman had managed to stray from and his need to stay the course.
Although as ominous as any track on Muddy Waters, the intro would be one of the few links to Dare Iz a Darkside sonically, as Redman flips the script, eschewing more brooding soundscapes for mellow backdrops, such as "Rock Da Spot." Co-produced by Ty Fyffe and Erick Sermon, "Rock Da Spot" finds Red getting zany and injecting the track with his tried-and-true every-man humor. "I don't push a lot of vehicles, but I push a used one / With a tape deck, if it's feasible / Tell the truth, I don't own a Lex Coupe / But I get you souped when I rock respect due," he raps.
One of the first highlights on Muddy Waters is the groovy weed anthem "Pick It Up," with Redman reminding listeners of his impact on the game with lyrics like, "Listen, must we forget, I originated all that wild s--- / That rrraahh rrraaoowww s--- / That jump up and ready to f--- s--- up now s--- / Brick City!! Is where I get down kid" in between stoner innuendo.
"Smoke Buddah" continues Muddy Waters' smoking session, with Redman comandeering a sample of Rick James' timeless hit "Mary Jane" to wax poetic about the joy of partaking in the sticky icky, as well as the Erick Sermon-assisted standout "Whateva Man," a carefree, yet heavily blunted selection from Muddy Waters. "Yo, I'm rollin with a forty pack of n----s / Get my weed from Branson cause his sack's bigger, yo give me dap n----," spits Redman, sending a shout-out to Harlem's infamous high-grade marijuana supplier, over production courtesy of the Green-Eyed Bandit.
Muddy Waters also features a guest spot from Wu-Tang Clan member Method Man, whom Redman linked up with for their 1995 collaboration "How High," one of the more popular collaborative songs of that year, with the two rhymer-slingers finding kindred spirits in one another. Teaming up for the hazy track "Do What Ya Feel," Redman intentionally stayed away from giving fans a retread of the duo's platinum single, opting for a song with the two of them matching wits for the sport of it.
On the song, both rap vets spit rewindable one-liners and punchlines, beginning with Meth's opening couplet, "Who wanna flip with the acrobatic / From ground zero all the way to attic, what we be smokin, Tical / The resevoir is now open / I swim the English Channel backstrokin, you don't know me or my style." However, Redman would refuse to be outdone on his own track, coming equipped with plenty of lyrical firepower like, "I be the super-lyrical individual I be splittin' through / That Teflon material to knock Big Ben off of schedule / Better move with a set of tools / I be doin it to mics when I'm a, heterosexual." The beat was courtesy of Pras from the Fugees, and the song gives Redman and Method Man two-for-two in terms of collaborative efforts.
Much of the content on Muddy Waters serves as the beginning of Redman veering towards a more comedic, light-hearted style, but also features a few menacing songs that bring Dare Iz a Darkside to mind. "Creepin'," produced by Redman himself, sees the wordsmith getting gully and pulling off robberies and other nefarious activities over a sample of Roy Ayers' "Shining Symbol." Another track with more serious undertones is "What U Lookin' 4," which sees Redman lamenting his run-ins with law enforcement and being racially profiled as a famous rapper. Perhaps the most recognizable deep cut on Muddy Waters comes in the form of "Da Bump," which includes traces of past hits like "Tonight's da Night" and "Can't Wait,"
Additional standouts from Muddy Waters include "Yesh Yesh Y'all," "Soopaman Luva 3," which sees Redman tackling the same sample from Nas' classic open-letter "One Love," as well as "Da Ill Out," the album's lone posse cut, with Keith Murray and Def Squad protege Jamal joining forces with Redman for a lyrical free-for-all. A stickler for humorous interludes, Redman doesn't disappoint with skits like "N.I.N," "Chicken Head Convention" and "Soopaman Luva Interview" all inducing bellyaching laughter, effortlessly, adding to Muddy Waters' allure.
Upon its release, Muddy Waters would peak at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 chart and reach gold certification by February of 1997, solidifying Redman as one of the most consistent solo rappers of the '90s. Hailed by critics and listeners alike for Redman's superb lyrical performance, Muddy Waters would be the return to form that many had expected, but ultimately exceeded expectations, trumping even Red's ballyhooed debut album in terms of overall quality and cohesiveness.
Muddy Waters would also be the beginning of Redman fully settling into what would ultimately be his role as hip-hop's resident zany comedic personality, which would propel his popularity even further than before. This was evident by the follow-up Doc's da Name 2000, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and would yield Redman his first platinum plaque of his career, largely off the strength of the hit single "I'll Bee Dat."
Collaborative albums with Def Squad (El Nino), as well as Method Man, 1999's Blackout!, would follow, the latter earning him his second platinum plaque, as well as a foray into Hollywood with the film How High, which would capitalize on Redman's hilarious, every-man stoner persona.
But the genesis of Redman's stardom from being an underground stalwart into one of rap's most entertaining personalities began with Muddy Waters, which is arguably the crown jewel in the Brick City legend's solo discography.