Ultimate Force: I’m Not Playin’ + Revolution of the Mind
From I’m Not Playin’ (Strong City, 1990)

The first time I ever “heard” an Ultimate Force song was when Diamond D, on his debut solo album, “took a breakbeat and broke it,” that is – he took a snippet from “I’m Not Playin'” and plugged it into “Check, One Two.” That little slice (itself taken from Albert King’s funky blues great “Cold Feet”) was intriguing just by itself but it wouldn’t be until later that I learned: ah, this is from “I’m Not Playin'”, one of the only singles Ultimate Force ever put out, back in the day (by the way, there was also a Ultimate Supreme Force that recorded on Nia I believe but that’s not the same group).

Spin back 20 years: Ultimate Force was the pairing of MC Master Rob and DJ Diamond D – friends from Forest Projects – and they were down with the great Jazzy Jay who put their song on his Cold Chillin’ In the Studio compilation. That lead to an album which, though recorded, never got released – one of the countless victims of poor record label insight and business execution.

Normally, the story would end there. Even “I’m Not Playin'” ending up on the excellent Ego Trip’s The Big Playback comp wasn’t enough to get things moving but somehow, someway, this year, the Ultimate Force album finally came out. And hey, it only took some 17 years!

What you’ll find is that a young Diamond D still knew how to produce his off of (and having Jazzy Jay to help doesn’t hurt) and Master Rob is one of those MCs who deserved to have recorded more given his sharp vocal touch and rhyme skills. Would this album have taken its place amongst the classics of the era? Probably not on some AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted level but it would have been up there with, say, Grand Daddy I.U.’s Smooth Assassin or D-Nice’s Call Me D-Nice. *sigh* I feel old right now.

I’ll say this much: “I’m Not Playin'” is still one of my favorite cuts from the late ’90s – the sh– just hits so hard. Apparently, Rob wasn’t a fan of the track at first but clearly, Diamond knew what he was doing in hooking this up. By the way, they also reissued this song on 12″ which is cool though if you want to be a real head about it, cop the OG on the blue Strong City label.

As for “Revolution of the Mind” – the song makes me hella nostalgic for the early ’90s. Let’s be real: that’s about the only time a song like this could have gone over with its political/conscious lyrics and a beat that sounds better tied into Kwame than DITC). Ah, takes me back to the days of rap cassettes, Cross Colours tees and trips to Leopold’s… (Speaking of which, will someone please reissue this album already?).

P.S. Speaking of The Coup – you read this and 1) you realize why Boots Riley stays as committed as he does and 2) it’s just another reminder of why the police’s public reputation seems to ever-plunging.

P.P.S. While we’re on the hip-hop tip, can I just say something? I like Common. Always have. He’s always been a pleasure to interview and is one of the few artists who’ve shown some maturity, especially in going from a pretty virulent homophobe to someone who seems more at peace with himself and others. I didn’t think Be was an instant classic, still don’t understand why folks were so enthusiastic about it even though it surely wasn’t a bad album. I did have a chance to listen to Finding Forever (read my Vibe review when they drop it, suckas) and thought it was, altogether, a considerably stronger album, song for song. But then I see this and I sigh. I mean…seriously, this is just bad. It makes Lupe Fiasco’s cover look like this cover. Also, that hoodie he’s rocking (from The Gap?) looks unfortunately like the late Rick James’ beaded coif. Altogether, not a good look.