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STETSASONIC (Buy CDs by this artist)
On Fire (Tommy Boy) 1986
In Full Gear (Tommy Boy) 1988
Sally EP (Tommy Boy) 1988
Blood, Sweat & No Tears (Tommy Boy) 1991

A fine example of rap's producer-oriented developmental process, Brooklyn's Stetsasonic began as a trio of rappers (Daddy-O, Delite and Fruitkwan), a keyboardist/drummer/scratcher (DBC) and two mixers (Prince Paul and Wise). The sound of On Fire is hard and spare: one-at-a-time raps over rhythm tracks (including human beat box noises) with sporadic bits of music added. Topics are likewise familiar ("My Rhyme," "Faye," "Bust That Groove"), but Stetsasonic has a decisive sound that takes full advantage of the varied voices.

Prince Paul (Huston) subsequently emerged as a talented and successful second-generation producer, working with Queen Latifah, De La Soul, 3rd Bass and others. Meanwhile, Daddy-O, Wise and DBC all gained enough studio skills to produce tracks for the diverse and marvelously entertaining In Full Gear.

As a precursor to Stet's second coming, the Sally 12-inch contains two versions of the title tune (which faintly resembles — without quoting — Wilson Pickett and Sly Stone) and three mixes of "DBC Let the Music Play," which surprisingly almost uses a rock drumbeat for its bed. The album itself adds a customized version of the Floaters' 1977 soul classic, "Float On" (with labelmates the Force M.D.'s guesting), a bottom-heavy lesson in musical geography ("Miami Bass") and a dozen more entertaining mixtures of genial hip-hop, '70s soul, amusing raps and other expressions of the group's fertile imagination.

Despite the liner notes' dubious claim that "Stetsasonic is the one and only Hip Hop Band and the future of soul music," there's no argument that the ambitious Blood, Sweat & No Tears is extraordinary, an engaging state-of-the-art album seamlessly loaded with diverse music, thoughtful and/or amusing raps and more friendly family atmosphere than an Italian wedding. With positive power and enough production and rhyming talent for three groups, the six-man crew (now including a fulltime drummer) covers a wide range of topics — from politics ("Free South Africa," "Corporate America"), social issues ("Ghetto Is the World") and autobiography ("To Whom It May Concern," "The Hip Hop Band," "Heaven Help the MF's") to peers ("Uda Man," "Do You Remember This"), a favorite fan ("Speaking of a Girl Named Suzy") and parties ("So Let the Fun Begin"). Marvelous.

[Ira Robbins]