November 05, 1990 12:00 PM


With this year’s flood of new and seasoned artists, rap music has already entered a sort of golden age. Suddenly performers are improving and refining the style, pushing it in new directions.

This fall, New York City rappers Salt-N-Pepa will begin a national tour to belatedly promote their third album. Blacks’ Magic, which was released last spring. The album, one of the year’s best, innovates by infusing rap with contagious dance music. Salt-N-Pepa (Cheryl James and Sandy Denton) enlisted such talented singers as Jacci McGhee and Joyce Martin to help them deliver the melodic breaks between the spoken rap. Never preachy or false, they pour out a feisty fusion of funk and positive attitude as they deliver lyrics that express pride in being black and female.

They rap with refreshing candor, and put down the prudishness of censorship groups, on “Let’s Talk About Sex”: “Don’t be coy, avoid or make void the topic/ ‘Cause that ain’t gonna stop it…Those who think it’s dirty have a choice/Pick up the needle, press pause or turn the radio off.”

On his first album, Master Ace (real name: Duval Clear) keeps his music simple in order to show off his virtuosity as a street rhymer. Though he wastes his talent in songs that merely tout his rapping prowess, Ace flourishes in other numbers that speak in the voices of troubled ghetto residents.

“The Other Side of Town,” for instance, begins with the familiar spiel of a panhandler, then describes the life of poverty that leads people to become beggars. Ace, who uses vulgar language sparingly and appropriately, depicts the frustration of a hungry child at school who screams, “F—-geometry! My stomach is empty!” In other songs Ace insists that positive action, not self-pity, is needed to ameliorate the problems he describes. “I see plenty of sunshine in the sky,” he raps in the title tune. “Maybe next time, instead of complaining, you’ll go out and get a piece of the pie.”

Shinehead combines sharp lyrics, infectious energy and bright melodies and rhythms. After growing up on the island of Jamaica and in the Bronx, Shinehead (real name: Edmund Carl Aiken Jr.) parlayed his background into a musical mix of rap and reggae. While both genres sometimes include tedious repetition, Shinehead sprinkles his music with entertaining surprises. He imitates Humphrey Bogart, stretches the jingle from the Mario Brothers video game into a funky background melody and croons part of the Sammy Cahn chestnut “Love and Marriage,” Like Salt-N-Pepa and Master Ace, Shinehead often delivers an encouraging message to poor urban kids. “As entertainers we were put into the position to teach/Not to abuse freedom of speech,” he sings in the title song.

In fact, he and a lot of other rappers perform that task while creating fine, fun music. (Salt-N-Pepa: Next Plateau; Master Ace: Reprise/Cold Chillin’; Shinehead: Elektra)

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