Redman - Biography
By Paul Glanting
Many rappers like to play up the “self-made-man” personae by juxtaposing the hardships they were born into next to the glamour they can presently afford. On the other hand, don’t expect to find New Jersey’s Redman sipping colorful drinks in any sort of swank Manhattan lounge. The smoky haze of Redman’s rhyme-delivery and his grimy charms have given new meaning to the Hip Hop mantra “keep it real.”
Growing up in Newark, New Jersey Reggie “Redman” Noble was a gangbuster force on the freestyle circuit throughout the tri-state area. Redman‘s extensive background in freestyle rap is still heavily manifested throughout his music today as his lyrics frequently project an extemporaneous quality, often sacrificing consistency of topics in exchange for unique rhyme schemes. His success on the freestyle circuit caught the attention of Erick Sermon of the legendary Hip Hop group EPMD. Redman’s first appearances were on a pair of EPMD albums with “Brothers on My Jock” from Business as Usual (Priority-1990) and “Headbanger” from Business is Never Personal (Def Jam-1992).
Sermon began working with Redman and the two would continue to collaborate throughout the nineties. In 1992, Redman released his solo debut Whut? Thee Album (Def Jam-1992). The album’s upbeat production, handled primarily by Sermon but also by Redman himself, showed the pair’s fondness for funk, with heavy chunks of sampling from Funk-pioneers like Zapp, James Brown, George Clinton, Parliament and Sly and the Family Stone. Another glowing characteristic of the album was its consistent portrayal of Redman’s dark sense of humor; topics such as the L.A. riots and sexually transmitted diseases are treated critically yet humorously. The first single from Whut? Thee Album, “Blow Your Mind” is a massive brag-heavy amalgamation of ten samples and even has several bars of Redman rapping in Korean. This is rumored to be a reference to Redman’s apparent partial Korean heritage. The album also features the track “How To Roll a Blunt.” This weed-loving anthem contains step-by-step instructions pertaining to the efficient creation of a marijuana-stuffed cigar and would foreshadow Redman as one of hip-hop’s most prolifically jovial pot-smokers. While the record originally debuted with mediocre commercial sales, it eventually reached Gold-status. Whut? Thee Album is critically considered a classic; the Source gave Whut? Thee Album 4.5 out of 5 stars and has since named it one of the top 100 Hip Hop albums of all time. In 1993, The Source named Redman the Hip Hop artist of the year.
In 1994, Redman released Dare Iz a Darkside (Def Jam-1994). While Erick Sermon produced several tracks for the record, Redman, going by his government name Reggie Noble, produced a majority of Dare Iz a Darkside. The cover art of the album saw Redman, now frequently calling himself Funk Doc, poking his head out of the ground and screaming. It’s a not-so-discreet homage to funk music as it is directly mimicking the cover of Parliament’s Maggot Brain (Westbound-1971), which has a woman’s head bursting through the ground and screaming. Thematically, the duality of Funk music’s upbeat groove being praised while simultaneously portraying Redman in agony, proved to be indisputably appropriate for the album’s content. In his own words, Redman has talked described the album: “The s*** is dark but it's still funky.” Redman has often stated that his second album is a reflection on many stressful situations he was dealing with at the time; the first single “Rockafella” is named after a protégé of Redman’s who was murdered. “Slide and Rock On” is a hectic collage of thoughts delivered in Redman’s trademark frantic rhyme scheme. The album did however, contain songs that were easier to swallow such as the second and more commercially successful single “Can’t Wait” and “A Million and 1 Buddha Spots”, which was a testament to Redman’s love affair with Mary Jane.
In 1995, The Show: Soundtrack (1995-Def Jam) was released in support of the Hip Hop documentary The Show. On the soundtrack Redman collaborated with Wu-Tang Clan member Method Man on a track titled “How High.” While the song went largely unnoticed, it would be the first of many joint efforts between the two. In fact, the duo has become one of Hip Hop’s most ubiquitous duos, joining the ranks of Outkast, Black Star and EPMD. Along with a plethora of various collaborations, Method Man and Redman have gone on to record an entire album together, film a movie and even star in a sitcom.
Muddy Waters (Def Jam-1996) was released and highly lauded. It was a rebound from Dare Iz a Darkside, which perhaps because of its bi-polarity received split reviews. Continuing his tributes to past musical legends, Redman appeared on the cover of Muddy Waters covered in mud. The late blues legend Muddy Waters was caked in mud on the cover of his 1969 album After the Rain (Chess-1969). Honoring the blues legend was indeed a clue into the musical workings on the album. The production was conducted mostly by Erick Sermon and Reggie Noble with a few others in tow, and it steered the blunted Funk Redman had become famous for, into smoother and more bluesy territory that can be heard on the Rick James-sampling “Smoke Buddha” or the stoned musings of “Whateva Man.” The dynamic between Redman and Method Man developed further on “Do What Ya Feel” where it became evident that the pair shared a loud and proud enthusiasm for debauchery and juvenile forms of entertainment, such as comic books and pro-wrestling.
Redman, along with frequent collaborators Erick Sermon and pun-loving rapper Keith Murray, had long collectively gone by the name Def Squad and in 1998 they released El Niño (Def Jam-1998). The album hit number two on the Billboard charts and the album’s sole single “Full Cooperation” gained a decent amount of popularity. Several months after El Niño, Redman released his fourth solo album Doc’s Da Name (Def Jam-1998) featuring a blunt-smoking cartoon effigy of the New Jersey-Born rapper on the cover. For the first time in his career, Redman surpassed Gold and Doc’s Da Name went Platinum. The commercial success of the album was helped by a bouncier feel and with production created with a more orthodox Hip Hop sensibility in-mind than his previous efforts. The album also had three singles “I’ll Bee Dat”, “Da Goodness” and “Let Da Monkey Out” all which landed on the charts. As would be expected, Method Man appeared on the Doc’s Da Name on the call-and-response romp "Well All Rite Cha." While not a single, the track was one of the album’s more significant tracks because it lead up to a full-length collaboration between the duo.
After collaborating regularly, Method Man and Redman released Blackout (Def Jam-1999). Being that Blackout was a collaboration between two of the ‘90’s’ most prominent Hip Hop figures, it made sense that both of their Hip Hop camps be represented; the lion’s share of the production was done by Redman’s right-hand man Erick Sermon as well as RZA who had long done the production for the Wu-Tang Clan. However, the album’s most successful single was the buzzingly infectious “Da Rockwilder” produced by Rockwilder. While the content on Blackout didn’t stray too far, if at all, from that which would be expected from the pair, the lyrical chemistry, lighthearted tone and playful wordplay helped lay the groundwork for several more mainstream collaborations between the two East-coast rappers in the future.
After several delays, Redman released Malpractice. The album reached Gold-status and contained collaborations with other established Hip Hop artists such as Missy Elliot, DMX, Method Man and Scarface as well as an intensely epic collaboration between Redman and legendary Drum & Bass DJ Adam F., “Smash Sumthin.” However, critics were unimpressed and gave Malpractice ho-hum reviews.
Redman became famous even to those who may have been unfamiliar with his music, with his appearance on MTV Cribs. The show, which usually showcases the wildly lavish palaces of celebrities, had Redman proudly showing off his grimy suburban New Jersey abode. Rather than crystal staircases, bottles of Champaign and swimming pools, Redman marched through his dimly lit digs displaying his vast collection of video games, adult movies and his barren-expect-for-fish-sticks fridge.
Redman then stepped into the acting world. A significant aspect of Redman’s acting career is that although he’s taken roles in works which are widely considered low-brow, he’s never taken himself too seriously and his acting roles have essentially followed suite with his warped music. In 2002, Redman and Method Man starred in the stoner-comedy, “How High.” The pair then starred in the Fox sitcom “Method and Red” which was a complete disaster, being cancelled within three months of its premiere. Redman then starred as himself in another critically fulminated movie, “Seed of Chucky” which was the fifth installment in the “Child’s Play” series. Redman also snagged a hefty chunk of mainstream notoriety by contributing a verse to pop-superstar Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” from her album Stripped (RCA-2002).
In 2007 Redman returned to his Hip Hop roots, dropping the notoriously delayed- four years delayed, to be exact- Red Gone Wild (Def Jam-2007). Redman has claimed that fears of under-promotion from his label Def Jam and the quickly changing pace of Hip Hop were the primary causes for the albums four-year delay. A solid fleet of top-notch collaborators such as Pete Rock, Scott Storch and Snoop Dogg backed the album.
One of the early ‘90’s true innovators, Redman continues to fuse his improvised Hip-Hop skills with his off-beat sense of humor and the result is one of the genre’s most consistent, colorful and blunted presences.