Filed under: Flavor Unit Special,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Though in recent years the name Flavor Unit has been seen only as Queen Latifah‘s production and management company, it’s origins can be traced back to 1987, when a young New Jersey-based rapper named Latee teamed-up with local DJ, Mark The 45 King to kick some lyrics over a dope Fatback Band loop. Dubbing the track “This Cut’s Got Flavor”, it became a staple on Red Alert‘s Kiss-FM show, and was eventually released as a single on Wild Pitch records. This lead to the formation of the Flavor Unit, a crew which has seen three very different incarnations over the years.
Very few of the original squad, who I’ll be focusing on in this series, were still part of the team by the time Roll Wit The Flava dropped in 1994. Only Queen Latifah, Latee and Apache made it through to the second round (Naughty By Nature, Nikki D, Freddie Foxxx and D-Nice were some of with the new additions) and by the time Latifah assembled a third set of rappers to hold down the “Unit” title, she was the only remaining connection to the name.
Pinning down exactly who made up the first (and easily the best) version of the Unit is also difficult. The core members were Latee, Apache, Lakim Shabazz, Double J, Lord Alibaski, Chill Rob G and Queen Latifah. Markey Fresh, Ron Delite and Jamose were also closely affiliated with the 45 King and Louis Vega, but weren’t officially in the crew.
Taken from the The Flavor Unit album, which is pretty dope despite it’s corny “fruit-flavored” cover artwork, “Flavor Unit Assassination Squad” features most of the original clique, and also contains one of Latifah’s best verses ever, serving as a reminder of her formidable mic skills before she moved on to conquer Hollywood. The fellas rep the signature deep-voiced, “macho” delivery that let the comp know that this was some serious shit right here, and Double J makes his final appearence with the crew before he broke out to record his solo album without the 45 King. Speaking of DJ Mark, for this piece he orchestrates another masterful combination of gritty horn stabs and JB grunts over a driving guitar riff for the crew to flex on, solidifying his spot as one of the greatest rap producers of all time.
Without the 45 King’s involvement, the second Flavor Unit album was far less effective, cluttered with Naught By Nature and their various weed carriers (Rottin Razkels, anyone?). Thanks to contributions from new members Freddie Foxxx and D-Nice, as well as new material from Apache and his brother Latee, this project wasn’t a complete waste of time. It also featured that “Hey Mr DJ” song which was a huge hit forJhane/Zhane. The title track, “Roll Wit The Flava”, assembled most of the cast from the album in addition to a few ringers such as Black Sheep and the Fu-Schnickens. D-Nice handles production, and Freddie Foxxx steals the show when he announces that he’s sporting “burn marks on my hips from my twin glocks”.
As for The Unit, I steered well clear of that train wreck, so I can’t really add much, although the cover pretty much sums it up.
The Flavor Unit featuring Queen Latifah, Lakim Shabazz, Lord Alibaski, Apache and Double J – Flavor Unit Assassination Squad (The 45 King Presents The Flavor Unit, Tuff City, 1990)
The Flavor Unit MCs – Roll Wit The Flava [Roll Wit The Flava, Epic, 1993]
Note: The first Flavor Unit album was re-released as Queen Latifah Present The Original Flavor Unit, with a different cover, adjusted tracklisting and a remix of the “Assassination Squad” song. Oh Word! review.
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