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Ohio Players meld rap to their funk

By the Ohio Players

Track Records; Seattle, Wash.: 1988

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This review first appeared in the September 23, 1988 issue of the San Diego Evening Tribune.

After achieving great commercial and artistic success in the mid-'70s, the Ohio Players dropped right off the charts. The funk masters flirted with disco for awhile, and then extended-length soul ballads, but neither format clicked.

Now, minus that sharp horn section, three of the band's leaders are back with an appropriately titled album.

Leroy "Sugar" Bonner, the lead guitarist and vocalist, still has that patented "Ow, ow, ow" style of singing that made the Players both one of the best hard-funk bands and easily the most recognizable. Drummer/percussionist James "Diamond" Williams and keyboardist Billy Beck are also here. (Fortunately, the Zodiac signs and bad poetry are missing from the packaging.)

The music, too, is back. The best, shakingest song is, of all topics for a band renowned for its partying, an anti-drunk driving song called "I'm MADD" – an apparent nod of support to MOthers Against Drunk Driving. With a hypnotic rhythm and infectious riffs (including a short bit stolen from Ray Charles' "Hit the Road, Jack"), "I'm MADD" needs to be played loud. Very loud. The biting lyrics and half-rap, half-funk format that thumps through your whole body make this the hippest condemnation of driving while intoxicated ever laid down. Musically, the melody is as good as any of their big hits. Lyrically, well, check it out:

Susie was havin' a real good time
At the party, she was chillin' and drinkin' wine
But while she was layin'
Her man was playin'
With her partner who was givin' him the eye
Home girl found out, she decided to split
Jumped in her ride, she was mighty ticked
She ran a red light
Killed five on sight
She shoulda known, drinkin' and drivin' don't right

The rest of the album is a strong mix of their past recipe for success – hard funk/dance songs and smooth ballads, with occasional forays into rap. Funk/rap tunes like "Vibe Alive" and "Rock the House" show the band can still get you up on your feet, while the slower pieces like "From Now On (Let's Play)" give you a chance to catch your breath.