3rd Bass was an American hip-hop group that rose to fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and was notable for being one of the first successful interracial hip-hop groups. They split up in 1992 and again in 2000 after a failed reunion. The group released two studio albums in their initial career and both of them were certified gold by the RIAA.
MC Serch (Michael Berrin), Prime Minister Pete Nice (Peter J. Nash), and DJ Richie Rich (Richard Lawson) were the three founding members of the group. Richie Rich was a local D.J., while Nice was an English major atColumbia University and hosted a hip hop show on Columbia’s student radio station, WKCR-FM. Serch performed at clubs and block parties, and released a single called “Hey Boy” on independent label Idlers.
Record producer Sam Sever (real name Sam Citrin) convinced Nice and Serch to work together in 1987. First they called themselves 3 the Hard Way, referenced in the song “Words of Wisdom”. But, before recording the whole album they changed their name to 3rd Bass. Sever, Prince Paul, and The Bomb Squad produced their 1989 debut, The Cactus Album, a critically acclaimed LP that went gold and contained a minor hit in “The Gas Face.” The accompanying video, which featured a bevy of humorous cameo appearances that included Gilbert Gottfried, Flavor Flav, Salt-n-Pepa, Kid ‘N Play and EPMD, garnered respectable MTV airplay and the single peaked at #5 on Billboard’s Top Rap Singles, though it did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
As reported in many interviews, Serch had tried (unsuccessfully) to join up with fellow New Yorkers the Beastie Boys. Upon signing with Def Jam, 3rd Bass inherited their label’s feud with the Beasties. The Cactus Album was released shortly after the Beastie Boys—riding high on the success of Licensed to Ill—walked out of their contract with the label. In addition to containing multiple potshots directed at M.C. Hammer (referred to as “M.C. Household Tool” in the liner notes), Cactus also attacked the Beastie Boys and their defection to Capitol Records.
3rd Bass’s 1991 follow-up, Derelicts of Dialect, had a new target in fellow white rapper Vanilla Ice, who was the focal point of several tracks on the album, most notably “Pop Goes the Weasel”. The track depicted Ice as a culture thief who watered down the sound of rap in order to pander to a mainstream audience, while depicting 3rd Bass as more respectful of the genre’s traditions. Ice was also criticized for his refusal to credit artists whose music he had sampled for his 1990 smash “Ice Ice Baby.” The video featured punk rock icon Henry Rollins dressed up as Ice, who received a “beatdown” by 3rd Bass at the end.
Fueled by the heavy backlash against Vanilla Ice at the time of its release, “Pop Goes the Weasel” reached #1 on Billboard’s Top Rap Singles chart, gave the group their first and only Top 30 single (peaking at #29 on the Hot 100), and helped propel the album to gold status. The track was described by Allmusic as “much-needed damage control in the hip-hop community,” in part because it featured Caucasian rappers openly distancing themselves from one of their peers. Vanilla Ice answered back with ‘The Wrath’ and ‘Hit ’em Hard’ which he played at concerts in 1992, though the songs weren’t officially released until 1994.
3rd Bass’s final collaboration was the title track to the soundtrack of the 1992 film Gladiator before the group called it quits. That same year—three years after The Cactus Album—the Beastie Boys retaliated against 3rd Bass on their new release Check Your Head; the track “Professor Booty” contained the lyric “dancing around like you think you’re Janet Jackson,” which was interpreted as a swipe at Serch’s dancing in 3rd Bass’s videos.
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