The set of random trading cards I bought recently off eBay was purchased mostly because it contained four packs of UNOPENED YO! MTV Raps cards. I would like to pretend it was because it had Goonies cards or Gremlins cards, and those definitely sweetened the pot. But I grew up listening to hip-hop in the early 90s, and four unopened decks…….with TWENTY CARDS APIECE in them. Well, that’s a bit hard to pass up, don’t you think? Who knows what gems I would find in EIGHTY cards from a 1991 pack of Topps rap cards.
After opening the first pack, I was a little bit disappointed by something I should have fully been expecting. Four acts in particular were a bit overrepresented. MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, LL Cool J and…..Public Enemy?
My favorite, of course, is the one on the right, with the entire group. Professor Griff and the S1Ws, Flav, Terminator X and, of course, frontman Chuck, holding his boombox like a gun (“Can I tell them that I really never had a gun? But it’s the wax that the Terminator X spun”). Great pic. And is that Chuck in a Cincy hat? I always remember him in that Raiders hat, probably because it’s the same one he is sporting on the cover of “It Take a Nation of Millions…," my personal favorite PE album.
The last one….I put it in because it’s kind of weird. Chuck sporting Flav’s iconic clock, wearing a track suit with a rooster very near the armpit, at a terrible angle where it looks like something glowing is sprouting from his snout. If I’ve learned one thing from two decades of listening to hip-hop, it’s all this must mean Chuck is a member of the Illuminati. Take that Jay-Z!
I mean, I understand PE was big back then, but I hardly expected them to match card-for-card with the crossover appeal of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. In the end, after opening all packs, I had 7 LL Cool J cards, 8 MC Hammers, 11 Public Enemies and, the “winner,” if one was to gauge winning by the amount of times your likeness appears on 20 year-old cardboard, Vanilla Ice with 12. So, in my pack of eighty cards, nearly half of them were represented by these four acts. Bummer.
But there was a silver lining. Look at these pics! Hammer in a million sequins, Hammer with no shirt, Hammer looking smoothed out (is that a bow-tie crocheted on his vest? Ahead of his time. Take that Bruce Bowen!), Hammer, I dunno, ducking the torts from legitimate hip-hop artists whilst in front of an American flag? (“What you say Hammer? ‘Proper,’ rap’s not pop if you call it that than stop”).
I can’t decide if these references are too vague or not. Hopefully it’s what you might expect reading a piece about really old “rap” cards.
The Vanilla Ice were simultaneously the most disappointing and also the best cards in the sets I received. Here’s a set of three that are all “different.”
I mean…..really? The bottom two are damn near identical. Most of Ice’s cards look like they were taken in one night at the same concert during about 10 minutes out of the set. Probably all the photographer could take before abandoning the show. Look, we all really liked Ice, Ice, Baby, but that’s because it’s a really great David Bowie song we didn’t know about when we were 11. I dare say, if pressed, not a single person could name one other Vanilla Ice song and, personally, I would like to keep it that way.
This card? Probably my favorite in the deck. Why? Because it’s Vanilla Ice WEARING A VANILLA ICE SHIRT! That is…totally something. I’m not sure “self-absorbed” covers it, so I’ll let you peruse through the thesaurus at your leisure.
There were also a couple Bell Biv Devoe cards included. You may argue whether or not they were really “rap,” (they weren’t), but that’s what made their inclusion all the better. And this particular card exemplifies New Jack hip-hop smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it. If you didn’t know what that meant before, you do now. In short, orange trousers.
I want to wrap this up with the weirdest cards in the deck and my favorite cards in the deck, but first I want to mention that I did receive a couple really nice cards. Most of the BBD cards are fantastic, reflecting perfectly the styles from that era. Eric B and Rakim had a few cards in the deck, as did Slick Rick and De La Soul although, somewhat mysteriously, no Tribe Called Quest. Also a couple sweet poses from 3rd Bass, KRS-One and EPMD, all of whom I liked back in the day. They even slipped in a single Paris card. Astonishingly underrepresented was RUN DMC. I received one card in my four packs. Enough of the good stuff though. How about this gem:
This is probably the weirdest card. The floating head of Ted Demme. I know, right? Who in the hell is Ted Demme? He is decidedly un-90s hip-hop. Turns out, according to the back of the card, he was the producer of the show. So, yeah, I got this guy, but an Ice Cube or Naughty by Nature card? Meh.
I also received cards of Dre and Ed Lover (warranted) and one of Fab 5 Freddy. And, I mean, I guess he was a VJ on the show but, really, who cares? We all watched for Dre and Ed Lover’s shenanigans, let’s be real. The thing worth mentioning about Fab 5 Freddy’s card is on the back, out of the myriad of shots they probably had to choose from, they slapped a picture of him FISHING with MC Serch of 3rd Bass. Fishing. I’m not sure what stereotype to skewer here, because there’s plenty to choose from. I’d certainly love to see that episode.
My fave cards to wrap it up. Anybody who knows me is aware I choose digital underground in the early 90s as my favorite group, and this is a great group shot. And Kool Moe Dee? Probably the late 80s/early 90s most underappreciated hip-hop artist. “I Go To Work” is masterful. In every way. Well. Maybe not the video. But still, production, flow, lyrics, masterful, even today.