By KC (host of You Must Learn)
“They were the West Coast’s answer to A Tribe Called Quest.” – Myka 9
This may sound like something in between hyperbole and blasphemy in 2023, but it wasn’t that far off three decades ago. While the late 80s and early 90s showcased most of the hip hop from California as being gangsta fairytale derivative, there was another side that wasn’t getting the exposure. While G-Funk would grip the commercial LA scene for about three years, there were crews popping up that weren’t about that lifestyle; crews that would meet at an organic market called The Good Life, and use the jazz influence from New York and a pseudo-beat poetry lyrical style to create an entirely different vibe.
The Nonce were born from that. Yusef and Nouka wanted to make beats for the emcees that frequented Good Life, but ended up performing themselves. They released a 12-inch for “Mix Tapes” and it was on after that. Signed to American Recordings, World Ultimate was released in 1995, praised by anyone who heard it. Just, not enough people heard it.
We all have records that we love that work better in different spaces. World Ultimate isn’t a car record, it’s a headphones record. The bass doesn’t thunder, it grooves. The snares don’t knock you over, they provide balance. And there are no better vocal tones to match. The Nonce used to describe their beats in progress to each other as colors – “This is a brown beat” – and you can almost hear that color, even if you can’t articulate how or why. “Bus Stops” brings in a subtle horn in the hook that makes the entire song. The title track is about as amped as the record gets, which is to say not much. And “Good to Go”, while being the obligatory song about the ladies, still manages to be innovative even if the subject matter isn’t.
Tragically, Yusef passed away in 2000, meaning there is no reunion or anything like an anniversary tour coming. There was a very good reissue of the record from HHV in Germany in 2014, and it can be had for a reasonable price. I highly recommend it.
Check this out and more on the latest episode of You Must Learn! Exclusively on Soundwaves.