Nowadays I like to think of myself as a bit of a rap music connoisseur, but I certainly wasn’t such a savant when I started listening to Hip Hop in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Getting drawn in by the extremely subversive Public Enemy and their riots-on-wax, I mainly listened to the music in the genre that was popular, had notoriety, or recorded on the cassette tapes my friends passed on to me.
As a result, I did not hear of Low Profile until the mid ‘90s, when Ice Cube and his Westside Connection started making noise. Their single and video for Bow Down was almost unanimously thumbed down during one of the traditional weekly Yo! MTV Raps viewings me and my friends had going on at the time, but one of our guys stridently exclaimed that he could never be mad at WC, because of him being partly responsible for the album We’re In This Together (whattup, Wietse).
At this time I had done a lot of the knowledge on crucial Hip Hop I had missed out on already, but the name didn’t ring a single bell and I wondered why that was, considering the reverence my friend spoke of this album with. Going back to the year of its release, 1989, it’s really no wonder, though. Low Profile’s We’re In This Together went to retail in the same year that high profile (ha!) releases like 3 Feet High And Rising, Paul’s Boutique, No One Can Do It Better, Unfinished Business, It’s A Big Daddy Thing and Grip It! On That Other Level hit record stores. Not to mention that Hip Hop fans were still riding the wave of 1988, arguably the best and most groundbreaking year this genre has ever experienced. So I have to salute my dude once more for being the only person I know that identified this gem among all the others and treasured it as such, throughout the years… eventually getting me into it.
If you don’t know, like I didn’t know, the group Low Profile consisted of powerful, real-as-fuck MC WC and the incredible, battle ready DJ Aladdin, whose cuts on the album still manage to impress. We’re In This Together was their only project together, before they parted ways again.
Going by the singles Funky Song and Pay Ya Dues you would be forgiven to think the production on their album was going to be comprised of typical funk bounce driven beats and Zapp! samples commonly associated with the pre-The Chronic West Coast Hip Hop of the time. But these two tracks are not really representative of the rest of the album, which contains Aladdin produced beats that are definitely funky, though more akin to what Marley Marl, Ced Gee and Mark The 45 King were coming with. In turn, WC sounds like he had been studying Big Daddy Kane and EPMD on this one.
Going back to the More Bounce To The Ounce-laced Pay Ya Dues, it’s a firm dismissal of rappers that don’t put in work and become famous overnight by acting fake. WC:
“From real tight jeans and the go-go boots / he went to Pendletons and a khaki suit / now tell me / ain’t this a blip? / somebody needs to slap the perpetrator in the lip / yesterday he was a mama boy / now he’s rapping? / fooling the crowd / because he got you all clapping?”
It’s a song concept that’s almost foreign when heard in current times, where faking it, gaining quick notoriety and becoming a viral sensation is the usual MO of would be rap stars.
Backed up by DJ Aladdin’s tight production and awe inspiring scratching technique, WC shines with a commanding presence on the microphone, whether he bigs up his own rhyming skills on tracks like Make Room for the Dub. B.U. or Keep ‘em Flowin’, gives it up to his DJ on Aladdin’s on a Rampage or delivers the audience his uncut point of view on street life in L.A. of the late ‘80s on How Ya Livin’ and That’s Y They Do It.
“How ya livin / a brother kills another for a color / now his family’s forced to sit and suffer / gang violence strikes again / the sound of a trigger / news at 11 / now it’s one less nigger…”
he raps over the tried and tested Impeach the President drums of How Ya Livin’ Completely devoid of gangsta posturing and just reporting on sad reality without mincing words, it’s reality rap in its purest form. Comin’ Straight from the Heart, a tribute to honesty, is perhaps the song that describes WC’s ethos on We’re In This Together best:
“Most MCs nowadays / they don’t come from the heart / they rap what the record label wants / but why can’t I talk about the way that I’m living? / yo / day by day / suckers robbing and stealing / being shot at / stabbed / that ain’t nothing to me / just another damn way of l-i-f-e.”
Tying the album together is, as its title implies, the chemistry that the rapper and the DJ possess. Aladdin puts down some of the craziest cutting ever heard on a rap album before the X-ecutioners started to do projects with MCs, yet he exercises enough restraint to give WC space to make himself heard, to a point where both rhymes and scratches feel incredibly welcome when it’s their respective turn to come in, in an effect similar to the back and forth rhyming of Run DMC.
Save for this exceptional feat, We’re In This Together is not as groundbreaking as the albums of its time everyone remembers, but it’s easily as musically solid. In the end, nobody ever seems to even mention this one, and that’s a damn shame. All this makes the only album the group Low Profile ever put out a prime candidate for canonization. Now go track down a copy and listen to it.