MC Ren Gets Ruthless On New Solo Album

Pioneering gangsta-rapper attacks what he sees as a current lack of quality in hip-hop.

MC Ren is not about getting jiggy with it.

There's nothing on Ruthless For Life, his fourth album, that uses a familiar disco sample to flavor tales of pursuing money and women while wearing designer clothes and expensive jewelry.

He doesn't mention anything about his favorite brand of champagne and he probably doesn't, as he says on his song "CPT All Day" (RealAudio excerpt), care at all about so-called players and player-haters.

What he does care about is the large number of rappers who have twisted the gangsta-rap genre, which he had a hand in developing as a member of the group N.W.A, into an upwardly mobile scene dominated by artists concerned with wine, women and club-friendly songs. As MC Ren sees it, no one has adequately addressed this circumstance. So he elected to devote much of the 12 tracks on Ruthless For Life to rhymes about his gritty Compton, Calif., stomping grounds and songs about rappers who have lost touch with the anger that fueled such N.W.A classics as "Fuck Tha Police" and "Dopeman."

"I wanted [Ruthless For Life] to have, like, the old feel, like all the old records, but I wanted to update it," MC Ren (a.k.a. Lorenzo Patterson) said from his suburban Los Angeles home. "I already knew that I didn't want to come talking about no money or none of that shit like everybody else. I decided to make something street, just the same shit, but updated with tight lyrics."

To pursue this goal, MC Ren and an army of producers, including Ant Banks and L.T. Hutton, eschewed the mechanical funk beats that currently dominate the hardcore rap scene and went back to the sounds that flavored much of N.W.A's greatest songs: soul music. "I can't run away from the shit that got me out here," Ren explained. "So I had to keep it for my fans who want that shit too. I couldn't just do a 180 (degree turnaround) and make something totally opposite of what I came out with. I just wanted to update it."

"Anybody can curse on a record," Ren continued, "but to make that shit and twist it and flip it, you've got to put something in it. I wanted it to be different because everyone out here is doing the same thing."

Perhaps the most anticipated track on the album is "Comin' After You" (RealAudio excerpt), a song that finds him reuniting with N.W.A bandmate Ice Cube to tell all pretenders to the throne to check their game.

N.W.A fan Andy Kemp, 24, wrote in an e-mail that that song was the only reason he's going to pick up Ruthless For Life when it hits stores on June 30. "In N.W.A, it was always Ren and Dr. Dre rhyming together," he said. "So I'm pretty psyched to see what [Ren and Ice Cube] can do together."

It became apparent during the production of the song, according to Ren, that Ice Cube would be a natural fit. "It was just me on the song, and [the track's producer Bobcat] was like, 'Man, we should get Cube on this song.' "

A phone call was placed and the two colleagues reunited at Los Angeles' In Tha Mutha Ship, Chocolate City Studio. "It was cool to work together after all them years," Ren said. "We laced that shit, man. He heard the record, the rough version of the record, and went upstairs and wrote his rhyme, and that was it."

Ruthless For Life also features guest appearances by such rappers as Snoop Doggy Dogg, RBX, Eightball and MJG, but it is most definitely an MC Ren album.

"Originally, a lot of 'em wasn't going to be on the album," Ren recalled. "I ain't really the type to have a lot of people on my shit. I might have a couple people, [but] I didn't want to have a lot of people 'cos everybody be having a lot of people."

So, who made the cut? Only those who complimented Ren's street-smart, reality-based style, he said. "People buy you because they want to hear you," Ren continued. "That's what I try to give 'em. They want to hear me, so that's why it's mostly me."