Redman was already one of the 1990s most uniquely kinetic, hilarious, sometimes-dark and always on-point emcees when he dropped his critically-acclaimed third album in late 1996. The New Jersey legend broke big in the early 1990s as a breakout star of the Hit Squad camp, with EPMD guiding his stellar 1992 debut Whut! Thee Album. His sophomore follow-up went in a darkly psychedelic direction, so much so that Red had to get his mind and spirit into a different place for it's follow-up.
His experiences with LSD had pushed him into a certain creative space on ...Dark Side, but Red was done with acid after some scary experiences.
"I had a very bad trip man, it got crazy," Redman recalled in 2010. "It was like a trip that continued every time I did it, and I thought I was being chased by evilness. Evilness was always chasing me, just evilness -- a zombie, a little baby Tasmanian devil, it was crazy. The last time that made me really stop, I was doing acid at like 2 in the afternoon."
On Muddy Waters, Red doesn't exactly retreat from the sound of ...Darkside in as much as he refines it; as he and Erick Sermon's winning chemistry truly rounds into one of Hip-Hop's greatest collaborative relationships. They split production duties on the album roughly in half, but the seamlessness of the tracks speaks to just how powerful the synergy between Red and Sermon has always been. It's at it's peak here.
Making it clear that he's "funkier than Haitian underarms," and dropping references to everything from 48 Hrs and The Facts Of Life, Redman cements his status as one of the rap game's premier craftsmen on his third album. Released on December 10, 1996, Muddy Waters is a perfectly put-together album; it's a flawlessly executed listening experience. That may sound like stiff praise, but given how stoned-out and free-flowing the album feels, it's amazing how clear-eyed and polished it actually is.
And the album dropped at a significant time in Hip-Hop and an important period for Def Jam as a record label.
“Lyor will tell you, at that time, he needed something," Red told Take It Personal Radio in 2019. "Because I guess at that time there wasn’t too much music flowing through Def Jam to pay the bills, or to say, “Okay, we are putting out some great music… And they put the [Muddy Waters] record out man, and it brought them so much money. Lyor will tell you, ‘Redman saved Def Jam.'”
As mentioned before, the highlight of Muddy Waters is Redman's effortless chemistry with Erick Sermon. The sonics of the album are impeccable, from the woozy thump of "Case Closed," to the groovy weedhead vibes of the anthem "Smoke Buddah."
"The only thing I didn't do on Muddy Waters was the him and K-Solo record 'It's Like That,'" Sermon recalled in 2012. "I wish I made that record though. They killed it on that record."
Having found a spark when they worked together on "How High" from The Show a year prior, Red and Meth were now settling into what would eventually become a familiar groove. The two emcees play off each other so effortlessly, it's hard to remember a time when they weren't sparring partners. With the atmospheric drugginess of "Do What You Feel," Meth laces the mood perfectly, an unassuming second chapter in a long line of bangers from this dynamic duo. Red credited the label for seeing something in putting the Brick City spitter and the Wu swordsman together.
"Honestly, I gotta commend Def Jam for that move," Red shared in 2019. "Because at that time me and Meth was putting out material, and it was kind of Def Jam saying, ‘You know what, let’s put these guys on the road. Let’s put them on the road and make a big promotion, Month of the Man. That was one of the most well known promotions in Hip-Hop during the 90’s was the Month of the Man. It happened business-wise through Def Jam, but organically it happened with Red and Meth as individuals.”
Sermon explained the song's origins to Complex in 2012. “That was for my album," he shared. "For Double or Nothing. It was my song. He liked it a lot. And he was singing some of my verses. I can't remember right now [which parts were mine originally]. But he was keeping a lot of my lines, and then adding his."
"He took the full song of mine, and kept adding to it. And for some reason he kept that one part with me rhyming. I'm not even in the video. I'm like, 'Red, why'd you keep that?' And he was like, 'I like that.' And then me and my friend were doing the, 'Bam bam, dee bam dee dee dee bam.' That was all me. But the 'Whateva Man' title was all his. That was what he wanted to do. He liked the record. It wasn't a big deal for me. He liked it, so I gave it to him."
Nikki D guests on the hilarious "Chickenhead Convention" sketch; and Red continues his ongoing "Soopaman Luva" series here; and there is certainly no shortage of lyrical showcases throughout Muddy Waters. "Rock Da Spot" might be the closest the album gets to "traditional" 90s boom-bap, as Red announces himself as "the Moby Dick of dopeness." Redman gets some of his best bars in on "On Fire," the Sermon-produced album centerpiece. Songs like "Da Bump" and "Yesh Yesh Yall" are as stoned-out as anything coming from the West Coast at the time, with slow-rolling basslines and hazy synths.
In a year that saw all-world classics like All Eyez On Me, The Score, ATLiens, and so many others, Muddy Waters is just as impeccable a creative statement. It's an artist in full command of his art, and a producer that knows how to ride shotgun to complement the artist's creativity. Redman's talent, persona and vision all came together masterfully on his third album. If you haven't given it a listen while, it's the perfect time to spark one up, crank this up, and take a journey back to hazy, smoke-filled dorm rooms and hallways of 1996. Nobody better to take you there than Reggie Noble.