Part the result of 5-mic gossip, messiah comparisons, and a greatest of the great production lineup, at the time of its release, Illmatic had heads clamoring just to hear what was going on. However, this '94 buzz had been in the works since three years prior. As discussed previously, that Nas only released one solo song and guested on just two featured tracks between the time he was introduced to the game and the time he would introduce the game to Illmatic is no minor point. From Barbeque to the Grill to Halftime, Nas' appearances all served the purpose of swelling anticipation. This momentum would then culminate over the span of a historical 40 minutes, and, more than ten years later, people still ride high off the initial kick of the Wild Style theme.
While Live at the Barbeque was appropriately the first RTA entry, Back to the Grill makes for the perfect b-side. Both of these songs are essential posse cuts. First, you have a combination of Large Professor, Nas, Fatal, and Akinyele, then you have MC Serch, Nas, Chubb Rock, and the so-called Red Hot Lover Tone. Blue pill, red pill, in either hand, Nas came off better than a temporary tattoo in a torrential downpour: "I knew what I had to do if I was gonna rhyme on a 'Symphony' jam. The only way to catch somebody’s attention is to say the right shit. That’s how you gotta get off on posse cuts." If it can be argued that Nas got the call to be on Barbeque because chance and the borough of Queens were on his side, then Back To The Grill came about off of props. MC Serch, whose album would serve as the song's home, heard about snuffin' Jesus and instantly knew where he had to look to for the future. So that explains Nas' presence, but what about Chubb Rock and this Red Hot Lover Tone?
Back to the Grill is actually the continuation of Kick 'Em in the Grill, off of 3rd Bass' second album, 1991's Derelicts of Dialect. On the original, the beat moves along a little faster and stars Serch and Pete Nice, alongside the mammoth-voiced Chubb Rock. While having previously gained acclaim for his solo work and even serious-minded topics, Chubb flexing his strong guest muscle, particularly notable for a clever string of alliteration, would inspire the sequel. And with him, this time, he brought along the aforementioned, dubiously named Red Hot Lover Tone. Now off the stench of corniness coming from that pseudonym alone, one might suspect that Red Hot Lover Tone was Back to The Grill's version of Live at the Barbeque's Fatal, i.e. the mound of salt in between pillars of greatness, the ugly chick who lucked into a circle of dimes. There's more to it than that though. Removing the fanfare from his name, you get Tone. Putting that in association with another four-letter title, you get Poke & Tone. Knowing your history, you get from them The Trackmasters, the producers behind the boards who would be behind the success of It Was Written. Yes, four years before every getting the bright idea to run with an established Eurythmics hit, Nas had already, perhaps even unknowingly, worked with one half of the team that would get him his first platinum plaque. Odd, huh? But at the time, Mr. Red Hot and The Trackmasters were not known as hitmakers, per se.
Producing most of It Was Written, and relying on generally obtuse and obvious pop samples, a la Puff Daddy, the Trackmasters have long faced the label as being a curse in mid 90's Hip-Hop for their jackin' of beats and radio-friendly hits. However, they were actually introduced through Chubb Rock's camp, in the very early 90's, in pretty much the opposite fashion. As the central production team for the heavyset Brooklyn MC, the Trackmasters also spread their music to his side projects, The Real Roxanne and The A-Team. Then, from doing beats for Chubb's camp, they branched out and did three for Kool G. Rap's Live and Let Die (Straight Jacket, Fuck U Man, and Ill Street Blues), and two, strangely enough, Pete Rock-reminiscent beats on Big Daddy Kane's Looks Like a Job For (the title track and the single How'd U Get a Record Deal?). Finally, before the Sting and Annie Lennox samples took over, the Trackmasters last hoorah into the world of hardcore beats was Chubb Rock's I Gotta Get Mine Yo, essentially an entire album of straight rare loops and strong drum programming.
Regardless, Tone's move from the boards to the mic, as the second in line on Back To The Grill, was not a fluke. Released under Chubb Rock's umbrella at Select Records, Red Hot Lover Tone actually put out a couple albums,the first, a humorous but more or less forgettable entry into the genre of gigolo rap, and the second, the more recognizable #1 Player, noteworthy for the similarly-classic posse cut 4 My Peeps, featuring Biggie, M.O.P., and Prince Po of Organized Konfusion. (4 My Peeps should also give you a sense of where Nas got the hook to Last Real Nigga Alive from.) All in all, it's interesting that Chubb Rock put the Trackmasters on, MC Serch brokered the deal for and executive produced Illmatic, the Trackmasters took over It Was Written when Illmatic didn't sell, and all of them, Tone, Chubb, Serch, and Nas, previously made a classic together in their own right.
This is Nas, kid, you know how it runsMC Serch f/ Chubb Rock, Nas, Red Hot Lover Tone: Back to the Grill
I'm waving automatic guns at nuns
Sticking up the preachers in the church, I'm a stone crook
Serial killer, who works by the phone book
BONUS: MC Serch f/ Chubb Rock, Nas, Red Hot Lover Tone: Back to the Grill (video)
BONUS: 3rd Bass f/ Chubb Rock: Kick 'Em in the Grill
BONUS: Red Hot Lover Tone f/ Notorious B.I.G., Prince Poetry, & M.O.P.: 4 My Peeps
*NOTE: This entry is, in part, the product of sizeable contributions from the homie MANHOODLUM, so thanks to him.--Fletch