"Engine engine number nine/On the New York transit line." It only takes a few words and a handful of Ron Carter's bass notes to bring any hip-hop fan back a quarter-century to the heyday of the Native Tongues movement—and to the release of a song by a duo who considered themselves that crew's black sheep, and wanted to know whether you would get with this or that.
Black Sheep's "The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)," released 25 years ago this week, took the duo of Dres and Mista Lawnge to places they never imagined. For our latest episode of Magnum Opus, we spoke with Dres and Lawnge as well as the group's A&R man Dave Gossett; the great DJ Red Alert; Pos of De La Soul; and Black Sheep's protégé Chi-Ali to get the full story behind this classic record.
Dres and Lawnge met as middle schoolers in Sanford, North Carolina. But it was only after meeting again by chance on the streets of New York after they had both separately moved up north during high school that they saw themselves as destined to make music together.
Soon after that, they became part of the Native Tongues collective. That crew's comradery was key to creating Black Sheep's debut LP, and making it the classic it would soon be recognized as being. "De La, Jungle [Brothers], Tribe, we'd all be there [in the studio]," Dres remembers. "And that was a very big element for the making of A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. If I could impress the room, I wasn't concerned about [other] people." But as the album was nearing completion, the group ran into a huge problem. The label insisted they clear all of the LP's dozens of samples, a process that would ultimately delay the album's release by a year.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Black Sheep only decided to revisit "The Choice is Yours" after the delay, when they no longer liked the original version. The remix took off immediately, as video director Chuck Stone and Complex's Editor-In-Chief Noah Callahan-Bever attest.
The popularity of "The Choice Is Yours" led to shows at the Apollo, appearances on The Tonight Show, and a kind of success that the group members weren't even sure they wanted. But long after Black Sheep split up, "The Choice is Yours" continues to find new life, and every successive generation finds itself deciding whether to get with this or that.
Watch the entire episode above.