Remembered for a couple of striking singles and their membership in the Native Tongues family of groups, Black Sheep also recorded one of rap music's most entertaining debuts, A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. Handling both production and delivery, Dres and Mista Lawnge appeared headed for a long, rewarding career, but unfortunately faded after the release of their long-delayed sophomore set.
Both members, Andre Titus (Dres) and William McLean (Mista Lawnge), were natives of New York who grew up in North Carolina, Titus the son of a military man. Both were also hip-hop fans during the mid-'80s, Dres as an MC and Mista Lawnge as a DJ. Looking for a record contract, Lawnge moved to New York -- where he'd spent time as a child -- and played a gig with DJ Red Alert, who introduced him to Mike Gee of the Jungle Brothers. Gee's connection to the newly christened Native Tongues family (headed by Afrika Bambaataa along with Queen Latifah) inspired Lawnge to form Black Sheep and recruit Dres as the group's MC. The duo's first release, "Flavor of the Month," was one of the hottest rap singles of 1991, and the ascendancy of Native Tongues groups De la Soul and A Tribe Called Quest only improved Black Sheep's fortunes. Their debut album, A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, released on Mercury late that year, hit number 30 on the album charts and the next single, "The Choice Is Yours," was an MTV hit (thanks to director Chuck Stone's video) and a surprising success at college radio (aside from specialty shows, rap rarely appeared on college playlists). The album eventually moved close to one million copies, and the pair appeared on the Brand New Heavies' Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1 next to the era's hottest rappers: Main Source, Gang Starr, Kool G Rap, and the Pharcyde.
Black Sheep's follow-up, Non-Fiction, was doomed from the start. Released in 1994, the record received close to zero promotion and lacked the imagination of A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. The single "Without a Doubt" got a little airplay, but the duo split soon after. Both worked on varying projects, and Dres released his solo debut, Sure Shot Redemption, in 1999. One year later, he appeared in the film Once in the Life, Laurence Fishburne's debut as a director, playing a bagman for a drug kingpin. Black Sheep reunited to produce a track for the film's soundtrack, toured with Das EFX, and eventually released a four-track EP, Redlight, Greenlight, in 2002. Dres retained the group name for 8WM/Novakane and From the Black Pool of Genius, released respectively in 2006 and 2010. ~ John Bush