In 1988, Strong City Records released "I'm Not Playing," a single by Ultimate Force, a young Bronx duo made up of MC Master Rob and producer and DJ Diamond D. Built on the blaring guitar stabs of Albert King's blues-funk nugget "Cold Feet," the song was the culmination of three years of hard work under the watchful eye of legendary producer and DJ Jazzy Jay. Rob and Diamond continued to record tracks for their debut album, but over time Rob's patience for the industry wore thin. Even though they had recorded dozens of quality tracks, they didn't have a sense of when Strong City planned to release them. The duo eventually fizzled and disbanded.
Some years after its scheduled release, I'm Not Playin' is a fascinating time capsule of the late '80s African-American experience. While Master Rob was as cocky as any MC back then, there's a levity to his outlook that seems quaint today — "It's time for some comedy," he smiles on the fun, clownish "I Gotta Go," while the black-is-beautiful Romeo-isms of "Girls" are delivered on a bed of tinny synths. "Revolution of the Mind" skates along with snippets of James Brown, Gil Scott-Heron and other fist-pumping soundbites, as Rob decries Reaganomics and confesses that then-hit film Do the Right Thing was "no surprise to me/ Thank God for a brother like Spike Lee." It's endearing to hear a still-widening Fat Joe test out his swagger on "C'mon" and the thrilling posse cut "Oh Shit." It would be a stretch to say that Ultimate Force's album would have changed hip-hop; more likely it simply would have been another excellent full-length during the form's most fertile years.