AKA the Rugged Child
February 22, 1994
Virgin Records/ EMI
1. Here Come the Hits // 2. On and On (feat. June Luva & Milk D) // 3. Pass It Off (feat. Rubbabandz, Down Low Recka & K-Tez) // 4. Never Say Never [Interlude] // 5. One’s 4 Da Money // 6. Here I Am (feat. Down Low Recka) // 7. Move It Over Here (feat. Pop Da Brown Hornet) // 8. Buckwylyn // 9. You Da Man (feat. Down Low Recka) // 10. Napsack // 11. The Rugged Onez (feat. June Luva, Prophet & Quasi) // 12. Little Rascals // 13. 4 The Headpiece [Interlude] // 14. Party’s Going On // 15. Shouts on the Outs
Following the classic that was Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) the first thing to come out of the Wu-camp was strangely enough not a solo album by one of the group’s actual members, but the debut album by Ghostface Killah’s fourteen year old cousin Shyheim. One would assume that music buyers would be more interested in a solo-album by, for instance, Ghostface Killah himself.
But then Shyheim’s link to the Wu, besides his family relation, is rather indirect. No one from the actual clan throws a verse in Shy’s direction, only loose affiliates GP Wu appear. The only indication that the original Clan has actually ever heard of Shy (besides him getting a shout-out by RZA on the intro of Clan In da Front off 36 Chambers) is one lone RZA instrumental on Little Rascals. The rest of the beats are provided by rumoured Prince Rakeem mentor RNS. It is therefor reasonable to assume that AKA the Rugged Child wasn’t part of RZA’s five year plan, unlike 36 Chambers, Tical, Return to the 36 Chambers, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords, Ironman and that Inspectah Deck album that almost literally got flushed. Not surprising considering that Shy was never a card-carrying member of the Clan, but worth mentioning considering how often Shyheim and the occasional GP Wu member mention their affiliation with the Clan, as though no-one would give half a fuck about any of them if it weren’t for their more famous friends, who quite possibly could give half a fuck about any of them, but not really.
Let that not be an automatic dismissal of AKA the Rugged Child, a solid album to say the least, by a rapper with more skill than you can shake a stick at. The only thing that gives away his tender age is his prepubescent voice. It’s not entirely clear who wrote all these tight rhymes (one would be hard-pressed to believe it was Shy himself, although it remains a possibility), but what is clear is that Shy recites them very well. Shyheim may have been fourteen years old when AKA the Rugged Child dropped, but this certainly isn’t child-friendly rap. Go listen to Will Smith’s back catalogue if that’s your thing. This is a straight-up East-Coast gangsta rap album. And although it is especially unlikely that Shy commited any crime beyond shoplifting a candy bar, at least he raps about these subjects with gusto. And besides, what rapper do you know that beyond a shadow of a doubt lived the gangsta lifestyle, that’s alive, out of prison and doing well?
The boy comes in swinging with the mildy jazzy album-opener Here Come the Hits, on which he’s literally promising a succesful string of hit singles. (Unfortunately nineteen years later the man has yet to deliver on that promise, but his youthful optimism is engaging.) On On and On June Luva, as well as Audio Two’s Milk D lend a hand on the hook which is a reprise of Audio Two’s signature song Top Billin‘. On Pass It Off our host outrhymes everyone of his older fellow Wu B-teamers in the GP.
On One’s 4 the Money the boy has the audacity to ambiguously dis 2pac, Kris Kross and you girlfriend over a beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on 36 Chambers. Shyheim doesn’t suffer from a lack of confidence, what with 2pac’s notoriously short temper. It marks the second time of the night that Top Billin’ is being referenced.
Little Rascals has the lone RZA-produced beat, and it sounds pretty good even though clocking just over two minutes it’s too short to make much of an impact.
Move It Over There has a fantastic dark RNS beat put to good use by Shy, and Pop da Brown Hornet who only appears in ad-lib capacity.
There are some minor complaints about some of the tracks.
On the posse-song The Rugged Onez the man of the hour fails to catch up with his invited guests, which is the only time that happens on this album.
Here I Am once again stresses the Clan-affiation thing too much, with the refrain being “It’s a Wu-thing”.
Buckwylyn is all graphic violence and no substance, and on You da Man the Down Low Recka and our host are kissing each other’s ass Coming of Age-style (a Jay-Z song off Reasonable Doubt on which Shy was allegedly supposed to appear before he was replaced by fucking Memphis Bleek) and it’s not very interesting to listen to.
Napsack is an ode to Shyheim’s beloved backpack, in which he claims to carry around a gun, which is just a silly concept, since he wouldn’t be very quick on the draw if shit went down, that way.
Party’s Goin’ On has our host performing a misogynic sex rap, which no ammount of goodwill, nor a sample of the Clan’s Tearz can fix or even distract from.
Even these songs aren’t outright failiures because RNS keeps bringing the banging beats, makes one wonder just why the man appears to never have gotten any work, besides on Shyheim’s first two albums and GP Wu’s lone album.
All in all AKA the Rugged Child is a surprisingly entertaining album. Sure, the little homie makes some beginners mistakes (some songs aren’t that well thought-through) but -and this is surprising- not as many as most rappers aged twenty and over usually do on their debuts. The Wu-Tang Clan gets namechecked more often than it should, especially since there wasn’t much of a working relation to speak of, but a talentless associate the boy most definitely is not. With all but one of the tracks being produced by RNS the album has a unified sound, and a good one at that. And Shy has enough talent to take advantage of this.
Here Come the Hits
On and On
Pass It Off
One’s 4 the Money
Move It Over There
Buy this album.