Category Archives: Reviewers

Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet

Public Enemy
Fear of a Black Planet
March 20, 1990
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
070/100
Public_Enemy-Fear_Of_A_Black_Planet-Frontal
1. Contract on the World Love Jam // 2. Brothers Gonna Work It Out // 3. 911 Is a Joke // 4. Incident at 66.6 FM // 5. Welcome to the Terrordome // 6. Meet the G. That Killed Me // 7. Pollywanacraka // 8. Anti-Nigger Machine // 9. Burn Hollywood Burn (feat. Ice Cube & Big Daddy Kane) // 10. Power to the People // 11. Who Stole the Soul? // 12. Fear of a Black Planet // 13. Revolutionary Generation // 14. Can’t Do Nuttin’ for Ya Man // 15. Reggie Jax // 16. Leave This Off Your Fucking Charts // 17. B Side Wins Again // 18. War at 33⅓ // 19. Final Count of the Collision Between Us and the Damned // 20. Fight the Power

This record has shock tactics written all over it, well compared to Public Enemy’s previous album that is, not in the grander scheme of things. It’s not as though It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back shied away from potential controversy. It most certainly did not. But it didn’t have a song titled Burn Hollywood Burn on it either. Perhaps the absence of Rick Rubin allowed them to speak their minds in a less politically correct manner. After all, would it really be a good idea for a white guy to man the boards, recording a song called The Anti Nigger Machine, social commentary or not? It certainly was a bad idea for group member Professor Griff to make anti semitic remarks in a Washington Times interview not long before Fear of a Black Planet was to be created, publicity stunt or not. It is for this reason he was given the boot by Chuck D, albeit temporarily, and he didn’t participate in the recording either.

I don’t know why it is that Rubin left. He is jewish and Griff did say some vile shit about god’s chosen people, but like I said: that racist motherfucker was out. Maybe Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad figured that two albums into their career they had enough knowledge, experience and a sizeable enough fanbase of their own to get by without him. Fact is that Rubin did leave and the difference in sound quality is immediately noticeable. It’s not like the Bomb Squad fail to bring the noise, they certainly are competent producers. But the beats do sound somewhat less rich and polished than they did under Rubin. The difference isn’t huge or anything, but it is there.

Besides the sound being slightly less tight overall and the guys getting a little more caustic, possibly under the influence of their new friend Ice Cube who in 1990 was the agriest motherfucker on the planet, which is a story for another day, it is for the most part a continuation of the chosen direction for Chuck, Terminator X and Flav.
That “wall of noise” thing they had introduced the last time around had worked pretty well and Chuck D had always been as dope an MC as they come so why wouldn’t it be?

Fear of a Black Planet mostly concerns itself with institutional racism, which makes this album incredibly current since that discussion is very much a thing right now.
911 Is a Joke, mostly performed by Flavor Flav takes a dump on emergency help services for poorly responding to incidents in black majority neighbourhood areas.
Burn Hollywood Burn, which because of its line up is every old school head’s wet dream and rightfully so since it sounds terrific, is about negative portrayal of black people in tv. series and films. On the Incedent at 66.6FM the Beastie Boys get called out, possibly for being a white band stealing and polluting appropriating and gentrifying a traditionally black artform.
The title track goes against anti-interracial relationship bigotry, and there are many other critiques of other forms of percieved racism on here. You can agree or disagree with the points being made, but you can’t say these guys don’t make them with gusto, flair and engagement, plus it generally makes for sonically fairly enjoyable music.

All things considered Fear of a Black Planet is a good album that should satisfy fans of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Fact is that it’s not quite as good as that album is, which could be attributed to the loss of Rubin and perhaps Professor Griff depending whether he actually did anything musical in the group, but that’s not necessarily crippling the listening experience. After all lots of music is both not as good as that album and nevertheless still perfectly listenable.

Best tracks
911 Is a Joke
Burn Hollywood Burn
Fear of a Black Planet
Fight the Power

Recommendation
Pick this up.


Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Public Enemy
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
June 28, 1988
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
090/100
it-takes-a-nation-of-millions-to-hold-us-back-by-public-enemy
1. Countdown to Armageddon // 2. Bring the Noise // 3. Don’t Believe the Hype // 4. Cold Lampin’ With Flavor // 5. Terminator X to the Edge of Panic // 6. Mind Terrorist // 7. Louder Than a Bomb // 8. Caught, Can We Get a Witness // 9. Show ’em Whatcha Got // 10. She Watch Channel Zero?! // 11. Night of the Living Baseheads // 12. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos // 13. Security of the First World // 14. Rebel With a Pause // 15. Prophets of Rage // 16. Party for Your Right to Fight

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was the album that broke rapper Chuck D, hypeman flava Flav and DJ Terminator X; collectively known as Public Enemy, to the masses and showed the world that there was a market for densely produced, vigourously performed rap songs about unapologetically Afrocentric subject matter and social commentary interchanged with swaggering party tracks. It outsold their more B-boy orented 1987 debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show and went gold within a week of release. Obviously they didn’t do all this alone. They were aided by the Bomb Squad, a production crew consisting of Hank Shocklee, his brother Keith, Eric “Vietnam” Sandler, G-Whiz and Chuck D himself. They developed a new hip-hop sound that was charactarised by the intrumental being packed to the gills with samples. It was later dubbed “the wall of noise”, analoguous to Phil Spector’s revolutionary “wall of sound” in the ’60s. The impressive thing is that that is hardly an overstatement. Compare how different for instance N.W.A sounded on N.W.A and the Posse and Straight Outta Compton. Then check out It Takes a Nation Of Millions to Hold Us Back, which came out a month before the latter and try to make the case that this album wasn’t a profound influence and that it didn’t pretty much reinvent rap music, changing it forever making it more musically complex and better in general.

You can’t because it did.

Overseeing this merry band of young, ambitious whippersnappers was super producer Rick Rubin who has a career trajectory that is pretty much unrivaled both in scope and in longevity. Dude produced everyone from Johnny Cash to Eminem, started working in 1982 and show no sign of slowing down today. It Takes a Million isn’t one of his lesser achievements.

Most good hip-hop combines music that sets a mood with a rapper with a unique mic presence and persona. It Takes a Million is no exception. Its storming beats are the perfect environment for Chuck D to land his equally intense vocals onto while Flava Flav rides shotgun. It Takes a Million is via the intro and a couple of skits framed as a live album which it most certainly is not. If however any hip-hop album is so energetic you can pretty much taste the music as it plays, as though it’s being constructed right in front of you, it is this one. The album kicks off with the pumping Bring the Noise and never loses stamina. The album never goes slower than midtempo and does even that only very rarely. The late ’80s were a simpler time for rap artists. “Slow jams for the ladies” were not yet necessary inclusions for Def Jam Records to consider a project for release, let alone weird EDM-rap mutations. In stead the listener is treated to a musical firestorm. You can disagree with these guys’ politics, but even then it would be incredibly difficult to deny the infectiousness of their music. Chuck D’s rhymes about his views on Nation of Islam and opression of blacks, among other subjects, are intense and authorative-sounding throughout.

It’s difficult to choose highlights from this album because it is an integral success and this is one of those albums which one should enjoy in its entirety. Still, personal favourites of yours truly are the rambunctious opener Bring the Noise, the teapot-whistle of Terminator X To the Edge later rebooted on Rebel Without a Pause, the fast-paced funk groove of Caught, Can We Get a Witness? The ’80s-rock tinged closer Party For Your Right to Fight is dope as hell, as are the ominous piano keys of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos. Even the tracks that aren’t complete songs work: the sax-riff looping instrumental  Show ’em Whatcha Got and the also vocal-less drum break Security Of the First World are sound music making, the latter two later served as the basis for completely different songs by other artists: Rump Shaker by Wrecx-N-Effect and Justify My Love respectively, and many other songs via those tracks getting jacked.

If you haven’t yet heard It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back I suggest you drop everything and find a way to listen to it ASAP, it’s that good.

Best tracks
Bring the Noise
Terminator X to the Edge of Panic
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
Rebel With a Pause
Party For Your Right to Fight

Recommendations
Buy this album.


2pac – Me Against the World

2pac
Me Against the World
March 14, 1995
Out Da Gutta Records/ Interscope RecordsUMG
073/100
2pac - Me Against the World
1. Intro (performed by Dan O’Leary, Debbie Hambrick, Jay Jensen, Jill Rose & Sarah Diamond) // 2. If I Die Tonite // 3. Me Against the World (feat. Dramacydal & Puff Johnson) // 4. So Many Tears (feat. Digital Underground, Stretch & Thug Life) // 5. Temptations // 6. Young Niggaz (feat. Killa, Funky Drummer & Moe Z.M.D.) // 7. Heavy In the Game (feat. Richie Rich, Ebony Foster & Lady Levi) // 8. Lord Knows (feat. G-Money, Kenyatta Forman, Killa, Kim Armstrong & Natasha Walker) // 9. Dear Mama (feat. Reggie Green & Sweet Franklin) // 10. It Ain’t Easy // 11. Can U Get Away // 12. Old School // 13. Fuck the World // 14. Death Around the Corner// 15. Outlaw (feat. Dramacydal & Rah Rah)

2pac is  the JFK of rap: very charismatic, inspirational and influential, surrounded by drama during his lifetime and conspiracy theories in death, fairly popular when he was alive but never moreso than after he got shot and killed in the public eye and, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, overrated as hell in what he actually achieved in the realm of the living while nobody can say with any accuracy just what the guy could and would’ve done if his ending was less premature.
It’s not as though the man didn’t leave a slew of commercially and artistically succesful releases in his wake. In fact every album he released up until this one has already gotten a recommendation for a purchase on this website. But he never dropped anything as significant as Ready to DieIllmaticReasonable Doubt or The Chronic and the almost god-like reverence many people had for him, the phrase “best rapper dead or alive” was dropped casually in one sentence with the name 2pac on a regular basis, in the late ’90s and the naughties was ridiculous. A lot of people held the opinion that not only are Brenda’s Got a BabyKeep Your Head Up and Dear Mama deep and meaningful songs (which admittedly they are), but that also they aren’t at all at a contradiction with his more violent, misogynistic, homophobic and otherwise less socially responsible moments, most infamously Hit ‘Em Up. In other words 2pac could get away with pretty much anything on his albums and still be considered a martyr and a saint, so long as he included at least one thoughtful or pseudo thoughtful track on there. The truth is probably that while 2pac, a classically trained actor mind you, was one of the few people in gangsta rap who could deliver both conscious material and hyper violence with equal fervour and credibilty, there was never as much of a unified vision to it as his fanboys would like you to believe. He was just really good at setting moods, no matter what that mood was. And it should be noted that 2pac may have lived a lot of shit he rapped about, he had been in prison and he may not have seriously known or believed it when he layed down some of those vocals but he would eventually meet a violent death in the streets, but there was a lot of fiction in his raps too: He never seriously was a drug dealer for instance and it was sort of mathematically impossibly for him to beef with everyone he mentioned on 7 Day Theory, so Pac may not have been the realest motherfucker to have ever existed, he was however life sized.

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Y?N-Vee – Y?N-Vee

Y?N-Vee
Y?N-Vee
October 18, 1994
PMP/ Rush Associated Labels/ Def Jam RecordingsBMGSME
063/100
YNV
1. Even When U Sleep // 2. All I Wanna Do // 3. 4 Play // 4. I’m Going Down // 5. Sceamin’ // 6. Sonshine’s Groove // 7. Chocolate // 8. Stra8 Hustler // 9. Tricks-N-Trainin’ (feat. Abstract Rude) // 10. Y?N-Vee // 11. Real G // 12. Gangsta’s Prayer // 13. We Got a Good Thing

One of the most amusing things about writing about pop music and researching its shelf life is that one is regularly confronted with odd fashion trends that appear to affirm that human history is cyclical. The hanging suspenders which are on full display on this album’s cover were apparently a thing twenty years ago, and fucking hell they made a comeback in street fashion not too long ago. If that doesn’t prove that humanity only makes technological progress but none ethically and therefor is doomed to repeat its mistakes increasingly efficiently until it inevitably causes its own demise then perhaps the next world war/ super genocide will.

L.A. based R&B/hip-hop quartet Y?N-Vee made its debut on that abysmal Johnny J album and performed most of the backing vocals on Thug Life: Volume 1. Apparently they inked a deal of their own with PMP Records, a Def Jam subsidiary that is best known for being the recording home of Montell Jordan. Their self-titled debut, and only album really, is the result of that signing. The Mary Jane-sampling Chocolate was a moderate hit apparently but Y?N-Vee never sold that many copies so everyone in the group had to return to their day jobs in order for Def Jam to recuperate that album advance shortly thereafter. Well not everyone in the group, apparently 2pac when he sprung from the klink in late 1995 still had Natasha Walker’s phone number in his rolodex from the Thug Life sessions so she got to be an unsung assistent to the creation of the diamond-selling, very first double CD of original material in the hip-hop genre All Eyez On Me. I’m sure that the paycheques for that job kept the lights on for a while, provided that Suge actually felt like sending them out off course. Given that Walker had a working relation with Johnny J and Thug Life, both before and after recording this album, it’s odd that they don’t make an appearance. Surely a 2pac guest appearance would’ve been big enough a selling point of this album for someone at Def Jam to pull out the chequebook? I’m also quite certain the man was available for the job. It’s not like he was in the hospital for being shot multiple times or in prison for being a convicted rapist yet. Was even Big Syke too busy polishing Pac’s boots to phone in a verse?

Y?N-Vee isn’t the most distinctive sounding mid-’90s R&B outfit out there, they basically sound like Zhané with rappers among its ranks, but Walker has a rather pleasant singing voice, and the rappers, while not dropping any knowledge, is perfectly competent at talking over instrumentals. Speaking of which: the production backing these girls, mostly courtesy of Doug Rasheed, isn’t half bad either. Mixing quiet storm and G-funk isn’t the most original idea ever, but it was at that time a proven formula for success and these beats are pretty sexy in a vintage ’94 type of manner. Sampling Mary Jane on one song and covering I’m Going Down on another is a bit much though since Mary J. Blige did the same on her My Life album released about a month after this came out. (I realise that this means that Y?N-Vee then would be the originators of these ideas and P. Daddy Blige the jacker but My Life is a textbook classic of ’90s R&B and Mary J. Blige is still working today so it gets a pass even if that is a bit unfair to today’s subjects.)
Taken on its own though this album’s relatively friendly, relatively warm approach to quitessential R&B and hip-hop subjects such as intercourse, infidelity and substance abuse leaves little to complain about. While not shying away from expletives or otherwise explicit content it does steer clear of obscenity most of the time.

It’s difficult choosing highlights from this consistent, slightly dull record. Everything sounds sort of same-ish, except I’m Going Down which is less mundanely, less datedly written because it’s a cover of a classic R&B song that doesn’t concern itself with being street smart. Chocolate‘s impeccable, sunny borrowed Rick James-groove is seductive fun, comparing a woman’s body to weed or actual chocolate or something along those lines. Even When U Sleep is a sexy, confident opener that establishes the mood of this record nicely and All I Wanna Do is one of the most suave things on here. Stra8 Hustler and Gangsta’s Prayer are decent attempts at gangsta rap and Real G is an ode to that genre and the style associated with it, incorporating the same Eddie Bo Hook and Sling sample DJ Quik used for his classic Jus’ Like Compton, which is a nice touch west coast hip-hop fans will be sure to appreciate. But this albums strength lies not in highlighs but rather in consistency. There are no real duds on here, so you can put the CD on and get busy with your Bae without changing songs for sixty or so minutes (provided that you live in the 1990s off course), and that definitely counts for something.

Best tracks
I’m Going Down
Chocolate

Recommendations
If you’re the type of person who enjoy TLC records Y?N-Vee is for you.


Johnny J – I Gotta Be Me

Johnny J
I Gotta Be Me
February 10, 1994
Shade Tree Records/ SOLAR Records/ Epic RecordsSME
045/100
Johnny J - I Gotta be Me
1. Something She Can Feel // 2. Diggin Um’ Out // 3. I’m a Better Man // 4. Why You Want Me Now? // 5. Get Away From Me // 6. P.O.P. (Got Control Of Me) // 7. Better Off (feat. Mel-Low) // 8. It’s a Wonderful Day // 9. Shake That Ass // 10. Say Whatcha Gotta Say (feat. Big Syke & Y?N-Vee) // 11. Love’s the Way

The late Johnny J would become rather famous, critically acclaimed and commercially succesful not too long after I Gotta Be Me tanked. He did this by producing songs on 2pac’s Thug Life, vol. 1Me Against the World and All Eyez On Me albums. On I Gotta Be Me however he is the main attraction and gets to rap most of the time by his self, uniterrupted most of the time by anything but wimpy R&B choruses.

“If Johnny J was himself a rapper why did he never trade verses with 2pac on a track?” I hear you ask. Pac himself was hardly picky with his collaborators as most of the verses performed by his Outlawz posse demonstrate.
Well, that is a valid question, dear reader. While all of tha Outlawz, except Hussein Fatal who can be decent, suck most of the time on an acceptable conventional level Johnny J’s raps sound like they were performed by the whitest fratboy ever who decided that he would be a rapper about fifteen minutes before he started recording them and did so after having enough shots of tequila to forget that women are people and that by using the N-word he would get his ass kicked. Apparently even 2pac who normally wouldn’t give a rat’s ass who you’d throw in the studio with him as long as they had something, anything, ready to record during his infamous Death Row binge recordings realised that while good Johnny’s beats may have been, his vocal contributions sucked.

Off course using offensive racial slurs and misogyny are pretty much givens with any gangsta rap record from the 1990s, and it can serve a purpose as it does in for instance Eazy-E’s over-the-top gangsta caricatures or 2pac’s tales of ghetto misery. Johnny J appears to have neither an interesting point of view, nor any charisma behind the microphone, nor a sense of humour. This is problematic because when stripped of these things a gangsta rapper sort of automatically becomes a massive tool. Speaking of which the man appears to be obsessed with the size, texture and other details concerning Johnny junior, and how many times he can make your girl come. How every woman enjoys having sex with him and how they’re all conniving, gold digging harpies that are good for nothing but hosting his member is a theme that returns in all the songs (all) on I Gotta Be Me.
I guess one should look at the bright side of life. It’s not as though the man would’ve fared much better rapping about his career as a narcotics salesman back when he lived in a low income neighbourhood where life isn’t very pleasant, so not much is lost because of this choice in subject matter. Speaking of his income: The advance for this can’t have been that much, so why exactly Johnny J should have attracted any gold diggers remains unclear.

It is unfortunate that Johnny J was such a shit MC because the productions, credited to him and someone called Charlie Macc, are lush, groovy and bluesy. A lot of these tracks could’ve been better used by more competent rappers. In fact when other people grab the mic an inprovement is immediately noticeable, even if it is Big Syke, probably they guy who introduced J to 2pac but has done very little else of consequence in his career.
(One of these instrumentals, the one used on Better Offwas used by a better rapper, namely 2pac who used it for his Picture me Rollin’ off his All Eyez On Me, a song that while far from perfect is infinitely better than anything on here.)
In fact one could argue that this might’ve been a better album if the uncredited studio singer(s) singing the previously mentioned wimpy refrains were to have become the headlining act(s). Something She Can FeelIt’s a Wonderful Day and Better Man would’ve been perfectly functional quiet storm and Diggin Um OutWhy You Want Me Now?, Shake That AssSay Whatcha Gotta SayGet Away From MeP.O.P. and Better Off  would’ve been decent new jack swing. Proof of this is the bonus track Love’s the Way on which Johnny sings for the entire duration of a guitar strummy pop track. The dude’s singing isn’t very good and it runs for a little too long but it sure beats the songs on which he raps.

Alas, I Gotta Be Me wasn’t meant to be a success, and neither was Johnny J the rapper. But at least this horrible album wasn’t the end of this guy’s career in music, which with a little more exposure it easily could’ve been. After all some of the 2pac songs he produced proved the guy was a fine musician so long as he shut the fuck up and kept the beats coming.

Best tracks
Love’s the Way

Recommendations
Nothing on here warrants a spin, let alone a purchase.


Saafir – Boxcar Sessions

Saafir
Boxcar Sessions
May 10, 1994
Qwest Records/ Reprise Records/ Warner Bros. RecordsWMG
053/100
Saafir - Boxcar Sessions - Front (1)
1. Grap the Train // 2. Swig of the stew // 3. Poke Martian (feat. Poke Martian) // 4. Playa Hata // 5. Pee Wee // 6. Battle Drill // 7. Westside (feat. King Saan) // 8. Worship the D // 9. Light Sleeper // 10. Rashinel (feat. Rashinel) // 11. Can-U-Feel-Me? // 12. No Return (Goin’ Crazy) // 13. Big Nose (feat. Big Nose) // 14. Just Riden // 15. Hype Shit // 16. Real Circus // 17. Bent // 18. The Instructor // 19. Joint Custody

Well that was unexpectedly boring. Saafir, a Digital Underground associate and an Oakland CA native, released his solo debut Boxcar Sessions in early 1994. It apparently has a cult status of sorts. This album is a combination of his own battle rhymes and awkward flow with mostly dusty, shuffling jazz drums, booming basslines, scratching and very little more in the way of melody. Every song on it sounds the same to such an extent that I literally can’t remember a single one of them for positive reasons, and I’ve just listened to this album three times. I’m a well-documented fan of all of Digital Underground’s projects so far but both the vocal side and the instrumental side of this album are underwhelming and pretentious, both of which could’ve been helped by adding some Shock G. Where the fuck is he at?

I would wonder why 2pac decided not to show up on this album but I can’t think of anything on here that he would sound appropriate over. There are many criticisms one can throw in 2pac’s direction but boring he was not.

This album was released on Qwest records which means Quincy Jones inked him a deal. Maybe Q doesn’t actually care about rap music and his only demands of the genre are for it to not interfere with his afternoon nap, in which case Boxcar Sessions achieves its goal nicely. Don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics either because when I finally forced myself to do so something apparently called Worship the Dick was on.

Boxcar Sessions is simply not very interesting and besides that, at nineteen tracks there’s much too much of it. Reviewing it however isn’t difficult, so at least it has that going for that, which is nice.

Best track
Worship the Dick

Recommendations
What do you think?


GP Wu – Don’t Go Against the Grain

GP Wu
Don’t Go Against the Grain
January 21, 1997
MCA RecordsUMG
060/100
GP Wu - Grain Rar
1. Smoking // 2. 1st Thing First // 3. Two Gats Up // 4. Blow Up // 5. Party People // 6. If You Only Knew // 7. Hit Me With That Shit // 8. Hip Hop // 9. Chamber Danger // 10. Underground Emperor // 11. Life Bid // 12. Don’t Go Against the Grain // 13. Things Ain’t What They Used to Be // 14. Black on Black Crime

GP Wu are considered by most rap aficianados who’ve heard of them affiliates of the Wu-Tang Clan, but other than having members Pop the Brown Hornet and Down Low Recka namechecked by Wu ringleader RZA on the intro of classic song Clan in da Front alongside a myriad of other then-no-name people they never got much out of it. Especially in the way of musical collaborations with people who were actually in the Clan. The closest any one of the guys got before the release of Don’t Go Against the Grain was Rubbabandz his appearance on the RZA produced Young Godz off Shyheim’s sophomore album The Lost Generation.
Child rapper Shyheim is the artist the people in GP Wu are most associated with being that they provided the most guest verses on his first two albums. Shy and GP member Pop the Brown Hornet are both cousins of Clan member Ghostface Killah and possibly each other so that helps explain that connection. Oddly enough neither Shy nor Ghost show up on this album, nor could RZA be bothered to throw a leftover beat their way.
Perhaps MCA Records spent the entire budget for Don’t Go Against the Grain, which can’t have been that much, on securing the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee as the album’s executive producer, even though his presence isn’t actually felt one way or another.
You could therefore if you were uninformed listen to this album thinking these guys are some sort store brand imitations of the Wu Tang Clan with no connection with the actual group whatsoever, which is serious problem for a group that actually has Wu in its name. Wu fans are known to pick up anything remotely Wu-attached but they usually will check for a good guest appearance on the back-cover before deciding to purchase or not.
Speaking of the now defunct demographic of record store customers: What’s up with that artwork? It looks like Don’t Go Against the Grain is a metal album or something… (It most certainly is not.)
That sort of mislabeling product on several levels can be potentially disastrous sales figures of your album, and perhaps it did contribute to this one flopping harder than it necessarily needed to. Although lack of any sort of hit single was also a most definitely a contributing factor.

The fact that the album went aluminum is unfortunate because while Pop the Brown Hornet, June Luva, Rubbabandz, Down Low Recka and producer RNS aren’t as virtuous as the actual Wu-Tang Clan they do adequately recreate their sound without going so over the top with it that they could be considered biters (No kung fu movie dialogue samples, no sped-up soul vocals and not too much in the way of five percenter islam-inspired lyrics). And their guest appearances on Shyheim’s albums must’ve gotten some folks to notice them.
It isn’t unthinkable that this could’ve gone gold with some assistance by Ghost, Shy, RZA or anyone else in the Clan or if they included a song produced by Puff Diddy and featuring Ma$e, and released it as a single with a video directed by Hype Williams shot on Times Square.

This album is consistently entertaining in a rather conventional 1997 New York hard core thug rap kind of way. None of the guys spit anything that hasn’t been heard better before or since, but they’re all competent rappers and because they all have distinct voices they’re all fairly easy to tell apart which helps the medicine go down.
The subject matter is all fairly standard. Substance abuse (Smoking), fire arms (Two Gats Up), hedonism and boasting of superior rap skills (Party People), the sexual prowess of GP with women who are already taken (If You Only Knew), the state of the genre (Hip Hop), the state of society (Things Ain’t The Same and Black on Black Crime) and nothing in particular (Hit Me With That Shit).
The same can be said of the productions courtesy of group member Down Low Recka and RNS. They tend to have a sese of urgency and dramatic minimalism not unlike RZA’s beats, but less spacy and less artisan. Blow Up and Hit Me With That Shit have a sort of jazzy feel because of its incorporation of minimal trumpet hits, Party People is suitably jiggy, Life Bid mixes cheesy ’80s rock synths with old school horror movie organs, Black on Black Crime features some mournful strings. The beats all perfectly nice when they’re on but appear to be satisfied with slipping from ones conscience when they’re done playing.

While there isn’t actually much to complain about here it makes sense that this album didn’t go gold, even if it easily could have with proper promotion and a better radio single. It might even have been for the better that this album was both the beginning and end of the Gladiator Posse discography. It’s not like they had that much content here, nor did they have that interesting a way of talking about their non-content. A sophomore release might’ve taken them beyond exhaustion of their subject matter, beats and rhymes. I’m not suggesting that I wish all of them should’ve stopped working after dropping this one, but perhaps their talents were better spent on the occasional guest verse here and there, especially Pop the Brown Hornet and his distinct-sounding voice.
Anyway Don’t Go Against the Grain is alright, but merely alright.

Best tracks
Smoking
Blow Up
Hit Me With That Shit
Life Bid
Party People
Black On Black Crime

Recommendations
If you are a fan of the Wu of olde and can find this for cheap in the used bin of your local record store (If there is still a thing such as a local record stores) you can pick this up. You’ll probably get a few good spins out of it.


Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever

Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Forever
June 3, 1997
Loud RecordsRCA Records/ BMG Music Group/ SME
080/100
WuTangForever
DISC I
1. Wu-Revolution (performed by Popa Wu & Uncle Pete) // 2. Reunited (feat. Ms. Roxy) // 3. For Heaven’s Sake (feat. Cappadonna) // 4. Cash Still Rules/Scary Hours (Still Don’t Nothing Move But The Money) // 5. Visionz // 6. As High As Wu-Tang Get // 7. Severe Punishment // 8. Older Gods // 9. Maria (feat. Cappadonna) // 10. A Better Tomorrow // 11. It’s Yourz
DISC II
1. Intro // 2. Triumph (feat. Cappadonna) // 3. Impossible (feat . Tekitha) // 4. Little Ghetto Boys (feat. Cappadonna) // 5. Deadly Melody (feat. Streetlife & Dreddy Kruger) // 6. The City // 7. The Projects (feat. Shyheim) // 8. Bells of War // 9. The M.G.M. // 10. Dog Shit //11. Duck Seazon // 12. Hellz Wind Staff (feat. Streetlife) // 13. Heaterz (feat. Cappadonna) // 14. Black Shampoo // 15. Second Coming (performed by Tekitha) // 16. The Closing // 17. Sunshower // 18. Projects [International Remix] (feat. Shyheim)

Double-disc albums were a hype in the late ’90s urban music world and if an act didn’t have one it wasn’t considered whole. Tupac Shakur started the trend with his diamond-selling All Eyez On Me in ’96 and plenty of R&B/hip-hop artists would soon follow in his tracks, including arch rival the Notorious B.I.G., R. Kelly and several others. These albums, though some were well-received and have reached what one would call ‘classic status’, generally represent a bloated mess of imperial overstretch in these artists’ respective career. Shakur’s album All Eyez on Me, the project that kickstarted the trend, was the worst offender. It sounded like he recorded it all in one go and completely ran out of ideas after the first few songs or so and only regaining his momentum very sporadically over the course of the rest of the album and nevertheless released it to the masses without ever looking back. What we are digging into today however is its polar opposite when it’s the overall quality that is concerned, probably because Shakur was filling two discs of original material by his self (with lots of help of his untalented weed carriers Tha Outlawz and to a lesser degree his labelmates Snoop, Dre, Daz, Kurupt and whoever accidentally walked into the wrong studio, but still. All Eyez on Me was essentially 2pac headlining two full CD’s of material.) and the Wu-Tang Clan has nine official members who all get equal billing and are all to varying degrees main attractions.

Wu-Tang Forever marks the end of RZA’s famed and mysterious five year plan. Not even Method Man claims to know just what that plan might have been, but it had something to do with dropping a trail of classic solo albums by individual members between the group’s debut album and their sophomoric one. It goes TicalReturn to the 36 ChambersOnly Built 4 Cuban Linx…Liquid Swords and Ironman.
(Also there was supposed to be a Inspectah Deck album released somewhere between Liquid Swords and Ironman but RZA’s basement which contained all of his equipment and prerecorded beats that were intended for that one, and apparently Ironman was higher on RZA’s list of priorities.)

Wu-Tang Forever extensively features Cappadonna, a Wu-affiliate who would’ve been one of the original nine members but went to prison before having been able to make any contribution to Enter the Wu-Tang and was replaced by Method Man in stead. The man had resurfaced on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and contributed to Ghostface Killah’s Ironman. Even though he is credited as a featured guest on Wu-Tang Forever whenever he pops up, and he pops up quite often, he was more or less considered the Clan’s tenth member when it was released. RZA would later disown Cappadonna as an official Clan affiliate because Cappa completely lost his rapping mojo of an alleged financial conflict between the two where Cappachino claimed RZA owed him money and RZA claimed he was full of it.

Wu-svengali RZA had for the most part abandoned the gruff, dusty and minimalistic sound that made Enter the Wu-Tang such a notable success. Having produced a stack of classic albums since his instrumentals became increasingly rich and cinematic over the course of discs that went from Tical to Ironman. On Wu-Tang Forever he added a new element to his bag of tricks. He took vocal samples from old soul records and changed the pitch to make them sound high and quirky, possibly to save money on background singers which he could then spend on honey-dipped blunts and pointy rings. He then proceeded to incorporate them into his beats. This is a hip-hop production technique many people think Kanye West invented. RZA, who previously did pretty much all the work behind the boards on anything released by any of the Clansmen stepped aside for eight of the album’s twenty nine tracks which he left to his cronies True Master, 4th Disciple and for some reason Inspectah Deck whose instrumental contrubutions aren’t very good but also not that numerous. Whether this was done for variation’s sake or simply because RZA couldn’t come up with twenty nine instrumentals of consistently good quality on his own (It happens to the best of us) is unknown to me, but it is what it is.

The album’s first disc is off to a meh start with its bullshit intro on which two non-Clan members get to rant for nearly seven minutes about five percent islam, a religion that apparently every member of the Clan was practicing at the time. Nothing against taking pride in one’s religion but this track couldn’t have been more tedious and pretentious if they followed it with a full recital of each and every scripture of every religion known to mankind ever while keeping the same beat on for the entire duration.
Following that is a somewhat uneven collection of music which is to be expected from an album that consist of the combined efforts of ten rappers and four producers divided by twenty eleven tracks. The disc sounds good for the most part. The majority of the songs are highlights. The tense the Wu-noir opening cut Reunited which has the three cousins GZA, ODB and RZA + Method Man ripping shit up and setting the mood for what is to come.
For Heaven’s Sake has Deck outrap Masta Killa and Cappadonna over a quintessential chipmunk-soul beat.
It’s Yourz blends RZA’s typical dusty sound with something akin to old school disco rap. Rae, U-God, RZA, Deck all get to rock it but GFK walks away with the track.
OB4L reprise Older Gods (that doesn’t appear to be complimentary to Shyheim’s Young Gods) and the ode to positive thinking that is A Better Tomorrow and the grimy but catchy are all prime Wu posse cuts as well.
Low points are the unsexy sex rap Maria, the Deck-produced Visionz and the shitty Cash Rules sequel Cash Still Rules Everything Around Me.

The second disc opens with a dismissal of Rap ‘n’ Bullshit R&B-rap artists by RZA & GZA, presumably P. Daddy & Ma$e. I wonder if RZA remembered that You’re All I Need to Get By song that got Method Man, Mary J. Blige and P. Daddy a grammy, or that Babyface Remix that had Ghostface Killah rhyme the exact same verse he performed on this album’s Visionz. (I’m also curious what RZA had to say when he first heard that Justin Bieber song that had Raekwon and Kanye West on it, if he ever hear it at all.)
Obviously there’s more posse cuts on this disc. Triumph is arguably the best thing on the entire project with its cinematic instrumental and all the official Wu-tang plus Cappadonna rocking over it. The only complaint about this one is that Ol Dirtly Bastard is severely underused by not being allowed to spit a verse of his own and being relegated to shit-talking on the intro and in between verses in stead. I suppose you can’t have it all. The song is still really, really good anyway.
Impossible has the most eerie, spaced out instrumental so far and has among others Ghostface Killah tear it to shreds.
Little Ghetto Boys is a fairly nice word of advice to its titular subjects about not choosing the wrong path although reusing that Donny Hathaway sample for the hook was then and still is a surefire way of getting your song unfavourably compared to a classic songs by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg and P. Daddy with Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z.
Fans of the debut album’s production sound get thrown another bone by way of Deadly Melody, a showcase for mostly Method Man and his apprentice Street Life.
Bells of War is a good listen too and the Rae-Ghost duet The M.G.M. Wu-Tang Forever is as good a showcase of their usual on-record Chemistry as anything off OB4C or Ironman.
The Projects finally puts Shyheim in the same room as most of the clan members so good for him that he’s finally proven to be a true Wu-B-teamer. It’s not good for anyone or anything else though because it’s beat sounds like RZA was only half finished creating it before his pizza was delivered or something.The ODB gets a solo offering with Dog Shit and it sucks balls, the man always was a hit or miss individual. The part at the end where he tell his fellow clansmen that they remind him of the backup dancers of En Vogue though almost makes it worth sitting through.
Speaking of horrible solo-efforts: U-God, a rapper who was incarcerated during most of the recording of 36 Chambers and is considered by many to be the worst rapper in the group gets a solo-showcase of his own in the form of Black Shampoo, a hilariously unsettling sex rap with an instrumental that sounds like it was made by Barry White on acid, over which the man invites the listener to let him clip his or her toenails, among a diverse range of other odd sexy business.
The City is Inspectah Deck’s chance to fly solo. It’s good enough to make one desperately want to hear his aborted flushed solo debut, so listen to it at your own risk.
RZA, Raekwon and oddly enough Tekhita, one of the Clan’s go-to studio songstresses, get fairly decent solo-offerings as well

Overall Wu-Tang Forever, like any non-greatest hits double disc album this reviewer is aware of, would’ve benefited if it had been edited down to a single disc. That however would have meant that the guys weren’t competing with Biggie and 2pac for best double disc album of the late ’90s which hardly would’ve been an option worth considering. And it’s still a really good album in the incarnation in which it was released. Bar Dog ShitMaria and Black Shampoo most of the lesser tracks are entertaining filler rather than bad songs. Wu-Tang Forever retains enough of the old to keep the fans happy but introduces enough new to justify having a sophomore album in the first place. The album is a great showcase for one of hip-hop’s greatest franchises at the peak of its powers.

Best tracks
Reunited
Severe Punishment
It’s Yourz
For Heaven’s Sake
Older Godz
A Better Tomorrow
Triumph
Impossible
Deadly Melody
Bells of War
The City
Black Shampoo

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Camp Lo – Uptown Saturday Night

Camp Lo
Uptown Saturday Night
January 28, 1997
Profile RecordsArista Records/ SME
083/100
Camp Lo - Uptown Saturday Night
1. Krystal Karrington // 2. Luchini AKA This Is It // 3. Park Joint // 4. B-Side to Hollywood (feat. Trugoy the Dove) // 5. Killin’  Em Softly // 6. Sparkle // 7. Black Connection // 8. Swing (feat. Butterfly) // 9. Rockin’ It AKA Spanish Harlem // 10. Say Word (feat. Jungle Brown) // 11. Negro League (feat. Karachi R.A.W. & Bones) // 12. Nicky Barnes AKA It’s Alright (feat. Jungle Brown) // 13. Black Nostaljack // 14. Coolie High // 15. Sparkle [Mr. Midnight Mix]

Every once in a while a piece of music enters ones conscience that makes you wonder how you got by without it all those years. Camp Lo’s Coolie High has been one of those songs for yours truly. I remember when I first heard the song at a house party some five, six years ago and unfortunately I was too far off the map and preoccupied to walk up to the desktop to find out just what exactly it was that was playing. The smooth-as-butter instrumentals and nimble flows did however leave a mark and when one of my friends casually put it on at another house party years later I immediately recognised it, had a eureka moment of sorts and managed not to forsake finding out what was that time. Coolie High has since been a favourite track of mines, kept in heavy rotation and helping me zone out for a bit at those times when life gets a little too stressful. Their other hit song Luchini AKA This Is It also turned out to be a classic and sounds like Coolie High‘s polar opposite production-wise. The beat has a cinematic horn loop among other things that doesn’t creep up your spine but grabs you by the throat in stead. Neither song has any particularly meaningful lyrics but everything the Lo say does sound cool with a poetic veneer, and their liquid flows are near perfect which puts the guys somewhere between being instruments used by Ski to complete his music and star MCs in their own right.

The duo behind these songs hails from the Bronx, New York and entered existence in 1995. Soon they hooked up with producer DJ Ski and started working on their debut album Uptown Saturday Night, the subject of today’s post, released on Profile Records, home of RUN-DMC. Unfortunately for them during the recording a young upstart who went by the name of Jay-Z came along and stole purchased the instrumental, the hook and the flow of their songs Feelin’ It (and who knows what else) wholesale from their producer Ski for his debut album Reasonable Doubt. Despite that minor setback they continued to work on their album and it dropped in early ’97. Despite not conforming to any of the dominant sounds in hip-hop of the time, those being P. Daddy’s shiny disco rap, Dr. Dre’s syrupy G-funk sound or RZA’s dusty beats, they managed to score two minor hits off their debut, the previously mentioned Coolie High and Luchini AKA This Is It. These songs introduced the world to the Lo’s confidently delivered ’70s  blaxploitation slang raps and Ski’s atmospheric, soulful and jazzy yet down to earth productions. That would unfortunately be the entirety of their commercial success as nothing they did following that charted, but that didn’t stop them from staying together, collaborating with their boy Ski and putting out albums for the decade following this album’s release so they probably have a small but dedicated cult following or so it would seem.

Nothing on Uptown Saturday Night surpasses or even matches the artistic success of the positively epic Luchini or aural relaxant Coolie Hight, but the rest of the album is still quite entertaining. Highlights include the Jamiroquai-esque piano groove of Sparkle and the smacking salsa-hop of Rockin’ It. The booming opener Krystal Karrington is also pretty awesome. The rest of the songs are fairly entertaining filler and Uptown Saturday Night as a whole is an underrated gem of an album that is deserving of every hip-hop head’s time and attention.

Best tracks
Krystal Karrington
Luchini AKA This Is It
Sparkle
Rockin’ It AKA Spanish Joint
Coolie High

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon and Cappadonna – Ironman

Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon  & Cappadonna
Ironman
October 29, 1996
Razor Sharp/ Epic Street/ Epic RecordsSME
073/100
Ghostface Killah - Ironman
1. Iron Maiden (feat. Raekwon & Cappadonna) // 2. Wildflower (feat. Scotty Wotty & Jamie Sommers) // 3. The Faster Blade (performed by Raekwon) // 4. 260 (feat. Raekwon) // 5. Assassination Days (performed by Inspectah Deck, RZA, Raekwon & Masta Killa) // 6. Poisonous Darts // 7. Winter Warz (feat. U-God, Masta Killa, Capadonna & Raekwon) // 8. Box In Hand (feat. Raekwon, Method Man & the Force M.D.s) //9. Fish (feat. Cappadonna & Raekwon) // 10. Camay (feat. Raekwon & Cappadonna) // 11. Daytona 500 (feat. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah & the Force M.D.s) // 12. Motherless Child (feat. Raekwon) // 13. Black Jesus (feat. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God & Popa Wu) // 14. After the Smoke Is Clear (feat. Raekwon, RZA & the Delfonics) //15. All That I Got Is You (feat. Mary J. Blige & Popa Wu) //16. The Soul Controller (feat. the Force M.D.s) // 17. Marvel (feat. RZA)

This isn’t a proper Ghostface Killah or anything but that’s fine, it’s not like the album’s two co-stars aren’t listed and pictured on the front cover. Also Pretty Toney already had albout half a solo-album in OB4CL…which makes the amount of solo-albums he had under his belt after releasing Ironman 0.83333333333.
But Ghost’s name is the one on the front cover that appears first and in the biggest font, which means that Ironman definitely is promoted as a being Ghostface Killah album, which would be fine if Raekwon’s wasn’t the voice you actually hear rapping on it before anyone else’s and if Rae didn’t have a solo song all of his own on this while Ghost has but one track where he’s left unaccompanied too.
But Rae is the first guy you hear, Rae and Ghost do have a solo-song each and in addition Assassination Days is a pretty cool Wu-posse cut doesn’t have Ghost on it but and does have a Raekwon appearance, so that’s some fairly false advertising if ever I came across any. Truth is: This is a Raekwon album, or at least as much a Raekwon album as it is a Ghostface Killah album.
One has to wonder who at Razor Sharp Records/ Epic Street was as unconfident in Ghost’s abilities to make a consistently entertaining solo-album and why exactly because the man is considered by many, including yours truly, as the Wu-member with the most consistently entertaining solo output out of all nine.

Where Ironman does deliver is that it’s packed with RZA beats, glancing at the track list there isn’t a song without RZA’s involvement except Fish which True Master snuck into the studio when Robert Diggs was taking a piss or smoking one of his honey-dipped blunts or something.
But ‘deliver’ may be an overstatement of sorts because the beats, while far from being sucky, don’t bang as hard as you’d expect based on the stack of classics Bobby Digital produced that is every Wu-solo album from Tical to Liquid Swords.
The most likely explanation for the small but notable drop in quality of the soundscapes is that Ironman is notable for allegedly being the first Wu-member album recorded after the flooding of Wu-ringleader RZA’s basement studio, which took out all of the man’s equipment and the beats he had laying around (both finished ones and works in progress, one must assume). So basically RZA had to start from scratch creating and recreating instrumentals for this album in a very short timespan, which must’ve been a daunting task regardless, but was likely to be especially fucking exhausting for someone who had been producing five classic albums in the three years before this one.
Anyway it’s not as though he did a shitty job. As usual the music sets a variety of moods while always showing a hint of dust and creepiness or oddness depending wat the song calls for (or rather everyone who ends up on the beat bows down to RZA which is more likely). These instrumentals are diverse but do have a minimal yet cinematic quality in common which helps unify these tracks into an album, and a fairly good album it is. It just doesn’t sound as good as what came before it, unreasonable expectations or not.

In these two manners Ironman is a definite but slight disappointment. It is not an effective introduction to Ghostface Killah the solo-artist and beatwise it is not as good as Liquid Swords (or anything that came before it from the Wu-Tang’s original nine). But despite those two concerns it’s still good enough to serve the Wu-hungry. The beats here do still bang harder than those found on most contemporary competition’s albums and if this doesn’t have much in the way of Ghostface Killah solo songs it has the next best thing: Plenty of Rae/Ghost collabos, that sound perfectly good when they’re on but don’t leave much of an impression when they’re gone. They’re not as good as those found on) OB4CL… but they’ll do.
Cappadonna is on here quite often as well, but he’s nowhere near as omnipresent as Rae, so I’m assuming that the reason he gets a full credit on the front cover and not the Force M.D.s is because he was Razor Sharp Records’ artist to promote and would have a solo-album for himself on the shelves in the foreseeable future. The guy doesn’t suck behind the mic so there’s not necessarily something worth additional complaining about.

The album starts off catchy enough with Iron Maiden, which as usual with the Wu is introduced with a fragment from an action movie. This time it’s not a kung-fu flic but a ’70s blaxploitation movie which is all well, but once the music starts playing and Rae is the first guy you hear spitting you feel like something is wrong and envision Ghost quickly leaving the studio after the beat starts playing in fear of failing to spit something entertaining, and Rae jumping in rhyming to prevent on-record awkward silence while Cappadonna outside with Ghost is trying to convincing him to go back and do the second verse. (I realise that this is not how songs are recorded, don’t bother explaining.)
Wildflower is a rabiate deconstruction of one of Pretty Toney’s ex-girlfriends which is a song format that both Ghost and some of his Wu brethren have repeatedly revisited and All I Got Is You is an ode to Ghost’s mother featuring the only non-Wu guest in Mary J. Blige. It’s a touching song and with Wildflower is forshadowing of the more emotionally charged work the man would be known for later in his career.
260 and Motherless Child are entertaining Ghost-Rae crime tales tailor-made for those who loved OB4CL….
Other highlights for fans of Rae/Ghost chemistry are Winter WarzFishCamayDaytona 500 and Black Jesus. All these tracks also feature contributions by either Cappadonna, U-God or both, two MCs who have often been called the worst things about the clan (when Wu-fans are generous to consider Cap a Wu-member at all). But here the work of either rapper never sounds anything less than inspired.
For people who nevertheless demand songs with nothing but A-list Wu-members there’s Box In Hand with Method Man in addition to our dynamic duo, and After the Smoke Is Clear which has RZA stepping away from the boards and into the booth with them to land some bars himself. His voice also pops up Marvel, which closes out the disc and on the posse cut Assassination Days which hasn’t got pretty Toney on it anywhere for whatever reason. Also there’s that The Faster Blade song which has Rae going for dolo and is probably a returning of favours since Ghost got his first solo-song on OB4CL…‘s Wisdom Body.

Overall Ironman sports a pretty impressive collection of music, and it doesn’t really have any shitty songs on it. It’s just as consistently entertaining as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… just consistently less so. But that shouldn’t necessarily be seen as any sort of disencouragement to listen to it. Most rap albums don’t hold up to OB4CL… and that still allows them to be pretty good.This is often seen as the last classic Wu solo-album because it was the last one in RZA’s five year plan in which the guy produced everything.This assessment isn’t true for several reasons: Arguably while not being a bad album per se it is the worst out of the first round so the last true classic would be Liquid Swords if the Clan had completely stopped recording solo-albums after Wu-Tang Forever. Secondly the official sequel to OB4CL…, released in 2009, is a classic too (There I said it.) Finally and perhaps most importantly Ghost would only get better as an artist and would release his true solo debut in the form of Supreme Clientele in early 2000, and it sounds better than this.With that said it does mark the end of an era. It is the last solo album by a Wu-member RZA completely produced (bar RZA’s own albums) and the last one more or less done in the style of olde before Robert Diggs cut his inner artiste loose starting on Wu-Tang Forever. So if you can’t get enough of the original Wu-sound by all means pick this one up. Just pick up 36 ChambersTicalReturn to the 36 ChambersOnly Built 4 Cuban Linx… and Liquid Swords before you do.

Best tracks
The Soul Controller
260
Box In Hand
Black Jesus
Winter Warz
Motherless Child
Poisonous Darts
Daytona 50
The Faster Blade

Recommendations
Yeah enough nitpicky bitching already. You can go and pick this up now. It’s not bad (Not bad meaning fairly good).


Shyheim – The Lost Generation

Shyheim
The Lost Generation
May 28, 1996
Noo Trybe/Virgin Records/EMIUMG
055/100
The Lost Generation--Front
1. Shit Iz Real (feat. DeLouie Avant Jr.) // 2. Dear God (feat. Pop The Brown Hornet, June Lover & Nikki Williams) // 3. Jiggy Comin’ // 4. 5 Elements (feat. Down Low Reka, June Lover, Pop the Brown Hornet & Rubbabandz) // 5. Shaolin Style (feat. Squigg Trust) // 6. Real Bad Boys // 7. What Makes the World Go Round (feat. Rubbabandz, Smoothe Da Hustler, Trigger & Dzalias Christ) // 8. Can You Feel It (feat. June Lover & King Just) // 9. Life As a Shorty // 10. Don’t Front/ Let’s Chill (feat. 702) // 11. Things Happen // 12. See What I See (feat. Dzalias Christ) // 13. Still There (feat. DeLouie Avant Jr.) //14. Young Gods (feat. Killa Sin, Madman, Rubbabands, Raekwon & RZA)

Wu-tang affiliate Shyheim’s first album sold enough copies for Virgin record to allow him a second studio album (although nothing can be found online about any sort of gold certification). And by the time it dropped in may ’96 the guy still would have to cross the border to Canada or Mejico to legally buy a beer because he was barely eighteen by that time.
For The Lost Generation he mostly worked with the same people that made AKA the Rugged Child such a moderate success: Producer RNS, who according to Discogs was at one point Wu-svengali RZA’s mentor, (although no other interwebs source can confirm this in a satisfactory manner) and members of the sorta, kinda Wu-affiliated GP Wu which supplied most of the guest vocals.
Like on AKA the Rugged Child RZA supplies but one beat, but unlike the last time around his contribution lasts for over two minutes and features some actual Wu-involvement in the vocal department, because the hook is performed by Prince Rakeem himself and Raekwon the Chef (although a would-be-much-appreciated verse from either official Wu-member is missing, sadly). M.O.P.-producer DR Period and NaS-veteran L.E.S. also get to provide beats for Shy to rock over.

Oddly enough Shyheim seems to actually have become less mature-sounding since recording AKA the Rugged Child. A simple and logical explanation would be that on that album he didn’t write his own lyrics, leaving that to an older rapper, whereas on this one he did everything himself.
Shy’s juvenile, irreverent style isn’t without merit and sort of fits him him on occasion. Quips like God help me out nigga would certainly lose their charm coming from an older rapper but work just fine on Dear God, a song about ghetto hardship and desparantion and a definite highlight with a bleak yet smackin’ and smooth RNS beat and Pop da Brown Hornet paying hommage to Snoop Dogg’s Murder Was the Case on the hook. Unfortunately for Shyheim Dear God is a rare highlight on an album filled with mediocracy.
Shit Is Real, the album opener, is supposed to establish Shy’s street cred, but it’s subject matter and backing music are a straight mismatch, although it would no doubt have sucked too even without its wimpy R&B instrumental.
Jiggy Comin’ is about Shyheim’s trouble with the police, which is all well but he sounds like the type of kid that was taken to his mother by the law enforcement for nicking a candy bar rather than being sent to the penitentiary for anything serious, and talks shit to his boys blowing the story up via this track.
Shaolin Style flips an already overused Patrice Rushen sample and manages to add nothing of value to the well-known melody, the Method Man samples on the hook be damned.
The Lost Generation also has an introspective song and a joint for the ladies, Don’t Front/Let’s Chill and Still There For Me respectively. Both of them fall flat on their faces because Shy’s persona isn’t developed enough to to them justice and he fills them with gangsta clichés in stead, and they are made worse by having rather shitty R&B guest appearances accompanying him.

That’s not to say The Lost Generation is all shit though. But the moments that do work aren’t working because of Shyheim and would’ve sounded equally well, if not better, with another rapper taking his place or do sound good because there actually isn’t much Shyheim on them to speak of. Can You Feel It works because of it’s bouncy disco production combined with the spacy vocal distortion. See What I See has a eerie, pounding, percussive piano based instrumental by DR Period with a catchy, sung chorus courtesy of studio singer Dzalias Christ, 5 Elements and What Makes the World Go Round work well enough but mostly because GP Wu take over the track and are backed by RNS productions that sounds like someone from the actual clan might rock over them, had they had the opportunity. As does Young Gods, but that’s because it it’s a RZA creation, because it has minimal vocal involvement by Rae and RZA himself and because quite possibly was offered to someone from the actual Clan before ending up here.

Life as a Shorty is the only moment on the record where Shy regains the lyrical momentum he had on Dear God, sounding convincing and credible enough in his roll as a young hoodlum and unique enough to justify him having a rap career. This unfortunately doesn’t happen a lot on The Lost Generation. An album that sees Shy probably having his first attempts at writing his own lyrics. As such we shouldn’t be too hard on the guy. But the person who fired his ghostwriter may have been premature doing so because the Shyheim we hear on this album for the most part sounds like he has just heard gangsta rap for the first time and then decided to dive head-first into recording an album which is never a good thing.
Let that however not be interpreted as an outright and complete dismissal of Shyheim as a rapper. His debut AKA the Rugged Child is pretty good, as are the songs listed below and his follow-up work may very well be too because he still had a lot of growing up to do at this point.

Best tracks
Dear God
5 Elements
Can You Feel It
What Makes the World Go Round
See What I See
Young Gods

Recommendations
Download the above tracks off iTunes or Amazon, or pick this album up if you find it for really cheap.


John Mayer – Heavier Things

John Mayer
Heavier Things
September 9, 2003
Aware RecordsColumbia RecordsSME
062/100
John Mayer - Heavier Things
1. Clarity // 2. Bigger Than My Body // 3. Something’s Missing // 4. New Deep // 5. Come Back to Bed // 6. Home Life // 7. Split Screen Sadness // 8. Daughters // 9. Only Heart // 10. Wheel

Singer-songwriter John Mayer’s first full length album Room For Squares sold milions of copies and unexpectedly so. Who knew women of all ages have a soft spot for a guitar-strummy pretty boy velvettily crooning his little heart out about his feelings regarding the fairer sex and his aspirations? (Please don’t answer that in the comment section, that was a rhetorical question.)
Yes Room For Squares was aimed at the heart of the white middle aged housewife demographic adult contemporary radio, and it was incredibly dull. But it still served a purpose in being the perfect soundtrack to an hour or so spent in a Starbucks by members the then-budding hipster community. And if you paid attention to it and managed to stay awake doing so, you would discover that Mayer was a pretty good songwriter with attention to detail and has some pretty good observation skills.
I would give you a example of where Squares offers these qualities here but I cannot remember a single song off Squares beyond Your Body Is a Wonderland, which isn’t a very good example of what is good about John Mayer, despite being his signature song, well until Daughters was released as a single, which also isn’t showing Mayer’s best side, but I digress.

Heavier Things isn’t a grand departure from Squares or anything, but it does sound different enough in that the sound is beefed up justlittle bit. This upgrades Mayer’s music from the sort of adult contemporary radio music you don’t really notice being on to the sort of adult contemporary radio music that gets stuck in your head. In short Heavier Things‘ producer, Jack Joseph Puig, did something to Mayer’s music Room For Squares‘ producer, John Alagia couldn’t; make it memorable at times. Those times are the album-opener Clarity, the next song Bigger Than My Body and Come Back to Bed.
Oh and Daughters is memorable too, although it’s debatable whether it’s positive or negative for that particular song.

Clarity is relaxing and uplifting at the same time and has Mayer’s corduroy croon slide into smooth falsetto on the hook. This combined with the soulful instrumentation makes for something much richer than anything off his debut.
Bigger Than My Body is where the album really picks up steam and ups the tempo. It is unfortunate that Mayer never really comes back to it because this type of faster song (relatively speaking off course, this is still Mayer so the song is still going to be chilled enough to not disrupt a dinnertable conversation) fits him like a glove. Unfortunately the album hits snooze shortly after and never really manages to wake up on time.
On Come Back to Bed however this drowsiness is actually a good thing. On it Mayer pleads to his better half to rejoin him after she got out of the sack because of something he did or didn’t say (What exactly he did wrong he hasn’t figured out himself yet.) It’s gracious, sexy, hooky, bluesy and soulful and would’ve been a big hit if Aware Records/ Columbia had released it as a single.

Then there’s Daughters which has an inescapable hook and could be considered a Hallmark card set to wax or aural dreck leaving a slime trail depending what side of the fence you’re on. This reviewer hates it with every fiber of his body. Contained within it are all those things some wish real boyfriends knew and said, as well as sexism aimed both at women and men in several instances. It may be a well written contemporary pop-classic and all but bleh, this trifle is nauseating.

All of the other songs are alright, nothing more, nothing less. They sound more interesting than the filler off his last album but not by a wide margin. But, in combination with the stand-out songs, they sound good enough to call Heavier Things a fairly big improvement over his first album.

Best tracks
Clarity
Bigger Than My Body
Come Back to Bed
Daughters

Recommendations
Pick this one up. It’s an alright enough record for lazy sundays. Do buy a used copy though if you can find one. This album isn’t necessarily worth a lot of money.


Nelly – Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention

Nelly
Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention
November 25, 2003
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
058/100
Nelly - Da Derrty Versions the Reinvention
1. Intro // 2. Country Grammar [Jay E Remix] (feat. E-40) // 3. Iz U // 4. E.I. [David Banner remix] // 5. Ride With Me [Jay E Remix] (feat. City Spud) // 6. Batter Up [Jay E Remix] (feat. Murphy Lee, Chocolate Tai, King Jacob, Prentiss Church & Jung Tru) // 7. If // 8. Hot In Herre [Basement Beats Remix] // 9. Dilemma [Jermaine Dupri Remix] (feat. Ali & Kelly Rowland) // 10. King’s Highway // 11. Groovin’ Tonight (St. Lunatics feat. Brian McKnight) // 12. Air Force Ones [David Banner Remix] (feat. David Banner & 8ball) // 13. Work It [Scott Storch Remix] (feat. Justin Timberlake) // 14. #1 [Remix] (feat. Postaboy & Clipse) // 15. Pimp Juice [Jay E Remix] (feat. Ron Isley) // 16. Tip Drill [Remix] (E.I.) (St. Lunatics)

Back when people still bought cds remix-albums were an easy way for record labels of juicing any particular artist’s fanbase for some cash whenever that artist didn’t have a proper album to promote. Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention is such an album, bridging the gap between Nelly’s 2002 blockbuster Nellyville and his 2004 double whammy Sweat and Suit. On this album you will find amended versions of hit songs from Nellyville and his debut Country Grammar of varying quality, all tied together by Nelly commenting on his ‘creative process’ in a sort of fake interview type of setting brought to us in skits. Did you know E-40 invented slang? Yeah, me neither…

On to the content: Everything labeled a ‘Jay E Remix’, which is is the absolute majority of the songs, can be automatically dismissed as a remix. Not because the beats suck, Jay E is a terrific producer and arguably half of the reason of Nelly’s success, but rather because the guy produced most of the original incarnations of these songs which were mostly not broke and therefore not in need of fixing.
Apparently he agreed with that assessment because the changes to his instrumentals are minimal to nonexistent. All that’s really added are newly recorded guest appearances which vary from entertaining enough such as the Ron Isley-featuring version of Pimp Juice and the Clipse on #1, to meh such as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it E-40 verse on Country Grammar, to godawful such as the new version of Batter Up which replaces B-team weedcarriers with Z-team weedcarriers. But the fact that Jay doesn’t go rampant creatively with altering his own shit might actually be for the better because the one time Jay E does actually change something substantial about a song the result is a version of Ride With Me that poorly attempts to fit the original hook into the melody of John Mayer’s No Such Thing for no other reason than that Nelly likes John and wanted to pay ‘tribute’ to him, which is very questionable reasoning at best. Nelly could‘ve called the guy up for a collabo and Mayer would probably have said yes, and that might’ve made for an entertaining collabo if Nelly’s later collabo with Tim McGraw Over and Over is any indication. In stead we’re left with this stupid shit that also does a terrible job at incorporating City Spud’s not-that-great-to-begin-with verse off the original version.
The remix of Hot In Herre which is credited to ‘Basemenent Beats’, a production team consisting of Jay E, Koko and Wally Beaming (and City Spud who is m.i.a. here because of a ten year prison stint) is pretty fucking awesome with what sounds like a recreation of the Neptunes’ bleepy, bloopy original beat with live instrumentation. I guess he did have something to ad here because he didn’t have a hand in creating the original instrumental.

Mississippi rapper and producer David Banner remixes E.I. into something much more scandalously entertaining than the original, although there wasn’t much need to tack on a second version of this remix on the end of the album with his boys from the St. Lunatics featuring but substituting verses with catchphrases (This version does however work really well as a floor-filler at parties, so perhaps it is the Nelly-solo version that is the redundant track out of the two.) His rock version of Air Force Ones however a fairly lame deal, which is a shame because new guest verses by himself and southern legend 8ball are a lot better than what the ‘Tics had come up with for the original.

Jermaine Dupri’s new version of Dilemma exposes the song for having been very reliant for its effect on its sappy original production as this stripped down version sounds dry and superficial. Scott Storch transforms Work It into an altogether more slinky affair that probably would’ve sounded better if Nelly hadn’t decided to re-record his vocals after popping a shitload of ritalin. It is what it is and it is mystifying.

That leaves a three original songs. Iz U is a pretty cool trunk-rattler that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Nellyville, that goes for Kings Highway and the Neptunes-produced If as well. Perhaps he was cleaning out the vaults or something. Anyway these songs are probably the only real reason for owners of Country Grammar and Nellyville to pick up The Reinvention.
In 2003 that might’ve cut it as an incentive for purchasing this album. In 2014 however you can just buy the individual songs off iTunes or Amazon and you’ll have all the added value of this album to Nelly’s catalogue for a lot less money than you would spend on the entire disc. That’s not to say Da Derrty Versions sounds bad. It’s a fairly decent Nelly-playlist, and with the exception of Air Force Ones and Ride With Me these remixes don’t actually sound any worse than they do in their original versions. Props for culling the only good song Groovin’ Tonight off that godawful St. Lunatics album, even if it was only to get incarcerated Lunatic City Spud some commisary (That would also explain why Spud is on that strange and shitty Ride With Me-John Mayer mashup). But if you’re a fan of Nelly’s you could probably make a much better Nelly-playlist yourself with the technology being available and manageable to everyone and their grandmother, making The Reinvention a dinosaur from a bygone era.

Best tracks
Iz U
If
Hot In Herre [Basement Beats Remix]
King’s Highway
Groovin’ Tonight
Pimp Juice [Jay E Remix]

Recommendations
Buy the above tracks off iTunes or Amazon, or pick this out of the used CD bin you find it for under six dollars.


John Mayer – Room For Squares

John Mayer
Room For Squares
June 5, 2001
Aware RecordsColumbia RecordsSME
055/100
John Mayer - Room For Squares
1. No Such Thing // 2. Why Georgia // 3. My Stupid Mouth // 4. Your Body Is a Wonderland // 5. Neon // 6. City Love // 7. 83 // 8. 3X5 // 9. Love Song for No One // 10. Back to You // 11. Great Indoors // 12. Not Myself // 14. St. Patrick’s Day

John Mayer is a rather controversial figure. Depending on whom you ask about him you may get aswers that range musically from guitar-strummy coffee house music-wimp to blues god in the making, and personally from douchebag lothario shagging his way through as many Hollywood debutantes as possible to an entertainingly sober individual with a healthy sense of humour about his celebrity status.

They’re all true to different degrees, depending on what stage of Mayer’s career you’re checking out. With his major-label debut Room For Squares, which recycles five songs from his EP Inside Wants Out, we get a blend of all of them, but the music backing his phlegmatic tenor mostly push this in the coffeehouse wimp territory and the album’s biggest hit, the Grammy awarded Your Body’s a Wonderland, is a prime piece of douchebag lotharionism or a practical joke on the listener, or perhaps both even.

Still for what it’s worth Mayer plays the roll of ‘that boring dick with the guitar that gets the girls to swoon’ with skill and gusto and proves himself to be a pretty skilled songwriter in the process. The opening number No Such Thing is the joint for those who were complete nonfactors in high school but were never that angsty or depressed about it and have since bounced back.
My Stupid Mouth is a potential anthem for those who accidentally call the uncalled for and fuck up socially because of it, and Your Body Is a Wonderland may be everything she needs to hear to give it up already in one neat little package, but it’s still gentle and full of wonder enough to not be the R. Kelly song it for better or worse could‘ve been. It’s also the only thing on here that contains any sort of subject matter that might get any of the young ladies that follow John Mayer’s career to blush because it elaborately talks about fucking, sort of. Apparently John for the time being took his own My Stupid Mouth to heart because all of the other material is so clean it squeaks.
Other highlights are the jazzy nighttime infatuation ride of Neon and the breezy celebration of off-and-on relationships that is Back to You. All of these are skilfully written with attention to detail, but thanks to their production even they all sound alike. Apparently producer John Alagia (of Dave Matthews band fame) is not a fan of risk-taking and Mayer’s later characteristic bluesy guitar playing is left out of this album entirely in favour of poppy jazz lite and folk lite stylings, which may not sound bad but also aren’t remotely memorable. ’83 and 3X5 are so lacklustre this reviewer can’t remember jacques merde about them despite having heard Room for Squares several times in its entirety. That goes for all the songs not mentioned as well.

Room For Squares is promising in that it doesn’t completely suck but isn’t that good either. It’s basically what a Norah Jones album from the same time would’ve sound like if Jones was a guy. Still despite the fact that the presentation is entirely lukewarm a handful of these songs are fairly good and that gives off the promise that Mayer could be an interesting artist if backed by a more engaging sound and let his hair down a little.

Best tracks
No Such Thing
Why Georgia
My Stupid Mouth
Your Body Is a Wonderland
Neon
Back to You

Recommendations
Don’t bother with this one. Chances are these songs can be found a lot more alive-sounding on one of Mayer’s live-albums, or on his acoustic debut EP Inside Wants Out even.


Christopher Williams – Adventures In Paradise

Christopher Williams
Adventures in Paradise
July 25, 1989
Geffen RecordsUMG
060/100
Christopher Williams - Adventures In Paradise
1. Talk to Myself // 2. Sexy Sex // 3. Never Let Our Love Die // 4. (Lift You Up) Turn You Around // 5. Paradise // 6. Promises, Promises // 7. One Girl // 8. If That’s What You Want // 9. I’m Your Present // 10. Always & Forever // 11. Lover Come Back // 12. Sweet Memories

The onslaught of high-quality, moderate length R&B albums coming from Uptown records couldn’t last forever. And while Christopher Williams’ debut album Adventures In Paradise isn’t an outright failiure, and at times showcases some fairly pleasant R&B music it doesn’t have the same amout of highlights that for instance In Effect Mode and Guy had, and it runs fifteen to twently minutes longer than either of those classics, which kind of means it runs fifteen minutes too long. Besides that Williams doesn’t have Al B. Sure!’s lithe and Guy’s… well Guy’s Teddy Riley throwing him beats. (On the other hand Timmy Gatling produces three songs on here. Guess it is nice to know het got at least one more Uptown/MCA paycheque after quitting Guy right before the group dropped a platinum album and started making money.) So while this album may not exactly be where it all turnt to shit it certainly is on of the less essential recordings from the ‘New Jack Swing’ era.

Williams sounds like a more relaxedly singing Johnny Gill, which is to say he’s a fine soul singer. It is also to say he is a little bland since, hate it or love it, Gill’s strenuously ferocious vocal stylings are what set him apart from the pack more than anything else.
But Williams certainly sounds like he could be a compelling singer given the right collaborators. Teddy Riley, Babyface & L.A. Reid and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis come to mind.
Timmy Gatling, Nick Martinelli, Nick Matkosky, Robert Brookins, Nevelle, Joel Davis, DJ Eddie F and some guy who goes by the moniker of Wokie are what he works with here in stead. Although Andre Harrell did sign off on Gerald Levert providing a couple of songs before he left for a holiday trip to the Bahamas for the duration of this album’s recording (his name is nowhere to be found in the liner notes.) [EDIT: Which is because Adventures In Paradise  apparently was not released on Uptown Records. Apparently Williams only signed over to the label after releasing his debut to release his sophomore album Changes there. Oh well.]
To be fair this group of relative no-names and Levert churn out some perfectly adequate, impeccably produced late ’80s urban soul. There are a couple of dance numbers but Williams is mostly in quiet storm mode steering clear of hip-hop territory most of the time, which given the horrendous raps of the Guy-aping, Gatling-produced opening track Talk to Myself, which manage to rhyme ‘departed’ with ‘retarded’ may be a huge blessing. Still, for the most part the album fails to grab the listeners attention. This may make it perfect background noise for shopping malls and the like but it also makes it seriously unfit for keeping in a music collection.

Although Adventures In Paradise may not be very exciting there surely is a market for it. I can imagine your Freddie Jackson loving, fifty year old aunt just melting away listening to this album. If her birthday is coming up you might as well throw a couple of nickels over the counter at the used CD shop may you come across this there (I can’t image too many copies lying around in other places).
But for all other intents and purposes this album is probably rather useless. These days you probably couldn’t even get laid to songs like Sexy Sex anymore (Unless you’re into hotel elevator hookups). There’s nothing remotely memorable about Adventures In Paradise. I should know, I just listened to the thing and besides that sucky amateur rap at the beginning I can’t remember a specific thing about it.

Best tracks
Talk to Myself is quite good, even if the rap bits are cringeworthy. It really makes one wonder how big Timmy Gatling’s roll was in producing Guy. It must’ve been bigger than everyone thought because Talk to Myself sounds exactly like a Guy song. Either Timmy was as important to Guy as Teddy was or he decided to take one of Teddy’s spare beats with him to sell before storming out of the band’s back door never to return and that beat became Talk to MyselfThat theory was more interesting than the entirety of this album unfortunately.

Recommendations
Don’t buy this album. Or do buy it. Whatever, I don’t care. It’s your elevator.


Heavy D & the Boyz – Big Tyme

Heavy D & the Boyz
Big Tyme
June 12, 1989
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
080/100
Heavy D & the Boyz - Big Tyme
1. We Got Our Own Thang (feat. Teddy Riley) // 2. You Ain’t Heard Nuttin Yet // 3. Somebody For Me (feat. Al B. Sure!) // 4. Mood For Love // 5. Ez Duz It, Do It Ez // 6. A Better Land // 7. Gyrlz, They Love Me // 8. More Bounce // 9. Big Tyme // 10. Flexin’ // 11. Here We Go Again, Y’all // 12. Let It Flow

Living Large... may be considered a classic today (for reasons unknown to this reviewer because I recall it being a wildly uneven effort with lots of sucking and only a handful of good songs) but it never sold that well. Big Tyme was the point where Heavy D & the Boys became what you could consider commercially succesful, selling over a million copies and hitting #01 on the R&B album-charts.
The is discrepancy in sales figures between the debut album and this one is entirely justified, to this reviewer anyway, Big Tyme is in fact a much superior album with a much slicker sound and a much better hit/miss ratio. Four of these songs were released as singles, and while none of them were charting hits of importance (except for We Got Our Own Thang which apparently hit #15 in the Netherlands) they’re all considered classics of the golden age of hip-hop.

Big Tyme is well mannered and good natured frivolity. Gangsta rap may have been taking flight on the West coast to land itself in college dorms nationwide to the sound of cash registers clanking, but D likes to pretend that it never happened because on this album he’s as much in B-Boy mode as RUN-DMC was in ’83; bragging about his rhyme skills and hollering at the ladies but never in a menacing manner. He never so much as drops a single curse.
(Unless you count “Happy like a faggot in jail.”, which is in fact sort of shocking in how cheerfully casual it is dropped. Remember kids Big Tyme is from a different era in which homophobia was much more commonplace and accepted than it is today.)
The guy sounds as though he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but would beat you in a rap battle and then proceeded to run off with your girlfriend. D’s rhyme style hasn’t changed one bit since the last time around.

His musical backdrops, provided by his DJ, Eddie F, his cousin Pete Rock and old school powerhouse Marley Marl, as wel as himself, are a lot more melodic, slicker and less clunky than they were the last time around, which helps the medicine go down tremendously. We Got Our Own Thang may have been Teddy Riley’s loungiest creation yet, Somebody For Me makes one wonder why Dwight never got to appear on In Effect Mode because not only were they labelmates but him and Al B. Sure! display some pretty cool chemistry, More Bounce isn’t boring at all despite rocking an overplayed Zapp sample. Even the faux-reggae of Mood For Love and the preachy as fuck Better Land aren’t a stinky sort of cheesy. Let It Flow and Flexin’ have some old fashionedly cool beats that would make for good background at a house party.
Even the mandatory boastfest about D’s success with the opposite sex Gyrls, they Love Me sounds pretty good.
The title track samples James Brown’s Sex Machine for the third time in D’s career (and the second time on this album) and finally creates a good update.

While there are almost zero instances of the man dropping any mind blowing knowledge (although he does speak some truths about crack cocaine and rap-haters on Better Land) that really isn’t or shouldn’t be the point of a Heavy D album. In stead one should admire the nimbleness of his flows and the catchiness of his music. In fact calling Heavy D a ‘party rap’ artist wouldn’t do the man a disservice because having a good time appears to be what the man was all about and this, ladies and gentlemen, is party rap par excellence.
One shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a hefty dose of good spirited, unadutered fun every once in a while, and backed with some seriously good music this is exactly what Big Tyme provides. It’s a throwback to a time when the hip-hop genre knew not to take itself so seriously all the time and for all these things it deserves a revisit.

Heavy D. rest in peace. May your memory live on.

Best tracks
We Got Our Own Thang
Somebody For Me
Gyrlz They Love Me
More Bounce
Big Tyme
Flexin’

Recommendations
Buy this album.


New Kids on the Block – Hangin’ Tough

New Kids on the Block
Hangin’ Tough

September 6, 1988
Columbia RecordsSME
055/100
New Kids on the Block - Hangin' Tough
1. You Got It (The Right Stuff) // 2. Please Don’t Go Girl // 3. I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) // 4. Cover Girl // 5. I Need You // 6. Hangin’ Tough // 7. I Remember When // 8. What’cha Gonna Do (About It) // 9. My Favorite Girl // 10. Hold On

Whenever paying attention to New Kids on the Block I never cease to find amusement in the idea that this group was recruited and assembled solely for the purpose of producer Maurice Starr getting back at his former New Edition pupils for singning to MCA Records to have a succesful career, after he brought them fame by producing their debut and releasing it on his indie label, without him getting any share of the profits whatsoever.
Off course this probably is not reality, or rather it’s not the complete story: New Kids on the Block was started first and foremost to compensate Starr’s lack of said profits because the man, like anyone, enjoyed having an income, although my proposition of Starr’s reasoning is most likely not entirely without truth.

Whichever of the man’s life purposes NKotB primarily served (that’s one shitty acronym, when you pronounce it not one syllable is won from the full name) vengeance or greed, doesn’t really matter because their sophomore album Hangin’ Tough achieved them both in one fell swoop by selling over seventeen million copies worldwide, which is seven million more than New Edition’s and Bobby Brown’s 1988 albums Heart Break and Don’t Be Cruel sold combined. Add to that the three million people who casually picked up a copy of the Kids 1986 self-titled debut, which had been gathering dust on shelves for two years by the time the second one dropped, and you’ll find that the New Kids and Starr sold well over double what New Edition sold that year, despite putting out somewhat derivative, inferior product. I’m not sure what of many possible causes led to this situation but to some it would seem that Starr was willing to get his goals of being filthily rich and victorious over New Edition by any means, even if that meant riding so called institutional racism that disadvantaged other members of his own so called race.

Hangin’ Tough plays like New Kids of the Block but a bit more streamlined and a bunch less funky. It would seem that the advent of New Jack Swing didn’t go unnoticed by producer Starr. Indeed Hangin’ Tough sounds like Teddy’s tinny-drum-machine-‘n’-keyboards sound chill filtred to neutrality, with some rock-ish guitars thrown in to please white parents. The result of Maurice fucking around with this sound is some impeccably produced and sung ballads and dance numbers. Despite getting the sound down Hangin’ Tough lacks the attitude to be credible to the homeboys in the streets the way Guy or Bobby brown or the sexiness to appeal to Al B. Sure! and Keith Sweat’s ladies. That was quite alright though because Starr was aiming for an entirely different demographic, one which got their albums by whining at their parents to buy them (One of the more effective ways of marketing stuff, today as much as then).
With this in mind it was probably the right decision to strip the music of every notion of personality and settle for catchy and hollow. This album is filled to the brim with the kind of naive visions of love people in their early teens can relate to, performed confidently and quite good by five handsome boys girls in their early teens like to look at on posters on bedroom walls.

Knowing that, it is probably a moot point to call the album insincere, plastic and soulless (which off course are things this album is) but I kid you not, listening to Hangin’ Tough makes one reconsider New Kids on the Block‘s artistry because that album with it’s jingling guitars, vocoder work and funky air of 100% raw milk queso sounded a lot more fun than this pasteurised horseshit. Who knew a bunch of white kids from Boston would be better at aping the Jackson Five innocently and joyfully than they ever were at trying their hand at something slicker and tougher? (I suppose all of you are now raising your hands at their computer screen, you do realise that I can’t see you, right?)

Nevertheless I have no real issues with Hangin’ Tough I suppose. I couldn’t remember so much as a single individual song after Hangin’ Tough was through, which must mean nothing even sucked memorably about it.

Best tracks
Please Don’t Go Girl

Recommendations
Meh.


New Edition – Heart Break

New Edition
Heart Break
June 20, 1988
MCA RecordsUMG
075/100
New Edition - Heart Break
1. Introduction // 2. That’s the Way We’re Livin’ // 3. Where It All Started // 4. If It Isn’t Love // 5. Skit #1 // 6. N.E. Heart Break // 7. Crucial // 8. Skit #2 // 9. You’re Not My Kind of Girl // 10. Superlady // 11. Can You Stand the Rain // 12. Competition // 13. Skit #3 // 14. I’m Comin’ Home // 15, Boys to Men

When Bobby Brown kicked himself out of New Edition he took their collective nutsack with him if Under the Blue Moon and King of Stage were indicative.
In the mean time Johnny Gill’s career wasn’t really going places despite evident talent. His first two solo-albums and the collaborative album with Stacey Lattisaw hadn’t made him the star Cotillon Records thought he was when they signed him and I imagine that the label quietly released him from his contractual obligations, as is the way with record labels and unsuccesful artists. The label by the way didn’t fail at getting  Gill to the top of the charts for lack of trying by the way, most acts don’t get three strikes at success. They tend to get dropped immediately when their debuts tank.
I’m not sure how Ralph, Ronnie, Ricky and Mike met Johnny but the music industry is a small world and given that they had met one can just see five lightbulbs pop up over the boys heads. NE was missing something and Johnny was all unfulfilled (and unemployed) potential. Why wouldn’t he join the group?

This album was released on the exact same day as Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel. That’s some serious marketing genius from whoever it was at MCA Records, the label on which both albums were released, that got to make that decision. In 1986 Bobby Brown split from New Edition very tumultuously and very pubically creating a feud between the singer and his former group. That feud had pretty much ended and become a healthy form of competition when New Edition and Bobby Brown were releasing Don’t Be Cruel and Heart Break. Apparently the guys weren’t that immature. And considering the fact that they were old friends who had been through a lot together after all and more importantly both parties had remained commercially successful in music following the split it wasn’t too difficult for them to reconcile. No hard feelings. But for many fans New Edition vs. Bobby Brown was still very much a thing. So when the fans got to the record store and saw these albums fresh on the shelf they felt more compelled to pick at least one of the two albums up to support the party they felt was right in the messy split, which pushed the sales figures of both albums up. Kanye and Fifty Cent pulled a similar marketing shenanigan in 2007. It always works to make an audience have the idea they have power over proceedings and have a real choice in matters. It is the multi million dollar equivalent of putting two tip jars on a bar with Justin Bieber and Chuck Norris names on them and letting customers decide who they like better by putting their tip in the jar with the person of their choice. The entire success of reality tv. talent concept shows like Pop Idol or The Voice on which the next pop idol is being chosen by viewers voting is also based on this idea of making the audience feel like they’re involved in this shit. If only that idea worked better for politics and getting people to actually vote for that shit, right?

In the mean time the world of contemporary R&B was changing around them. Guy had incorporated some hip-hop elements into the sound of traditional soul music to mass success. So Naranda Michael Walden, Ray Parker jr. and Freddie Perren weren’t called in for their services. Unfortunately the guys couldn’t get any Teddy beats because he was busy hanging out with frienemy Bob making his prerogative sound good.
So in stead they reached out to production team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who had spent ’86 and ’87 helping Michael’s little sister succesfully transitioning into musical adulthood to see if they could do the same for the new edition of New Edition. Truth be told Jam and Lewis didn’t change that much about New Edition’s sound. The biggest difference between the sound of Heart Break and any of their previous albums is that New Edition sounds like a group of adults rather than a pack of young boys, which is because by ’88 they were aged around twenty and because the addition of Johnny Gill meant that they collectively sounded older by default since that guy has had the voice of a singer aged thirty since he was fifteen.In stead of racking up second rate Teddy Riley beats Jam & Lewis mostly create a bunch of lush compositions that build on the strengths of the group but sounded less sunny than their previous work and really sounds like nothing more or less than the logical next step after 1985’s All For Love and Gill’s sophomore solo album Chemistry of the same year.

Tresvant, the previously undisputed alpha male of the group lets go of the microphone more often than he previously did and not only in favour of new kid on the block Johnny (perhaps he was afraid of another walk out by a member if business proceded as usual.) but also on occasion to perpetual third in command Ricky Bell, and because of that the group sounds a lot more like a group.
Gill and Tresvant’s voices sound very well together because they’re completely different. Johnny has a chocolaty rich baritone comparable to Luther Vandross’ while Ralph’s voice sounds like Michael Jackson airy tenor, forming a nice contrast. This can be heard at work best on Can You Stand the Rain. The addition of Gill also created a new harmony in the group’s backing vocals which can be peeped on You’re Not My Kind of Girl. Of the remaining three only Ricky Bell pops up in a lead singing capacity on occasion. The rest isn’t in the forefront enough to leave much of an impression, which considering the actual raps heard on Bell Biv Devoe records may very well be for the better. Speaking of rap, not much of that going on on this album. Guess Bobby was the only the hip-hop enthousiast of the group with any influence.

Besides the Jam & Lewis tracks NE slipped two songs on here they produced themselves with Whitney Houston producer and the Time band-member (with among others Jam & Lewis and unofficially Prince) Jellybean Benitez. To their credit these instrumentals don’t sound any less good than the others songs.

There’s a fair share of hit songs and it’s all good stuff. If It Isn’t Love and You’re Not My Kind of Girl are some of those cute little concept songs that NE succesfully took to the charts previously with the likes of Cool It Now and Count Me Out with Tresvant questioning a relationship problem and discussing the matter with the other guys. N.E. Heartbreak is the most hip-hop thing on here and it proves that Ronnie, Ricky, Michael, Ralph and Johnny could rock that swingbeat almost as well as Bobby.
Crucial is sweet and bouncy enough to deserve its hit-status and all is pretty well. The very best thing on here however is hands down Can You Stand the Rain, a quiet storm classic if ever there was one with the lead being passed back-and-forth between Tresvant and Gill and Ricky Bell getting some shine too. It is the most convincing argument in favour of New Edition sans Brown with Gill. It is difficult imagining the NE of old doing this record at all, let alone doing it justice.
Competition also deserves an honourable mention because it has Ralph and Ricky lamenting the split with Bobby, although Tresvant, the writer of the song, could’ve chosen more elaborate wording because it could just as easily be interpreted as an anti-war or even an anti-capitalism song, which contemporary R&B just isn’t a suitable medium for (Workers of the world unite, in front of the fireplace while New Edition gets in your pants).
Boys to Men, the album closer, which has Gill on leads inspired another R&B group to change its name and reach for the stars, eventually ending up making it big under NE member Michael Bivins’ managment (guess which one) and is also notable for the fact that Gill, who thought of it as too childish for his tastes to completely overperform parts of it out of protest. Despite his attempts to fuck it up is was still well recieved by critics so that’s some talented singer problem right there.
The rest of the songs are well meaning R&B-fluff, a little bland on occasion, but never off-puttingly so.

If Under the Blue Moon raised questions of New Edition’s relevance without Brown’s swagger keeping things interesting Heart Break makes it very clear that New Edition, with the addition of Gill, still had a reason for existence, and a moderately new, fresh and more classy, mature artistic direction. For my money Brown had the better, more interesting album with Don’t Be Cruel (and contemporary music buying audiences thought so too since Cruel sold about four times as many copies as Heart Break did) but Heart Break sold two million, which isn’t bad, and it inspired a succesful concert tour which had Al B. Sure! and Brown on it as opening acts (which made it okay for Bobby fans to buy Heart Break and for Ralph-fans to pick up Don’t Be Cruel, clever boys).
Following Heart Break the guys split up with succesful albums coming from Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant and unexpectedly the rump-group Bell Biv Devoe, which consisted of Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ron Devoe. With the solo-success of its members for a while seemed like New Edition was history for good. Until Ralph, Johnny, Bobby and BBD each dropped an album that was disappointingly saleswise and they reunited New Edition as a sextet with both Gill and Brown included for an album in ’96, that was. Look out for all those albums being reviewed on the site sooner than later.
For now: Heart Break is a pretty good late ’80s R&B album that you would do well to check out.

Best tracks
If It Isn’t Love
N.E. Heartbreak
Crucial
You’re Not My Kind of Girl
Can You Stand the Rain
Boys to Men

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel

Bobby Brown
Don’t Be Cruel
June 20, 1988
MCA RecordsUMG
080/100Bobby Brown - Don't Be Cruel

1. Cruel Prelude // 2. Don’t Be Cruel // 3. My Prerogative // 4. Roni // 5. Rock Wit’cha // 6. Every Little Step // 7. I’ll Be Good to You // 8. Take It Slow // 9. All Day All Night //10. I Really Love You Girl // 11. Cruel Reprise

Bobby Brown was once more than an ex-New Edition member and Whitney Houston’s ex-hubby (a faulty marriage well documented because Brown and Houston are ex-reality tv. stars as well as recording artists).
He was at one point R&B’s brightest young star as well as the archetypical boy band bad boy, that point was following the release of his sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel. When Robbie Williams gave Take That and Nigel Martin-Smith the finger to find bigger success solo than the group had ever had collectively he was basically following Bob’s career trajectory. When Donnie Wahlberg tried to set fire to a hotel with a Molotov cocktail… well I don’t think Bobby ever did something that fucked up, but the man has had plenty of lewd and laviscous content, driving under influence, police chase, resisting arrest and drug posession arrests on his name as well as the public image of a crackhead wifebeater. To each former teen heartthrob his own way of shedding the bubblegum pop image. Word to Justin Bieber.

Don’t Be Cruel was released at the height of the New Jack Swing era which supposedly blends old-fashioned R&B soul with old school hip-hop although acts like Guy, Al B. Sure! and Keith Sweat are simply soul singers with more electronic production than was usual in the ’80s backing them in my book with little to no hip-hop influences being noticeable, but that is just my opinion so you can ignore that if you want to.
Brown however did blur the line between soul and hip-hop rapping as much as he sings on the title track and doing an LL Cool J-esque rap on the ballad Roni and busting out a verse at the end of the video edit of Every Little Step adding hip-hop swagger to his rhythm and blues.

The producers involved L.A. Reid, Babyface and Teddy Riley had all had moderate success in the music business before Cruel (Teddy working on all those Uptown records and L.A. and Face as in-house producers for Dick Griffey’s SOLAR records.) but were to completely own mainstream contemporary R&B in the decade that was to follow this album’s release. It’s not difficult to see why, their work on this album is excellent. One could say that they kickstarted the ’90s with this and it wouldn’t be much of an overstatement.

If the first five songs following the intro aren’t the best five-song-run on an R&B album ever they’re up there with the best of them. From the title track’s slinky, sinister funk through My Prerogative‘s brassy middle-fingerfest. Roni‘s B-boy romanticism, Rock Wit’cha‘s more mature sexy business and Every Little Step‘s puppy love and pop ‘n’ lock groove. This is some terrific music making, with Bob’s charismatically gruff Rick James/James Brown-ish tenor locking tightly into the groove of the somersaulting drum machine clatter. He isn’t the best technical singer out there, having a rather limited vocal range, but he knows well how to stay in it while at the same time making full use of everything he’s got and is a born entertainer. What’s more is that his sense of rhythm is excellent and he appears to really enjoy singing these catchy songs with a natural charisma that allows him to come across as both badass and as a fun individual, a loveable rascal. It is one rather engaging, catchy affair. These songs were all in the top three of the US R&B charts, in the top ten of the US pop charts with three of them hitting #1 in the former and one, namely My Prerogative, hitting #1 on the latter and copping a Grammy. And well deserved.

If this album consisted of only these five songs Don’t Be Cruel would be a perfect ten. Following them however are four well meaning but forgettable cuts. I’ll Be Good to You is standard fare late-’80s Teddy Riley-funk. It’s not bad but it absolutely pales in comparison to his other contribution My Prerogative, the album’s biggest pop-hit and a Grammy winner. (A little bit of trivia: Boy George’s 1989 Teddy Riley-produced, hit-single Don’t Take My Mind On a Trip was originally slated to appear on Don’t Be Cruel. It’s easy to imagine Bobby perform it. I would love to hear Bob’s version if any of you readers has it on a hard drive somewhere.) And closing the album are three rather forgettable slow jams Bob himself co-produced with Cameo-frontman and King of Stage-producer Larry White that require more technical singing than Bob has to offer to bring them to life.

In short Don’t Be Cruel has a fan-fucking-tastic opening run but slightly falls apart at the end. But overall it still is a really good but somewhat forgotten album that packs more hits and more punch than you can shake a stick at and proving just why he was a thing once. It is the best New Edition album, solo or otherwise. For that it derserves to be aknowledged and revisited.

Best tracks
Don’t Be Cruel
My Prerogative
Roni
Rock Wit’cha
Every Little Step

Recommendations
Pick this up.


Guy – Guy

Guy
Guy
June 13, 1988
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
080/100
Guy - Guy1. Groove Me // 2. Teddy’s Jam // 3. Don’t Clap… Just Dance // 4. You Can Call Me Crazy (feat. Timmy Gatling & Al B. Sure!) // 5. Piece of My Love // 6. I Like // 7. ’round and ’round (Merry Go ’round of Love) // 8. Spend the Night // 9. Goodbye Love // 10. My Business (feat. Timmy Gatling)

Teddy’s late ’80s drum machine-‘n’-synth beats aren’t the most sophisticated instrumentals ever made and Aaron’s third rate Stevie-isms are far from original way of singing R&B music, but put them together and the resulting album is an album far funkier than it has any right to be. Guy is one of those things greater than the sum of its parts.

Guy was the brainchild of producer Teddy Riley and his childhood friend Timmy Gatling. They recruited singer Aaron Hall to join them and Guy started recording their epinomous debut album for Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records under the guidance of manager Gene Griffin who is also credited as co-producer of every track of this album. Apparently Hall and Riley didn’t get along in person despite their on-wax chemistry because right before Guy was released Gatling was so sick of their animosity he got the hell out of dodge.
It is for this reason he sings lead vocals on two of the album’s tracks and gets eight songwriting credits even though when the album dropped he was no longer officially considered a part of the group and is nowhere to be found on the album’s cover. (The guy who was called in as Gatling’s last-minute replacement for a tour Guy did with New Edition was Aaron’s brother Damion who is on the cover but did zilch in creating the music.)

Changing line-ups would be recurring thing in Teddy Riley’s performing career, especially in his second group BLACKstreet.

One thing that sets apart Guy from the other completely Riley-produced LP we had so far, Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever, is that the majority of the songs are uptempo where Sweat was mostly about slow jams.
Another thing that sets apart Keith Sweat and Aaron Hall is that Aaron has a far more fiery, gospel-infused vocal style.
Who says that New Jack Swing artists were passed through cookie cutter and were indistinct of one another? (Many music critics do.)

Guy marries soul vocal stylings with hip-hop production stylings the way no complete album had done before it. It also follows some hip-hop conventions of the time. For instance it has a DJ cut in the form of Teddy’s Jam.

Teddy  really did his thing with these lo fi synths and drum machines creating a slightly overcrowded, machanical variety of the funk. Hall, Gatling and Riley himself when he sings lead on Spend the Night are the humanising components. Back in 1988 this must’ve sounded pretty futuristic but today the vibe is mostly quaintly old school (or vintage as some would call it..).

Groove Me and ’round and ’round (Merry Go Round of Love) are the best things on here. They’re ballsy party jams that a lot of club DJs would do well to revisit.
Teddy’s Jam also fits that bill although because of it’s relative lack of vocals one might run the risk of partygoers believing they put on some backing music from a primitive video game.
Piece of My Love and Spend the Night aren’t the best New Jack Swing ballads by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re not bad and their inclusion helps prevent the monotony of nothing but pistoning dance beats that otherwise would’ve occured.

Overall Guy is a pretty good flagship release for the New Jack Swing genre, being pretty representative of its dance music side, with a few ballads thrown in for good measure.
The production, despite of (or because of) being rather dated, is pretty cool and Aaron Hall is a charismatic frontman who performs these songs with enough gusto to make up for his minor lackings as a singer. It’s too bad that short, high-quality R&B releases such as this, Make It Last Forever and In Effect Mode (among others) would soon be a thing of the past after the ascent of the CD and the possibility it created for artists to make their album’s twice as long as they could be in the vinyl/ cassette era (Guy’s 1990 sophomore album The Future is 72:02 minutes long compared to this one’s 44:42 which means as much as that a shitload of watered down, unfocused filler made the cut) but that makes one only appreciate releases like this that much more. Good stuff.

Best tracks
Groove Me
Teddy’s Jam
’round and ’round (Merry Go ’round of Love)
Piece of My Love

Recommendations
Buy this album.