Category Archives: Sir Bonkers

Al B. Sure! – In Effect Mode

Al B. Sure!
In Effect Mode
Uptown Records/ Warner Bros. RecordsWMG
May 3, 1988
080/100
Al B. Sure! - In Effect Mode
1. Nite and Day // 2. Oooh, This Love Is So // 3. Killing Me Softly // 4. Naturally Mine // 5. Rescue Me // 6. Off on Your Own (Girl) // 7. If I’m Not Your Lover // 8. Just a Taste of Lovin’ // 9. Noche y Dia

I wonder if it today still would be possible for an R&B singer to be on the cover of his major label album with his unabrow fully intact (not to mention that peach fuzz on his upper lip) and sell records. I guess that grooming habits have changed for men as well as women since 1988.

Al B. Sure! was the second act to release an album on Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records after making his debut appearances on Heavy D’s Living Large… in the prior year. Apparently he got his break in the music industry performing at a talent show organised by Sony Music Entertainment in 1987 where he was picked the winner by music industry legend Quincy Jones. How he went from Sony to MCA-distributed Uptown records, and then had his albums distributed through random, unaffiliated Warner Bros. is unknown to me but that is what happened.

New Jack Swing inventor Teddy Riley was supposed to produce the album wall-to-wall but after finishing two songs with Al he got called away to supply his beats to Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever in stead (presumably to cash a bigger cheque). The two songs he did produce were If I’m Not Your Lover and You Can Call Me Crazy. The latter didn’t make the cut of In Effect Mode but was transplanted to the 1988 epinomous debut album of Teddy Riley’s group Guy with Timmy Gatling on vocals. The same Timmy Gatling who left the group right after the first album was released. Oh the music industry trivia.
After Teddy left Al B. decided to produce the album himself with assists by his cousin Kyle West, which turnt out a fortunate turn of events since the instrumentals these two created were actually a little different from Riley’s. Sure! and West infuse their New Jack Swing quiet storm with quirky soft rock guitar riffs, percolating synths and groovy synth funk basslines, which helped Sure! create a niche of his own in the budding New Jack Swing movement. Keith Sweat was the soul man, Bobby Brown would be the bad boy, Teddy Riley was the svengali and Al B. Sure! was the romantic soft-rocker.

Nite and Day is about as graceful as an R&B ballad can get with Al’s floaty falsetto riding the atmospheric instrumental and the lyrics about ‘making love in the rain’ and ‘feeling so deep it comes within’. It is the perfect soundtrack to a romantic daydream. Actually that description fit the entirety of In Effect Mode. It’s a dreamy exercise in romanticism that’s so high above the clouds that even the earnestness of it all can’t weigh it down. Wow.
Off On Your Own (Girl) has the sort of tumbling groove you could lounge equally well to as you could dance to it and its pleading subject matter is something that’s easily relatable and Sure! turns out to do uptempo numbers just as well as he does his signature balladry.
Oooh this Love Is So manages to make something seductive out of fingersnaps, keyboards and not much more and is probably the best showcase of Sure!’s voice on this album.
The worst of the lot on here is probably the ‘hard’ sounding numbers If I’m Not Your Lover and Just a Taste of Your Lovin’ tacked on at the end, and even those are fairly decent. It’s just easy to imagine Bobby Brown doing a slightly better job at performing them. But they do contribute to the album in creating more variety.

The rest of these songs are pretty cool too. Besides a Spanish language version of Nite and Day there isn’t any filler on here and like Make It Last Forever its length of only eight tracks is a prime example of ‘less is more’, one many of today’s artists could learn a thing or two from.

In Effect Mode is a terrific R&B album. It’s got this veneer of old school romantic class over it, as though it is willing to wait until the second date to get into your pants (if you are capable of restraining yourself, that is) with a slight hint of hip-hop swagger. Also it’s short, which with albums is never a bad thing.

Best tracks
Nite and Day
Oooh This Love Is So
Off On Your Own (Girl)

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Keith Sweat – Make It Last Forever

Keith Sweat
Make It Last Forever
November 24, 1987
Vintertainment/ Elektra RecordsWMG
080/100
Keith Sweat - Make It Last Forever
1. Something Just Ain’t Right // 2. Right and a Wrong Way // 3. Tell Me It’s Me You Want // 4. I Want Her // 5. Make It Last Forever (feat. Jacci McGhee) // 6. In the Rain // 7. How Deep Is Your Love // 8. Don’t Stop Your Love (feat. Jacci McGhee)

Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever is often seen as the startingj point of New Jack Swing, the musical genre that first succesfully blended soul-styled vocals with hip-hop styled beats, but that’s only because Teddy Riley is behind the boards. This album is in fact simply a quiet storm album on which nobody plays actual instrument beyond Teddy and the off keyboard. The only thing that ties this to the hip-hop of 1987 is the use of the same tinny drum machine clatter and the same sparkly keyboards one might find on a Heavy D album, only this time around they’re used to create something for the ladies, not the B-boys.

With that said, it is a really good quiet storm album. Keith’s yearning tenor is a terrific instrument and blends well with Riley’s beats which go back-and-forth between ballads (Right and a Wrong Way, Tell Me It’s Me That You Want, Make It Last ForeverIn the RainHow Deep Is Your Love) and midtempo funk numbers (Something Just Ain’t RightI Want HerDon’t Stop Your Love).

Make It Last Forever is instantly datable to 1987, but not in a corny or bad manner. The songwriting may be a little too earnest and lacking in the four letter word and house beats-departments for many a modern R&B aficianado but its old fashioned charm may just be what Chris Brown’s output is lacking for others.

The guest appearances are kept to a minimum (no rappers here) so these fourty minutes, divided into eight tracks are quite sufficient to get to know Keith and watch him drop a couple of classics in the mean time, most notably the title track and I Want Her.
Keeping the album brief has the advantage of making you want even more when the album is done spinning, and isn’t that what a guy called Keith Sweat should strive to achieve?

Best tracks
Make It Last Forever
Don’t Stop Your Love

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Heavy D & the Boys – Living Large…

Heavy D & the Boys
Living Large…
October 25, 1987
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
058/100
Heavy D & the Boys Living Large...
1. The Overweight Lover’s in the House // 2. Nike // 3. Chunky But Funky [Remix] // 4. Dedicated (feat. Al B. Sure!) // 5. Here We Go // 6. On the Dance Floor // 7. Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon (feat. Al B. Sure!) // 8. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me // 9. Overweighter // 10. I’m Getting Paid // 11. Rock the Bass // 12. Mr. Big Stuff [Remix] // 13. Don’t You Know (feat. Al B. Sure!)

It makes sense that Heavy D was the first out of the Uptown posse to have an album of his own since his was the only song off Uptown Is Kickin’ It that’s remotely memorable.

Livin’ Large… is a fairly decent yet rather dated debut. The beats, courtesy of the likes of Marley Marl and Teddy Riley, as well as D and Eddie F themselves, are the sort of rather minimal hippety hoppety stuff that Jam Master Jay would churn out in his sleep and Heavy’s rhymes are, well… chunky but funky creating a total package that’s best described as well mannered frivolity. Not in the least because D steers clear of each and every curse word and steers clear of each and every form of social commentary. He might’ve had the D but his name ain’t Chuck.

For the most part it sounds as though Heavy D and DJ Eddie F were simply going down a checklist of mandatory concepts to have their hip-hop album considered for release in 1987. There’s a glorified shoes commercial (Nike), a bunch of cuts that boast about Heav’s skills in getting the ladies and how he rhymes better on the mic than you do (there’s a lot of overlap between these two types of songs), an ode to the DJ (Here We Go) and a smalzy I Need Love-esque romantic cut tacked onto the end where our host completely forgets to rhyme and just talks to the subject of his affections for four minutes or so while wingman, labelmate and R&B singer extraordinaire Al B. Sure! tries to help get her panties wet without involving molly (or at the very least without bragging about tossing it into her drink without her knowledge).

What sets Heavy D, and the old school in general, apart from most of the rap music that came after it is that it seems content juggling around a couple of fairly simple concept, that it has a rather childish sense of humour and is delivered in a enthusiatisc manner. The contrast with the cold, detached yet super vivid gangsta years that weren’t too far away when this album dropped couldn’t be bigger. It is for this reason that Living Large… may be a little bland to your ears.
If however you’re easily charmed by the old school Livin’ Large… is most likely the album for you. Heavy D may not drop any curses but that doesn’t mean he isn’t the sort of cocky individual that rhymes laps around you and will steal your girlfriend despite packing a few extra pounds (the central theme to Living Large…), is not too cool to bust a move (On the Dance Floor), has better kicks than you (Nike), generally more money (I’m Getting Paid). D proudly flaunts his origins whether he’s namechecking the place he grew up (Money Yearning Mount Vernon) or incorporating a mild reggae flavour into a beat (I’m Gonna Make You Love Me) (D was originally from the island of Jamaica)

His delivery is smooth and rhythmic and his beats are pretty competent. Especially when a more obvious sample comes to the forefront (Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon incorporates parts of James Brown’s Sex Machine and Overweighter has clearly identifyable parts of the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back in it) the music sounds pretty complete. Living Large… is far from great but it’s entertaining enough to be considered a promising start of a succesful career, which off course it was.

Living Large… is alright for what it is I suppose. Especially seen in the light of the time when it dropped, which was a simpler time for hip-hop and perhaps music and even the world in general. But despite that and the fact that Living Large… has a handful of entertaining songs there’s no need for people should listen to the album in its entirety today.

The songs listed below however are wholeheartedly recommended for a listen, so listening to Living Large… wasn’t a complete exercise in futility.

Best tracks
The Overweight Lover’s In the House
Chunky But Funky [Remix]
Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon
Mr. Big Stuff
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
Overweighter
Rock the Bass

Recommendations
Buy the best tracks off iTunes. Don’t buy the entire album. Unless you come across it for less than five dollars.


Various Artists – Uptown Is Kickin’ It

Various Artists
Uptown Is Kickin’ It
1986
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
050/100
cover
1. Mr. Big Stuff (Heavy D & the Boyz) // 2. Why Me (Groove B. Chill) // 3. Bass Game (Finesse & Synquis) // 4. Uptown Is Kickin’ It (the Uptown Crew) // 5. I Can’t Stop (The Brothers Black) // 6. He Cuts So Fresh (Marley Marl) // 7. Stress (Woody Rock)

Like N.W.A and the Posse Uptown Is Kickin’ It is both the start of something great and an intrinsically shitty album.
Like N.W.A and the Posse it surrounds a few good acts with a bunch of embarassingly generic acts that wouldn’t be heard from ever again.

The music is alright but extremely dated ‘B-boy’ stuff.
The lyrics performed by what certainly would’ve been referred to at that time as ‘sucker MCs’ range from meh boasting and bragging (I Can’t Stop) to cringeworthily corny to obscene and corny (Why Me which is literally about soiling yourself in front of your father in law, a concept that maybe Biz Markie could’ve gotten away with, and only at that time.)

But hey, at least the Heavy D song sounds good. And him (besides Marley Marl who provides one of those old school DJ Cuts that nobody likes to hear) is the only person on here one should give a fuck about, and coicidentally the only person out of this incarnation of the ‘Uptown Posse’ to have a career. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Best track
Mr. Big Stuff
Uptown Is Kickin’ It

Recommendations
Download Mr. Big Stuff, leave the rest be. Unless you’re an Andre Harrell biographer off course.


Whitney Houston – Whitney

Whitney Houston
Whitney
June 2, 1987
Arista RecordsSME
068/100
Whitney Houston - Whitney
1. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) // 2. Just the Lonely Taking Again // 3. Love Will Save the Day // 4. Didn’t We Almost Have It All // 5. So Emotional // 6. Where You Are // 7. Love Is a Contact Sport // 8. You’re Still My Man // 9. For the Love of You // 10. Where Do Broken Hearts Go // 11. I Know Him So Well (feat. Cissy Houston)

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and if there’s anything Whitney Houston didn’t leave Whitney Houston (and probably more importantly; Clive Davis) it was broke.

So for her sophomore album, called Whitney, the same merry bunch of shlockmasters; Naranda Michael Walden, Michael Masser and Kashif were assembled to write a set of songs to similar to that on her debut (Jermaine Jackson was given the boot apparently).
The resulting album is some light, pleasant shopping mall music that every white, middle-aged woman person was bound to experience as as specifically about him/ her. A trick that is what popular music is all about and, do not kid yourself, always has been about, but is rarely pulled off as brilliantly and purposefully as it is by Whitney, Clive and their assembly line songwriters. Or perhaps the trick is solely Clive’s, convincing Whitney that these song were specifically about her because she still sings them with gusto, and if not passion itself at the very least an imitation of passion that is indistinguishable from the real thing. Who was milking who exactly isn’t fully clear and is open for debate. Since I saw her explaining in an Oprah interview how deep something completely purposefully instinct R. Kelly wrote for her was, I like to believe she enjoyed making this type of music, and was actually a lot like her audience relating a lot to these generic songs about struggles that belong to no-one in particular. Feel free to disagree with that, I’m not an expert on music industry fuckery.

What isn’t up for debate however is that this album made everyone involved with its creation richer as it sold some twenty five million copies worldwide, some five million less than it’s predecessor, but hey who gives a shit. Twenty five million meant that in an era when people still paid for music the vast majority of those who picked up the first album picked up the sophomore (and were quite likely to do so again the third time around). This meant that Clive Davis and Whitney Houston were not simply succesful but that they had hit a gold mine that wasn’t going to run dry anytime soon.

Even if you don’t particularly enjoy this diva pop-R&B thing it’s quite easy to see why those who do would pick up a Whitney Houston album. It’s simply a matter of fact that she is a terrific singer, technically. She has a great, big mezzo-soprano voice that the New York times once desribed in a concert review as “a technical marvel from its velvety depths to its ballistic middle register to its ringing and airy heights.” and as “clean and strong, with barely any grit, well suited to the songs of love and aspiration that were the breakthrough hits from her first two albums” in an necrology. Indeed Whitney sold the best because technically she was the best, and no criticism on other aspects of her artistry can take that away from her. This technical singing is almost worth the price of admission of Whitney alone.

My beef then isn’t so much with miss Houston, but rather with her legion of American Idol/The Voice of [insert your country here] imitators, who learnt all the wrong lessons from her and Mariah (and arguably Stevie Wonder as well) and try to sing like her, ‘flaunting their vocal range’, but end up sounding incapable of holding a note and singing the goddamn song already, in stead. This, ladies and gentlemen, is quite simply put because they’re always not as good.
It’s easy imagining how Whitney‘s songs would sound if they were performed by such a third-rate store brand imitation of miss Houston. (And in fact they have been performed a plenty on these shows.) Dry and superficial. The words would come across as the generic pap songwriting they are and the backing music would make for something hotel-elevator worthy.

Since they’re performed by the real deal though.. well.. one should be a little more careful making such assessments. Whitney actually was, as Charlie Sheen would put it, capable of turning tin cans into gold. She breathes emotion and life into these songs. Perhaps overly dramatic, larger-than-life-sized-emotions that are phrased in an overly well mannered fashion that isn’t how people experience stuff, but then again she is after all a diva and not one of those ‘girl next door’ type of singers. And these self-important, overblown projections of feelings are probably perfect backdrops for post-breakup binge-ice cream eating sessions or something. (Listening to this album while tipsy is however not recommended. Lest you get tearjerked, you pansy.) Even if this album makes your hairs on your neck stand up, whether be it for all the wrong or all the right reasons, there’s no denying that there’s a certain epic quality to it.

As much as this album is similar to its similarly titled predecessor there are differences as well. Whitney is quite upbeat and uptempo. The debut was all ballads while you could dance to about 50% of the second album (if nobody is around while lip-syncing into a hairbrush in front of the mirror). The first album was all homewrecking-sentimentality, amorous insecurity and emotional breakdowns, this one has but one moment of such ambivalence. That’s Didn’t We Almost Have It All, which is bound to be someone‘s favourite song ever.
There’s also a little more sex on this album. Although it is for the most part weirdly ambiguous sex. And Love Is a Contact Sport is actually not about the contact sport-aspects of love you’d expect an R&B song with that title to be about, which can only be called a practical joke on the listener.
Just the Lonely Talking Again, is a ballad about the age-old question whether an unnamed love interest wants her for her booty or actually likes het as a person. It is a highlight because of its stripped down approach, relatively speaking off course, this is still a diva pop album. The backing music is pleasantly lush but not covered in a thick layer of shimmer. And Whitney’s vocal performance is atypically restrained, but excellent as always.
Love Will Save the Day throws in some lively latin rhythms that, when combined with a catchy song about the power of positivity makes the best song on the album. It would seem that producer Jellybean was listening to the Miami Sound machine before creating this beat. It also makes one wonder what guilty pleasures miss Houston could’ve produced if she would’ve gotten to record a straight disco or dance album, unhindered by ueberschtick balladry.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)So Emotional and Love Is a Contact Sport are also functional and impeccably produced ’80s R&B dance songs, even if they’re not nearly as good or memorable as Love Will Save the Day.

As for the ballads. The previously mentioned Just the Lonely Talking Again sounds sincere and sexy. As does the Isley Brothers cover For the Love of You with its hovering sax riff. Where You Are walks the line. You’re Still My ManDidn’t We Almost Have It AllWhere Do Broken Hearts Go and the duet with mother Cissy I Know Him So Well (Written by ABBA puppetmasters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and Jesus Christ Superstar/Evita co-creator Tim Rice, and originally part of Rice’s musical Chess.) however is the kind of music that causes instant diabetes and dental cavities. It is the sort of vile super-Disney song that help either helps you through your day or makes you want to kill yourself.

(Speaking of hugely succesful shit that will make you want to kill yourself, ABBA and musicals. Why the fuck hasn’t someone written a lame story around Whitney Houston’s hits and sent that shit to Broadway yet? That shit would just make everyone filthily rich all over again. Mamma Mia! made two billion dollars worldwide and I’m sure Whitney’s music will bring out similar numbers. We’ll call it Queen of the Night. Catherine Johnson, you may have the idea. All I want is a visionary executive producer credit, a fair share of the cash and guarantees I’ll never actually have to watch the fucking show.

Call me!)

Whitney is the type of album that shows both the music industry and Whitney Houston at the peak of their powers, breaking down racial barriers on MTV and other mainstream pop outlets, and separating as many people from their hard earned cash as possible while doing that. It is an incredibly refined product meant to appeal to as many people as possible. And it’s pretty awesome for how accomplished it is in doing that. It helps that miss Houston in fact has one of music’s best. voices. ever. And that the people behind the boards are accomplished queso craftsmen. It is too bad indeed that she never used her powers for good and recorded something truly soulful or less pop charts and MOR radio oriented, but then again she wouldn’t seem very interested in that anyway (Just look up any Whitney Houston interview on youtube. Avant garde she was not.) so it is most likely best to take this music at face value, and consider this pop diva as the artist she truly was, and this music as a product she took pride in delivering to the masses, perhaps even believing it was high art.
Does that however mean you should listen to it? Probably, here’s why. This music aims to please the senses and through it the emotions, without challenging the listener. And it has enough know how to pull it off. I’m not saying that buying Whitney is anything more than buying into a shiny, fluffy illusion with artificial preservatives and taste- and colour enhancers gilore. But if that’s a thing you enjoy every once in a while then hey, there’s no shame in that. We all have our guilty pleasures. As far as diva-pop goes: this is the top segment of the market. And sometimes you just have to take a big greasy bite out of that Big Mac, yo.

Best tracks
Just the Lonely Talking Again
Love Will Save the Day
Where You Are
For the Love of You

Recommendations
If you can enjoy big radio pop that is sterile clean and professional, also a bit pompous, yet prude and old fashioned, and lacks any sort of real edge, you may want to pick this up. Just hide it in a place where only you can find it, and use headphones when you listen to it. You won’t want the neighbours ‘thinking things’.


Jay-Z – Chapter One: the Greatest Hits

Jay-Z
Chapter One: the Greatest Hits
March 11, 2002
Northwestside RecordsBMGSME
080/100
Jay-Z - Chapter One. the Greatest Hits
1. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) [Radio Edit] // 2. Wishing On a Star [D’Influence Mix Radio Edit] (feat. Gwen Dickey) // 3. Sunshine [Radio Edit] (feat. Babyface & Foxy Brown) // 4. The City Is Mine (feat. Blackstreet) // 5. Can’t Knock the Hustle [Radio Edit] (feat. Mary J. Blige) // 6. Ain’t No Nigga [Original Radio Edit] (feat. Foxy Brown) // 7. Imaginary Playa // 8. Money Ain’t a Thang (Jermaine Dupri feat. Jay-Z) // 9. Can I Get a… (feat. Amil & Ja Rule) // 10. Streets Is Watching // 11. Money, Cash, Hoes (feat. DMX) // 12. I Know What Girls Like [Fly Girly Dub] (feat. Lil’ Kim & Diddy) // 13. Feelin’ I(feat. Mecca) // 14. Dead Presidents II //
bonus tracks
15. Wishing On a Star [D’Influence Mix Full Version] (feat. Gwen Dickey) 16. Can’t Knock the Hustle [Fool’s Paradise Remix] (feat. Melissa Morgan) // 17. Ain’t No Nigga [Rae & Christian Mix] (feat. Foxy Brown) // 18. Brooklyn’s Finest (feat. the Notorious B.I.G.)

Jay-Z’s first greatest hits album came to be completely without his involvement and quite possibly completely without his knowledge of it happening. Chapter One: the Greatest Hits, released in early 2002 in order to ride the success of his album the Blueprint compiles all the hits from Jigga’s first three albums Reasonable DoubtIn My Lifetime vol. 1 and vol. 2 and it wasn’t even released on Roc-a-Fella records, the label all of these songs appeared on.
I’m sure Jay was dazed and confused when he found the cheque from Sony subsidiary Northwestside Records on his doormat, a label he probably had never even heard of in his lifetime. (On a side note: I wonder if Kanye at one point held this album in his hands when he was working on launching that ‘new person’ thing with Kim Kardashian last year.)
It turns out that Def Jam, Roc-a-Fella records’ parent label was distributed by Sony Music Entertainment from 1984 to 1998, and it is probably for this reason that Sony had the rights necessary for compiling and releasing a compilation such as this one. This also helps explain the otherwise curious omission of hit singles from Vol. 3, the last album released before the Blueprint. By 1999, the year Vol. 3 was released Def Jam, and Roc-a-Fella with it had already jumped ship to the Universal Music Group.

Chapter One: the Greatest Hits  is therefore nothing but a byproduct of music industry technicalities. But it nevertheless is a nice trip through Jay-Z’s early catalog from a purely commercial point of view. These are after all Jay’s most successful singles from the 1996-’98 period, although even disregarding the bonus-tracks some curious choices have been made (I Know What Girls Like and The City Is Mine made the cut but Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators ’99) and It’s Alright were left off? Never mind quality control, the latter respective two were higher-charting songs than the former respective two, besides being better songs by anyone’s standards except P. Daddy’s.) Keeping in mind that this amount of hits is the yield of only two years is pretty impressive in and by itself.

It is also worth noting that a lot of songs, Sunshine and Can’t Knock the Hustle in particular, sound much  better in their shortened radio edits and surrounded by their fellow hit singles than they do in their full-length incarnations on the albums on which they originally appeared. This is most likely because their instrumentals are perfectly enjoyable in measured doses but will grate on the ears when allowed to run on far beyond the three minute mark. It also helps that Can’t Knock the Hustle appears to have gotten a make over for it’s single release that has seriously tightened up the vocal production.

Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), the song that opens the album, is probably today still Jay’s biggest singular stroke of genius. Having the streets- and the pop-audiences eating from the palm of his hand in one go. It is with this song that he truly took over Biggie’s crown, speaking of which.. 
The City Is Mine
is still too polished for a proclamation of dominance over the rap-game with its rubbery Teddy Riley instrumental and its vocodered BlackStreet hook, but in retrospect the man was absolutely right in crowning himself king of New York. Looking back today it is simply a matter of fact.
Ain’t No Nigga and Sunshine are fun, fluffy ‘males vs. females’ cuts, and even Foxy Brown’s inclusion sounds logical and tolerable in these abreviated edits (Although it still remains questionable whether they were worth her having a career with solo albums and shit.)
Can I Get a… finds Jay abandoning Fox for another conventionally good-looking but not-very-talented female rapper Amil (I guess that Jay made as much money as he did because he’s a business man as much as he is an artist, and keeps in mind what appeal music video will have to whom, when selecting the line-up for the songs on his albums that are poised to be singles) and has the first appearance on a charting single by a certain Ja Rule. That’s a whole lot of poorly recieved careers launched in one song. May it be a consolation price that it is a good song largely in thanks to Irv Gotti’s lightly treading instrumental.
Money Ain’t a Thang, originally taken from Jermaine Dupri’s solo debut Life in 1472, but for this occasion redistilled from Vol. 2 on which it appeared as a bonus-track, is hands down Jay’s most balltastic song from the shiny suit era. It is also a song that other rappers haven’t stopped quoting and paraphrasing since it was released, even if few will have realised that its hook quotes from Jigga’s own Can’t Knock the Hustle.
Money Cash Hoes work despite Jay-Z, invited guest DMX and producer Swizz Beatz each doing a horrible job with their respective contributions. Somehow they all cancel each other out and leave nothing but an entertaining singalong song for the clubs.
Streets Is Watching is quintessential early Jay-Z, but it was never a single nevermind a hit. So its inclusion is curious but not unwelcome. It makes one wonder what Chapter One could’ve been if it were a compilation of rareties, pre-Reasonable Doubt singles and guest appearances, and songs that appeared on compilations such as Streets Is Watching. One could make a fantastic compilation out of I Can’t Get With That, Dead Presidents (I)In My Lifetime and Hawaiian Sophie and such. But Chapter One is a not that album, so I better stop daydreaming and get back to the review…
Imaginary Playa may very well be the exact point where where Jay-Z invented swag. It’s beat that suggest a sort of cold disaffection combined with Jay having hella fun exposing unnamed competing rappers as busters makes an underrated classic. Again: not a single. Guess we can conclude that this Greatest Hits concept is out of the window by now. It makes one wonder whether someone at Northwestside records actually knew and liked Jigga’s catalog because this is positively starting so sound like a perfectly decent, if limited, ‘best of’. (Perhaps the person compiling Chapter One disliked Memphis Bleek as much as I do and this was why It’s Alright failed to make the cut, even if it’s a pretty decent song.)
Feelin’ It and Dead Presidents II weren’t exactly big hits but they are amongst Jay’s best songs, and they are an effective introduction to Reasonable Doubt for the uninitiated, so their inclusion is warranted. It is puzzling however that the original Dead Presidents isn’t on here since that actually was a hit single, with a gold certification even. Guess nobody at Northwestside records wanted to make the call to EMI, Jay himself or whoever owns the right to that song (not Sony or Def Jam though, because it didn’t appear on the Def Jam/ Sony re-release of Reasonable Doubt), lest they risk legal action preventing this compilation from even coming out.

My favourite inclusion is Wishing On a Star [D-Influence Mix] because a) It makes the original, rather boring Trackmasters produced version (which was a UK-only bonus on In My Lifetime, Vol. 1) completely obsolete, and b) because it grants the fantastic UK acid jazz band D-Influence (calling them underrated would be the understatement of the century, even though they have four albums under their belt I’d call them undiscovered) a paycheck that was probably the biggest they’ve ever gotten. (For this reason I’ll even condone Northwestside records including it two version that are only different in that one of them is two minutes longer than the other.) This song is almost worth the price of admission alone. (Or.. you know a trip to Amazon.com or iTunes if you already own everything else. Make sure to get the long version labeled as a bonus track.)

The album closes with four bonus-tracks, the first one of which is the previously mentioned long version of Wishing On a Star. The following two are a pretty cool Irv Gotti remix of Can’t Knock the Hustle and a completely unneccesary remix of Ain’t No Nigga that removes the most fun part of the original: the “No-one-can-fuck-you-bet-ter”-chorus. These tracks neither add nor subtrackt much to the equation, which is fine and all since bonus tracks are usually there only to fill up the remaining room on the compact disc. Although it would’ve been nice if these two cuts were so polite to make room for Originators ’99 and It’s Alright. But you can’t have everything I suppose. The last one however is Jigga’s awesome collabo with the Notorious B.I.G., rightfully called Brooklyn’s Finest off Reasonable Doubt. Why wasn’t this included in the proper track listing one must ask because it is definitely one of the best things on here. Oh well, at least it’s here right?

Chapter One: the Greatest Hits is about as good a job as one could do compiling a single Jay-Z disc using only his first three albums as a source to pick songs from, trying to please everyone. And if that doesn’t sound like an ideal purchase consider this: With a combination of radio edits of hit singles, fan favourites and and even a couple of rareties thrown in, it is in fact pretty representative of what the man was doing during those early career establishing years. That’s breaking down the creation of a rap album into a scientific equation (or a ‘blueprint’ if you will): Radio and club-songs plus street songs in equal measure equals platinum record sales and charts hits. Interestingly by the time Vol. 3 dropped he had perfected the art (word to Max from hhid) and he had gotten sick of it before creating The Blueprint. So this is very much a constructive phase of Jay’s mainstream career, not that you tell that from the individual songs which all sound professionally made and pretty good with Jay-Z’s conversative flow and icy playboy persona fully formed (except I Know What Girls Like off course, which sounds like shit no matter what you release it on). And it is interesting that this album’s creators have been able to capture that process that has on occasion led him to some pretty suspect collaborators such as Babyface, Teddy Riley, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, P. Daddy and Ja Rule. It is telling that most of these people have little career left while Jay keeps the his coming to this day.
More importantly though: it makes for a mostly entertaining listen from start to finish, and if that’s not a good reason to pick this up I don’t know what is. Just watch out that you don’t get a whole lot of stuff you already have because it’s a rough economy, and considering the direction Jay’s career would go following these songs there is no need to make the man richer unless you absolutely have to.

Best tracks
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Can’t Knock the Hustle [Radio Edit]
Imaginary Playa
Ain’t No Nigga [Original Radio Edit]
Money Ain’t a Thang
Can I Get a…
Streets Is Watching
Feelin’ It
Dead Presidents II
Wishing on a Star [D’Influence Mix Full Version]
Brooklyn’s Finest

Recommendations
If you’re unfamiliar with Jay-Z’s first three albums this is a pretty good place to start and you should pick this up.


State Property – State Property

Various Artists
State Property (OST)
January 29, 2002
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
075/100
State Property - State Property OST
1. Roc the Mic (Freeway & Beanie Sigel) // 2. Sun Don’t Shine (Young Chris, Oschino, Freeway & Neef) // 3. It’s Not Right (Freeway, Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Beanie Sigel) // 4. Do You Want Me (Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 5. Sing My Song (Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 6. No Glory (Beanie Sigel) // 7. Bitch Niggas (Beanie Sigel & Omilio Sparks) // 8. Why Must I (Beanie Sigel & Omilio Sparks) // 9. International Hustler (Freeway) // 10. Hood I Know (Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 11. Got Nowhere… (Beanie Sigel & Freeway) // 12. Trouble Man (Beanie Sigel, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 13. Don’t Realise (Beanie Sigel & Rell)

You know when a franchise is on a roll when it’s B-teamers get to ink their boys a deal and record an album with them. Off course calling Sigel a b-teamer wouldn’t be because of any sort percievable of lack of talent, mind you. Sigel is a B-teamer only because despite him doing alright for himself his albums never did Kanye West or Jay-Z numbers either because he wasn’t as likeable and hence markerable as either of those two superstar artists. Because he didn’t want to taint his gangsta rap albums with pop songs or probably both. The thing then that Beans brought to the table was raw street credibility. Just when Jay would lean a bit too far in the pop direction for hip-hop heads’ tastes Beans would bring out a cold hard gangsta rap album to keep Roc-a-fella Records’ street audiences happy.

It would be safe to say then that the records this guy did sell were sold to a small but dedicated fanbase who had no interest in compromising pop records, and that the same could be expected by an album coming from his protégés Freeway, Peedi Peedi, Young Chris, Neef, Omilio Sparks & Oschino. Catering to these expectations is exactly what State Property has done for their self-titled debut that also doubled as the soundtrack for Beanie Sigel & Co.’s movie debut, also called State Property (Had Beans learned nothing from Ma$e’s Harlem World, the group he named after his debut and how well that shit worked out?)
Now I personally haven’t seen this movie yet (and I have no immediate plans of doing so) but at least one person must have, because according to Wikipedia State Property (the movie) currently, twelve years following its release is still the reigning number one movie when it comes to utterences of the word ‘fuck’ per minute (bar a documentary on the word ‘fuck’ itself.) “Fuck is spoken 3.65 times per minute or 321 times in 88 minutes.” Wow. That should tell you exactly how much Beanie Mac cares about giving the media something they can play without giving their censors a burn out in in the process of preparing it for American mainsteam consumption.
This would also mean that the amout of ‘fucks’ uttered in the movie greatly exceeds that of the gangsta rap album that serves as its soundtrack. This is quite the achievement!
This in turn would mean that after shooting the movie the guys started to record the album but were *wait for it* literally out of fucks to give.

The opposite of this cornball-ass joke appears to have been the case. While every movie critic who saw it State Property (the movie) hated, hated, hated it, music critics actually took a liking to the album. And while not even Beanie Sigel’s mother could be convinced to buy a ticket for the film, State Property (the album) had a fairly healthy charts presence and could arguably be called succesful in its mission of launching the careers of Beans’ Philedelphia friends. Especially Freeway and the duo of Young Chris and Neef Buck who together record under the name Young Gunz. Both of these acts have had gold albums, which is good for them, but not necessarily good for Beans because when Beans left Roc-a-Fella Records to sign with Dame Dash’s new label and a beef between the Jiggaman and Mac ensued, most of State Property stuck with Jay-Z, apparently against his wishes.

Oh well, at least at the time when this album came out it was all good.. sorta. The fact that the album did so much better than the movie could be explained by the fact that State Property had been rapping for a while because they were rappers and this z-grade attempt at recording a b-movie was completely new to them.

The album kicks off with a club jam with Freeway handling the first and final verse, Sigel providing the creamy centre and both of them going back-and-forth on the hook. It’s a catchy song, but not your little sister’s birthday party kind of hip-hop song. Just Blaze’s beat is bouncy and a sparse kind of way and Sigel’s verse is all about the Notorious B.I.G. and firearms. It was the only single released of the album and sounds a lot more consise than that version with Murphy Lee and Nelly on it that appeared on Nellyville.
Following it is Sun Don’t Shine, a song about getting cornholed hardship in the hood with a crappy pseudo Neptunes instrumental backing up everyone but Sigel and Sparks. Speaking of Sparks: One would think that he’d have Pharrell’s phone number after helping to create the hook of I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) so that he could arrange a real Neptunes beat. It is almost as though with these first two songs State Property tried to lure potential buyers into believing that this album was going to be a sequel of sorts to The Dynasty: ROC la Familia.

From there on however it is away with the pop and in with gloomy soul-sampling beats. It’s Not Right sounds a lot like a sequel to This Can’t Be Life, except with Jay and Scarface being replaced by Beans his boys. Matter of fact, Roc-a-Fella in-house R&B singer Rell notwithstanding, there are go guest appearances by non-State Property members, ROC or otherwise. Whether this was Jay giving Beans a vote of confidence that him and his boys could record a perfectly good album without his help and an apology for having the balls to include one of his own solo-songs on Beans’ solo-debut album the Truth for absolutely no reason at all or simply because Beyoncé’s bootylicious booty had just started keeping occupied to record music, and also because he was spending the lion’s share of State Property’s album budget with her in Mexico recording the ’03 Bonnie And Clyde video is not entirely clear to me. Apparently he did executive this album with his boys Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs. Which probably means that the triumvirate removed Memphis Bleek from the studio he was occupying to make room for the guys. But the result of this is that Sigel, Free and company get to run their own show and  that there’s no famous guest’s appearances to skip forward to, which means they have my full attention.

State Property keeps it grimy throughout. Even the come-on number for the ladies Do You Want Me, which has Chris, Sparks and Oschino on it, has the sort of creepy-ass beat, courtesy of Rick Rock, that suggests something else than hot romance. The fact that they guys all seem to be hollering at the same chick doesn’t really help. Moving on.
Sing My Song has Omilio singing his song poorly (but not poorly enough to grate on the ears) over a bluesy beat made by some cat called Zukhan, and dueting Oschino talking all sorts of ‘profound’ stuff about the ghetto life, and managing quite well to entertain.No Glory has the kind of beat that blends mafioso movie music with blaxploitation movie music and lets Sigel go rampant over it by his goddamn self spouting all kinds of violent nonsense but sounding as good and pissed off as ever. The beat even tricks you into believing it’ll switch up somewhere in the middle but it doesn’t. Tense.
Bitch Niggas is the anti-snitch that is mandatory on this type of album with Sparks and Sigel going for broke with it, not adding much to this particular sub-genre of gangsta rap, but sounding pretty awesome nevertheless, not in a small part thanks to it’s fine instrumental.
Why Must I jacks a George Clinton hook via Snoop’s What’s My Name and fails miserbly at doing anything good with it, mostly because this sort of thing has been done by every rapper ever since Jesus and his posse recorded the New Testament, and also because the first shitty beat since Sun Don’t Shine nearly derailed this entire listening experience.
International Hustler pairs Freeway with M.O.P.-producer DR Period for a rowdy excercise in gangsta non sequitors. It’s clear why after Beans Freeway would be the most succesful guy out of the crew.
Hood I Know, which has everyone in the crew except Neef on it, is a clunker again because of it’s car-commercial beat that is too glossy to be underground and too incomplete to succesfully be pop.
Got Nowhere… is Kanye’s only production contribution and it’s not bad a beat for Sigel and Freeway to duet over, although one would expect more from the billionaire, playboy, philantropist, artiste extraordinaire we know today. But then again back then he was only a ‘humble’ producer.
Trouble Man takes on a remorseful vibe and has Sparks, Sigel and Oschino wonder why they’ve so unfortunate in life early on. Yeah… Me neither, but it does sound good. And hey substance isn’t what this album is for.
The final track Don’t Realise pairs the albums biggest star Beanie Sigel with R&B singer Rell, a guy who to my knowledge had been signed to the Roc from the beginning but never was allowed near the studio when Jay was recording. It’s a nice upbeat way to end the evening.

Best tracks
Roc the Mic
It’s Not Right
No Glory
Bitch Niggas
International Hustler
Got Nowhere…
Don’t Realise

State Property is actually as good as Beanie Sigel’s then-latest album The Reason, which was good news for not only him, his fans, and these guys but also Jay-Z who went on to make a pretty penny off having these guys to his label. (And even though the movie allegedly sucked balls Beans got to create a State Property 2 as well, and got sent to prison so soon after that it can hardly be called a coincidence) But we’ll get to that when we will. For now to lovers of uncompromising but professionally made gangsta rap I recommend a purchase of this album.


Murphy Lee – Da Skoolboy Presents Murphy’s Law

Murphy Lee
Da Skool Boy Presents Murphy’s Law
September 23, 2003
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
065/100
Murphy Lee - Murphy's Law
1. Be Myself [Intro] // 2. Don’t Blow It (feat. City Spud) // 3. Hold Up (feat. Nelly) // 4. Grandpa Gametight // 5. Luv Me Baby (feat. Jazzy Pha & Sleepy Brown) // 6. Murphy’s Law [Interlude] (performed by Darius Bradford & St. Louis Slim) // 7. Cool With It (feat. St. Lunatics) // 8. This Goes Out (feat. Nelly, Roscoe, Cardan, Lil Jon & Lil Wayne) // 9. What Da Hook Gon’ Be (feat. Jermaine Dupri) // 10. So X-Treme (feat. King Jacob & Jung Tru) // 11. How Many Kids You Got [Interlude] (performed by Darius Bradford & St. Louis Slim) // 12. I Better Go (feat. Avery Storm) // 13. Red Hot Riplets (feat. St. Lunatics) // 14. Regular Guy (feat. Seven) // 15. Gods Don’t Chill (feat. King Jacob & Jung Tru) // 16. Murphy Lee (feat. Zee) // 17. Head From a Midget [Interlude] (performed by Darius Bradford & St. Louis Slim) // 18. Shake Ya Tailfeather (Nelly, Diddy & Murphy Lee) // 19. Same Ol’ Dirty (feat. Toya)

Taking about the common rapper’s habit of landing all their homies from the hood a record deal as soon as they’ve sold a couple of records: it certainly has lead to a lot of mediocre to shitty albums being recorded and released. It’s almost as though for every entertaining Jay-Z record being released to the public a waste of time, money and plastic and aluminum hard drive space by Memphis Bleek gets to see the light of day.
Some times however a weed carrier has some actual skill behind the microphone and gets to become a cool supporting character in story of his more famous friend’s career. Such is the case with Nelly’s homeboy Murphy Lee(a.k.a. Da Skoolboy because he was the youngest out of the St. Lunatics posse), the second out of Nelly’s St. Lunatics posse with a solo career (third if you count Nelly himself) whose debut Murphy’s Law hit shelves in late 2003.

Although I can’t recall him so much as appearing on Country Grammar or Free City his guest verses on Ali’s moderate hit Boughetto and the remix of State Property’s Roc the Mic that appeared on Nellyville were pretty cool. However it wasn’t until the song Shake Ya Tailfeather off the Bad Boys II soundtrack dropped in the summer of ’03 that anyone in the public actually started wonderng who he was. The song was mostly Nelly’s, but also had a verse by P. Daddy (Because the soundtrack was released on Bad Boy Records and because that way Nelly wouldn’t have to pay for the video.) The final verse was Murphy’s though and arguably he stole the show, referencing Dragonball Z , Marvin Gaye and Voltron while talking about weed and pussy. That turned out a fantastic career move because Shake Ya Tailfeather hit worldwide charts like a brick and won a grammy for ‘best rap song by a duo or a group’ in 2004. It is this sort of success that gets the label heads to ‘see the potential’ and spend a little extra on beats and guest appearances when an album release is imminent, which was good for him since guest verses and hooks by Sleepy Brown and a littler Lil Wayne (amended by as a myriad of lesser-knowns), as well as assists by Jazze Pha, Jermaine Dupri, Mannie Fresh and Lil Jon are a definite asset when recording a party rap record like Murphy’s Law (That title was a given, wasn’t it?)

The album did go platinum, but that’s quite likely only because it had Shake Ya Tailfeather on it. I don’t recall ever hearing anything else of this being played on any radio or music video channels. Oh well, I’m sure Murphy Lee isn’t complaining.

His on-record persona is that of a nouveau riche street rascal that is just as likeable as his similar but more famous homie Nelly. Besides their boughetto similarities there are differences too, Murphy Lee is a much mellower dude. Nelly is the type of dude to slap the listener around the dancefloor with his success. Murphy seems to preoccupied with entertaining himself behind the mic for such posturing. Off course he brags himself through this album the way any commercial sub-gangsta rapper would in ’03, but he doesn’t land a sweaty, poon fest of a club banger like Hot In Herre or Work It or a thug utopia like Nellyville anwhere (except on Shake Ya Tailfeather which is the former, but it’s more of a Nelly song anyway). In stead he offers up a milder variety of midwestern party rap. Murphy’s Law is heavy on the poppy R&B cuts, midtempo Southern/ Midwestern party rap and it even has a smooth elevator jazz number in Cool With It.
Highlights include the album opener Don’t Blow It featuring incarcarated ‘tics member City Spud, the rowdy, Nelly assisted Mannie Fresh-produced banger Hold Up, Jazze Pha’s feverish come on-number Luv Me Baby, the uncharactaristically smooth St. Lunatics posse cut Cool With It, the reminiscent I Better Go featuring Avery Storm, the requisite ‘the money hasn’t changed me’ song Same Ol’ Dirty and off course the classic hit single Shake Ya Tailfeather.

Unfortunately the album has it’s fair share of clunkers too. The smooth seduction number Grandpa Gametight never gets to seductive because of its inexplicable, silly concept. As does What the Hook Gon’ BeThis Goes Out might as well be called Nationwide Weedcarriers ’03 what with (Kurupt’s little brother) Roscoe, Cardan (formerly of Ma$e’s group Harlem World) and a pre-stardom Lil Wayne appearing alongside Murphy Lee, Nelly and Lil  Jonathan. Murphy Lee is a silly sex rap with a female singer yelling out our hosts name to the tune of Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) and you can imagine how hard that shit falls flat on its face.

The remainder of the songs lands somewhere in between of good and bad right in the middle of meh. Nelly and Murphy Lee would’ve done well to leave a fair share of these songs on the cutting room floor as they weigh down Murphy’s Law significantly. But this has been the case with every St. Lunatics release so far so that was to be expected. As it is this is still a rather entertaining but flawed album by a very likeable rapper who knows his limitations, doesn’t try too hard and appears to only be out to entertain both himself and the listener. Kind of like how Country Grammar and Nellyville were. And if you enjoyed those albums Murphy’s Law is definitely for you.

Best tracks
Don’t Blow It
Hold Up
Luv Me Baby
Cool With It
I Better Go
Shake Ya Tailfeather
Same Ol’ Dirty

Recommendations
Pick up a used copy. Or a new one even as long as you’re not hideously overcharged for it.


Nelly – Nellyville

Nelly
Nellyville
June 25, 2002
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
068/100
Nelly - Nellyville
1. Nellyville // 2. Gettin’ It Started [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La) // 3. Hot In Herre // 4. Dem Boyz (feat. St. Lunatics) // 5. Oh Nelly (feat. Murphy Lee) // 6. Pimp Juice // 7. Air Force Ones (feat. St. Lunatics) // 8. In the Store [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La) // 9. On the Grind (feat. King Jacob) // 10. Dilemma (feat. Kelly Rowland) // 11. Splurge // 12. Work It (feat. Justin Timberlake) // 13. Roc the Mic [Remix] (State Property feat. Murphy Lee & Nelly) // 14. The Gank // 15. 5000 [Skit] // 16. #1 // 17. CG 2 (feat. St. Lunatics) // 18. Say Now // 19. Fuck It Then [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La)
bonus track
20. Girlfriend [Neptunes Remix] (*NSYNC feat. Nelly)

Nelly -the man, the myth, the band-aid abuser- really was the early 2000s Lil Wayne, although longtime Weezy-fans know that Lil Wayne himself was also a thing in that day and age. But what I mean to say by that is that Nelly was as succesful in 2002 as Lil Tunechi was in say 2010. There was nary a radio station one could turn on without hearing the man’s heavily accented words and sing-songy voice. Most of these hits are concentrated on Nellyville.

Nellyville showcases everything that was right and everything that was wrong with hip-hop in the early naughties. The Neptunes sound, continuous celebration of excess, an expanding assortiment of regional flavours of hip-hop hitting the mainstream, having each and every one of your friends come over to the studio to drop a verse for your album, R&B/pop-rap collaborations, singing your own hooks when no R&B singer was around without the aid of vocal effects, silly skits and really long tracklists and running times, keeping it gangsta with nary a hipster in sight. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

This album sold a tonne of copies too. Some seven million in the U.S.A. alone on the strength of it’s smash hit singles like Hot In HerreDillema and Work It. I’m sure even the Lunatics ate better off their three apearances than they did off the Free City and the Heavy Starch albums combined. The pre-iTunes era had some perks for weed carriers. These days they would’ve been forced to find a day job to support their “rap career” because people would just buy all the songs they like off iTunes and back then you had to cop the whole cd. In 2002 people did cop the cd because of Cornell Haynes, jr.’s punchy flows and catchy hooks that were delivered in a oddly intoxicating blend of shouting and velvetty crooning about being a gangsta and a hustler and a player and what not but mostly about having too much fun, over Jason “JE” Epperson’s dirty but poppy beats, with a couple of instruments by others including Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo thrown in for variety’s sake.

The album kicks off with the title track which describes a city that is Nelly’s utopia in which the weather is democratically decided upon, in which he is the mayor (or muhr as he pronounces it) and everything is gumdrops and ice cream. Only Nelly could make a song like this without sounding completely flaky. I’m sure everyone has heard Hot In Herre and Dilemma, two of the archetypical commercial rap songs of the era. The former is probably the most memorable Neptunes-produced club number ever with a feverish beat and Nelly’s blissfully ignorant raps and jokes that are so bad they’re good (“Stop pacin’, time wastin’, I got a friend with a pole in the basement” “What?” “I’m just Kidding like Jason!” “Oh.” “Unless you gon’ do it.”). The latter is something out of the Ja Rule playbook with our host and Destiny’s Child’s Kelly Rowland affectionately singing and sing-rapping come-ons at one another over a cheese fondue of an instrumental that blends philly soul with music box twinkling. You’d have to be a hardball cynic to hate these wide eyed optimistic and incredibly catchy jams.
Justin Timberlake, then of *NSYNC, gets to sing the hook of Work It which was good for him since appearing on this strip club anthem made him insteresting to slightly orlder teenagers than those who bought Celebrity, which was very necessary for the solo-album he was releasing later in 2002 to become succesful. The song still sounds really good today with it’s beat that’s simultaneously groovy and crunchy but it does give away how much Nelly relies on his superior flow and charisma to get his message across and not so much his lyrics which can be a bit off. (“She’s got me hypnotised, just like that Biggie guy.” and still P. Daddy invited him over to work on the second postumous Notorious B.I.G. album!?)
Air Force Ones is quite pleasant for a shoe commercial mostly pieced together by b-teamers due to it’s throbbing bounce-beat that harks back to Batter Up and Pimp Juice is the best shitty falsetto performed by a rapper ever, Jeffrey Atkins be damned.
#1 has our host proclaiming his dominance over the rap game and answering a KRS-One diss with gusto over a gloriously tangy instrumental.
Another highlight is Roc the Mic [Remix], an amended version of State Property’s debut single which has Sigel and Freeway copy the flow each other used on their respective verses the original version and Nelly and Murphy Lee managing to fit in pretty good with this significantly more gangsta, less frivolous duo. The edition of Nellyville I have finishes with the Neptunes remix to the *NSYNC-song girlfriend on which Nelly appeared, on here gets as clean as Justin gets dirty on Work It, so that’s a fair trade I guess. If you’re going to pick up Nellyville pick up this edition because it’s like an added bonus to what is essentially a nostalgia value pack. Besides the only other way of picking up this song is buying NSYNC’s Celebrity or stealing it off the internet off course.

The rest of the songs don’t really suck but don’t exactly warrant an honourable mention either. The biggest flaw about the album is that it’s twenty tracks (eighty miniutes) long, which leads me to believe that the man All Eyez on Me‘d this album, which means he recorded everything he could come up with in one go and without hearing it back for quality control purposes released everything he could fit onto a cd. If this were ten tracks long it woud be much better and much conciser. Still as it is Nellyville is more hit than miss and -dare I say it- a bit of a pop-rap classic that works as a time machine to the early Bush-era (your appreciation of this album may depend on your experience of those years.) and for that I salute it and Nelly himself.

Best tracks
Nellyville
Hot In Herre
Pimp Juice
Air Force Ones
Dilemma
Work It
Roc the Mic [Remix]
#1
Girlfriend [Remix]

Recommendations
Pick this one up. The good song are hella fun and Nellyville can’t be too expensive to come by.


Ali – Heavy Starch

Ali
Heavy Starch
April 30, 2002
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
060/100
Ali - Heavy Starch
1. Intro // 2. I Got This // 3. Crucial (feat. Murphy Lee) // 4. Ore-Ore-O // 5. No (feat. St. Lunatics) // 6. Boughetto (feat. Murphy Lee) // 7. 360 // 8. Wiggle Wiggle (feat. St. Lunatics) // 9. Drop Top (feat. Kandi) // 10. Collection Plate (feat. St. Lunatics) // 11. Passin’ Me By (feat. Toya) // 12. Bitch // 13. Beast (feat. Ray Ray) // 14. Cool as Hell
bonus
 tracks
15a. St. Louis Alumni (feat. STL Alumni) / 15b. Serious / 15c. Walk Away (feat. Ms. Toi & Nelly)

The first to come out of the St. Lunatics camp with a solo-album after undisputed alfa male Nelly was Ali. I can’t say I recall much of his contributions to Free City, but then I can’t remember many of Nelly’s verses either. Suffice to say the St. Lunatics’ debut album wasn’t a very memorable affair.

Heavy Starch Mostly gets right what Free City did wrong. It has some pretty pleasant instrumentals. I Got This has a bollywood-infused beat, CrucialNo360Wiggle Wiggle, Drop DropPassin’ Me By, Bitch have some of the same plodding, twinkling bounce-beats Nelly rode on to success with is debut Country Grammar. Boughetto brings an energetic club beat to the table and Collection Plate has some slinky southern funk backing up Ali and his Lunatic friends. Beast has some piano-keys going up and down the tone ladder. Everything is consistent enough to justify calling Heavy Starch an album but varied enough to keep you from falling asleep.

So what about Ali the rapper? Does he rise to the occasion? Well yes and no, he sounds like a complete tool for the most part, but his deep, rumbling, southern accented voice isn’t an unpleasant instrument. It’s just that his goofy thug raps aren’t very memorable one has to pay some serious attention to find out whether or not it is him on the mic on every one of the three St. Lunatics posse cuts, which means that each of the ‘tics could’ve recorded the exact same album with this set of beats.

Still the overall inoffensiveness and occasional cachiness of this, while not the most convincing argument for a purchase ever made, means that this is some perfectly decent party music, and that definitely counts for something.

Best songs
I Got This
Crucial
Boughetto
Wiggle Wiggle

Recommendations
Buy this only if you’re nostalgic for the Country Grammar era and sound. This makes for a decent second serving.


St. Lunatics – Free City

St. Lunatics
Free City
June 5, 2001
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
050/100
St. Lunatics - Free City
1. Just For You (The Introductory Poem) (performed by Amber Tabares) // 2. S.T.L. // 3. Okay // 4. Summer In the City // 5. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 1 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 6. Boom D Boom // 7. Midwest Swing // 8. Show ‘Em What They Won // 9.  Let Me In Now // 10. This Is the Life // 11. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 2 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 12. Scandalous // 13. Groovin’ Tonight (feat. Brian McKnight) // 14. Jang a Lang (feat. Penelope) // 15.Madd Baby Daddy, Part 3 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 16. Real Niggaz // 17. Here We Come // 18. Love You So (feat. Cardan) // 19. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 4 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock)

Succesful rappers should really stop assembling all their of friends, regardless whether they’re good at this rap thing or not, into a rap crew that actually records and releases albums to the general public. Although to be fair the St. Lunatics had been a thing since ’95, a good five years before Nelly came out with his solo-album Country Grammar. And in regard to their talent it would appear that whoever put the crew together made damn sure that all members but Nelly sounded completely meh.

Off course arguably the failure of their crew album to entertain the masses is not entirely on them since one of the things that made Country Grammar tick – some really, really good poppy production – is mostly absent here. It would be tempting to say that the absence of Lunatics member and Country Grammar-producer City Spud is the problem, especially since the best thing on Free City (I bet you can guess by now what held mr. Spud preoccupied from contributing more verses and beats than he did) is Groovin’ Tonight which is featuring and produced by him. Ironically this album succeeds in giving the listener a pretty good reason to want City Free. On the other hand it is actually Brian McKnight’s contribution on the hook that sets the song apart positively from the rest since Spud’s verse is no better than anything anyone else comes up with anywhere on this album, and the -admittedly- cool instrumental was probably a fluke since his Country Grammar contributions weren’t all that good.

Where Batter Up, the smash hit single off Nelly’s debut that introduced the Lunatics to the world, promised some good fun on an eventional album by the crew Free City fails to deliver. Shitty beats that may or may not have been leftovers from the Country Grammar sessions, uninspiredly delivered raps that could’ve been written by a bunch of stoned teenagers that first started rapping this morning and all sound the fucking same.
Blah.
Even the main attraction Nelly loses his charisma in this watery soup. Some outside help could’ve inproved matters considerably, so proves Groovin’ Tonight, but besides Brian the best that Nelly, Murphy Lee, Ali, Kijuan and SloDown could drill up was Cardan who appears on Love You So. Really? Cardan!? What do you pay Cardan for a guest verse? Yesterday’s leftover spaghetti? Was fucking Loon too busy polishing P. Daddy’s boots for a record deal to throw a guest verse your way, or some shit?

Avoid this album at all costs.

Best tracks
Scandalous
Groovin’ Tonight
Love You So

Recommendations
Don’t bother.


Genius/ GZA – Liquid Swords

Genius/ GZA
Liquid Swords
November 7, 1995
MCA RecordsUMG
085/100
GZA - Liquid Swords
1. Liquid Swords (feat. RZA) // 2. Duel of the Iron Mic (feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Masta Killa & Inspectah Deck) // 3. Living In the World Today (feat. RZA & Method Man) // 4. Gold (feat. Method Man) // 5. Cold World (feat. GZA, Inspectah Deck & Life) // 6. Labels (feat. RZA) // 7. 4th Chamber (feat. Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest & RZA) // 8. Shadowboxin’ (feat. Method Man) // 9a. Hell’s Wind Staff  /9b. Killah Hills 10304 (feat. RZA & Ol’ Dirty Bastard) // 10. Investigative Reports (feat. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah & U-God) // 11. Swordsman // 12. I Gotcha Back (feat. RZA) // 13. B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth) (performed by Killah Priest)

GZA’s Liquid Swords is by a wide consensus amongst Clan-fanboys considered the absolute finest of the solo-albums that any of the Wu’s nine members produced ever.
While personally this reviewer would give Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… that particular assessment (I’m admittedly not a much of a connoisseur) he does recognise it as being an extremely good rap album.

Here’s what it has going for it:
GZA for the time being (the time being 1995) was the best MC in the clan in at least the aspect of rapping for rapping’s sake. Rae and Ghost had better story telling raps, ODB and Meth had more distinct sounding voices and charisma (and hence more pop appeal and better-selling album) and RZA may have been the mastermind and the artiste out of the group, but nobody had individual lines like GZA did. Off course good punchlines don’t necessarily make good songs (word to Canibus) but GZA had a large enough attention span, as well as a smooth, calm delivery to ensure that his recording were cohesive enough.
Also Liquid Swords is the first Wu-solo album that features all of the other Clan-members alongside  its main attraction in guest capacity. Besides R&B singer Life and religious ranter Killah Priest no B-teamers were allowed near the project. This ensured several good things:
1. GZA couldn’t afford to self-indulge too much because he always was in company in the booth, which helped prevent stupid-ass songs like Stay Out of Bars off his forgotten Cold Chillin’-debut Words From the Genius, Vol. 1.
2. The people he was surrounded with were as talented as he was so he had to put in an effort on each song not to lose the spotligh.
3. He worked with people he was comfortable with and was proven to have chemistry with.
Finally Liquid Swords had the monolithic production courtesy of his cousin and Clan ringleader RZA at a time when that guaranteed banging beats. Prince Rakeem had in the two years prior created almost four complete albums of fantastic and unmistakable production for the entire Clan, Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Raekwon (guest starring Ghostface Killah) respectively and showed no sings of slowing down with Liquid Swords (although in truth by this time probably was working towards a burn-out because Liquid Swords was the penultimate Wu-solo album not handles almost exclusively by Bobby Digital, bar his own albums. And along with RZA leaving the studio every once in a while, the guarantee of Wu-solo albums being hot by default disappeared, which means that either this album or Ghostface Killah’s Iron Man, depending on who you ask, marks the end of the group’s golden era.).

The Genius had released an album prior to this one four years earlier when there was no such thing as the Wu, on Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie’s legendary old school hip-hop label Cold Chillin’ Records. That album had surprisingly mediocre beats (by the usually reliable Easy-Mo-Bee) and had the man performing mistifying pop-rap/ house-rap songs such as the Wu-jack swing number (which is exactly as shitty as that sounds) Come Do Me. Everyone has to start somewhere I suppose. Words From a Genius, Vol. 1 is however not the place to start your GZA experience. Liquid Swords is superior in every aspect.
It’s hard to imagine any one of the Wu’s fans being disappointed with Liquid Swords when it dropped. It has everything one could’ve come to expect from the Clan so far: battle raps, religious imagery, chess references, nerdy gangsta raps, eerie yet warm beats and kung-fu samples breaking it all up. One could argue that the Wu were playing it safe by not offering their fans but the fans know that sticking to the script in this case was actually a good thing.

Despite both Bad Boy Records and Death Row Records (The both of which are name-checked along with a myriad of other labels, most of which have gone bankrupt by now, on Labels.) habing already risen to the forefront of the hip-hop genre and to the top of the charts by ’95 with different, distinct R&B-infused sounds this album didn’t follow the trend and pretended the mainstream didn’t exist. There zero songs for the ladies, null jams for the clubs and no songs for the radio.
In stead we get typical prime, grimy Wu material that is perfect for small, marijuana-laced social gatherings.
The title track has a catchy hook though, and songs like Duel of the Iron MicGold and Shadowboxin’ to which Meth and ODB lend their voices have the most pop appeal, given that you’re into the Wu-æsthetic, but even these relatively accessible songs are grimier than most rap album’s songs for the streets. It was this uncompromising attitude to hip-hop that is the Clan’s bread and butter and is characteristic of their best work. (Their bids for radio play conversely are almost universely considered shitty by the fans.)
Duel of the Iron Mic4th Chamber, Shadowboxin‘, Duel of the Iron MicCold World and Investigative Reports are some of the best Wu-collabos put to wax while the title track, GoldLabelsSwordsmanHells Wind Staff/ Killah Hills 10304 and I Gotcha’ Back allow GZA to take the spotlight.

Liquid Swords is a prime example of the Wu-movement at the peak of its powers, everything just works. There are no real weak spots, bar maybe the closing track B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth) which is a self-important religious rant. Still RZA and GZA can’t be blamed for that one since it’s a Killah Priest solo-shot with a 4th Disciple beat. And even that song doesn’t entirely suck.

Best tracks
Liquid Swords
Duel of the Iron Mic
Cold World
Labels
4th Chamber
Shadowboxin’

Recommendations
Pick it up.


John Mayer – Inside Wants Out

John Mayer
Inside Wants Out
September 24, 1999
Mayer Music, LLC
060/100

Inside Wants Out

1. Back to You // 2. No Such Thing // 3. My Stupid Mouth // 4. Neon // 5. Victoria // 6. Love Soon // 7. Comfortable // 8. Neon 12:47 AM // 9. Quiet // 10.  Not Myself

For a guy who appears to rack up controversy whenever he opens his mouth to an interviewer John Mayer sure is quite the gentle, easy-going and some would say boring ‘singer-songwriter’ artist. If his independently 1999 debut EP Inside Wants Out is representative of his work that is.

This ten track EP, that would’ve been labeled an LP, had it been in the exact same form released fifteen years sooner, finds Mayer’s velvetty tenor backed by his own acoustic guitar (and the occasional other instrument, but mostly his guitar). It makes for the perfect autumn coffeehouse music and though a few of its songs were re-recorded for his full length debut Room For Squares it doesn’t exactly sound like a rough draft of that album.

For better or worse (and I am going with worse) there is no Your Body Is a Wonderland here, or anything else that blatantly goes after MOR-radio. Not that there’s anything on this folksy/jazzy pop EP that doesn’t fit on MOR radio, mind you. But nothing on here quite seem quite as intent on dominating that particular radio format as his first big hit was, either. Guess whe know now why Your Body Is a Wonderland became his first big hit.

His debut EP appears to lack impact almost as deliberately as his most talked-about interviews appear to be there to draw piss from the interviewer taking it from him (although whether either of these things are achieved by design or default remains not entirely clear). Which is one of the two pardoxes of the man that listening to these songs gives off. The other is that unlike his interviews his lyrics are mostly clever and do contain some insight and humour. But then again he does eloquently account for his lack of conversational eloquence on My Stupid Mouth, which retrospectively can only be read as a disclaimer, this self-proclaimed Captain Backfire has apparently been having Michael Richards PR nightmares pre-fame even, as well as a Benneton heart and a David Duke cock.

It is too bad that these stories are more interesting than the actual music on Inside Wants Out. A lot of these songs would (and some eventually did) benefit from a more complete instrumentation. Mayer’s music persona simply isn’t interesting enough to work as some sort of self accompanying troubadour, even if he does have the guitar-playing and songwriting chops to justify calling him a musician; this guy needs to be a rock star with a band backing him up in order to work, and soon he would be.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is a far cry fom a horrible way to start, in part thanks to it’s short running time: it’s not around long enough to overstay its welcome, let alone annoy.
It’s only real fault is that it is just not very interesting to listen to, and everyone knows that in Easy Listening music this quality is no death sin. Besides, from here on it would go nowhere but up (well, musically at least.)

Best tracks
No Such Thing
Neon
Comfortable

Recommendations
This is pretty good background music fodder for a playlist put together for reastaurant or a coffee bar containing similarly-minded stuff like Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua. It’s also well fit to read the sunday morning papers to, but that’s about the extent of what situations this is going to work in. Well, besides elevators off course.


Bobby Brown – King of Stage

Bobby Brown
King of Stage
December 11, 1986
MCA RecordsUMG
065/100
Bobby Brown - King of Stage
1. Girlfriend // 2. Girl Next Door // 3. Baby I Wanna Tell You Something // 4. You Ain’t Been Loved Right // 5. King of Stage // 6. Love Obsession // 7. Spending Time // 8. Seventeen // 9. Your Tender Romance

While New Edition was rebooting the Platters and Maurice Starr was rebooting New Edition, Bobby Brown, whose ties with all these people were severed, was busy recording his solo-debut album King of Stage. Most people who followed New Edition would probably have sworn that Ralph, being that he sang all the leads and was arguably the best singer out the group (until Johnny Gill became a member anyway), would be not only the first one to have a solo album but would also become the brightest star. Unfortunately for Tresvant Brown got to do both those things after his bandmates voted him out of the group in late 1985.

Bobby Brown’s solo career is most remembered – when it isn’t completely and unfortunately eclipsed by the memory of all that Bobby-Whitney stuff – for his sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel, which along with debut albums by Keith Sweat and Guy helped popularise new jack swing, an R&B-mutation that combined early hip-hop’s hard-hitting drums and minimal melody with classic soul’s smoothed-out sung vocals (although most New Jack Swing artists also rapped on their own records at the very least every once in a while).

King of Stage is a rap-soul hybrid as well, but a more primitive, less integrated one. And bar the title track nothing on here could remotely be considered hip-hop or strongly hip-hop influenced like his subsequent work. Basically this album’s instrumentals are typical ’80s funk-jams and slow dancers, with one imitation RUN-DMC beat thrown in for good measure, mostly provided by Cameo-frontman Larry Blackmon as well as Isaac Hayes/Isley Brothers/Aretha Franklin songwriter Michael Lovesmith and Boston club DJ John Luongo, over which Bobby mostly sings but busts out the occasional LL Cool J’s I Need Love-esque rap verse too. The resulting album is a lot more funky, ballsy and swaggering than anything NE came up with, as was to be expected since Brown was rather vocal about resenting his (by the time of this album’s release former) group’s bubblegum image and sound, which is one of the reasons he got excommunicated by his mates in the first place. Brown appears to delight in his chance to be a grown up-type of soul singer, which results in a more than halfway decent album that’s a lot more expressive and a lot less gimmicky than what NE ever did. The comparison with Under the Blue Moon is especially beneficial (although that’s as much Under the Blue Moon‘s fault as it is King of Stage‘s merit.)

The appeal of this album is for the most part personality-based. Bobby isn’t the best singer or the best rapper around, nor is a he handed the most memorable set of songs to perform. It’s all in the fairly decent yet somewhat unremarkable zone. But then there’s Bobby’s undeniable natural charm and a boyish buoyance that do work some magic. Bob is a born entertainer. Though a confident performer he also appears to well know the limits of his gruff tenor. The vocalists that appear to inspire him are Rick James and James Brown, and though he’s nowhere near as talented as these two greats he does seem to have learnt the right lessons from them. Like the hardest working man in showbiz he punctuates his songs with the more-than-occasional joyous grunt.

Girlfriend, his first solo-single hit number one on the U.S. R&B charts when it came out and it’s a nice little ’70s inspired love song, complete with saucy sax and it would’ve slipped seamlessly onto either New Edition or All For LoveGirl Next Door is a synthy funk number that shows the Cameo influence while still allowing Bob’s individuality to shine through, and the same can be said for the similarly minded Baby I Wanna Tell You Something. On the title track Bob rhymes about over a Jam Master Jay-aping beat that appears to incorporate a James Brown vocal sample (Since this was released before the sample wars nobody is credited so one can never be sure.) Bouncy up-tempo cuts like Love Obsession and Your Tender Romance summon the mental image of Axel Foley driving his convertible through LA, and whether that works as a good thing you can make out for yourself.

Obvious missteps are Seventeen, a misguided stab social commentary on a girl getting off track and pregnant and on sex and drugs. It doesn’t only sound ridiculous and hypocritical coming from Bob, knowing that soon enough he himself would be off track and on drugs, but it also isn’t a very good song that tries to accomplish drama through crappy ’80s synths (Yes I am aware King of Stage was recorded in the ’80s), and the fairly boring ballad Spending Time that has Bob trying to breathe life into it with all his might, but accomplishing little but showing the limits of his vocal range.  As a whole however King of Stage works more often than it doesn’t.

Kudos to the people at MCA for having the sense to keep this album brief at nine songs and including mostly good ones to boot. Bobby’s debut is a pretty decent attempt at establishing a career and a musical identity outside of NE with songs such as King of Stage and Your Tender Romance, while still catering to the audience of his former group with Girlfriend and Girl Next Door. It may not have been the massive breakthrough hit he wanted, but it was succesful enough for the record label to let him record another album. And record another album he did, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

Best tracks
Girlfriend
Girl Next Door
King of Stage
Your Tender Romance

Recommendations
If you’re into ’80s R&B that may not be very substantial but does pack a punch, and you happen to come across this for a reasonable price a purchase may be in order.


New Kids on the Block – New Kids on the Block

New Kids on the Block
New Kids on the Block
April 1, 1986
Columbia RecordsSME
063/100
NKOTB - NKOTB
1. Stop It Girl // 2. Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) // 3. Popsicle // 4. Angel // 5. Be My Girl // 6. New Kid on the Block // 7. Are You Down // 8. I Wanna Be Loved By You // 9. Don’t Give Up On Me // 10. Treat Me Right

So it’s 1986 and New Edition was a big thing with several platinum albums under their collective belt. Bobby got the hell out of dodge, but his solo debut album was dropping soon enough, and his career was definitely going places from there, not all of them good but the man did reach the highest highs heights as well as the lowest lows of anyone in the group. The other four members dropped their first and last album as a quartet, a collection of standards that had been performed to death several times over already before any NE member had even learnt to talk, that while not being very exciting at least proved that they were still a thing. And what’s more, soon they would be joined by Johnny Gill whose dark chocolate vocals would give them soul creditials previously unattainable. So yeah Ronnie, Ricky, Ralph, Mike and Bobby (and Johnny) had all come far on the road to succes that they started walking in 1983 with their group debut Candy Girl.

And Maurice Starr, business savvy teen pop svengali was understandably pissed off about all this, because he had discovered the boys, produced their debut album and then just when the money started coming in they left him out to rot by signing to MCA records and not employing him as their producer.
Starr plotted his revenge, not only on NE but also on the entire world (*twirls moustache and laughs maniacally*) and immediately assembled another group of kids to sing and dance their way to stardom and fill his pockets. Only this time they were all white, which opened up an entirely new market, since these teen pop groups were most succesful with those audiences that could identify with or have a crush on the performers, which is the main reason why there are black Barbies on the market and main characters of all races and both sexes in sitcoms. Relatability people, the trick to selling something mass-produced is to make the consumer believe that your product is specifically about/for him/ her. And starting in 1986 there was a white version of the New Edition of the Jackson 5 on the market as well. Arguably there had been such a thing already in the form of the Osmonds, but the Osmonds were actually family like the Jacksons. NE and NKOTB were manufactured product. Especially New Kids on the Block who were recruited from five hundred auditioning boys and pieced together both by mastermind Starr.

The teenaged girls never even stood a chance.

Donnie Wahlberg, his little brother Mark, his best friend Danny Wood, one-time schoolmate Jordan Knight and his older brother Jonathan were the chosen ones, so while NKOTB weren’t all related to one another there were two pairs of brothers in the group, and they probably were all at the very least vaguely familiar with each other before they became a boyband in 1984. Well initially they were. Mark was replaced by Joey McIntyre for having ADHD concentration problems or something. This time around Starr decided not to release their debut on his Warlock label but had them signed to Columbia, so they dropped it in 1986 and then… nothing.

Apparently the teenaged girls resisted the temptation just fine, thank you very much. Maybe the sweaters and shirts the guys wore on the front cover were too godawful for the ’80s even. Anyway, Starr had some explaining to do in the Columbia offices because he hadn’t made the executives richer. And then Columbia didn’t release NKOTB from their contracts, nor did they fire Starr as the group’s producer, which is a peculiar thing to do for a record company, but it paid off ultimately because their ’88 sophomore album, backed by better marketing sold seventeen million copies worldwide. Then in a brilliant bit of marketing Columbia decided to release a third single off their debut right in the middle of promoting their sophomore in the summer of ’89. That song, a Delphonics Cover titled Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) with Jordan on leads, became a hit, like every NKOTB song released in that day and age and the debut went triple platinum after gather gathering dust on record store shelves for three years, kinda like how Blunted of Reality rode the Score‘s coattails in 1996.

So what does it actually sound like? Well, New Kids on the Block sounds exactly like Candy Girl. There’s the same jingling guitars, the same vocoder work courtesy of Starr himself, there’s a different Michael Jackson emulator doing most of the leads (Joey), there’s a kid with a somewhat gruffer voice busting out the occasional rap filling Bobby’s roll (Donnie), there’s a lot of saccharine love songs, there’s a primitive rap jam with redundant handclaps  where everyone takes a turn behind the mic. If Maurice Starr learnt any new tricks since creating Candy Girl he sure goes out of his way to hide it from the listener. Someone should take a time machine to 1997 and hand this album over to Puff Diddy and Pastor Ma$e because they sampled the shit out of songs off NE’s debut on several occasions but appear to have completely overlooked this one as a source of recycle-able grooves.

The albums are so similar in fact that I don’t even have to think of a new end for this review:
Most of these songs are sunny, mildly funky electronic pop-soul concoctions that may be a bit too cheerful, saccharine and exuberant for some people’s tastes (New Kids on the Block was after all the world’s second manufactured, producer-groomed boyband) but as far as teen-pop goes this is pretty terrific stuff. Hooky hooks, danceable instrumentation and lyrics that are simple but never nonsensical. Stop It GirlPopsicle and Angel stand out in particular, although Are You Down and Treat Me Right (can you guess the recurring theme in these songs?) don’t fall far behind.

Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind?) and I Wanna Be Loved By You are respectively pretty sweet death-of-puppy-love and yearning-for-puppy-love ballads, and although Joey can’t really fuck with mid-’70s Michael in this type of song (who can really?) he’s still got a lot more soul than your average teen heartthrob in the Justin Bieber/ Donny Osmond category.

New Kids on the Block is, like most teen pop albums, pure uncut fluff. It is however pretty good fluff. And while it doesn’t even hint at the greatness what was  to come in the form of follow-up albums and solo projects by its various members it is more often than not bouncy, groovy, catchy music that’ll get you to tap your foot or nod you head or do whatever your music listening tic forces you to do. And for that it warrants a revisit, although you may want to pick up Candy Girl by New Edition first because it’s a slightly better album.

Best tracks
Stop It Girl
Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)
Popsicle
Angel
I Wanna Be Loved By You

Recommendations
Pick this up if you find it for a reasonable price. It isn’t very substantial or very original, but the guys have nice voices and Maurice Starr gave them catchy songs. And if you don’t take it too seriously and don’t over-analise it you can have a lot of fun with it.


New Edition – Under the Blue Moon

New Edition
Under the Blue Moon
October 10, 1986
MCA RecordsUMG
060/100
(Photo: MCA Records)
1. Earth Angel // 2. A Million to One // 3. Duke of Earl // 4. (Hey There) Lonely Girl // 5. A Thousand Miles Away // 6. What’s Your Name // 7. Tears on My Pillow (feat. Little Anthony) // 8. Blue Moon // 9. Since I Don’t Have You // 10. Bring Back the Memories

Somewhere between the release of All For Love and the recording of this album the bad boy of the group Bobby Brown left New Edition semi-volontarily to pursue a solo-career; He was allegedly voted out by the other members. What does one do after essentially severing one’s own testicles? If you’re a musical entity then recording the most delicate album of your career would be a plausible answer. And with New Edition you would be entirely correct for assuming that this is what they did. The quartet incarnation of NE had scored a hit single with Earth Angel, a cover of a seminal ’50s doo-wop hit off the Karate Kid soundtrack, so MCA commissioned a full album of 1950s and ’60s R&B standards filtred through the minds, bodies, souls and voices of Ronnie, Ricky, Mike and Ralph, as well as the mid-’80s productions of Freddie Perren. The results are both overly cotton candy sweet and sticky and sort of visionary: R&B artists would record this sort of retro cover-songs and cover-albums more and more often as a reaction to New Jack Swing’s modernist coupe d’état that would be instigated by among others – ironically enough – former NE member Bobby Brown some two years from this album’s release.

What keeps this love boat from going the way of the Titanic is the fact that this album is kept brief enough not to irritate, just over half an hour to be exact. This leaves the impression that Under the Blue Moon was recorded as a quick filler album  to show the fans that yes NE was alive and well without Bobby Brown, thank you very much, and that’s probably because it is. Without any defiance to speak of that is a shitty artistic statement if ever there were one. And the closest thing to defiance that the boys do on here is invite Little Anthony of seminal Doo Wop group Little Anthony and the Imperials to harmonise with them on Tears on My Pillow as a sort of audition for Bobby’s replacement without so much as explicitly stating the fact (History teaches us that he didn’t make it…), guess Bobby took all the defiance with him.

Still New Edition work well enough here as a blend of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the Platters, and lead singer Tresvant gets to flex his voice and show his range a little bit, which gives him some more artistic credibility than he had before, as does Ricky Bell with his cover of (Hey There) Lonely Girl. But that’s hardly enough to make this a must-listen. After all competent singing of cover versions of songs that have been performed in a similar vein elsewhere, but better, are often as grating as terrible music making (word to the Voice and similar-minded shows), and this is exactly what’s on display on this album for the most part.

The only exceptions to this are a banging up-tempo version of Blue Moon, the hit version of Earth Angel – probably because they were just trying something new when they recorded the song rather than churning out R&B standard #528 as they did with most other songs on here – and the only original song Bring Back the Memories whose title doubles as the album’s mission statement. These songs are bright with the youthful freshness that made the boys from Boston a force to be reckoned with in the first place.

The rest however is only of interest to collectors of everything NE, your sixty seven year old aunt and/or hardcore doo-wopsters who insist on having heard every version of Since I Don’t Have You that’s there to be heard.

Best tracks
Earth Angel
Blue Moon
Bring Back the Memories

Recommendations
Don’t bother. While this isn’t a horrible album there are much better R&B standards albums and much better NE albums out there.


Fugees – Blunted on Reality

Fugees/ Tranzlatorz Crew
Blunted on Reality
Februari 1, 1994
Ruffhouse RecordsColumbia RecordsSME
060/100
cover
1. Introduction // 2. Nappy Heads // 3a. Blunted [Interlude] / 3b. Blunted on Reality // 4. Recharge // 5. Freestyle [Interlude] // 6. Vocab // 7. Special Bulletin News [Interlude] // 8. Boof Baf (feat. Mad Spyda) // 9. Temple // 10. How Hard Is It? // 11. Harlem Chit Chat [Interlude] // 12. Seek Some Stardom // 13. Giggles // 14. Da Kid from Haiti [Interlude] // 15. Refugees on the Mic // 16. Living Like There Ain’t No Tomorrow // 17. Shout outs From the Block // 18. Nappy heads [Remix]

The story of the Fugees is a classic one: Three New Jersey high school kids formed a hip-hop group in ’92, a member left, enter a new member and tadaa; we have the trio of Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill and Pras who used to perform under the name Translatorz Crew.
After a some gigs and demos they woke up finding themselves signed to Columbia subsidiary label Ruffhouse Records. They changed their group name to Fugees to draw attention to their Haitian heritage (Apparently Refugee is a derogatory term for Haitian American.) and recorded a debut album filled with somewhat politically charged dancehall rap called Blunted on Reality which they finished in ’92. Allegedly they then had a two year battle with their record label about the content, following which they released their album to the sounds of crickets.

Somehow they didn’t get dropped from their label and got to record a sophomore album that features covers of Roberta Flack’s Killing Me softly With His Song and Bob Marley & the Wailers’ No Woman No Cry, alongside original material and proceeded to sell twenty fucking million copies of said album called the Score. Lauryn Hill then went insane, released an even more succesful solo album which sparked a songwriting and production lawsuit, proceeded to go even insane-er while Wyclef became a stalwart producer and solo hitmaker and Pras… Well who gives two shits about Pras? (Sorry Pras.)

Before all that though there was Blunted on Reality, an album that has nothing to do with any of that, really, and is content with being a reggae tinged gangsta rap album. Neither Wyclef nor Lauryn sing much here and for those who are into Killing Me Softly and Ready Or Not should not pick automatically this up just because it’s the product of the same people, if not leave it alone all together. The Score was a breath of fresh air in a hip-hop landscape that was mostly filled with gangsta clones of quality of varying degree. Blunted on Reality is an album worth of gangsta clones of quality of varying degree. Seriously you guys, two million people before you made that exact mistake. Even die hard Pras-fans don’t really have any business here since although he wasn’t very good back then already, his voice was not at all as deep and resonant as it would become later, which was the only thing the guy has going for him, really.

Not that Blunted on Reality is a horrible album, au contraire, it’s alright enough if a bit bland.
All the songs, with a few exceptions, may sound the same but they don’t sound bad, and Wyclef, Lauryn and Pras are each at the very least competent on the mic. The lyrics aren’t very exceptional but for the most part they’re delivered at too fast a pace for you to hear them unless you play close attention.

There is however two songs that are slightly better than merely alright. There’s one song that may not directly hint at the greatness that was to come but does sound good in its own right: Nappy Heads, with its dirty drums and funky horn sample is the very best thing on here, hands down and should get some heads nodding and feet tapping.
Then there’s Vocab which mirrors Nappy Heads in that it in fact does hint at what can be heard on The Score as well as Wyclef’s solo work, what with its spare acoustic guitar backdrop but could use some work as it sounds unfinished. (Apparently the record label and/ or the Fugees agreed with that sentiment since the version that was released as a single was a remix that sounds a lot better and more complete.)

The rest hower… It is what it is, which is to say it isn’t very good or very bad, it merely exists.

Best tracks
Nappy Heads
Vocab [Refugees Hip-Hop Remix] (video version)*
Recharge

*Not actually included on the album.

Recommendations
I recommend this album only to 50 Cent who claims “[He] used to listen to Lauryn Hill, and tap [his] feet. Then the bitch put out a CD and didn’t have no beats”. The rest of you can just pluck the above songs off iTunes and move on to The Score already.


R. Kelly – R.

R. Kelly
R.
November 10, 1998
Jive Records/ SME
075/100
cover
DISC I: the Show
1. Home Alone (feat. Keith Murray & Kelly Price) // 2. Spendin’ Money // 3. If I’m With You // 4. Half on a Baby // 5. When a Woman’s Fed Up // 6. Get Up On a Room // 7. One Man // 8. We Ride (feat. Cam’ron, Noreaga, Vegas Cats, Jay-Z & Tone) // 9. The Opera // 10. The Interview (feat. Suzanne Lemignot) // 11. Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy // 12. Don’t Put Me Out // 13. Suicide // 14. Etcetera // 15. If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time // 16. What I Feel/ Issues // 17. I Believe I Can Fly
DISC II: the After Party/The Hotel
1. The Chase // 2. V.I.P. // 3. Did You Ever Think (feat. Tone) // 4. Dollar Bill (feat. Foxy Brown & Tone) // 5. Reality // 6. Second Kelly // 7. Ghetto Queen (feat. Crucial Conflict) // 8. Down Low Double Life // 9. Looking For Love // 10. Dancing With a Rich Man // 11. I’m Your Angel (feat. Céline Dion) // 12. Money Makes the World Go ‘Round (feat. NaS) // 13. Gotham City

There was a period in the late ’90s when every urban recording artist recorded a magnum opus in the form of a double album. 2pac had set off the trend with his All Eyez on Me in 1996, B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan had followed suit with Life After Death and Wu-Tang Forever respectively in 1997, and R. Kelly served up his contribution under the name of his single consonant front initial in ’98. Brief as that title is, the album is thirty tracks long, a running time that makes it a celebration of excess by definition.  Too much time for a single artist to fill up arguably.

He certainly has his methods of somewhat succesfully attempting to make the album’s two hours and ten minutes bearable. One of them is being purposefully all over the map musically. Not only are there the usual hip-hop/disco/funk infused party jams (Home AloneSpendin’ MoneyIf I’m With YouWe RideOnly the Loot Can Make Me HappyV.I.P.Did You Ever Think, Dollar BillGhetto QueenDancing With a Rich ManMoney Makes the World Go Round) and soul infused slow songs that are either for baby making (Half on a BabyGet Up on a RoomEtcetera2nd Kelly) or relationship contemplation (When a Woman’s Fed UpOne ManDon’t Put Me OutSuicideIf I Could Turn Back the Hands of TimeWhat I Feel/ IssuesReality and Down Low Double Life), which is what one would expect from the man, but there are also huge, sugary, gospel-infused M.O.R. easy listening ballads such as I Believe I Can FlyGotham City and I’m Your Angel (the first two culled from soundtracks) and actual gospel Looking For Love, as well as weird nods to opera and *gulp* yodeling.

Off course all of this genre-hopping is done is mostly traditional. After all most contemporary soul album from the ascend of the genre onward have contained dance numbers and ballads, and taking into account that the literal opera bit of R. is a silly skit, not an earnest attempt at going for Pavaroti’s spot, it makes Robert’s most original idea this time around that he figured that you could in fact if you are so inclined, put Céline Dion and Jay-Z on the same album, and make multi-platinum sales, not in spite of it but because of it. As simple as this innovation seems, its implications are still felt in today’s pop music landscape.
R. is a musical blockboster by design. Robert effortlessly juggles several styles of contemporary R&B, doing most of the dirty work himself, both in the booth and behind the boards, but brings hotshot rappers (Keith Murray, Cam’ron, Noreaga, Foxy Brown, Jay-Z and Nas), singers (Kelly Price and Céline Dion) and producers (Puff Diddy, Trackmasters and G-One)  into the studio to augment and complement the listening experience. It really should be noted that Robert takes this cross-demographic appeal thing to an entirely new level here. With R. he milks Jigga’s homeboys, Luther’s ladies and Céline’s schlock-lovers in one go, without so much as breaking a sweat. And by almost literally succesfully working with everybody he cemented his at-the-time status as pop’s most succesful allrounder.R. bears its influences on its sleeve. On Home Alone he blends Off the Wall era Michael Jackson with West-Coast hip-hop.When a Woman’s Fed Up has Donny Hathaway breathing vicariously through it.If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time is a expertly dragging doo-wop ballad in the vein of the Platters. And over the project as a whole looms the mighty shadow of Marvin Gaye. Robert’s pop sensibilities are what separate him from the pack (well except Jacko off course.) Much like Michael’s his soul is watered down and sweetened enough (as well as possibly sold to the devil) to fit onto monst nonspecific radio formats.

As far as the smooth radio soul goes this album has it’s fair share of contemporary classics. Not discussing I Believe I Can Fly and I’m Your Angel, which are too slick to even pretend to be soul songs (gospel-pop would be rather accurate), When a Woman’s Fed Up and If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time are good as requiems of relationships get.
Suicide is a tense and dramatic song that could’ve come out the Isaac Hayes playbook.
Did You Ever Think expresses Robert’s bewilderment at his own success while Trackmaster Tone continually asks him whether he ever thought he’d a successful as an artist before he suddenly was, and a Spanish guitar blurrs the line between poppy and sinister in the background.
Half on a Baby and Get Up On a Room probably have been responsible for several conceptions since it’s release, they’re some of those frankly sexy songs that can do that (Rumor has it that the former was originally written for Bobby Brown’s Forever album, but didn’t make the cut since Bob decided to spend his album advance on coke, rather than outside songwriting and production negociate full creative controll and produce the album himself, to commercially and critically abysmal results. I have a hard time imagining Bob perform it, since I have a hard time seeing it work as anything other a silky smooth honey-tongued R. Kelly song.)

The hip-hop influenced tracks bang as well. Home Alone has Def Squad alumnus Keith Murray and hip-hop soulstress Kelly Price, as well as DJ Quik’s frequent co-producer G-One delivering a funky, heavy club banger, and We Ride is a cool New York Rap posse cut, with a breezy midnight-ride-through-the-desert beat (on which Noreaga delivers the golden line: Ayo, it’s so deep, I told my shorty just last week. A-huh, it’s like you remind me of my jeep.)

Another thing that ties him to the King of pop, this time in his Dangerous incarnation, is a rampant sense of paranoia. Robert preposterously rants about playa haters who want his cash, the media that only wants to sell news whether truthful or not, racist cops who want him in jail while knowing he’s innocent, as well as people who simply don’t like his music, all together conspiring his downfall as though they’re having a go at his crucifiction, with him being a messiah of sorts. On the opening skit of disc two: The Chase there’s even a secret player hater police/ army that is in hot pursuit of him, attempting to stop his music from being heard and attempting to assasinate his talent (I wish I could make this up). Unlike Michael’s however most of these assertions are, whether intentional or not, humourous and absurd enough to not be quite as fucking annoying.

Kells again blends the sacred in the profane in his music as he did on R. Kelly, seemingly making him some sort of preacher-pimp head of a church-club of sexy business, generously sprinkling around bodily fluids and doing unholy shit with his followers Kind of like some Roman catholic clerics. To him there is no experience more spiritual than a good lay, it really cleans the soul. Simultaneously his songs are charged with guilt, whether it is about christian sin or wronging a lady. It is this dual tension that sets him apart from similarly mindedly laviscious R&B artists like Next, and it is this is what his detractors often fail to see him do. It adds richness, colour and depth (or at the very least the illusion of depth) to songs that would be rendered completely juvenile without it. After all; what is more fascinating? A righteous brother struggling with his negative tendencies and trying to do right, while at the same time aknowledging how much pleasure and fulfillment giving in to these tendencies bring him or a mindless mysogynic poon hound? It also puts the man in a line of soul singers that goes from Ray Charles, through the previously mentioned Marvin Gaye to Prince.

The wacky songwriting is still present too. And I’m not talking about I Believe I Can Fly‘s lyrics that are so pompous that they beg, beg, beg parody. I’m talking songs like 2nd Kelly, which helps carbon date this to the time when the internet was just starting to become a thing where he tries to seduce the ladies from the point of view of a computerised R. Kelly, a computer virus, a webcamming service or all three and are so intrinsically weird that they are one hundred percent spoof-proof.

A direct result from the album being as long as it is is that there’s going to be songs it would be better without. Down Low Double Life is a song he had done twice over already before R. hit shelves. There’s no real need to have both Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy and Money Makes the World Go Round. In fact, if I were Barry Hankerson I’d had cut them off both because Did You Ever Think is also about the moulah and is a far better song than either of those two with the least wack Trackmasters instrumental.
Ghetto Queen only features rap group Crucial Conflict because they happened to live in Chicago which is Robert’s hometown, not because of any sort of perceptible talent.
Spendin’ Money and Dollar Bill are only here because in 1998 respectively Puff Diddy and Foxy Brown were a thing, and it was a legal requirement to include one of his disco-recycling beats and one of here clunky-ass oversexualised verses (I realise that something beong oversexualised is a weird and hypocritical complaint on an R. Kelly album, but I can’t really rephrase it while still having it make sense, so there you have it) on an urban music album if it were to be released. Not because they’re good songs.

This album’s issues aren’t too much for the good stuff to overcome. And the good stuff is definitely in the majority.
But one must keep in mind that this album is two hours and ten minutes long, which means that it would probably still be too long to listen to in one go even if the lesser material were taken out of the equation. This is the main argument against double albums of original material, a dinosaur-form of releasing music, killed by the Pirate Bay, iTunes and Spotify which allowed us to buy single songs and put them in playlists in whichever order we liked. When this came out for consumers more music really was better because you couldn’t buy any other form of music other than compact discs. That R. is actually as good as it is despite its flaws may mean that besides Wu-Tang Forever (which had the constant creative input of over nine people) this may very well be the best urban double disc out there. And despite being flawed it really is too good not to recommend to lovers of good pop, even if Robert arguably would’ve done better slimming it down to one single CD. If he had done that, and done that properly he would’ve made his best album ever. As it stands it may not be his best album, but is probably is his definitive one.

Best tracks
Home Alone
Half on a Baby
When a Woman’s Fed Up
We Ride
Suicide
If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time
I Believe I Can Fly
Did You Ever Think
Second Kelly
I’m Your Angel

Recommendations
Pick this up.


Sparkle – Sparkle

Sparkle
Sparkle
May 20, 1998
Rockland RecordsInterscope RecordsUMG
070/100
Sparkle - Sparkle
1. Good Life (feat. Cam’ron & Nature) // 2. Time to Move On // 3. Lean on Me // 4. I’m Gone // 5. Turn Away // 6. What About // 7. Be Careful (feat. R. Kelly) // 8. Nothing Can Compare // 9. Quiet Place [Interlude] // 10. Lovin’ You // 11. Straight Up // 12. Vegas (feat. Strings) // 13. No Greater [Prelude] // 14. Play On // 15. Plenty Good Love

Rather than putting himself in the flesh in the background on his protégé’s album cover this time around R. Kelly has found a much subtler way to make his presence on Sparkle known to the record buying audiences. I’m sure that if you put in a little effort you will spot it eventually.
Now if this R. Kelly Inn. sounds like a brothel pleasant place to stay to you, you aren’t far off, because Sparkle is the very first album released by his short lived but very own interscope subsidiary boutique label Rockland Records, and R. Kelly is pimping it with all his might doing his very best to make visitors comfortable enough to “come again some time.”

Sparkle sounds like what Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number would have sounded like if it would’ve been recorded in the R. Kelly-era rather than in the 12 Play-era. Sparkle even sounds somewhat similar to Aaliyah, although she’s not quite as virtuous a singer. That’s to say: It sounds pleasant enough but ultimately not very distinctive.

Part of its somewhat bland nature is that nowhere does anybody remind anyone of a jeep. Robert’s wacky songwriting is mostly kept in check, which may be for the better since not everyone can deliver such lines without something becoming very wrong about the resulting music. In its place there are elaborate stories of inner city love, loss and betrayal that mostly steers clear of melodrama because of Sparkle’s unassuming singing style.

That there’s nothing very wrong with Sparkles, combined with Robert’s sultry, blaxploitation-influenced production, helps to establish a romantic mood when it’s on that makes it very suitable for a night on the sofa with the misses and a bottle of vin rouge.

There’s one undeniable classic on here, that would be the R. Kelly duet Be Careful which is one of those “both sides of the argument” songs that is Robert’s forte whenever he duets a lady singer. It has the same sort of bluesey backdrop that When a Woman’s Fed Up has, and both singers sound terrific over it. That no-one has had the common sense to include it on an R. Kelly compilation yet is beyond me. Though it may have something to do with the fact that Robert and Sparkle’s hate one another’s guts these days, allegedly due to Sparkle’s fourteen y.o. neice allegedly appearing on what allegedly was the R. Kelly Sex Tape.

Sparkle is for the most part one of those albums that is quite simply a pleasant enough second serving of a proven success, in this case what made Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number and R. Kelly successful. And that while that isn’t very spectacular this is still quite decent musically and serves its purpose well. It’s purpose being pleasant when on while not getting in the way of a good lay.

Best track
Be Careful
Time to Move On
Turn Away

Recommendations
Pick this up if you like light R&B that goes down smooth and can manage to find it for a reasonable price.


Chef Raekwon Guest starring Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah) – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…

Chef Raekwon Guest Starring Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah)
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
August 1, 1995
Loud Records/ RCA Records/ BMG Music Group/ SME
090/100
Only Built Cover
1. Striving For Protection (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 2. Knuckleheadz (feat. Ghostface Killah & U-God) // 3. Knowledge God // 4. Criminology (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 5. Incarcerated Scarfaces // 6. Rainy Dayz (feat. Ghostface Killah & Blue Raspberry) // 7. Guillotine (Swordz) (feat. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah & GZA) // 8. Can It All Be So Simple [Remix] (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 9. Shark Niggas (Biters) (feat. Ghostface Kilah) // 10. Ice Water (feat. Ghostface Killah & Cappadonna) // 11. Glaciers of Ice (feat. Masta Killah, Ghostface Killah, Blue Raspberry & 60 Seconds Assasin) // 12. Verbal Intercourse (feat. NaS & Ghostface Killah) // 13. Wisdom Body (performed by Ghostface Killah) // 14. Spot Rusherz (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 15. Ice Cream (feat. Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna & Method Man) // 16. Wu Gambinos (feat. Method Man, RZA, Masta Killah & Ghostface Killah) // 17. Heaven & Hell (feat. Ghostface Killah & Blue Raspberry) // 18. North Star (Jewels) (feat. Popa Wu)

That album cover leads one to believe two things.

1.) Ghostface Killah wasn’t originally intended to be featured as often on what originally was, and eventually sort of still is, supposed to be a Raekwon solo-album.

2.) They only made the decision to change the billing to “Raekwon Guest Starring Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah)” last minute after taking a glance at the overall package and discovering that this in fact was not a Rae solo-album, by default, when it was too late already to change it to something more truthful like Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon Rae & Ghost, because it wasn’t as easy to digitally process images in 1995 as it is today. And since they were at it anyway they added the word “Chef” for the hell of making things longer and wordier.

Now I realise that one could say the same thing about Dr. Dre’s “solo” debut the Chronic, and its copious employment of “guest rapper” Snoop Doggy Dogg, but Dre produced that album wall-to-wall making him at the very least the undeniable ringleader of that crowded party, which sort of justifies calling it a Dr. Dre solo album. RZA fulfills that role here, which means Rae is is definitely only a part of the OB4CL equation.

At least it would seem that they made an honest but half-assed attempt at rectifying that shit, so they do earn some honest but half-assed praise for that. Someone should really get on that…

On with the review: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… sold less copies than either Tical or Return to the 36 Chambers did, which makes sense since it’s not as fit for fraternity parties as those two albums are, but it recieved more praise by critics, a tradition that we of this blog are happy to continue. This discrepancy between how consumers rated it and how critics rated it makes it somewhat similar to NaS’ Illmatic (although unlike Illmatic OB4CL did go gold the year it was released). Besides the critics liking this album Rae and Ghost’s fellow hip-hop recording artists took notice. Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and NaS’ It Was Written, as well as the Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death all showing its influences. Gangsta rap before OB4CL was a bunch of gun-toting rebels without a cause, after this album dropped for a while it became all about cinematically depicting organised crime in rhymes. 40 oz. bottles of malt licquor were traded in for bottles of Christal, Moët and Dom Perignon. And Dickies pants and Jerseys were traded in for tailored suits. (This must‘ve pissed off Rae immensely since he riffs a bit about rappers jacking other rappers style on Shark Niggas (Biters), a mid-album skit, which is kind of ironic since that whole mafia-rap thing was originally Kool G Rap’s idea.) This mobster movie thing is another explanation of why Ghost is credited as a guest star, although by that logic RZA should be somewhere on that same cover as the “director”.
One thing that sets apart this album from a lot of its derivatives is the fact that it actually has a story line that runs across all of the songs. As RZA put it in a XXL Magazine interview on the making of this album: “The theme of the album is two guys that had enough of the negative life and was ready to move on, but had one more sting to pull off. They’re tired of doing what they doing, but they’re trying to make this last quarter million. That’s a lot of money in the streets. We gonna retire and see our grandbabies and get our lives together.”
One thing that sets apart this album from a lot of other hip-hop concept albums is that everyone involved appears to take it seriously enough to put in some effort and that it doesn’t suck balls because of it or seem far-fetched.

As good as Tical and Return to the 36 Chambers were, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… was the first Wu-solo album to actually live up to the original 36 Chambers‘ hype. It may very well be the only Wu-solo album, and one of the few hip-hop albums in existence to actually be equally good, even if it is essentially a completely different creature.
Rae and Ghost’s emotion-filled first person narratives of lucrative narcotics trade and Afro-American drug kingpins living large of these dope deals, rising and falling, do have a cinematic quality to them that could be compared to the similarly themed Godfather Trilogy. RZA’s instrumentals can be compared musically with a mob movie score and definitely serve the same purpose of setting the mood for these stories being told, whether reflective, anxious, raucous, menacing or otherwise. If Return to the 36 Chambers didn’t convince one that RZA was well capable of adjusting his signature sound to his collaborators (I’m guilty as charged) this album doesn’t leave a shadow of a doubt. It’s not as dusty or as 36 Chambers or Tical, it’s not as batshit insane or chaotic as Return or 36 Chambers (although I still choose to believe that the craziness was mostly contained in Ol’ Dirty) and the sounds are a bit richer, with string sections and more melody than we were accustomed to hearing from him, while maintaining RZA’s typical less is more-attitude to music making.

Another thing that helps cement Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… classic status is the chemistry between Rae and his co-star Ghostface Killah. They both have a similar dense rhyme style, but Rae has a low to mid range voice and a cool mastermind delivery while Ghost has the higher voice and the exuberance. The two mesh well enough to sound like natural partners in crime rhyming together, yet they sound distinct enough to each be instantly indentifyable. In other words: They’re a perfect combination, not unimportant considering that OB4CL is a de facto 75 minute duet between the two.

It is rather difficult to choose any highlights when everything is this good and flows this seamlessly (As is usual with the Wu a lot of the songs here are tied together with dialogue from kung-fu movies like Shaolin Vs Lama, crime movies such as Scarface, The MackCarlito’s Way, and John Woo’s The Killer, which is both.)
KnuckleheadzKnowledge GodCriminology are classic crime tales, Rainy Dayz and Heaven and Hell offers a glimpse into the minds of young poor people in the big city, the difficulties of making it in life and what makes them resort to crime. (Unlike a lot of the albums that follow it in its creative direction this one can never be said to glorify crime or ghetto life.)
Verbal Intercourse has Nasir Jones, still hot of Illmatic, recieving the honourable distinction of being the first non-Wu rapper to appear on a Wu-project and not wasting the opportunity.
Ice Cream is the one song that isn’t reall about the cocain bricks and the money stacks and is an ode Rae, Ghost, Meth and Cappadonna’s type of ladies, comparing different races to ice cream flavours, and does so without compromising the Wu-sound.
Wu Gambinos is the song that lead every rapper and his weedcarriers to create an alternative rap name for their alter ego (Nas – Escobar, 2pac – Makaveli, Eminem – Slim Shady, Notorious B.I.G. – Frank White etc.) with Method Man, RZA, Masta Killah and Ghostface Killah each taking a mob-related alias for themselves.
These songs are all notable, but they’re not much better than the rest of what’s contained in this album, which is quite impressive for an album over seventy minutes long.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is one of the genre’s undeniable high points, it has vision, it has Rae and Ghost rhyming their asses off, it has RZA producing some of the best, if not the best, beats of his career. It’s a landmark album for Rae, Ghost, RZA, the Wu, the East-Coast, the Hip-hop community and, dare I say it, music in general. It stands out as essential amongs the required listening even.

Best tracks
Knuckleheadz
Knowedge God
Criminology
Rainy Dayz
Verbal Intercourse
Incarcerates Scarfaces
Ice Cream
Wu Gambinos
Heaven and Hell

Recommendations
What do you think!?