Category Archives: 1995

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.


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!?


King Just – Mystics of the God, The Sex, Money, Cess, and the Blas’e Blah

King Just
Mystics of the God, The Sex, Money, Cess, and the Blas’e Blah
May 26, 1995
Select Records/ Blackfist
065/100
King Just - Mystics Of The God 1995
1. Mystics of the God // 2. Shaolin Soldiers // 3. Skit // 4. Warrior’s Drum [Westside Remix] // 5. Leave Now (feat. Shaolin Soldiers) // 6. No Flows On the Rodeo // 7. Round ‘Em Up // 8. Skit // 9. Can I Get Some? // 10. Skit // 12. Move on ‘Em Stomp [Remix] (feat. Shaolin Soldiers) // 13. Escape From the Zoo // 14. Skit // 15. Warrior’s Drum // 16. Boom Bow! // 17. Hassan Chop

The list of Wu-Tang affiliates is nearly inexhaustible, but I will cover the entire boatload of albums or die trying.

King Just is a rapper from Staten Island who is said to be of native American descent. He was at some point in is career a member of the collective the Hillside Scramblers, which was affiliated with U-God, the Wu-Tang Clan’s least popular individual member who always gets hated on by hip-hop critics and hardcore Wu-fans (though since U-God dropped his third solo-album Dopium all the hate has mysteriously turnt to praise, which must mean that he has sold his soul to the devil or some shit.)
Before that group became a thing however King Just was a guy an undefined affiliation with the Clan with a debut he unsuccessfully tried to sell to the general public making his career very similar to a similarly named artist who goes by the name Timbo King.

For his debut album he got RNS (the fabled mentor of the RZA and the main producer of Shyheim’s eponymous debut album) and Easy Mo Bee (known for producing such legends as Big Daddy Kane and the Notorious B.I.G., as well as the pre-clan debut album by Wu-member GZA), as well as West Coast producer and Alkaholiks member E-Swift to provide the beats, which is a pretty good team to run with. He signed with Select Records, an independent label that’s not so independent inking a deal with it means committing career suicide, and Mystics of the God is the result. Like Shyheim and United We SlamMystics of the God contains no vocals by any actual Wu-members, which is mystifying since even if the big boys were busy recording their debuts at least U-God must’ve been available or some shit.
In the place of Wu-guest verses there are Wu-esquely named group Shaolin soldiers, a group of which King Just himself may or may not have been a member, who pop up on two tracks.

Mystics of da God, despite its obvious lack of involvement of the franchise it’s ambiguously trying to convince you it’s a part of, is an alright substitute for the real thing. That not to say it’s as good as anything by those who are an actual part of the Clan; this King Just person is a competent gangsta rapper, with a nice urgent, agressive flow, slightly reminiscent of what ODB might sound like if he put down the crack pipe and started taking his medication, who knows how not to embarrass himself on the mic.
But he too is unimaginative to really stand out in a crowd of his peers, let alone be in the same league as rap’s equivalent of the Beatles. There’s no outstandingly quotable rhymes on the entire album.

Still, fans of mid-’90s East-coast hip-hop who haven’t heard this yet should definitely give it a spin once. If the guy isn’t much better than generic then he’s certainly no worse. And some of these beats, especially the Easy Mo Bee contributions No Flow on the Rodeo and Can I Get Some really knock, and it’s easy to imagine Ready to Die-era Notorious B.I.G. or Me Against the World-era 2pac (It’s really the same era…) rhyme over them, mostly because Easy contributed beats to those two classic albums as well.

RNS, E-Swift, and even more anonymous producers such as Marcus Peake, Victor Flowers and MZA (Huh? MZA!? The fuck!? What kind of producer name is that!? Word to upcoming hip-hop producers, do not under any circumstances make your artist name a consonant with “ZA” added, this will irrevokably have blog hipsters such as myself draw unfavourable comparisons.) also come correct with their contributions, such as Shaolin Soldiers, which confusingly doesn’t feature the Shaolin soldiers, but does have a Kung-fu sample and a RZA-aping beat.

The best thing on here is probably Warrior’s Drum, which has an RNS beat that switches up occasionally and should get any fan of the second golden age of hip-hop nod to nod his/her head and pimps Just’s alleged native American heritage in a not-too-offensive manner.
Conversely the weakest shit on here is the Westside Remix of the song that inexplicably apperas earlier in the album’s tracklist than the original version does, and tries to fit the song in the G-funk format that was popular on the other side of the USA, and does so in the most boring manner imaginable.

Everything else rests comfortably on 1995’s industry average.

Best tracks
No Flow On The Rodeo
Can I Get Some
Warrior’s Drum
Round Em Up

Recommendations
It’s hard to either outright dismiss or rabidly recommend Mystics of the God to anyone. I’m sure since 1995 Select Record has gone bankrupt three times over and Mystics of the God has been out of print for most of the time following its release and that there’s some people on the internet asking copious amounts of cash for a used copy (This is a recurring thing with many things Wu-related). It’s not worth a small fortune so either you should buy the above songs of iTunes or Spotify or pick up a used copy if you can find it for under $5.- on Amazon.com or a used cd store.


R. Kelly – R. Kelly

R. Kelly
R. Kelly
November 14, 1995
Jive Records/ SME
080/100
R. Kelly - R. Kelly
1. The Sermon // 2. Hump Bounce // 3. Not Gonna Hold On // 4. You Remind Me of Something // 5. Step In My Room // 6. Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby // 7. (You To Be) Happy (feat. the Notorious B.I.G.) // 8. Down Low (Nobody Has to Know) (feat. Ronald Isley & Ernie Isley) // 9. I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I) // 10. Thank God It’s Friday // 11. Love Is on the Way // 12. Heaven If You Hear Me // 13. Religious Love // 14. Tempo Slow // 15. As I Look Into My Life // 16. Trade My Life

A prime example of an album that gives you most of the kicks you get from it because it’s sort of weird is R. Kelly’s self-titled third solo album.
It manages to blur the line between earnest make out album and golden comedy record, a concept that would which would henceforth be Robert Kelly’s bread and butter.

He has matured a bit since unleashing 12 Play onto the world, this album doesn’t have any of the pimp banality that album served up on tracks like Summer Bunnies and I Like the Crotch on You. Because his rapping in particular went hand in hand with the superficiality those songs conveyed, and hopefully because he realised that he sucked at rapping coming off as some sort of generic party rapper like MC Hammer whenever he did it, all he does here is what he does best, which is sing.
And the songs he sings build on the songs off his sophomore album that were succesful. Your Body’s Callin’Bump and Grind and  Sex Me were career establishing and consolodating hits with their insidiously percolating quiet storm slow grooves combined with R. Kelly’s excellent Reese’s peanut butter cups-tenor and risqué lyrics. Lyrics that may still are as explicit and carnal as they were on the last album, but no longer as misogynic and objectifying. No longer is R. Kelly the overenthusiastic poonhound. This time around Robert plays the roll of the earnest, mature lover who worships you and whose sole life purpose is to get you in the seventh heaven with his bumpin’  and grindin’, even if he doesn’t necessarily want to stay around keeping you company forlong after the act. R. Kelly is a much less giddy album than 12 Play, but the veneer of added maturity somehow only serves to augments the comedic effect some of these songs have on the listener, the comedic effect that nobody but Robert knows to be intentional or not.

Kells liberally borrowed from soul legends such as Donny Hathaway, Barry White, Lionel Richie, Teddy Pendergrass, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Charlie Wilson, Luther Vandross, Isaac Hayes and the Isley Brothers (who appear on this album) which makes sense since arguably he was the heir to the fictional R&B throne that had been passed around between these listed names. He infuses variations of their brands of soul with Dr. Dre’s G-funk sound, which was in and by itself a dervative of some of these artists and serves up the quintessential soul record of 1995.
More than from any of these guys however Kelly appears to draw inspiration from Marvin Gaye, which draws an unfair comparison, but one that needs to be made regardless to place this album in proper context: Crafty as Robert was and still is at making sex songs, in Marvin Gaye’s league he is most definitely not, although he out of all of his contemporary peers he’s come the closest.

But still R. Kelly hadn’t yet (and still hasn’t) got anything under his belt as effortless sexy and soulful as Let’s Get It On or Sexual Healing which he probably never will either, which you shouldn’t blame the guy for since nobody but Marvin does. This is what separates pop’s craftsmen from the artists. The stars from the legends. But that didn’t stop Robert from finding his own way to create memorable classics and developing his own signature style of salacious love song, a style that may not be as beyond reproach as Marvin’s is amongst critics, but depending on your point of view is equally, if not more entertaining.
And one of the lessons he has learned from the late great one is to not be afraid to use silly metaphores. Marvin had songs with lyrics such as I’m hot just like an oven, I need some lovin’ but employed these somewhat sparingly and suptly, while mr. Kelly goes for broke with them here as is evident in the hook to his classic slow jam You Remind Me of Something.

You remind me of my jeep, I wanna ride it
Something like my sound, I wanna pump it
Girl you look just like my cars, I wanna wax it
And something like my bank account
I wanna spend it, baby
R. Kelly – You Remind Me of Something

These would be what the fuck!? lyrics are salvaged by R. Kelly’s impressive ability to sing them straightfacedly and soulfully, and by the music, which is everything these words aren’t: restrained, sexy and, dare I say it; classy.
The ensuing recordings are electrified with the tension this paradox creates, and with music lovers there is still a debate whether or not this man can be fucking serious with these songs, which is exactly what makes this man so fascinating in the first place.
Well that is an important part of it, but it wouldn’t mean anything without the fact that he’s got the musical chops to make these songs sound good, and a voice that is simply a amazing instrument.
(Also there’s his well documented personal life and legal troubles that leave a lot of room for speculation and blur the lines between his art and his reality, in the public’s perception at least, and his unwillingness or inability to alter his artistic persona to something less abiguously guilty at everything the man has been charged with in real life.)

Besides the demographic that enjoys Robert’s creations either ironically or with a large portion of good old christian guilt (another central theme to the man’s music explored on tracks like the Sermon, Thank God It’s FridayAs I Look Into My Life and Religious Love along with more random instances of other religious imagery) there are women R&B fans that couldn’t give a rats ass about all that analytic bull, and oddly enough either take songs like You Remind Me of Something at face value as a legitimately romantic song to get nasty to without minding the lyrics much because “the beats are sexy” (this is not a complaint), or on the other end of the R. Kelly spectrum flat-out refuse to listen to the man because he has been charged with (and acquitted of) statutory rape, while still being completely comfortable with Chris Brown, who is 500% more despicable and not 1/10 as talented, because smacking your bitch up in a fit of rage doesn’t count as a sexual offence.

For all these different categories of fans (and haters who hate the man for the exact same reasons his fans love him) R. Kelly has something to offer. For those who wish to sing along to quirky sex songs there’s the previously mentioned You Remind Me of Something and a jam called Hump Bounce, as well as the classic tale of love cheating and betrayal called Down Low (Nobody Has to Know), which goes to show that Robert is as good a storyteller as Slick Rick and was a precursor to his infamous Trapped In the Closet series (Down Low (Nobody Has to Know) unfortunately has only two pars of which only the first is included on this album).

For the romantics amongst us looking for the soundtrack to a long makeout session there’s those exact same songs, as well as less questionable inclusions like Love is on the Way, I Cant Sleep Baby (If I)Not Gonna Hold OnStep In My Room and Trade My Life. If you want to have a dance (at a tempo low enough to prevent you from breaking a sweat) there’s the Biggie-featuring (You to Be) Happy and the understated Thank God It’s Friday.

Everything is held together by Robert’s on-record persona and his sultry, impeccable productions. For fans of contemporary R&B and soul music; You’re hard pressed to find an a similar abum of better quality. R. Kelly is a classic in its genre, and a quantumleap forward for R. Kelly, building from 12 Play‘s hit-or-miss qualities to something consistently entertaining.

Best tracks
Hump Bounce
Not Gonna Hold On
You Remind Me of Something
(You To Be) Be Happy
Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)
I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I)
Thank God It’s Friday
Love Is on the way

Recommendations
If you’re into vintage R&B pick this up. It should teleleport you to a place that is both the sexy dimension and the uncanny valley, and make you laugh out loud in random intervals in the process. And there aren’t to many albums that can legitimately claim to do that to people.


Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version

Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
March 28, 1995
Elektra RecordsWMG
080/100
ODB - Return to the 36 Chambers the Dirty Version

1. Intro // 2. Shimmy Shimmy Ya // 3. Baby, C’mon // 4. Brooklyn Zoo // 5. Hippa to the Hoppa // 6. Raw Hide (feat. Raekwon & Method Man) // 7. Damage (feat. GZA) // 8. U Don’t Know (feat. Killah Priest) // 9. The Stomp // 10. Goin’ Down // 11. Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie) // 12. Snakes (feat. Killah Priest) // 13. Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane) (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 14. Protect Ya Neck II The Zoo (feat. Brooklyn Zu, Prodigal Sunn, Killah Priest & 60 Seconds Assassin) // 15. Cuttin’ Headz (feat. RZA)

bonus tracks
16. Dirty Dancin’ (feat. Method Man) // 17. Harlem world

The album that marks Ol’ Dirty’s alleged return to the 36 Chambers marks the post that marks my return to the blog. Hi, I hope you all have been doing well in my absence, though I am sure you’ve managed to get by without me.

One thing is for sure: If any rapper in the clan had the charisma of nine men rolled up in one, evoking memories of the Wu’s collaborative debut’s messy charm by him self it was Old Dirty Bastard, the man born as Russell Jones. ODB’s debut was the second solo album by a Wu member following the clan’s own debut, and because every member could choose what label to sign their individual solo-deals with, mr. Jones didn’t end up on Loud which the Clan was signed to, or with Meth on Def Jam but inked a deal for himself with Elektra, home of the likes of Busta Rhymes.

Every well balanced hip-hop crew has tends to a member that stands out because of his kinetic energy and wild mic presence rather than his tight rhymes or flows.
N.W.A’s least lyrical member (not in the last place because he didn’t write his own lyrics) Eazy-E got by rapping, and ended up having the most pop appeal to boot, because of his charismatic, high pitched wine of a voice. Public Enemy’s Flava Flav didn’t even do much rapping beyond the occasional throwaway verse, he simply talked some shit alongside Chuck D, but talked shit so well helped make shit undoubtably sound fresher than it would’ve sounded without him.
The Wu-Tang’s very own ODB follows that tradition, and goes into overdrive with it with his rhymes that where nonsensical, grotesque, incoherent or two or more of these things and may not do much for anyone when written down, beyond raising the occasional eyebrow (Burn me, I get into shit, I let it out like diarrhea. Got burnt once, but that was only gonorrhea – Ol’ Dirty Bastard on the Wu-Tang’s Shame on a Nigga), but when delivered in Ol’ Dirty’s unique rhyme style, which appeared to be inspired by a psychosis of sorts (a style to which according to Method Man there wasn’t a father), they could be intriguing. And his contributions to the Wu’s posse album certainly are a part of why that album was so good. The Clan will never be the same with the Bastard gone. He is missed, even if he wasn’t just the worst rapper in the Clan from a technical point of view, but technically one of the worst rappers of all time bar none (he was).

Could be intriguing. Like the likes of Eazy or Flav (and every rapper on the planet if we’re being entirely truthful) the Bastard relied a lot on his collaborators and most on his producer (and cousin) RZA. After all madness becomes unpleasant to listen to without some sort of method and RZA’s dusty basement beats help give The Return to the 36 Chambers: the Dirty Version some much needed structure and cohesion, and although shitty beats have never done any musician, rap or otherwise, any favours ODB in particular is known to have sucked spectacularly when paired with the wrong beat (*caughGhetto Superstar *caugh*) Also, though a supporter of the man I am, the guest rappers do help make this album a lot easier to digest than it would be without them. If this were sixty six minutes of pure uncut ODB then I doubt even the most ardent Wu/ODB fan would ever play this in its entirety. Although he’s hardly unique in that perspective, and this is essentially why guest appearances have been invented. Anyway; his Wu-brethren Rae, Meth, RZA, GZA, Ghost and their interns Brooklyn Zu, Killah Priest, Bhudda Monk, Prodigal Sunn and 60 Second Assassin help break this album up in digestible pieces, but they don’t overpower the main attraction, although you’d probably need a team of Busta Rhymes, DMX, MOP and Mystikal to marginalise Ol’ Dirty on a track, but I digress. The guest appearances are just right in numbers and well placed.

RZA, who produces all but three tracks on here, he does his mid-’90s RZA thing: dusty drums and basslines and lo-fi piano keys that form a distinctive sound but always leave room for a rapper to showcase himself. It has been said that this album has sloppier beats than for instance Tical has, I couldn’t tell you whether that’s Prince Rakeem adjusting to his collaborator or the beats sounding different only because they happen to be in ODB’s gravity field. Oddly enough the best beat, the one on Brooklyn Zoo isn’t his, it’s done by one of his lieutenants, True Master and the Bastard himself. (An even wierder realisation is that Jermaine Dupri pretty much jacked it verbatim for that Alicia Keys song Girlfriend he produced, and how unawkward either song sounds in spite of each others existence.)

As for ODB himself, he is most definitely one of the most weirdly charming characters the hip-hop world has ever known. His vocals couldn’t be accurately described as either rapping or singing. It’s some weird hybrid, and not like Ja Rule or Eminem trying to save money on hook-singers. It’s almost as though the Bastard can’t stay in his limited range, like a drunk person pulled over, walking the line but failing, yet somehow that is supposed to be somewhat positive. This man was oddly funky. And listening to the Return it’s difficult to explain why he was one of the Clan’s most successful, but it makes sense. I’m sure no-one, including ODB understood it but everybody got it.

Highlights include the catchy-as-fuck, but inexplicable smash hits Brooklyn Zoo and Shimmy Shimmy YaDrunk Game on the first half of which he sounds the calmest he does anywhere on the album (until he starts faking an orgasm, go figure), the sinister Rae-ODB-Meth triple threat Raw Hide, the RZA/ODB duet Cuttin’ Headz, which has the balls to reverse the Clan in da Front-beat for its instrumental and still comes off as dope and the minimalistic but funky Meth-duet Dirty Dancin’ (featured as a bonus track). Though the Bastard tends to sound better when dueting other Wu-members, he has an especially good chemistry with Meth. Meth’s smooth sandpapered voice and Dirt McGirt’s insanity mesh really, really well.

There’s the cliché of somethings being perfectly inperfect, or rather suck so much they’re kinda good. This sort of applies to The Dirty Version, an album by a rapper who prides himself in not only sounding but also living old and dirty, but that doesn’t really cut it. In stead of being so bad it’s kinda good, it’s so fucking horrible it’s perfect, and it’s good quality isn’t well explained by the negative times negative equals positive because the man was literally incalculable and too incomparable to equate to anything. And I’ll be the first to admit that the grade really is a shot in the dark. You could give this a 30 and you could explain yourself very well arguing that this isn’t very good musically, but you’d probably feel that there’s something not right about your judgement. You could give this the full 100 from the bottom of your heart, but not have a leg to stand on. Love him or hate him, he was the rockstar from mars with the substance abuse problems, the illegitimate offspring, the legal troubles and the charm that Charlie Sheen wished he was. When his music is on ODB has your attention to the degree that it’s hard to look away, and more often than not that sort of confusion of being mesmerised by a mixture of raw reality and alientaing surreality that drops you right in the middle of the uncanny valley could be a sign of your senses being stimulated by high art. Unlike most people said to make high art however ODB would ironically enough seem the kind of person to be blissfully oblivious to such a pretentious qualification because all he wants is pussy and drugs. ODB was pure, honest, raw and out of his mind, and there doesn’t exist a better example of the inimitable artist or the weird and wonderful human being he was than this album. May he rest in peace.

Best tracks
Shimmy Shimmy Ya
Brooklyn Zoo
Snakes
Raw Hide
Cuttin’ Headz
Dirty Dancin’

Recommendations
You should probably give this a spin on grooveshark or spotify before making up your mind buying this or not. ODB is not for everyone, and it’s quite alright not to enjoy him. If you do however cop the album, please do not play it in front of your little hipster friends. This shit is so intrinsically weird they will on impact irrevokably feel the need to try to understand and worse yet interpret this, which will lead to some undoubtably ghastly, daft psychoanalytic ideas, where there in reality is nothing but flesh and bone, so proceed with caution.


Skee-Lo – I Wish

Skee-Lo
I Wish
June 27, 1995
Altra Moda Music/ Scotti Brothers Records/ All American Communications/ BMGSME
075/100
skeeloiwish
1. Superman  // 2. I Wish // 3. Never Crossed My Mind // 4. Top Of the Stairs // 5.  Come Back to Me // 6. Waitin’ for You  // 7. Holdin’ On // 8. You Ain’t Down // 9. Crenshaw (feat. Funke & Trend) // 10. This Is How It Sounds // 11. The Burger Song // 12. I wish [Street Mix]

Skee Lo is about as good of an example of a one-hit-wonder you can give. In 1995 his single I Wish hit the top twenty of  charts worldwide. That might not seem like much of an achievement today but back then the pop charts still weren’t entirely used to hip-hop songs. After that song disappeared from the charts Skee was never heard from again, which is a shame because his debut album showed a lot of promise.

Apparently he isn’t from L.A., but according to Wikipedia he had been living there for about a decade when he released this album, which explains the explicitly left coast feel it gives off. (Although today a hiphop album typically has thirty tracks produced by the fifty hottest producers of the moment and features the illest MC’s from across the north American continent, making it sound all over the map by default, in the mid-‘90s you could pretty much accurately deduce from where a rapper hailed by actually listening to his/her music. Usually because over the span of somewhere between twelve and fifteen tracks an artist and a handful of producers got enough time behind the mic/ boards to form and show an identity usually coloured by the variety of hiphop that was popular in their hometown.) 1995 California hiphop was syrupy G-funk which usually meant that it incorporated melodic synthesizers, slow hypnotic grooves, a deep bass, cheesy female backing vocals and a high-pitched, whiny, hovering synthesizer lead. That doesn’t however mean that Skee is a Snoop Doggy Dogg clone. Antoine “Skee-Lo” Roundtree isn’t a ho-macking, drug-selling gangsta but displays an every day guy-persona with some street-knowledge instead. He openly raps about his own problems, which include insecurity about his height, his wealth and his percieved lack of prestige on the title track and Top Of the Stairs. A rare occurance in the Gangsta dominated hip-hop scene of ’95.

He does brag occasionally but usually not about anything but his rhyme skills, which he proves as fairly impressive in the process on Superman. And when he does talk about the streets he sounds genuinely scared that something bad might happen to him out there on Never Crossed My Mind. Not that I Wish is all about how poor, unattractive and whimpy he is. On the contrary; he talks about the joys of life such as hanging out with is boys on sundays on the mellowed out Crenshaw, and even the eating various fast foods on the jazzy the Burger Song.

He’s actually not unlike Coolio or Warren G in the content department. As far as his flow is concerned Skee-Lo sort of kind of sounds like Twista dropping his usual speed-rapping antics in favor of something a little more mellow.

All in all I Wish is a pretty impressive debut. Even though there’s nothing that tops the smash-hit title track there isn’t really a skippable track to be found here either.

Best track
I Wish

Recommendations
If you find this in your record store pick it up.


AZ – Doe or Die

AZ
Doe or Die
October 10, 1995
EMI
075/100
AZ - Doe or Die

1. Intro (feat. NaS) // 2. Uncut Raw // 3. Gimme Yours (feat. NaS) // 4. Ho Happy Jackie // 5. Rather Unique // 6. I Feel For You (feat. Erica Scott) // 7. Sugar Hill (feat. Miss Jones) // 8. Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide (feat. NaS) // 9. Doe or Die // 10. We Can’t Win (feat. Amar Pep) // 11. Your World Don’t Stop // 12. Sugar Hill [Remix]

Making your recording debut on an instant undeniable classic album can be a mixed blessing. It happened to Brooklyn rapper Anthony “AZ” Cruz. His first bars the world actually got to hear were on the NaS song Life’s a Bitch off Illmatic. Since instantaneously became a thing in the hiphop-genre and AZ assisted him Anthony was seen as Nasir’s sidekick back in the day. Worse still, today he is mostly seen as “that guy who used to be NaS sidekick”. Life’s a Bitch, ain’t it?

On the plus side, since that particular guest-appearance was well received Anthony got to record a rap album that had his name and face on the front cover. What’s more. Because everyone in hiphop had heard Life’s a Bitch and liked it the album was heavily anticipated. When it dropped Doe or Die was hyped as being the next thing in the Illmatic franchise, which was supposed to be a good thing. In part this is true since some of Illmatic‘s personnel such as producers Pete Rock and L.E.S. as well as NaS himself are involved in Doe or Die‘s creation and tracks such as Rather Unique or the non-included, less polished, original version of Your World Don’t Stop definitely sound like NaS debut has inspired them.

On the other hand hiphop hadn’t stopped evolving during the 17 month gap between Illmatic and Doe or Die. There was Wu-Tang rapper Raekwon who had taken the gun-toting thug that had been gangster rap’s archetype ever since Str8 Outta Compton had taken the world by storm and replaced his 40OZ with a glass of Dom Perignon and his Dickies suit with a Versace one. Mafioso rap was born. On the other the Notorious B.I.G. had made it acceptable for hard-ass gangstas to make songs that sounded a lot like *gulp* R&B.

So Doe or Die, being in line with these trends, is trying to be a more expensive-ass sounding gangsta rap record, as if it were recorded by a cocaine kingpin, rather than a small time crack dealer, and it doesn’t shy away from pop sounds. This album as such wasn’t as much Illmatic‘s sequel as it was It Was Written‘s prequel. Keeping record sales in mind isn’t always a bad thing and Sugar Hill, the single that sold Doe or Die is a prime piece of R&B rap with L.E.S.  smooth mellow beat, R&B singer Miss Jones’ melodious hook and AZ’s lyrics about dreaming of having shiploads of money and kicking it all blending wonderfully and it did go gold for a reason (Today this shit wouldn’t have had a ghost of a chance of making it as a hit single, since, disregarding this day’s different production values, lyrical rap doesn’t have a place on either the radio or video channels. And I am convinced that there are people ou there that would consider Sugar Hill both old school and hardcore… Groan…)

The album’s other attempt at radio song featuring R&B chick: I Feel For You doesn’t fare so well. Oh well, at least AZ had one good  commercial hit-single in him.

A lot of the other songs contain some pretty worn out hiphop clichés, such as Uncut Raw which is about drug trafficking, Ho Happy Jackie which is about promiscuous women, Gimme Yours and Sugar Hill which are about getting money by any means and the illuminati who are discussed on We Can’t Win. Although it might seem that AZ goes through a checklist of standard hiphop subjects on Doe or Die he doesn’t run out of ideas or ever sound uninspired. His trademark flow and high-toned smooth voice remain interesting to listen to throughout this album’s 45 minutes. It just that you do get some bullshit and nonsense with AZ’s clever wordplay. Catchy bullshit and nonsense, but bullshit and nonsense nonetheless. Nowhere does Anthony spit such a flawless salvo as Nasir does on Halftime.

The instrumentals are also quite good. Pete Rock rocks some dirty drums and an angelic harp on Gimme Yours and some minimal melody on Rather Unique. Buckwild loops a horn-hit on Ho Happy Jackieand N.O. Joe produces some G-funk lite on the title track. However good the beats may be here there’s nothing as grand as N.Y. State of Mind, Life’s a Bitch or It Ain’t Hard to Tell‘s beats.

NaS pops up some three times but doesn’t overpower our host anywhere. In fact his dialogue on the intro and his singing on Gimme Yours‘s hook is lame as fuck. And when they do rhyme together on Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide they sound equally good as they did on Life’s a Bitch.

In short: Doe or Die is pretty good stuff. AZ and Doe or Die couldn’t really compete with Nas and Illmatic if they wanted to, but it doesn’t seem that this is what the people who created this were trying to do. In fact Doe or Die is very much its own creature. And it’s a quite enjoyable one at that.

Best tracks
Gimme Yours, Rather Unique, Sugar Hill, Doe or Die, *Your World Don’t Stop [Original Version]

*Not on any incarnation of the Doe or Die album, still well worth the 5 seconds it takes to find it on the internet as the less-polished original version version of Your World Don’t Stop sounds hella better than the version that ended up on Doe or Die because of the inclusion of a sax sample and less annoying backing vocals, and it definitely would’ve pushed Doe Or Die over the 80, were it included on the album. Damn you hindsight, right?

Recommendations
Buy this album.