Category Archives: 1996

Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon and Cappadonna – Ironman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Shyheim – The Lost Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Foxy Brown – Ill Na Na

Foxy Brown
Ill Na Na
November 19, 1996
Violator EntertainmentDef Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
050/100
Foxy Brown Ill Na Na
1. Intro… Chicken Coop // 2. (Holy Matrimony) Letter to the Firm // 3. Foxy’s Bells // 4. Get Me Home (feat. Blackstreet) // 5. The Promise (feat. Havoc) // 6. Interlude… The Set Up // 7. The Chase // 9.  Ill Na Na (feat. Method Man) // 10. No None’s //11. Fox Boogie (feat. Kid Kapri) // 12. I’ll Be (feat. Jay-Z) //13. Outro

Ill Na Na if not Foxy Brown’s entire career exists solely because of horny teenagers and because, allegedly, unfoundedly and unprovenly, she used to do the nasty with both NaS and Jigga, not unlike how Lil’ Kim fucked her way up the rap game via the Notorious B.I.G. Difference is that Kimberley is a gifted if limited rapper whereas Foxy couldn’t rap her way out of a paper bag. Her flow is abominable and her ghostwritten rhymes replace substance with references to her pussy and boobs. Nothing against pussy and boobs per se, but rather than hearing a full album of this shit I’d rather watch porn or something, has more substance and leaves one with a less hollow feeling.

Foxy’s Bells jacks an LL Cool J song (guess which one!) pretty straightforwardly and poorly, Get Me Home has either the whole of Teddy Riley’s R&B ensemble Blackstreet fucking our hostess, or just one of ’em while the rest cheers sings backing vocals. Fox Boogie has DJ Kid Kapri trying to make people say ughhh again, jacking an already sucky hook wholesale. Jay-Z ghostwrites most of this project and appears on Ill Be, cashing amost as many cheques as the Trackmasters while NaS off all people, who was about to get in a supergroup with Foxy, couldn’t be bothered to fart in the booth, let alone record a guest appearance. None of the other Firm-members; AZ, Nature or Cormega seemed to  have time to contribute either, inspiring the theory that the Firm only included Foxy because of commercial considerations inspired by her being conventionally attractive.

Unlucky victims whose record labels forced the chores of appearing on Fox’ songs upon them include Havoc of Mobb Deep and Method Man. Production is handled by the Trackmasters and wannabe Trackmasters. This shit sucks balls, avoid this album if you have any affinity with good music. It is disappointing, it is embarassing, it is a waste of plastic/ harddrive space.

Best tracks
The Promise
I’ll Be

Recommendations
Go to hell.


NaS – It Was Written

NaS
It Was Written
July 2, 1996
Columbia RecordsSME
080/100
NaS It Was Written

1. Album Intro // 2. The Message // 3. Street Dreams // 4. I Gave You Power // 5. Watch Dem Niggaz (feat. Foxy Brown) // 6. Take It In Blood // 7. NaS Is Coming (feat. Dr. Dre) // 8. Affirmitive Action (feat. AZ, Foxy Brown & Cormega) // 9. The Set Up (feat. Havoc) // 10.  Black Girl Lost (feat. JoJo) // 11. Suspect // 12. Shootouts // 13. Live Nigga Rap  (feat. Mobb Deep) // 14. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) (feat. Lauryn Hill)

No hip-hop album has inspired the concept of the sophomore slump the way It Was Written has. There’s quite literally no hip-hop head who will claim that his debut album is merely alright while It Was Written is the shit. Basically hip-hop heads used to have a disregard for today’s album because it wasn’t another Illmatic, one of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop albums ever. But, as usual, snobby opinions by over-analysing critics don’t seem to be much in line with what the man in the street thinks, because even today, seventeen years post its release, it’s still Nasir’s best-selling album out of his eleven solo releases.

Now that the smoke has cleared and people have finally gotten the fuck over the fact that NaS will not release another Illmatic ever  contemporary reviews have been becoming increasingly positive. Just compare the original ’96 review of this album with the december ’12 revisit, both on RapReviews.com and marvel at the attitude change, which is pretty representative for the view of the community as a whole on It Was Written, both then and now.

Back to ’96. It Was Written was bound to disappoint. Illmatic was a masterpiece and nobody bought it upon release, leading to both unreasonable expectations from those who did buy it, impossible to fulfill even if Nasir would’ve reused the Illmatic producers and lyrical themes, and also leading to NaS shifting his musical directions into something more (sigh) pop/commercial sending him on a collision course with his fanbase. Whether this change in sound was forced upon him by his money hungry label, instigated by a money hungry NaS or was NaS legitimately interested in trying some new sounds is unknown to me, here are the facts though: NaS switched his management from MC Serch, a well-known rap legend his his own right, as well as one of Illmatic‘s architects, to Steve Stoute, who managed Mary J. Blige at that time. Stoute and/or NaS chose not to invite over Illmatic producers Q-Tip, Large Professor and Pete Rock, but kept DJ Premier and L.E.S. around, presumably as to not completely let the existing fanbase go. To produce the rest of It Was Written they brought in the Trackmasters who had produced prior hits for Kool G Rap, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige and Method Man and do half of the tracks, as well as fellow Queensbridge hip-hop artists Mobb Deep, both to spit guest verses and to produce. Also recent Death Row Records refugee and West-Coast legend Dr. Dre produces one track. NaS’ debut album had exactly one guest verse; AZ’s on Life’s a Bitch. His sophomore featured the priously mentioned Mobb Deep and AZ as well as Foxy Brown, Cormega and R&B singers JoJo and Lauryn Hill. Final difference noticeable without actually listening to the album: Illmatic had but nine songs whereas It Was Written has thirteen (not counting intros). Basically one can correctly guess how this album differs from its predecessor and how this negatively impacts its sound before pressing play, different beats and not all of ’em as good as the last time around, more guests and not all of ’em being able to keep up and more songs than the last time around, not all of ’em warrant inclusion.

Luckily most of these things don’t turn out as problematic as they could have.

Under the influence of Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… album, as well as those following, including Jay-Z and AZ NaS started to parttake in a subgenre of gangster rap called mafioso rap. No longer was he Nasty NaS, the street thug running from police, selling drugs, drinking 40 oz.’s, robbing foreigners and ripping their green cards. This time he was NaS Escobar (named after the Columbian cocain kingpin Pablo Escobar) a moniker that was meant to indicate he had moven up in the world of crime, no longer having to do dirt but having people to do this for him. In a sense this new, more sophisticated thuggery warranted the more expensive, glossy sounds the Trackmasters brought to the table.

The opening track the Message could certainly go toe-to-toe with anything off Illmatic what with its Sting-sampling Trackmasters instrumental, NaS’ rant about his supremacy over the rap game taking subliminal shots at Biggie and 2pac and DJ Kid Kapri’s scratched-in hook consisting of lines from N.Y. State of Mind and Halftime. It’s not only as good as his previous work but it also shows NaS to be quite malleable, being able to adapt to fresh new sounds. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) has the Fugee’s Lauryn Hill re-singing the hook of Kurtis Blow’s song of the same title over a Trackmasters re-creation of an old Whodini beat while NaS describes his utopia of racial equity, equal distribution of wealth and freedom in general. It may be more radio friendly than anything off his debut, but it’s every bit as anthemic as It Ain’t Hard to Tell. With these songs NaS succesfully combined street crediblity with pop acessablity, something at which the pop mutations from Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime, Vol. 1; such as (Always Be My) Sunshine and The City Is Mine failed at miserably. (From this point Jay would only get better at them while NaS, well… Nas wouldn’t.) The only single that is slightly embarassing is Street Dreams, and only because Nas decides to interpolate (horribly re-sing) the hook of the Eurythmics Sweet Dreams, otherwise it’s fine, if a bit unspectacular.

There’s also some really good street cuts to be found here. The DJ Premier production I Gave You Power is a narrative told from the point of view of a gun and it is one of NaS’ signature songs for a reason. The two Mobb Deep collabos The Set Up and Live Nigga Rap, the former featuring only Havoc, the latter Prodigy as well, are also well on point. The same goes for the posse cut Affirmitive Action, featuring the original the Firm line-up: NaS, Foxy, Mega and AZ, So far so good.

Unlike Illmatic though this disc has some pretty mediocre stuff too: Black Girl Lost featuring Jodeci’s JoJo throws some social commentary into an album that’s mostly all about our host’s crimes and money, but unlike If I Ruled the World this track is preachy as fuck and falls flat because of it. Leave that shit to Pac, yo. Watch Them Niggas samples Bob James’ the Sponge and has a beat a little too dreamy for a song all about vigilance and back spabbers. Suspects and Shootouts are also unmemorable. Most disappointing of all is the Dr. Dre produced NaS Is Coming, with its boring-ass beat and NaS sleepwalking over it. It’s a blatant attempt at fan crossover, but that shit only works if some chemistry is on display, which here it is most certainly not.

While nothing (except for maybe NaS Is Coming because of how underwhelmingly disappointing it is) will make you want to break It Was Written in half and slit your wrists with it the bad songs do show exactly why this isn’t considered to be on par with Illmatic. It’s not as focused as that album was, and on most of these tracks the man seems distanced from his lyrics and performance. On his debut he at least sounded like he had lived everything he rapped about for the entire duration of the album whereas here, only on the lesser tracks, it would seem he tells tales he himself has heard second hand and doesn’t care that much about. Still the good songs are really good and there are a couple of classics to be found on here. And although this can’t fuck with its predecessor, that’s alright, most album’s can’t hold a candle to that one. And although I mentioned it all the fucking time throughout this review (it’s part of reviewing this particular album) one is best to see them completely seperately, even if Nas or Columbia Records may have somewhat called this comparison upon him by lazily reprising Illmatic‘s album cover.

Best Tracks
The Message
I Gave You Power
Affirmitive Action
The Set Up
Live Nigga Rap

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Eminem – Infinite

Eminem
Infinite
November 12, 1996
Web Entertainment

055/100

1. Infinite // 2. Wego [Interlude] (feat DJ Head & Proof) // 3. It’s Okay (feat. Eye-Kyu)// 4. Tonite / / 5. 313 (feat. Eye-Kyu)// 6. Maxine (feat. 3 & Denaun Porter)// 7. Open Mic (feat. Thyme)// 8. Never Far // 9. Searchin’ // 10. Backstabber // 11. Jealousy Woes II

Eminem’s cultural impact hardly needs to be put in writing at this point. Being one of the few caucasian rappers to achieve both hiphop credibilty and career longevity. Selling 50 million albums in the USA alone. Racking up controversy. Making a lot of hits by squeezing vile punchlines and catchy hooks into one winning formula. Having had a haircut like a golden retriever’s ass. Racking up controversy. Rolling with Dre. Putting 50 Cent on the map. Disappearing from the spotlight in 2004 in order to kick his prescription medicine addiction and returning five years later without his trademark bleach blonde hair and with a brand new sound which is best described as deaf emo drillsergeant. And racking up controversy.

Before Marshall Bruce Mathers III did all of these things however he was a struggling Detroit underground rapper who was releasing his debut album Infinite on the complete non-entity Web entertainment, ran by frequent collaborators the Bass brothers, hoping that he’d sell some albums.

The Eminem you hear on Infinite is a far cry from the rapper who took the world by storm in 1999. Slim Shady, his vile sociopathic alter-ego for the uninitiated, is nowhere to be found. Allegedly he tried to be a more radio-friendly creature in order to get airplay on Detroit radiostations. Although the attemp obviously failed since no-one ever listened to Infinite until after Em blew up this most likely true since the air of tongue-in-cheek mysoginy, homophobia, self-hatred and suicidal tendencies that hang around a major label Eminem album are almost completely missing here. It’s Okay is about positivity in hard times. Never Far is a sky’s the limit-self help anthem, and a good one at that. Tonite has an unironic good times party vibe that Eminem would never do again. And Searchin’ is an ode to Kim that in fact doesn’t end in Em killing her. Also missing are the the expensive-ass Dr. Dre beats or the mostly boring-ass Marshall Mathers marching band productions his Interscope output is known for sporting. So in the place of Slim Shady and Dr. Dre we get a someone more competent version of AZ and budget east coast instrumentals courtesy of future D12 member Denaun Porter.

Although Em’s content is completely different from what we’re used to hearing from him his multisyllabic rhymes and internal rhyme scheme had already been fully developed on Infinite.  Although this version of Marshall pales in comparison to Slim Shady when it’s entertainment value that’s concerned, he is still miles ahead of whoever is on the radio at the moment. Eminem isn’t at fault for the album’s failiure. Denaun Porter, who allegedly produced all of Infinite, produces some impeccable but not very interesting imitations of what was popular in hiphop in ’96. Some east coast boom-bap, some west coast g-funk and even some TLC-styled faux-R&B on Tonite.

Nothing on here is unpleasant to listen to, nor is there anything that warrants many repeated listens. Everything is everything and lack of consistency certainly isn’t Infinite’s issue. I recommend this album to Marshall Mathers die hard fans only.

Best track
Never 2 Far

Recommendations
Marshall Mathers fanatics should check this out to get a glimpse of a younger Eminem who hadn’t quite found his voice yet. Casual music fans are best to skip this chapter of his career entirely. Although it isn’t entirely horrible it’s not exactly good either.


Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt

Jay-Z
Reasonable Doubt
June 25, 1996
Roc-A-Fella Records/ Priority Records/ EMI
085/100

1. Can’t Knock The Hustle (feat. Mary J.Blige) // 2. Politics As Usual // 3. Brooklyn’s Finest (feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & DJ Clark Kent) // 4. Dead Presidents II // 5. Feelin’ It (feat. Mecca) // 6. D’Evils // 7. 22 Two’s // 8. Can I Live // 9. Ain’t No Nigga (feat. Foxy Brown) // 10. Friend or Foe // 11. Coming of Age (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 12. Cashmere Thoughts // 13. Bring It On (feat. Sauce Money & Big Jaz) // 14. Regrets

Whenever the pointless debate about who is the best rapper ever rears it head, and the discusion doesn’t end in a face-off between two dead guys; Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter is oft brought up. From what music he produces these days the average hardcore hiphop head wouldn’t draw the conclusion that he is one of the best ever. Obviously he and his collaborators are, even today, way above average in creating bearable radio music, but that doesn’t get you the props the Jiggaman recieves on a daily basis from the people who love rap. Unlike what is the case with Lil’ Wayne there are quite a few people other than the man himself who think that he is the best to ever have tried his hand talking over beats in a rhythmnic manner. Therefore the reasons for his widespread acclaim lie, for the better part, in his past.

In 1996 to be exact. After having spent years under the wing of his mentor Jaz-O a.k.a. Big Jaz, and appearing on songs by artists such as Big L and Big Daddy Kane Jay still didn’t have a record deal. Hence he and two of his friends; Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs, started their own record label Roc-a-Fella records, named after J.D. Rockefeller, because that guy was filthy fucking rich during his lifetime, which was one of Shawn’s goals. (Although, if you are prone to buy gangster rap shtick then you believe mr. Carter to have been loaded with cash already when this album came out because of cocaine trafficing career.) Now he had a label he proceeded to record Reasonable Doubt. After it’s release it became clear why Jay never got a record deal before, as the Major labels were ostensibly right about the marketability of what he was doing at the time. The album never hit higher than #23 on the billboard top 100 and while this in and by itself was not bad for a rap album at the time, it is telling that it took until 2002 (that’s six years) for the album to go platinum. So the crouds initially did not go apeshit over it, causing our host to panick over the profitability of his career and have his sophomore album In My Lifetime, vol. 1 to be overseen by rap’s at the time midas touch producer, P. Daddy, resulting in a couple of really embarassing singles.

But back to the matter at hand, the critics did thoroughly enjoy Reasonable Doubt, applauding the combination of Shawn’s mafioso raps (which were in part modeled after what Raekwon had done on his ‘94 solo debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…) and the characteristically East Coast production by such respected veterans as DJ Premier (Gang Starr, NaS, the Notorious B.I.G.) , Ski (Camp Lo) and Super DJ Clark Kent (Dana Dane, the Notorious B.I.G., Slick Rick, Rakim). Critics like it so much that the album is still seen as one of the finest efforts the hiphop genre has produced since it came to exist in the late ‘70s.

Listening to it today one must conclude that this album has its faults. Some of the songs, such as the album’s biggest single Can’t Knock the Hustle, are plain boring. Some of the guests (Memphis Bleek and Foxy Brown to be exact) deliver dreadfully mediocre performances on otherwise good songs, giving the listener the idea that the only concievable logical reason for their inclusion is to make our host sound even better by comparison. (This would in and by itself explain perfectly why Jay left Sauce Money in a ditch somewhere in the late ‘90s, but kept Memphis Bleek around for guest performances, until he left his entire Roc-a-Fella boutique label to rot, in order to start his new boutique label; Roc Nation, in 2008) And some of the instrumentals are dated in a manner that inspires meh. (actually only the last track Regrets, fits that bill)

With that said, it comes as close to perfection as any other textbook classic rap album. (Reasonable Doubt is most definitely on par with the likes Ready To Die, the Chronic or Straight Out Of Compton. The only comparable album that I can think of, that is significantly better is NaS’ Illmatic, because it has only one questionable inclusion, compared to this album’s four. And you could even rightfully argue that, because Reasonable Doubt is four tracks longer than Illmatic they contain the same amount of classic material.)  because all the other songs on here are fucking bonkers.  After the lengthy, pseudo-ambient yawn inducer-slash-album opener that is Can’t Knock the Hustle the album picks up steam with, what should have been the the first song, Politics as Usual. Over a Ski instrumental that is pleasant enough to keep ones attention, but remains sufficiently in the background so that the spotlight is on Jay’s performance, the man puts his conversational flow to use and tells the listener about his experiences in the streets selling drugs and what not. Whether or not he really lived this life is not up for debate here and is irrelevant. His tone, which one might use on an old friend one hasn’t seen in a long time, updating him about current events, makes it sound credible enough. It also helps that he rhymes his ass off here, providing punchlines for days. Following that treat comes Brooklyn’s Finest, a twilight of rap gods where Jay holds his own against the Notorious B.I.G., whom is considered by many, including yours truly, the best rapper ever. Again, these MC ranking lists are bullshit, but this collabo leads to a very specific comparison that simply demands your respect for Lil’ Jaz. He stands toe to toe with the then current king of New York. Therefor, at the very least, the man makes a case for that he was next in line for succession. And this lyrical sparring match leads results in a flawless duet. Other people who provide some impressive rhyming are Sauce Money and Big Jaz on the DJ Premier-produced Bring It On. In turn, them holding their own against Jay-Z,  gives an unfulfilled promise of brilliantly succesful careers of their own to come. Alas, Jay had more faith in Bleek. Or they simply weren’t prepared to shut up and hold Shawn’s pot for him, like Bleek was.

Another highlight is Feelin’ It, which is a mellow ass weed-inspired song-slash-boastfest that has a piano based DJ Ski instrumental that is just perfect to zone-out to when you’ve smoked a bowl and some awe-inspiring raps in the conversational style that earned Shawn a fanbase. Whether he’s boasting, threatning or introspective; he makes it seem as if he’s talking to you specifically. That is his most distinctive feature, both as a rapper and as a lyricist.

What y’all ain’t heard that nigga Jay high?
The Cristals they keep me wet like Baywatch
I keep it tight for all the nights my mom prayed I’d stop
Said she had dreams a sniper hit me with a fatal shot
Those nightmares ma
Those dreams you say you got give me the chills
But these mills make me hot y’all don’t feel me
Enough to stop the illin right?
But at the same time these dimes keep me feelin tight
I’m so confused
OK I’m gettin weeded now I know I’m contradicting myself
Look I don’t need that now

There’s so much highlight here that it is impossible to give them each the attention they deserve. The very best and most vivid of them all might be the DJ Premier produced Friend or Foe, which clocks under a minute and a half. Some of these songs just make one wish that Jiggaman wouldn’t have diluted his style on his follow-up to find platinum sales with Puff Daddy, Timbaland and the Neptunes. Off course nobody would’ve benifited from a stack of nearly identical albums, and club bangers have their place and time. Some of the work Jay has done later on with the likes of Pharrell is top notch, and no one can rightfully claim that Shawn cannot put together a good radio song. But the fact that the fantastic, ominous, Ski-produced Dead Presidents was this album’s first single and failed to make much of an impact on the charts, forcing mr. Carter to change his direction, makes a hiphop head dream of an alternate universe where the mainstream would’ve been down with more edgy stuff and facilitated the creation of more of it.

I’d rather die enormous than live dormant that’s how we on it
Live at the main event, I bet a trip to Maui on it
Presidential suites my resedential for the weekend
Confidentially speakin in codes since I sense you peekin
The NSX rental, don’t be fooled my game is mental
We both out of town dog, what you tryin to get into?
Viva, Las Vegas, see ya, later at the crap tables
meet me by the one that starts a G up
This way no fraud Willie’s present gam-b-ling they re-up
And we can have a pleasant time, sippin margaritas
Ge-ge-geyeahhh, can I live?
Can I live?

This verse, taken from the brilliant Irv Gotti produced Can I Live shows off an ambition that perfectly explains the artistic direction he would take after Reasonable Doubt made him a hood champion, but not the superstar he fancied himself being. And no-one can blame him for following and producing a lot of music that was and a lot better than what his peers brought to the table and still bring to the table today. Even if it did take the edge off a bit.

However, before the big hits, the major label presidency, the booty-bumping with Beyoncé and the constant recycling of the Notorious B.I.G.’s lines in “tribute” there was Reasonable Doubt, an album that after its first and worst track is finished playing, likes to pretend the radio didn’t exist and that presented the listener with something that is an interesting, entertaining piece of fiction backed by some well put-together music.

Best tracks:
Politics As Usual, Brooklyn’s Finest, Dead Presidents II, Feelin’ It, Can I Live, Friend or Foe, Bring It On

Recommendation:
Buy this album.


Spice Girls – Spice

Spice Girls

Spice

11-4-1996

Virgin Records

This album sold approximately thirty-three million copies worldwide. Shit, that’s a lot. Thirty three million is over twice the current number of inhabitants of my native country. It is highly unlikely that anyone will ever do those kinds of numbers again in this time of iTunes and μtorrent, let alone top Michael’s one hundred and ten million copies for Thriller so basically for better or worse this kind of omnipresent culture phenomenon of an album has died out already.

So, the Spice Girls were truly a cultural phenomenon. Like the Beatles, like Madonna, like Elvis, like motherfucking Michael. That’s not to say they’re in the same league musically as these folks because I don’t feel capable of passing judgment on that so I won’t try, but that they were as much a part of public consciousness in ’96 as the artists listed above were in their heyday is simply a matter of fact. They came with their own iconic items, such as Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack-dress and have one song which everybody and their grandmother knows, which is included on Spice. Why, today, are they held in such low regard then? Yes manufactured, yes mediocre singing, yes sterile… but… I don’t know. The Beatles came up singing simplistic love songs and any critic who’d dare shit on them for some obvious flaws (such as their less than fantastic singing and ditto instrument-playing) instantaneously loses his bitching credentials. It’s likely that the general negative consensus on the girls and ‘90s music in general is because 1996 isn’t that long ago and we all still remember the excessive, now outdated, silliness but it has just been long for all of us to move on to bigger and better things. I do however predict that eventually a lot of ‘90s artists, among which Spice, in the near future will be held in the same regard as ABBA is today, which isn’t enviable or some shit since nobody respects ABBA and dares admit it. But that does mean that Spice might get a musical in tribute of them, with other people singing their songs within the frame of an incoherent “story” which nobody, nobody, nobody could give half a shit about, everybody involved in making the musical included, which people will visit to “ironically” sing along to.

Right.

So the Girls, consisting of Victoria Adams (later Beckham, somebody certainly preventive married out of tabloid irrelevance), Geri Halliwell, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm and Emma Bunton, were put together by a management company who were probably looking to put together the female Take That (who were in turn were assembled to become the British NKOTB) or the white, European En Vogue or some shit, in 1994. The five members were given the following fictitious distinct personalities: Scary Spice, Baby Spice, Ginger Spice, Posh Spice and Sporty Spice (I could not for the life of me find out who is supposed to be who, and the music itself didn’t provide any clues) so girls around the world could each relate to one of them which is fucking brilliant from a marketing point of view because if you wanted the record buying audience, at the time when there was such a thing, (young girls) to go pay for your stuff you had to make them believe it’s specifically about them (not as hard as it sounds). Also there was their promotion girl power. Yes girl power, the idea you can be both (A) feminist and (B) female. No more fucking bra burning and unshavenness or shit like that. Rather outperform those chauvinist pigs at their own games while you distract them with your sexy girliness, at least that is what I think they meant… And what girl doesn’t want to do that!? Anyway, they promoted their catchy ass songs with glittery but rowdy music videos and a full length movie, about which I can’t say shit as I haven’t seen it. After three years they broke up to only to successfully reunite for a new single, a greatest hits album and a successful tour in 2007, which they only did in the first place because their solo careers hadn’t gone as well as planned off course. That’s their story in a nutshell.

Now as for the music.

1. Wannabe

Wouldn’t know where to start with explaining how influential this song was and still is, really, but then do I really need to? It’s amazing how “I won’t be hasty, I’ll give you a try. If you really bug me then I’ll say goodbye.” are both moronically simplistic and canonical lyrics all the same. As a song that exist only to be catchy it works, makes one really, really, really want to zig-a-zig ahhh whatever that may be. Also, it was this song which merged want, to and be into one word to be used in everyday speech for the rest of eternity. (P.s.: Matt Rowe, the guy who helped write and produce this, would end up producing for Amy Winehouse of all people…)

2. Say You’ll Be There

Hiphop heads, take notice. This instrumental sounds like it was lifted off Snoop’s 1993 Doggystyle album, well… with a little added make-up off course. The fact that the union of Spice and G-Funk does not sound optimally awkward goes to show that the producers active in the teen pop genre were a lot more intelligent and creative than they were given credit for. But, uhm… the girls’ confident performances and overt Britishness (how often do you hear a succesful British singer who doesn’t sing with an American accent?) help hide the overall confusion in the lyrics pretty effectively and as catchy girl-n-boy group pop fluff this is pretty much perfection. This is probably the 1996 equivalent of Rihanna incorporating dubstep in her music and it probably pissed off a lot of Snoop’s fans. Poor Gz and hustlas. I don’t think anyone of them could imagine back then what would happen in the years after this, as their beloved genre being bastardized is concerned.

3. 2 Become 1

And suddenly the fun vibe is beaten flat with this Walter Afanasieff-like adult contemporary yawn inducer. This is Céline Dion stuff, and a relatively poor variety at that. And this would be where it’d hit you hard that the girls aren’t actually good singers. For the safe-sex promotion the Girls do deserve a pat on the back (no pun intended) so there’s that.

4. Love Thing

And we’re back! This instrumentation is deliciously mid-‘90s. These splashy keys and hiphop-y horn-ish hits help date this, and for me, being a child of this era, in a thoroughly enjoyable way. The rap in the middle is also screams 1996, because, you see kids, at that time hiphop was a “trend” which one had to follow in order to be hip, and quickly at that, before the next thing came along. Well something had more staying power in the mainstream than anyone could’ve expected and it damn sure weren’t the Spice girls.

5. Last Time Lover

There is an extremely small chance that one of the lyrics is “do you want to be molested baby?” Unfortunately that would be the most interesting thing about this plastic-y wannabe funk song. See what I did right there? Clevar, huh?

6. Mama

I cannot think of a person who doesn’t have a love-hate relationship with either parent but grows more understanding for those fuckers, and remorseful for previously shown disrespect, while he/she grows older, so yeah, for a saccharine ballad this one is not without meaning, and not terrible either.

7. Who Do You Think You Are?

I generally tend to like these Jamiroquai-ish ‘70s disco throwbacks but the vocals on this one are just too goddamn giddy, especially on the verses. And also the lyrics are over the top nonsensical, especially on the hook. And no I haven’t forgotten what album I am currently listening to, thank you very much.

8. Something Kinda Funny

Whereas this wannabe disco song is sort of, kind of jive, actually.

9. Naked

Ah, finally!, the generic saccharine mid ‘90s ballad with an acoustic guitar and a percussion which sounds like a wet cat repeatedly being smacked onto a wall. Well that’s a relief, I was starting to worry. This one even has non-sung dialogue à la Madonna’s Justify My Love. As a matter of fact this is a pretty misguided attempt at Madge-y sexuality… funny, that.

10. If U Can’t Dance

Well, more raps over instrumentals which you can correctly date from a mile off, while wearing earplugs. The Spice Girls aren’t very good at rapping or singing but in this particular facet of the music diamond most effort is put into the cuteness of the performance rather than the quality anyway. Wait! Come back! There’s more gimmicks! Spanish language lyrics even!

Best tracks

Wannabe, Say You’ll Be There, Love Thing.

Conclusions
Well, Spice holds up surprisingly well for something which was created fifteen years ago, exclusively in order to get 8-year-old girls to coerce their parents into buying it. The reason this aged better than Take That and Party did is because even though it too is little but a pastiche of hip and retro musical styles manufactured with making money in mind rather than artistical merit, it doesn’t lose fun vibe in the process, and not just for young children and gay club visitors (and yes those demographics are similar when it’s music that’s concerned) but also, it seems, for the artists involved in its creation, and (I’m using the term artist liberally.) The reason of this probably that the girls each had a hand in writing each of these songs. A byproduct of that is, off course, some terrible, clumsy songwriting. But poetic, cohesive lyrics are besides the point, after all it is not some pretentious motherfuckers like U2 you’re listening to on Spice. Anyway, it also holds up better than Wham!’s Fantastic because the producers at work here seem to be studio professionals rather than teenagers trying to take the piss out of their audiences. In other words Spice seems to be one of those anomalies. A teen pop album with some shelf life. A Bacardi breezer that just won’t go stale goddamnit. Off course that could be just my nostalgia taking over my sense of reason. It is likely that anyone born after this album was released just won’t get it and will only hear cheese and they have a valid point too, more valid than mine maybe. So for us who grew up in the 1990’s Spice is best to be seen as an inside joke. Either way, Wannabe and Say You’ll Be There are undisputable pop classics in my book and considering the ‘80s revival which is coming to an end on at the moment the Spice Girls are going to be completely fucking hip soon as the ‘90s nostalgia kicks in. Remember, you read it here first! I’m just glad I got to ‘em before the hipsters did, in the name of a fair review.

Recommendations
Tricky one. While I personally as a ‘90s culture junkie had fun a plenty hearing this one, I can almost guarantee that anyone who was older than twelve, maybe nine even, at the time of Spice’s release will not think anything of it other than “Cheesy bullshit”. But ladies, if you remember these songs from your younger years and think you might have a copy of this album lying around you should go look it up, dust it off and pop it into your computer. It’ll take you back to an easier simpler time in your life and It’ll help you understand what the fuck is wrong with your parents and why they choose to never cease bumping those terrible, terrible ABBA songs… Guys, unless you’re music critics I suggest you stay clear of this. Go revisit your Power Rangers tapes or some shit (although unfortunately those won’t pop into your computer, life is unfair.) Lest someone catches you in the act of actually listening to this because that’d possibly be worse than being caught in the act of enjoying transsexual horse lover-porn. Oh well, nowadays you can always take the hipster route and say you were doing it ironically, I guess… and I meant listening to this album, not the porn thing.