Category Archives: 1998

R. Kelly – R.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Pick this up.


Sparkle – Sparkle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best track
Be Careful
Time to Move On
Turn Away

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


DJ Clue? – The Professional

DJ Clue?
The Professional
December 15, 1998
Desert Storm Records/ Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
060/100
djclue

1. Intro (Diddy) // 2. Ruff Ryders Anthem [Remix] (DMX, Drag-On, Eve, Jadakiss & Styles P) // 3. It’s On (DMX) // 4. Fantastic 4 (Cam’ron, Big Pun, Noreaga & Canibus) // 5. Queensfinest (NaS) // 6. Exclusive New Shit (Nature) // 7. Gangsta Shit (Jay-Z feat. Ja Rule) // 8. Thugged Out Shit  (Memphis Bleek) // 9. It’s My Thang ’99 (EPMD, Keith Murray & Redman) // 10. Mariah Carey [Skit] (Mariah Carey) // 11. Whatever You Want (Flipmode Squad) // 12. That’s the Way (Fabolous, Foxy Brown & Ma$e) // 13. I Like Control (Missy Elliott, Mocha & Nicole Wray) // 14.  Bitch Be a Ho (Jermaine Dupri & R.O.C.) // 15. If They Want It (Fabolous) // 16. Pain In da Ass [Skit] // 17. The Professional (Big Noyd & Mobb Deep) // 18.  Brown Paper Bags (Raekwon) // 19. Cops & Robbers (DJ Muggs & Lord Tariq) // 20. Made Men (Made Men) // 21.  No Love (M.O.P.) // 22.  Come On  (Boot Camp Clik)

I apologise in advance for the interpunction but in my defense, this guy has a question mark in his artist name.

In a move that’s either really fucking stupid or really fucking brilliant (this album’s sales numbers indicate the latter) Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella records signed mixtape DJ, DJ Clue? to their roster. No disrespect to the man of the hour, Clue? is known in hip-hop for releasing high-quality mixtapes with exclusive songs not heard elsewhere before the era of internet bootlegs, and thus giving fans sneek previews at hot upcoming releases which is definitely service to the hip-hop community. But what such an individual has to do with a recording contract on a major label, where everything has to be cleared before release, from samples to songs, isn’t entirely clear to this reviewer.

Mixing and producing is one answer. Indeed seventeen out of the twenty-two tracks feature Clue? in a producer or co-producer capacity. But that leaves five tracks on which he has zero creative involvement, or at least doesn’t take credit for making beats, and not taking credit for doing for stuff you did actually do is not very hip-hop (unless you count Rick Ross’ CO stint). Also DURO produces or co-produces ten tracks here and his name isn’t on the front cover anywhere.

If Clue? had turned this one into an extended DJ set where every track is seamlessly mixed into the next then his name printed big-assedly on the front would be entirely justified, but alas, no such luck.

The man makes his presence mostly known by yelling his own name, the name of his record label, the name of one or more of the featured artists, the name of his album or random bullshit including but not limited to “killuminti”,  “new shit” and “exclusive” at random intervals, quite literally so you won’t forget who’s album you are currently listening to. This annoying habit has become a widely copied thing among hip-hop mixtape DJs, with people like DJ Skee and most famously DJ Khaled following suit.

So Clue?’s primary function is to “host” this project by yelling over otherwise perfectly functional tracks. Two things should be noted about this intriguing concept.

1. Nearly any jackass could do this particular hosting thing, so long as said jackass can raise his voice.

2. Everything would sound better if Clue? Had shown some restraint and just shut the fuck up or at least kept the yelling to a minimum.

That said the Professional is an okay reminder of who was hot in ’98 in hip-hop on the East coast. Listening to this album one can think of at least one thing Clue? had going for him, clout. Looking at the guestlist one has an easier time summing up who didn’t show up to contribute than it is who did.

Everyone from the Ruff Ryders to Puffy and Ma$e to the Wu-Tang to Mobb Deep to Jermaine Dupri to the Bootcamp Clik to M.O.P. are here. Even NaS, who probably had beef with Jigga already, gets down with Clue?, even if it means appearing on a Roc-a-Fella records release. The results are a late ’90s East Coast block party with a guest list that’ll have any fan of this particular era in rap salivating from just peeping the back cover.

Off course having many famous guests on your album doesn’t guarantee that your album will sound good, since it can lead to horrible chaotic mess, but since Clue? is behind the boards a lot he’s the one to give this album cohesiveness and direction. Quite the task indeed, especially since he’s a limited beatsmith, resorting mostly to the tried and true stale funk-loop-jacking of the time, coming off as a poor man’s Jermaine Dupri/ Puff Daddy/ Trackmaster. Not that he’s outright wack with the beats, It’s On  gives DMX a perfectly passable conventional East-Coast hip-hop beat, making this an especially welcome addition to his discography considering Swizzy wouldn’t leave him alone during the recordings of his second album of the year ’90 Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood.
The Jay-Z contribution Gangsta Shit, which features a pre-debut Ja Rule, who sounds like he wants to be an actual rapper rather than a Luther Vandross, is also pretty decent.
Fantastic 4 has 1998s golden boys Cam’ron, Big Pun, Noreaga and Canibus trade verses, and although it’s not an entirely natural collaboration at least everyone gets to show why they were a thing back then, especially Canibus who always sounds pretty good unless he’s on his own albums.

Nasir’s ode to his borough; Queensfinest certainly won’t cost him any fans and Busta Rhymes and his crew the Flipmode Squad do their thing on the posse cut Whatever You Want, which fortunately isn’t remotely similar to their song I Know What You Want featuring Mariah Carey.

Speaking of her, she’s featured on this album giggeling about with our host on an skit named after her, not singing a single note. This isn’t a complaint about the Professional‘s lack of R&B hooks (Clue? knows his audience it seems.), but I hope he didn’t have to pay her a lot of money for this vocal performance. Not that skits on hip-hop albums usually do sound good but here they seem especially useless with the Pain In da Ass [Skit] taking the cake. Oh well, at least they’re short and there’s only two of them.

Basically everyone here does exactly what you expect of him/her (well except Mariah…) with no-one fucking up badly, except for the tag-team of Ma$e and a then-unknown Fabolous, who decide to interpolate KC & the Sunshine Band’s That’s The Way (I Like It) with Foxy Brown on That’s the Way (I’m sure P. Daddy was jealous as fuck he didn’t think of that idea before, and wanted to kill Clue? like he says he once did on the intro…) But at least Fabby, who was once called a Ma$e redux, proves they don’t sound all that much alike when put on the same track, so that’s good for him.

A song that doesn’t necessarily sound awful, but is an excercise in futility nonetheless, is EPMD + Keith Murray & Redman’s (or the Def Squad + PMD’s) It’s My Thang ’99 because it’s the millionth hip-hop song re-using the beat to Jay-Z’s Ain’t No Nigga.

The remix of DMX’ Ruff Ryders Anthem, now featuring all the Ruff Ryders, isn’t bad but it might have been a more logical inclusion on the Ruff Ryders crew album Ryde or Die, vol. 1 because it is THE Ruff Ryders anthem and also because Clue? hasn’t got shit to do with it.

Overall what one should admire most about Clue? is his ability to surround himself with talented and popular rappers (Jay-Z, NaS, Mobb Deep, Raekwon,  M.O.P.) and to have the foresight to include up and comers (Ja Rule and Fabolous and Benzino) and his ability to create beats that are at least listenable, but none of these things per se make the Professional a must-own.

The Professional is a competently made but somewhat underwhelming vanity project.

Best tracks
It’s On, Fantastic 4, Queensfinest, Gangsta Shit, The Professional, Brown Paper Bags, No Love

Recommendations
For casual rap fans this isn’t a must-listen, but for fans of mid-to-late ’90s hip-hop the Professional is worth a try on spotify to see if it is worth a purchase.


Jay-Z – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

Jay-Z
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
September 29, 1998
Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
070/100
Jay-Z - Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life

1. Intro (Hand It Down) (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 2. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) // 3. If I Should Die (feat. Da Ranjahs) // 4. Ride or Die // 5. Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators 99) (feat. Big Jaz & Amil) // 6. Money, Cash, Hoes (feat. DMX) // 7. A Week Ago (feat. Too $hort) // 8. Coming of Age (Da Sequel) (feat. Memphis Bleek) //9. Can I Get a…(feat. Amil & Ja Rule) // 10. Paper Chase (feat. Foxy Brown) // 11. Resevoir Dogs (feat. the LOX, Beanie Sigel & Sauce Money) // 12. It’s Like That (feat. Kid Kapri) // 13. It’s Alright (feat. Memphis Bleek)

The first person you actually get to hear rhyme on The Life and Times of Shawn Carter, volume 2, after the mandatory Scarface-themed Pain in da Ass intro is Memphis Bleek. Said intro is all about how Jay-Z is going to leave the rap game for good after releasing this album, and leave Bleek as his successor. Not unlike what happened on the intro to Vol. 1, except that back then it was clearly an empty threat or a hollow promise, depending on your point of view, because he named his album vol. 1, which all but promises a sequel.

Everyone knows none of this actually happened. It’s a good thing, both because Bleek usually can’t rap for shit and because even though vol. 2 is critically acclaimed and sold shitloads of copies it’s far from a flawless goodbye party.

Part of the problem is the appearance of guests such as said Bleek, Da Ranjahs, Amil, Ja Rule and Foxy Brown, most of whom don’t have much of a career left today for a good reason. Part of the problem is that Swizz Beatz gets to produce three tracks, which is never a good thing. There’s one beat on here that’s produced by DJ Premier, a guy who should’ve been all over this. It’s a pretty good beat but it has nobody but (wait for it…) Memphis Bleek rhyming over it, and although he doesn’t quite put it to waste as he’s prone to do, it isn’t remotely what anyone wanted to hear on what was at one time suposed to be Jay-Z’s very last album. Que de la fucque!?

When Jigga has some guests that can keep up with him on the posse cut Resevoir Dogs Eric Sermon of all people fucks shit up by producing a boring-ass instrumental. Listen Jigga, if you gon’ have sucky rappers on your album and sucky beats at least put them together so you can keep the good stuff for yourself and those in your posse with actual talent. What do you mean, you released this album fourteen years ago and can’t change shit about it? You’re rich, buy a time machine.

That said there’s still a wealth of good music to be found here. Everybody and their grandmother knows the Annie-sampling title track and there’s not much to be said about it but that it’s an all-time hip-hop classic. Nigga What, Nigga Who has Shawn Carter starting a succesful partnership with Timbaland and ending a succesful partnership with Big Jaz over a stuttering futuristic instrumental and Amil doesn’t have to do anything but the hook, which helps. A Week Ago is a pretty good narrative about friendship going sour and snitching, and although Too $hort could’ve been put to better use than to rap only on the hook it’s still a highlight. Can I Get a… works because of its light footed instrumental and in spite of its guests list, and Money, Cash, Hoes is just some fun singalong club-shit, although the Swizz Beat is barely passable and the DMX cameo seems phoned-in and sticked on last-minute.

Jay himself is in fine form throughout even though he doesn’t get past his usual I-am-richer-than-thou and I-rap-now-but-I-used-to-sell-drugs shtick. His excellent conversational flow ties all of this shit together.

He can’t work miracles though. This album is fucking mediocre by his admittedly high standards. I hope Vol. 3 has less guests and better beats.

Best tracks
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators 99)
Can I Get a…
A Week Ago
Money, Cash, Hoes

Recommendations
You can buy this, it’s not entirely worthless and even pretty good in parts. But do go listen to Reasonable Doubt first.


Streets is Watching (OST)

Various artists
Streets is Watching (OST)
May 12, 1998
Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
055/100
Various Artists - The Streets Is Watching (OST)

1. It’s Alright (Jay-Z & Memphis Bleek) // 2. Love For Free (Jay-Z & Rell) // 3. Only a Customer (Jay-Z) // 4. Pimp This Love (Christión) // 5. Murdergram (Jay-Z, DMX & Ja Rule) // 6. The Doe (Diamonds In da Rough) // 7. Crazy (Usual Suspects) // 8. In My Lifetime [Remix] // 9. Your Love (Christión & Jay-Z) // 10. Thugs R Us (DJ Clue? & Noreaga) // 11. My Nigga Hill Figga (M.O.P.) // 12. Celebration (Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek, Sauce Money & Wais)

This Jay-Z album/1998 Roc-a-Fella records label sampler/ soundtrack to a “movie” is often overlooked in the official Jay-Z canon. Now, officialy this may not be a Jigga solo-album, but he is the guy on the front cover (although the front cover doubles as the movie’s front cover, and Streets is Watching the film is supposed to be a compilation of old Jay-Z music videos) and he appears on seven out of this album’s twelve cuts, making this his show if anyone’s. Here’s why no-one ever brings this album up.

The opening track has him dueting subordinate Memphis Bleek over some weak, pseudo futuristic production reminiscent of his 1997 hit single (Always be My) SunshineLove For Free is a pretty generic R&B tune that happens to feature Jay. It’s only by the third song, the Irv Gotti-produced Rick James-sampling Only a Customer, that Streets is Watching starts picking up steam.

Murdergram is one of the tracks recorded by the would-be hip-hop supergroup Murder Inc., before all participants save for Jeffrey moved on, and Irv Gotti was forced to replace Jay-Z and DMX by fucking Black Child and Tah Murdah, not long after this album’s release. Unlike It’s Murda off Ja Rule’s debut album (are you starting to see a recurring theme here?) this track doesn’t imply an entire album by the combination of X, Jigga and Ja might’ve lead to something great. It sounds like a generic late ’90s mixtape-track, complete with sucking-ass beat.

In My Lifetime, allegedly a remix or a re-recording of a pre-Reasonable Doubt Jay-Z single, and it sounds pretty grand. As does the Roc-a-Fella posse-cut Celebration, with its approriately victorious beat and Hova, his today m.i.a. homey Sauce and some cat called Wais proclaim victory over the rap game. Oh and Memphis Bleek proclaims victory over the rap game too, how cute!.

That’s about it for the Shawn Corey Carter contributions. The rest of the album is filled-out with appearances by subordinates and affiliates. R&B duo Christión bring two seedy R&B tracks to the table and rap group Diamonds in Da Rough make it known to the listener exactly why they never became a thing, while Noreaga and M.O.P. put in their Roc-a-Fella auditions fucking early, and manage not to entirely suck.

Crazy has got to be this album’s most curious inclusion. This lame-ass acoustic guitar-driven Backstreet Boys-styled R&B pop-cut had me wondering whether a Spotify commercial for air-freshener had popped up, which was confusing as fuck since I played this album in iTunes. What the fuck is this supposed to do for you Jiggaman? The Streets is Watching remember? You named your goddamn album that…

Best tracks
Only a Customer, In My Lifetime [Remix], Celebration, *I Can’t Get With That

*Not featured on this soundtrack, but according to wikipedia it was featured in the film this was supposed to score. It’s an entertaining as fuck early independent Jay-Z single, which has him speed-rapping over a rather simplistic old school beat. And it’s good fun.

Recommendations
Jay-Z fans definitely should buy the above three tracks off iTunes or Amazon or Spotify. They’re prime Jay-Z cuts. Most of the other tracks however are a sheer waste of time. Ever heard of Rell, Christión, Diamonds in da Rough or the Usual Suspects and Memphis Bleek? No? Good, because anything they record slurps diarrhoea straight out of the colon, whether it features Jay-Z or not. Fans of M.O.P. and Noreaga needn’t really come near this either. You should therefor not pick this album up, unless you find it for under $3,-, shipping costs included.


DMX – Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood

DMX
Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood
December 15, 1998
Ruff Ryders Entertainment/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
DMX - Flesh of My Flesh Torrent

1. My Niggas [Skit] // 2. Bring Your Whole Crew (feat. PK) // 3. Pac Man [Skit] // 4. Ain’t No Way // 5. We Don’t Give a Fuck (feat. Styles P & Jadakiss) // 6. Keep Your Shit the Hardest // 7. Coming From (feat. Mary J. Blige) // 8. It’s All Good // 9. The Omen (feat. Marilyn Manson) // 10. Slippin’ // 11. No Love 4 Me (feat. Swizz Beatz & Drag-On) // 12. Dogs For Life // 13. Blackout (feat. the LOX & Jay-Z) // 14. Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood // 15. Heat // 16. Ready to Meet Him

Considering that It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot… as an album was passable and promising rather than great, because it had some really high highlights with about an equal amount of a mixture of repetitive crap and misguided ideas it’s safe to assume that after Def Jam signed Earl “DMX” Simmons they rushed an album to the stores as soon as possible as not to let the hype die out. When about half a year later Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood appeared by all means it should’ve meant that in an effort to make more money off the at full speed running DMX train that Def Jam emptied out the vaults stringing together studio leftovers which would in theory mean that Flesh sucks balls.

This is however not the case. Or rather things aren’t that simple. It’s true that this album sounds like a lesser version of his debut. It sounds more like an incredibly tired attempt at a second run the same track than a collection of scenes from the cutting floor.

The first two lines of the first actual song on here “I’ve got blood on my hand and there’s no remorse, I’ve got blood on my dick ’cause I fucked the corpse” won’t thrill anyone who heard the first album, it will just disgust the casual listener and bore the fans.

DMX’s bark is still as vicious as his bite but when he uses it to create pro-constipation anthem Keep Your Shit the Hardest one has to wonder whether X and Swizz really ever gave this shit a second listen after recording it. It also would seem that this rapper-producer duo has forgotten that it was them who had wiped Puff Diddy’s shiny-rap sound off the charts because on It’s All Good Swizz has a crack at a disco beat while Earl tries to rhyme about sex and manages to sound both as giddy as a twelve year old and creepy as your friendly neighbourhood rapist just talking about consentual sex this time around.

When X reprises his Damien concept on The Omen and manages to include motherfucking Marilyn Manson you’ll know what’s up. When he includes cocaine carrier Drag-On, just to run laps around him on No Love 4 Me you’ll know what’s up too. The only guests who can both keep up with Earl’s intensity add somthing to the proceedings are the LOX and Jay-Z on the posse-cut Blackout. Unfortunately the boring-ass Swizz Beat still keeps the song from coming off the ground.

Not every song here fails to entertain. The title track has Swizzy actually coming up with something relatively funky and Earl not wasting the opportunity to sound fucking great, spitting violent nonsense. Coming From has X dueting fellow yonkers native Mary J. Blige over an ominous piano loop. Slippin’ is the best song off this album, hands down. X talks about optimism in dark times and the realisation that even though he’s doing good now (at the time of this album’s release in 1998) he might fall back into drug use and alcoholism over a moody DJ Shok beat. The only complaint about it is that no matter what version of this album you get, Slippin’ will be censored anyway because of sample clearance.

Overall Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood is a disappointment. It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot gave off the promise that X could release a classic hiphop LP if he got some proper editing and quality control. By rushing a follow-up to record-buyers shit went in the polar opposite direction.

It’s a bloody shame.

Best tracks
Coming From
Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood
Slippin’

Recommendations
Get the above tracks off iTunes/ Spotifi/ Amazon.


DMX – It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot

DMX
It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
May 19, 1998
Ruff Ryders/ Def jam Recordings/ UMG

065/100

1. Intro // 2. Ruff Ryders Anthem // 3. Fuckin’ With D // 4. The Storm [Skit] // 5. Look Thru My Eyes // 6. Get At Me Dog (feat. Sheek Louch) // 7. Let Me Fly // 8. X-Is Coming // 9. Damien // 10. How’s It Goin’ Down // 11. Mickey [Skit] // 12. Crime Story // 13. Stop Being Greedy // 14. ATF // 15. For My Dogs (feat. Drag-On, Big Stan, Loose & Kasino)// 16. I Can Feel It (feat. Nardo) // 17. Prayer [Skit] // 18. The Convo // 19. Niggaz Done Started Something (feat. Ma$e & the LOX)

Following the death of 2Pac and as-a-matter-of-factly preceding the Notorious B.I.G.’s passing, hardcore gangsta left the mainstream where it had maintained a presence since N.W.A. came out in the late ‘80s . Sure, rappers still talked about all the illegal acts they allegedly committed on their songs. But under the influence of Puff Diddy the music backing these tales of crime was more aching to a plastic version of what your mother’s favorite R&B singer from the ‘80s used to sing over. Even former underground heroes such as NaS and Jay-Z decided to work with such producers as the previously mentioned P. Daddy and the Track Masters, ostensibly because they were out for dead presidents to represent them. It was around this time one of the subgenre’s founding fathers; Dr. Dre, labeled it dead and buried.

It was also around this time that Earl DMX Simmons was making a name for himself, heating up cuts by the likes of Ma$e, LL Cool J, Mic Geronimo and the LOX with his lyrics, filled with existential angst, gangsta-isms and religious imagery, as well as his delivery which he used his gruff voice rapping, singing, shouting and barking, oft tearing the underlying instrumentals to shreds and literally burning up the mic. Another thing the man is known for is his live shows where he occasionally went so hard that he passed out and needed an oxigen mask. This dude is a motherfucking rock star, with the substance abuse problems, mental illnesses and the criminal record to match this status. It is these same qualities that cost Earl many a record deal before he landed with Ruff Ryder/ Def Jam in 1998 and finally got to release a shiny compact disc of his own. Usually talking about an artist’s personal life isn’t relevant to the actual music (Ja Rule’s tax evasion issues don’t exactly make his music more ganxtah) but in DMX’s case it’s different. His 1998 debut: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot sounds exactly like the product of a clinically insane prodigy. It is an intoxicating, high paced mixture of realism, surrealism and octane. It brought street rap back to the forefront of the genre and made a lot of rappers not know how quickly to hang up their shiny suits (It probably helped X’s career that by 1998 everyone was getting sick of hearing variations of Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems on the radio.

Stop, drop, shut ’em down open up shop
Oh, no
That’s how Ruff Ryders roll

Only X could put Ruff Ryders Anthem on the radio and have the fire drill instruction-esque hook and the chaotic Swizz Beat stick. In and by themselves these elements would make for an incredibly disturbing listen. DMX’s energy and conviction prevents this from being so.

Get At Me Dog, featuring the LOX’ Sheek Louch in the call-and-respond hook manages to be both a rowdy party anthem and a buch of death threats set to wax in a credible manner (side note, Get at Me Dog exist in a pre-record deal, freestyle from somewhere ’96 where the apparent target of the disses is 2Pac). Other highlights in a similar vein are Stop Being Greedy, X Is Coming and the posse cut Niggaz Done Started Something.

How’s It Goin’ Down has X telling a tale of rugged romance and duetting an anonymous studio singer (and Faith Evans on the radio edit) over a Dame Grease instrumental that is simultaneously eerie and mellow.

I’m politicking with this trick and wondering if I’ma creep her .
Little hoodrat bitch from 25th named Tenika.
Coming through, like I do, you know
Getting my bark on.
Knew she was a thug because when I met her she had a scarf on .
5411, size 7 in girls.
Babyface, would look like she was 11 with curls .
Girlfriend, remember me, (what?), from way back, I’m the same cat.
With the wave cap- the motherfucker that tnt used to blaze at.
Still here so it’s all good.
Oh you know my niggas Rich and them doing they thing on 35th Ave?
It’s a small hood, and it’s all wood, so let me get that number
Hook it up, aight?
Hit you on da track later on, say wassup.
Talking to shorty made me wanna do something nice.
Looking at that ass made me wanna do something tonight.
And I know right when I see right, shorty looking like she tight.
She bite, better give a nigga the green light, we might..

The story ends with X cutting off the affair because she already has a man with whom she has children. Such contemplation on right and wrong can also be found on strong cuts such as Let Me Fly and I Can Feel It.

The contradiction between Earl’s hypervoilent tendencies and his apparently strong sense of morality is what keeps It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot fascinating throughout, even if the music can’t always keep up. Tracks like ATF and Crime Story are hampered by shitty beats, For My Dogs has DMX collaborating with some talentless labelmates and Damien has X duetting himself putting on a silly voice and on the Convo he’s dueting himself as god, which doesn’t click. Also the numerous skits seriously detract from the overall enjoyability of this album. It’s the inconsistency that made me rate this one under Venni Vetti Vecci, but make no mistake. The highlights reach much higher than those of Ja’s debut.

Another thing that makes this album lesser than the sum of its parts is that the sheer intensity and insanity of X is hard to bear for an album’s full length (It’s this exact same feature that makes him usually steal the show whenever he does a guest appearance). Also DMX is not for the easily offended. At one point he threatens to rape your daughter in front of you if she’s older than fifteen. Despite these shortcomings It’s Hard and Hell Is Hot contains some really good music that is oft imitated but never duplicated. Cop this one.

Best tracks:
Get At me Dog, Ruff Ryders Anthem, Stop Being Greedy, X-Is Coming, How’s It Going Down, Niggaz Done Started Something, Let Me Fly, I Can Feel It

Recommendations:
Buy this one. Preferrably from the discount section of your local record store, or a used copy.