Category Archives: 2000

Memphis Bleek – The Understanding

Memphis Bleek
The Understanding
December 5, 2000
Get Low Records/ Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
050/100
Memphis Bleek - The Understanding
1. Intro – U Know Bleek // 2. Do My… (feat. Jay-Z) // 3. I Get High // 4. We Get Low // 5. Change Up (feat. Jay-Z & Beanie Sigel) // 6. My Mind Right [Remix] (feat. Jay-Z, H. Money Bags & Beanie Sigel) // 7. Hustler (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 8. All Types of Shit // 9. PYT (feat. Jay-Z & Amil) // 10. Bounce Bitch // 11. They’ll Never Play Me  // 12. Everyday (feat. Carl Thomas) // 13. Is That Your Chick [Remix] (Jay-Z feat. Twista, Missy Elliott & Memphis Bleek) // 14. In My Life

Niggas said I can’t do it
Funny I done it
The album is here, now who the fuck want it?

And so commences the second album by Brooklyn rapper Memphis Bleek, a guy best known at the time for his shitty hit song Memph Bleek Is… of his equally shitty debut album Coming of Age named after the first Jay-Z song our host of the night ever made sound less appealing back in ’96.

But in all fairness, when we first got to hear Bleek in ’96 on Reasonable Doubt‘s Coming of Age, he was sixteen years old (an industry story goes that the person who was actually supposed to appear on that song was Wu-Tang clan affiliated at-the-time child-rapper Shyheim, who declined allowing Bleek to step in, for whatever ridiculous reason he must regret the shit out of today, considering what standing both Reasonable Doubt and Jay-Z have in today’s hip-hop game) and so there was a lot of room for growth for young Bleek as far as far as rapping skills were concerned from when we first heard him rap on.

Now Coming of Age didn’t show much signs of growth, and neither did the collaboration album The Dynasty: ROC la Familia with Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel but… but… *groan* let’s hope for the best shall we?

Basically Bleek has upped his game a bit. This album has actual highlights. Intro – U Know Bleek has a pretty decent celebratory Just Blaze instrumental and our host’s agressive, urgent flow works well enough. And clocking under two minutes neither overstays its welcome, even if Bleek asks the listener who the fuck wants his album, one people told him specifically he couldn’t make and condones his music inspiring school shootings.

I Get High is so fucking stupid (It’s a song about the merits of smoking pot while driving down the interstate, without a destination even being so much as considered) it makes a U-turn to hilarious, what with its straightfaced rap by Bleek and it’s tailor-made-to-get-baked-to instrumental. Try to take the train or the bus in stead of the car whenever so much as approaching the East-Coast of the United States though. Bleek never showed the ability to understand irony, so he probably literally likes to do this shit in real life.

And then there’s Is That Your Chick, an all-star posse song with Jay-Z, Twista and Missy Elliott on a banging-ass Timbaland beat. Good song but Bleek is a complete nonfactor. His two verses on the song (as opposed to his bos Jay-Zs’s three verses on the song) are the most skippable parts. For those caring, a slightly more explicit, Memphis Bleek-free version of the song titled Is That Your Bitch was released on the European version of Jay-Z’s Vol. 3 album that sounded both better and more concise than this. It was left off the USA version due to bootlegging, so Bleek got Timbo, Missy and Twista on his album due to a technicality. That doesn’t take away from that it is hands-down the best thing on here.

As for the rest of this album. Meh.

Do My and Bounce Bitch are generic, rude, unsexy club bangers. We Get Low sounds like Just Blaze miscarriaging Swizz Beatz musical child, while Bleek still fails to understand how to write a hook. And on Change UpPYT, My Mind Right and Hustlers he gets outclassed in turns by Beanie Sigel and/or Jay-Z with overall the results never really ending up on the right side of acceptable.

Also the closing track My Life samples I Wanna Know What Love Is by Foreigner, which bypasses the P. Daddy and heads straight for Pittbull levels of wrongful sampling.

Better luck next time, Bleek!

Best tracks
Intro – U Know Bleek
I Get High
Is That Your Chick?

Recommendations
Stay away from this shit. Get the Bleek-free version of Is That Your Chick off iTunes and, if you smoke pot and like to laugh, I Get High too.


Jay-Z – The Dynasty: ROC la Familia

Jay-Z
ROC la Familia: The Dynasty
October 30, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
060/100
Jay-Z - Roc la Familia The Dynasty

1. Intro // 2. Change the Game (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Static Major) // 3. I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) (feat. Pharrell & Omillio Sparks) // 4. Streets Is Talking (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 5. This Can’t Be Life (feat. Beanie Sigel & Scarface) // 6. Get Your Mind Right Mami (feat. Memphis Bleek, Snoop Dogg & Rell) // 7. Stick 2 the Script (feat. Beanie Sigel & DJ Clue?) // 8. You, Me, Him, Her (feat. Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel & Amil) // 9. Guilty Until Proven Innocent (feat. R. Kelly) // 10. Parking Lot Pimpin’ (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Lil’ Mo) // 11. Holla (performed by Memphis Bleek) // 12. 1-900-Hustler (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Freeway) // 13. The R.O.C. (performed by Beanie Sigel & Memphis Bleek) // 14. Soon You’ll Understand // 15. Squeeze First // 16. Where Have You Been (feat. Beanie Sigel)

Because Bleek, Sigel and Jigga each had gold to platinum albums under their belts (one shouldn’t put Sigel and Bleek in the same league as Hova outside of this context) and because they were all signed to the same record label a group album made sense. That way Beans and Memph could ride Hova’s coattails towards a higher status of celebrity and hopefully even higher album sales, and Hova could play the record label executive he always fancied himself as being, while at the same time helping his boys out.

Amil’s album had gone halfway copper, and therefore she gets but a bunch of namechecks (but not paycheques) as though she were still around (it is entirely possible that she used to actually be on most of these songs but was removed last minute, though not the references to her existence, since that would require a whole lot of re-recording), as well as no more than one verse on this project by a group she was supposed to be an integral part of, which is less than the work she got to put in on the last two Jay-Z solo-albums. Oh well, it’s not like she had anything substantial to offer to the proceedings (although one could argue that neither did Bleek.) Question is: Why not replace her with a more talented rapper, such as for instance Sauce Money?

Anyway, that was the bit about how the actual musical content came into existence. Then someone at Def Jam thought it unlikely that people would give a fuck about a hip-hop supergroup (a group made-up of members who already had careers prior to the group’s existence) mostly because of how well The Firm: the Album did four years prior (I’m just guessing here…) and decided to release the album anyway, but with Jay-Z’s name stamped in an obscenely large font onto the album cover to lure people into believing that this was a Jigga solo-release so that Hova’s fans could find it, in record stores near them. Not only does this album almost exclusively consist of ROC posse cuts (Not counting the intro there are but three songs on here that don’t feature Bleek or Sigel) but two tracks don’t feature the Jiggaman at all, making this the worst case of false advertising since DJ Clue? Presents Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life. Especially since two out of the three singles released off this project didn’t feature Sigel or Bleek but just Jay-Z and some supporting R&B vocals.

Since this wasn’t actually a Jay-Z solo-album even though it was explicitly marketed as such, Jay decided to not call up Timbaland and Swizz Beatz to produce this album so he could save money on beats fuck around with some new sounds to push the hip-hop genre forward. Fortunately for Hov, Bleek and Mac (and Amil, but not really) the up-and-comers that were hired in stead were the Neptunes, Kanye West and Just Blaze, who would become the genre’s production superstars before long. San Francisco Bay based production veteran Rick Rock also got some play. Hova called in favors from the likes of R. Kelly, Snoop Dogg, Static Major, Lil’ Mo. Sigel snuck two of his State Property boys into the studio and the resulting album would be the worst Jay-Z solo album so-far, if it counted that is.

It’s not all bad though, as usual Jay is good for a couple of catchy singles, most notably the blingy Neptunes helmed come on-number Give It to Me (I Just Wanna Love Ya) featuring Pharrell in an amateur Curtis Mayfield capacity and State Property-member Omillio Sparks in the most useless cameo appearance in recent memory…
Um… But the beat is an okay example of the archetypical Neptunes sound and Jay sleepwalks over it in a pleasant-enough manner, which is all you can expect from radio fodder such as this.

Things get a little more substantial on Guilty Until Proven Innocent on which Hov talk about his (then) recent legal troubles (Hova had allegedly stabbed record executive Lance Rivera for leaking songs ment for Vol. 3)  over a boisterous Rockwilder beat. It is sort of amusing to hear Robert rant about being not guilty on the hook, with his upcoming legal troubles in mind.

Change the Game, the only released single that actually had the rest of the “Dynasty” on it, sucks balls what with its repetetive, bland Rick Rock beat, everybody rapping just coasting along and Static Major’s hook which makes it apparent that the man was bored out of his mind when he recorded it. The same goes for all of Rock’s contributions from the needlessly sparkly Snoop Dogg-assisted Get Your Mind Right to the Lil’ Mo-featuring Parking Lot Pimpin’ to the Hova solo-shot Squeeze 1st.

Just Blaze and Kanye West fare a lot better with their soul-sampling beats that layed the Blueprint for what rap was going to sound like for the years to come (pun intended). Especially Kanye’s sole contribution, the Scarface-featuring This Can’t Be Life is dope, easily the best track on here. Streets Is Talking the sequel of sorts to 1997’s Streets Is Watching isn’t quite as good as its prequel, but it comes close nevertheless. And the Shawn Carter-solo Soon You’ll Understand is a precursor to what greatness was to come on the Blueprint.

The Bink!-produced 1-900 Hustler has all of the Dynasty (well, except Amil off course) plus Freeway, answer called-in questions about gangsta life on a fictitious radio show of the titular name. In spite of, or maybe because of its corny concept and its hilariously graphic execution it works and it is one of the few moments on this album where Roc La Familia shines as a group, as opposed Bleek getting out-rapped by Sigel and Sigel getting out-rapped by Hov. Another point where this supergroup thing actually works is the album closer Where Have You Been on which Jigga and Mac diss the shit out of their absentee father both sounding legitimately emotional, never moreso than the moment where Sigel almost throws up.

Besides these instances of brilliance, as well as the previously mentioned This Can’t Be Life there isn’t much in the form of chemistry to be found amongst the group members. Which is not to say that the Memphis Bleek solo-song is actually good (It is telling that most of what does work doesn’t actually feature Bleek), but yeah this is a serious problem for the success rate which lies comfortably beneath 50%. It is a testamant to how good the good songs are that this got the rating it did get.

Best tracks
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
Streets Is Talking
This Can’t Be Life
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
1-900-Hustler
Soon You’ll Understand
Where Have You Been

Recommendations
would tell you to pick up the above songs individually off iTunes, Amazon or Spotify if I weren’t convinced that this would cost you more money than to simply buy the album. And the above tracks are certainly worth owning. So I’m going to say: Buy it but just don’t spend over five bucks on it and don’t put it on top of your to do list.


Amil – A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal)

Amil
A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal)
September 19, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsColumbia RecordsSME
055/100
Amil - All Money Is Legal

1. Smile 4 Me // 2. I Got That (feat. Beyoncé) // 3. Get Down // 4. Y’all Dead Wrong // 5. Heard It All (feat. Jay-Z) // 6. Quarrels (feat. Carl Thomas) // 7. Girlfriend // 8. All Money Is Legal (A.M.I.L.) // 9. That’s Right (feat. Jay-Z) // 10. Anyday // 11. Raw // 12. No 1 Can Compare // 13. 4 da Fam (feat. Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek & Beanie Sigel)

I don’t know what it is with rappers and their love for really, really fucking stupid acronyms. There was the Notorious B.I.G.’s crew Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Junior Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes), Drake’s motto Y.O.L.O., 2pac’s claim that N.I.G.G.A. stood for Never Ignorant in Getting Goals Accomplished (when everybody knows that in reality it is a misspelling of the word nigger) and when Noreaga was forced to change his rap name because the record label he had just left owned his nom de plume, he became N.O.R.E. (Niggaz on the Run Eatin’) and in september 2000 Roc-a-Fella rapper Amil followed suit by transforming her actual given name into something that was a) retarded and b) not likely to be what her mother ment when she gave her a name.

No, not all money is legal. You could state that you’re out for the loot, regardless of whether you acquire it legally or illegally, which is an attitude one can have towards money, I suppose. But this album title is a straight untruthful claim, and to make your album title a straight up lie such as what was the case with the last Roc-a-Fella release doesn’t promise much in the form of good music, to this reviewer at least. Also: the cover sorta kinda paraphrases the album cover of Lil’ Kim’s Hard Core which indicates all sorts of bandwagon-jumping.

Lastly, having heard several Amil guest appearances on other Roc-a-Fella projects, most of which were less than awe-inspiring, expectations for this album are low, which may end up in Amil’s advantage because it’ll be hard for her to disappoint.

To start with the positive: A.M.I.L. isn’t quite the shitstorm it could’ve been, the production courtesy of the likes of EZ Elpee, the Trackmasters, Rockwilder, Just Blaze, Ty Fyffe and less well-known producers is serviceable enough throughout the album, if a bit formulaic. Contemplative soul-sampling beat here, rock-tinged ass-shaker there, club banger this, R&B-hook that. Amil herself rides the beats professionally enough with her girlishly sultry voice. Yes, this is not the obknoxiousness that was Memphis Bleek’s Coming of Age.

But then neither is this actually entertaining like Beanie Sigel’s album, let alone Sauce Money’s overlooked masterpiece. This is the most middle of the road-album in reviewers recent memory, and it’s ll the more boring because of it. The second single, the Beyoncé featuring financially independent ladies anthem I Got That is a good metaphore for the entire disc. Technically sufficient but, whoever has found themselves yearning for some technically sufficient music? It is as though B. herself ony appears because All Money Is Legal is a joint venture between Roc-a-Fella Records and her label Columbia Records. (I wonder if this studio Session is where Jay and Bey met, not that there’s a trace of him on this song, mind you.)

All of these songs have been done before and since, better and worse, fom the All Saints-biting Get Down to the Neptunes-aping Rockwilder jams Y’All Dead Wrong and Girlfriend. On That’s Right Jigga and Amil do a back and forth over an early Just Blaze beat that seems to take all the wrong cues from Swizz Beatz. It makes one wonder just for what audience an album this bland is supposed to be and also why the real Swizzy and Pharrell decided to skip this one. Well Jay-Z, any help answering these questions? (What’s that Shawn? You don’t remember ever having an Amil signed to your label?)

Nevertheless there are a couple of good songs on here, although their sounding good mostly doesn’t have anything to do with the qualities of our star attraction.

The lead single, the Ty Fyffe produced Roc-a-Fella posse cut 4 Da Fam has a instrumental so majestic that it manages to make Memphis Bleek sound pretty good on his opening verse, moreso than Beanie Sigel even. Off course Shawn Carter drops by and erases all memory of any previous rappers. Our hostess doesn’t necessarily suck on here but she does sound like she doesn’t have any business appearing on record with these gentlemen. Nevertheless Jay-Z fans would do good checking it out.

Quarrels has Bad Boy Records R&B singer Carl Thomas provide some hauntingly soulful vocals over an ominous beat produced by EZ Elpee, one of P. Daddy’s Hitmen, leaving miss All Money Is Legal a particularly easy job holding the fort. Literally all she does or needs to do to make this work is exist.

Heard It All  has Jay-Z more or less dissing the shit out of Amil over a mellow acoustic guitar-laced Just Blaze co-production, until she herself gets to perform the cliché’d “female view on pimpin'” on the third verse, poorly. Which is quite amusing, mostly because reality would imitate the proceedingings of this song shortly after the release of this album.

Best tracks
Quarrels
4 da Fam

Recommendations
A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal) left me entirely blasé, and likely so will it you. Nevertheless the two above songs are okay enough to warrant a purchase off iTunes, Spotift or Amazon. Just don’t listen to the rest of this album.

 


Nelly – Country Grammar

Nelly
Country Grammar
June 27, 2000
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
065/100
Front

1. Intro (performed by Cedric the Entertainer) // 2. St. Louie // 3. Greed, Hate, Envy // 4. Country Grammar (Hot Shit) // 5. Steal the Show (performed by St. Lunatics) // 6. Interlude (performed by Cedric the Entertainer) // 7. Ride With Me (feat. City Spud) // 8. E.I. // 9. Thicky Thick Girl (feat. Murphy Lee & Ali) // 10. For My (feat. Lil Wayne) // 11. Utha Side // 12. Tho Dem Wrappas // 13. Wrap Sumden // 14. Batter Up (feat. Murphy Lee & Ali) // 15. Never Let ‘Em C U Sweat (feat. the Teamsters) // 16. Luven Me // 17. Outro (performed by Cedric the Entertainer)

Few rapper have recieved as much love from pop audiences and simultaneously as much hate from the hip-hop community as Cornell Haynes, jr. did. He’s rivaled only by a handful, including Ja Rule, P. Daddy, Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer in this department. In fact he pissed off hip-hop grand elder KRS-One to such a degree with his debut album that a beef followed. But we’ll get to that when we’ll get to that.

Country Grammar was the solo debut album by the St. Louis, Missouri rapper. It should be noted that Nelly takes a lot of pride in hs hometown, namechecks it numerously and uses a lot of local slang in his rapping, creating a style that is unashamedly country as opposed to hip-hop’s urban original incarnations. In other words, not only was this hip-hop thing staying, it was spreading land inwards.

It sold over ten million copies in the U.S.A. alone, produced many hit singles instantaneously making him a household name in hip-hop and pop as well (Pop isn’t really a genre, is it?) leading to him scoring guest appearances on R&B and rap songs alike. He actually fit onto the radio-songs seamlessly due to his sing-songy flow, which sounded a bit like Ja Rule without the throat infection.

This melodious exuberant flow coupled with incessantly materialistic rhymes got him a following but it also got him unflattering critiques from peers and fans of the genre alike, who though he was more of an R&B artist than anything else. And although there’s certainly more harmony to his flow than was usual in the pre-autotune era he has a distinct hip-hop swagger and enough rhythm in his delivery to justify caling him a rapper, than you very much.

Now we’ve gotten that out of the way: Another thing people seem dislike about the man is that there’s not much substance to his lyrics. Now here the haters are on to something, Nelly songs are all about getting paid, getting laid, getting drunk, getting high, be it on life or on weed, with the occasional interlude of gloopy mawkish romanticism. So knowledge isn’t something you’ll come across on Country Grammar. It’s not that big a deal for what is ostensibly a pop artist. And he’s rather self-conscious about it too. Unlike Ja Rule, who tried and failed miserably at maintaining a level of street credibility  while sing-rhyming his way through beats that were glossier than Vogue magazine paper Nelly more or less embraces that he is a pop star first and foremost, and unlike martyr-complexed Jeffrey Atkins he actually manages to have some fun with it, rendering most of his work a guilty pleasure whereas Ja oft comes across as… well, guilty as charged with several counts of horrible music making. (On an unrelated note; does anyone else find it funny that Ashanti ended up dating Nelly? No, just me then?)

Country Grammar is produced by Jason “JE” Epperson and City Spud, a member of Nelly’s St. Lunatics posse, who give Nelly a St. Louis take on New Orleans funk to rap over. The album has a smooth, throbbing, sexy feel from start to finish with Nelly maintaining enough stamina to keep it from going off prematurely and going flaccid.

This album has its share of textbook pop/rap classic singles too. Ride With Me is a breezy, acoustic guitar-driven celebration of excess unrivaled in its straightforwardness. (“Why do I live this way? Hey, it must be the money!”)The title track literally united a children’s clapping game with Mannie Fresh-like bounce-beats and it brought rural lingo to big city. E.I. is a synonym for oral sex and a freakfest of a song that has a beat that is both relaxing and tittilating. On Batter Up Nelly introduces his St. Lunatics crew to the masses over a slow-bouncing beat that facilitates their proclamation of dominance over the rap game via baseball metaphores.

Other highlights include the xylopone infused Lunatics posse-cut Wrap Sumden and the Lil Wayne feature For My, which reminds the listener Weezy was around before autotune and that his brains weren’t always too sizzurp-fried for him to make sense on the mic.

Country Grammar has its share of filler. One could easily trim away five of the non-singles randomly without the quality of the album dropping significantly. Thicky Thick Girl if not for any other reason than its godawful title, and Luven Me which sounds too much like obvious influence Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s Don’t Stop which samples the same source material, are most eligible for exclusion.

Concluding: Nelly tackles this rap thing with obvious skill and zero pretence. He has a knack for catchy hooks and his raps, while not complex, rest comfortably above industy average. Country Grammar is one long smooth ride down Route 66 without any true potholes, which would nevertheless be better off shorter.

Best tracks
Ride With Me
Country Grammar
E.I.
Batter Up
For My

Recommendations
If you you don’t take it too seriously you can have a lot of fun with Country Grammar on blast. If fun is what you seek, you should pick it up.


DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life (OST)

Various Artists
DJ Clue? Presents Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life (OST)
August 29, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
050/100
DJ Clue Presets Backstage Mixtape
1. Intro [Skit] // 2. Best of Me (Part 2) (Mýa feat. Jay-Z) // 3. In The Club (Beanie Sigel) // 4. Keep It Thorough (Prodigy) // 5. My Mind Right (Memphis Bleek) // 6. Who Did You Expect (the LOX) // 7. Wanna Take Me Back (T-Boz) // 8. Just Leave Your Love (Christión) // 9. Darlin’ (Rell) // 10. Millionaire (Hot Boys & Big Tymers) // 11. Road Dawgs (Amil, Eve, Da Brat & Jay-Z) // 12. Funkanella (Outkast, Killer Mike & Slimm Calhoun) // 13. Come and Get It (Redman & Lady Luck) // 14. Hate Music (Cam’ron & Juelz Santana) // 15. Gotta Be a Thug (Fabolous) // 16. Don’t Want Beef (Capene-N-Noreaga) // 17. Crime Life (Memphis Bleek, Lil’ Cease & Ja Rule) // 18. Say What You Want (Da Ranjahs & Ja Rule) // 19. People’s Court (Jay-Z)

The word “mixtape” is shown prominently on this album’s cover. Mixed bag would be accurate. DJ Clue? doesn’t perform a set, and unlike on his debut album The Professional he produces but one song here, for the rest of this disc he is relegated to “Shouting his own name” duties. “Music inspired by the movie” follows the word mixtape. That’s a lie too.

Not unlike what was the case with Streets Is Watching there’s not much of a movie to speak of that would “inspire” music. In fact Backstage is a documentary on the Hard Knock Life concert tour, which was headlined by Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man, Redman, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, Amil and DJ Clue? The documentary consisted mostly of interviews of rappers.

The most logical way of tying an album to a tour is by simply releasing a recording of one of the shows, unfortunately all live hip-hop albums suck balls. (I would say nearly all live hip-hop albums, but I have yet to hear an exception.)

Perhaps the most enjoyable way to go about this novelty release, which would’ve been inessential anyway would be to compile previously released hit-singles performed by the previously mentioned line-up of artists on the tour, such as Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life, DMX’s Slippin’, Redman’s I’ll Bee Dat! and Ja Rule’s Holla Holla. At least that way one could somewhat rightfully claim that Backstage: a Hard Knock Life was the music that inspired the movie and the disc would’ve been a nice Def Jam, class of ’99 yearbook.

In stead we are served what appears to be scraps and studio leftovers by artists who indiscriminately do or do not have anything to do with the tour, and may or may not have had supporting roles in the documentary (supporting interviews? What the hell?)

It’s not all bad though. In the Club has Beanie Sigel finally recording the Timbaland-helmed club banger that was so prominently absent from the Truth, and regardless of whether it was what you thought you wanted to hear from the guy, he does pull it off well. Keep It Thorough is Mobb Deep’s Prodigy’s finest solo song ever (although it can also be found on his solo debut H.N.I.C., sans Clue? shouting) Funkanella is a decent Dungeon Family posse cut and Millionaire has most of the contemporary Cash Money records roster (Juvenile, B.G., Birdman and Lil Wayne and others) doing their thing, for those who enjoy that sort of stuff.

Memphis Bleek and the LOX, Redman, Cam’ron, Fabolous, Ja Rule and a recently reunited Capone-N-Noreaga as well as a female rap-posse cosisting of Eve, Da Brat and Amil all put in work, with or without the aid of their subordinates, to various degrees of success, which makes sense I suppose, since they were all popular at the time. The Mýa song even has a decent excuse for appearing since it has a Jay-Z guest appearance, even if it and most of the rest of this music doesn’t need to be ever heard, let alone revisited.

What the likes of Rell, Christión da Ranjahs, T-Boz and Lil’ Cease are doing here is mystifying though. Even though the first three acts were on the Roc-a-Fella payroll at some point, they hadn’t been allowed into the studio for the recordings of any of the label’s recent memory projects (The TruthVol. 3). And Lil’ Cease, a dude who was an Notorious B.I.G. affiliate who never got to contribute to a Biggie album until the man was dead and powerless to stop him, and TLC’s T-Boz weren’t even signed to Def Jam anywhere in history.

Perhaps the Jiggaman gave Clue? the command to clean-out the Roc-a-Fella/ Def Jam vaults, as well as those of other record labels, just throw something together, slap the movie’s cover-photo on it and just release it already. Nowhere does this become more apparent than on one of the highlights, the album closer and Jigga solo-shot People’s Court where the man namedrops In My Lifetime, Vol. 2, which is most likely the album on which it was slated to appear. It was released some two years before this disc came out.

To sum it up: DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage: A Hard Knock Life Mixtape (Music Inspired by the Movie) is not a mixtape, doesn’t feature music inspired by the movie, doesn’t have so-called “DJ” Clue? doing anything DJ-like or useful otherwise, doesn’t feature the Jay-Z song Hard Knock Life, and doesn’t feature any music by Method Man, even though his face is featured on the cover.

Besides the shitloads of false-advertising there’s also the matter of what the listener actually gets on his plate; Most of the featured material is simply generic and doesn’t warrant any time, money or attention.

Best tracks
In the Club
Keep It Thorough
Funkanella
Don’t Want Beef
People’s Court

Recommendations
Look up the Beanie Sigel and solo Jay-Z songs and the CNN and OutKast songs, and let the rest be the rest. If you want to hear the Prodigy joint, which you should do, pick up the H.N.I.C.

Also on a somewhat unrelated note; pick up Sauce Money’s Middle Finger U.


Sauce Money – Middle Finger U

Sauce Money
Middle Finger U
May 23, 2000
Priority Records/ EMI
080/100
Sauce Money - Middle Finger U
1. Intro // 2. We Gonna Rock // 3. Love & War // 4. For My Hustlaz // 5. Middle Finger U // 6. Do You See (feat. Diddy & Pam) // 7. Face-Off 2000 (feat. Jay-Z) // 8. What’s That, Fuck That // 9. Chart Climbin’ // 10. Crime Skit // 11. Intruder Alert // 12. C My First (feat. Bam-Blue)// 13. Pre-Game (feat. Jay-Z)  // 14. Say Uncle // 15. Section 53, Row 78 (feat. Maverick) // 16. What’s My Name // 17. V1 [Skit] // 18. What We Do (feat. Memphis Bleek)

Sauce Money, a Jay-Z affiliate, and the guy who penned P. Daddy’s Notorious B.I.G. tribute “song” (and earnt a grammy for it years before he had his own album) by all means should’ve released his debut album on Roc-a-Fella Records (he was at some point signed to the label but never got more than a couple of singles released, all of ’em with Primo beats, all of ’em terrific.) If Memph Bleek’s album went gold solely because of Jigga’s marketing machine (and do not kid yourself, it did) then Sauce could’ve been a best-selling monster, especially because he actually has some talent behind the mic.

Sorry Bleek!

This in and by itself may have been the trouble between Sauce and Jigga, the guy had proven that he could at the very lease write a hit song, and unlike most Roc-a-Fella interns (said Bleek, Amil, da Ranjahs, Kanye West) Sauce actually rivaled the Jiggaman in terms of rapping skill, so he might become too powerful to control, if he were ever to fullfill his potential, something Shawn Carter never had to worry about before or since, even with his most talented subordinate so far; Beanie Sigel. (Well maybe Kanye, but he’s not so much a rapper as a pop star.) But perhaps Sauce may just not have wanted his friendly and artistic relationship with Jay to turn into a business one, since being on your friends’ payroll can be a bitch. I don’t expect Jigga to drop any clues about this particular subject and with Sauce’s face being on New York milkcartons I doubt we’ll ever hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing  but the truth on this subject. It must be said that I’ve never heard of Jay-Z and Sauce Money beefing. In stead of going out like that Sauce’s career sory goes: Did guest verses on each of Jay-Z’s first three albums, dropped Middle Finger U without even his mother picking up a copy, proceeded to disappear off the face of the earth.

Enough with the hip-hop conspiracy theories, Sauce got signed to Priority Records, which may not have been the up and coming Roc-a-Fella but also wasn’t the crumbling Bad Boy Records, and recorded and released his debut album, today still his only album in existence; Middle Finger U to an audience of tumbleweeds, in may 2000. Apparently, most Puff Diddy fans do not actually read liner notes, because Middle Finger U certainly didn’t do I’ll Be Missing You numbers (luckily it doesn’t sound anything like that mawkish piece of fuckery either) Jay-Z’s fans apparently didn’t run to the stores to pick it up either, and that‘s a bloody shame because it’s in fact a pretty good, well-rounded album that has something to offer to most demographics without sounding forcedly over the map, not unlike most Jay-Z albums.

Sauce raps conversationally, much like his much more famous fellow Marcy Projects inhabitant. Unlike billionaire icy playboy Jay-Z however Sauce is a funny guy, cracking jokes and throwing humourous threats and punchlines to the listener throughout Middle Finger U. The mood varies from celebratory on the Frank Stallone-sampling For My Hustaz, to mournful on Section 53 Row 78, an euology of his late mother, with everything sounding good enough and making sense.

It would seem that Sauce mostly had the streets in mind rather than the pop-charts, which isn’t to say that this album is inaccessible or hard core, but the R&B hooks and the poppy beats are kept to a minimum, and when they do pop up they’re accompanied by a guest, such as Do You See which is actually more of a Sean Combs joint featuring Sauce, immediately following it is Face off 2000 a poppy, light-footed duet with Jay-Z about bagging chicks, that is a sequel to Face Off off In My Lifetime, vol. 1.

The production is being handled by Jay-Z veterans such as DJ Premier, Super DJ Clark Kent, Big Jaz, Bad Boy hitmen Prestige and Puff Diddy, old school legend Marley Marl and relative unknowns Spencer Bellamy and Mr. Rapture who all knock out serviceable backing tracks for Sauce to flow over, and he doesn’t put ’em to waste. Off course Puff and Jay pop up to provide guest verses, so does Memphis Bleek. But this is undoubtably Sauce’s show, not only taking up almost all of the mic time but keeping up with Jigga and destroying P. Daddy and Memph Bleek on impact (no surprises there.)

Chart Climbin’ has a Big Jaz instrumental consisting of some rhythmic piano keys and some funky organs that are driven in on the chorus. Intruder Alert is Sauce’s take on the Notorious B.I.G. Warning, and although it’s not quite as good as that classic song it comes close. What’s My Name could actually go toe-to-toe with the better NaS/ DJ Premier, Jay-Z/ DJ Premier and B.I.G./ DJ Premier collabo’s. (Even if it is apparently produced by Mr. Rapture who doesn’t appear to have ever worked outside of this album, apparently Middle Finger U is the soundtrack to more than one career ending prematurely.)

On Section 53 Row 78 Mr. Rapture jacks the instrumental of 2pac’s Pain off the cassette version of the Death Row released soundtrack of Above the Rim for Sauce to talk about his late mother to great effect, creating what sounds like one of the the moody contemplative tracks Jay-Z used to close his albums with.

As much greatness is to be found here there are some songs that miss the mark.

What’s That, Fuck That sounds like a Resevoir Dogs-aping instrumental (the Jay-Z song off the In My Lifetime, vol. 3 on which Sauce, as well as the LOX and Beanie Sigel appeared, not the the Tarantino movie) courtesy of legendary producer Marley Marl, who weaves a Jay-Z vocal sample into the beat that’ll have you hanging on to your seat, but not in a good way since it is placed so that you’ll constantly believe Jigga is about to drop in for a verse (which never happens.) and it is so goddamn distracting it renders the whole song unlistenable. C My 1s has Sauce dueting female rapper Bam-Bue (yeay, me neither) over a terrible Spencer Bellamy beat in such an aggravating manner that it makes this reviewer wish the people at EMI would’ve saved this song for her imaginary debut album. The Prestige/ P. Diddy produced Do You See? which features the shiny suit man himself and Pam from Bad Boy records R&B group Total has a beat that is so bland, soulless and high-gloss that it’s a miracle that Sauce doesn’t slip off the beat, if not off the song entirely (not Puffy though, he’s kinda in his comfort zone here).

Middle Finger is the album we would’ve had if Jay followed In My Lifetime, vol. 1 with more of the same stuff we got to hear on his first two albums rather than hook up with Timbaland and Swizzy for the hit-or-miss experimental production of Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. This is far from surprising since Sauce seems to have dusted off some of the producers that Jigga stopped working on on Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 such as Clark Kent, DJ Premier, Big Jaz and Puff Daddy (where the fuck is DJ Ski?). Middle Finger U is an overlooked classic that should be revisited by those who enjoy the mid-to-late ’90s hip-hop sound. This dated-at-the-time-of-its release-but-vintage-today sound also helps explain why, despite being of high quality it never became that popular; By 2000 hip-hop as a whole, not the least Jay-Z himself, had moved on to other, more electronic sounds and Middle Finger U may have sounded like the aural equivalent of dinosaur to contemporary pop and rap audiences. Also, only one single was released, which is pretty poor marketing and puts this album in the we-have-no-follow-up-plans-for-this-guy’s-carreer-so-let’s-release-this- record-as tax-write-off category.

Hence: If it were released one to three years sooner, and promoted better upon release, it would be quite likely for Sauce Money to become a household name with one or several platinum plaques under his belt.

Alas, he wasn’t ment to be a star, or even to have a lukewarm indie-label career (meaning putting out shitty releases every year gobbled up by a small but loyal cult following.) But that doesn’t change a damn thing about the fact that Sauce Money and his album Middle Finger U are uncut dope.

Best tracks
For My Hustlaz
Middle Finger
Face Off 2000
Chart Climbin’
Intruder Alert
Section 53 Row 78
What’s My Name

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Beanie Sigel – The Truth

Beanie Sigel
The Truth
February 9, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
070/100
Beanie Sigel - The Truth
1. The Truth // 2. Who Want What (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 3. Raw & Uncut (feat. Jay-Z) // 4. Mac Man // 5. Playa (feat. Amil & Jay-Z) // 6. Everybody Wanna Be a Star // 7. Remember Them Days (feat. Eve) // 8. Stop, Chill // 9. Mac & Brad (feat. Scarface) // 10. What a Thug About // 11. What Ya Life Like // 12. Ride 4 My //13. Die // 14. Anything (performed by Jay-Z)

Spit like August
I’m “the Truth” I’m not lying

I’m the reason why Jay feel comfortable retiring.

That line taken from Sigel’s guest verse on Jigga’s Pop 4 Roc is both a pretty straightforward announcement of this album hitting stores soon and quite the claim indeed. Considering Jay-Z was and is considered one of New York’s finest rappers, and Sigel, well… at that time nobody actually knew who he was. But let’s be honest; If Jay ever were to deliver on his threat to retire it wouldn’t be because motherfucking Mempis Bleek could hold down Roc-a-Fella records in his absence (Sorry Bleek!)

Sigel first made some noise appearing on Jay-Z’s Resevoir Dogs, as well as songs by Memphis Bleek, Puff Diddy and the Roots. Hailing from Philadelphia he was one of the first non-New York artists on Roc-a-Fella, and certainly the first one to get to release an album there paving the way for a certain Kanye West, who supplies his first Roc-a-Fella production contribution here, but was still years away from a rap career.

Jay’s Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter had already seen the Roc moving away somewhat from the pop-rap sounds that had made Vol. 1Vol. 2 and to a lesser extent Memphis Bleek’s Coming of Age hit albums. But The Truth takes this movement to the next level and likes to pretend the R&B charts don’t exist. There’s zero R&B hooks and no expensive-ass Timbaland/ Swizz Beatz club tracks making this an album one for hip-hop heads only. In fact, one can easily imagine Jigga hearing the final product, panicking about who the hell would buy a rap-album without lame-ass pop concessions and included his own Oliver!-sampling  mediocre-ass Hard Knock Life-reprise Anything as a bonus-track, in a final attempt to seduce the ladies into buying The Truth.

The album features thirteen tracks (not counting Anything because Beans ain’t got shit to do with it) produced by a myriad of producers. In the hands of a less capable rapper this would lead to a sonic chaos. But Sigel pulls it together with his snarling, agressive style somewhat reminiscent of Ice Cube at his most angry. Unlike Coming of Age The Truth isn’t an amateur’s rendition of In My Lifetime, Vol. 1Kicking off with the early Kanye production/ title track Beans grabs the listener by the throat with his sheer intensity. He’s not a technichian the way Jay-Z is, his flows are relatively simple compared to those of his boss, rather it’s the way he makes one feel his words. Finding highlights is hard since Sigel couldn’t be bothered to cater to the radio, one should rather take the Truth as a whole. Nevertheless; Raw & Uncut may be the umpteenth song comparing hip-hop music to some narcotic but Beans seems invested enough in his performance, the blaxploitation-inspired beat is nice and groovy. It also has a nice back-and-forth going on between our host and the guy who signs his paychecks. (No such luck with the Memph Bleek-duet Who Want What, what with Roc-a-Fella production neophyte Just Blaze giving Sigel his impression of a Swizz Beat, or the Amil-feature Playa that comes thisclose to being a radio song, lacking only listenability. It truly seems that the only people with talent in on the Roc-a-Fella payroll at this time were Jay and Sigel) An even better match for Sigel to duet here is Houston rap-vetaran Scarface who gets down with our host on the simply titled Mac & Brad over an understated instrumental. The fact that Beans holds his own here is definitely proof the man is no joke. The only complaint I can come up with here is that they fade out the track while Face is still rapping, the fuck? But arguably Beans is best served solo. The title track, Stop, ChillWhat a Thug AboutWhat Your Life Like and Die are the must succesful showcases of Sigel’s gangsta raps served neat, with no ice. Especially the latter on which the man contemplates what violent, unpleasant way he’ll meet his maker given that death is certain and he lives the gangsta lifestyle, over an atypically mournful Prestige beat.

As good as these highlights are it’s not all good here. Remember them Days has a cotton candy of an instrumental and puts three perfectly seviceable Beans verses and a meh Eve hook to waste. Mac Man is a overly gimmicky shitstorm with it’s video game sample (guess which one!) and then there’s the previously mentioned Roc-a-Fella guest appearances on Who Want What and Playa.

But if you kept count you’ll have noticed that the good mostly outways the bad here, and Sigel more or less gives off the idea that although Jay’s crown would be a bit too heavy for him (Beans could never maintain a constant charts presence like Jigga man has been doing from ’96 ’til now.) But there’s no doubt he could keep the Roc relevant in the absence of Shawn Carter.

Unfortunately for our host things wouldn’t end up remotely like that, but that story is for another day.

Best tracks
The Truth
Raw & Uncut
Stop, Chill
Mac & Brad
What a Thug About
What Your Life Like
Die

Recommendations
Pick this one up.