Category Archives: 2001

John Mayer – Room For Squares

John Mayer
Room For Squares
June 5, 2001
Aware RecordsColumbia RecordsSME
055/100
John Mayer - Room For Squares
1. No Such Thing // 2. Why Georgia // 3. My Stupid Mouth // 4. Your Body Is a Wonderland // 5. Neon // 6. City Love // 7. 83 // 8. 3X5 // 9. Love Song for No One // 10. Back to You // 11. Great Indoors // 12. Not Myself // 14. St. Patrick’s Day

John Mayer is a rather controversial figure. Depending on whom you ask about him you may get aswers that range musically from guitar-strummy coffee house music-wimp to blues god in the making, and personally from douchebag lothario shagging his way through as many Hollywood debutantes as possible to an entertainingly sober individual with a healthy sense of humour about his celebrity status.

They’re all true to different degrees, depending on what stage of Mayer’s career you’re checking out. With his major-label debut Room For Squares, which recycles five songs from his EP Inside Wants Out, we get a blend of all of them, but the music backing his phlegmatic tenor mostly push this in the coffeehouse wimp territory and the album’s biggest hit, the Grammy awarded Your Body’s a Wonderland, is a prime piece of douchebag lotharionism or a practical joke on the listener, or perhaps both even.

Still for what it’s worth Mayer plays the roll of ‘that boring dick with the guitar that gets the girls to swoon’ with skill and gusto and proves himself to be a pretty skilled songwriter in the process. The opening number No Such Thing is the joint for those who were complete nonfactors in high school but were never that angsty or depressed about it and have since bounced back.
My Stupid Mouth is a potential anthem for those who accidentally call the uncalled for and fuck up socially because of it, and Your Body Is a Wonderland may be everything she needs to hear to give it up already in one neat little package, but it’s still gentle and full of wonder enough to not be the R. Kelly song it for better or worse could‘ve been. It’s also the only thing on here that contains any sort of subject matter that might get any of the young ladies that follow John Mayer’s career to blush because it elaborately talks about fucking, sort of. Apparently John for the time being took his own My Stupid Mouth to heart because all of the other material is so clean it squeaks.
Other highlights are the jazzy nighttime infatuation ride of Neon and the breezy celebration of off-and-on relationships that is Back to You. All of these are skilfully written with attention to detail, but thanks to their production even they all sound alike. Apparently producer John Alagia (of Dave Matthews band fame) is not a fan of risk-taking and Mayer’s later characteristic bluesy guitar playing is left out of this album entirely in favour of poppy jazz lite and folk lite stylings, which may not sound bad but also aren’t remotely memorable. ’83 and 3X5 are so lacklustre this reviewer can’t remember jacques merde about them despite having heard Room for Squares several times in its entirety. That goes for all the songs not mentioned as well.

Room For Squares is promising in that it doesn’t completely suck but isn’t that good either. It’s basically what a Norah Jones album from the same time would’ve sound like if Jones was a guy. Still despite the fact that the presentation is entirely lukewarm a handful of these songs are fairly good and that gives off the promise that Mayer could be an interesting artist if backed by a more engaging sound and let his hair down a little.

Best tracks
No Such Thing
Why Georgia
My Stupid Mouth
Your Body Is a Wonderland
Neon
Back to You

Recommendations
Don’t bother with this one. Chances are these songs can be found a lot more alive-sounding on one of Mayer’s live-albums, or on his acoustic debut EP Inside Wants Out even.

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St. Lunatics – Free City

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

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

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

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

Avoid this album at all costs.

Best tracks
Scandalous
Groovin’ Tonight
Love You So

Recommendations
Don’t bother.


Fabolous – Ghetto Fabolous

Fabolous
Ghetto Fabolous
September 11, 2001
Desert Storm Records/ Elektra Records/ WMG
050/100
Fabolous - Ghetto Fabolous
1. Click & Spark // 2. Keepin’ It Gangsta // 3. Young’n (Holla Back) // 4. Get Right // 5. Ride For This (feat. Ja Rule) // 6. One Day // 7. Trade It All (feat. Jagged Edge) // 8. Right Now & Later On // 9. Take You Home (feat. Lil’ Mo) // 10. Get Smart // 11. Can’t Deny It (feat. Nate Dogg) // 12. Ma’ Be Easy // 13. We Don’t Give a Fuck // 14. Bad Guy (feat. Pain in Da Ass) // 15. Gotta Be a Thug // 16. If They Want It

Another rap album that dropped on that uneventful date (september 11, 2001) was Roc-a-Fella Records’ house DJ, DJ Clue?’s protégé Fabolous’ Ghetto Fabolous, although the fact that this shit actually came out may have done more damage than the 9/11 attacks. Fabolous’ debut is anything but fab, although I’ll be the first to admit that the man himself is almost entirely blameless.

Fab had been making a name for himself ever since he first appeared on a major label realease (DJ Clue?’s own major label debut the Professional) with his lackadasical, monotone flow (which got him compared to blingy cuddly-gangsta turned preacher Ma$e) and his funny/corny punchlines (which got him compared, a lot more flatteringly, to the likes of Big L)
The album had two songs that were moderately succesful on the U.S. charts back in 2001 (Can’t Deny It and Young’n (Holla Back)) but there’s really only one single sort of, kind of related to this album that people occasionally still listen to, which is the glossy Puff Diddy-featuring remix of Trade It All released on the soundtrack to the Ice Cube movie Barbershop.

Still this album could be considered a commercial success since it had moved over a million units by 2003, which was the time Fabby started having some real charts success with singles off his sophomore album, on which he emulated Ja Rule (who makes an appearance on Ghetto Fabolous), romantically dueting female R&B singers Lil’ Mo and Tamia over bootylicious beats.
Except unlike Jeffrey Fab brought his punchlines with him to these radio songs and knew better than to sing the refrains on his own material and in stead let the hired help do that. This is probably what saved him from the sort of riducule Ja would endure as soon as the hit songs stopped coming.
But I digress, suffice to say that this album earned its platinum plaque probably not because of its own merits, but rather because his 2003 album Street Dreams hit the jackpot and people in record stores (yes people bought actual physical copies of music they liked in stores, as late as 2003) picked this one up since they were there and expected Ghetto Fabolous to be another album of Into Yous and Can’t Let You Gos. I’m sure the people who bought Ghetto Fabolous for this reason women were pissed when they actually listened to it. (Street Dreams itself was hardly all acoustic guitars and Commodores-interpolations either, but we’ll get to that soon enough.)

Clue? and his cohort DURO, his colleague mixtape jackass DJ Envy, as well as relative unknowns Rush da Spyda, Omen, Armando Colon produce most of Ghetto Fabolous, and they don’t do a particularly good job, serving up overly glossy store brand imitations of what East Coast hip-hop tended to sound like at the time, that are too clean to be hard and too incomplete to be poppy (somewhat sketchy beats are what marred the first two installments of Clue?’s the Professional series. And it’s no different here.)
Surprisingly the Neptunes contribution and second single Youngn (Holla Back) is boring as hell too. I’m quite confident Pharrell and Chad don’t remember having ever made it. Maybe Clue? stole it out of their reject-bin while the guys were having an argument.
Get RightMa’ Be Easy and Right Now and Later On‘s beats were made on sleep walking strolls too, except this time by Rockwilder, Just Blaze and Timbaland respectively.
Can’t Deny It has Rick Rock selling Fab the exact same boring-ass beat he reused several times on most of his Dynasty contributions (I bet he charged full price too) while the usually reliable Nate Dogg jacks an old 2pac hook over it to meh results.

The other guests don’t add much either, Ja Rule gives Ride For This a DMX-esque overly shouty hook.
Lil’ Mo does that early naughties thing where an R&B singer jacks an old hook of a soul song (In this case I Wonder If I Take You Home by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam and Full Force) and goes out of his/her way to gangsta it’s lyrics up (In this case by unnaturally jamming the word “thug” into it). Yuck.
Speaking of uninspired, unneccesary gangstaness; Bad Guy has Roc-a-Fella skit-personality getting his bullshit Scarface on between Fab’s verses. It wasn’t funny on Reasonable Doubt and it still wasn’t on Ghetto Fabolous.

The only exception to this is Jagged Edge who give Fabby’s ode to a special lady a sunny hook over an uncharacteristically nice Clue?/DURO beat. It’s not quite as groovy as the Barbershop version, but it comes close and it compensates by not having that wack P. Daddy verse. Regardless it’s Ghetto Fabolous best song, hands down, it’s also the most pop (coincidence?)

As for Fab’s rapping, he is obviously a more than competent punchline rapper, one not devoid of pop appeal either, which is something Canibus or Big L can’t say about themselves. That’s not to say he doesn’t make any beginners mistakes. For instance he all but reuses the same outdated (it wasn’t even fresh in ’01 when Ghetto Fabolous dropped) New Jack City punchline on the album’s first two songs. Also the guy uses the same “swallow my babies” line on two of this album’s songs. This kind of fuckery makes Clue? come across as a sloppy executive producer and Fab as an uninspired rapper. Keeping in line with the corny movies-references; Leathal Weapon gets namedropped on Keeping It Gangsta as well. Not that referencing old movies is a major offence in and by itself (Although rappers, including Fab on this album, definitely overdid it with the Scarface-enacting. And the next rapper who goes and pulls that shit on his album needs to get his recording contract torn-up. One could quote the entire movie verbatim without having ever seen it if one has heard enough rap albums from the ’95-’05 timespan.), but as a running theme it makes it seem as though Fabby hadn’t entered a cinema in the decade prior to relesing his debut album, in which case movie-references may not be a good idea at all.
While he stays on beat and doesn’t fuckup majorly that often besides the minor offences dropping the occasional cheesy clunker of a punchline and tired gangsta’ism, but over these shitty beats he sounds like a complete tool, even if he simultaneously does show his ability to write actual songs as opposed to srings of bad jokes while keeping his style consistent, which isn’t exactly a given with rappers, especially punchline rappers.

Despite Fab having considerable talents there is absolutely no reason to revisit Ghetto Fabolous, an album that gives off a promise of a pretty decent sequel on the condition that the guy cops some proficient production, but has absoloutely nothing else going for it.

Best track
Trade It All

Recommendations
Don’t bother.


Jay-Z – The Blueprint

Jay-Z
The Blueprint
September 11, 2001
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
085/100
Jay-Z - The Blueprint
1. The Ruler’s Back // 2. Takeover // 3. Izzo (H.O.V.A.) // 4. Girls, Girls, Girls (feat. Q-Tip, Slick Rick & Biz Markie) // 5. Jigga That Nigga // 6. U Don’t Know // 7. Hola’ Hovito (feat. Timbaland) // 8. Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love) // 9. Never Change (feat. Kanye West) // 10. Song Cry // 11. All I Need // 12. Renegade (feat. Eminem) // 13a. Blueprint (Momma Loves Me) / 13b. Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise) / 13c. Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2] (feat. Michael Jackson)

Released on the same date as the WTC attacks, september 11, 2001, Jay-Z’s fifth solo album of original material (sixth if you count The Dynasty: Roc la Familia as a Jay-Z solo album, which you definitely shouldn’t) sold tonnes of copies and recieved the kind of critical acclaim the Jiggaman  hadn’t seen since he dropped Reasonable Doubt. In the immortal words of the Notorious B.I.G., Jay “[blew] up like the world trade” simultaneously with the World Trade actually blowing up.

Where on Vol. 1, 23 the man had gained mass success by employing the electronic club banger-creators Timbaland and Swizz Beatz and got jiggy with glossmasters the Trackmasters, Irv Gotti and Puff Diddy, and The Dynasty had seen him do something similar with West-coast stalwart Rick Rock and up-and-comers the Neptunes.
On the Blueprint however he elected to primairily work with Roc-a-Fella in-house producers Bink, Just Blaze and Kanye West, all three of whom were test-driven on albums by Jigga’s interns Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek (both of whom aren’t anywhere to be found on this album).
These men brought to the studio a somewhat RZA/Pete Rock/DJ Premier-inspired soul-sampling sound that was a lot sunnier and more radio friendly than any track any of those three seminal producers tend to lay down, but still was a far cry from P. Daddy or Irv Gotti’s squeaky clean disco beats, which helped the medicine go down with hip-hop heads and critics, while veteran Jay-Z producers Timbaland and the Trackmasters got one track each, and Eminem, the only guest vocalist who gets to touch on anything beyond a hook, gets to produce the song on which he appears.

Content-wise Jay talks about his own majesty (The Ruler’s Back), how much more succesful he is both commercially and artistically than NaS and Prodigy of Mobb Deep (Takeover), his prowess in courting the ladies (Girls, Girls, Girls), general boasting (Jigga That NiggaIzzo (H.O.V.A.)Hova’ Hovito) and how despite all this success he is still deep down a street hustler (Never Change) and running the hip-hop game (U Don’t Know).
To balance out these rather emotionally vapid, yet entertaining-as-fuck gangsta’isms he throws in a song about how he regrets negatively impacting the lives of those he loves (Song Cry).
Jay-Z had the golden ratio of a commercially succesful gangsta rap album down to a tee pretty much when he dropped Vol. 1. Club bangers (for the ladies) plus just violence and drugs to appease the streets (men) equals platinum sales. And Vol. 2 and 3. as well as the Blueprint all abide to the #oldrules. But these new musical surroundings, as well as challenges to a battle for the throne by NaS and Mobb Deep, appear to have brought Shawn Cory Carter renewed lyrical vigor, as well as the need to mostly have the recording booth to himself while creating the Blueprint (sorry Bleek!).

The resulting album truly is the very best thing this guy has released since his classic debut, and depending on your tastes this one might even be better.
On Reasonable Doubt Jigga was so focused on his lyrical and flowing techniques and the mafioso image he was trying to convey that he came off as a bit statuesque, especially when paired with an playful Notorious B.I.G. who at that point was the undisputed king of New York and thus had little to prove. It never seemed that there was much self-expression on that album and Jigga came off as a cold-hearted technocrat/mafioso/rapping machine.
Over the course of his next string of albums Jay learnt to let loose and have fun a bit recording songs (something NaS has yet to learn after 20+ years in the game, and probably never will), but since none of them but the Blueprint could remotely fuck with Reasonable Doubt production-wise it was only here and now it truly showed.
Basically by 2001 Jay had already snatched up the crown that B.I.G. used to rock via his success (he had once literally attempted to do so on the 1997 Teddy Riley-produced song The City Is Mine, and I say attempted, because it had fallen flat on its face because of it’s cotton candy beat. But a year later Hard Knock Life pretty much actually accomplished Shawn’s coup d’état). And the Blueprint was the consolidation of Hova’s reign over New York, if not the whole of hip-hop.

Izzo (H.O.V.A) had the final bit of the summer of 2001 on smash when it dropped in late august of that year. And for good reason. The celebratory Kanye beat samples the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back in a reasonably creative manner while the Jiggaman celebrates having made the American dream his reality.
Takeover takes apart NaS and Prodigy so ruthlessly efficiently over Kanye’s Fame interpolation (the David Bowie song, not the musical film) that I’m confident that despite this rap war being over ten years ago and having long since resolved, it pisses both artists today still when it comes up on hip-hop radio .
Girls, Girls, Girls marries a confident playa attitude with affection rather than misogyny and goes for broke lyrically over what is the most soulful, and some would say best, beat of the entire album, courtesy of Just Blaze, with light support of three old school legends on the hook (speaking of old school legends, Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2] which appears as a hidden bonus track on the tail end of the album has an uncredited backing vocal by the late Michael Jackson, returning the favour after Jay appeared on the Trackmasters Remix of You Rock My World)
U Don’t Know has Hova refuting the claim (made by a sped-up vocal sample) that he doesn’t have a master plan in this rap game (as if anyone ever doubted it) and it’s a hustler anthem for the ages.
Song Cry manages to humanise this rap god by having him openly discuss his regrets and insecurities, which helps make it easier for people to root for the guy.

Unsurprisingly the album’s low points are those produced by Timbaland, Trackmasters and Eminem, unsurprising because, as expected, they don’t fit the sped-up ’60s/’70s soul theme and because they rely on gimmicks (though arguably Kanye’s chipmunk soul was a bit of a gimmick too) Jigga That Nigga incorporates bolywood sounds and Hola’ Hovito as Timbaland Having the balls to jump on the latin bandwagon that was a thing around the turn of the millenium. And the freedom-of-speech plea Renegade was better off as the Em-Royce collabo it originally was since Bad Meets Evil unlike Jigga actually racked up controversy with their lyrical content.
But even these songs are pretty entertaining by their own right. It’s not as though they are sucky or anything, it is just that they have the musfortune of sharing an album with a bunch of undisputed classics.

the Blueprint is spotless, and with a lot of derivative albums coming out following its release (not least its very own sequels created by Jay himself) it does its name justice. It is also the argument that convinced this reviewer that Jay-Z, not NaS was the best rapper on the East-Coast in 2001.

Best tracks
Takeover
Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
Girls, Girls, Girls
U Don’t Know
Song Cry
Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)
Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2]

Recommendations
Pick this one up, a.s.a.p.


Beanie Sigel – The Reason

Beanie Sigel
The Reason
June 26, 2001
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
075/100
Beanie Sigel - The Reason
1. Nothing Like It // 2. Beanie Mack (Bitch) // 3. So What You Saying (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 4. Get Down // 5. I Don’t Do Much // 6. For My Niggas (feat. Daz Dillinger) // 7. Watch Your Bitches // 8. Think It’s a Game (feat. Freeway, Young Chris & Jay-Z) // 9. Man’s World // 10. Gangsta, Gangsta (feat. Kurupt) // 11. Tales of a Hustler (feat. Omilio Sparks) // 12. Mom Praying (feat. Scarface) // 13.Still Got Love For You (feat. Jay-Z & Rell) // 14. What Your Life Like 2

While there remains a strong case for the allegations that Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter was a horrible label boss when it’s gangsta rap that was concerned, with proof found in albums such as Memphis Bleek’s Coming of Age and The Understanding and Amil’s A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal), also taking into consideration how good the ROC’s output could‘ve been, e.g.: Sauce Money’s Middle Finger U, there was at one point at the very least one rapper, other than the Jiggaman himself, with both talent behind the microphone and a Roc-a-Fella Record deal.

That rapper, ladies and gentlemen, is Beanie Sigel whose debut album the Truth also went gold solely because of the Roc-a-Fella records logo and because the back-cover said it featured Jay-Z on several songs (one song titled Anything even featured jay-Z by himself, with not a trace of Beans to be found, in a desperate attempt to sell Beans to Jigga’s audience that may or may not have worked.) but in Sigel’s case I can live with that outcome, because unlike Bleek, Sigel is a talent that deserves to be heard.

His second album featured production by some of the relatively new Roc-a-Fella hot-shots Just Blaze and some cat who goes by the name of Kanye West, both of whom brought a new, smooth, classic soul-sampling sound to hip-hop making the Reason a prototype of sorts for Jay-Z’s career re-establishing album the Blueprint (somehow I think there’s a pun in there). Other people who contributed beats were Rick Rock, the miscast West-Coast veteran who worked on the Bleek-Sigel-Jigga triumvirate-album The Dynasty: ROC La Familia, and gets to collect a cheque for turning in his first few failed attempts at creating the not-very-good Change the Game-beat that Sigel had rocked over twice already anyway, on I Don’t Do Much and For My Niggas. Also future G-Unit label president Sha Money XL brings in an instrumental. Besides the previously mentioned Rick Rock-produced songs, and Man’s World and Still Got Love For You which suffer from over-familiar samples being used, all the beats sound fresh.

Guests include Kurupt and Daz on seperate tracks, both of whom had collaborated with the ROC not long before on Jay-Z’s Change the Game [Remix], usual Roc suspects Bleek and Jay-Z, Sigel’s State Property cronies Freeway, Young Chris and Omilio Sparks and Houston-rap veteran, and Sigel’s good friend Scarface. With the exception of Kurupt and Daz, whose verses I cannot recall existing, everyone justifies his presence, and with the guests and the beats being mostly pretty good, all this album needs is Sigel rising up to the challenge of bypassing the imfamous the sophomore slump. Spoiler alert: he more than does.

Having listened to the Reason it is safe to say that Beans had upped his game a bit since the Truth. While that album got by well enough because of the man’s rugged persona and his expert lyrics, it was a bit boring flow-wise. While on the Reason he still isn’t entering NaS or Jay-Z territory he does play around with his flow a little more without dropping the ball, while maintaining the qualities that had him make the Truth such an entertaining album. It’s marginal progress that makes all the difference, and coupled with the new sounds it makes the Reason a better, more interesting album.

Highlights include the vintage Kanye production of Nothing Like It which opens the album, the rowdy Just Blaze-produced-club banger and lead single Beanie Mack (Bitch), and the old-school/P funk-tinged Bleek-collabo So What You Saying, on which Bleek sounds a lot better than on any track of either of his first two solo-albums. The blaxploitation funk-infused pimp-anthem Watch Your Bitches picks up the steam after the lacklustre I Don’t Do Much. And on Think It’s a Game our host and his State Property-boys show why exactly they were signed to the ROC by displaying chemistry with Hov himself. On the knocking Kanye West-produced Gangsta, Gangsta Sigel is joined by fellow philedelphian rapper Kurupt who only appears on the hook, which given his post-Death Row track-record of mostly horrible verse may have been a pretty good idea.

Omilio Sparks, who fullfilled a similarly useless roll as Kurupt did on Gangsta, Gangsta, on Jay-Z’s I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me) proves that he’s good for more than meh half-hooks on his verse on Tales of a Hustler, which along with Think It’s a Game makes this reviewer enthousiastic about checking out State Property’s group-debut.

On all these tracks Sigel is the confident gangsta who will rob you at gunpoint, and for those of you who are into that sort of thing Sigel plays the roll well. But for those who want a little humanity with their sex and violence there’s the the emotional sequel to one of the better tracks off his debut in What Your Life Like 2, the Scarface-collabo Mom Crying and (if you’re not sick and tired of rappers rhyming over that exact same Isaac Hayes’ Ike’s Mood 1 loop everytime you play a hip-hop album released during the last twenty years) the sequel to (and the semi-apology for) Where Have You Been which was a middle finger to Sigel and Jay-Z’s absentee fathers, and arguably the best song on The Dynasty: ROC la Familia.

The Reason just barely falls short of being a textbook classic, but at the time it was a more entertaining album than any Jay-Z album since In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 had been, which may have made it one of the more important reasons (no pun intended) for Jay-Z stepping his game up on the Blueprint. And if you’re a fan of unapolagetic, no-frills, well-made gangster rap then forget about that slightly overrated album , which you’ve probably heard in abundance, for just a minute and pick up the massively underrated the Reason, for it will not disappoint you.

Best tracks
Nothing Like It
Beanie Mack (Bitch)
So What You Saying
Watch Your Bitches
Think It’s a Game
Tales of a Hustler
Mom Prayin
What Your Life Like 2

Recommendations
Buy this album.


DJ Clue? – The Professional 2

DJ Clue?
The Professional 2
Februari 27, 2001
Desert Storm RecordsRoc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
055/100
DJ Clue - The Professional 2
1. Intro (Diddy) // 2. Back to Life 2001 (Mary J. Blige & Jadakiss) // 3. Jay-Z Freestyle (Jay-Z) // 4. Who’s Next (DMX) // 5. Coming For You (Beanie Sigel & Freeway) // 6. Fantastic 4 [Part 2] (the LOX, Cam’ron, Nature & Fabolous) // 7. Getting It (Busta Rhymes & Rah Digga) // 8. C.R.E.A.M. 2001 (Raekwon & Ghostface Killah) // 9. What the Beat (Method Man, Eminem & Royce da 5’9′) // 10. Lil’ Mo Interlude (Lil’ Mo) // 11. Fuck a Bitch (Kurupt & Snoop Dogg) // 12. Change the Game [Remix] (Jay-Z feat. Tha Dogg Pound, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Static Major) // 13. My Niggaz Dem (Trick Daddy & Trina) // 14. Live from the Bridge (NaS) // 15. So Hot (Foxy Brown) // 16. Chinatown (Junior M.A.F.I.A.) // 17. Bathgate Freestyle (Bathgate) // 18. M.A.R.C.Y. (Memphis Bleek & Geda K) // 19. I Don’t Care (Capone-N-Noreaga) // 20. The Best of Queens (It’s Us) (Mobb Deep) // 21. Red (Redman) // 22. Dangerous (Lady Luck & DJ Muggs) // 23. Phone Patch (Ty Shaun)

If nothing else this album delivers on the promise its title makes in the sense that this is an industry gathering of people the absolute majority of whom, at the time of this album’s release at least, were rapping for a living. This is professional rap music. For this major label appropriation of his mixtape concept DJ Clue? drummed up most of 2001’s urban music industry heavyweights. Including new york’s elite (NaS, Mobb Deep, DMX, Cam’ron, Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Mary J. Blige, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Capone-N-Noreaga and his label boss Jay-Z) who in turn brought with them their subordinates (Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Geda K, the LOX, Rah Digga, Foxy Brown, Nature), some hotshots from outside of NYC (Snoop, tha Dogg Pound, Eminem, Royce da 9’5′, Redman, Trick Daddy and Trina), an up-and-comer (Fabolous) and people who were never heard from before or since (Bathgate, Ty Shaun) and a bunch of beatmakers who were popular at the time to complement Clue?’s own productions (Rockwilder, Rick Rock, Just Blaze) and despite the combined efforts of all these people, and then some, the Professional 2, like its prequel, is quite the solid but underwhelming listening experience.

That is not to say that there’s prevalent wackness to speak of, but the combined effort of these people should lead to some really good rap music where in fact it delivers mediocracy. In stead of shining and enjoying themselves everyone just coasts along forcedly, as though they’re hanging out at a family gathering out of obligation rather than free will, on a sunday, after drining their brains out the night before, but try to make the best of it anyway. If that doesn’t sound like the blockparty you (or DJ Clue?) might’ve hoped for with that guest list you would be absolutey right.

There’s nothing wrong in particular with songs such as Live From the Bridge by NaS, C.R.E.A.M. 2001 by Rae & Ghost, Who’s Next by DMX, Fuck a Bitch by Snoop & kurupt, Getting It by Busta Rhymes and Rah Digga, The Best of Queens (It’s Us) by Mobb Deep or I Don’t Care by Capone-N-Noreaga, but if they were featured on one of the albums by these respective artists they would be skippable filler tracks, whereas here they are the album actual highlights by proxy, since there’s also shitty tracks by Memphis Bleek, Foxy Brown, the Junior M.A.F.I.A. present here. There’s also a lazy cover of Soul II Soul’s Back to Life by Mary J. Blige and Jadakiss and a silly R&B interlude by Lil’ Mo that fill the roll of low points.

In order to simulate the mixtape experience a couple of “freestyles” over previously used beats are thrown in, but I don’t need to hear anyone rock over Notorious B.I.G.’s Who Shot Ya instrumental ever again, even if it is Jay-Z not doing a horrible job. This beat has been re-used so many times before and since I can hardly stand to hear even the far superior original, classic status be damned.

Speaking of the Jiggaman, his Change the Game off The Dynasty: Roc la Familia has been remixed to include Kurupt and Daz of tha Dogg Pound, which isn’t a bad decision since their West Coast-style connects with the Rick Rock beat much better than Memphis Bleek or Beanie Sigel’s, both of whom are still on the song. Problem is it wasn’t that good a song to begin with, and even this upgrade can’t really make it a must-listen.

The absolute highlight of the night is What the Beat that gets Method Man, Redman, Eminem and Royce da 9’5′ on one track  what with its simple but effective two-note piano based instrumental, and Meth and Em’s hilariously grimey verses. Fans of Em in particular should look it up since he rarey sparred with rappers of this caliber anywhere else in his career and hasn’t put out anything this much twisted fun on his last three albums, which is to say for the last nine years. The only possible drawback to the track is that these rappers weren’t necessarily in one studio at one time since nobody on here but Royce aknowledges the presence of the others on the song, which they almost certainly would have done if they were aware that the verses they were recording would end up on this posse cut, what with rapper’s tendency to shout out everybody from the song’s engineer to their aunt’s dentist (everyone does go out of their way to shout-out Clue?) but that doesn’t mean the resulting song isn’t really fucking good.

This places it in contrast with the album’s other random-ass posse cut Fantastic 4, part 2, which pairs the LOX with Cam’ron, Fabolous and Nature, which means that the amount of participans is six, not four. None of the six rappers seems particularly excited to be there, except Fabby who at the time could really use the exposure.

Overall the Professional 2 was intended by its creator to be for everyone, with artists recruited from every corner of thje USA, with little cohesion in style and thereby fails to be for anyone in particular, while still being hella boring, with the invited guests bring their B-game. These problems are only aggravated by Clue?’s incessant yelling and unimpressive production, which I’ve discussed in detail in my review of the Professional 1. While nothing on here will make you want to break the cd in two and slice your wrists with it, there’s no real need for anyone to pick this up either.

Meh.

Best track
What the Beat

Recommendations
Find What the Beat on iTunes, it’s a really good song. And if you fancy for instance the Wu, Snoop or Busta in particular then perhaps their singular contributions too. But don’t pick up the entire album. It isn’t very good, you see.


Ja Rule – Pain Is Love

Ja Rule
Pain Is Love
October 2, 2001
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
060/100
Ja Rule - Pain Is Love

1. Pain Is Love [Skit] // 2. Dial M for Murder // 3. Livin’ It Up (feat. Case) // 4. The INC. (feat. Caddilac Tah, Black Child & Ashanti) // 5. Always On Time (feat. Ashanti) // 6. Down Ass Bitch (feat. Charlie Baltimore) // 7. Never Again // 8. Worldwide Gangsta (feat. Caddilac Tah, Black Child, Boo & Gotti) // 9. Leo [Skit] // 10. I’m Real [Murder Remix] (feat. Jennifer Lopez) // 11. Smokin’ & Ridin’ (feat. Jodie Mack & 0-1) // 12. (feat. Missy Elliot & Tweet) // 13. Big Remo [Skit] // 14. Lost Little Girl // 15. So Much Pain (feat. 2Pac) // 16. Pain Is Love

Ja Rule’s debut wasn’t so much good or promising as it was well-produced. His sophomore album sucked so much forcing people to listen to it could be a decent alternative to waterboarding. The Murderers album was even worse and the Fast and the Furious soundtrack was pretty goddamn underwhelming. Despite these minor quality complaints each and every one of them got gold to multi-platinum sales, thereby granting Jeffrey Atkins the chance to record a third solo album and also in the process giving Murder Inc. a large stack of plaques to hang onto the Crackhouse (the Murder Inc. recording studios) walls. It also lead to Ja becoming hottest MC in the game whose gravelly falsetto popped up on every second song on the radio, not limited to hiphop songs. Ja was pretty much 2001’s equivalent to Lil’ Wayne.

In the mean time the Murder Inc. sound, in a rather succesful attempt to become relevant evolved from something aching to DMX and his Ruff Ryders posse (Venni Vetti VecciIrv Gotti Presents… the Murderers) to an album that was split in the middle between that sound and something that sounded a lot like Sisqó with a severe laryngitis (Rule 3:36) to Pain Is Love.

Pain continues the evolution set in motion by songs like Between Me and You and Put It On Me and this album, like 3:36 is certainly made with both the streets and the pop charts in mind. The difference this time around however is that the line between the songs for the gangstas and the songs for the hoes is blurred. This is mostly due to new Inc. associate 7Aurelius, who co-produced most of Pain Is Love with label boss Irv Gotti and finally brought an identifiable production sound to the Murder Inc. label and Ja Rule the rapper, effectively making Ja his own man, owing little to DMX.

The flipside to this mostly positive development is that instead of being the DMX-clone he had been percieved as when his debut came out, he became a gangsta posturing 2001 approximation of Barry White, who even though he couldn’t rob an old lady if he were backed by the whole US army,  nevertheless included horribly a blasphemous word-for-word cover of an obscure 2pac song about ghetto hardship on his album with one verse by the Thug Life inventor himself thrown in for good measure. Not the best idea, that. This, as well as similarities between Jeffrey and Tupac, both vocally and appearance-wise, coincidental or not, would make the man a fish in a barrel when that 50 Cent character Ja had beef with would someday rise to prominence. But no-one could see that shit coming in 2001. And for a year or two Ja was the king of crossover thugs, sipping bubbly and rocking minks and Burberry hats like it was going out of fashion. (It was.)

Although lyrically he hadn’t evolved jack shit since his debut the new song-format and new producer, as well as the signing of R&B singer Ashanti, do give Ja the ability to pull some new tricks. Always on Time may be R&B to the point that it makes one wonder how Pain is Love ever ended up in the Hiphop department of your record store, but it is R&B par excellence and this tale of rugged romance is even well enough performed Jeffrey, whose gruff voice clashes wonderfully with 7’s sultry instrumental, that it is wholly derserving of its monster hit status. Ashanti’s syren call-esque hook is just icing on the cake. Her significance becomes clear when Ja gets to belt out his own hook, such as on the horrible pseudo futuristically produced, half-assed attempt at social commentary Lost Little Girl.

Another highlight is the Stevie Wonder sampling Livin’ It Up. This track was originally supposed to have appeared on 3:36 but Stevie wouldn’t clear the sample unless Murder Inc. would clear it of all its profanity, which they couldn’t do before the deadline. They decided to put the new, squeaky clean version on Pain is Love in stead. Although this censorship renders the song’s lyrics gibberish one would say that Jeffrey was never about lyrics and this in no way takes away from its effectiveness as a piece of wide-eyed, bouncy club fluff-fun.

Down Ass Bitch and I’m Real [Murder Remix] are pushing it. The former suffers from anther horrible Ja-the-singing-cookie-monster hook and a general Always on Time-redux sound. The latter has a Ja, who may or may not have had a couple too many Bacardi Breezers, get all cuddly, lovey-dovey with J-Lo, who makes everything even more awkward by dropping the N-word, even though she’s about as Afro-American as George W. Bush. The song works as a time travelling machine to the barely pre-9/11 time of this album’s release, but not so much as an actual song. X, featuring Missy Elliott who proves once again she sounds fine dueting anyone over any sort of beat, has that same cotton candy sound. But rightfully so, since the song is about the drug Ecstasy.

7Aurelius’ talent becomes even more apparent when on the posse cuts The INC.Worldwide Gangstas and Smokin’ and Ridin’  he makes even Jeffrey’s poppers and ecstasy carriers, who are too marginal to name individually, sound not like total shit.

Never Again has 7 and Irv flipping their slight pop sound to something just a little darker and Jeffrey even spits some not-entirely-inane lyrics on his experience of several existential problems, so that’s nice. It’s easily the best non-single off here.

Listening to Pain Is Love today one can easily see why it was such a hit with pop audiences worldwide. With a couple of unstoppable party singles, some even guiltier pleasures and a lot of rather bearable, inoffensive filler it makes for the perfect music to play in the background of a party. The big surprise is that except for I’m Real it hasn’t even aged as bad as one would think. It also made its creator the perfect stepping stone for Curtis Jackson, when he finally got to release an album, since by 2003 hiphop was getting pretty sick of him. Oh well.

Best tracks
Always On Time, Livin´ It Up, Never Again

Recommendations
You could go either way with this one. You could pick this up, but if you do you must make sure there’s no-one in the record store who could recognise you. Also make sure you tell the sales clerk that it’s an ironic gift or that it’s for a 2001-styled hipster theme party, or something. Then again your life will be just as much worth living if you never get to hear Lost Little Girl, so you could leave it wherever you found it without ever looking back, that’s fine too. With three million sold in the USA alone Pain is Love hardly needs your pity.