Thug Life – Thug Life: Volume 1

Thug Life
Thug Life: Volume 1
September 26, 1994
Out Da Gutter Records/ Interscope RecordsUMG
063/100
2pac-Thug-Life-Volume-1-cover-big
1. Bury Me a G (feat. Y?N-Vee) // 2. Don’t Get It Twisted // 3. Shit Don’t Stop (feat. Y?N-Vee) // 4. Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor (performed by 2pac) // 5. Stay True (feat. Stretch) // 6. How Long Will They Mourn Me (feat. Nate Dogg) // 7. Under Pressure (performed by 2pac feat. Stretch) // 8. Street Fame (feat. JMJ) // 9. Cradle to the Grave // 10. Str8 Ballin’ (performed by 2pac)

2pac never shied away from weed carriers company. Most of his albums have their fair share of guests appearances. Thug Life: Volume 1 however is the only album released during his lifetime to cast him as a member of a group of equals. In reality though it’s like 2pac is introducing Big Syke, Makadoshis , Rated R & Mopreme and to a lesser extent Stretch to the masses, while launching his vanity label Out da Gutter Records in the process, rather than him truly sharing the spotlight with these guys in equal measure.
Not only are his performances longer and more numerous than those of anyone else supposedly headlining but Pac is also the only one to have solo songs and more importantly has the charisma of five men rolled up in one where the rest is somewhat lacking.

This album was an important one for Pac because on it he first collaborated with a whole bunch of people who would help define his next few albums, such as producer Easy Mo Bee who would go on to produce some of the best songs on his best album Me Against the World, failed rapper and producer Johnny J who made more beats than anyone else on All Eyez On Me, rapper Big Syke who became 2pac’s placeholder on said beats whenever he was having a smoke break but somehow didn’t have his contributions removed before the album went into pressing, possibly because 2pac was in a hurry to release the album, had just used up his entire book of verses and needed all his new ideas for his Makaveli album, Death Row inmate Nate Dogg, and the ladies of R&B group Y?N-Vee who got to sing backup on many of 2pac’s hooks. Digital Underground, the group that introduced 2pac to the world, is nowhere to be found, perhaps because the man wanted to set up shop for himself.

Thug Life: Volume 1 is a heavily censored record but not in the removal of curse words-sense. Entire songs that 2pac wanted to have on here were deleted. At the time of its release hip-hop in general and gangsta rap in particular were under severe criticism by people such as Bob Dole and C. Delores Tucker, which apparently lead to Interscope Records cutting some of the tracks they felt would be controversial. I call bullshit on that however because most of the tracks assumed to have been cut aren’t that different from what did make it. Why would Is It Cool 2 Fuck be considered too controversial when Bury Me a G, almost the exact same song lyrically, is left on? The only exclusion that actually makes any sense in line with this reasoning is the original version of Runnin from tha Police with tha Outlawz, the Notorious B.I.G. and Stretch and only because 2pac had gotten in a gunfight with two off duty policemen in the previous year. (Off course despite the controversy, or maybe even because of it, Interscope would’ve been better off actually releasing the song, in the first place because it sounds awesome but also as a middle finger to censorship, to give this album a high profile guest appearance and to prevent that ghastly Eminem remix that came out nine years later from being hailed as a classic if not preventing its creation and release entirely.)

As it stands Volume 1, which by its very title made a promise for a sequel it wasn’t going to be able to keep, is a messy affair, not just as an album but also within individual songs.
Bury Me a G also makes a false promise by it’s title and it’s mournful instrumental. By all means this should‘ve been a song about fear of death, the afterlife or even under which letter to file Thug Life’s members’ remains in the case of their uneventful demise. It’s a song that’s mostly about one night stands however leading to any listener with an sort of attention span feeling cheated.
How Long Will They Mourn Me pull a similar bait-and-switch and adds insult to injury by wasting a serviceable Nate Dogg hook, or possibly a really shitty one even, it’s very difficult to tell with it being mixed so far into the background of the bluesy Warren G instrumental. (Nate is credited as a co-producer so perhaps the man was trying to protect his reputation and made himself as inaudible as he possibly could without giving up his first non-Death Row paycheque. Apparently someone noticed before the song was released as a single because he sounds much louder on the video version.) The hook asks the listener how long the listener will mourn either Pac or every member of Thug Life while the verses talk about entirely different dead gangstaz. It’s not a big  stretch by any measure but it still comes across as sloppy.
It should be noted that these are some of the best known songs off Volume 1, probably because 2pac talking about violent death always did sound fascinating but never moreso than after he suffered one. Also hip-hop listeners are oft willing to be forgiving of most mistakes in the vocal booth if the beats are on point, which they are here.
Cradle to the Grave is much better than either previously mentioned song and actually works pretty well as a lyrical showcase for the non-2pac members of the group as well as their label boss. Speaking of which, when they’re left unattended by Pac they actually sound a lot like people who could’ve had careers without him. Don’t Get It Twisted and Street Fame are in fact quite decent rap songs and makes one wonder whether these guys could’ve made Volume 2 work despite the star attraction catching a fatal case of the drive by shootings. (The answer is: Probably, but most definitely not on a major label.)
Shit Don’t Stop is an unrelenting West Coast party track that is about nothing in particular, but given this crew’s earlier misunderstandings of concepts and their failures to stay on topic anyway this approach may have been the best one for this crew. This song serves its purpose as something you can dance to which manages not to sound bad. There’s also a version with no 2pac and different verses by the other members, I’m happy to report it sounds just as good as the album version.
Stay True and Under Pressure pair Pac with his boy Stretch and although he was once a suspect in the first 2pac shooting, which does make it somewhat awkward hearing them rhyme together, he was perhaps a better collaborator than the guys 2pac lined up for the better part of this album because he has a more memorable voice than any one of them, bar Syke, and better rhyme skills to boot.
Off course there’s the 2pac solo-shots Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor and Str8 Ballin’ which are fine songs that any fan of the man’s pre-Death Row Records work should enjoy and are perhaps the best reason to pick up Thug Life: Volume 1. After all there’s a reason why even the other guy with a solo career, that would be Big Syke, never became a household name.
Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor is Pac’s first collabo with Johnny J who for better or worse would go on to produce most of All Eyez On Me and it’s another song about mourning, this time of the coherent kind.
Str8 Ballin’ is a collabo with legendary producer Easy Mo Bee who combines some sort of eerie fun fare carrousel ride melody with bubbly funk for Pac to talk about ghetto escapism over to great results.

Thug Life: Volume 1 is a good enough album to satisfy fans of pre-Death Row 2pac. Most of the production is bluesy and understatedly dramatic. The vocals performances by 2pac and his boys are for the most part adequate if at times a bit inconsequential. But if we’re being completely honest with ourselves: The man we all came to see here always was more about setting the mood than being a technically impressive rapper in most senses of the word. Setting moods this album does fairly well and while it probably is the least essential album the man released during its lifetime it’s still decent. And the cutting of several tracks from the playlist has the unintended benefit of making this album short, which is almost never a bad thing.

Best tracks
Don’t Get It Twisted
Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor
Cradle to the Grave
Str8 Ballin’

Recommendations
Pick this one up but try to find a used copy, or at the very least a cheap one. Also you should put 2pacalypse NowStrictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z. and Me Against the World higher on your list of priorities if you don’t already own those.


Johnny J – I Gotta Be Me

Johnny J
I Gotta Be Me
February 10, 1994
Shade Tree Records/ SOLAR Records/ Epic RecordsSME
045/100
Johnny J - I Gotta be Me
1. Something She Can Feel // 2. Diggin Um’ Out // 3. I’m a Better Man // 4. Why You Want Me Now? // 5. Get Away From Me // 6. P.O.P. (Got Control Of Me) // 7. Better Off (feat. Mel-Low) // 8. It’s a Wonderful Day // 9. Shake That Ass // 10. Say Whatcha Gotta Say (feat. Big Syke & Y?N-Vee) // 11. Love’s the Way

The late Johnny J would become rather famous, critically acclaimed and commercially succesful not too long after I Gotta Be Me tanked. He did this by producing songs on 2pac’s Thug Life, vol. 1Me Against the World and All Eyez On Me albums. On I Gotta Be Me however he is the main attraction and gets to rap most of the time by his self, uniterrupted most of the time by anything but wimpy R&B choruses.

“If Johnny J was himself a rapper why did he never trade verses with 2pac on a track?” I hear you ask. Pac himself was hardly picky with his collaborators as most of the verses performed by his Outlawz posse demonstrate.
Well, that is a valid question, dear reader. While all of tha Outlawz, except Hussein Fatal who can be decent, suck most of the time on an acceptable conventional level Johnny J’s raps sound like they were performed by the whitest fratboy ever who decided that he would be a rapper about fifteen minutes before he started recording them and did so after having enough shots of tequila to forget that women are people and that by using the N-word he would get his ass kicked. Apparently even 2pac who normally wouldn’t give a rat’s ass who you’d throw in the studio with him as long as they had something, anything, ready to record during his infamous Death Row binge recordings realised that while good Johnny’s beats may have been, his vocal contributions sucked.

Off course using offensive racial slurs and misogyny are pretty much givens with any gangsta rap record from the 1990s, and it can serve a purpose as it does in for instance Eazy-E’s over-the-top gangsta caricatures or 2pac’s tales of ghetto misery. Johnny J appears to have neither an interesting point of view, nor any charisma behind the microphone, nor a sense of humour. This is problematic because when stripped of these things a gangsta rapper sort of automatically becomes a massive tool. Speaking of which the man appears to be obsessed with the size, texture and other details concerning Johnny junior, and how many times he can make your girl come. How every woman enjoys having sex with him and how they’re all conniving, gold digging harpies that are good for nothing but hosting his member is a theme that returns in all the songs (all) on I Gotta Be Me.
I guess one should look at the bright side of life. It’s not as though the man would’ve fared much better rapping about his career as a narcotics salesman back when he lived in a low income neighbourhood where life isn’t very pleasant, so not much is lost because of this choice in subject matter. Speaking of his income: The advance for this can’t have been that much, so why exactly Johnny J should have attracted any gold diggers remains unclear.

It is unfortunate that Johnny J was such a shit MC because the productions, credited to him and someone called Charlie Macc, are lush, groovy and bluesy. A lot of these tracks could’ve been better used by more competent rappers. In fact when other people grab the mic an inprovement is immediately noticeable, even if it is Big Syke, probably they guy who introduced J to 2pac but has done very little else of consequence in his career.
(One of these instrumentals, the one used on Better Offwas used by a better rapper, namely 2pac who used it for his Picture me Rollin’ off his All Eyez On Me, a song that while far from perfect is infinitely better than anything on here.)
In fact one could argue that this might’ve been a better album if the uncredited studio singer(s) singing the previously mentioned wimpy refrains were to have become the headlining act(s). Something She Can FeelIt’s a Wonderful Day and Better Man would’ve been perfectly functional quiet storm and Diggin Um OutWhy You Want Me Now?, Shake That AssSay Whatcha Gotta SayGet Away From MeP.O.P. and Better Off  would’ve been decent new jack swing. Proof of this is the bonus track Love’s the Way on which Johnny sings for the entire duration of a guitar strummy pop track. The dude’s singing isn’t very good and it runs for a little too long but it sure beats the songs on which he raps.

Alas, I Gotta Be Me wasn’t meant to be a success, and neither was Johnny J the rapper. But at least this horrible album wasn’t the end of this guy’s career in music, which with a little more exposure it easily could’ve been. After all some of the 2pac songs he produced proved the guy was a fine musician so long as he shut the fuck up and kept the beats coming.

Best tracks
Love’s the Way

Recommendations
Nothing on here warrants a spin, let alone a purchase.


Saafir – Boxcar Sessions

Saafir
Boxcar Sessions
May 10, 1994
Qwest Records/ Reprise Records/ Warner Bros. RecordsWMG
053/100
Saafir - Boxcar Sessions - Front (1)
1. Grap the Train // 2. Swig of the stew // 3. Poke Martian (feat. Poke Martian) // 4. Playa Hata // 5. Pee Wee // 6. Battle Drill // 7. Westside (feat. King Saan) // 8. Worship the D // 9. Light Sleeper // 10. Rashinel (feat. Rashinel) // 11. Can-U-Feel-Me? // 12. No Return (Goin’ Crazy) // 13. Big Nose (feat. Big Nose) // 14. Just Riden // 15. Hype Shit // 16. Real Circus // 17. Bent // 18. The Instructor // 19. Joint Custody

Well that was unexpectedly boring. Saafir, a Digital Underground associate and an Oakland CA native, released his solo debut Boxcar Sessions in early 1994. It apparently has a cult status of sorts. This album is a combination of his own battle rhymes and awkward flow with mostly dusty, shuffling jazz drums, booming basslines, scratching and very little more in the way of melody. Every song on it sounds the same to such an extent that I literally can’t remember a single one of them for positive reasons, and I’ve just listened to this album three times. I’m a well-documented fan of all of Digital Underground’s projects so far but both the vocal side and the instrumental side of this album are underwhelming and pretentious, both of which could’ve been helped by adding some Shock G. Where the fuck is he at?

I would wonder why 2pac decided not to show up on this album but I can’t think of anything on here that he would sound appropriate over. There are many criticisms one can throw in 2pac’s direction but boring he was not.

This album was released on Qwest records which means Quincy Jones inked him a deal. Maybe Q doesn’t actually care about rap music and his only demands of the genre are for it to not interfere with his afternoon nap, in which case Boxcar Sessions achieves its goal nicely. Don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics either because when I finally forced myself to do so something apparently called Worship the Dick was on.

Boxcar Sessions is simply not very interesting and besides that, at nineteen tracks there’s much too much of it. Reviewing it however isn’t difficult, so at least it has that going for that, which is nice.

Best track
Worship the Dick

Recommendations
What do you think?


GP Wu – Don’t Go Against the Grain

GP Wu
Don’t Go Against the Grain
January 21, 1997
MCA RecordsUMG
060/100
GP Wu - Grain Rar
1. Smoking // 2. 1st Thing First // 3. Two Gats Up // 4. Blow Up // 5. Party People // 6. If You Only Knew // 7. Hit Me With That Shit // 8. Hip Hop // 9. Chamber Danger // 10. Underground Emperor // 11. Life Bid // 12. Don’t Go Against the Grain // 13. Things Ain’t What They Used to Be // 14. Black on Black Crime

GP Wu are considered by most rap aficianados who’ve heard of them affiliates of the Wu-Tang Clan, but other than having members Pop the Brown Hornet and Down Low Recka namechecked by Wu ringleader RZA on the intro of classic song Clan in da Front alongside a myriad of other then-no-name people they never got much out of it. Especially in the way of musical collaborations with people who were actually in the Clan. The closest any one of the guys got before the release of Don’t Go Against the Grain was Rubbabandz his appearance on the RZA produced Young Godz off Shyheim’s sophomore album The Lost Generation.
Child rapper Shyheim is the artist the people in GP Wu are most associated with being that they provided the most guest verses on his first two albums. Shy and GP member Pop the Brown Hornet are both cousins of Clan member Ghostface Killah and possibly each other so that helps explain that connection. Oddly enough neither Shy nor Ghost show up on this album, nor could RZA be bothered to throw a leftover beat their way.
Perhaps MCA Records spent the entire budget for Don’t Go Against the Grain, which can’t have been that much, on securing the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee as the album’s executive producer, even though his presence isn’t actually felt one way or another.
You could therefore if you were uninformed listen to this album thinking these guys are some sort store brand imitations of the Wu Tang Clan with no connection with the actual group whatsoever, which is serious problem for a group that actually has Wu in its name. Wu fans are known to pick up anything remotely Wu-attached but they usually will check for a good guest appearance on the back-cover before deciding to purchase or not.
Speaking of the now defunct demographic of record store customers: What’s up with that artwork? It looks like Don’t Go Against the Grain is a metal album or something… (It most certainly is not.)
That sort of mislabeling product on several levels can be potentially disastrous sales figures of your album, and perhaps it did contribute to this one flopping harder than it necessarily needed to. Although lack of any sort of hit single was also a most definitely a contributing factor.

The fact that the album went aluminum is unfortunate because while Pop the Brown Hornet, June Luva, Rubbabandz, Down Low Recka and producer RNS aren’t as virtuous as the actual Wu-Tang Clan they do adequately recreate their sound without going so over the top with it that they could be considered biters (No kung fu movie dialogue samples, no sped-up soul vocals and not too much in the way of five percenter islam-inspired lyrics). And their guest appearances on Shyheim’s albums must’ve gotten some folks to notice them.
It isn’t unthinkable that this could’ve gone gold with some assistance by Ghost, Shy, RZA or anyone else in the Clan or if they included a song produced by Puff Diddy and featuring Ma$e, and released it as a single with a video directed by Hype Williams shot on Times Square.

This album is consistently entertaining in a rather conventional 1997 New York hard core thug rap kind of way. None of the guys spit anything that hasn’t been heard better before or since, but they’re all competent rappers and because they all have distinct voices they’re all fairly easy to tell apart which helps the medicine go down.
The subject matter is all fairly standard. Substance abuse (Smoking), fire arms (Two Gats Up), hedonism and boasting of superior rap skills (Party People), the sexual prowess of GP with women who are already taken (If You Only Knew), the state of the genre (Hip Hop), the state of society (Things Ain’t The Same and Black on Black Crime) and nothing in particular (Hit Me With That Shit).
The same can be said of the productions courtesy of group member Down Low Recka and RNS. They tend to have a sese of urgency and dramatic minimalism not unlike RZA’s beats, but less spacy and less artisan. Blow Up and Hit Me With That Shit have a sort of jazzy feel because of its incorporation of minimal trumpet hits, Party People is suitably jiggy, Life Bid mixes cheesy ’80s rock synths with old school horror movie organs, Black on Black Crime features some mournful strings. The beats all perfectly nice when they’re on but appear to be satisfied with slipping from ones conscience when they’re done playing.

While there isn’t actually much to complain about here it makes sense that this album didn’t go gold, even if it easily could have with proper promotion and a better radio single. It might even have been for the better that this album was both the beginning and end of the Gladiator Posse discography. It’s not like they had that much content here, nor did they have that interesting a way of talking about their non-content. A sophomore release might’ve taken them beyond exhaustion of their subject matter, beats and rhymes. I’m not suggesting that I wish all of them should’ve stopped working after dropping this one, but perhaps their talents were better spent on the occasional guest verse here and there, especially Pop the Brown Hornet and his distinct-sounding voice.
Anyway Don’t Go Against the Grain is alright, but merely alright.

Best tracks
Smoking
Blow Up
Hit Me With That Shit
Life Bid
Party People
Black On Black Crime

Recommendations
If you are a fan of the Wu of olde and can find this for cheap in the used bin of your local record store (If there is still a thing such as a local record stores) you can pick this up. You’ll probably get a few good spins out of it.


Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever

Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Forever
June 3, 1997
Loud RecordsRCA Records/ BMG Music Group/ SME
080/100
WuTangForever
DISC I
1. Wu-Revolution (performed by Popa Wu & Uncle Pete) // 2. Reunited (feat. Ms. Roxy) // 3. For Heaven’s Sake (feat. Cappadonna) // 4. Cash Still Rules/Scary Hours (Still Don’t Nothing Move But The Money) // 5. Visionz // 6. As High As Wu-Tang Get // 7. Severe Punishment // 8. Older Gods // 9. Maria (feat. Cappadonna) // 10. A Better Tomorrow // 11. It’s Yourz
DISC II
1. Intro // 2. Triumph (feat. Cappadonna) // 3. Impossible (feat . Tekitha) // 4. Little Ghetto Boys (feat. Cappadonna) // 5. Deadly Melody (feat. Streetlife & Dreddy Kruger) // 6. The City // 7. The Projects (feat. Shyheim) // 8. Bells of War // 9. The M.G.M. // 10. Dog Shit //11. Duck Seazon // 12. Hellz Wind Staff (feat. Streetlife) // 13. Heaterz (feat. Cappadonna) // 14. Black Shampoo // 15. Second Coming (performed by Tekitha) // 16. The Closing // 17. Sunshower // 18. Projects [International Remix] (feat. Shyheim)

Double-disc albums were a hype in the late ’90s urban music world and if an act didn’t have one it wasn’t considered whole. Tupac Shakur started the trend with his diamond-selling All Eyez On Me in ’96 and plenty of R&B/hip-hop artists would soon follow in his tracks, including arch rival the Notorious B.I.G., R. Kelly and several others. These albums, though some were well-received and have reached what one would call ‘classic status’, generally represent a bloated mess of imperial overstretch in these artists’ respective career. Shakur’s album All Eyez on Me, the project that kickstarted the trend, was the worst offender. It sounded like he recorded it all in one go and completely ran out of ideas after the first few songs or so and only regaining his momentum very sporadically over the course of the rest of the album and nevertheless released it to the masses without ever looking back. What we are digging into today however is its polar opposite when it’s the overall quality that is concerned, probably because Shakur was filling two discs of original material by his self (with lots of help of his untalented weed carriers Tha Outlawz and to a lesser degree his labelmates Snoop, Dre, Daz, Kurupt and whoever accidentally walked into the wrong studio, but still. All Eyez on Me was essentially 2pac headlining two full CD’s of material.) and the Wu-Tang Clan has nine official members who all get equal billing and are all to varying degrees main attractions.

Wu-Tang Forever marks the end of RZA’s famed and mysterious five year plan. Not even Method Man claims to know just what that plan might have been, but it had something to do with dropping a trail of classic solo albums by individual members between the group’s debut album and their sophomoric one. It goes TicalReturn to the 36 ChambersOnly Built 4 Cuban Linx…Liquid Swords and Ironman.
(Also there was supposed to be a Inspectah Deck album released somewhere between Liquid Swords and Ironman but RZA’s basement which contained all of his equipment and prerecorded beats that were intended for that one, and apparently Ironman was higher on RZA’s list of priorities.)

Wu-Tang Forever extensively features Cappadonna, a Wu-affiliate who would’ve been one of the original nine members but went to prison before having been able to make any contribution to Enter the Wu-Tang and was replaced by Method Man in stead. The man had resurfaced on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and contributed to Ghostface Killah’s Ironman. Even though he is credited as a featured guest on Wu-Tang Forever whenever he pops up, and he pops up quite often, he was more or less considered the Clan’s tenth member when it was released. RZA would later disown Cappadonna as an official Clan affiliate because Cappa completely lost his rapping mojo of an alleged financial conflict between the two where Cappachino claimed RZA owed him money and RZA claimed he was full of it.

Wu-svengali RZA had for the most part abandoned the gruff, dusty and minimalistic sound that made Enter the Wu-Tang such a notable success. Having produced a stack of classic albums since his instrumentals became increasingly rich and cinematic over the course of discs that went from Tical to Ironman. On Wu-Tang Forever he added a new element to his bag of tricks. He took vocal samples from old soul records and changed the pitch to make them sound high and quirky, possibly to save money on background singers which he could then spend on honey-dipped blunts and pointy rings. He then proceeded to incorporate them into his beats. This is a hip-hop production technique many people think Kanye West invented. RZA, who previously did pretty much all the work behind the boards on anything released by any of the Clansmen stepped aside for eight of the album’s twenty nine tracks which he left to his cronies True Master, 4th Disciple and for some reason Inspectah Deck whose instrumental contrubutions aren’t very good but also not that numerous. Whether this was done for variation’s sake or simply because RZA couldn’t come up with twenty nine instrumentals of consistently good quality on his own (It happens to the best of us) is unknown to me, but it is what it is.

The album’s first disc is off to a meh start with its bullshit intro on which two non-Clan members get to rant for nearly seven minutes about five percent islam, a religion that apparently every member of the Clan was practicing at the time. Nothing against taking pride in one’s religion but this track couldn’t have been more tedious and pretentious if they followed it with a full recital of each and every scripture of every religion known to mankind ever while keeping the same beat on for the entire duration.
Following that is a somewhat uneven collection of music which is to be expected from an album that consist of the combined efforts of ten rappers and four producers divided by twenty eleven tracks. The disc sounds good for the most part. The majority of the songs are highlights. The tense the Wu-noir opening cut Reunited which has the three cousins GZA, ODB and RZA + Method Man ripping shit up and setting the mood for what is to come.
For Heaven’s Sake has Deck outrap Masta Killa and Cappadonna over a quintessential chipmunk-soul beat.
It’s Yourz blends RZA’s typical dusty sound with something akin to old school disco rap. Rae, U-God, RZA, Deck all get to rock it but GFK walks away with the track.
OB4L reprise Older Gods (that doesn’t appear to be complimentary to Shyheim’s Young Gods) and the ode to positive thinking that is A Better Tomorrow and the grimy but catchy are all prime Wu posse cuts as well.
Low points are the unsexy sex rap Maria, the Deck-produced Visionz and the shitty Cash Rules sequel Cash Still Rules Everything Around Me.

The second disc opens with a dismissal of Rap ‘n’ Bullshit R&B-rap artists by RZA & GZA, presumably P. Daddy & Ma$e. I wonder if RZA remembered that You’re All I Need to Get By song that got Method Man, Mary J. Blige and P. Daddy a grammy, or that Babyface Remix that had Ghostface Killah rhyme the exact same verse he performed on this album’s Visionz. (I’m also curious what RZA had to say when he first heard that Justin Bieber song that had Raekwon and Kanye West on it, if he ever hear it at all.)
Obviously there’s more posse cuts on this disc. Triumph is arguably the best thing on the entire project with its cinematic instrumental and all the official Wu-tang plus Cappadonna rocking over it. The only complaint about this one is that Ol Dirtly Bastard is severely underused by not being allowed to spit a verse of his own and being relegated to shit-talking on the intro and in between verses in stead. I suppose you can’t have it all. The song is still really, really good anyway.
Impossible has the most eerie, spaced out instrumental so far and has among others Ghostface Killah tear it to shreds.
Little Ghetto Boys is a fairly nice word of advice to its titular subjects about not choosing the wrong path although reusing that Donny Hathaway sample for the hook was then and still is a surefire way of getting your song unfavourably compared to a classic songs by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg and P. Daddy with Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z.
Fans of the debut album’s production sound get thrown another bone by way of Deadly Melody, a showcase for mostly Method Man and his apprentice Street Life.
Bells of War is a good listen too and the Rae-Ghost duet The M.G.M. Wu-Tang Forever is as good a showcase of their usual on-record Chemistry as anything off OB4C or Ironman.
The Projects finally puts Shyheim in the same room as most of the clan members so good for him that he’s finally proven to be a true Wu-B-teamer. It’s not good for anyone or anything else though because it’s beat sounds like RZA was only half finished creating it before his pizza was delivered or something.The ODB gets a solo offering with Dog Shit and it sucks balls, the man always was a hit or miss individual. The part at the end where he tell his fellow clansmen that they remind him of the backup dancers of En Vogue though almost makes it worth sitting through.
Speaking of horrible solo-efforts: U-God, a rapper who was incarcerated during most of the recording of 36 Chambers and is considered by many to be the worst rapper in the group gets a solo-showcase of his own in the form of Black Shampoo, a hilariously unsettling sex rap with an instrumental that sounds like it was made by Barry White on acid, over which the man invites the listener to let him clip his or her toenails, among a diverse range of other odd sexy business.
The City is Inspectah Deck’s chance to fly solo. It’s good enough to make one desperately want to hear his aborted flushed solo debut, so listen to it at your own risk.
RZA, Raekwon and oddly enough Tekhita, one of the Clan’s go-to studio songstresses, get fairly decent solo-offerings as well

Overall Wu-Tang Forever, like any non-greatest hits double disc album this reviewer is aware of, would’ve benefited if it had been edited down to a single disc. That however would have meant that the guys weren’t competing with Biggie and 2pac for best double disc album of the late ’90s which hardly would’ve been an option worth considering. And it’s still a really good album in the incarnation in which it was released. Bar Dog ShitMaria and Black Shampoo most of the lesser tracks are entertaining filler rather than bad songs. Wu-Tang Forever retains enough of the old to keep the fans happy but introduces enough new to justify having a sophomore album in the first place. The album is a great showcase for one of hip-hop’s greatest franchises at the peak of its powers.

Best tracks
Reunited
Severe Punishment
It’s Yourz
For Heaven’s Sake
Older Godz
A Better Tomorrow
Triumph
Impossible
Deadly Melody
Bells of War
The City
Black Shampoo

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Camp Lo – Uptown Saturday Night

Camp Lo
Uptown Saturday Night
January 28, 1997
Profile RecordsArista Records/ SME
083/100
Camp Lo - Uptown Saturday Night
1. Krystal Karrington // 2. Luchini AKA This Is It // 3. Park Joint // 4. B-Side to Hollywood (feat. Trugoy the Dove) // 5. Killin’  Em Softly // 6. Sparkle // 7. Black Connection // 8. Swing (feat. Butterfly) // 9. Rockin’ It AKA Spanish Harlem // 10. Say Word (feat. Jungle Brown) // 11. Negro League (feat. Karachi R.A.W. & Bones) // 12. Nicky Barnes AKA It’s Alright (feat. Jungle Brown) // 13. Black Nostaljack // 14. Coolie High // 15. Sparkle [Mr. Midnight Mix]

Every once in a while a piece of music enters ones conscience that makes you wonder how you got by without it all those years. Camp Lo’s Coolie High has been one of those songs for yours truly. I remember when I first heard the song at a house party some five, six years ago and unfortunately I was too far off the map and preoccupied to walk up to the desktop to find out just what exactly it was that was playing. The smooth-as-butter instrumentals and nimble flows did however leave a mark and when one of my friends casually put it on at another house party years later I immediately recognised it, had a eureka moment of sorts and managed not to forsake finding out what was that time. Coolie High has since been a favourite track of mines, kept in heavy rotation and helping me zone out for a bit at those times when life gets a little too stressful. Their other hit song Luchini AKA This Is It also turned out to be a classic and sounds like Coolie High‘s polar opposite production-wise. The beat has a cinematic horn loop among other things that doesn’t creep up your spine but grabs you by the throat in stead. Neither song has any particularly meaningful lyrics but everything the Lo say does sound cool with a poetic veneer, and their liquid flows are near perfect which puts the guys somewhere between being instruments used by Ski to complete his music and star MCs in their own right.

The duo behind these songs hails from the Bronx, New York and entered existence in 1995. Soon they hooked up with producer DJ Ski and started working on their debut album Uptown Saturday Night, the subject of today’s post, released on Profile Records, home of RUN-DMC. Unfortunately for them during the recording a young upstart who went by the name of Jay-Z came along and stole purchased the instrumental, the hook and the flow of their songs Feelin’ It (and who knows what else) wholesale from their producer Ski for his debut album Reasonable Doubt. Despite that minor setback they continued to work on their album and it dropped in early ’97. Despite not conforming to any of the dominant sounds in hip-hop of the time, those being P. Daddy’s shiny disco rap, Dr. Dre’s syrupy G-funk sound or RZA’s dusty beats, they managed to score two minor hits off their debut, the previously mentioned Coolie High and Luchini AKA This Is It. These songs introduced the world to the Lo’s confidently delivered ’70s  blaxploitation slang raps and Ski’s atmospheric, soulful and jazzy yet down to earth productions. That would unfortunately be the entirety of their commercial success as nothing they did following that charted, but that didn’t stop them from staying together, collaborating with their boy Ski and putting out albums for the decade following this album’s release so they probably have a small but dedicated cult following or so it would seem.

Nothing on Uptown Saturday Night surpasses or even matches the artistic success of the positively epic Luchini or aural relaxant Coolie Hight, but the rest of the album is still quite entertaining. Highlights include the Jamiroquai-esque piano groove of Sparkle and the smacking salsa-hop of Rockin’ It. The booming opener Krystal Karrington is also pretty awesome. The rest of the songs are fairly entertaining filler and Uptown Saturday Night as a whole is an underrated gem of an album that is deserving of every hip-hop head’s time and attention.

Best tracks
Krystal Karrington
Luchini AKA This Is It
Sparkle
Rockin’ It AKA Spanish Joint
Coolie High

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon and Cappadonna – Ironman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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