Tag Archives: 1994

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?

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Fugees – Blunted on Reality

Fugees/ Tranzlatorz Crew
Blunted on Reality
Februari 1, 1994
Ruffhouse RecordsColumbia RecordsSME
060/100
cover
1. Introduction // 2. Nappy Heads // 3a. Blunted [Interlude] / 3b. Blunted on Reality // 4. Recharge // 5. Freestyle [Interlude] // 6. Vocab // 7. Special Bulletin News [Interlude] // 8. Boof Baf (feat. Mad Spyda) // 9. Temple // 10. How Hard Is It? // 11. Harlem Chit Chat [Interlude] // 12. Seek Some Stardom // 13. Giggles // 14. Da Kid from Haiti [Interlude] // 15. Refugees on the Mic // 16. Living Like There Ain’t No Tomorrow // 17. Shout outs From the Block // 18. Nappy heads [Remix]

The story of the Fugees is a classic one: Three New Jersey high school kids formed a hip-hop group in ’92, a member left, enter a new member and tadaa; we have the trio of Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill and Pras who used to perform under the name Translatorz Crew.
After a some gigs and demos they woke up finding themselves signed to Columbia subsidiary label Ruffhouse Records. They changed their group name to Fugees to draw attention to their Haitian heritage (Apparently Refugee is a derogatory term for Haitian American.) and recorded a debut album filled with somewhat politically charged dancehall rap called Blunted on Reality which they finished in ’92. Allegedly they then had a two year battle with their record label about the content, following which they released their album to the sounds of crickets.

Somehow they didn’t get dropped from their label and got to record a sophomore album that features covers of Roberta Flack’s Killing Me softly With His Song and Bob Marley & the Wailers’ No Woman No Cry, alongside original material and proceeded to sell twenty fucking million copies of said album called the Score. Lauryn Hill then went insane, released an even more succesful solo album which sparked a songwriting and production lawsuit, proceeded to go even insane-er while Wyclef became a stalwart producer and solo hitmaker and Pras… Well who gives two shits about Pras? (Sorry Pras.)

Before all that though there was Blunted on Reality, an album that has nothing to do with any of that, really, and is content with being a reggae tinged gangsta rap album. Neither Wyclef nor Lauryn sing much here and for those who are into Killing Me Softly and Ready Or Not should not pick automatically this up just because it’s the product of the same people, if not leave it alone all together. The Score was a breath of fresh air in a hip-hop landscape that was mostly filled with gangsta clones of quality of varying degree. Blunted on Reality is an album worth of gangsta clones of quality of varying degree. Seriously you guys, two million people before you made that exact mistake. Even die hard Pras-fans don’t really have any business here since although he wasn’t very good back then already, his voice was not at all as deep and resonant as it would become later, which was the only thing the guy has going for him, really.

Not that Blunted on Reality is a horrible album, au contraire, it’s alright enough if a bit bland.
All the songs, with a few exceptions, may sound the same but they don’t sound bad, and Wyclef, Lauryn and Pras are each at the very least competent on the mic. The lyrics aren’t very exceptional but for the most part they’re delivered at too fast a pace for you to hear them unless you play close attention.

There is however two songs that are slightly better than merely alright. There’s one song that may not directly hint at the greatness that was to come but does sound good in its own right: Nappy Heads, with its dirty drums and funky horn sample is the very best thing on here, hands down and should get some heads nodding and feet tapping.
Then there’s Vocab which mirrors Nappy Heads in that it in fact does hint at what can be heard on The Score as well as Wyclef’s solo work, what with its spare acoustic guitar backdrop but could use some work as it sounds unfinished. (Apparently the record label and/ or the Fugees agreed with that sentiment since the version that was released as a single was a remix that sounds a lot better and more complete.)

The rest hower… It is what it is, which is to say it isn’t very good or very bad, it merely exists.

Best tracks
Nappy Heads
Vocab [Refugees Hip-Hop Remix] (video version)*
Recharge

*Not actually included on the album.

Recommendations
I recommend this album only to 50 Cent who claims “[He] used to listen to Lauryn Hill, and tap [his] feet. Then the bitch put out a CD and didn’t have no beats”. The rest of you can just pluck the above songs off iTunes and move on to The Score already.


Aaliyah – Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number

Aaliyah
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
May 24, 1994
Blackground Records/ Jive Records/ SME
070/100
Aaliyah - Age Ain't Nothing But a Number
1. Intro // 2. Throw Your Hands Up (feat. Second Chapter) // 3. Back and Forth (feat. R. Kelly) // 4. Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number // 5. Down With the Clique (feat. R. Kelly) // 6. At Your Best (You Are Love) // 7. No One Knows How to Love Me Quite Like You Do (feat. Second Chapter & R. Kelly) // 8. I’m So Into You (feat. Second Chapter) // 9. Street Thing // 10. Young Nation // 11. Old School (feat. R. Kelly) // 12. I’m Down // 13. Thing I Like // 14. Back and Forth [Mr. Lee & R. Kelly’s Remix] (feat. R. Kelly)

I wonder if R. Kelly regretted that album title any time during his career, like around february 2002 for instance.

Aaliyah Kelly (née Haughton) was singing for most of her life when she was signed to Blackground Records, her uncle Barry Hankerson’s Jive-distributed boutique label, by her uncle (who besides running an urban music label also managed succesful R&B singers Toni Braxton and R. Kelly at the time.) It is through her uncle that Robert got to mentor her and write and produce most of her debut album when she started recording in september 1993.

Age was a commercial success, maintaining a charts presence, spawning several hit singles, and selling five million copies worldwide by 2001 (according to wikipedia). And all was good until rumors spread that Robert and Aaliyah were maintaining a more-than-professional, more-than-friendly relationship while she was fifteen and he was twenty-seven (which is reason for scandal in America apparently.)

This would be irrelevant to the quality of this album’s music, if its content didn’t shamelessly hint at these rumors being true. Besides that title, which was supposed to be a statement of Aaliyah’s maturity for her age, R. Kelly maintains a presence on a couple of the songs in ad-lib capacity that feels as though he was breathing in her neck for the duration of the recordings. (Also allegedly a marriage certificate exists with Robert and our hostess of tonight’s names on it, and Aalyah’s contemporary age supposedly being eighteen. Getting married with a fake I.D. huh? Yeah, ain’t no way anybody is going to find out about that shit. Smart thinking Kells.)

In the interest of fairness though these suspect, conspicuous circumstances surrounding this album’s creation are going to be ignored for the remainder of the review.

Compared to R. Kelly’s latest release at the time 12 Play Age is a far more consistent, far less juvenile album. There are some ridiculous R. Kelly-isms to be found (“Now if you not down with my clique,
you can just doo-doo on a stick” – Down With the Clicque) but not a so much of them the album suffers as a whole.

On the faster cuts such as Throw Your Hands Up and No One Knows How to Love Me Quite Like You Do (long-ass song-title..) Robert supplies the same bump ‘n’ groove production that he sported on 12 Play‘s midtempo jams, but since it’s Aaliyah’s silky singing on them, rather than Robert’s blah rapped odes to your crotch, they don’t sound as wasted here. There is some wack rapping on here, courtesy of female rapper Second Chapter, who appears to have fallen off the face of the earth after recording her contributions to this album, but again it’s a lot less prominent than on 12 Play. These uptempo grooves have the girl riding these ‘beats for the jeeps’ comfortably and expertly.
On the slow jams he doesn’t seem to have learnt any new production tricks either breaking out the same nocturnal summer-breeze sound that made Your Body’s Calling such a smash hit the year before, but Aaliyah isn’t remotely a female version of Robert either vocally or persona wise, so everything is a lot less explicitly sexual than on the average R. Kelly record, while she still has her way with his production sound, on Old School and Young Nation for instance.

Aaliyah’s singing is excellent throughout. Seductive and restrained, not trying to hit every note on the ladder like poor man’s Mariah Carey or [enter your favourite the Voice candidate here], but just singing the damn songs already, putting her in the post-Sade cathegory od R&B singers rather than post-Whitney and making Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number a pleasure to the ear.

The best song on here is At Your Best (You Are Love), a song originally recorded by the Isley Brothers, affectionately and faithfully performed by Aaliyah who obviously respected the legendary group a lot (she also gives them a nod on Old School by mimicking the vocal melody of their classic song Between the Sheets and namechecks them on Young Nation, and since she covered an Isley Brothers song on her 100% R. Kelly-free sophomore we can safely assume it wasn’t just Robert trying to add some old school flava to this album, but something Aaliyah was genuinely comitted to doing).

As pleasant as Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number is, it is a rather vanilla, by-the-book post New Jack Swing urban soul record, in the vein of Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411? doing very little to push the genre forward. And while there’s nothing wrong in particular with that, especially when it is this well executed, one would be right in believing that her best days were ahead of her and would come about only if she were paired with a more adventurous producer (Timbaland).
Still this is a satisfactory album that anyone who appreciates vintage R&B sounds should check out.

Best tracks
Throw Your Hands Up
Back and Forth
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
At Your Best (You Are Love)
No One Knows To Love Me Quite Like You Do
Young Nation
Old School

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Method Man – Tical

Method Man
Tical
November 15, 1994
Def Jam RecordingsBMGSME
080/100
Method Man - Tical
1. Tical // 2. Biscuits // 3. Bring the Pain // 4. All I Need // 5. What the Blood Clot // 6. Meth vs. Chef (feat. Raekwon) // 7. Sub Crazy // 8. Release Yo’ Delf (feat. Blue Raspberry) // 9. P.L.O. Style (feat. Carlton Fisk) // 10. I Get My Thang In Action // 11. Mr. Sandman (feat. RZA, Inspectah Deck, Streetlife, Carlton Fisk & Blue Raspberry) // 12. Stimulation // 13. Method Man [Remix]

Considering that Shyheim wasn’t a Clan-member and that AKA the Rugged Child didn’t really have that much Wu-involvement, and that Words from a Genius and Ooh I Love You Rakeem were released before the Clan even existed, Method Man’s solo debut Tical gets the honour of being the first Wu-offshoot project. An honour indeed since the Wu’s debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was instrumental in bringing the focus of the hip-hop community back to the east-coast after the west had dominated for a while, and helped to redefine the east coast hardcore sound for the mid-’90s (and went platinum to boot).

Off course these are the kinds of critical acclaims that create unreasonably high expectations for subsequent work, expectations that are impossible to fulfill, even if more material of the exact same quality is dropped. (If an artist sticks to the sounds of his last album he’s accused of not going along with his time and if he chooses to emply new sounds he’s oft accused of not catering to his own fanbase, or even worse; selling out.) But with the aid of hindsight it is safe to say that Tical, while falling short of 36 Chambers‘ greatness is in all likelyhood as good as it could’ve been, and most definitely a must-listen for those who loved that album.

Due to the Clan’s contract, which signed them to Loud records, every individual Clan-member was able to get signed to whatever record label they wanted, Meth chose Def Jam.

RZA produces every track on here, and supplies more of the same minimalistic, ominous beats that made 36 Chambers such a critical and commercial success. Meth puts them to good use, and brings the ruckus with his unmistakable husky, low, cotton mouthed vocals delivering his grimy street-raps.

A Raekwon duet, allegedly created as a friendly rap-battle over who got to keep the RZA beat for his own album, (which would imply that Meth won) brings some of the lyrical chemistry to Tical that made 36 Chambers  a texbook classic, as does the posse cut Mr. Sandman with RZA, Deck and Clan affiliates Carlton Fisk and Streetlife.

But most of these songs consist of only Meth’s rhymes and RZA’s beats, making this album mostly a two-man show, which is a mixed blessing. On the one hand it was the group’s vocal chemistry that was a considerable amount of their appeal, and perhaps an ODB verse on for instance I Get My Thang In Action could’ve made the proceedings even more enjoyable than they already are. Tical shares this aspect with the first solo-album by an N.W.A member: Eazy-E’s Eazy-Duz-It.)

“What if”-bullshit aside though, Method Man gets to hold his own really well over the course of these thirteen tracks, with or without company and create a true solo-album, which is something for instance Raekwon never got to do since his textbook classic album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… has so much Ghostface Killah on it that Pretty Toney gets “guest starring” billing on the front-cover. RZA and Meth made a choice there how to go about with Tical and this decision has its merits. Also Tical is a solid effort that gives Wu-fans exactly what they wanted to hear sonically (as opposed to pushing the boundaries and introducing new sounds, again this is not a straightforward criticism, like the paragraph about few guests being included, this is just a reviewer noticing a choice having been made, which is a necessary thing to do in order to create good, succesful music.)

Meth shines particular on Bring the Pain, the album’s lead single, Method Man’s signature song and a classic hip-hop song in general, with his inescapable hook and RZA’s eerie beat.

All I Need is a ghetto lovesong that needs nothing but a hardcore RZA beat and Meth’s rhymes to get by (although it most certainly did need a Puff Daddy/ Trackmasters polish and an added Mary J. Blige contribution on the hook to make it one of the best-selling hip-hop singles of all time, the kind that has such an universal appeal your parents could dance to it on a fucking wedding party.)

Release Yo’ Delf manages to interpolate Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive while almost completely bypassing the queso, which is an admirable feat in any genre, let alone hip-hop, keeping in mind the direction the genre would go into a few years later with the rise of P. Daddy and Ma¢e.

Tical is a grimy, thugged-out release from start to finish from a bygone era in which there was an actual demand for non-gimicky street-rap undiluted by genre mixing. That’s not an automatic dismissal of whatever came after its late-’94 release date. Even Puff Diddy and Nelly have their moments, and when one is in the club one wants to hear club-bangers, but nevertheless one doesn’t have to be a hip-hop purist to start feeling nostalgic listening to it, the mid-’90s were golden years for hip-hop and Tical is a jewel.

Best tracks
Bring the Pain
All I Need
Meth Vs. Chef
Release Yo’ Delf
I Get My Thang In Action
Mr. Sandman
Stimulation

Recommendations
Buy this album, and find the single version of All I Need titled I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By off iTunes. It would be a horrible fit if it were included on this album what with it’s shiny, radio friendly sound, but it didn’t sell all those copies and win a grammy without a good reason. Judged out of Tical‘s context, it is not only accessible, but pretty good as well.


Jamie Foxx – Peep This

Jamie Foxx
Peep This
July 19, 1994

20th Century Fox Records/ UMG
059/100
Jamie Foxx - Peep This

1. Peep This // 2. Experiment // 3. Miss You // 4. Dogg House (feat. The Poetess) // 5. Infatuation // 6. Baby Don’t Cry // 7. Precious // 8. Your Love // 9. Summertime // 10. If You Don’t Love Me // 11. Don’t Let the Sun (Go Down on Our Love) // 12. Peep This Out // 13. Light a Candle

“Why you signed Jamie Foxx?”, “Is this a comedy album?”, “Ain’t that that brother from the living colour?”

The opening track has soundbites of people questioning the legitimacy of this album, which makes sense because in 1994 Jamie Foxx was known as a comedian and an actor, but few knew the man can sing. Also novelty albums by people who only record music because they’re famous, but have no real business doing so are one of those Hollywood things that unfortunately never seem to die out. (Word to Paris Hilton)

To his credit Jamie is, as we the post-Gold Digger music audiences know, in fact a pretty good singer. On Peep This he works his way through thirteen mostly self-written and self-produced songs and considering mainstream R&B was what he was going for and the year was ’94 one has to admit that the album at least sounds authentic enough.

The album is a bit too heavy on the overly dramatic soft rocking Boyz II Men/ Jodeci inspired slow jams, so when Foxx finds some room for mid- and uptempo new jack swingers like he does on Miss You, Precious and Your Love it’s a breath of fresh air. Dog House is another standout track about Jamie being forced to spend the night in the Dog House after being caught cheating by his girl (So this is a comedy album after all) and Don’t Let the Sun Go Down (On Our Love) has our hero singing and accopanying himself on the piano and showcases his vocal talents wonderfully. Foxx is an effective singer in the tradition of Brian McKnight, but with an voice of his own, although not a very distinct production sound. But that’s not very surpising as McKnight owns that middle of the road R&B sound, and all you have to do in order to sound like him is conform to trends and be likeable. Unlike many a contemporary Jamie doesn’t engage in useless melisma, so kudo’s for that. Unfortunately there’s an a lot of repetitive, mawkish material, too much shlock.

You try telling the two singles Experiment and Infatuation apart.

“Girl, Jamie got it goin’ on”, “I didn’t know he could sing!”
Peep This Out ends the album pretty much on the same note Peep This kicked it off, except for that people are now convinced he’s a talented singer. He certainly convinced me of this fact, but apparently not record buying audiences in ’94, considering nobody seems to own this or has even heard of this album (well except maybe Kanye West). Many of Foxx’s music fans seem to believe 2005’s Unpredictable is his debut. Not to say that it deserved much better since it’s mostly not a very interesting effort, but it is a bit puzzling considering what music was actually popular at that time. In ’94 almost every song off Peep This would’ve fit seemlessly onto R&B radio.

Because this singing business didn’t turn out to be very profitable it does make sense the man waited eleven years to record another album (he had other shit to do, you know), and chose to let Kanye and Timbaland as well as a myriad of others produce it the next time around, it also makes for more interesting listening experience than this one could even dream of being.

Peep This is merely alright.

Best tracks
Miss You
Precious
Your Love
Dog House
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down (On Our Love)

Recommendations
Except for Dog House, which could be an R. Kelly reject, Peep This plays like a long lost brian McKnight album. Which is to say a rather vanilla strain of ’90s R&B. If that’s your thing, go for it. The rest of you needs not bother.


NaS – Illmatic

NaS
Illmatic
April 19, 1994
Columbia Records/ SME
095/100

Nas - Illmatic
1. The Genesis (feat. AZ) // 2. N.Y. State of Mind // 3. Life’s a Bitch (feat. AZ & Olu Dara) // 4. The World Is Yours (feat. Pete Rock) // 5. Halftime // 6. Memory Lane (Sittin’ in the Park) // 7. One Love (feat. Q-Tip) // 8. One Time for Your Mind // 9. Represent // 10. It Ain’t Hard to Tell

As an album of original songs to listen to all the way through without skipping this is about as close to perfection the hiphop will ever get. It consists of ten tracks overall with not a single blatant attempts at getting pop/R&B-airplay. The intro is pretty useless, but after that there’s nine songs worth of uncut dope. Off course some songs are better than others, but nothing fits the “shitty” or even the “mediocre” label. In fact, if you like your hiphop not fused with other genres, well produced, with acrobatic flows, meaningful lyrics and clever punchlines NaS’ Illmatic will make your jaw drop. Hiphop greats like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor and Q-Tip produce some of that music that just isn’t made any more today. It would seem that these guys have plundered a vinyl store and subsequently sliced up a lot of music in order to create dusty, booming, ominous audio collages for NaS to showcase his perfect breath control, intricate wordplay, deft imagery, storytelling abilities and funny punchlines over, with NaS taking full advantage of the opportunity.

After the intro nearly derails the entire listening experience by putting you to sleep NaS wakes you the fuck up by yelling “Straight out the fucking dungeons of rap, where fake niggaz don’t make it back.” after which he unleashes a nearly endless stream of punchlines over DJ Premier’s suspenseful percussive piano-based instrumental. Nearly everyone of them is a quotable and has been quoted since this album’s release in ’94. After that classic NaS mellows out with friend and future group mate AZ on the L.E.S. produced Life’s a Bitch to talk about the gathering of wealth and the moral issues that come with it. The song ends in a trumpet solo by NaS’ father and jazz musician Olu Dara.

The World Is Yours references Slick Rick’s Hey Young World and features the legendary Pete Rock, who also produced the soulful instrumental, on the hook, and pays homage to the film Scarface. NaS’ line “I’m out for dead presidents to represent me.” would later spark Nasir’s beef with Jay-Z, after the latter sampled it for his for the hook after his Dead Presidents track on his ’96 debut, which is all sorts of ironic since Halftime which follows The World is Yours samples Jaz-O’s 1989 single Hawaiian Sophie, on which the Jiggaman made one of his earliest appearances. Ah good times not only for rap lovers but pop-trivia enthusiasts as well…

Memory Lane has NaS reminiscing on his childhood over a fittingly nostalgic, organ-laced DJ Premier instrumental and One Love is a letter put in rhyme to an inprisoned friend about recent events in Nasir’s neighbourhood over a great xylophone-rocking Q-Tip beat. One Time For Your Mind is all about what NaS does in his spare time and Represent is another punchliner that was sampled in a Jigga song.

It Ain’t Hard to Tell is the last song, the most accessible and in my opinion the best one, what with it’s Human Nature sampling Large professor beat and NaS being half-man, half amazing.

Yep, NaS ran a home run here. Or a hole in one might be a better simile. Unfortunately NaS switched management after this album from MC Serch, who undoubtedly helped the rookie get some aid by all these hiphop heavyweights, to Steve Stoute who got NaS in touch with the Trackmasters for making some 80’s music sampling commercial blingy hiphop, and got hit in the head with a champagne bottle by Puff Diddy, off all people, after the man suddenly remembered  he was a Roman Catholic and wasn’t supposed to appear crucified in a hiphop video, and Stoute accidentally forgot to have that scene edited out of the Hate Me Now video before airing it, more on that in due time. For now suffice to say Illmatic is golden and all the NaS dickriding fanboy praise is actually justified.

Best track
NY State of Mind, Life’s a Bitch, The World Is Yours, One Love, It Ain’t Hard to Tell

Recommedations
Buy this album.


Usher – Usher

Usher

Usher

08-30-1994

LaFace Records/ Sony Music Entertainment

The Usher on this album’s cover looks fifteen years old and kind of chubby, don’t you think? Yeah, Who knew?

So, Usher’s debut album was released in 1994. Before those of you who were around in ’94 think I’m shitting you because You Make Me Wanna came out years later: that song which was his breakthrough single in 1997, but it was not his debut single. An entire self-titled album preceded it. Now, you are forgiven if you don’t even barely remember this album it wasn’t a very big success. It was however, as we all know now, the kick-start of a very successful career that is still going strong today. (Although what Usher is most known for today is dancing around with Justin Bieber in his videos. In many a way Usher’s career is quite similar to that of JB (although not completely, because obviously there was no such thing youtube in ‘94.) Usher Raymond IV was born in 1978 in Dallas, Texas but spent most of his younger years in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was raised by his single mother, who until 2007 was also his manager. In 1991 he joined a local Urban Boy band called NuBeginning, which fucking sucked and after one bootleg-ish album he was out again. In 1993 he was on Star Search which apparently was the early ‘90s equivalent of American Idol/ Pop Idol where he was spotted by an LaFace A&R guy who arranged an audition for one of that label’s head honchos, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, and Usher left they guy very much impressed which meant that he had hit the jackpot because LaFace was big pimpin’ at the time when it was R&B acts that was concerned. After L.A. put his debut single Call Me a Mack on the soundtrack to the John Singleton-directed, 2pac and Janet Jackson co-starring 1993 drama film Poetic Justice the recording of his debut album could commence.  Because in 1994 Get him to the Greek’s  Sean “Sergio Roma” Combs was also becoming a big name in urban music after successfully launching his Bad Boy Entertainment imprint via the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die and Craig Mack’s Project: Funk the World albums and because L.A.’s partner in crime Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds was probably busy writing and producing every goddamn song on the radio at the time the album was overseen by L.A. and Puff. Both of them had musical connections a plenty and, among others Al B. Sure!, JoDeCi’s DeVanté Swing, Faith Evans, Brian-Alexander Morgan, Dave “Jam” Hall, Puffy himself, and Timbaland, who allegedly produced alongside of DeVante but wasn’t credited, were all drummed up to make this fifteen-year-old sound good. Usher was relocated from his Atlanta residence to Puff Daddy’s house where he was allegedly exposed for the first time in his life to marijuana, alcohol, sex and hanging around with the big stars. Possibly because Puff, didn’t want his name on some kiddy stuff but rather wanted to make an adult mature album and wanted Usher to have the experience to sing the material being someone who really lived that shit, but more likely because marijuana, alcohol, sex and big stars are the things you are going to encounter in abundance when hanging around at one of the residences owned by the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy, and when you let a 15 year old walk around in such a place unattended to, well, you get the picture. They got it cracking and released Usher’s self-titled debut… to the sound of crickets, but after all these years of collecting dust on record store shelves this finally sold over 500 k. And it is my favorite Usher album.

Wanna know why?, read on!

1. I’ll Make It Right

This cool-ass, grooving Puff Daddy-Alex Richbourg co-helmed hiphop track gives it up to the old school by throwing in a soundbite from the Audio Two’s classic Top Billin’, which was a nice touch and a trick repeated by 50 Cent on his 2007 hit single I Get Money, albeit with a different sample from that song. Beatwise this is what people today, who have never actually heard the real thing, would call old school hiphop, but it’s still pretty decent. Usher’s singing is technically okay and with all these factors combined I would say that this was in fact a pretty decent album opener.

2. Interlude I

A lot of 1990s R&B albums have these, short melodramatic melodic interludes. I’m not sure why these exist, other than to fill up a cd’s playing time or up the total amount of tracks contained within the compact disc. It sure as hell does beat hiphop’s tendency of throwing generally unfunny skits in between songs because unlike that kind of bullshit this does in fact count as actual music.

3. Can U Get Wit It?

Puff’s Uptown Records homeboy and JoDeCi member and producer DeVanté Swing writes and produces a quintessentially mid-‘90s R&B-G-funkish-sex ballad, classy vocoder work included, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since he pioneered this style with said group. Off course since this is a carbon copy of that group’s musical output one could now compare Usher’s vocal style to theirs and make some sense with the comparison. Usher is a much more modest singer than K-Ci and Jojo are, and it’s refreshing to hear a JoDeCi song, performed without their typically flashy, over the top melisma. (That would be my biggest beef with ‘90s contemporary R&B, seriously boys and girls… Just because Stevie sounded okay enough hitting every note on the ladder doesn’t mean you will too. Oh, nevermind. That piece of honest advice came seventeen years too late… And for Usher it was unnecessary. He got it already.) On the other hand the fifteen year old incarnation of Ush doesn’t really sound comfortable singing this adult themed material like he hadn’t done any of this sex stuff yet (which, for all we know might be the truth.) So concluding: I really liked the beat and even sort of liked Usher’s interpretation of a Jodeci song, however, this reminded me just a little bit of the Key of Awesome’s parody of Justin Bieber, which ironically contains the line “I know all of Usher’s dances.” as well as those duets between the Lonely Island and Justin Timberlake (Dick In a Box, Motherlover, 3way (Golden Rule)) anyone of them applies, because they are each parodies of this particular musical era and genre) so overall meh.

4. Think of You

This velvetty Puff Daddy-Chucky Thompson co-production rocks a Biz Markie vocal sample lifted from his guest appearance on Big Daddy Kane’s Just Rhymin’ With Biz and was co-written by Faith Evans, Usher and Usher’s future LaFace-labelmate Donell Jones. This is both a lot more catchy and a lot less risqué than the previous single. Can U Get Wit It, hence it sounds a lot better and more credible and it was probably because of that why this became the only minor hit song off Usher. Either way. If one of you readers want to make me really, really happy please leave a comment listing all the similar songs from this era you know about because I fucking love this one.

5. Crazy

Crazy is a love ballad driven by a pretty good shuffling instrumental created by Brian-Alexander Morgan, the guy behind most of SWV’s hits, with Usher putting in a decent emotive performance.

6. Slow Love

This has got the same credibility problem as Can U Get Wit It but not nearly as good an instrumental.

7. The Many Ways

Written and produced by Kiyamma Griffin and early ‘90s R&B superstar Al B. Sure! this lush, hooky, melodic, extra suave ballad is by far the best song off Usher. Yes the use of a piano-intro which then morphs into an outdated synth plus the sound effect of a drop of water sizzling on a hot metallic surface is the pinnacle of cheesy. Yes, indeed, there isn’t much substance to be found on The Many Ways but contemporary R&B songs generally aren’t the place to look for when it’s well thought-through interesting lyrics that’s concerned. When it’s catchy music and lyrics one can easily relate to though, this is definitely your genre and in these aspects The Many Ways delivers very well. The video however tries to sell Usher as the pint-sized loverman again, which didn’t work all that well at the time of release since nobody bought either the single or the album, but today is fun sorta, kinda… since he comes off as some random fifteen-year-old kid who looks and sounds like Usher a lot parodying the 2004 version of him really well.

8. I’ll Show You Love

This groovy, James Brown sampling Puff Daddy-Alex Richbourg instrumental is really good, but Usher, while sounding decent comes across as a tool, which means you could put pretty much put any R&B singer on here and have a quality song… (Well any R&B singer except Jason Derülo, that guy sucks! Oh, and Trey Songz and… Whoever else has only been popular in the post-autotune era? Right, That guy is an exception too! )

9. Interlude 2 (Can’t Stop)

Please refer to my comments on Interlude 1.

 10. Love Was Here

Too dramatic for the fifteen year old Usher to carry. If the song’s writer Al B. Sure! used it for himself and would’ve let his falsetto fetish run wild over, this would’ve sounded a lot more natural and better because of it.

11. Whispers

Whoa, DeVanté returns to the studio with a beat so goddamn chilled-out and uplifting that I forgot about Usher’s existence for five minutes straight, and he was singing on the entirety of the song.

12. You Took My Heart

Heavy D’s homeboy DJ Eddie F drops by with an instrumental that fits the rest of the album sonically but does little more. It carries Usher’s vocals to their intended destination but isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off. Although you won’t be inclined to interrupt your knocking of boots (ha!) to press the >| button if you would have this album on.

13. Smile Again

Puff, Herb Middleton and Faith write a bluesy song that probably would’ve been a better fit for Faith, herself, although Usher doesn’t do a terrible job with it. I really wonder to whom the high note at the end of this song belongs.

14. Final Goodbye

A breakup song that serves double duty as a supposedly clever announcement that the album is over, and so was Usher’s career for the time being. On the real though, sometime after this album’s release this really did seem like a final goodbye. The albums chart positions, record sales and radio play weren’t very good and if it weren’t for his later successes it would be highly unlikely that Usher would ever even earn a gold plaque, which eventually it just barely did probably in the absence of a follow-up in the years following My Way.

Best tracks

I’ll Make It Right, Crazy, Think Of You, The Many Ways, I’ll Show You Love, Whispers

Conclusions

So yeah. I really dig this album. Yes, Usher hasn’t really found his voice here yet, yes extremely dated sound, yes few outstanding radio singles, yes Usher’s vocals are wholly unexceptional and melt away in Usher’s expensive ass production. I know, I know. I just heard the thing. But what I like about this is its un-poppy, unmistakably 1994 hiphop-soul sound. Because of all the cheesy instrumentation, its occasional straightforward jacking of elements of other tracks and because of there being only one singer on leads for the entire album there’s a remarkable consistency to be found on here. Also returning to the point of Usher’s singing being secondary to the beats. I think here this is a good thing. If K-Ci and JoJo sang these songs the vocals would probably be more impressive but they would try to impress the listener with their vocal ranges rather than just sing the goddamn songs already, a tendency which makes their JoDeCi songs so distinctive and most of their post-JoDeCi work so goddamn unlistenable. Besides Usher’s vocals are competent enough and the songs are generally well written for what they are. This album doesn’t provide any clues as to why three years after this album’s flopping Usher was still signed to LaFace and got to record a sophomore album but I’m glad he did anyway because Ush, save for his post Here I Stand work, of which I have heard very little as always been one of the better pop radio artists around. But we’ll discuss follow-up albums in due time. [Edit: Finally I would like to point out my own hypocrisy before anyone else does. Yes, I liked this album pretty much for the exact same reasons I hated Justin’s My Worlds. Deal with it, bitch. There is nothing one can objectively say about music. This reviewer knows this and hence, what is boringly repetitive on Justin’s album can be remarkably consistent here.]

Recommendations

For fans of early ‘90s, post-New Jack Swing R&B (Mary J. Blige, Ginuwine, JoDeCi, Al B. Sure!, Aaliyah, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, Brandy, Ralph Tresvant et al.) picking this one up should be a no-brainer. This takes you back from the era of Blackberries and Biebers to the simpler era of Pagers and high top fades in an instant. For fans of Usher as a pop artist, this is a tough one. Usher doesn’t sound like any of his follow-up albums. All which came after this was decidedly pop-radio oriented compared to this, which is best at home on (currently throwback) quiet storm-radio formats. There’s nothing on here which is as catchy as You Make Me Wanna, U Remind Me or such and hence fans of those songs are possibly going to find this hella boring. But you can test this for yourself by listening to the songs listed in the best tracks cathegory. Especially Think of You and The Many Ways are fit for this purpose.