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Beanie Sigel – The Truth

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

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

I’m the reason why Jay feel comfortable retiring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Pick this one up.

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Memphis Bleek – Coming of Age

Memphis Bleek
Coming of Age
August 3, 1999
Get Low Records/ Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
050/100
Memphis Bleek - Coming of Age

1. Pain In da Ass Intro // 2. Who’s Sleeping (feat. Reb) // 3.  Memphis Bleek is… // 4. What You Think of That (feat. Jay-Z) // 5. Murda 4 Life (feat. Ja Rule) // 6.  You’re All Welcome [Pain Interlude] // 7. Stay Alive in NYC // 8. You a Thug Nigga // 9. N.O.W. (feat. Da Ranjahs) // 10. Everybody // 11. I Won’t Stop (feat. Dark Half) // 12. My Hood to Your Hood (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 13. Why You Wanna Hate For (feat. Noreaga) // 14.  Regular Cat

Memp Bleek may be a lot of things, some of which are listed on the hook of this album’s Swizz Beatz produced monstrosity of a lead single Memphis Bleek Is…, but a good rapper is not one of them, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Jigga, who seems to not be in touch with him anymore these days, copped to only releasing this album so that the world would see just what it would be left with if he ever were to deliver on his threat to retire from rap music. This would certainly explain his lack of involvement with the project, except for his half-assed verse on What You Think of That he is nowhere to found. But perhaps he just had a lot of confidence in Bleek’s abilities.

Nah, that can’t be it. It would seem Jay-Z should know what good rap music sounds like.

Bleek’s problem is that his rapping style isn’t original or special in the least, which is nothing that good production cannot fix up to a certain point, but it’s still a handicap that prevents him from ever being able to release anything in the essential listening category, not unlike Ja Rule who makes an appearance. It is therefor unfortunate for Bleek that the production is mostly lacking. What’s up with that, Jigga? You couldn’t buy your boy some Timberland or DJ Premier tracks?

Still that doesn’t necessarily keep the man from creating radio fodder of varying quality given that the beats bang, knock or click and he can come up with catchy hooks or a gimmick.

Bleek’s hooks are what sink this ship, check the hook of the first single. Not that the Swizzy instrumental is something other rappers could turn into something good, but still this does sound like a really shitty version of NaS Is Like, and it is therefor not surprising he took offense. Also there’s What You Think Of That, which puts a perfectly functional beat to waste by repeating a stupid catchphrase dressed in nothing but generic gangsta’isms.

Where my niggaz at?
Where my bitches at?
I love these streets, what you think of that?
My whole team rock rocks, we don’t speak to cats
I’ma ball till I fall what you think of that?
What you think of that? What you think of that?
I’m a real ass nigga, what you think of that?
Where my niggaz at?
Where my bitches at?
I love these streets, what you think of that?
My whole team rock rocks, we don’t speak to cats
I’ma ball till I fall what you think of that?
What you think of that? What you think of that?
I’m a real ass nigga, what you think of that?

What think of this is best expressed in the immortal words of the Notorious B.I.G.

Disappear…vamoose…you’re wack to me,
Take them rhymes back to the factory.

Credit where credit is due however, Stay Alive in NYC is pretty decent for an amateur Jay-Z narrative, Is You a Thug Nigga has a pretty good beat and Murda 4 Life is as much a highlight here as it was on Ja Rule’s debut album on which it featured earlier, with its organ-infused Irv Gotti beat. Beanie Sigel and Noreaga also bring the heat with their respective guest appearances. Not that these above average sounding tracks salvage this album, this is still mostly stems and seeds.

For some reason however Coming of Age sold enough copies to warrant a stack of follow-ups, which means that in order to tell the Roc-a-Fella Records story I’ll have to hear another three of these albums. Groan.

Best tracks
Stay Alive in N.Y.C.
Murda 4 Life
Is You a Thug Nigga
My Hood to Your Hood
Why You Wanna Hate For

Recommendations
Don’t go near this one.


DJ Clue? – The Professional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


AZ – Doe or Die

AZ
Doe or Die
October 10, 1995
EMI
075/100
AZ - Doe or Die

1. Intro (feat. NaS) // 2. Uncut Raw // 3. Gimme Yours (feat. NaS) // 4. Ho Happy Jackie // 5. Rather Unique // 6. I Feel For You (feat. Erica Scott) // 7. Sugar Hill (feat. Miss Jones) // 8. Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide (feat. NaS) // 9. Doe or Die // 10. We Can’t Win (feat. Amar Pep) // 11. Your World Don’t Stop // 12. Sugar Hill [Remix]

Making your recording debut on an instant undeniable classic album can be a mixed blessing. It happened to Brooklyn rapper Anthony “AZ” Cruz. His first bars the world actually got to hear were on the NaS song Life’s a Bitch off Illmatic. Since instantaneously became a thing in the hiphop-genre and AZ assisted him Anthony was seen as Nasir’s sidekick back in the day. Worse still, today he is mostly seen as “that guy who used to be NaS sidekick”. Life’s a Bitch, ain’t it?

On the plus side, since that particular guest-appearance was well received Anthony got to record a rap album that had his name and face on the front cover. What’s more. Because everyone in hiphop had heard Life’s a Bitch and liked it the album was heavily anticipated. When it dropped Doe or Die was hyped as being the next thing in the Illmatic franchise, which was supposed to be a good thing. In part this is true since some of Illmatic‘s personnel such as producers Pete Rock and L.E.S. as well as NaS himself are involved in Doe or Die‘s creation and tracks such as Rather Unique or the non-included, less polished, original version of Your World Don’t Stop definitely sound like NaS debut has inspired them.

On the other hand hiphop hadn’t stopped evolving during the 17 month gap between Illmatic and Doe or Die. There was Wu-Tang rapper Raekwon who had taken the gun-toting thug that had been gangster rap’s archetype ever since Str8 Outta Compton had taken the world by storm and replaced his 40OZ with a glass of Dom Perignon and his Dickies suit with a Versace one. Mafioso rap was born. On the other the Notorious B.I.G. had made it acceptable for hard-ass gangstas to make songs that sounded a lot like *gulp* R&B.

So Doe or Die, being in line with these trends, is trying to be a more expensive-ass sounding gangsta rap record, as if it were recorded by a cocaine kingpin, rather than a small time crack dealer, and it doesn’t shy away from pop sounds. This album as such wasn’t as much Illmatic‘s sequel as it was It Was Written‘s prequel. Keeping record sales in mind isn’t always a bad thing and Sugar Hill, the single that sold Doe or Die is a prime piece of R&B rap with L.E.S.  smooth mellow beat, R&B singer Miss Jones’ melodious hook and AZ’s lyrics about dreaming of having shiploads of money and kicking it all blending wonderfully and it did go gold for a reason (Today this shit wouldn’t have had a ghost of a chance of making it as a hit single, since, disregarding this day’s different production values, lyrical rap doesn’t have a place on either the radio or video channels. And I am convinced that there are people ou there that would consider Sugar Hill both old school and hardcore… Groan…)

The album’s other attempt at radio song featuring R&B chick: I Feel For You doesn’t fare so well. Oh well, at least AZ had one good  commercial hit-single in him.

A lot of the other songs contain some pretty worn out hiphop clichés, such as Uncut Raw which is about drug trafficking, Ho Happy Jackie which is about promiscuous women, Gimme Yours and Sugar Hill which are about getting money by any means and the illuminati who are discussed on We Can’t Win. Although it might seem that AZ goes through a checklist of standard hiphop subjects on Doe or Die he doesn’t run out of ideas or ever sound uninspired. His trademark flow and high-toned smooth voice remain interesting to listen to throughout this album’s 45 minutes. It just that you do get some bullshit and nonsense with AZ’s clever wordplay. Catchy bullshit and nonsense, but bullshit and nonsense nonetheless. Nowhere does Anthony spit such a flawless salvo as Nasir does on Halftime.

The instrumentals are also quite good. Pete Rock rocks some dirty drums and an angelic harp on Gimme Yours and some minimal melody on Rather Unique. Buckwild loops a horn-hit on Ho Happy Jackieand N.O. Joe produces some G-funk lite on the title track. However good the beats may be here there’s nothing as grand as N.Y. State of Mind, Life’s a Bitch or It Ain’t Hard to Tell‘s beats.

NaS pops up some three times but doesn’t overpower our host anywhere. In fact his dialogue on the intro and his singing on Gimme Yours‘s hook is lame as fuck. And when they do rhyme together on Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide they sound equally good as they did on Life’s a Bitch.

In short: Doe or Die is pretty good stuff. AZ and Doe or Die couldn’t really compete with Nas and Illmatic if they wanted to, but it doesn’t seem that this is what the people who created this were trying to do. In fact Doe or Die is very much its own creature. And it’s a quite enjoyable one at that.

Best tracks
Gimme Yours, Rather Unique, Sugar Hill, Doe or Die, *Your World Don’t Stop [Original Version]

*Not on any incarnation of the Doe or Die album, still well worth the 5 seconds it takes to find it on the internet as the less-polished original version version of Your World Don’t Stop sounds hella better than the version that ended up on Doe or Die because of the inclusion of a sax sample and less annoying backing vocals, and it definitely would’ve pushed Doe Or Die over the 80, were it included on the album. Damn you hindsight, right?

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Jay-Z – In My Lifetime, vol. 1

Jay-Z
In My Lifetime, vol. 1
Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
November 4, 1997

080/100

1. A Million and One Questions/ Rhyme No More [Intro] // 2. The City Is Mine (feat. Blackstreet)// 3. I Know What Girls Like (feat. Lil’ Kim & Diddy) // 4. Imaginary Player // 5. Streets is Watching // 6. Friend or Foe ’98 // 7. Lucky Me // 8. (Always Be My) Sunshine (feat. Foxy Brown & Babyface) // 9. Who You With II // 10. Face Off (feat. Sauce Money) // 11. Real Niggaz (feat. Too $hort) // 12. Rap Game/ Crack Game // 13. Where I’m From // 14. You Must Love Me (feat. Kelly Price)

After Reasonable Doubt made Shawn Corey Carter b.k.a. Jay-Z a hood star, he wanted to be a pop star too. If not to be on the radio, then in order to pay the rent. Priority Records, the parent label to Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella records had dropped him and his boys because Reasonable Doubt didn’t sell that well initially. (After several of Shawn’s follow-up albums had gone platinum people finally became interested in his debut and in 2002, six years after it was originally released, Reasonable Doubt was certified platinum.) The most effective way to sell millions of records is to strike a deal with the devil. In ’97 the devil was Puff Diddy, who oversaw the creation of In My Lifetime, vol. 1 from his ‘executive producer’ chair. He hired, among others, R&B cats Teddy Riley and Babyface who didn’t know jack shit about gangster rap, to produce this fucker and jacks a bunch of ‘80s songs for their hooks and beats, along the way in making jigga his bitch, like had Ma$e.

The results are notorious (no pun intended). The City is Mine finds Jiggaman proclaiming his dominance over the New York rap scene, which isn’t all that strange a claim considering his debut album is hailed as one of the crowning achievements of the hiphop genre as a whole. But it sounds all sorts of ridiculous with Teddy Riley’s R&B outfit interpreting Glenn Frey on the hook alongside him, even if Jay himself comes more than correct lyrically. I Know What Girls Like is almost magnificent in showing what was wrong with mainstream hiphop in ’97. Suffice to say it has P. Daddy ‘interpolating’ (meaning poorly re-singing) the hook to the Waitresses´ I Know What Boys Like to an obviously flattered Lil’ Kimberly who then proceeds to sing it back to him, with Jay sounding like awkward, bored and slightly annoyed, not unlike a single person hanging around an overly gropy  couple. (Always Be My) Sunshine is the glittered-up sequel to Reasonable Doubt’s Foxy Brown duet Ain’t No Nigga. The beat isn’t good like the one that’s on the previously mentioned song, and Foxy Brown isn’t tacked on to the rear end of the song like the last time, but actually trading verses with Jay, so there’s no easy way around her via the skip button.

Considering that these songs were the most visible representation of this album at the time of its release In My Lifetime’s poor reputation as the point where Jay-Z sold out, is understandable, but incorrect. In fact, having listened to it, most of the rest of these tracks are nearly Reasonable Doubt-good. A Million and One Questions/ Rhyme No More rolls up two hot DJ Premier instrumentals in one track, with Jay-hova rhyming over it in his typical manner. Streets Is Watching has Ski sampling Labi Siffre’s  I Got the for an exceptionally hot three verses about paranoia. (Unfortunately Siffre wouldn’t sign off on the sample clearance unless the track was censored. The exact same thing happened to Eminem’s 1999 major label debut single My Name Is, which samples the same source material) Face Off and Real Niggaz find the Jiggaman do some lyrical sparring with respectively Sauce Money and Too $hort, two rappers who can actually keep up with Shawn both in terms of charisma and rhyme skillz, so that’s nice.

Imaginary Player is a perfect example of the art of braggadocio and the lyrical highlight of the album.

I got bail money, XXL money
You got flash now, one time we’ll reveal money
I spit the hottest shit, you need it I got it shit
That down South Master P, Bout It Bout It shit
I got blood money, straight up thug money
That brown paper bag under your mattress drug money
You got show dough, little to no dough
Sell a bunch of records and you still owe dough
I got 900 and 96 plus 4 more dough
You crazy, you full gazy, and loco with dough papo

There’s even more highlights, the NaS sampling Rap Game/ Crack Game that started that long-ass beef, which is the only song I know of that makes some good use of the ‘Rap is really just like selling dope’ metaphor. The ‘I come from a low income neighbourhood where life is not very comfortable’ tale of Where I’m From and the contemplative somber numbers Lucky Me and You Must Love Me are also stellar.

In the end one must conclude that if one subtracts the three worst tracks one is left with an album that is in fact almost as good as Reasonable Doubt and hella better than the average rap disc from this era. Jay-Z never fell off or made a commercial album (well he did at a certain point, but In My Lifetime, vol. 1 is not that album). He just added a couple of club bangers to an otherwise pretty hardcore set. And although there’s nothing against club bangers per se, all of those three included here happen to suck big floppy donky dick. But let that not discourage you from giving this a spin. As a whole it is quite good actually.

Best tracks:
Imaginary Player, Streets Is Watching, Lucky Me, Rap Game/ Crack Game, Where I’m From, You Must Love Me

Recommendations:
Buy this album.