Tag Archives: Columbia Records

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.

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Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush the Show

Public Enemy
Yo! Bum Rush the Show
April 1, 1987
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
080/100
Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush the Show
1. You’re Gonna Get Yours // 2. Sophisticated Bitch // 3. Miuzi Weighs a Ton // 4. Time Bomb // 5. Too Much Posse // 6. Rightstarter // 7. Public Enemy No. 1 // 8. M.P.E. // 9. Yo! Bum Rush the Show // 10. Raise the Roof // 11. Megablast // 12. Terminator X Speaks With His Hands

While N.W.A was just starting take off in L.A. with their profane, violent lyrics about raising hell in Compton and South Central L.A. over Dre and Yella’s phoncky beats something else was brewing on the East-Coast of the USA.

Indeed Public Enemy largely bypassed the gangsta shit or rhyming about street life, selling drugs and fucking bitches, in stead they decided to rhyme about politics, the African-American community and the American media and all sorts of things much more serious and less hilariously graphic than their West-Coast contemporaries did, while their at-the-time Def Jam-assigned producer Rick Rubin, as well as PE’s own production team the Bomb Squad, couldn’t be bothered by Cali’s rather literal funk, and channels a somewhat more rock-tinged sound for Chuck D to rap over while Flava Flav props him up alongside him, eventually doing as much for “conscious hip-hop” as N.W.A did for gangsta rap.
For a group known as militant and political this debut sure is tame. It would seem that PE didn’t quite get political from the get-go since subject-wise they mostly tackle the same B-boy subjects that Run and Daryl were known for rapping about, nor did they set the world on fire with this album, since I cannot find an indication that Yo! Bum Rush the Show did platinum, or even gold numbers, or scored any big hits (back when record sales and radio were an actual indication of how many people actually were reached by a record).

As uncompromising as N.W.A was in their sound and lyrical content on Straight Outta Compton, they at the very least had prevalent sense of fun on some of the songs off their debut.  Songs like 8ball [Remix] or If It Ain’t Ruff may not have stood a ghost of a chance of getting played on the radio, but their sense of mischief and money maker-moving production paired with only made them extra suitable for fraternity parties.
Yo! Bum Rush the Show, because of being more acceptable to mom and dad’s ears and because of containing only one James Brown-sample, offers no such rebellious party function, which is probably why Yo! Bum Rush the Show didn’t go platinum on word of mouth, while Straight Outta Compton did.

Besides, few tracks go very far in expressing many of the profound but controversial beliefs PE is known for having (the dissing of gold digger-bitches on Sophisticated Bitch, the acquiring of a car on You’re Gonna Get Yours, the advise not to smoke crack on Megablast and the dismissal of sucker MCs on Public Enemy No. 1 are about the extent of the proceedings content-wise.)
The exception is Timebomb, which casually namedrops Kareem Abdul Jamar and adresses Apartheid and teen pregnancies among other similar subjects and Rightstarted (Message to a Black Man) which attempts to remind the black community of slavery and reasons about a link between high criminality rates among Afro-Americans and the white man holding the black man down. This is where the seeds of their 1988 breakthrough album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were sown.

Subject matter-wise Yo! Bum Rush the Show is varied enough to be consistently entertaining, with lots of old school-minded bragging, boasting and critiquing, as well as hints of social consciousness.
Technique alone elevates PE over the likes of RUN-DMC or the Sugar Hill Gang, who mostly rapped about the exact same subject matter, but never elaborately broke down any of these subjects the way Chuck D does, both content-wise and flow wise.
The beats are pretty fresh too. You’re Gonna Get Yours, an ode to Chuck’s beloved automobile has the kind of instrumental that would be equally well suited to score an ’80s race movie, with it’s jingling guitar, it’s booming bass and the scratching being substituted by car noises.
Sophisticated Bitch pairs rock guitars with hip-hop beats and takes one back to a time before soul and R&B were the obvious source material for hip-hop producers to sample.
Timebomb is the funkiest thing on here, which helps Chuck’s message go down and helps make the tone of the song activist rather than preachy.
Public Enemy Number One is the kind of propelling, minimal instrumental that manages to be both old school and timeless at the same time and makes anyone who rhymes over it sound good. (Even P. Daddy, when he jacked the beat wholesale for his song of the same name on his 1999 album Forever. A collection of songs with beats you’ve heard before elsewhere, better.)

Yo! Bum Rush the Show is a prime example hip-hop’s late ’80s coming of age. Chuck D (along with the likes of Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, N.W.A, the D.O.C., Ice-T and Schooly D) was one of the first to realise the genre’s potential lyrical complexity, all while, at the very least on this album, maintaining the old school sounds and mentality of those who came before him (RUN-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Sugarhill Gang). As such this is one of those albums every hip-hop historian should own, and an overlooked one at that. But since besides revolutionary and influential this is entertaining as hell from a music standpoint as well, fans of other musical genres that aren’t necessarily into hip-hop, should take this for a spin too.
You’ll rarely find an MC more authoritative-sounding than Chuck D and you will definitely never find a hypeman more engaging than Flava Flav. And with the Bomb Squad banging the beats and the legendary rock-producer Rick Rubin lending them a hand and overseeing this album’s creation you know what’s up.

Best tracks
You’re Gonna Get Yours
Public Enemy No. 1
Time Bomb

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Amil – A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best tracks
Quarrels
4 da Fam

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

 


NaS – It Was Written

NaS
It Was Written
July 2, 1996
Columbia RecordsSME
080/100
NaS It Was Written

1. Album Intro // 2. The Message // 3. Street Dreams // 4. I Gave You Power // 5. Watch Dem Niggaz (feat. Foxy Brown) // 6. Take It In Blood // 7. NaS Is Coming (feat. Dr. Dre) // 8. Affirmitive Action (feat. AZ, Foxy Brown & Cormega) // 9. The Set Up (feat. Havoc) // 10.  Black Girl Lost (feat. JoJo) // 11. Suspect // 12. Shootouts // 13. Live Nigga Rap  (feat. Mobb Deep) // 14. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) (feat. Lauryn Hill)

No hip-hop album has inspired the concept of the sophomore slump the way It Was Written has. There’s quite literally no hip-hop head who will claim that his debut album is merely alright while It Was Written is the shit. Basically hip-hop heads used to have a disregard for today’s album because it wasn’t another Illmatic, one of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop albums ever. But, as usual, snobby opinions by over-analysing critics don’t seem to be much in line with what the man in the street thinks, because even today, seventeen years post its release, it’s still Nasir’s best-selling album out of his eleven solo releases.

Now that the smoke has cleared and people have finally gotten the fuck over the fact that NaS will not release another Illmatic ever  contemporary reviews have been becoming increasingly positive. Just compare the original ’96 review of this album with the december ’12 revisit, both on RapReviews.com and marvel at the attitude change, which is pretty representative for the view of the community as a whole on It Was Written, both then and now.

Back to ’96. It Was Written was bound to disappoint. Illmatic was a masterpiece and nobody bought it upon release, leading to both unreasonable expectations from those who did buy it, impossible to fulfill even if Nasir would’ve reused the Illmatic producers and lyrical themes, and also leading to NaS shifting his musical directions into something more (sigh) pop/commercial sending him on a collision course with his fanbase. Whether this change in sound was forced upon him by his money hungry label, instigated by a money hungry NaS or was NaS legitimately interested in trying some new sounds is unknown to me, here are the facts though: NaS switched his management from MC Serch, a well-known rap legend his his own right, as well as one of Illmatic‘s architects, to Steve Stoute, who managed Mary J. Blige at that time. Stoute and/or NaS chose not to invite over Illmatic producers Q-Tip, Large Professor and Pete Rock, but kept DJ Premier and L.E.S. around, presumably as to not completely let the existing fanbase go. To produce the rest of It Was Written they brought in the Trackmasters who had produced prior hits for Kool G Rap, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige and Method Man and do half of the tracks, as well as fellow Queensbridge hip-hop artists Mobb Deep, both to spit guest verses and to produce. Also recent Death Row Records refugee and West-Coast legend Dr. Dre produces one track. NaS’ debut album had exactly one guest verse; AZ’s on Life’s a Bitch. His sophomore featured the priously mentioned Mobb Deep and AZ as well as Foxy Brown, Cormega and R&B singers JoJo and Lauryn Hill. Final difference noticeable without actually listening to the album: Illmatic had but nine songs whereas It Was Written has thirteen (not counting intros). Basically one can correctly guess how this album differs from its predecessor and how this negatively impacts its sound before pressing play, different beats and not all of ’em as good as the last time around, more guests and not all of ’em being able to keep up and more songs than the last time around, not all of ’em warrant inclusion.

Luckily most of these things don’t turn out as problematic as they could have.

Under the influence of Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… album, as well as those following, including Jay-Z and AZ NaS started to parttake in a subgenre of gangster rap called mafioso rap. No longer was he Nasty NaS, the street thug running from police, selling drugs, drinking 40 oz.’s, robbing foreigners and ripping their green cards. This time he was NaS Escobar (named after the Columbian cocain kingpin Pablo Escobar) a moniker that was meant to indicate he had moven up in the world of crime, no longer having to do dirt but having people to do this for him. In a sense this new, more sophisticated thuggery warranted the more expensive, glossy sounds the Trackmasters brought to the table.

The opening track the Message could certainly go toe-to-toe with anything off Illmatic what with its Sting-sampling Trackmasters instrumental, NaS’ rant about his supremacy over the rap game taking subliminal shots at Biggie and 2pac and DJ Kid Kapri’s scratched-in hook consisting of lines from N.Y. State of Mind and Halftime. It’s not only as good as his previous work but it also shows NaS to be quite malleable, being able to adapt to fresh new sounds. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) has the Fugee’s Lauryn Hill re-singing the hook of Kurtis Blow’s song of the same title over a Trackmasters re-creation of an old Whodini beat while NaS describes his utopia of racial equity, equal distribution of wealth and freedom in general. It may be more radio friendly than anything off his debut, but it’s every bit as anthemic as It Ain’t Hard to Tell. With these songs NaS succesfully combined street crediblity with pop acessablity, something at which the pop mutations from Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime, Vol. 1; such as (Always Be My) Sunshine and The City Is Mine failed at miserably. (From this point Jay would only get better at them while NaS, well… Nas wouldn’t.) The only single that is slightly embarassing is Street Dreams, and only because Nas decides to interpolate (horribly re-sing) the hook of the Eurythmics Sweet Dreams, otherwise it’s fine, if a bit unspectacular.

There’s also some really good street cuts to be found here. The DJ Premier production I Gave You Power is a narrative told from the point of view of a gun and it is one of NaS’ signature songs for a reason. The two Mobb Deep collabos The Set Up and Live Nigga Rap, the former featuring only Havoc, the latter Prodigy as well, are also well on point. The same goes for the posse cut Affirmitive Action, featuring the original the Firm line-up: NaS, Foxy, Mega and AZ, So far so good.

Unlike Illmatic though this disc has some pretty mediocre stuff too: Black Girl Lost featuring Jodeci’s JoJo throws some social commentary into an album that’s mostly all about our host’s crimes and money, but unlike If I Ruled the World this track is preachy as fuck and falls flat because of it. Leave that shit to Pac, yo. Watch Them Niggas samples Bob James’ the Sponge and has a beat a little too dreamy for a song all about vigilance and back spabbers. Suspects and Shootouts are also unmemorable. Most disappointing of all is the Dr. Dre produced NaS Is Coming, with its boring-ass beat and NaS sleepwalking over it. It’s a blatant attempt at fan crossover, but that shit only works if some chemistry is on display, which here it is most certainly not.

While nothing (except for maybe NaS Is Coming because of how underwhelmingly disappointing it is) will make you want to break It Was Written in half and slit your wrists with it the bad songs do show exactly why this isn’t considered to be on par with Illmatic. It’s not as focused as that album was, and on most of these tracks the man seems distanced from his lyrics and performance. On his debut he at least sounded like he had lived everything he rapped about for the entire duration of the album whereas here, only on the lesser tracks, it would seem he tells tales he himself has heard second hand and doesn’t care that much about. Still the good songs are really good and there are a couple of classics to be found on here. And although this can’t fuck with its predecessor, that’s alright, most album’s can’t hold a candle to that one. And although I mentioned it all the fucking time throughout this review (it’s part of reviewing this particular album) one is best to see them completely seperately, even if Nas or Columbia Records may have somewhat called this comparison upon him by lazily reprising Illmatic‘s album cover.

Best Tracks
The Message
I Gave You Power
Affirmitive Action
The Set Up
Live Nigga Rap

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


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.


50 Cent – Power of the Dollar

50 Cent
Power of the Dollar (LP)
Januari 25, 2000
*
Trackmasters Entertainment/ Columbia Records/ SME

070/100

1. Intro // 2. The Hit // 3. The Good Die Young // 4. Corner Bodega (Coke Spot) // 5. Your Life’s on the Line // 6. That Ain’t Gangsta // 7. As the World Turns (feat. Bun B) // 8. Ghetto Qu’ran (Forgive Me) // 9. Da Repercussions // 10. Money by Any Means (feat. Noreaga) // 11. Material Girl (feat. Dave Hollister) // 12. Thug Love (feat. Beyoncé) // 13. Slo Doe // 14. Gun Runner (feat. Black Child) // 15. You Ain’t No Gangsta // 16. Power of the Dollar // 17. I’m a Hustler // 18. How to Rob (feat. The Madd Rapper)
*This was the planned release date. The full version of Power of the Dollar was never officially released.

50 Cent
Power of the Dollar (EP)
September 12, 2000
Trackmasters Entertainment/ Columbia Records/ SME
055/100

1. Thug Love (feat. Beyoncé) // 2. I’m A Hustler // 3. Da Heatwave (feat. Noreaga)// 4. Your Life’s on the Line // 5. How to Rob (feat. The Madd Rapper)

Whether you love him or hate him you have to have some admiration for Curtis Jackson III. If not for his raps then at least for his persistence and his business sense. The latter is something he developed over the years, the former has always been present. He is one of those people who just won’t give up. Time and again he had a promising career thrown to the sharks, sometimes because of shit he couldn’t stop from happening too. He was born to a fifteen year old cocaine dealing mother in South Jamaica in Queens New York. His mother accidentally gassed herself after consuming a spiked drink while having the gas running when Fifty was 8, or so Wikipedia would have you believe, after which he moved in with his grandparents. In his early teens he became a drugdealer and after getting caught with weapons of some kind and narcotics of some kind he was sent to correctional boot camp. When he came back he, by his own admission immediately started selling dope again, but was careful not to get caught because correctional bootcamp really sucked. At some point he deemed the rap game more profitable than the crack game.

When he was 21 he started rapping in a friend’s basement, but the magic really started happening when he learned the craft of actual songwriting when the legendary DJ/producer Jam Master Jay picked him up and taught him to count bars and write choruses (Which would make Jay indirectly one of the Just a Lil’ Bit culprits…) Curtis was also signed to Jay’s record label and recorded his debut album with Jay, but it got shelved. (Poor Fiddy.) Curtis then left Jay’s label to hook up with pop-rap/R&B-producers the Trackmasters. They saw a potential hiphop star in the young whippersnapper and recorded his second debut album Power of the Dollar.

Things were looking bright for him since his debut single How to Rob stirred up quite a bit of controversy as it consisted of hilariously graphic detailed descriptions of how 50 was going to rob a lot of rappers and R&B singers who were at the time more famous and succesful than he was (or industry niggas, as he calls them.) The song which was obviously about as tongue-in-cheek as hip-hop gets, actually garnered quite a few responses from the likes of Jay-Z and Ghostface killah. Mariah Carey allegedly threatened to leave Columbia records, the label that housed both her and Curtis at the time, if 50 wouldn’t change the lyrics about her in the song. The man proved then for the first time that he’s good at getting the sort of publicity money can’t buy, which to a much lesser extent still rings true today. Another song on Power of the Dollar titled Your Life’s on the Line dissed the shit out of, at the time, superstar throaty disco singer rapper Ja Rule, which would become a recurring theme in Fiddy’s art. The song however that would spawn the rest of his career however was titled Ghetto Qu’ran which described the dealings of drug kingpin and Ja Rule-assiciate Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, who got so pissed off about it that he sent someone to plug 50 Cent his famous 9 holes.

Miraculously it didn’t kill him (which later inspired Curtis to name a video game he was in Bulletproof), but it did scare the shit out of the kind folks at Columbia Records. So much that they fired Fiddy and shelved the original version of Power of the Dollar (the latter of which they probably would’ve done anyway because it was one of the first albums to fall victim to pre-release internet bootlegging) , but they did release an EP with four of its songs and one that otherwise would’ve been left on the cutting room floor, at the end of the fiscal year as a tax write-off.

The story of how Fiddy rebounded and ended up with Em and Dre to record his third debut album will be told another day. This review is about Power of the Dollar. An album that manages to simultaneously be the best album Fif had in him (not counting the Jam Master Jay record, I never heard it because it never leaked to the general public.) and much less interesting than it’s back story.

Since our man hadn’t yet got shot in the jaw his diction is miles ahead from the Ma$e-like drawl hearn on In da Club. Since he hadn’t made any real rap dollars yet he sounds hungry and a lot more believable dropping gangsta’isms  than he would on almost any future recordings. Also his assholish sense of humour doesn’t get a more positive showcase than How to Rob, nor does his introspective side ever come out better than on Ghetto Qu’ran.

The production sounds like what Puff Daddy would give one of his signees around 2000 if he wanted to incarnate his idea of a “street” album (see also Black Rob’s Life Story, G. Dep’s Child of the Ghetto  and Shyne’s Shyne): Cinematic, dramatic at times soulful, with some stale, forced R&B collabo’s and disco-lite thrown in for good measure. This should come as no surprise to those who know a bit about the Trackmasters who were at a certain point in competition with Puff for the title of jiggiest shiny suit bearer alive. Both Puffy and Tone & Poke got a critical beating in the late ‘90s for their disco-rap beats and therefor reverted back to a more fundamentalist, hardcore hip-hop sound, except super-polished and with the charts in mind.

More often than not it works. Da Repercussions, Your Life’s on the Line, That Ain’t Gangsta, Ghetto Qu’ran, Da Repercussion and I’m a Hustler all walk the line between pop accessibility and street credibilty well enough. One could criticise the album for the songs sounding alike and running together somewhat. One could flip this and praise this album for consistency. This reviewer chooses the latter.

A couple of tracks don’t click. Such as The Hit and the Good Die Young,mostly due to bland and misplaced instrumentals. It’s not that things get really unpleasant however, until our host gets paired with an R&B artist for a misguided love song. Anyone who has heard Ciara’s Can’t Leave ‘Em Alone on which Curtis appears will know what I’m talking about. Not that hearing a young Fiddy dueting a young Beyoncé isn’t interesting from a historical point of view (although no-one nut them can be sure they ever shared a recording booth) but the song suck dick and swallows. The rappers that showed up generally fare better. UGK’s Bun B actually has 50 sound faux-southern on their collabo As the World Turns and Noreaga delivers the album’s best punchline “I like my hoes like summer, no class” on Money By any Means.

Taken as a whole Power of the Dollar is a pretty okay album. Not one that drops jaws and warrants many repeated listens and nothing awful either. Although it doesn’t have any potential smash hit singles on it like his later albums it also doesn’t have the abundance of filler. Those who can’t stand Fiddy Cent because of Candy Shop and the like would do good to check this out.

Best tracks
Your Life’s On the Line, That Ain’t Gangsta, Ghetto Qu’ran, Da Repercussions, How To Rob, *Rowdy Rowdy

*Not on any version of Power of the Dollar but a song recorded during the same sessions this album was. Appeared on the soundtrack of the 1999 film In Too Deep (yeah me neither) and was released as a single. And it’s a pretty good song.

Recommendations
You can’t buy Power of the Dollar legally, unless you go for the EP version, which is a pretty poor selection of what’s available on the internet bootleg version. We at the digging in the crates blog do not condone illegal music downloading, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.