Tag Archives: Def Jam Records

Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet

Public Enemy
Fear of a Black Planet
March 20, 1990
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
070/100
Public_Enemy-Fear_Of_A_Black_Planet-Frontal
1. Contract on the World Love Jam // 2. Brothers Gonna Work It Out // 3. 911 Is a Joke // 4. Incident at 66.6 FM // 5. Welcome to the Terrordome // 6. Meet the G. That Killed Me // 7. Pollywanacraka // 8. Anti-Nigger Machine // 9. Burn Hollywood Burn (feat. Ice Cube & Big Daddy Kane) // 10. Power to the People // 11. Who Stole the Soul? // 12. Fear of a Black Planet // 13. Revolutionary Generation // 14. Can’t Do Nuttin’ for Ya Man // 15. Reggie Jax // 16. Leave This Off Your Fucking Charts // 17. B Side Wins Again // 18. War at 33⅓ // 19. Final Count of the Collision Between Us and the Damned // 20. Fight the Power

This record has shock tactics written all over it, well compared to Public Enemy’s previous album that is, not in the grander scheme of things. It’s not as though It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back shied away from potential controversy. It most certainly did not. But it didn’t have a song titled Burn Hollywood Burn on it either. Perhaps the absence of Rick Rubin allowed them to speak their minds in a less politically correct manner. After all, would it really be a good idea for a white guy to man the boards, recording a song called The Anti Nigger Machine, social commentary or not? It certainly was a bad idea for group member Professor Griff to make anti semitic remarks in a Washington Times interview not long before Fear of a Black Planet was to be created, publicity stunt or not. It is for this reason he was given the boot by Chuck D, albeit temporarily, and he didn’t participate in the recording either.

I don’t know why it is that Rubin left. He is jewish and Griff did say some vile shit about god’s chosen people, but like I said: that racist motherfucker was out. Maybe Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad figured that two albums into their career they had enough knowledge, experience and a sizeable enough fanbase of their own to get by without him. Fact is that Rubin did leave and the difference in sound quality is immediately noticeable. It’s not like the Bomb Squad fail to bring the noise, they certainly are competent producers. But the beats do sound somewhat less rich and polished than they did under Rubin. The difference isn’t huge or anything, but it is there.

Besides the sound being slightly less tight overall and the guys getting a little more caustic, possibly under the influence of their new friend Ice Cube who in 1990 was the agriest motherfucker on the planet, which is a story for another day, it is for the most part a continuation of the chosen direction for Chuck, Terminator X and Flav.
That “wall of noise” thing they had introduced the last time around had worked pretty well and Chuck D had always been as dope an MC as they come so why wouldn’t it be?

Fear of a Black Planet mostly concerns itself with institutional racism, which makes this album incredibly current since that discussion is very much a thing right now.
911 Is a Joke, mostly performed by Flavor Flav takes a dump on emergency help services for poorly responding to incidents in black majority neighbourhood areas.
Burn Hollywood Burn, which because of its line up is every old school head’s wet dream and rightfully so since it sounds terrific, is about negative portrayal of black people in tv. series and films. On the Incedent at 66.6FM the Beastie Boys get called out, possibly for being a white band stealing and polluting appropriating and gentrifying a traditionally black artform.
The title track goes against anti-interracial relationship bigotry, and there are many other critiques of other forms of percieved racism on here. You can agree or disagree with the points being made, but you can’t say these guys don’t make them with gusto, flair and engagement, plus it generally makes for sonically fairly enjoyable music.

All things considered Fear of a Black Planet is a good album that should satisfy fans of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Fact is that it’s not quite as good as that album is, which could be attributed to the loss of Rubin and perhaps Professor Griff depending whether he actually did anything musical in the group, but that’s not necessarily crippling the listening experience. After all lots of music is both not as good as that album and nevertheless still perfectly listenable.

Best tracks
911 Is a Joke
Burn Hollywood Burn
Fear of a Black Planet
Fight the Power

Recommendation
Pick this up.


Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Public Enemy
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
June 28, 1988
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
090/100
it-takes-a-nation-of-millions-to-hold-us-back-by-public-enemy
1. Countdown to Armageddon // 2. Bring the Noise // 3. Don’t Believe the Hype // 4. Cold Lampin’ With Flavor // 5. Terminator X to the Edge of Panic // 6. Mind Terrorist // 7. Louder Than a Bomb // 8. Caught, Can We Get a Witness // 9. Show ’em Whatcha Got // 10. She Watch Channel Zero?! // 11. Night of the Living Baseheads // 12. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos // 13. Security of the First World // 14. Rebel With a Pause // 15. Prophets of Rage // 16. Party for Your Right to Fight

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was the album that broke rapper Chuck D, hypeman flava Flav and DJ Terminator X; collectively known as Public Enemy, to the masses and showed the world that there was a market for densely produced, vigourously performed rap songs about unapologetically Afrocentric subject matter and social commentary interchanged with swaggering party tracks. It outsold their more B-boy orented 1987 debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show and went gold within a week of release. Obviously they didn’t do all this alone. They were aided by the Bomb Squad, a production crew consisting of Hank Shocklee, his brother Keith, Eric “Vietnam” Sandler, G-Whiz and Chuck D himself. They developed a new hip-hop sound that was charactarised by the intrumental being packed to the gills with samples. It was later dubbed “the wall of noise”, analoguous to Phil Spector’s revolutionary “wall of sound” in the ’60s. The impressive thing is that that is hardly an overstatement. Compare how different for instance N.W.A sounded on N.W.A and the Posse and Straight Outta Compton. Then check out It Takes a Nation Of Millions to Hold Us Back, which came out a month before the latter and try to make the case that this album wasn’t a profound influence and that it didn’t pretty much reinvent rap music, changing it forever making it more musically complex and better in general.

You can’t because it did.

Overseeing this merry band of young, ambitious whippersnappers was super producer Rick Rubin who has a career trajectory that is pretty much unrivaled both in scope and in longevity. Dude produced everyone from Johnny Cash to Eminem, started working in 1982 and show no sign of slowing down today. It Takes a Million isn’t one of his lesser achievements.

Most good hip-hop combines music that sets a mood with a rapper with a unique mic presence and persona. It Takes a Million is no exception. Its storming beats are the perfect environment for Chuck D to land his equally intense vocals onto while Flava Flav rides shotgun. It Takes a Million is via the intro and a couple of skits framed as a live album which it most certainly is not. If however any hip-hop album is so energetic you can pretty much taste the music as it plays, as though it’s being constructed right in front of you, it is this one. The album kicks off with the pumping Bring the Noise and never loses stamina. The album never goes slower than midtempo and does even that only very rarely. The late ’80s were a simpler time for rap artists. “Slow jams for the ladies” were not yet necessary inclusions for Def Jam Records to consider a project for release, let alone weird EDM-rap mutations. In stead the listener is treated to a musical firestorm. You can disagree with these guys’ politics, but even then it would be incredibly difficult to deny the infectiousness of their music. Chuck D’s rhymes about his views on Nation of Islam and opression of blacks, among other subjects, are intense and authorative-sounding throughout.

It’s difficult to choose highlights from this album because it is an integral success and this is one of those albums which one should enjoy in its entirety. Still, personal favourites of yours truly are the rambunctious opener Bring the Noise, the teapot-whistle of Terminator X To the Edge later rebooted on Rebel Without a Pause, the fast-paced funk groove of Caught, Can We Get a Witness? The ’80s-rock tinged closer Party For Your Right to Fight is dope as hell, as are the ominous piano keys of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos. Even the tracks that aren’t complete songs work: the sax-riff looping instrumental  Show ’em Whatcha Got and the also vocal-less drum break Security Of the First World are sound music making, the latter two later served as the basis for completely different songs by other artists: Rump Shaker by Wrecx-N-Effect and Justify My Love respectively, and many other songs via those tracks getting jacked.

If you haven’t yet heard It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back I suggest you drop everything and find a way to listen to it ASAP, it’s that good.

Best tracks
Bring the Noise
Terminator X to the Edge of Panic
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
Rebel With a Pause
Party For Your Right to Fight

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Jay-Z – Chapter One: the Greatest Hits

Jay-Z
Chapter One: the Greatest Hits
March 11, 2002
Northwestside RecordsBMGSME
080/100
Jay-Z - Chapter One. the Greatest Hits
1. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) [Radio Edit] // 2. Wishing On a Star [D’Influence Mix Radio Edit] (feat. Gwen Dickey) // 3. Sunshine [Radio Edit] (feat. Babyface & Foxy Brown) // 4. The City Is Mine (feat. Blackstreet) // 5. Can’t Knock the Hustle [Radio Edit] (feat. Mary J. Blige) // 6. Ain’t No Nigga [Original Radio Edit] (feat. Foxy Brown) // 7. Imaginary Playa // 8. Money Ain’t a Thang (Jermaine Dupri feat. Jay-Z) // 9. Can I Get a… (feat. Amil & Ja Rule) // 10. Streets Is Watching // 11. Money, Cash, Hoes (feat. DMX) // 12. I Know What Girls Like [Fly Girly Dub] (feat. Lil’ Kim & Diddy) // 13. Feelin’ I(feat. Mecca) // 14. Dead Presidents II //
bonus tracks
15. Wishing On a Star [D’Influence Mix Full Version] (feat. Gwen Dickey) 16. Can’t Knock the Hustle [Fool’s Paradise Remix] (feat. Melissa Morgan) // 17. Ain’t No Nigga [Rae & Christian Mix] (feat. Foxy Brown) // 18. Brooklyn’s Finest (feat. the Notorious B.I.G.)

Jay-Z’s first greatest hits album came to be completely without his involvement and quite possibly completely without his knowledge of it happening. Chapter One: the Greatest Hits, released in early 2002 in order to ride the success of his album the Blueprint compiles all the hits from Jigga’s first three albums Reasonable DoubtIn My Lifetime vol. 1 and vol. 2 and it wasn’t even released on Roc-a-Fella records, the label all of these songs appeared on.
I’m sure Jay was dazed and confused when he found the cheque from Sony subsidiary Northwestside Records on his doormat, a label he probably had never even heard of in his lifetime. (On a side note: I wonder if Kanye at one point held this album in his hands when he was working on launching that ‘new person’ thing with Kim Kardashian last year.)
It turns out that Def Jam, Roc-a-Fella records’ parent label was distributed by Sony Music Entertainment from 1984 to 1998, and it is probably for this reason that Sony had the rights necessary for compiling and releasing a compilation such as this one. This also helps explain the otherwise curious omission of hit singles from Vol. 3, the last album released before the Blueprint. By 1999, the year Vol. 3 was released Def Jam, and Roc-a-Fella with it had already jumped ship to the Universal Music Group.

Chapter One: the Greatest Hits  is therefore nothing but a byproduct of music industry technicalities. But it nevertheless is a nice trip through Jay-Z’s early catalog from a purely commercial point of view. These are after all Jay’s most successful singles from the 1996-’98 period, although even disregarding the bonus-tracks some curious choices have been made (I Know What Girls Like and The City Is Mine made the cut but Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators ’99) and It’s Alright were left off? Never mind quality control, the latter respective two were higher-charting songs than the former respective two, besides being better songs by anyone’s standards except P. Daddy’s.) Keeping in mind that this amount of hits is the yield of only two years is pretty impressive in and by itself.

It is also worth noting that a lot of songs, Sunshine and Can’t Knock the Hustle in particular, sound much  better in their shortened radio edits and surrounded by their fellow hit singles than they do in their full-length incarnations on the albums on which they originally appeared. This is most likely because their instrumentals are perfectly enjoyable in measured doses but will grate on the ears when allowed to run on far beyond the three minute mark. It also helps that Can’t Knock the Hustle appears to have gotten a make over for it’s single release that has seriously tightened up the vocal production.

Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), the song that opens the album, is probably today still Jay’s biggest singular stroke of genius. Having the streets- and the pop-audiences eating from the palm of his hand in one go. It is with this song that he truly took over Biggie’s crown, speaking of which.. 
The City Is Mine
is still too polished for a proclamation of dominance over the rap-game with its rubbery Teddy Riley instrumental and its vocodered BlackStreet hook, but in retrospect the man was absolutely right in crowning himself king of New York. Looking back today it is simply a matter of fact.
Ain’t No Nigga and Sunshine are fun, fluffy ‘males vs. females’ cuts, and even Foxy Brown’s inclusion sounds logical and tolerable in these abreviated edits (Although it still remains questionable whether they were worth her having a career with solo albums and shit.)
Can I Get a… finds Jay abandoning Fox for another conventionally good-looking but not-very-talented female rapper Amil (I guess that Jay made as much money as he did because he’s a business man as much as he is an artist, and keeps in mind what appeal music video will have to whom, when selecting the line-up for the songs on his albums that are poised to be singles) and has the first appearance on a charting single by a certain Ja Rule. That’s a whole lot of poorly recieved careers launched in one song. May it be a consolation price that it is a good song largely in thanks to Irv Gotti’s lightly treading instrumental.
Money Ain’t a Thang, originally taken from Jermaine Dupri’s solo debut Life in 1472, but for this occasion redistilled from Vol. 2 on which it appeared as a bonus-track, is hands down Jay’s most balltastic song from the shiny suit era. It is also a song that other rappers haven’t stopped quoting and paraphrasing since it was released, even if few will have realised that its hook quotes from Jigga’s own Can’t Knock the Hustle.
Money Cash Hoes work despite Jay-Z, invited guest DMX and producer Swizz Beatz each doing a horrible job with their respective contributions. Somehow they all cancel each other out and leave nothing but an entertaining singalong song for the clubs.
Streets Is Watching is quintessential early Jay-Z, but it was never a single nevermind a hit. So its inclusion is curious but not unwelcome. It makes one wonder what Chapter One could’ve been if it were a compilation of rareties, pre-Reasonable Doubt singles and guest appearances, and songs that appeared on compilations such as Streets Is Watching. One could make a fantastic compilation out of I Can’t Get With That, Dead Presidents (I)In My Lifetime and Hawaiian Sophie and such. But Chapter One is a not that album, so I better stop daydreaming and get back to the review…
Imaginary Playa may very well be the exact point where where Jay-Z invented swag. It’s beat that suggest a sort of cold disaffection combined with Jay having hella fun exposing unnamed competing rappers as busters makes an underrated classic. Again: not a single. Guess we can conclude that this Greatest Hits concept is out of the window by now. It makes one wonder whether someone at Northwestside records actually knew and liked Jigga’s catalog because this is positively starting so sound like a perfectly decent, if limited, ‘best of’. (Perhaps the person compiling Chapter One disliked Memphis Bleek as much as I do and this was why It’s Alright failed to make the cut, even if it’s a pretty decent song.)
Feelin’ It and Dead Presidents II weren’t exactly big hits but they are amongst Jay’s best songs, and they are an effective introduction to Reasonable Doubt for the uninitiated, so their inclusion is warranted. It is puzzling however that the original Dead Presidents isn’t on here since that actually was a hit single, with a gold certification even. Guess nobody at Northwestside records wanted to make the call to EMI, Jay himself or whoever owns the right to that song (not Sony or Def Jam though, because it didn’t appear on the Def Jam/ Sony re-release of Reasonable Doubt), lest they risk legal action preventing this compilation from even coming out.

My favourite inclusion is Wishing On a Star [D-Influence Mix] because a) It makes the original, rather boring Trackmasters produced version (which was a UK-only bonus on In My Lifetime, Vol. 1) completely obsolete, and b) because it grants the fantastic UK acid jazz band D-Influence (calling them underrated would be the understatement of the century, even though they have four albums under their belt I’d call them undiscovered) a paycheck that was probably the biggest they’ve ever gotten. (For this reason I’ll even condone Northwestside records including it two version that are only different in that one of them is two minutes longer than the other.) This song is almost worth the price of admission alone. (Or.. you know a trip to Amazon.com or iTunes if you already own everything else. Make sure to get the long version labeled as a bonus track.)

The album closes with four bonus-tracks, the first one of which is the previously mentioned long version of Wishing On a Star. The following two are a pretty cool Irv Gotti remix of Can’t Knock the Hustle and a completely unneccesary remix of Ain’t No Nigga that removes the most fun part of the original: the “No-one-can-fuck-you-bet-ter”-chorus. These tracks neither add nor subtrackt much to the equation, which is fine and all since bonus tracks are usually there only to fill up the remaining room on the compact disc. Although it would’ve been nice if these two cuts were so polite to make room for Originators ’99 and It’s Alright. But you can’t have everything I suppose. The last one however is Jigga’s awesome collabo with the Notorious B.I.G., rightfully called Brooklyn’s Finest off Reasonable Doubt. Why wasn’t this included in the proper track listing one must ask because it is definitely one of the best things on here. Oh well, at least it’s here right?

Chapter One: the Greatest Hits is about as good a job as one could do compiling a single Jay-Z disc using only his first three albums as a source to pick songs from, trying to please everyone. And if that doesn’t sound like an ideal purchase consider this: With a combination of radio edits of hit singles, fan favourites and and even a couple of rareties thrown in, it is in fact pretty representative of what the man was doing during those early career establishing years. That’s breaking down the creation of a rap album into a scientific equation (or a ‘blueprint’ if you will): Radio and club-songs plus street songs in equal measure equals platinum record sales and charts hits. Interestingly by the time Vol. 3 dropped he had perfected the art (word to Max from hhid) and he had gotten sick of it before creating The Blueprint. So this is very much a constructive phase of Jay’s mainstream career, not that you tell that from the individual songs which all sound professionally made and pretty good with Jay-Z’s conversative flow and icy playboy persona fully formed (except I Know What Girls Like off course, which sounds like shit no matter what you release it on). And it is interesting that this album’s creators have been able to capture that process that has on occasion led him to some pretty suspect collaborators such as Babyface, Teddy Riley, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, P. Daddy and Ja Rule. It is telling that most of these people have little career left while Jay keeps the his coming to this day.
More importantly though: it makes for a mostly entertaining listen from start to finish, and if that’s not a good reason to pick this up I don’t know what is. Just watch out that you don’t get a whole lot of stuff you already have because it’s a rough economy, and considering the direction Jay’s career would go following these songs there is no need to make the man richer unless you absolutely have to.

Best tracks
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Can’t Knock the Hustle [Radio Edit]
Imaginary Playa
Ain’t No Nigga [Original Radio Edit]
Money Ain’t a Thang
Can I Get a…
Streets Is Watching
Feelin’ It
Dead Presidents II
Wishing on a Star [D’Influence Mix Full Version]
Brooklyn’s Finest

Recommendations
If you’re unfamiliar with Jay-Z’s first three albums this is a pretty good place to start and you should pick this up.


State Property – State Property

Various Artists
State Property (OST)
January 29, 2002
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
075/100
State Property - State Property OST
1. Roc the Mic (Freeway & Beanie Sigel) // 2. Sun Don’t Shine (Young Chris, Oschino, Freeway & Neef) // 3. It’s Not Right (Freeway, Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Beanie Sigel) // 4. Do You Want Me (Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 5. Sing My Song (Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 6. No Glory (Beanie Sigel) // 7. Bitch Niggas (Beanie Sigel & Omilio Sparks) // 8. Why Must I (Beanie Sigel & Omilio Sparks) // 9. International Hustler (Freeway) // 10. Hood I Know (Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 11. Got Nowhere… (Beanie Sigel & Freeway) // 12. Trouble Man (Beanie Sigel, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 13. Don’t Realise (Beanie Sigel & Rell)

You know when a franchise is on a roll when it’s B-teamers get to ink their boys a deal and record an album with them. Off course calling Sigel a b-teamer wouldn’t be because of any sort percievable of lack of talent, mind you. Sigel is a B-teamer only because despite him doing alright for himself his albums never did Kanye West or Jay-Z numbers either because he wasn’t as likeable and hence markerable as either of those two superstar artists. Because he didn’t want to taint his gangsta rap albums with pop songs or probably both. The thing then that Beans brought to the table was raw street credibility. Just when Jay would lean a bit too far in the pop direction for hip-hop heads’ tastes Beans would bring out a cold hard gangsta rap album to keep Roc-a-fella Records’ street audiences happy.

It would be safe to say then that the records this guy did sell were sold to a small but dedicated fanbase who had no interest in compromising pop records, and that the same could be expected by an album coming from his protégés Freeway, Peedi Peedi, Young Chris, Neef, Omilio Sparks & Oschino. Catering to these expectations is exactly what State Property has done for their self-titled debut that also doubled as the soundtrack for Beanie Sigel & Co.’s movie debut, also called State Property (Had Beans learned nothing from Ma$e’s Harlem World, the group he named after his debut and how well that shit worked out?)
Now I personally haven’t seen this movie yet (and I have no immediate plans of doing so) but at least one person must have, because according to Wikipedia State Property (the movie) currently, twelve years following its release is still the reigning number one movie when it comes to utterences of the word ‘fuck’ per minute (bar a documentary on the word ‘fuck’ itself.) “Fuck is spoken 3.65 times per minute or 321 times in 88 minutes.” Wow. That should tell you exactly how much Beanie Mac cares about giving the media something they can play without giving their censors a burn out in in the process of preparing it for American mainsteam consumption.
This would also mean that the amout of ‘fucks’ uttered in the movie greatly exceeds that of the gangsta rap album that serves as its soundtrack. This is quite the achievement!
This in turn would mean that after shooting the movie the guys started to record the album but were *wait for it* literally out of fucks to give.

The opposite of this cornball-ass joke appears to have been the case. While every movie critic who saw it State Property (the movie) hated, hated, hated it, music critics actually took a liking to the album. And while not even Beanie Sigel’s mother could be convinced to buy a ticket for the film, State Property (the album) had a fairly healthy charts presence and could arguably be called succesful in its mission of launching the careers of Beans’ Philedelphia friends. Especially Freeway and the duo of Young Chris and Neef Buck who together record under the name Young Gunz. Both of these acts have had gold albums, which is good for them, but not necessarily good for Beans because when Beans left Roc-a-Fella Records to sign with Dame Dash’s new label and a beef between the Jiggaman and Mac ensued, most of State Property stuck with Jay-Z, apparently against his wishes.

Oh well, at least at the time when this album came out it was all good.. sorta. The fact that the album did so much better than the movie could be explained by the fact that State Property had been rapping for a while because they were rappers and this z-grade attempt at recording a b-movie was completely new to them.

The album kicks off with a club jam with Freeway handling the first and final verse, Sigel providing the creamy centre and both of them going back-and-forth on the hook. It’s a catchy song, but not your little sister’s birthday party kind of hip-hop song. Just Blaze’s beat is bouncy and a sparse kind of way and Sigel’s verse is all about the Notorious B.I.G. and firearms. It was the only single released of the album and sounds a lot more consise than that version with Murphy Lee and Nelly on it that appeared on Nellyville.
Following it is Sun Don’t Shine, a song about getting cornholed hardship in the hood with a crappy pseudo Neptunes instrumental backing up everyone but Sigel and Sparks. Speaking of Sparks: One would think that he’d have Pharrell’s phone number after helping to create the hook of I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) so that he could arrange a real Neptunes beat. It is almost as though with these first two songs State Property tried to lure potential buyers into believing that this album was going to be a sequel of sorts to The Dynasty: ROC la Familia.

From there on however it is away with the pop and in with gloomy soul-sampling beats. It’s Not Right sounds a lot like a sequel to This Can’t Be Life, except with Jay and Scarface being replaced by Beans his boys. Matter of fact, Roc-a-Fella in-house R&B singer Rell notwithstanding, there are go guest appearances by non-State Property members, ROC or otherwise. Whether this was Jay giving Beans a vote of confidence that him and his boys could record a perfectly good album without his help and an apology for having the balls to include one of his own solo-songs on Beans’ solo-debut album the Truth for absolutely no reason at all or simply because Beyoncé’s bootylicious booty had just started keeping occupied to record music, and also because he was spending the lion’s share of State Property’s album budget with her in Mexico recording the ’03 Bonnie And Clyde video is not entirely clear to me. Apparently he did executive this album with his boys Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs. Which probably means that the triumvirate removed Memphis Bleek from the studio he was occupying to make room for the guys. But the result of this is that Sigel, Free and company get to run their own show and  that there’s no famous guest’s appearances to skip forward to, which means they have my full attention.

State Property keeps it grimy throughout. Even the come-on number for the ladies Do You Want Me, which has Chris, Sparks and Oschino on it, has the sort of creepy-ass beat, courtesy of Rick Rock, that suggests something else than hot romance. The fact that they guys all seem to be hollering at the same chick doesn’t really help. Moving on.
Sing My Song has Omilio singing his song poorly (but not poorly enough to grate on the ears) over a bluesy beat made by some cat called Zukhan, and dueting Oschino talking all sorts of ‘profound’ stuff about the ghetto life, and managing quite well to entertain.No Glory has the kind of beat that blends mafioso movie music with blaxploitation movie music and lets Sigel go rampant over it by his goddamn self spouting all kinds of violent nonsense but sounding as good and pissed off as ever. The beat even tricks you into believing it’ll switch up somewhere in the middle but it doesn’t. Tense.
Bitch Niggas is the anti-snitch that is mandatory on this type of album with Sparks and Sigel going for broke with it, not adding much to this particular sub-genre of gangsta rap, but sounding pretty awesome nevertheless, not in a small part thanks to it’s fine instrumental.
Why Must I jacks a George Clinton hook via Snoop’s What’s My Name and fails miserbly at doing anything good with it, mostly because this sort of thing has been done by every rapper ever since Jesus and his posse recorded the New Testament, and also because the first shitty beat since Sun Don’t Shine nearly derailed this entire listening experience.
International Hustler pairs Freeway with M.O.P.-producer DR Period for a rowdy excercise in gangsta non sequitors. It’s clear why after Beans Freeway would be the most succesful guy out of the crew.
Hood I Know, which has everyone in the crew except Neef on it, is a clunker again because of it’s car-commercial beat that is too glossy to be underground and too incomplete to succesfully be pop.
Got Nowhere… is Kanye’s only production contribution and it’s not bad a beat for Sigel and Freeway to duet over, although one would expect more from the billionaire, playboy, philantropist, artiste extraordinaire we know today. But then again back then he was only a ‘humble’ producer.
Trouble Man takes on a remorseful vibe and has Sparks, Sigel and Oschino wonder why they’ve so unfortunate in life early on. Yeah… Me neither, but it does sound good. And hey substance isn’t what this album is for.
The final track Don’t Realise pairs the albums biggest star Beanie Sigel with R&B singer Rell, a guy who to my knowledge had been signed to the Roc from the beginning but never was allowed near the studio when Jay was recording. It’s a nice upbeat way to end the evening.

Best tracks
Roc the Mic
It’s Not Right
No Glory
Bitch Niggas
International Hustler
Got Nowhere…
Don’t Realise

State Property is actually as good as Beanie Sigel’s then-latest album The Reason, which was good news for not only him, his fans, and these guys but also Jay-Z who went on to make a pretty penny off having these guys to his label. (And even though the movie allegedly sucked balls Beans got to create a State Property 2 as well, and got sent to prison so soon after that it can hardly be called a coincidence) But we’ll get to that when we will. For now to lovers of uncompromising but professionally made gangsta rap I recommend a purchase of this album.


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.


Jay-Z – The Blueprint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ja Rule – 7 Series Sampler: Pain Is Love

Ja Rule
7 Series Sampler: Pain Is Love
May 20, 2003
Murder Inc. RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
065/100
Ja Rule - 7 Series Sampler
1. Always On Time (feat. Ashanti) // 2.  Down Ass Bitch (feat. Charlie Baltimore) // 3. Never Again // 4. Lost Little Girl // 5. Pain Is Love // 6.  I’m Real [Murder Remix] (feat. Jennifer Lopez) // 7.  Livin’ It Up (feat. Case)

Back in 2003 internet music bootlegging was just starting to become a thing (anyone remember Napster or Limewire?) and so, in an effort to seduce people who would otherwise steal music from the web, Def Jam Recordings came with a radical solution: the EP.

A little more thought was put into it than that, by re-releasing an album without all the filler they could sell it for cheaper and because  it contained mostly the hits no skipping was required by the listener (The first generation of iPods had just come out, so not everyone knew how to make a playlist yet.)

Ja Rule was still a popular artist by then, so he was an obvious candidate, and because Def Jam didn’t want the EP to eat away the sales of Jeffrey’s latest album The Last Temptation they decided to go for the album he had released before that one; Pain Is Love, which had sold millions of copies and had completely fulfilled its chart-potential by then anyway, it was a no pain, no gain thing.

So they trimmed Ja Rule’s Pain Is Love from most of it’s non-singles until only seven tracks were left in such a way they didn’t have to cut Caddilac Tah, Black Child, Boo & Gotti, Jodie Mack, Missy Elliott and 2pac any aditional cheques, added nothing, rearranged them and put the resulting disc in record stores worldwide.

This would seem like some typical record company bullshit, which off course it was. But it just so happens that Pain Is Love had about six tracks on it that could either be considered a good song or a hit single (with about two of them being both). So with that in mind one has to give Def Jam kudo’s for including not only the the radio hits (although the person in charge of compiling this disc would have had to have been pretty fucking stupid to fail to do that right.) but also the best non-single, the existentialist mental breakdown that is Never Again.

It has to be said though that may have been a fortunate accident in selection, because this EP also contains the two very worst songs of the original album.

Nobody ever wanted to hear Jeffrey do social commentary, even those that did buy his self-absorbed sensitive thug persona (and all of his albums) back in the early naughties, so what the hell is Lost Little Girl doing here?
Pain Is Love‘s faux-philosophical pity me, martyr-lyrics and a typically unfortunately brassy hook and glossy beat go a long way in showing why these days Ja Rule is mostly a punchline.

As for the hits; Always on Time is still classic pop-thug/ R&B genius, Livin’ It Up is still jiggy, wide-eyed dancefloor fun, I’m Real [Remix] still has Jenny from da Block coming off as real a Barbie doll and it still has Jeffrey coming across as a jackass hollering at sluts with a bottle of K-Y, but I’m pretty sure that said sluts still like this song, so that’s a thing. And Down Ass Bitch still has some singing on it so bad it makes you wish they used autotune as freely back then, as they do now.

Also it would’ve been very sympathetic if Def Jam would’ve included the hit version of Ja’s Put It On Me featuring Lil’ Mo off the soundtrack to the Fast and the Furious, considering there is no Ja album, studio or compilation, that has the version that anyone gives a shit about on it.

Still this is probably the most Jeffrey any casual listener will ever need, so if you absolutely must have a legal hard copy of Always On Time this is the way to go.

Best tracks
Always on Time
Livin’ It Up
Never Again

Recommendations
Since you can probably pick this up for the price of a second hand single, because this probably has the least shitty songs of any of his abums, bar his debut Venni Vetti Vecci, and because this has arguably the two best songs of his career you can pick this up. Just don’t expect miracles from a Ja Rule album.


Beanie Sigel – The Reason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Buy this album.


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.


Jay-Z – The Dynasty: ROC la Familia

Jay-Z
ROC la Familia: The Dynasty
October 30, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
060/100
Jay-Z - Roc la Familia The Dynasty

1. Intro // 2. Change the Game (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Static Major) // 3. I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) (feat. Pharrell & Omillio Sparks) // 4. Streets Is Talking (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 5. This Can’t Be Life (feat. Beanie Sigel & Scarface) // 6. Get Your Mind Right Mami (feat. Memphis Bleek, Snoop Dogg & Rell) // 7. Stick 2 the Script (feat. Beanie Sigel & DJ Clue?) // 8. You, Me, Him, Her (feat. Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel & Amil) // 9. Guilty Until Proven Innocent (feat. R. Kelly) // 10. Parking Lot Pimpin’ (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Lil’ Mo) // 11. Holla (performed by Memphis Bleek) // 12. 1-900-Hustler (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Freeway) // 13. The R.O.C. (performed by Beanie Sigel & Memphis Bleek) // 14. Soon You’ll Understand // 15. Squeeze First // 16. Where Have You Been (feat. Beanie Sigel)

Because Bleek, Sigel and Jigga each had gold to platinum albums under their belts (one shouldn’t put Sigel and Bleek in the same league as Hova outside of this context) and because they were all signed to the same record label a group album made sense. That way Beans and Memph could ride Hova’s coattails towards a higher status of celebrity and hopefully even higher album sales, and Hova could play the record label executive he always fancied himself as being, while at the same time helping his boys out.

Amil’s album had gone halfway copper, and therefore she gets but a bunch of namechecks (but not paycheques) as though she were still around (it is entirely possible that she used to actually be on most of these songs but was removed last minute, though not the references to her existence, since that would require a whole lot of re-recording), as well as no more than one verse on this project by a group she was supposed to be an integral part of, which is less than the work she got to put in on the last two Jay-Z solo-albums. Oh well, it’s not like she had anything substantial to offer to the proceedings (although one could argue that neither did Bleek.) Question is: Why not replace her with a more talented rapper, such as for instance Sauce Money?

Anyway, that was the bit about how the actual musical content came into existence. Then someone at Def Jam thought it unlikely that people would give a fuck about a hip-hop supergroup (a group made-up of members who already had careers prior to the group’s existence) mostly because of how well The Firm: the Album did four years prior (I’m just guessing here…) and decided to release the album anyway, but with Jay-Z’s name stamped in an obscenely large font onto the album cover to lure people into believing that this was a Jigga solo-release so that Hova’s fans could find it, in record stores near them. Not only does this album almost exclusively consist of ROC posse cuts (Not counting the intro there are but three songs on here that don’t feature Bleek or Sigel) but two tracks don’t feature the Jiggaman at all, making this the worst case of false advertising since DJ Clue? Presents Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life. Especially since two out of the three singles released off this project didn’t feature Sigel or Bleek but just Jay-Z and some supporting R&B vocals.

Since this wasn’t actually a Jay-Z solo-album even though it was explicitly marketed as such, Jay decided to not call up Timbaland and Swizz Beatz to produce this album so he could save money on beats fuck around with some new sounds to push the hip-hop genre forward. Fortunately for Hov, Bleek and Mac (and Amil, but not really) the up-and-comers that were hired in stead were the Neptunes, Kanye West and Just Blaze, who would become the genre’s production superstars before long. San Francisco Bay based production veteran Rick Rock also got some play. Hova called in favors from the likes of R. Kelly, Snoop Dogg, Static Major, Lil’ Mo. Sigel snuck two of his State Property boys into the studio and the resulting album would be the worst Jay-Z solo album so-far, if it counted that is.

It’s not all bad though, as usual Jay is good for a couple of catchy singles, most notably the blingy Neptunes helmed come on-number Give It to Me (I Just Wanna Love Ya) featuring Pharrell in an amateur Curtis Mayfield capacity and State Property-member Omillio Sparks in the most useless cameo appearance in recent memory…
Um… But the beat is an okay example of the archetypical Neptunes sound and Jay sleepwalks over it in a pleasant-enough manner, which is all you can expect from radio fodder such as this.

Things get a little more substantial on Guilty Until Proven Innocent on which Hov talk about his (then) recent legal troubles (Hova had allegedly stabbed record executive Lance Rivera for leaking songs ment for Vol. 3)  over a boisterous Rockwilder beat. It is sort of amusing to hear Robert rant about being not guilty on the hook, with his upcoming legal troubles in mind.

Change the Game, the only released single that actually had the rest of the “Dynasty” on it, sucks balls what with its repetetive, bland Rick Rock beat, everybody rapping just coasting along and Static Major’s hook which makes it apparent that the man was bored out of his mind when he recorded it. The same goes for all of Rock’s contributions from the needlessly sparkly Snoop Dogg-assisted Get Your Mind Right to the Lil’ Mo-featuring Parking Lot Pimpin’ to the Hova solo-shot Squeeze 1st.

Just Blaze and Kanye West fare a lot better with their soul-sampling beats that layed the Blueprint for what rap was going to sound like for the years to come (pun intended). Especially Kanye’s sole contribution, the Scarface-featuring This Can’t Be Life is dope, easily the best track on here. Streets Is Talking the sequel of sorts to 1997’s Streets Is Watching isn’t quite as good as its prequel, but it comes close nevertheless. And the Shawn Carter-solo Soon You’ll Understand is a precursor to what greatness was to come on the Blueprint.

The Bink!-produced 1-900 Hustler has all of the Dynasty (well, except Amil off course) plus Freeway, answer called-in questions about gangsta life on a fictitious radio show of the titular name. In spite of, or maybe because of its corny concept and its hilariously graphic execution it works and it is one of the few moments on this album where Roc La Familia shines as a group, as opposed Bleek getting out-rapped by Sigel and Sigel getting out-rapped by Hov. Another point where this supergroup thing actually works is the album closer Where Have You Been on which Jigga and Mac diss the shit out of their absentee father both sounding legitimately emotional, never moreso than the moment where Sigel almost throws up.

Besides these instances of brilliance, as well as the previously mentioned This Can’t Be Life there isn’t much in the form of chemistry to be found amongst the group members. Which is not to say that the Memphis Bleek solo-song is actually good (It is telling that most of what does work doesn’t actually feature Bleek), but yeah this is a serious problem for the success rate which lies comfortably beneath 50%. It is a testamant to how good the good songs are that this got the rating it did get.

Best tracks
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
Streets Is Talking
This Can’t Be Life
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
1-900-Hustler
Soon You’ll Understand
Where Have You Been

Recommendations
would tell you to pick up the above songs individually off iTunes, Amazon or Spotify if I weren’t convinced that this would cost you more money than to simply buy the album. And the above tracks are certainly worth owning. So I’m going to say: Buy it but just don’t spend over five bucks on it and don’t put it on top of your to do list.


DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life (OST)

Various Artists
DJ Clue? Presents Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life (OST)
August 29, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
050/100
DJ Clue Presets Backstage Mixtape
1. Intro [Skit] // 2. Best of Me (Part 2) (Mýa feat. Jay-Z) // 3. In The Club (Beanie Sigel) // 4. Keep It Thorough (Prodigy) // 5. My Mind Right (Memphis Bleek) // 6. Who Did You Expect (the LOX) // 7. Wanna Take Me Back (T-Boz) // 8. Just Leave Your Love (Christión) // 9. Darlin’ (Rell) // 10. Millionaire (Hot Boys & Big Tymers) // 11. Road Dawgs (Amil, Eve, Da Brat & Jay-Z) // 12. Funkanella (Outkast, Killer Mike & Slimm Calhoun) // 13. Come and Get It (Redman & Lady Luck) // 14. Hate Music (Cam’ron & Juelz Santana) // 15. Gotta Be a Thug (Fabolous) // 16. Don’t Want Beef (Capene-N-Noreaga) // 17. Crime Life (Memphis Bleek, Lil’ Cease & Ja Rule) // 18. Say What You Want (Da Ranjahs & Ja Rule) // 19. People’s Court (Jay-Z)

The word “mixtape” is shown prominently on this album’s cover. Mixed bag would be accurate. DJ Clue? doesn’t perform a set, and unlike on his debut album The Professional he produces but one song here, for the rest of this disc he is relegated to “Shouting his own name” duties. “Music inspired by the movie” follows the word mixtape. That’s a lie too.

Not unlike what was the case with Streets Is Watching there’s not much of a movie to speak of that would “inspire” music. In fact Backstage is a documentary on the Hard Knock Life concert tour, which was headlined by Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man, Redman, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, Amil and DJ Clue? The documentary consisted mostly of interviews of rappers.

The most logical way of tying an album to a tour is by simply releasing a recording of one of the shows, unfortunately all live hip-hop albums suck balls. (I would say nearly all live hip-hop albums, but I have yet to hear an exception.)

Perhaps the most enjoyable way to go about this novelty release, which would’ve been inessential anyway would be to compile previously released hit-singles performed by the previously mentioned line-up of artists on the tour, such as Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life, DMX’s Slippin’, Redman’s I’ll Bee Dat! and Ja Rule’s Holla Holla. At least that way one could somewhat rightfully claim that Backstage: a Hard Knock Life was the music that inspired the movie and the disc would’ve been a nice Def Jam, class of ’99 yearbook.

In stead we are served what appears to be scraps and studio leftovers by artists who indiscriminately do or do not have anything to do with the tour, and may or may not have had supporting roles in the documentary (supporting interviews? What the hell?)

It’s not all bad though. In the Club has Beanie Sigel finally recording the Timbaland-helmed club banger that was so prominently absent from the Truth, and regardless of whether it was what you thought you wanted to hear from the guy, he does pull it off well. Keep It Thorough is Mobb Deep’s Prodigy’s finest solo song ever (although it can also be found on his solo debut H.N.I.C., sans Clue? shouting) Funkanella is a decent Dungeon Family posse cut and Millionaire has most of the contemporary Cash Money records roster (Juvenile, B.G., Birdman and Lil Wayne and others) doing their thing, for those who enjoy that sort of stuff.

Memphis Bleek and the LOX, Redman, Cam’ron, Fabolous, Ja Rule and a recently reunited Capone-N-Noreaga as well as a female rap-posse cosisting of Eve, Da Brat and Amil all put in work, with or without the aid of their subordinates, to various degrees of success, which makes sense I suppose, since they were all popular at the time. The Mýa song even has a decent excuse for appearing since it has a Jay-Z guest appearance, even if it and most of the rest of this music doesn’t need to be ever heard, let alone revisited.

What the likes of Rell, Christión da Ranjahs, T-Boz and Lil’ Cease are doing here is mystifying though. Even though the first three acts were on the Roc-a-Fella payroll at some point, they hadn’t been allowed into the studio for the recordings of any of the label’s recent memory projects (The TruthVol. 3). And Lil’ Cease, a dude who was an Notorious B.I.G. affiliate who never got to contribute to a Biggie album until the man was dead and powerless to stop him, and TLC’s T-Boz weren’t even signed to Def Jam anywhere in history.

Perhaps the Jiggaman gave Clue? the command to clean-out the Roc-a-Fella/ Def Jam vaults, as well as those of other record labels, just throw something together, slap the movie’s cover-photo on it and just release it already. Nowhere does this become more apparent than on one of the highlights, the album closer and Jigga solo-shot People’s Court where the man namedrops In My Lifetime, Vol. 2, which is most likely the album on which it was slated to appear. It was released some two years before this disc came out.

To sum it up: DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage: A Hard Knock Life Mixtape (Music Inspired by the Movie) is not a mixtape, doesn’t feature music inspired by the movie, doesn’t have so-called “DJ” Clue? doing anything DJ-like or useful otherwise, doesn’t feature the Jay-Z song Hard Knock Life, and doesn’t feature any music by Method Man, even though his face is featured on the cover.

Besides the shitloads of false-advertising there’s also the matter of what the listener actually gets on his plate; Most of the featured material is simply generic and doesn’t warrant any time, money or attention.

Best tracks
In the Club
Keep It Thorough
Funkanella
Don’t Want Beef
People’s Court

Recommendations
Look up the Beanie Sigel and solo Jay-Z songs and the CNN and OutKast songs, and let the rest be the rest. If you want to hear the Prodigy joint, which you should do, pick up the H.N.I.C.

Also on a somewhat unrelated note; pick up Sauce Money’s Middle Finger U.


Foxy Brown – Ill Na Na

Foxy Brown
Ill Na Na
November 19, 1996
Violator EntertainmentDef Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
050/100
Foxy Brown Ill Na Na
1. Intro… Chicken Coop // 2. (Holy Matrimony) Letter to the Firm // 3. Foxy’s Bells // 4. Get Me Home (feat. Blackstreet) // 5. The Promise (feat. Havoc) // 6. Interlude… The Set Up // 7. The Chase // 9.  Ill Na Na (feat. Method Man) // 10. No None’s //11. Fox Boogie (feat. Kid Kapri) // 12. I’ll Be (feat. Jay-Z) //13. Outro

Ill Na Na if not Foxy Brown’s entire career exists solely because of horny teenagers and because, allegedly, unfoundedly and unprovenly, she used to do the nasty with both NaS and Jigga, not unlike how Lil’ Kim fucked her way up the rap game via the Notorious B.I.G. Difference is that Kimberley is a gifted if limited rapper whereas Foxy couldn’t rap her way out of a paper bag. Her flow is abominable and her ghostwritten rhymes replace substance with references to her pussy and boobs. Nothing against pussy and boobs per se, but rather than hearing a full album of this shit I’d rather watch porn or something, has more substance and leaves one with a less hollow feeling.

Foxy’s Bells jacks an LL Cool J song (guess which one!) pretty straightforwardly and poorly, Get Me Home has either the whole of Teddy Riley’s R&B ensemble Blackstreet fucking our hostess, or just one of ’em while the rest cheers sings backing vocals. Fox Boogie has DJ Kid Kapri trying to make people say ughhh again, jacking an already sucky hook wholesale. Jay-Z ghostwrites most of this project and appears on Ill Be, cashing amost as many cheques as the Trackmasters while NaS off all people, who was about to get in a supergroup with Foxy, couldn’t be bothered to fart in the booth, let alone record a guest appearance. None of the other Firm-members; AZ, Nature or Cormega seemed to  have time to contribute either, inspiring the theory that the Firm only included Foxy because of commercial considerations inspired by her being conventionally attractive.

Unlucky victims whose record labels forced the chores of appearing on Fox’ songs upon them include Havoc of Mobb Deep and Method Man. Production is handled by the Trackmasters and wannabe Trackmasters. This shit sucks balls, avoid this album if you have any affinity with good music. It is disappointing, it is embarassing, it is a waste of plastic/ harddrive space.

Best tracks
The Promise
I’ll Be

Recommendations
Go to hell.


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.


Jay-Z – Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter

Jay-Z
Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
December 28, 1999
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
073/100
Jay-Z - Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter

1. Hova Song [Intro] // 2. So Ghetto // 3. Do It Again (Put Your Hands Up) (feat. Beanie Sigel & Amil) // 4. Dope Man // 5. Things That U Do  (feat. Mariah Carey) // 6. It’s Hot (Some Like It Hot) // 7. Snoopy Track (feat. Juvenile) // 8.  S. Carter (feat. Amil) // 9. Pop 4 Roc (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Amil) // 10. Watch Me (feat. Dr. Dre) // 11. Big Pimpin’ (feat. UGK) // 12. There’s Been a Murder // 13. Come and Get Me // 14. NYMP // 15. Hova Song [Outro]

Vol. 3 closes out Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime trilogy by repeating what made Vol. 2 such a monster hit. With icy playboy anthems such as Do It Again and Big Pimpin’ and, with some street tracks like So Ghetto, There’s Been a Murder and Watch Me thrown in for good measure (so that his Reasonable Doubt fanbase won’t walk away). And he does ’em as well as ever.

Some progress has been made, Swizz Beatz gets to produce only one song on the main version of this album in stead of Vol. 2‘s three while Timbaland does four as compared to Hard Knock Life‘s one. These figures are in and by themselves worth the higher grade. (I apologise to Swizz and his fans but respectively himself and their musical tastes aren’t very good.)

Jigga’s weed carriers do exactly as expected. Bleek and Amil can’t rap for shit and Sigel makes one look forward to listening to his album on Do It Again and Pop 4 Roc.

As for outside help, bringing in Juvenile to do the hook of Snoopy Track wasn’t such a good idea whereas calling over UGK for the Timbaland-produced club smash Big Pimpin’ most definitely was. Back in ’99 producing a club banger that sounds as though the backing track were recorded in the Middle East was actually innovative, and this song is oft imitated but never duplicated. Ignoring the quality of both tracks; the inclusion of either guest shows that Jay was aware of the up and coming dirty south rap-scene, which is one of the showcases of his business sense, which would lead him to Def Jam presidency, Vol. 3, like its two predecessors is built to sell to several hip-hop demographies.

Then there’s the Dr. Dre feature Watch Me, which has the man redoing Jay’s guest verse on the Notorious B.I.G.’s I Love the Dough in lieu of a hook. It’s not entirely clear why since the Doctor doesn’t produce anything here, in stead the Murder Inc.  head honcho Irv Gotti does the instrumental, which is some interesting trivia, because within a couple of years Dre and Irv would be the godfathers of two feuding rap dynasties. The inclusion of Dre is most likely packback for Jay ghostwriting Still D.R.E. The song itself is pretty decent by the way.

There’s Been a Murder has Shawn Corey Carter killing off his rapping alter-ego in order to go back to selling drugs in the streets, which is confusing because, as far as I know, his rap alter-ego is all about selling drugs in the streets, but whatever.

All in all Vol. 3… Life and Times of Shawn Carter is just another Jay-Z album, an expertly made expensive-ass shiny disc with some rough edges in the name of street cred.
It’s better than Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life even though it doesn’t have quite such a highlight as Hard Knock Life (although Big Pimpin‘ comes close) because the album flows better due to better non-singles, especially on the second half, but it’s still nowhere near Reasonable Doubt  quality or even  Vol. 1 quality for that matter.

It may appear that I am bored by this album, but that is not true. It’s better than most of the albums I wrote about lately. It’s just that since this sounds so much like Vol. 2 it’s not much fun to write about.

Let’s hope that with the end of this trilogy there’s some space for something new on Jay’s next album (Short answer; yes, his next album is the Blueprint, unless you count the Roc-a-Fella posse album the Dynasty as a proper Jigga solo-album, which I most certainly do not even if it was indeed marketed as such to boost sales.)

Best tracks
So Ghetto
Watch Me
Big Pimpin’
There’s Been a Murder
Come and Get Me
NYMP

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


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.


Irv Gotti Presents: The Remixes

Various Artists
Irv Gotti Presents: the Remixes
November 5, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
Irv Gotti Presents the Remixes

1. The Remixes [Skit] // 2. Unfoolish (Ashanti feat. the Notorious B.I.G.) // 3. I’m So Happy (Ashanti feat. Charlie Baltimore, D.O. Cannons & Young Merc) // 4. The Pledge [Remix] (Ashanti, Ja Rule, NaS & 2pac) // 5. O.G. [Remix] (Black Child & Caddilac Tah) // 6. Boss [Skit] // 7. Me & My Boyfriend (Toni Braxton feat. 2pac) // 8. Come-N-Go (Ashanti, Ja Rule, Caddilac Tah & 7Aurelius) // 9. Poverlous (Caddilac Tah)  // 10. Spanish Dancing [Skit] // 11. Rainy Dayz [Remix] (Mary J. Blige feat. Ja Rule) // 12. Moreno [Skit] // 13. Baby [Remix] (Ashanti feat. Scarface) // 14. Hard Livin’ (D.O. Cannons & Young Merc) // 15. No One Does It Better (Black Child, Caddilac Tah & Ja Rule) // 16. Remo’s Back [Skit] // 17. We Dem Boyz (Let’s Ride) (Chink Santana, D.O. Cannons & Young Merc) // 18. Baby [Remix] (Ashanti feat. Crooked I)

Remixes of tried and true hits and some added bonuses in the form of new tracks by Caddilac Tah and Black Child and some new cats (groan). 2pac involentarily pops up on two tracks, one of which, a Toni Braxton song, at least techically actually could have happened back in the ’90s because both Toni and Pac were around, and which started a beef between Braxton and Jay-Z who sampled the same pac song for his ’03 Bonnie & Clyde.

Scarface his vocals, featured first on a song called Mary Jane are reused for a remix of Ashanti’s Baby because the original already had stolen its beat already anyway. Then at the tail end of this dated novelty project a horribly miscast Crooked I re-does the re-mix in order to appear in full Ja Rule-capacity in its video, complete with mink coat. (I’m sure he doesn’t like it Joe, Joell and Royce bring that shit up.)

But hey some of the Ashanti tracks aren’t horrible, except for Unfoolish, which although it doesn’t sound bad, we had heard already on her own album, and which graverobs Biggie and morbidly puts him on the same album as 2pac, they’re all welcome additions to het catalogue. I’m So Happy more or less swipes the beat from the Gap Band’s Outstanding, which the original titled Happy did in a much more subtle manner, and The Pledge [Remix] replaces Caddilac Tah with NaS (no complaints there besides the 2pac thing.)

Besides Irv ruining Jeffrey’s Mary J. Blige duet Rainiy Dayz nobody does anything else worth mentioning so I’mma call it a day.

Best tracks
I’m So Happy, The Pledge [Remix], Baby [Remix] (Crooked I version)

Recommendations
What do you think?


Ja Rule – The Last Temptation

Ja Rule
The Last Temptation
November 19, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
Ja Rule - The Last Temptation

1. Intro // 2. Thug Lovin’ (feat. Bobby Brown) // 3. Mesmerize (feat. Ashanti) // 4. Pop Niggas (feat. Pharrell) // 5. The Pledge [Remix] (feat. NaS, Ashanti & 2pac) // 6. Murder Reigns // 7. Murder Me (feat. Caddilac Tah & Alexi) // 8. The Warning // 9. Connected (feat. Eastwood, Crooked I & Chink Santana) // 10. Emerica (feat. Young Life & Chink Santana) // 11. Rock Star // 12. Destiny [Outro]

Ja Rule hadn’t really had any major backlashes in his career up until the gruff-voiced reincarnation of Luther Vandross released The Last Temptation. Sure, that Fiddy guy didn’t like him too much and his old homeboy DMX had said some less than complementary things about him on record, but his first three albums had all been multi platinum sellers and booty bumping with J-Lo on I’m Real [Remix] and Ain’t It Funny [Remix] sure had been fun. It also seemed that because of How to Rob nobody in the hiphop community liked mr. Cent, and his debut album had been shelved, and he himself had been dropped from his record label, making him not a force to be reckoned with in the rap game.

Then Curtis Jackson got signed again, arguably to the biggest powerhouse label in hip-hop: Eminem’s Shady Records. He was talking shit again, about how Jeffrey was a sellout R&B artist and a 2pac imitating wanksta, and this time the world listened and nodded. So The Last Temptation desperately needed to re-establish Ja’s credibility.

At the same time Ja’s previous album had him and Irv Gotti finding a winning formula: Ja posturing grimily over hella slick beats with Ashanti singing a hook. This had sold Ja boatloads of albums and a stack of hit singles. He also had an audience to satisfy. And audience that wanted him to reprise Always on Time a couple of times.

These two contradictory ideas that stand at the foundation of The Last Temptation, a fascinatingly schizofrenic listen with a lot of truly mystifying choices being made.

After a rant of an intro things start off well enough with Thug lovin’which pick Whitney Houston’s then-hubby Bobby Brown out of the crack rocks moth balls to aid Jeffrey in a smoothed-out song of rugged romance. Mesmerize is a decent sequel to Always on Time that samples, ironically enough, the same source material as Ghetto Qu’ran, the song that allegedly got F. Cent shot nine times. No surprises there, musically or lyrically.

Then Ja remembers the streets all of a sudden and invites Pharrell over for a DMX/Fiddy Cent disfest. Not much worth mentioning here except for that it raises the question whether or not Skateboard P willingly helped create a 50/X dis, or was simply asked for a beat and e-mailed his most generic, never even remembering the fact and being hella surprised when the Murder Inc. paycheck came in the mail.

Murder Reigns samples Toto’s Africa of all things and has Ja going all 2pac/martyr on the listener. Speaking of the man, his disembodied voice can be heard on the outro of The Pledge [Remix], which also samples his own So Many Tears, for the beat. That’s fucking blasphemous, and I’m not even really that much of a Pac fan. The fuck NaS!? Were you threatened with grievous bodily harm into participating with this ridiculous horseshit? It would seem that there’s even a subliminal Snoop Dogg-diss in Ja’s verse, this was most likely instigated by Suge who gets a shout-out.

The title track had Irv Gotti breaking out a Rappers Delight-esque faux disco beat, and features the Notorious B.I.G.’s one-time dip on the side Charlie Baltimore dueting Jeffrey, who reverts back to his old constipated Barry White with laryngitis tricks on the hook, making the song unlistenable even though Baltimore actually sounds pretty good.

Murder Me draws inspiration from Anniversary by Tony! Toni! Toné!, and has Ja breaking out some of the worst sex lyrics The Last Temptation‘s side of Pretty Ricky’s Your BodyThe Last Temptation is by far hip-hop’s largest, most decadent waste of a sampling budget since Puff Diddy reigned over the charts. But apparently they saved the money on guest appearances, because except for Pharrell’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance on Pop Niggaz and Nasir’s verse, there’s no one on here who wouldn’t work for food. One has to wonder whether Gotti ever truly considered releasing albums by the likes of Caddilac Tah and Young Life.

Because Suge cleared the 2pac raping-and-pillageing that was Pain on Pain is Love and The Pledge [Remix] on here, two Death Row records get to spit alongside Jeffrey on Connected. It’s a highlight, what with Chink Santana’s Nate Dogg-esque vocals on the hook and his Dat Nigga Daz aping beat and Crooked I and Eastwood providing the best verses on this project, bar NaS. Emerica is another ecstasy anthem and Ja’s worst one yet.

Rock Star goes for the tried-and-true throw-some-rock-guitars-on-a-hip-hop-song-and-hope-for-crossover-appeal gimmick. Fans of both genres should hang their heads in shame.

The outro is a pretty decent machine gun funk beat, and Jeffrey certainly does his best with it, but ultimately it’s too little, too late.

Ja Rule actually held the advantage in the 50 Cent thing, up to this point, having sold milions of records and with nobody knowing who Curtis was. With this album however he more or less killed his own career before 50’s practice round was even over and his first real blow, in the form of Get Rich or Die Trying was even delt by at the same time trying to please everyone and being so self important that he creates music that borders on self-parody.

Best tracks
Thug Lovin’
Mesmerize
Connected
Destiny [Outro]

Recommedations
The above songs are some fanstastic naughties nostalgia, but the rest of this album is a total waste of time and money, and needs not be touched with a ten foot pole.


Irv Gotti Presents: the Inc.

Various artists
Irv Gotti presents: the Inc
July 2, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
Various artists - Irv Gotti presents the Inc

1. Intro (Irv Gotti, Chink Santana, Ronnie Bumps & Caddilac Tah) // 2. Gangstafied (Ja Rule, Caddilac Tah & Chink Santana) // 3. Down 4 U (Ja Rule, Ashanti, Vita & Charlie Baltimore) // 4. Nobody Does It Better (Charlie Baltimore & Ashanti) // 5. It’s Murda (Caddilac Tah, Chink Santana & D.C.) // 6. The Pledge (Ashanti & Caddilac Tah) // 7. Ride With Us (Jody Mack, Black Child & 0-1) // 8. O.G. (Black Child) // 9. The Rain (Jody Mack, 0-1 & Ja Rule) // 10. Here We Come (Vita, Irv Gotti & Ronnie Bumps) // 11. We Still Don’t Give a Fuck (Ronnie Bumps, D.O. Cannons, Young Merc, Jody mack, Rah, 0-1, Charlie Baltimore, Caddilac Tah & Black Child) // 12. 1 Hearse, 2 Suburban (Black Child, Ronnie Bumps & Young Merc) // 13. Ain’t It Funny [Remix] (Jennifer Lopez, Ja Rule & Caddilac Tah) // 14. Tha Nexx Niggaz (Chink Santana, Eastwood, Crooked I, Ronnie Bumps, Dave Bing, Black Child & Caddilac Tah) // 15. DC Joe [Skit] // 16. Hold On (Chink Santana)

A huge step up from Irv Gotti Presents: the Murderers but that’s not saying much. The production is slightly better than on either Pain is Love or Ashanti, which is saying something because production was mostly what those albums have going for them.

The fact that this manages to still be a less pleasant listening experience than either of those two albums is because this is ment to promote a revolving door cast of people nobody wants to hear record music. The best tracks on here feature vocals by people who already were known to the general public, so it’s a total failiure in that aspect. The only new guy who comes off as semi decent is Chink Santana who adds a faux West Coast vibe to some of these tracks with his Nate Dogg meets Bone Thugs vocals on some of the refrains and his Daz Dillinger-esque beats.

One bit of trivia will be of interest to fans of today’s hiphop. Crooked I makes a brief appearance on the posse cut Tha Nexx Niggaz, with Eastwood, because Death Row records, his record label at that time, had some kind of side deal with the Inc. that required Row and Inc. artists to appear on one another’s projects. Not that one-and-a-half bar by Crooked I make the Nexx Niggaz a must-listen or anything. And the gazilion bars by the likes of Caddilac Tah and Black Child will make any fan of well-written rap’s head explode. At least Crooked gets his contribution out of the way early, so you can turn that shit off when he’s done and get on with your life.

Not that everything here sounds like shit. Down 4 U is a prime Ja-Ashanti duet for those who are into that sort of thing, the Pledge is mostly Ashanti doing her thing over a bastardised 2pac beat. And Gangstafied, the opening track has a beat so teriffically ominous that even Caddy and Ronnie Bumps can’t completely wreck it, although not for lack of trying, mind you.

If this album were stripped of all the vocals of weed carriers and replaced by those of Jeffrey, or better yet a competent rapper like for instance the previously mentioned Crooked I, this might’ve been a rather decent album. Alas it is what it is.

Best tracks
Gangstafied
Down 4 U
The Pledge

Recommendations
Download the above tracks of iTunes or Amazon or Spotify.


Jay-Z – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

Jay-Z
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
September 29, 1998
Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
070/100
Jay-Z - Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life

1. Intro (Hand It Down) (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 2. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) // 3. If I Should Die (feat. Da Ranjahs) // 4. Ride or Die // 5. Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators 99) (feat. Big Jaz & Amil) // 6. Money, Cash, Hoes (feat. DMX) // 7. A Week Ago (feat. Too $hort) // 8. Coming of Age (Da Sequel) (feat. Memphis Bleek) //9. Can I Get a…(feat. Amil & Ja Rule) // 10. Paper Chase (feat. Foxy Brown) // 11. Resevoir Dogs (feat. the LOX, Beanie Sigel & Sauce Money) // 12. It’s Like That (feat. Kid Kapri) // 13. It’s Alright (feat. Memphis Bleek)

The first person you actually get to hear rhyme on The Life and Times of Shawn Carter, volume 2, after the mandatory Scarface-themed Pain in da Ass intro is Memphis Bleek. Said intro is all about how Jay-Z is going to leave the rap game for good after releasing this album, and leave Bleek as his successor. Not unlike what happened on the intro to Vol. 1, except that back then it was clearly an empty threat or a hollow promise, depending on your point of view, because he named his album vol. 1, which all but promises a sequel.

Everyone knows none of this actually happened. It’s a good thing, both because Bleek usually can’t rap for shit and because even though vol. 2 is critically acclaimed and sold shitloads of copies it’s far from a flawless goodbye party.

Part of the problem is the appearance of guests such as said Bleek, Da Ranjahs, Amil, Ja Rule and Foxy Brown, most of whom don’t have much of a career left today for a good reason. Part of the problem is that Swizz Beatz gets to produce three tracks, which is never a good thing. There’s one beat on here that’s produced by DJ Premier, a guy who should’ve been all over this. It’s a pretty good beat but it has nobody but (wait for it…) Memphis Bleek rhyming over it, and although he doesn’t quite put it to waste as he’s prone to do, it isn’t remotely what anyone wanted to hear on what was at one time suposed to be Jay-Z’s very last album. Que de la fucque!?

When Jigga has some guests that can keep up with him on the posse cut Resevoir Dogs Eric Sermon of all people fucks shit up by producing a boring-ass instrumental. Listen Jigga, if you gon’ have sucky rappers on your album and sucky beats at least put them together so you can keep the good stuff for yourself and those in your posse with actual talent. What do you mean, you released this album fourteen years ago and can’t change shit about it? You’re rich, buy a time machine.

That said there’s still a wealth of good music to be found here. Everybody and their grandmother knows the Annie-sampling title track and there’s not much to be said about it but that it’s an all-time hip-hop classic. Nigga What, Nigga Who has Shawn Carter starting a succesful partnership with Timbaland and ending a succesful partnership with Big Jaz over a stuttering futuristic instrumental and Amil doesn’t have to do anything but the hook, which helps. A Week Ago is a pretty good narrative about friendship going sour and snitching, and although Too $hort could’ve been put to better use than to rap only on the hook it’s still a highlight. Can I Get a… works because of its light footed instrumental and in spite of its guests list, and Money, Cash, Hoes is just some fun singalong club-shit, although the Swizz Beat is barely passable and the DMX cameo seems phoned-in and sticked on last-minute.

Jay himself is in fine form throughout even though he doesn’t get past his usual I-am-richer-than-thou and I-rap-now-but-I-used-to-sell-drugs shtick. His excellent conversational flow ties all of this shit together.

He can’t work miracles though. This album is fucking mediocre by his admittedly high standards. I hope Vol. 3 has less guests and better beats.

Best tracks
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators 99)
Can I Get a…
A Week Ago
Money, Cash, Hoes

Recommendations
You can buy this, it’s not entirely worthless and even pretty good in parts. But do go listen to Reasonable Doubt first.