Tag Archives: DJ Premier

Maroon 5 – Call And Response: The Remix Album

Maroon 5
Call And Response: The Remix Album
December 9, 2008
A&M OctoneUMG
045/100
Maroon 5 - Call and Respond The Remix Album
1. If I Never See Your Fage Again [Swizz Beatz Remix] (feat. Cross) // 2. Wake Up Call [Mark Ronson Remix] (feat. Mary J. Blige)  // 3. Sunday Morning [Questlove Remix] // 4. Makes Me Wonder [Just Blaze Remix] // 5. This Love [C. “Tricky” Stewart Remix] // 6. She Will Be Loved [Pharrell Williams Remix] // 7. Shiver [DJ Quik Remix] // 8. Wake Up Call [David Banner Remix] (feat. David Banner) // 9. Harder To Beathe [The Cool Kids Remix] (feat. the Cool Kids) // 10. Little of Your Time [Bloodshy And Avant Remix] // 11. Little Of Your Time [Of Montreal Remix] // 12. Goodnight Goodnight [Deerhoof Remix] // 13. Not Falling Apart [Tiësto Remix] // 14. Better That We Break [Ali Shaheed Mohammed & Doc Remix] // 15. Secret [DJ Premier Remix] // 16. Woman [Sam Fararr Remix] // 17. This Love [Cut Copy Galactic Beach House Remix] // 18. If I Never See Your Face Again [Paul Oakenfold Remix] (feat. Rihanna)

Remix albums of conventional pop acts tend to age horribly and usually don’t sound very good to begin with.
Usually when greedy record executive commision one an artist’s back catalog is stripped of some or most of its instrumentals and thrown over beats that incorporates whatever EDM or hip-hop style is en vogue at the time of the album’s release. If the remixer of a particular track is a hip-hop producer usually a rapper gets called in to do one or two thowaway verses, and because there’s typically none of the artists that created the original songs around for quality controll and because appearing on the remix of the latest pop tart’s latest single, which you don’t necessarily fancy, an act with a fanbase that doesn’t necessarily fancy you, is an ungrateful chore usually said rappers can’t be blamed for not bringing their A-game to the table. And the same usually goes for the high priced EDM DJs that are called in to create club bangers.

As much as I want to like West-Coast hip-hop legend DJ Quik, East-Coast hip-hop legend DJ Premier, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Mohammed, music legend in general Pharrell Williams, hipster rappers the Cool Kids and southern stalwart David Banner taking on M5 tracks (being that I’m both a huge M5 fan and a huge hip-hop head and given that these are usually each very reliable producers) all they go to show is that yes Maroon 5 is very much a band and taking Adam’s vocal tracks out of their original band-surroundings completely takes away the appeal.
It also doesn’t help that especially the Pharrell and Premier tracks sound like some studio tool was given the task to unimaginatively create instrumentals that sounds like the work of the people they’re credited to on the back of this album.
Oh well, at least the Swizzy contribution sucks as much as I thought it would, which doesn’t make up for anything, but is reassuring nontheless. Who the hell is this Cross guy anyway, and who did he have to fellate to appear on a major label release by a succesful pop act?

The Oakenfold and Tiësto contributions at the very least should serve their purpose of getting some girls people to dance at the club, but it’s debatable whether any non-diskjockey would need to own these tracks, and whether those who would aren’t better off picking them up on EDM compilations where they appear alongside similarly minded stomping concoctions.

Then there’s pop heavyweights Bloodshy & Avant and C. Tricky Stewart’s contributions, which simply take away the organic feeling of the originals, replace it with crappy midi-music and call it a night. I hope Adam and co. just had these remixes lying around from varying single-releases and decided to compile them rather then commission them specifically for this album, because that would be a waste of time and.. well not really resources, the best thing Bloodshy & Avant ever did was Britney Spears’ Toxic.
The alternative rock band Of Montréal’s remix of Little Of Your Time sounds like someone fucking around with sound effects, keyboards, distorted guitars and fruityloops in such a horrible manner that these people should be dragged onto the streets and egged by a mob of angry villagers.
The Deerhoof Remix of Goodnight Goodnight, while not very good in and by itself, sounds like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles collaborating with Michael Jackson-good in comparison.

Now for the good. Mark Ronson brings the very best track with his remix of Wake Up Call which pairs Levine’s vocals with those of Mary J. Blige to good results. (Unlike all the previous pairings, bar Tiësto and Paul, this pairing, actually makes sense on paper.)
Just Blaze reimagines Make Me Wonder as a Elton John meets Justin Timberlake-ish ballad, which while not topping the uptempo disco original version does show some good imagination, and doesn’t sound like shit, which is awesome in the context of this album.
And the Cut Copy Galactic Beach house version of This Love has a nice percolating New Order-ish groove you can dance to, even if Adam’s vocal contribution is so edited-down that M5 might as well could have been credited as providing the source material for this track’s creators to have sampled, but certainly not as featured, let alone this song’s main artists. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s about as good as this album gets, but should be mentioned anyway.

With eighteen different remix outfits creating these eighteen remixes this album doesn’t even suck consistently, each track gets to regurgitate semen in its very own unique way. Also, they should’ve included the Kanye West remix of This Love because that would be track that fans might actually want to own, and perhaps Levine’s duet with mr. West Heard ‘Em Say, because it is essentially an alternate version to IWSBL‘s Nothing Lasts Forever (even if it is the original version.)

In short, this album is mostly a mixed bag of several flavours of uninspired, misguidedly created bullshit, made mostly from perfectly good original tracks. Everything sucks, except the below five tracks. Although in all fairness you could probably live a good, fulfilling  life without having ever heard those either.

Avoid at al costs.

Best tracks
Wake Up Call [Mark Ronson Remix]
Makes Me Wonder [Just Blaze Remix]
Not Falling Apart [Tiësto Remix]
If I Never See Your Face Again [Paul Oakenfold Remix]
This Love [Cut Copy Galactic Beach House Remix]

Recommendations
What the fuck do you think?

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Sauce Money – Middle Finger U

Sauce Money
Middle Finger U
May 23, 2000
Priority Records/ EMI
080/100
Sauce Money - Middle Finger U
1. Intro // 2. We Gonna Rock // 3. Love & War // 4. For My Hustlaz // 5. Middle Finger U // 6. Do You See (feat. Diddy & Pam) // 7. Face-Off 2000 (feat. Jay-Z) // 8. What’s That, Fuck That // 9. Chart Climbin’ // 10. Crime Skit // 11. Intruder Alert // 12. C My First (feat. Bam-Blue)// 13. Pre-Game (feat. Jay-Z)  // 14. Say Uncle // 15. Section 53, Row 78 (feat. Maverick) // 16. What’s My Name // 17. V1 [Skit] // 18. What We Do (feat. Memphis Bleek)

Sauce Money, a Jay-Z affiliate, and the guy who penned P. Daddy’s Notorious B.I.G. tribute “song” (and earnt a grammy for it years before he had his own album) by all means should’ve released his debut album on Roc-a-Fella Records (he was at some point signed to the label but never got more than a couple of singles released, all of ’em with Primo beats, all of ’em terrific.) If Memph Bleek’s album went gold solely because of Jigga’s marketing machine (and do not kid yourself, it did) then Sauce could’ve been a best-selling monster, especially because he actually has some talent behind the mic.

Sorry Bleek!

This in and by itself may have been the trouble between Sauce and Jigga, the guy had proven that he could at the very lease write a hit song, and unlike most Roc-a-Fella interns (said Bleek, Amil, da Ranjahs, Kanye West) Sauce actually rivaled the Jiggaman in terms of rapping skill, so he might become too powerful to control, if he were ever to fullfill his potential, something Shawn Carter never had to worry about before or since, even with his most talented subordinate so far; Beanie Sigel. (Well maybe Kanye, but he’s not so much a rapper as a pop star.) But perhaps Sauce may just not have wanted his friendly and artistic relationship with Jay to turn into a business one, since being on your friends’ payroll can be a bitch. I don’t expect Jigga to drop any clues about this particular subject and with Sauce’s face being on New York milkcartons I doubt we’ll ever hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing  but the truth on this subject. It must be said that I’ve never heard of Jay-Z and Sauce Money beefing. In stead of going out like that Sauce’s career sory goes: Did guest verses on each of Jay-Z’s first three albums, dropped Middle Finger U without even his mother picking up a copy, proceeded to disappear off the face of the earth.

Enough with the hip-hop conspiracy theories, Sauce got signed to Priority Records, which may not have been the up and coming Roc-a-Fella but also wasn’t the crumbling Bad Boy Records, and recorded and released his debut album, today still his only album in existence; Middle Finger U to an audience of tumbleweeds, in may 2000. Apparently, most Puff Diddy fans do not actually read liner notes, because Middle Finger U certainly didn’t do I’ll Be Missing You numbers (luckily it doesn’t sound anything like that mawkish piece of fuckery either) Jay-Z’s fans apparently didn’t run to the stores to pick it up either, and that‘s a bloody shame because it’s in fact a pretty good, well-rounded album that has something to offer to most demographics without sounding forcedly over the map, not unlike most Jay-Z albums.

Sauce raps conversationally, much like his much more famous fellow Marcy Projects inhabitant. Unlike billionaire icy playboy Jay-Z however Sauce is a funny guy, cracking jokes and throwing humourous threats and punchlines to the listener throughout Middle Finger U. The mood varies from celebratory on the Frank Stallone-sampling For My Hustaz, to mournful on Section 53 Row 78, an euology of his late mother, with everything sounding good enough and making sense.

It would seem that Sauce mostly had the streets in mind rather than the pop-charts, which isn’t to say that this album is inaccessible or hard core, but the R&B hooks and the poppy beats are kept to a minimum, and when they do pop up they’re accompanied by a guest, such as Do You See which is actually more of a Sean Combs joint featuring Sauce, immediately following it is Face off 2000 a poppy, light-footed duet with Jay-Z about bagging chicks, that is a sequel to Face Off off In My Lifetime, vol. 1.

The production is being handled by Jay-Z veterans such as DJ Premier, Super DJ Clark Kent, Big Jaz, Bad Boy hitmen Prestige and Puff Diddy, old school legend Marley Marl and relative unknowns Spencer Bellamy and Mr. Rapture who all knock out serviceable backing tracks for Sauce to flow over, and he doesn’t put ’em to waste. Off course Puff and Jay pop up to provide guest verses, so does Memphis Bleek. But this is undoubtably Sauce’s show, not only taking up almost all of the mic time but keeping up with Jigga and destroying P. Daddy and Memph Bleek on impact (no surprises there.)

Chart Climbin’ has a Big Jaz instrumental consisting of some rhythmic piano keys and some funky organs that are driven in on the chorus. Intruder Alert is Sauce’s take on the Notorious B.I.G. Warning, and although it’s not quite as good as that classic song it comes close. What’s My Name could actually go toe-to-toe with the better NaS/ DJ Premier, Jay-Z/ DJ Premier and B.I.G./ DJ Premier collabo’s. (Even if it is apparently produced by Mr. Rapture who doesn’t appear to have ever worked outside of this album, apparently Middle Finger U is the soundtrack to more than one career ending prematurely.)

On Section 53 Row 78 Mr. Rapture jacks the instrumental of 2pac’s Pain off the cassette version of the Death Row released soundtrack of Above the Rim for Sauce to talk about his late mother to great effect, creating what sounds like one of the the moody contemplative tracks Jay-Z used to close his albums with.

As much greatness is to be found here there are some songs that miss the mark.

What’s That, Fuck That sounds like a Resevoir Dogs-aping instrumental (the Jay-Z song off the In My Lifetime, vol. 3 on which Sauce, as well as the LOX and Beanie Sigel appeared, not the the Tarantino movie) courtesy of legendary producer Marley Marl, who weaves a Jay-Z vocal sample into the beat that’ll have you hanging on to your seat, but not in a good way since it is placed so that you’ll constantly believe Jigga is about to drop in for a verse (which never happens.) and it is so goddamn distracting it renders the whole song unlistenable. C My 1s has Sauce dueting female rapper Bam-Bue (yeay, me neither) over a terrible Spencer Bellamy beat in such an aggravating manner that it makes this reviewer wish the people at EMI would’ve saved this song for her imaginary debut album. The Prestige/ P. Diddy produced Do You See? which features the shiny suit man himself and Pam from Bad Boy records R&B group Total has a beat that is so bland, soulless and high-gloss that it’s a miracle that Sauce doesn’t slip off the beat, if not off the song entirely (not Puffy though, he’s kinda in his comfort zone here).

Middle Finger is the album we would’ve had if Jay followed In My Lifetime, vol. 1 with more of the same stuff we got to hear on his first two albums rather than hook up with Timbaland and Swizzy for the hit-or-miss experimental production of Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. This is far from surprising since Sauce seems to have dusted off some of the producers that Jigga stopped working on on Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 such as Clark Kent, DJ Premier, Big Jaz and Puff Daddy (where the fuck is DJ Ski?). Middle Finger U is an overlooked classic that should be revisited by those who enjoy the mid-to-late ’90s hip-hop sound. This dated-at-the-time-of-its release-but-vintage-today sound also helps explain why, despite being of high quality it never became that popular; By 2000 hip-hop as a whole, not the least Jay-Z himself, had moved on to other, more electronic sounds and Middle Finger U may have sounded like the aural equivalent of dinosaur to contemporary pop and rap audiences. Also, only one single was released, which is pretty poor marketing and puts this album in the we-have-no-follow-up-plans-for-this-guy’s-carreer-so-let’s-release-this- record-as tax-write-off category.

Hence: If it were released one to three years sooner, and promoted better upon release, it would be quite likely for Sauce Money to become a household name with one or several platinum plaques under his belt.

Alas, he wasn’t ment to be a star, or even to have a lukewarm indie-label career (meaning putting out shitty releases every year gobbled up by a small but loyal cult following.) But that doesn’t change a damn thing about the fact that Sauce Money and his album Middle Finger U are uncut dope.

Best tracks
For My Hustlaz
Middle Finger
Face Off 2000
Chart Climbin’
Intruder Alert
Section 53 Row 78
What’s My Name

Recommendations
Buy this album.


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.


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.


NaS – Illmatic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommedations
Buy this album.


Jay-Z – In My Lifetime, vol. 1

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

080/100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations:
Buy this album.


Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt

Jay-Z
Reasonable Doubt
June 25, 1996
Roc-A-Fella Records/ Priority Records/ EMI
085/100

1. Can’t Knock The Hustle (feat. Mary J.Blige) // 2. Politics As Usual // 3. Brooklyn’s Finest (feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & DJ Clark Kent) // 4. Dead Presidents II // 5. Feelin’ It (feat. Mecca) // 6. D’Evils // 7. 22 Two’s // 8. Can I Live // 9. Ain’t No Nigga (feat. Foxy Brown) // 10. Friend or Foe // 11. Coming of Age (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 12. Cashmere Thoughts // 13. Bring It On (feat. Sauce Money & Big Jaz) // 14. Regrets

Whenever the pointless debate about who is the best rapper ever rears it head, and the discusion doesn’t end in a face-off between two dead guys; Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter is oft brought up. From what music he produces these days the average hardcore hiphop head wouldn’t draw the conclusion that he is one of the best ever. Obviously he and his collaborators are, even today, way above average in creating bearable radio music, but that doesn’t get you the props the Jiggaman recieves on a daily basis from the people who love rap. Unlike what is the case with Lil’ Wayne there are quite a few people other than the man himself who think that he is the best to ever have tried his hand talking over beats in a rhythmnic manner. Therefore the reasons for his widespread acclaim lie, for the better part, in his past.

In 1996 to be exact. After having spent years under the wing of his mentor Jaz-O a.k.a. Big Jaz, and appearing on songs by artists such as Big L and Big Daddy Kane Jay still didn’t have a record deal. Hence he and two of his friends; Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs, started their own record label Roc-a-Fella records, named after J.D. Rockefeller, because that guy was filthy fucking rich during his lifetime, which was one of Shawn’s goals. (Although, if you are prone to buy gangster rap shtick then you believe mr. Carter to have been loaded with cash already when this album came out because of cocaine trafficing career.) Now he had a label he proceeded to record Reasonable Doubt. After it’s release it became clear why Jay never got a record deal before, as the Major labels were ostensibly right about the marketability of what he was doing at the time. The album never hit higher than #23 on the billboard top 100 and while this in and by itself was not bad for a rap album at the time, it is telling that it took until 2002 (that’s six years) for the album to go platinum. So the crouds initially did not go apeshit over it, causing our host to panick over the profitability of his career and have his sophomore album In My Lifetime, vol. 1 to be overseen by rap’s at the time midas touch producer, P. Daddy, resulting in a couple of really embarassing singles.

But back to the matter at hand, the critics did thoroughly enjoy Reasonable Doubt, applauding the combination of Shawn’s mafioso raps (which were in part modeled after what Raekwon had done on his ‘94 solo debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…) and the characteristically East Coast production by such respected veterans as DJ Premier (Gang Starr, NaS, the Notorious B.I.G.) , Ski (Camp Lo) and Super DJ Clark Kent (Dana Dane, the Notorious B.I.G., Slick Rick, Rakim). Critics like it so much that the album is still seen as one of the finest efforts the hiphop genre has produced since it came to exist in the late ‘70s.

Listening to it today one must conclude that this album has its faults. Some of the songs, such as the album’s biggest single Can’t Knock the Hustle, are plain boring. Some of the guests (Memphis Bleek and Foxy Brown to be exact) deliver dreadfully mediocre performances on otherwise good songs, giving the listener the idea that the only concievable logical reason for their inclusion is to make our host sound even better by comparison. (This would in and by itself explain perfectly why Jay left Sauce Money in a ditch somewhere in the late ‘90s, but kept Memphis Bleek around for guest performances, until he left his entire Roc-a-Fella boutique label to rot, in order to start his new boutique label; Roc Nation, in 2008) And some of the instrumentals are dated in a manner that inspires meh. (actually only the last track Regrets, fits that bill)

With that said, it comes as close to perfection as any other textbook classic rap album. (Reasonable Doubt is most definitely on par with the likes Ready To Die, the Chronic or Straight Out Of Compton. The only comparable album that I can think of, that is significantly better is NaS’ Illmatic, because it has only one questionable inclusion, compared to this album’s four. And you could even rightfully argue that, because Reasonable Doubt is four tracks longer than Illmatic they contain the same amount of classic material.)  because all the other songs on here are fucking bonkers.  After the lengthy, pseudo-ambient yawn inducer-slash-album opener that is Can’t Knock the Hustle the album picks up steam with, what should have been the the first song, Politics as Usual. Over a Ski instrumental that is pleasant enough to keep ones attention, but remains sufficiently in the background so that the spotlight is on Jay’s performance, the man puts his conversational flow to use and tells the listener about his experiences in the streets selling drugs and what not. Whether or not he really lived this life is not up for debate here and is irrelevant. His tone, which one might use on an old friend one hasn’t seen in a long time, updating him about current events, makes it sound credible enough. It also helps that he rhymes his ass off here, providing punchlines for days. Following that treat comes Brooklyn’s Finest, a twilight of rap gods where Jay holds his own against the Notorious B.I.G., whom is considered by many, including yours truly, the best rapper ever. Again, these MC ranking lists are bullshit, but this collabo leads to a very specific comparison that simply demands your respect for Lil’ Jaz. He stands toe to toe with the then current king of New York. Therefor, at the very least, the man makes a case for that he was next in line for succession. And this lyrical sparring match leads results in a flawless duet. Other people who provide some impressive rhyming are Sauce Money and Big Jaz on the DJ Premier-produced Bring It On. In turn, them holding their own against Jay-Z,  gives an unfulfilled promise of brilliantly succesful careers of their own to come. Alas, Jay had more faith in Bleek. Or they simply weren’t prepared to shut up and hold Shawn’s pot for him, like Bleek was.

Another highlight is Feelin’ It, which is a mellow ass weed-inspired song-slash-boastfest that has a piano based DJ Ski instrumental that is just perfect to zone-out to when you’ve smoked a bowl and some awe-inspiring raps in the conversational style that earned Shawn a fanbase. Whether he’s boasting, threatning or introspective; he makes it seem as if he’s talking to you specifically. That is his most distinctive feature, both as a rapper and as a lyricist.

What y’all ain’t heard that nigga Jay high?
The Cristals they keep me wet like Baywatch
I keep it tight for all the nights my mom prayed I’d stop
Said she had dreams a sniper hit me with a fatal shot
Those nightmares ma
Those dreams you say you got give me the chills
But these mills make me hot y’all don’t feel me
Enough to stop the illin right?
But at the same time these dimes keep me feelin tight
I’m so confused
OK I’m gettin weeded now I know I’m contradicting myself
Look I don’t need that now

There’s so much highlight here that it is impossible to give them each the attention they deserve. The very best and most vivid of them all might be the DJ Premier produced Friend or Foe, which clocks under a minute and a half. Some of these songs just make one wish that Jiggaman wouldn’t have diluted his style on his follow-up to find platinum sales with Puff Daddy, Timbaland and the Neptunes. Off course nobody would’ve benifited from a stack of nearly identical albums, and club bangers have their place and time. Some of the work Jay has done later on with the likes of Pharrell is top notch, and no one can rightfully claim that Shawn cannot put together a good radio song. But the fact that the fantastic, ominous, Ski-produced Dead Presidents was this album’s first single and failed to make much of an impact on the charts, forcing mr. Carter to change his direction, makes a hiphop head dream of an alternate universe where the mainstream would’ve been down with more edgy stuff and facilitated the creation of more of it.

I’d rather die enormous than live dormant that’s how we on it
Live at the main event, I bet a trip to Maui on it
Presidential suites my resedential for the weekend
Confidentially speakin in codes since I sense you peekin
The NSX rental, don’t be fooled my game is mental
We both out of town dog, what you tryin to get into?
Viva, Las Vegas, see ya, later at the crap tables
meet me by the one that starts a G up
This way no fraud Willie’s present gam-b-ling they re-up
And we can have a pleasant time, sippin margaritas
Ge-ge-geyeahhh, can I live?
Can I live?

This verse, taken from the brilliant Irv Gotti produced Can I Live shows off an ambition that perfectly explains the artistic direction he would take after Reasonable Doubt made him a hood champion, but not the superstar he fancied himself being. And no-one can blame him for following and producing a lot of music that was and a lot better than what his peers brought to the table and still bring to the table today. Even if it did take the edge off a bit.

However, before the big hits, the major label presidency, the booty-bumping with Beyoncé and the constant recycling of the Notorious B.I.G.’s lines in “tribute” there was Reasonable Doubt, an album that after its first and worst track is finished playing, likes to pretend the radio didn’t exist and that presented the listener with something that is an interesting, entertaining piece of fiction backed by some well put-together music.

Best tracks:
Politics As Usual, Brooklyn’s Finest, Dead Presidents II, Feelin’ It, Can I Live, Friend or Foe, Bring It On

Recommendation:
Buy this album.