Tag Archives: Dr. Dre

Above the Law – Livin’ Like Hustlers

Above the Law
Livin’ Like Hustlers
December 1989 (Promo cassette version)
February 22, 1990 (Full version)
Ruthless RecordsEpic RecordsSME
085/100
Above the Law - Livin' Like Hustlers
1. Murder Rap // 2. Untouchable // 3. Livin’ Like Hustlers // 4. Another Execution // 5. Menace to Society // 6. Just Kickin’ Lyrics // 7. Ballin’  // 8. Freedom of Speech // 9. Flow On (Move No Mountain) // 10. The Last Song (feat. Dr. Dre, Eazy-E & MC Ren)

Above the Law is an Pomona CA hip-hop group that originally consisted of rapper/ producers Cold 178um and KMG the Illustrator as well as DJ Total K-Oss and Go Mack, who presumably was a hype man. And when their debut album Livin’ Like Hustlers dropped the Ruthless Records franchise was on a roll. Albums by N.W.A, Eazy-E and the D.O.C. had all gone gold to platinum cementing the label’s status as the preeminent hip-hop label of the day. Not only that but they were also able to release an album that quite succesfully catered to the R&B market (back in 1990 hip-hop and R&B were two distinct genres that were just starting to cuddle up) by songstress Michel’le.

What all these albums had in common was wall-to-wall Dr. Dre production with the occasional help from DJ Yella and/or Laylaw. Now their latest signees Above the Law were producers as well as rappers, but Dre is credited as a co-producer on every track on here, as he was credited with producing every track on every track on every Ruthless Records album so far.

It should be noted that Livin’ Like Hustlers doesn’t sound like any Dre production so far, except maybe the song the Formula off the D.O.C.’s No One Can Do It Better. Everything else he had done so far had been a lot more fast-paced and funk/dance-influenced, whereas this album is more mellow, jazzy and classic soul oriented. This could be explained by the fact that on Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-It the Doctor was aided by DJ Yella, on No One Can Do It Better he was left to do the beats himself and here he co-produced it with the entirety of the group. Another possible explanation is that Dre had just worked on an actual R&B album with slow jams on it, and therefore was in another state of mind than he would have been coming out of an N.W.A recording session.

Anyway, the mellow paced jazz/ soul vibe, with the elaborate use of more melody than was usual in hip-hop at the time, combined with rappers Cold 178um and KMG the Illustrator’s archetypical gangster raps (the album’s title should provide ample warning to those who aren’t into that sort of thing) definitely make this a prototype for the G-funk sound that Dre would rule the airwaves with less than three years later. And whether Dre or ATL produced the lion’s share of the music  they were all at the cradle of some revolutionary stuff here.

Given that there’s some controversy over who did what here I tend to go with ATL as the main musical architects, not only because of how the music sounds and how contemporary Dre beats sound, but also because Dre prescriptions tended to come with bits of Dre backing vocals at this time, which he does do here, but only on the title track, Just Kickin’ ItFlow On and the Last Song so I assume the man didn’t have much input with the remaining six songs. In all likelihood Dre put in a beat or two while ATL made most of these tracks themselves and had Dre adding some finishing touches to what they came up with. (But like everyone else who isn’t Dre or an ATL member I’m only guessing here. It’s not like I was even born yet when they recorded the fucking album or anything.)

As for the vocals, KGM and Cold 187 (whom I shall henceforth call by his other rap nickname Big Hutch, because that sounds more like something one would actually call a person) are technically proficient behind the mic. They basically come across as less lyrical, less nimble, more gangster-oriented versions of their then recently muted labelmate the D.O.C., what with their mid range voices and their ease behind the mic, which is to say they sound just fine. Although they lack Ren’s understated menace, Cube’s grit and Eazy’s natural, over-the-top charisma, their average-guy-from-the-street personas help these raps about the gangster lifes sound a lot less like they’re glorifying violence, misogyny and what not, as opposed to the various members of the world’s most dangerous group, who usually come across as a bunch of happy-go-lucky, murderous, alcoholic, wife-beating, crack-selling, “walked into the store, said this is a robbery, don’t need the money, it’s just a hobby” cartoon characters of Afro-American stereotypes on their albums, whereas ATL keeps things, if not real than at the very least plausible. The ATL rappers sound as though they could blast your brains out in a back alley, though they wouldn’t do it unless they had no other choice, and even then they still wouldn’t get their kicks out of it.

Highlight include the the ominous Murder Rap and Another Execution, the horned-up Untouchable and Livin’ Like Hustlers, the anti-censorship Freedom of Speech as well as the mandatory Ruthless posse cut on the tail end of the album on which Ren and Eazy take the shine (and on which Ice Cube and the D.O.C. shine in absence, the former because he was the only one out of N.W.A who chose to not get bent over by Jerry Heller and took his business to Priority Records in stead, and the latter because he had his vocal chords slashed in two in a car crash and was unable to rap.)

There’s only one wack moment on here, that would be Ballin’, which is all about how down Above the Law are with N.W.A and the D.O.C., throws an unnecessary stab in the direction of every rapper on the East-Coast (so this East-West rap beef was already a thing, huh?) and has an instrumental too fruity for its own good.

But besides that one misstep Livin’ Like Hustlers features nine tracks of pure gangster rap gold, that unlike N.W.A may have been forgotten by a lot of today’s rap audiences  and may not sound a lot like Straight Outta Compton but is almost equally entertaining and has had a lot more influence than it is given credit for on the genre as a whole, being a stepping-stone in the direction of the Chronic. (and with everybody from DJ Quik to Lil’ Kim to 2pac borrowing beats from this album).

This album deserves to be revisited.

Best tracks
Murder Rap
Untouchable
Another Execution
Menace to Society
Freedom of Speech
The Last Song

Recommendations
Buy this album.

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Michel’le – Michel’le

Michel’le
Michel’le
October 23, 1989
Ruthless Records/Atlantic Records/ WMG
080/100
Michel'le - michel'le
1. No More Lies // 2. Nicety (feat. Dr. Dre) // 3. If? (feat. Michael Holmes) // 4. Keep Watching // 5. Something In My Heart // 6. 100% Woman // 7. Something In My Heart // 8. Silly Love Song // 9. Never Been In Love // 10. Close to Me // 11. Special Thanks // 12. If? [Reprise] (feat. Michael Holmes)

While Ruthless Records is rightfully known as a quintessential gangsta rap label they also dabbled other genres, such as R&B (back when hip-hop and R&B were distinct musical genres sorta, kinda). Michelle Toussaint, Dr. Dre’s then-girlfriend, was the first non-rap act to release an album on the world’s most dangerous record label. With Dre and Yella producing the album wall-to-wall, Eazy-E overseeing everything and Jerry Heller walking away with most the money Michel’le is every bit as much an N.W.A offshoot as Eazy-Duz-It yet it is always overlooked or straight-up ignored by hip-hop fans, ostensibly because it isn’t a hip-hop album. But for those open-minded enough to listen to something different every once in a while, it has plenty to offer.

For those expecting an album full of Straight Outta Compton-styled beats, with singing over them in stead of rapping, because Dre was involved, Michel’le might come off as a bit of a disappointment. Dre was and is more malleable than that and actually goes for broke in an attempt to create a legitimate urban soul album and wholly succeeds in making the proceedings sound authentic in the instrumental department, providing an intoxicating mix of dance, quiet storm, hip-hop lite and new jack swing. If the credits said everything was produced by Babyface that would’ve been completely believeable, which isn’t something one would expect from a Dr. Dre-produced record, having listened to Straight Outta ComptonEazy-Duz-It or No One Can Do It Better.

If today an R&B album is released on a label that houses several famous rappers, said rappers are usually all over the album dropping verses, trying to be good employees and bidding for crossover appeal. Except for a blink-and-you’ll-miss it Dre verse on Nicety no-one in N.W.A, JJ Fad or Above the Law appears in anything but skit or background vocal capacity giving our hostess the room to show her talents, a smart move.

Michel’le is a talented, confident singer who could easily go toe-to-toe with more famous contemporaries such as Toni Braxton or Tamia. Her strong, full bodied, thunderous singing voice (which forms a hilarious contrast with her squeaky Betty Boop speaking-voice, which can be heard on the second last track Special Thanks) is ripe with emotion without her trying to hit every note in existence, Whitney Houston/ Mariah Carey/ the Voice-style. The lyrics, written by Laylaw and the D.O.C. and Michel’le herself are classy, consistent, clever and sticking to a theme in a way that is completely absent from a lot of R&B music these days.

She shines on both the uptempo ass-shakers (No More LiesNicetyKeep Dancing100% WomanNever Been In Love) and the slow jams (If?Something In My HeartSilly Love SongClose to Me)

With only twelve tracks, ten of which are actual songs, there is little room for filler and the album doesn’t overstay its welcome at all.

Michel’le was a hit upon release, racked up a bunch of hit songs, sold tonnes of records and helped pave the way for other hip-hop-soul songstressed, including but not limited to Mary J. Blige, TLC, Faith Evans and SWV. Unfortunately for her and music lovers her career more or less ended with this album, after which she was relegated to the occasional cameo appearance on Ruthless-released albums (and later on on Death Row Records). And she wasn’t able to put out another album until 1998 when everyone had forgotten all about her, on the sinking ship that was Death Row Records. That record flopped accordingly.

Michel’le is a very entertaining album that despite you never having heard of it is worth your hard-earned cash and is deserving to be known as the classic that it is.

Best tracks
No More Lies
Nicety
Keep Dancing
100% Woman
Never Been In Love
If?
Something In My Heart
Silly Love Song
Close to Me

Recommendations
To those who enjoy soulful, well-put together R&B with a vintage sound Michel’le is a must-own. For those who dislike today’s R&B because they find it overproduced, lacking in the musical department and/or sounding like it was recorded by cyborgs rather than humans, by all means should give Michel’le a try.


The D.O.C. – No One Can Do It Better

The D.O.C.
No One Can Do It Better
June 16, 1989
Ruthless Records/Atlantic RecordsWMG
090/100
The DOC - No One Can Do It Better
1. It’s Funky Enough // 2. Mind Blowin’ // 3. Lend Me an Ear // 4. Comm. Blues (feat. by Michel’le) // 5. Let The Bass Go // 6. Beautiful But Deadly // 7. The D.O.C. and the Doctor // 8. No One Can Do It Better // 9. Whirlwind Pyramid // 10. Comm. 2 (feat. MC Ren) // 11. The Formula // 12. Portrait of a Masterpiece // 13. The Grand Finalé (feat. Ice Cube, MC Ren & Eazy-E)

The story of the D.O.C.’s rapping-career is a tragic one. After his rap group the Fila Fresh crew got to take part in what some consider to be N.W.A’s first album N.W.A and the Posse the world’s most dangerous recording group probably learnt of the man’s existence when they finally got to listen to it themselves after they found out Macola Records released the damn record, which was a collection of some of their singles, with some unrelated songs by random artists thrown in for good measure, without their permission while they were touring.

Fortunately for N.W.A though their “posse album” sold a ton of copies, birthed their career and fortunately for D.O.C. they liked his contributions enough that he could parttake in the recording of the seminal gangsta rap classic Straight Outta Compton, writing rhymes for Dre and Eazy and lending vocals to several tracks, such as on Fuck the Police (it’s Doc on the intro).

Then as a reward for helping Eazy and Dre sound competent behind the mic he got to record his own album No One Can Do It Better, released in the summer of ’89,

In 1989 rhyming about how good you are at rhyming (rhymeception, if you’re into terrible cornball-ass gag-humour) was the thing to do. Everyone from RUN-DMC to the Sugarhill Gang had proclaimed their dominance over the rap game as well as their own superiority over “sucker MC’s” at one time or another, and perhaps rightfully so since RUN and DMC’s nursery rhymes had been cutting edge when the world first heard them. When the D.O.C. proclaimed dominance over the rap game however it was simply a matter of fact beyond a shadow of a doubt. No one could do it better indeed, bar maybe Kool G Rap, Rakim or KRS One.

D.O.C.’s rhymes and delivery were lightyears ahead of even his boys in N.W.A in terms of multi-syllable complexity. Peep this.

Ship it, ship it to the stations
in your jurisdiction
Others say I’m dope
and the others think I’m bitching
No crowd can avoid the D O to the C
When I’m P E R F O R M I N G
D.O.C. – It’s Funky Enough

And besides his lyrics and flow being on point the D.O.C. had enough skill to make it all feel natural and unforced. For all it’s expertly constructed complexity the guy is here for you entertainment first and formost, and even if his vocabulary is larger than average he doesn’t repeatedly and offensively smack the listener in the face with it, like for instance Canibus does whenever he drops one of his fucking albums. Also helping matters is the wall-to-wall pre-chroniced Dr. Dre-production, which brings a distinct funky, dusty scratchy atmosphere for our host to rhyme in. The combination of these beats and these rhymes make the D.O.C. one of the few old school rappers whose music could challenge the works of rappers from the second golden age, such as Nas, Biggie, Jay-Z or the Wu-Tang Clan when it’s enjoyability that’s concerned.

No One Can Do It Better has aged perfectly, with everything sounding vintage rather than outdated.

The best-known song It’s Funky Enough‘s opening line “One, and here comes the two to the three and four” is one of the most re-used in the hip-hop genre. The song’s instrumental is funky aplenty, and the song is hands-down the catchiest thing on here. With no profanity to speak of and and a beat that makes people want to shake their money makers and yet doesn’t compromise the Ruthless Records gangsta rap sound it’s a lesson in making a lead single for a rap album.

D.O.C. and the Doctor is the mandatory ode to the DJ that appears on all early hip-hop album, back when hip-hop albums had one producer per album, rather than five new producers (and twelve guest rappers as well as eight autotuned R&B singers) per individual song. Rather than the corny dickriding that constitutes most such cuts this is a display of actual chemistry between the rapper and the producer.

Mind Blowin’ is another display of the Doc and the Doctor’s combined potential being reached with Dre providing some percussive piano keys for his boy to play around with his words and his flow over to great effect.

Lend Me an Ear is sonically a much faster paced Straight Outta Compton with D.O.C. ripping the beat to shreds and quite succesfully  making a case for him being one of the best rappers ever.

The Formula may be the point where Dr. Dre discovered the G-funk sound that would revolutionise the rap world when he put out his solo debut in ’92.

Beautiful But Deadly, the mandatory ode to gold digging evil women, has a Licensed to Ill-era Rick Rubin-esque instrumental, what with it’s hard rock quitars and its distinctly funkless sound. It’s an interesting enough diversion since it sounds like nothing else on here, but it still fits in with the rest since it shares Doc’s golden voice, rhymes and delivery with the rest of the tracks.

The album ends with the Grand Finale, a Ruthless Records posse cut with Doc plus everyone in N.W.A minus Dre going for broke over the most Straight Outta Compton-esque instrumental of the album, and Doc being on par with the world’s most dangerous group.

Every song on here bangs, even the two commercial-themed interludes have their place. No One Can Do It Better leaves one salivating for more. Unfortunately for the world of hip-hop and for Doc himself he would lose his ability to rap soon after this album’s release when his vocal chords were severed after he flew through a windshield in a car crash, leaving him a thin rasp of a voice that was lightyears removed from his pleasant smooth voice displayed on here, relegating Doc to perform on skits on N.W.A’s and later Dr. Dre’s albums, as well as the ghostwriting that had made him the unofficial fifth member of the Comptonite posse in the first place.

Make no mistake, the D.O.C.’s loss of voice was every bit as much of a loss to hip-hop as the murder of the Notorious B.I.G., and No One Can Do It Better is all the proof one needs for it. Unlike Biggie and 2pac however Doc, who didn’t die a martyr’s death (he’s still alive today), wasn’t namedropped as frequently by other rappers, which means that very little of today’s rap music fans actually know who he is. (On the plus side Ruthless Records has withstood the temptation of pairing every shred of D.O.C. vocals with the likes of T.I. and Lil Wayne on frankensongs with krunk beats, released on “Tribute albums”.)

This is all the more reason to revisit No One Can Do It Better, a criminally underrated rap album that has stood the test of time a lot better than most rap albums from the 1980s. An album that gives off an unfulfilled promise of a long and prosperous career in music.

Best tracks
It’s Funky Enough
Beautiful But Deadly
The Formula
Lend Me an Ear
Portrait of a Masterpiece
The Grand Finalé

Recommendations
Pick this one up, now.


NaS – It Was Written

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


J.J. Fad – Supersonic

J.J. Fad
Supersonic
1988
Ruthless Records/Atlantic Records/ WMG
070/100
J.J. Fad - Supersonic

1. Supersonic // 2. Way Out // 3. Blame It on the Muzick (feat. Dr. Dre) // 4. In the Mix // 5. Eenie Meenie Beats // 6. My Dope Intro // 7. Let’s Get Hyped // 8. Now Really // 9. Time Tah Get Stupid // 10.  Is It Love

On N.W.A and the Posse Dre, Eazy, Ren, Cube, Arabian Prince and Yella hadn’t yet figured out whether they wanted to be hardcore gangstaz, as in Boyz In da Hood or electro-hop party starters as on Panic Zone. On Straight Outta Compton they had mostly made their choice and they had mostly kept their most electro-inclined member; Arabian Prince out of the proceedings. Apparently he was working on this in stead.

J.J. Fad’s Supersonic is what Straight Outta Compton could’ve been if the world’s most dangerous group would’ve gone for the dancefloors rather than the streets. High energy beats with lyrics that are mostly commands to dance and some boasting about the rhyme skillz of the artists you’re listening to, as well as general freshness, thrown in for good measure. It’s an infectious mixture that’s more in line with what Teddy Riley was cooking up at the time than the work of the Compton residents with attitude issues who were working on this behind the scenes. (Dre, Arabian Prince and Yella produce this in its entirety while Eric Wright and Jerry Heller took all the revenue. Whether Cube, Ren and D.O.C. wrote any of these raps I know not.)

Supersonic is split in two halves, the pop-side and the hip-hop side. The first half of the album may be a little too vanilla for fans of N.W.A., the beats are more slick and polished than on Straight Outta Compton or Eazy-Duz-It and no profanity is being dropped anywhere. But it contains some first-class, pop-rap. Especially the title track, which was resurrected some time ago as Fergie’s Fergalicious, is some cornily endearing fun.

The second half however contains some vintage late-80s Dre/Yella beats that one can imagine Eazy, Cube, Ren and D.O.C. ripping to shreds. Let’s Get Hyped in particular wouldn’t sound out of place on an N.W.A disc, if the b-word were dropped more than once, that is. Now Really is a dis-track aimed at competing female rap-group Sugar and Spice and seems to be included mostly to start some shit so that Supersonic might have some street cred, not the best idea that, but Dre saves the day by providing another banging-ass beat. Time to Get Stupid is a short DJ cut on whitch Dre has some turntable fun. And Is It Love closes out the album by going after LL Cool J’s I Need Love. All the music is on point and instrumentally this album is really good, if a bit all over the map.

As for J.J. Fad themselves, they are perfectly serviceable rappers. That is; they know how to flow and stay on beat. But a lot of their lingo (“time to come correct”, “cold gettin’ stupid”) dates this album as much as the outfits they sport on the album cover do. Also it’s really hard to tell MC JB, Baby D and Sassy C apart since they all sound identical. In fact, one could almost convince this reviever that there was only one girl rapping here.

As a whole Supersonic is a nicely executed piece of pop fluff that was probably born out of Eazy and Jerry seeing the pop-rap thing going down and wanting a piece of the action, or maybe Dre made the electro beats featured on the first half of the album for Straight Outta Compton, but used them for this project in stead after N.W.A switched directions. Don’t read these theories as a dismissal though. Supersonic is some campy fun and does in fact deserve to be revisited, especially so that the teen-aged girls who like to bump Fergalicious know where she got it from.

Best tracks
Supersonic
Blame It On the Muzick
Let’s Get Hyped

Recommendations
If you find this album in the discount section of your local record store, or in the used-bin or for cheap on the internet by all means pick it up.


Eazy-E – Eazy-Duz-It

Eazy-E
Eazy-Duz-It
September 12, 1988
Ruthless Records/Priority RecordsEMI
085/100
Eazy-E - Eazy-Duz-It

1. [Prelude] Still Talkin’  // 2. Nobody Move // 3. Ruthless Villain (feat. MC Ren) // 4. 2 Hard Mutha’s  (feat. MC Ren) // 5.  Boyz-n-the-Hood [Remix] // 6. Eazy-duz-It // 7. We Want Eazy (feat. MC Ren & Dr. Dre) // 8. Eazy-er Said than Dunn // 9. Radio // 10. No More ?’s // 11.  I’mma Break It Down // 12. Eazy Chapter 8 Verse 10

Eazy-Duz-It is the first album by retired crack dealer turned Ruthless label boss/rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, as well as the first N.W.A offshoot. Eazy-E’s debut album follows Straight Outta Compton a month after its release.  By the logic of the music industry Eazy-Duz-It should’ve been pushed far into 1989 as to not hurt Straight Outta Compton‘s record sales. But  on the always unconventional Ruthless Records no such consideration seems to have been made here.

On with the review, Dre and Yella’s beats are dense, dusty and funky as they were the last time around and Eazy recites Cube, Ren and D.O.C.’s writings over them with the mischievous joy of a street-smart man-child. His high-pitched wine is best described as a thugged-out version of Sam Cooke and the mixture of boasting and threatning is over-the-top enough for anyone but the C. Delores Tuckers and the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world (or however may have filled his shoes back in ’88) to get the joke, or at the very least get that there’s a joke being made. As usual; Joke’s on Bill.

A major difference between Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-It is that since technically Eazy is the worst rapper in the world’s most dangerous group, but also the biggest character; he does best setting the mood rather than discussing serious shit, and that’s probably why are no profound statements being made such as on Fuck the Police or Express Yourself. Basically Eazy-Duz-It is Eric Wright taking no shit but talking a lot himself for twelve tracks long and it’s all the better for it.

There’s party-starters such as We Want EazyEazy-Er Said than Dunn, there’s conceptual raps No More ?’s which takes place in an interview-setting, and Nobody Move which is about performing stick-ups. There’s even a profanity-free song for the radio titled Radio (One thing you can’t accuse N.W.A of is hiding their intentions or mislabeling their songs.) And it all forms an exciting, never boring and well-rounded album.

Finally Eazy-Duz-It makes N.W.A and the Posse completely obsolete by taking the one song that actually sounded good that wasn’t on Straight Outta Compton already. That would be Boyz In da Hood.

Eazy-Duz-It isn’t for the faint-hearted, drugs, misogyny, guns and other street shit is being glorified and Eazy is willfully immoral throughout, but if you don’t take this album too seriously you can have a lot of fun with it. What keeps these staple-subjects of hip-hop interesting is Eazy’s undeniable charisma and his distictive delivery. It’s a shame he wouldn’t put out another full-length solo-album before his untimely death in 1995.

Best tracks
Nobody Move
Boyz-n-the-Hood [Remix]
We Want Eazy
Eazy-Er Said than Dunn
Radio
No More ?’s

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.