Tag Archives: Drag-On

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.

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DMX – Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood

DMX
Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood
December 15, 1998
Ruff Ryders Entertainment/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
DMX - Flesh of My Flesh Torrent

1. My Niggas [Skit] // 2. Bring Your Whole Crew (feat. PK) // 3. Pac Man [Skit] // 4. Ain’t No Way // 5. We Don’t Give a Fuck (feat. Styles P & Jadakiss) // 6. Keep Your Shit the Hardest // 7. Coming From (feat. Mary J. Blige) // 8. It’s All Good // 9. The Omen (feat. Marilyn Manson) // 10. Slippin’ // 11. No Love 4 Me (feat. Swizz Beatz & Drag-On) // 12. Dogs For Life // 13. Blackout (feat. the LOX & Jay-Z) // 14. Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood // 15. Heat // 16. Ready to Meet Him

Considering that It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot… as an album was passable and promising rather than great, because it had some really high highlights with about an equal amount of a mixture of repetitive crap and misguided ideas it’s safe to assume that after Def Jam signed Earl “DMX” Simmons they rushed an album to the stores as soon as possible as not to let the hype die out. When about half a year later Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood appeared by all means it should’ve meant that in an effort to make more money off the at full speed running DMX train that Def Jam emptied out the vaults stringing together studio leftovers which would in theory mean that Flesh sucks balls.

This is however not the case. Or rather things aren’t that simple. It’s true that this album sounds like a lesser version of his debut. It sounds more like an incredibly tired attempt at a second run the same track than a collection of scenes from the cutting floor.

The first two lines of the first actual song on here “I’ve got blood on my hand and there’s no remorse, I’ve got blood on my dick ’cause I fucked the corpse” won’t thrill anyone who heard the first album, it will just disgust the casual listener and bore the fans.

DMX’s bark is still as vicious as his bite but when he uses it to create pro-constipation anthem Keep Your Shit the Hardest one has to wonder whether X and Swizz really ever gave this shit a second listen after recording it. It also would seem that this rapper-producer duo has forgotten that it was them who had wiped Puff Diddy’s shiny-rap sound off the charts because on It’s All Good Swizz has a crack at a disco beat while Earl tries to rhyme about sex and manages to sound both as giddy as a twelve year old and creepy as your friendly neighbourhood rapist just talking about consentual sex this time around.

When X reprises his Damien concept on The Omen and manages to include motherfucking Marilyn Manson you’ll know what’s up. When he includes cocaine carrier Drag-On, just to run laps around him on No Love 4 Me you’ll know what’s up too. The only guests who can both keep up with Earl’s intensity add somthing to the proceedings are the LOX and Jay-Z on the posse-cut Blackout. Unfortunately the boring-ass Swizz Beat still keeps the song from coming off the ground.

Not every song here fails to entertain. The title track has Swizzy actually coming up with something relatively funky and Earl not wasting the opportunity to sound fucking great, spitting violent nonsense. Coming From has X dueting fellow yonkers native Mary J. Blige over an ominous piano loop. Slippin’ is the best song off this album, hands down. X talks about optimism in dark times and the realisation that even though he’s doing good now (at the time of this album’s release in 1998) he might fall back into drug use and alcoholism over a moody DJ Shok beat. The only complaint about it is that no matter what version of this album you get, Slippin’ will be censored anyway because of sample clearance.

Overall Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood is a disappointment. It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot gave off the promise that X could release a classic hiphop LP if he got some proper editing and quality control. By rushing a follow-up to record-buyers shit went in the polar opposite direction.

It’s a bloody shame.

Best tracks
Coming From
Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood
Slippin’

Recommendations
Get the above tracks off iTunes/ Spotifi/ Amazon.


DMX – It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot

DMX
It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
May 19, 1998
Ruff Ryders/ Def jam Recordings/ UMG

065/100

1. Intro // 2. Ruff Ryders Anthem // 3. Fuckin’ With D // 4. The Storm [Skit] // 5. Look Thru My Eyes // 6. Get At Me Dog (feat. Sheek Louch) // 7. Let Me Fly // 8. X-Is Coming // 9. Damien // 10. How’s It Goin’ Down // 11. Mickey [Skit] // 12. Crime Story // 13. Stop Being Greedy // 14. ATF // 15. For My Dogs (feat. Drag-On, Big Stan, Loose & Kasino)// 16. I Can Feel It (feat. Nardo) // 17. Prayer [Skit] // 18. The Convo // 19. Niggaz Done Started Something (feat. Ma$e & the LOX)

Following the death of 2Pac and as-a-matter-of-factly preceding the Notorious B.I.G.’s passing, hardcore gangsta left the mainstream where it had maintained a presence since N.W.A. came out in the late ‘80s . Sure, rappers still talked about all the illegal acts they allegedly committed on their songs. But under the influence of Puff Diddy the music backing these tales of crime was more aching to a plastic version of what your mother’s favorite R&B singer from the ‘80s used to sing over. Even former underground heroes such as NaS and Jay-Z decided to work with such producers as the previously mentioned P. Daddy and the Track Masters, ostensibly because they were out for dead presidents to represent them. It was around this time one of the subgenre’s founding fathers; Dr. Dre, labeled it dead and buried.

It was also around this time that Earl DMX Simmons was making a name for himself, heating up cuts by the likes of Ma$e, LL Cool J, Mic Geronimo and the LOX with his lyrics, filled with existential angst, gangsta-isms and religious imagery, as well as his delivery which he used his gruff voice rapping, singing, shouting and barking, oft tearing the underlying instrumentals to shreds and literally burning up the mic. Another thing the man is known for is his live shows where he occasionally went so hard that he passed out and needed an oxigen mask. This dude is a motherfucking rock star, with the substance abuse problems, mental illnesses and the criminal record to match this status. It is these same qualities that cost Earl many a record deal before he landed with Ruff Ryder/ Def Jam in 1998 and finally got to release a shiny compact disc of his own. Usually talking about an artist’s personal life isn’t relevant to the actual music (Ja Rule’s tax evasion issues don’t exactly make his music more ganxtah) but in DMX’s case it’s different. His 1998 debut: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot sounds exactly like the product of a clinically insane prodigy. It is an intoxicating, high paced mixture of realism, surrealism and octane. It brought street rap back to the forefront of the genre and made a lot of rappers not know how quickly to hang up their shiny suits (It probably helped X’s career that by 1998 everyone was getting sick of hearing variations of Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems on the radio.

Stop, drop, shut ’em down open up shop
Oh, no
That’s how Ruff Ryders roll

Only X could put Ruff Ryders Anthem on the radio and have the fire drill instruction-esque hook and the chaotic Swizz Beat stick. In and by themselves these elements would make for an incredibly disturbing listen. DMX’s energy and conviction prevents this from being so.

Get At Me Dog, featuring the LOX’ Sheek Louch in the call-and-respond hook manages to be both a rowdy party anthem and a buch of death threats set to wax in a credible manner (side note, Get at Me Dog exist in a pre-record deal, freestyle from somewhere ’96 where the apparent target of the disses is 2Pac). Other highlights in a similar vein are Stop Being Greedy, X Is Coming and the posse cut Niggaz Done Started Something.

How’s It Goin’ Down has X telling a tale of rugged romance and duetting an anonymous studio singer (and Faith Evans on the radio edit) over a Dame Grease instrumental that is simultaneously eerie and mellow.

I’m politicking with this trick and wondering if I’ma creep her .
Little hoodrat bitch from 25th named Tenika.
Coming through, like I do, you know
Getting my bark on.
Knew she was a thug because when I met her she had a scarf on .
5411, size 7 in girls.
Babyface, would look like she was 11 with curls .
Girlfriend, remember me, (what?), from way back, I’m the same cat.
With the wave cap- the motherfucker that tnt used to blaze at.
Still here so it’s all good.
Oh you know my niggas Rich and them doing they thing on 35th Ave?
It’s a small hood, and it’s all wood, so let me get that number
Hook it up, aight?
Hit you on da track later on, say wassup.
Talking to shorty made me wanna do something nice.
Looking at that ass made me wanna do something tonight.
And I know right when I see right, shorty looking like she tight.
She bite, better give a nigga the green light, we might..

The story ends with X cutting off the affair because she already has a man with whom she has children. Such contemplation on right and wrong can also be found on strong cuts such as Let Me Fly and I Can Feel It.

The contradiction between Earl’s hypervoilent tendencies and his apparently strong sense of morality is what keeps It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot fascinating throughout, even if the music can’t always keep up. Tracks like ATF and Crime Story are hampered by shitty beats, For My Dogs has DMX collaborating with some talentless labelmates and Damien has X duetting himself putting on a silly voice and on the Convo he’s dueting himself as god, which doesn’t click. Also the numerous skits seriously detract from the overall enjoyability of this album. It’s the inconsistency that made me rate this one under Venni Vetti Vecci, but make no mistake. The highlights reach much higher than those of Ja’s debut.

Another thing that makes this album lesser than the sum of its parts is that the sheer intensity and insanity of X is hard to bear for an album’s full length (It’s this exact same feature that makes him usually steal the show whenever he does a guest appearance). Also DMX is not for the easily offended. At one point he threatens to rape your daughter in front of you if she’s older than fifteen. Despite these shortcomings It’s Hard and Hell Is Hot contains some really good music that is oft imitated but never duplicated. Cop this one.

Best tracks:
Get At me Dog, Ruff Ryders Anthem, Stop Being Greedy, X-Is Coming, How’s It Going Down, Niggaz Done Started Something, Let Me Fly, I Can Feel It

Recommendations:
Buy this one. Preferrably from the discount section of your local record store, or a used copy.