Tag Archives: Eric Sermon

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.


50 Cent – Power of the Dollar

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

070/100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ja Rule – Venni Vetti Vecci

Ja Rule
Venni Vetti Vecci
June 1, 1999
Murder Inc. RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
070/100

1. The March [Prelude] // 2. We Here Now (feat. Black Child) // 3. World’s Most Dangerous (feat. Nemesis) // 4. Let’s Ride //5. Holla Holla //6. Kill ‘Em All (feat. Jay-Z) // 7. I Hate Nigguz [Skit] // 8.Nigguz Theme (feat. Black Child & Case) // 9. Suicide Freestyle (feat. Case) //10. Story To Tell //11.Chris Black [Skit] //12. Count On Your Nigga //13. It’s Murda (feat. DMX & Jay-Z) // 14. E-Dub & Ja (feat. Eric Sermon) // 15. 187 Baptiss Church [Skit] // 16. Murda 4 Life (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 17. Daddy’s Little Baby (feat. Ronald Isley) // 18. Race Against Time // 19. Only Begotten Son // 20. The Murderers (feat. Black Child & Tah Murder)

Nowadays Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins is considered by the general population as a total joke. Unlike his post 2Pac & Biggie contemporaries Jay-Z and DMX he isn’t ever brought up when the best rapper debate comes up, and his considerable string of big hits is considered too campy to ever become vintage. Perhaps the best indicator of his relevance today: his best viewed youtube video’s come mostly with a long ass string of comments about how 50 Cent trainwrecked Ja’s career, which is a bad thing, especially considering that nobody actually gives a fuck about mr. Cent himself in most other contexts anymore. In the years between 1999 and 2004 however Ja Rule was a bona fide superstar, releasing an album each year going platinum each and every time and hitting the charts more often with a smash hit single than you can shake a stick at. You don’t get that many people to hate you unless you get some serious exposure in the media, such is the way of the world people.

The way young Jeffrey got exposure in the first place was by aligning himself with producer Irv Gotti, who was instrumental in bringing both the previously mentioned DMX and Jay-Z to the general public. In 1998 Ja got his lucky break, being featured on the Gotti-produced Jay-Z hit single Can I Get a… When Irv got his on boutique label Murder Inc records, as a reward for his money making for Def jam during the previous couple of years, and needed a flagship artist to properly launch it with, the gravelly voiced whippersnapper was an obvious choice. And so the album Venni Vetti Vecci was born and released in the summer of ’99. The album was a commercial succes, selling a million copies in a month and a million more by 2002.

Critically however  Venni Vetti Vecci and Ja Rule himself were panned by everybody. It was said that Ja didn’t have a style of his own and was merely emulating the late 2Pac and his comrades DMX and Jay-Z with his gruff delivery and his nihilistic lyrics about thugs and life and thug life, his religious imagery (just take a look at that album cover) and his tales of existentialist fear and pimping (as well as other illicit manners of gathering currency).

While it is true that Jeffrey Atkins is not, was not and never will be a man of great original ideas, and does sound like a less lyrically gifted X a bit on his debut (they sound different enough for Ja not to be a biter in this reviewer’s expert opinion, but it’s easy to see where the comparison comes from.), he does outdo X here by giving the audiences a better debut album. The reason for that being possible is that X was handicapped by a serious case of the Swizz Beatz on his debut, while Ja’s beats are mostly provided by the capable hands of his label boss Irv Gotti, and a bunch of Murder Inc records lieutenants who all bring the heat here, and, unlike Swizz, are able to resist the urge of recording themselves jumping up and down on a Casio keyboard and passing those recordings off as beats. And with Ja being a competent, if unimaginative, MC the results are a very acceptable variation of the hard core New York sound of the late ‘90s. Those hiphop heads who are sceptical about the possibility of Ja having recorded a decently credible, high quality, album that doesn’t border on self-parody because of the mental image of him booty bumping with Jennifer Lopez in the video of one of their collabos, should keep in mind that the man hadn’t yet begun his transformation into his generation’s thugg’d-out Barry White.

Highlights include: the smash hit Holla Holla, where Ja rides the bubbling beat with a perfectly appropriate pogo-stick flow, creating a solid party jam for the ages, the speedy, high octane Let’s Ride, the ominous It’s Murda where our host gets ripped a new asshole twice by respectively the previously mentioned DMX and Jay-Z. The stupidly titled but catchy-as-fuck, organ infused Murda 4 Life, featuring the Roc-a-Fella Records’ second in command Memphis Bleek (a sparring parter Jeffrey can actually handle) the Isley Bother’s sampling and featuring Daddy’s Little Baby, which is a pretty genuine declaration of love aimed at his daughter, and Only Begotten Son which is a pretty genuine declaration of war aimed at his absentee father. (It is only on these latter two tracks that the 2Pac comparison starts to make sense.) But the rest of the album doesn’t lag far behind in quality.

If you, like most heads of my generation, are nostalgic for the ‘90s sound, but habitually won’t touch a Ja Rule album with a ten foot pole because of the glittery R&B songs, by all means give Venni Vetti Vecci a chance, there’s no Ashanti or J-Lo in sight. And chances are pretty fat you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. All the skits are ass (are they ever not?), the guest appearances by Ja’s Murder Inc labelmates Caddilac Tah and Black Child seriously detract from several otherwise good tracks, and you won’t find any relavations, insights or high quality poetry on here, but you will find something raw to bump in the ride and at the house party, plus your purchase of this album will help Jeffrey pay for his legal aid, so he may be able shorten the time in prison he is currently doing for not paying his taxes.

Best Tracks:
Holla Holla, It’s Murda, Murda 4 Life, Daddy’s Little Baby, Only Begotten Son

Recommendations:
Buy this album.