Tag Archives: Foxy Brown

Jay-Z – Chapter One: the Greatest Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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R. Kelly – R.

R. Kelly
R.
November 10, 1998
Jive Records/ SME
075/100
cover
DISC I: the Show
1. Home Alone (feat. Keith Murray & Kelly Price) // 2. Spendin’ Money // 3. If I’m With You // 4. Half on a Baby // 5. When a Woman’s Fed Up // 6. Get Up On a Room // 7. One Man // 8. We Ride (feat. Cam’ron, Noreaga, Vegas Cats, Jay-Z & Tone) // 9. The Opera // 10. The Interview (feat. Suzanne Lemignot) // 11. Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy // 12. Don’t Put Me Out // 13. Suicide // 14. Etcetera // 15. If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time // 16. What I Feel/ Issues // 17. I Believe I Can Fly
DISC II: the After Party/The Hotel
1. The Chase // 2. V.I.P. // 3. Did You Ever Think (feat. Tone) // 4. Dollar Bill (feat. Foxy Brown & Tone) // 5. Reality // 6. Second Kelly // 7. Ghetto Queen (feat. Crucial Conflict) // 8. Down Low Double Life // 9. Looking For Love // 10. Dancing With a Rich Man // 11. I’m Your Angel (feat. Céline Dion) // 12. Money Makes the World Go ‘Round (feat. NaS) // 13. Gotham City

There was a period in the late ’90s when every urban recording artist recorded a magnum opus in the form of a double album. 2pac had set off the trend with his All Eyez on Me in 1996, B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan had followed suit with Life After Death and Wu-Tang Forever respectively in 1997, and R. Kelly served up his contribution under the name of his single consonant front initial in ’98. Brief as that title is, the album is thirty tracks long, a running time that makes it a celebration of excess by definition.  Too much time for a single artist to fill up arguably.

He certainly has his methods of somewhat succesfully attempting to make the album’s two hours and ten minutes bearable. One of them is being purposefully all over the map musically. Not only are there the usual hip-hop/disco/funk infused party jams (Home AloneSpendin’ MoneyIf I’m With YouWe RideOnly the Loot Can Make Me HappyV.I.P.Did You Ever Think, Dollar BillGhetto QueenDancing With a Rich ManMoney Makes the World Go Round) and soul infused slow songs that are either for baby making (Half on a BabyGet Up on a RoomEtcetera2nd Kelly) or relationship contemplation (When a Woman’s Fed UpOne ManDon’t Put Me OutSuicideIf I Could Turn Back the Hands of TimeWhat I Feel/ IssuesReality and Down Low Double Life), which is what one would expect from the man, but there are also huge, sugary, gospel-infused M.O.R. easy listening ballads such as I Believe I Can FlyGotham City and I’m Your Angel (the first two culled from soundtracks) and actual gospel Looking For Love, as well as weird nods to opera and *gulp* yodeling.

Off course all of this genre-hopping is done is mostly traditional. After all most contemporary soul album from the ascend of the genre onward have contained dance numbers and ballads, and taking into account that the literal opera bit of R. is a silly skit, not an earnest attempt at going for Pavaroti’s spot, it makes Robert’s most original idea this time around that he figured that you could in fact if you are so inclined, put Céline Dion and Jay-Z on the same album, and make multi-platinum sales, not in spite of it but because of it. As simple as this innovation seems, its implications are still felt in today’s pop music landscape.
R. is a musical blockboster by design. Robert effortlessly juggles several styles of contemporary R&B, doing most of the dirty work himself, both in the booth and behind the boards, but brings hotshot rappers (Keith Murray, Cam’ron, Noreaga, Foxy Brown, Jay-Z and Nas), singers (Kelly Price and Céline Dion) and producers (Puff Diddy, Trackmasters and G-One)  into the studio to augment and complement the listening experience. It really should be noted that Robert takes this cross-demographic appeal thing to an entirely new level here. With R. he milks Jigga’s homeboys, Luther’s ladies and Céline’s schlock-lovers in one go, without so much as breaking a sweat. And by almost literally succesfully working with everybody he cemented his at-the-time status as pop’s most succesful allrounder.R. bears its influences on its sleeve. On Home Alone he blends Off the Wall era Michael Jackson with West-Coast hip-hop.When a Woman’s Fed Up has Donny Hathaway breathing vicariously through it.If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time is a expertly dragging doo-wop ballad in the vein of the Platters. And over the project as a whole looms the mighty shadow of Marvin Gaye. Robert’s pop sensibilities are what separate him from the pack (well except Jacko off course.) Much like Michael’s his soul is watered down and sweetened enough (as well as possibly sold to the devil) to fit onto monst nonspecific radio formats.

As far as the smooth radio soul goes this album has it’s fair share of contemporary classics. Not discussing I Believe I Can Fly and I’m Your Angel, which are too slick to even pretend to be soul songs (gospel-pop would be rather accurate), When a Woman’s Fed Up and If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time are good as requiems of relationships get.
Suicide is a tense and dramatic song that could’ve come out the Isaac Hayes playbook.
Did You Ever Think expresses Robert’s bewilderment at his own success while Trackmaster Tone continually asks him whether he ever thought he’d a successful as an artist before he suddenly was, and a Spanish guitar blurrs the line between poppy and sinister in the background.
Half on a Baby and Get Up On a Room probably have been responsible for several conceptions since it’s release, they’re some of those frankly sexy songs that can do that (Rumor has it that the former was originally written for Bobby Brown’s Forever album, but didn’t make the cut since Bob decided to spend his album advance on coke, rather than outside songwriting and production negociate full creative controll and produce the album himself, to commercially and critically abysmal results. I have a hard time imagining Bob perform it, since I have a hard time seeing it work as anything other a silky smooth honey-tongued R. Kelly song.)

The hip-hop influenced tracks bang as well. Home Alone has Def Squad alumnus Keith Murray and hip-hop soulstress Kelly Price, as well as DJ Quik’s frequent co-producer G-One delivering a funky, heavy club banger, and We Ride is a cool New York Rap posse cut, with a breezy midnight-ride-through-the-desert beat (on which Noreaga delivers the golden line: Ayo, it’s so deep, I told my shorty just last week. A-huh, it’s like you remind me of my jeep.)

Another thing that ties him to the King of pop, this time in his Dangerous incarnation, is a rampant sense of paranoia. Robert preposterously rants about playa haters who want his cash, the media that only wants to sell news whether truthful or not, racist cops who want him in jail while knowing he’s innocent, as well as people who simply don’t like his music, all together conspiring his downfall as though they’re having a go at his crucifiction, with him being a messiah of sorts. On the opening skit of disc two: The Chase there’s even a secret player hater police/ army that is in hot pursuit of him, attempting to stop his music from being heard and attempting to assasinate his talent (I wish I could make this up). Unlike Michael’s however most of these assertions are, whether intentional or not, humourous and absurd enough to not be quite as fucking annoying.

Kells again blends the sacred in the profane in his music as he did on R. Kelly, seemingly making him some sort of preacher-pimp head of a church-club of sexy business, generously sprinkling around bodily fluids and doing unholy shit with his followers Kind of like some Roman catholic clerics. To him there is no experience more spiritual than a good lay, it really cleans the soul. Simultaneously his songs are charged with guilt, whether it is about christian sin or wronging a lady. It is this dual tension that sets him apart from similarly mindedly laviscious R&B artists like Next, and it is this is what his detractors often fail to see him do. It adds richness, colour and depth (or at the very least the illusion of depth) to songs that would be rendered completely juvenile without it. After all; what is more fascinating? A righteous brother struggling with his negative tendencies and trying to do right, while at the same time aknowledging how much pleasure and fulfillment giving in to these tendencies bring him or a mindless mysogynic poon hound? It also puts the man in a line of soul singers that goes from Ray Charles, through the previously mentioned Marvin Gaye to Prince.

The wacky songwriting is still present too. And I’m not talking about I Believe I Can Fly‘s lyrics that are so pompous that they beg, beg, beg parody. I’m talking songs like 2nd Kelly, which helps carbon date this to the time when the internet was just starting to become a thing where he tries to seduce the ladies from the point of view of a computerised R. Kelly, a computer virus, a webcamming service or all three and are so intrinsically weird that they are one hundred percent spoof-proof.

A direct result from the album being as long as it is is that there’s going to be songs it would be better without. Down Low Double Life is a song he had done twice over already before R. hit shelves. There’s no real need to have both Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy and Money Makes the World Go Round. In fact, if I were Barry Hankerson I’d had cut them off both because Did You Ever Think is also about the moulah and is a far better song than either of those two with the least wack Trackmasters instrumental.
Ghetto Queen only features rap group Crucial Conflict because they happened to live in Chicago which is Robert’s hometown, not because of any sort of perceptible talent.
Spendin’ Money and Dollar Bill are only here because in 1998 respectively Puff Diddy and Foxy Brown were a thing, and it was a legal requirement to include one of his disco-recycling beats and one of here clunky-ass oversexualised verses (I realise that something beong oversexualised is a weird and hypocritical complaint on an R. Kelly album, but I can’t really rephrase it while still having it make sense, so there you have it) on an urban music album if it were to be released. Not because they’re good songs.

This album’s issues aren’t too much for the good stuff to overcome. And the good stuff is definitely in the majority.
But one must keep in mind that this album is two hours and ten minutes long, which means that it would probably still be too long to listen to in one go even if the lesser material were taken out of the equation. This is the main argument against double albums of original material, a dinosaur-form of releasing music, killed by the Pirate Bay, iTunes and Spotify which allowed us to buy single songs and put them in playlists in whichever order we liked. When this came out for consumers more music really was better because you couldn’t buy any other form of music other than compact discs. That R. is actually as good as it is despite its flaws may mean that besides Wu-Tang Forever (which had the constant creative input of over nine people) this may very well be the best urban double disc out there. And despite being flawed it really is too good not to recommend to lovers of good pop, even if Robert arguably would’ve done better slimming it down to one single CD. If he had done that, and done that properly he would’ve made his best album ever. As it stands it may not be his best album, but is probably is his definitive one.

Best tracks
Home Alone
Half on a Baby
When a Woman’s Fed Up
We Ride
Suicide
If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time
I Believe I Can Fly
Did You Ever Think
Second Kelly
I’m Your Angel

Recommendations
Pick this up.


DJ Clue? – The Professional 2

DJ Clue?
The Professional 2
Februari 27, 2001
Desert Storm RecordsRoc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
055/100
DJ Clue - The Professional 2
1. Intro (Diddy) // 2. Back to Life 2001 (Mary J. Blige & Jadakiss) // 3. Jay-Z Freestyle (Jay-Z) // 4. Who’s Next (DMX) // 5. Coming For You (Beanie Sigel & Freeway) // 6. Fantastic 4 [Part 2] (the LOX, Cam’ron, Nature & Fabolous) // 7. Getting It (Busta Rhymes & Rah Digga) // 8. C.R.E.A.M. 2001 (Raekwon & Ghostface Killah) // 9. What the Beat (Method Man, Eminem & Royce da 5’9′) // 10. Lil’ Mo Interlude (Lil’ Mo) // 11. Fuck a Bitch (Kurupt & Snoop Dogg) // 12. Change the Game [Remix] (Jay-Z feat. Tha Dogg Pound, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Static Major) // 13. My Niggaz Dem (Trick Daddy & Trina) // 14. Live from the Bridge (NaS) // 15. So Hot (Foxy Brown) // 16. Chinatown (Junior M.A.F.I.A.) // 17. Bathgate Freestyle (Bathgate) // 18. M.A.R.C.Y. (Memphis Bleek & Geda K) // 19. I Don’t Care (Capone-N-Noreaga) // 20. The Best of Queens (It’s Us) (Mobb Deep) // 21. Red (Redman) // 22. Dangerous (Lady Luck & DJ Muggs) // 23. Phone Patch (Ty Shaun)

If nothing else this album delivers on the promise its title makes in the sense that this is an industry gathering of people the absolute majority of whom, at the time of this album’s release at least, were rapping for a living. This is professional rap music. For this major label appropriation of his mixtape concept DJ Clue? drummed up most of 2001’s urban music industry heavyweights. Including new york’s elite (NaS, Mobb Deep, DMX, Cam’ron, Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Mary J. Blige, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Capone-N-Noreaga and his label boss Jay-Z) who in turn brought with them their subordinates (Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Geda K, the LOX, Rah Digga, Foxy Brown, Nature), some hotshots from outside of NYC (Snoop, tha Dogg Pound, Eminem, Royce da 9’5′, Redman, Trick Daddy and Trina), an up-and-comer (Fabolous) and people who were never heard from before or since (Bathgate, Ty Shaun) and a bunch of beatmakers who were popular at the time to complement Clue?’s own productions (Rockwilder, Rick Rock, Just Blaze) and despite the combined efforts of all these people, and then some, the Professional 2, like its prequel, is quite the solid but underwhelming listening experience.

That is not to say that there’s prevalent wackness to speak of, but the combined effort of these people should lead to some really good rap music where in fact it delivers mediocracy. In stead of shining and enjoying themselves everyone just coasts along forcedly, as though they’re hanging out at a family gathering out of obligation rather than free will, on a sunday, after drining their brains out the night before, but try to make the best of it anyway. If that doesn’t sound like the blockparty you (or DJ Clue?) might’ve hoped for with that guest list you would be absolutey right.

There’s nothing wrong in particular with songs such as Live From the Bridge by NaS, C.R.E.A.M. 2001 by Rae & Ghost, Who’s Next by DMX, Fuck a Bitch by Snoop & kurupt, Getting It by Busta Rhymes and Rah Digga, The Best of Queens (It’s Us) by Mobb Deep or I Don’t Care by Capone-N-Noreaga, but if they were featured on one of the albums by these respective artists they would be skippable filler tracks, whereas here they are the album actual highlights by proxy, since there’s also shitty tracks by Memphis Bleek, Foxy Brown, the Junior M.A.F.I.A. present here. There’s also a lazy cover of Soul II Soul’s Back to Life by Mary J. Blige and Jadakiss and a silly R&B interlude by Lil’ Mo that fill the roll of low points.

In order to simulate the mixtape experience a couple of “freestyles” over previously used beats are thrown in, but I don’t need to hear anyone rock over Notorious B.I.G.’s Who Shot Ya instrumental ever again, even if it is Jay-Z not doing a horrible job. This beat has been re-used so many times before and since I can hardly stand to hear even the far superior original, classic status be damned.

Speaking of the Jiggaman, his Change the Game off The Dynasty: Roc la Familia has been remixed to include Kurupt and Daz of tha Dogg Pound, which isn’t a bad decision since their West Coast-style connects with the Rick Rock beat much better than Memphis Bleek or Beanie Sigel’s, both of whom are still on the song. Problem is it wasn’t that good a song to begin with, and even this upgrade can’t really make it a must-listen.

The absolute highlight of the night is What the Beat that gets Method Man, Redman, Eminem and Royce da 9’5′ on one track  what with its simple but effective two-note piano based instrumental, and Meth and Em’s hilariously grimey verses. Fans of Em in particular should look it up since he rarey sparred with rappers of this caliber anywhere else in his career and hasn’t put out anything this much twisted fun on his last three albums, which is to say for the last nine years. The only possible drawback to the track is that these rappers weren’t necessarily in one studio at one time since nobody on here but Royce aknowledges the presence of the others on the song, which they almost certainly would have done if they were aware that the verses they were recording would end up on this posse cut, what with rapper’s tendency to shout out everybody from the song’s engineer to their aunt’s dentist (everyone does go out of their way to shout-out Clue?) but that doesn’t mean the resulting song isn’t really fucking good.

This places it in contrast with the album’s other random-ass posse cut Fantastic 4, part 2, which pairs the LOX with Cam’ron, Fabolous and Nature, which means that the amount of participans is six, not four. None of the six rappers seems particularly excited to be there, except Fabby who at the time could really use the exposure.

Overall the Professional 2 was intended by its creator to be for everyone, with artists recruited from every corner of thje USA, with little cohesion in style and thereby fails to be for anyone in particular, while still being hella boring, with the invited guests bring their B-game. These problems are only aggravated by Clue?’s incessant yelling and unimpressive production, which I’ve discussed in detail in my review of the Professional 1. While nothing on here will make you want to break the cd in two and slice your wrists with it, there’s no real need for anyone to pick this up either.

Meh.

Best track
What the Beat

Recommendations
Find What the Beat on iTunes, it’s a really good song. And if you fancy for instance the Wu, Snoop or Busta in particular then perhaps their singular contributions too. But don’t pick up the entire album. It isn’t very good, you see.


Foxy Brown – Ill Na Na

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

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

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

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

Best tracks
The Promise
I’ll Be

Recommendations
Go to hell.


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.


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.


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.