Tag Archives: Gangsta Rap

Digital Underground – The Body-Hat Syndrome

Digital Underground
The Body-Hat Syndrome
October 5, 1993
Tommy Boy RecordsWarner Bros. RecordsWMG
080/100
Digital Underground - The Body Hat Syndrome
1. Return of the Crazy One // 2. Doo Woo You // 3. Holly Wanstaho // 4. Bran Nu Swetta // 5. The Humpty Dance Awards (feat. 2pac) // 6. Body-Hats [Part I] // 7. Dope-a-Delic (Do-U-B-leeve-in-d-Flo?) // 8. Intermission // 9. Wussup wit the Luv (feat. 2pac) // 10. Digital Lover // 11. Carry the Way (Along Time) // 12. Body-Hats, [Part II] // 13. Circus Entrance // 14. Jerkit Circus // 15. Circus Exit (The After Nut) // 16. Shake and Break // 17. Body Hats [Part III] // 18. Do Ya Like It Dirty? // 19. Bran Nu Sweat This Beat // 20. Wheee!

Outside of their small but dedicated fanbase Digital Underground is mostly known for being 2pac’s first vehicle on the road to stardom, for those too young to remember Humpty Dance being a mild hit anyway. That’s a shame because their post-Sex Packets discography is some terrific stuff. And despite sporting two Shakur guest appearances (one of which is on a skit) Digital Underground’s brand of party rap has little to do with 2pac’s blend of consious gangsta rap, Keep Your Head Up, and not-so-consious gangsta rap, I Get Around.
Even if the latter is produced by the Underground Railroad and features Money B and Shock G. The song has both rappers adjusting to 2pac’s stylo, and Pac even wrote both their verses. 2pac’s lone musical guest appearance on Wassup With the Luv? finds the DU in a similar situation recording what is essentially a 2pac song, a sort of less hopeful, more pissed off variation of what Marvin talked about on What’s Going On. But other than that the Underground remains less seriously, determinedly political on their third full length studio album than Shakur. This essentially a return to the good natured party music that was their debut, after dissing an unnamed celebrity for trying and succeeding at looking whiter to sell records on No Nose Job off their sophomore album Sons of the P.

Dr. Dre maybe known as George Clinton’s hip-hop heir, but Shock G and Money B would be much more fitting pretenders to the throne (No-one can truly succeed the George, especially considering the man is still alive and still active in music.)
Where Dre took George’s sound (as well as lots of blaxploitation, which no other critic ever seems to aknowledge) and mixed it with hip-hop, but completely ignored the P funk state of mind, in stead maintaining the gangsta rap lyrical themes, and the posturing that comes with it, that were the rivers and the lakes he was used to from his time in N.W.A.
Shock G however embraced the P with all of its silliness. Dre describes himself “looking like [he] robbed Liberace.” while Shock G once described himself as “[looking] like MC Hammer on crack”, which is pretty representative for the difference in mood between Death Row Records and the DU. It is probably for this reason that the DU was nowhere to be found on any Pac’s Death Row output, while they were all over his Insterscope albums.

On with the review: The Body Hat Syndrome, the concept the three title tracks revolves around, is every bit as silly as the Sex Packets of their debut. If the cover hasn’t given it away; It’s about a body-sized condom that protects the body and mind from brainwashing, mind impregnation, maleducation, the media and other, less abstract things such as the KKK, HIV, the LAPD, crack cocaine and television. Off course there is a serious, political message in there but that message is hidden behind/ diluted with the DU’s trippy fun. That’s the biggest difference between Shock G and Pac: Shock has his tongue planted firmly up his cheek most of the time while Pac is usually either discussing some depressing, dead earnest shit or having some juvenile gangsta fun (often both over the course of the same song. Pac wasn’t one for sticking to a subject most of the time. Especially on his later output)

The Body Hat Syndrome is a mellow, groovy, funky, flirty, sleazy, bacchian booze orgy that doesn’t take itself too serious but is bursting with confidence and is the perfect soundtrack of a house party with a bunch of kinda high, kinda drunk folks. It doesn’t demand much of the listener. In fact the less attention you pay to it the better it sounds. That’s not to say it’s bad, in fact it’s some great stuff. But it does mean that rappers Shock G a.k.a. Humpty Hump, Money B and new member Saafir aren’t lyrical rappers. They’re not about telling stories or dropping knowledge and in stead more about putting stuff that sounds cool or ridiculous in a loose, funky flow. Putting it under a magnifying glass is therefor somewhat of an exercise in futility as this album , except Wussup Wit the Luv isn’t about individual lines, verses or songs even. It’s about setting the mood. And that it does with verve.

It is too bad that the Underground never became as succesful as their most famous protégé 2pac. Arguably their music, while a little too off, psychedelic and funky to be called poppy, is a lot more accessible than 2pac’s activism and tough guy posturing. I guess that the fact that the DU and Pac are entirely different musical creatures helps explain why 2pac’s sizeable fanbase never ran out to pick up Sex Packets, Sons of the P or The Body-Hat Syndrome.
Oh well, I guess one can find consololation that their talent and hard work didn’t leave them entirely penniless, though nothing can be found on the interwebs about any gold or platinum certification they pretty much have to have some copies of their previous albums to be granted a third album by Tommy Boy records (although by that logic they must’ve sold null copies of The Body-Hat Syndrome because they parted ways with the label after this one droppd) and I’m sure their work on 2pacalypse NowStrictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. and Me Against the World really brought in the revenue. But today they are all but forgotten and it’s time to give their own albums some time and attention. Shock G, Money B and now Saafir, as well as their myriad of backing musicians should be better known and more acclaimed than they are today. Especially since this would be the kind of hip-hop that people who generally claim not to like hip-hop usually find quite enjoyable.
If you find a copy of The Body-Hat Syndrome or of any of their previous releases (even This Is an EP Release, though that one should be lowest on your list of DU priorities) you should take it home. It is well worth the cash. Also I’m sure Humpty Hump will apreciate it.

Best tracks
Wussup With the Luv
The Return of the Crazy One

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


State Property – State Property

Various Artists
State Property (OST)
January 29, 2002
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
075/100
State Property - State Property OST
1. Roc the Mic (Freeway & Beanie Sigel) // 2. Sun Don’t Shine (Young Chris, Oschino, Freeway & Neef) // 3. It’s Not Right (Freeway, Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Beanie Sigel) // 4. Do You Want Me (Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 5. Sing My Song (Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 6. No Glory (Beanie Sigel) // 7. Bitch Niggas (Beanie Sigel & Omilio Sparks) // 8. Why Must I (Beanie Sigel & Omilio Sparks) // 9. International Hustler (Freeway) // 10. Hood I Know (Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 11. Got Nowhere… (Beanie Sigel & Freeway) // 12. Trouble Man (Beanie Sigel, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 13. Don’t Realise (Beanie Sigel & Rell)

You know when a franchise is on a roll when it’s B-teamers get to ink their boys a deal and record an album with them. Off course calling Sigel a b-teamer wouldn’t be because of any sort percievable of lack of talent, mind you. Sigel is a B-teamer only because despite him doing alright for himself his albums never did Kanye West or Jay-Z numbers either because he wasn’t as likeable and hence markerable as either of those two superstar artists. Because he didn’t want to taint his gangsta rap albums with pop songs or probably both. The thing then that Beans brought to the table was raw street credibility. Just when Jay would lean a bit too far in the pop direction for hip-hop heads’ tastes Beans would bring out a cold hard gangsta rap album to keep Roc-a-fella Records’ street audiences happy.

It would be safe to say then that the records this guy did sell were sold to a small but dedicated fanbase who had no interest in compromising pop records, and that the same could be expected by an album coming from his protégés Freeway, Peedi Peedi, Young Chris, Neef, Omilio Sparks & Oschino. Catering to these expectations is exactly what State Property has done for their self-titled debut that also doubled as the soundtrack for Beanie Sigel & Co.’s movie debut, also called State Property (Had Beans learned nothing from Ma$e’s Harlem World, the group he named after his debut and how well that shit worked out?)
Now I personally haven’t seen this movie yet (and I have no immediate plans of doing so) but at least one person must have, because according to Wikipedia State Property (the movie) currently, twelve years following its release is still the reigning number one movie when it comes to utterences of the word ‘fuck’ per minute (bar a documentary on the word ‘fuck’ itself.) “Fuck is spoken 3.65 times per minute or 321 times in 88 minutes.” Wow. That should tell you exactly how much Beanie Mac cares about giving the media something they can play without giving their censors a burn out in in the process of preparing it for American mainsteam consumption.
This would also mean that the amout of ‘fucks’ uttered in the movie greatly exceeds that of the gangsta rap album that serves as its soundtrack. This is quite the achievement!
This in turn would mean that after shooting the movie the guys started to record the album but were *wait for it* literally out of fucks to give.

The opposite of this cornball-ass joke appears to have been the case. While every movie critic who saw it State Property (the movie) hated, hated, hated it, music critics actually took a liking to the album. And while not even Beanie Sigel’s mother could be convinced to buy a ticket for the film, State Property (the album) had a fairly healthy charts presence and could arguably be called succesful in its mission of launching the careers of Beans’ Philedelphia friends. Especially Freeway and the duo of Young Chris and Neef Buck who together record under the name Young Gunz. Both of these acts have had gold albums, which is good for them, but not necessarily good for Beans because when Beans left Roc-a-Fella Records to sign with Dame Dash’s new label and a beef between the Jiggaman and Mac ensued, most of State Property stuck with Jay-Z, apparently against his wishes.

Oh well, at least at the time when this album came out it was all good.. sorta. The fact that the album did so much better than the movie could be explained by the fact that State Property had been rapping for a while because they were rappers and this z-grade attempt at recording a b-movie was completely new to them.

The album kicks off with a club jam with Freeway handling the first and final verse, Sigel providing the creamy centre and both of them going back-and-forth on the hook. It’s a catchy song, but not your little sister’s birthday party kind of hip-hop song. Just Blaze’s beat is bouncy and a sparse kind of way and Sigel’s verse is all about the Notorious B.I.G. and firearms. It was the only single released of the album and sounds a lot more consise than that version with Murphy Lee and Nelly on it that appeared on Nellyville.
Following it is Sun Don’t Shine, a song about getting cornholed hardship in the hood with a crappy pseudo Neptunes instrumental backing up everyone but Sigel and Sparks. Speaking of Sparks: One would think that he’d have Pharrell’s phone number after helping to create the hook of I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) so that he could arrange a real Neptunes beat. It is almost as though with these first two songs State Property tried to lure potential buyers into believing that this album was going to be a sequel of sorts to The Dynasty: ROC la Familia.

From there on however it is away with the pop and in with gloomy soul-sampling beats. It’s Not Right sounds a lot like a sequel to This Can’t Be Life, except with Jay and Scarface being replaced by Beans his boys. Matter of fact, Roc-a-Fella in-house R&B singer Rell notwithstanding, there are go guest appearances by non-State Property members, ROC or otherwise. Whether this was Jay giving Beans a vote of confidence that him and his boys could record a perfectly good album without his help and an apology for having the balls to include one of his own solo-songs on Beans’ solo-debut album the Truth for absolutely no reason at all or simply because Beyoncé’s bootylicious booty had just started keeping occupied to record music, and also because he was spending the lion’s share of State Property’s album budget with her in Mexico recording the ’03 Bonnie And Clyde video is not entirely clear to me. Apparently he did executive this album with his boys Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs. Which probably means that the triumvirate removed Memphis Bleek from the studio he was occupying to make room for the guys. But the result of this is that Sigel, Free and company get to run their own show and  that there’s no famous guest’s appearances to skip forward to, which means they have my full attention.

State Property keeps it grimy throughout. Even the come-on number for the ladies Do You Want Me, which has Chris, Sparks and Oschino on it, has the sort of creepy-ass beat, courtesy of Rick Rock, that suggests something else than hot romance. The fact that they guys all seem to be hollering at the same chick doesn’t really help. Moving on.
Sing My Song has Omilio singing his song poorly (but not poorly enough to grate on the ears) over a bluesy beat made by some cat called Zukhan, and dueting Oschino talking all sorts of ‘profound’ stuff about the ghetto life, and managing quite well to entertain.No Glory has the kind of beat that blends mafioso movie music with blaxploitation movie music and lets Sigel go rampant over it by his goddamn self spouting all kinds of violent nonsense but sounding as good and pissed off as ever. The beat even tricks you into believing it’ll switch up somewhere in the middle but it doesn’t. Tense.
Bitch Niggas is the anti-snitch that is mandatory on this type of album with Sparks and Sigel going for broke with it, not adding much to this particular sub-genre of gangsta rap, but sounding pretty awesome nevertheless, not in a small part thanks to it’s fine instrumental.
Why Must I jacks a George Clinton hook via Snoop’s What’s My Name and fails miserbly at doing anything good with it, mostly because this sort of thing has been done by every rapper ever since Jesus and his posse recorded the New Testament, and also because the first shitty beat since Sun Don’t Shine nearly derailed this entire listening experience.
International Hustler pairs Freeway with M.O.P.-producer DR Period for a rowdy excercise in gangsta non sequitors. It’s clear why after Beans Freeway would be the most succesful guy out of the crew.
Hood I Know, which has everyone in the crew except Neef on it, is a clunker again because of it’s car-commercial beat that is too glossy to be underground and too incomplete to succesfully be pop.
Got Nowhere… is Kanye’s only production contribution and it’s not bad a beat for Sigel and Freeway to duet over, although one would expect more from the billionaire, playboy, philantropist, artiste extraordinaire we know today. But then again back then he was only a ‘humble’ producer.
Trouble Man takes on a remorseful vibe and has Sparks, Sigel and Oschino wonder why they’ve so unfortunate in life early on. Yeah… Me neither, but it does sound good. And hey substance isn’t what this album is for.
The final track Don’t Realise pairs the albums biggest star Beanie Sigel with R&B singer Rell, a guy who to my knowledge had been signed to the Roc from the beginning but never was allowed near the studio when Jay was recording. It’s a nice upbeat way to end the evening.

Best tracks
Roc the Mic
It’s Not Right
No Glory
Bitch Niggas
International Hustler
Got Nowhere…
Don’t Realise

State Property is actually as good as Beanie Sigel’s then-latest album The Reason, which was good news for not only him, his fans, and these guys but also Jay-Z who went on to make a pretty penny off having these guys to his label. (And even though the movie allegedly sucked balls Beans got to create a State Property 2 as well, and got sent to prison so soon after that it can hardly be called a coincidence) But we’ll get to that when we will. For now to lovers of uncompromising but professionally made gangsta rap I recommend a purchase of this album.


Fugees – Blunted on Reality

Fugees/ Tranzlatorz Crew
Blunted on Reality
Februari 1, 1994
Ruffhouse RecordsColumbia RecordsSME
060/100
cover
1. Introduction // 2. Nappy Heads // 3a. Blunted [Interlude] / 3b. Blunted on Reality // 4. Recharge // 5. Freestyle [Interlude] // 6. Vocab // 7. Special Bulletin News [Interlude] // 8. Boof Baf (feat. Mad Spyda) // 9. Temple // 10. How Hard Is It? // 11. Harlem Chit Chat [Interlude] // 12. Seek Some Stardom // 13. Giggles // 14. Da Kid from Haiti [Interlude] // 15. Refugees on the Mic // 16. Living Like There Ain’t No Tomorrow // 17. Shout outs From the Block // 18. Nappy heads [Remix]

The story of the Fugees is a classic one: Three New Jersey high school kids formed a hip-hop group in ’92, a member left, enter a new member and tadaa; we have the trio of Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill and Pras who used to perform under the name Translatorz Crew.
After a some gigs and demos they woke up finding themselves signed to Columbia subsidiary label Ruffhouse Records. They changed their group name to Fugees to draw attention to their Haitian heritage (Apparently Refugee is a derogatory term for Haitian American.) and recorded a debut album filled with somewhat politically charged dancehall rap called Blunted on Reality which they finished in ’92. Allegedly they then had a two year battle with their record label about the content, following which they released their album to the sounds of crickets.

Somehow they didn’t get dropped from their label and got to record a sophomore album that features covers of Roberta Flack’s Killing Me softly With His Song and Bob Marley & the Wailers’ No Woman No Cry, alongside original material and proceeded to sell twenty fucking million copies of said album called the Score. Lauryn Hill then went insane, released an even more succesful solo album which sparked a songwriting and production lawsuit, proceeded to go even insane-er while Wyclef became a stalwart producer and solo hitmaker and Pras… Well who gives two shits about Pras? (Sorry Pras.)

Before all that though there was Blunted on Reality, an album that has nothing to do with any of that, really, and is content with being a reggae tinged gangsta rap album. Neither Wyclef nor Lauryn sing much here and for those who are into Killing Me Softly and Ready Or Not should not pick automatically this up just because it’s the product of the same people, if not leave it alone all together. The Score was a breath of fresh air in a hip-hop landscape that was mostly filled with gangsta clones of quality of varying degree. Blunted on Reality is an album worth of gangsta clones of quality of varying degree. Seriously you guys, two million people before you made that exact mistake. Even die hard Pras-fans don’t really have any business here since although he wasn’t very good back then already, his voice was not at all as deep and resonant as it would become later, which was the only thing the guy has going for him, really.

Not that Blunted on Reality is a horrible album, au contraire, it’s alright enough if a bit bland.
All the songs, with a few exceptions, may sound the same but they don’t sound bad, and Wyclef, Lauryn and Pras are each at the very least competent on the mic. The lyrics aren’t very exceptional but for the most part they’re delivered at too fast a pace for you to hear them unless you play close attention.

There is however two songs that are slightly better than merely alright. There’s one song that may not directly hint at the greatness that was to come but does sound good in its own right: Nappy Heads, with its dirty drums and funky horn sample is the very best thing on here, hands down and should get some heads nodding and feet tapping.
Then there’s Vocab which mirrors Nappy Heads in that it in fact does hint at what can be heard on The Score as well as Wyclef’s solo work, what with its spare acoustic guitar backdrop but could use some work as it sounds unfinished. (Apparently the record label and/ or the Fugees agreed with that sentiment since the version that was released as a single was a remix that sounds a lot better and more complete.)

The rest hower… It is what it is, which is to say it isn’t very good or very bad, it merely exists.

Best tracks
Nappy Heads
Vocab [Refugees Hip-Hop Remix] (video version)*
Recharge

*Not actually included on the album.

Recommendations
I recommend this album only to 50 Cent who claims “[He] used to listen to Lauryn Hill, and tap [his] feet. Then the bitch put out a CD and didn’t have no beats”. The rest of you can just pluck the above songs off iTunes and move on to The Score already.


Chef Raekwon Guest starring Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah) – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…

Chef Raekwon Guest Starring Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah)
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
August 1, 1995
Loud Records/ RCA Records/ BMG Music Group/ SME
090/100
Only Built Cover
1. Striving For Protection (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 2. Knuckleheadz (feat. Ghostface Killah & U-God) // 3. Knowledge God // 4. Criminology (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 5. Incarcerated Scarfaces // 6. Rainy Dayz (feat. Ghostface Killah & Blue Raspberry) // 7. Guillotine (Swordz) (feat. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah & GZA) // 8. Can It All Be So Simple [Remix] (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 9. Shark Niggas (Biters) (feat. Ghostface Kilah) // 10. Ice Water (feat. Ghostface Killah & Cappadonna) // 11. Glaciers of Ice (feat. Masta Killah, Ghostface Killah, Blue Raspberry & 60 Seconds Assasin) // 12. Verbal Intercourse (feat. NaS & Ghostface Killah) // 13. Wisdom Body (performed by Ghostface Killah) // 14. Spot Rusherz (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 15. Ice Cream (feat. Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna & Method Man) // 16. Wu Gambinos (feat. Method Man, RZA, Masta Killah & Ghostface Killah) // 17. Heaven & Hell (feat. Ghostface Killah & Blue Raspberry) // 18. North Star (Jewels) (feat. Popa Wu)

That album cover leads one to believe two things.

1.) Ghostface Killah wasn’t originally intended to be featured as often on what originally was, and eventually sort of still is, supposed to be a Raekwon solo-album.

2.) They only made the decision to change the billing to “Raekwon Guest Starring Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah)” last minute after taking a glance at the overall package and discovering that this in fact was not a Rae solo-album, by default, when it was too late already to change it to something more truthful like Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon Rae & Ghost, because it wasn’t as easy to digitally process images in 1995 as it is today. And since they were at it anyway they added the word “Chef” for the hell of making things longer and wordier.

Now I realise that one could say the same thing about Dr. Dre’s “solo” debut the Chronic, and its copious employment of “guest rapper” Snoop Doggy Dogg, but Dre produced that album wall-to-wall making him at the very least the undeniable ringleader of that crowded party, which sort of justifies calling it a Dr. Dre solo album. RZA fulfills that role here, which means Rae is is definitely only a part of the OB4CL equation.

At least it would seem that they made an honest but half-assed attempt at rectifying that shit, so they do earn some honest but half-assed praise for that. Someone should really get on that…

On with the review: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… sold less copies than either Tical or Return to the 36 Chambers did, which makes sense since it’s not as fit for fraternity parties as those two albums are, but it recieved more praise by critics, a tradition that we of this blog are happy to continue. This discrepancy between how consumers rated it and how critics rated it makes it somewhat similar to NaS’ Illmatic (although unlike Illmatic OB4CL did go gold the year it was released). Besides the critics liking this album Rae and Ghost’s fellow hip-hop recording artists took notice. Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and NaS’ It Was Written, as well as the Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death all showing its influences. Gangsta rap before OB4CL was a bunch of gun-toting rebels without a cause, after this album dropped for a while it became all about cinematically depicting organised crime in rhymes. 40 oz. bottles of malt licquor were traded in for bottles of Christal, Moët and Dom Perignon. And Dickies pants and Jerseys were traded in for tailored suits. (This must‘ve pissed off Rae immensely since he riffs a bit about rappers jacking other rappers style on Shark Niggas (Biters), a mid-album skit, which is kind of ironic since that whole mafia-rap thing was originally Kool G Rap’s idea.) This mobster movie thing is another explanation of why Ghost is credited as a guest star, although by that logic RZA should be somewhere on that same cover as the “director”.
One thing that sets apart this album from a lot of its derivatives is the fact that it actually has a story line that runs across all of the songs. As RZA put it in a XXL Magazine interview on the making of this album: “The theme of the album is two guys that had enough of the negative life and was ready to move on, but had one more sting to pull off. They’re tired of doing what they doing, but they’re trying to make this last quarter million. That’s a lot of money in the streets. We gonna retire and see our grandbabies and get our lives together.”
One thing that sets apart this album from a lot of other hip-hop concept albums is that everyone involved appears to take it seriously enough to put in some effort and that it doesn’t suck balls because of it or seem far-fetched.

As good as Tical and Return to the 36 Chambers were, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… was the first Wu-solo album to actually live up to the original 36 Chambers‘ hype. It may very well be the only Wu-solo album, and one of the few hip-hop albums in existence to actually be equally good, even if it is essentially a completely different creature.
Rae and Ghost’s emotion-filled first person narratives of lucrative narcotics trade and Afro-American drug kingpins living large of these dope deals, rising and falling, do have a cinematic quality to them that could be compared to the similarly themed Godfather Trilogy. RZA’s instrumentals can be compared musically with a mob movie score and definitely serve the same purpose of setting the mood for these stories being told, whether reflective, anxious, raucous, menacing or otherwise. If Return to the 36 Chambers didn’t convince one that RZA was well capable of adjusting his signature sound to his collaborators (I’m guilty as charged) this album doesn’t leave a shadow of a doubt. It’s not as dusty or as 36 Chambers or Tical, it’s not as batshit insane or chaotic as Return or 36 Chambers (although I still choose to believe that the craziness was mostly contained in Ol’ Dirty) and the sounds are a bit richer, with string sections and more melody than we were accustomed to hearing from him, while maintaining RZA’s typical less is more-attitude to music making.

Another thing that helps cement Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… classic status is the chemistry between Rae and his co-star Ghostface Killah. They both have a similar dense rhyme style, but Rae has a low to mid range voice and a cool mastermind delivery while Ghost has the higher voice and the exuberance. The two mesh well enough to sound like natural partners in crime rhyming together, yet they sound distinct enough to each be instantly indentifyable. In other words: They’re a perfect combination, not unimportant considering that OB4CL is a de facto 75 minute duet between the two.

It is rather difficult to choose any highlights when everything is this good and flows this seamlessly (As is usual with the Wu a lot of the songs here are tied together with dialogue from kung-fu movies like Shaolin Vs Lama, crime movies such as Scarface, The MackCarlito’s Way, and John Woo’s The Killer, which is both.)
KnuckleheadzKnowledge GodCriminology are classic crime tales, Rainy Dayz and Heaven and Hell offers a glimpse into the minds of young poor people in the big city, the difficulties of making it in life and what makes them resort to crime. (Unlike a lot of the albums that follow it in its creative direction this one can never be said to glorify crime or ghetto life.)
Verbal Intercourse has Nasir Jones, still hot of Illmatic, recieving the honourable distinction of being the first non-Wu rapper to appear on a Wu-project and not wasting the opportunity.
Ice Cream is the one song that isn’t reall about the cocain bricks and the money stacks and is an ode Rae, Ghost, Meth and Cappadonna’s type of ladies, comparing different races to ice cream flavours, and does so without compromising the Wu-sound.
Wu Gambinos is the song that lead every rapper and his weedcarriers to create an alternative rap name for their alter ego (Nas – Escobar, 2pac – Makaveli, Eminem – Slim Shady, Notorious B.I.G. – Frank White etc.) with Method Man, RZA, Masta Killah and Ghostface Killah each taking a mob-related alias for themselves.
These songs are all notable, but they’re not much better than the rest of what’s contained in this album, which is quite impressive for an album over seventy minutes long.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is one of the genre’s undeniable high points, it has vision, it has Rae and Ghost rhyming their asses off, it has RZA producing some of the best, if not the best, beats of his career. It’s a landmark album for Rae, Ghost, RZA, the Wu, the East-Coast, the Hip-hop community and, dare I say it, music in general. It stands out as essential amongs the required listening even.

Best tracks
Knuckleheadz
Knowedge God
Criminology
Rainy Dayz
Verbal Intercourse
Incarcerates Scarfaces
Ice Cream
Wu Gambinos
Heaven and Hell

Recommendations
What do you think!?


King Just – Mystics of the God, The Sex, Money, Cess, and the Blas’e Blah

King Just
Mystics of the God, The Sex, Money, Cess, and the Blas’e Blah
May 26, 1995
Select Records/ Blackfist
065/100
King Just - Mystics Of The God 1995
1. Mystics of the God // 2. Shaolin Soldiers // 3. Skit // 4. Warrior’s Drum [Westside Remix] // 5. Leave Now (feat. Shaolin Soldiers) // 6. No Flows On the Rodeo // 7. Round ‘Em Up // 8. Skit // 9. Can I Get Some? // 10. Skit // 12. Move on ‘Em Stomp [Remix] (feat. Shaolin Soldiers) // 13. Escape From the Zoo // 14. Skit // 15. Warrior’s Drum // 16. Boom Bow! // 17. Hassan Chop

The list of Wu-Tang affiliates is nearly inexhaustible, but I will cover the entire boatload of albums or die trying.

King Just is a rapper from Staten Island who is said to be of native American descent. He was at some point in is career a member of the collective the Hillside Scramblers, which was affiliated with U-God, the Wu-Tang Clan’s least popular individual member who always gets hated on by hip-hop critics and hardcore Wu-fans (though since U-God dropped his third solo-album Dopium all the hate has mysteriously turnt to praise, which must mean that he has sold his soul to the devil or some shit.)
Before that group became a thing however King Just was a guy an undefined affiliation with the Clan with a debut he unsuccessfully tried to sell to the general public making his career very similar to a similarly named artist who goes by the name Timbo King.

For his debut album he got RNS (the fabled mentor of the RZA and the main producer of Shyheim’s eponymous debut album) and Easy Mo Bee (known for producing such legends as Big Daddy Kane and the Notorious B.I.G., as well as the pre-clan debut album by Wu-member GZA), as well as West Coast producer and Alkaholiks member E-Swift to provide the beats, which is a pretty good team to run with. He signed with Select Records, an independent label that’s not so independent inking a deal with it means committing career suicide, and Mystics of the God is the result. Like Shyheim and United We SlamMystics of the God contains no vocals by any actual Wu-members, which is mystifying since even if the big boys were busy recording their debuts at least U-God must’ve been available or some shit.
In the place of Wu-guest verses there are Wu-esquely named group Shaolin soldiers, a group of which King Just himself may or may not have been a member, who pop up on two tracks.

Mystics of da God, despite its obvious lack of involvement of the franchise it’s ambiguously trying to convince you it’s a part of, is an alright substitute for the real thing. That not to say it’s as good as anything by those who are an actual part of the Clan; this King Just person is a competent gangsta rapper, with a nice urgent, agressive flow, slightly reminiscent of what ODB might sound like if he put down the crack pipe and started taking his medication, who knows how not to embarrass himself on the mic.
But he too is unimaginative to really stand out in a crowd of his peers, let alone be in the same league as rap’s equivalent of the Beatles. There’s no outstandingly quotable rhymes on the entire album.

Still, fans of mid-’90s East-coast hip-hop who haven’t heard this yet should definitely give it a spin once. If the guy isn’t much better than generic then he’s certainly no worse. And some of these beats, especially the Easy Mo Bee contributions No Flow on the Rodeo and Can I Get Some really knock, and it’s easy to imagine Ready to Die-era Notorious B.I.G. or Me Against the World-era 2pac (It’s really the same era…) rhyme over them, mostly because Easy contributed beats to those two classic albums as well.

RNS, E-Swift, and even more anonymous producers such as Marcus Peake, Victor Flowers and MZA (Huh? MZA!? The fuck!? What kind of producer name is that!? Word to upcoming hip-hop producers, do not under any circumstances make your artist name a consonant with “ZA” added, this will irrevokably have blog hipsters such as myself draw unfavourable comparisons.) also come correct with their contributions, such as Shaolin Soldiers, which confusingly doesn’t feature the Shaolin soldiers, but does have a Kung-fu sample and a RZA-aping beat.

The best thing on here is probably Warrior’s Drum, which has an RNS beat that switches up occasionally and should get any fan of the second golden age of hip-hop nod to nod his/her head and pimps Just’s alleged native American heritage in a not-too-offensive manner.
Conversely the weakest shit on here is the Westside Remix of the song that inexplicably apperas earlier in the album’s tracklist than the original version does, and tries to fit the song in the G-funk format that was popular on the other side of the USA, and does so in the most boring manner imaginable.

Everything else rests comfortably on 1995’s industry average.

Best tracks
No Flow On The Rodeo
Can I Get Some
Warrior’s Drum
Round Em Up

Recommendations
It’s hard to either outright dismiss or rabidly recommend Mystics of the God to anyone. I’m sure since 1995 Select Record has gone bankrupt three times over and Mystics of the God has been out of print for most of the time following its release and that there’s some people on the internet asking copious amounts of cash for a used copy (This is a recurring thing with many things Wu-related). It’s not worth a small fortune so either you should buy the above songs of iTunes or Spotify or pick up a used copy if you can find it for under $5.- on Amazon.com or a used cd store.


Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version

Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
March 28, 1995
Elektra RecordsWMG
080/100
ODB - Return to the 36 Chambers the Dirty Version

1. Intro // 2. Shimmy Shimmy Ya // 3. Baby, C’mon // 4. Brooklyn Zoo // 5. Hippa to the Hoppa // 6. Raw Hide (feat. Raekwon & Method Man) // 7. Damage (feat. GZA) // 8. U Don’t Know (feat. Killah Priest) // 9. The Stomp // 10. Goin’ Down // 11. Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie) // 12. Snakes (feat. Killah Priest) // 13. Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane) (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 14. Protect Ya Neck II The Zoo (feat. Brooklyn Zu, Prodigal Sunn, Killah Priest & 60 Seconds Assassin) // 15. Cuttin’ Headz (feat. RZA)

bonus tracks
16. Dirty Dancin’ (feat. Method Man) // 17. Harlem world

The album that marks Ol’ Dirty’s alleged return to the 36 Chambers marks the post that marks my return to the blog. Hi, I hope you all have been doing well in my absence, though I am sure you’ve managed to get by without me.

One thing is for sure: If any rapper in the clan had the charisma of nine men rolled up in one, evoking memories of the Wu’s collaborative debut’s messy charm by him self it was Old Dirty Bastard, the man born as Russell Jones. ODB’s debut was the second solo album by a Wu member following the clan’s own debut, and because every member could choose what label to sign their individual solo-deals with, mr. Jones didn’t end up on Loud which the Clan was signed to, or with Meth on Def Jam but inked a deal for himself with Elektra, home of the likes of Busta Rhymes.

Every well balanced hip-hop crew has tends to a member that stands out because of his kinetic energy and wild mic presence rather than his tight rhymes or flows.
N.W.A’s least lyrical member (not in the last place because he didn’t write his own lyrics) Eazy-E got by rapping, and ended up having the most pop appeal to boot, because of his charismatic, high pitched wine of a voice. Public Enemy’s Flava Flav didn’t even do much rapping beyond the occasional throwaway verse, he simply talked some shit alongside Chuck D, but talked shit so well helped make shit undoubtably sound fresher than it would’ve sounded without him.
The Wu-Tang’s very own ODB follows that tradition, and goes into overdrive with it with his rhymes that where nonsensical, grotesque, incoherent or two or more of these things and may not do much for anyone when written down, beyond raising the occasional eyebrow (Burn me, I get into shit, I let it out like diarrhea. Got burnt once, but that was only gonorrhea – Ol’ Dirty Bastard on the Wu-Tang’s Shame on a Nigga), but when delivered in Ol’ Dirty’s unique rhyme style, which appeared to be inspired by a psychosis of sorts (a style to which according to Method Man there wasn’t a father), they could be intriguing. And his contributions to the Wu’s posse album certainly are a part of why that album was so good. The Clan will never be the same with the Bastard gone. He is missed, even if he wasn’t just the worst rapper in the Clan from a technical point of view, but technically one of the worst rappers of all time bar none (he was).

Could be intriguing. Like the likes of Eazy or Flav (and every rapper on the planet if we’re being entirely truthful) the Bastard relied a lot on his collaborators and most on his producer (and cousin) RZA. After all madness becomes unpleasant to listen to without some sort of method and RZA’s dusty basement beats help give The Return to the 36 Chambers: the Dirty Version some much needed structure and cohesion, and although shitty beats have never done any musician, rap or otherwise, any favours ODB in particular is known to have sucked spectacularly when paired with the wrong beat (*caughGhetto Superstar *caugh*) Also, though a supporter of the man I am, the guest rappers do help make this album a lot easier to digest than it would be without them. If this were sixty six minutes of pure uncut ODB then I doubt even the most ardent Wu/ODB fan would ever play this in its entirety. Although he’s hardly unique in that perspective, and this is essentially why guest appearances have been invented. Anyway; his Wu-brethren Rae, Meth, RZA, GZA, Ghost and their interns Brooklyn Zu, Killah Priest, Bhudda Monk, Prodigal Sunn and 60 Second Assassin help break this album up in digestible pieces, but they don’t overpower the main attraction, although you’d probably need a team of Busta Rhymes, DMX, MOP and Mystikal to marginalise Ol’ Dirty on a track, but I digress. The guest appearances are just right in numbers and well placed.

RZA, who produces all but three tracks on here, he does his mid-’90s RZA thing: dusty drums and basslines and lo-fi piano keys that form a distinctive sound but always leave room for a rapper to showcase himself. It has been said that this album has sloppier beats than for instance Tical has, I couldn’t tell you whether that’s Prince Rakeem adjusting to his collaborator or the beats sounding different only because they happen to be in ODB’s gravity field. Oddly enough the best beat, the one on Brooklyn Zoo isn’t his, it’s done by one of his lieutenants, True Master and the Bastard himself. (An even wierder realisation is that Jermaine Dupri pretty much jacked it verbatim for that Alicia Keys song Girlfriend he produced, and how unawkward either song sounds in spite of each others existence.)

As for ODB himself, he is most definitely one of the most weirdly charming characters the hip-hop world has ever known. His vocals couldn’t be accurately described as either rapping or singing. It’s some weird hybrid, and not like Ja Rule or Eminem trying to save money on hook-singers. It’s almost as though the Bastard can’t stay in his limited range, like a drunk person pulled over, walking the line but failing, yet somehow that is supposed to be somewhat positive. This man was oddly funky. And listening to the Return it’s difficult to explain why he was one of the Clan’s most successful, but it makes sense. I’m sure no-one, including ODB understood it but everybody got it.

Highlights include the catchy-as-fuck, but inexplicable smash hits Brooklyn Zoo and Shimmy Shimmy YaDrunk Game on the first half of which he sounds the calmest he does anywhere on the album (until he starts faking an orgasm, go figure), the sinister Rae-ODB-Meth triple threat Raw Hide, the RZA/ODB duet Cuttin’ Headz, which has the balls to reverse the Clan in da Front-beat for its instrumental and still comes off as dope and the minimalistic but funky Meth-duet Dirty Dancin’ (featured as a bonus track). Though the Bastard tends to sound better when dueting other Wu-members, he has an especially good chemistry with Meth. Meth’s smooth sandpapered voice and Dirt McGirt’s insanity mesh really, really well.

There’s the cliché of somethings being perfectly inperfect, or rather suck so much they’re kinda good. This sort of applies to The Dirty Version, an album by a rapper who prides himself in not only sounding but also living old and dirty, but that doesn’t really cut it. In stead of being so bad it’s kinda good, it’s so fucking horrible it’s perfect, and it’s good quality isn’t well explained by the negative times negative equals positive because the man was literally incalculable and too incomparable to equate to anything. And I’ll be the first to admit that the grade really is a shot in the dark. You could give this a 30 and you could explain yourself very well arguing that this isn’t very good musically, but you’d probably feel that there’s something not right about your judgement. You could give this the full 100 from the bottom of your heart, but not have a leg to stand on. Love him or hate him, he was the rockstar from mars with the substance abuse problems, the illegitimate offspring, the legal troubles and the charm that Charlie Sheen wished he was. When his music is on ODB has your attention to the degree that it’s hard to look away, and more often than not that sort of confusion of being mesmerised by a mixture of raw reality and alientaing surreality that drops you right in the middle of the uncanny valley could be a sign of your senses being stimulated by high art. Unlike most people said to make high art however ODB would ironically enough seem the kind of person to be blissfully oblivious to such a pretentious qualification because all he wants is pussy and drugs. ODB was pure, honest, raw and out of his mind, and there doesn’t exist a better example of the inimitable artist or the weird and wonderful human being he was than this album. May he rest in peace.

Best tracks
Shimmy Shimmy Ya
Brooklyn Zoo
Snakes
Raw Hide
Cuttin’ Headz
Dirty Dancin’

Recommendations
You should probably give this a spin on grooveshark or spotify before making up your mind buying this or not. ODB is not for everyone, and it’s quite alright not to enjoy him. If you do however cop the album, please do not play it in front of your little hipster friends. This shit is so intrinsically weird they will on impact irrevokably feel the need to try to understand and worse yet interpret this, which will lead to some undoubtably ghastly, daft psychoanalytic ideas, where there in reality is nothing but flesh and bone, so proceed with caution.


Sparks 950 & Timbo King – United We Slam

Sparks 950 & Timbo King
United We Slam
1994
Street Life Records/ Scotti Brothers Records/ All American Communications/ SME
069/100
Sparks 950 & Timbo King - United We Slam
1. Intro (performed by Kay Zee) // 2. Nuff Ruffness // 3. Definition of a Nigga [Skit] (performed by Crew) // 4. Nigga Be Nasty // 5. Mc’s Are Fallin Off [Skit] // 6. Hood Times // 7. WEFM [Skit] (performed by Darkman the Mad African & Crew) // 8. Ice Cream Flavour // 9. Bust the Party [Skit] (performed by Darkman the Mad African, Crew & Kay Zee) // 10. Bust the Style // 11. United We Slam

The Wu-Tang Clan has many core members for a hip-hop group, nine to be exact. That number however pales in comparison to its number of its army of affiliates. The number of Wu associated albums, compilations and EPs on my to do-list is 214 and counting.

Timbo King probably wasn’t technically a Wu-affiliate yet when he dropped the United We Slam EP with producer Sparks 950, but in 1995 a Wu-Tang off-shoot group called Royal Fam dropped a 12″ single with two songs; Summin’ Gotz Ta Give and I Declare War that made some noise. That group allegedly counted such anonymous Wu friends as Dreddy Krueger, Stoneface, Q-Base, Mighty Jarrett, and Dark Denim and producer Y-Kim (yeah, me neither), as well as Timbo King amongst its ranks. The single got some critical acclaim from the Source magazine, which had a lot of credibility pre-Benzinogate and the crew got scooped up by Capitol Records, the one time home of such illustrious names as Nat King Cole, Dean Martin en Frank Sinatra.
Unfortunately that’s all we would ever hear from them. Their debut album Black Castle, which was slated for a 1995 release-date, got shelved for reasons unknown. And besides a couple of leaked songs nobody really knew what it sounded like. Apparently everyone was destined to remain curious what the album sounded like, because in 2005 the album was announced to be released by indie label Nature Sounds, but got put back on the shelve again, for reasons unknown again, although a couple of promotional copies had been sent to magazines. (You can now buy one of these promos for much dinero on the internet or illegally snatch one from a file-sharing site, it’s not difficult to find or anything. I don’t think Timbo King would get upset with you either since he never saw, nor will he see a dime from the work he put into recording Black Castle.)
That’s Timbo’s life story in a nutshell. I’d tell you about Sparks 950 if I could find anything about the man. But unfortunately the internet doesn’t provide any clues that the man did anything beyond produce this release. Maybe he changed his nome de guerre and continued to work in music, maybe he started a promising career in retail after United We Slam dropped. Anyone who knows anything about Sparks 950 can leave a comment. And Timbo King, if you’re reading this, that includes you too, and Sparks, if you’re reading and have put in more work than this please have someone update your discogs entry.

Back to ’94. United We Slam dropped on Street Life Records, Scotti Brothers Records urban sublabel and sold 75,000 copies, which is nothing to write home about, making this EP a Wu-fanboy cult favourite at best. And even amongst harcore Wu-stans there’s bound to be a lot of folks who don’t know anything about this beyond its existence, which is a shame because to fans of the 36 Chambers-sound this has plenty to offer. That’s not to say that this is a slept on 36 Chambers, Timbo isn’t a Rae or Ghost-caliber MC, let alone comparing Sparks’ creations to mid-1990s RZA beats. But like AKA the Rugged Child United We Slam lies comfortably above industry average, it probably even did in 1994 back when the industry average was actually quite good because not every wannabe rapper and his grandmother had a medium to release music to the masses. But I digress.

Nuff Ruffness adapts Above the Law’s Murder Rap instrumental for the East Coast for Tim to go rampant over. Spittin entertainingly violent nonsense and boasting.
Nigga Be Nasty has a smokey jazz lounge-hop instrumental. Hood Times brings to mind Dr. Dre’s Stranded on Death Row, but manages to be something fresh because it sounds both dustier and dirtier.
Ice Cream Flavour is either the silliest song on here or a song about drug dealing with metaphores I couldn’t decode.
Bust the Style is the funkiest thing on here and is fast-paced enough to dance to.
The title track marries an eerie, plodding beat with Timbo’s urgent flow and street metaphores, as well as a chanting hook, and is hands down the best song on the EP.

Those are all the songs on here which goes to show United We Slam‘s biggest problem. There’s five corny-ass skits on here, which means that just over half of the tracks are actual music. It’s not a huge part of the EP’s running time, but it does mess up the flow of the album somewhat and is completely unnecessary. Some restraint would’ve benefitted matters very much.

Still United We Slam has some vintage banging beats for the streets and hard-hitting gangsta raps that are both more than competent (if a bit unimaginative). And clocking around thirty minutes it won’t take away much of your precious time from bumping old albums by actual Wu-members.

Best tracks
Nuff Ruffness
Nigga Be Nasty
Hood Times
United We Slam

Recommendations
Pick this one up. But only if you find it for a reasonable fee. After all it’s got approximately twentyfive minutes of music on it.


Arabian Prince – Brother Arab

Arabian Prince
Brother Arab
September 1, 1989
Orpheus RecordsEMI
055/100
Arabian Prince - Brother Arab
1. Sound Check // 2. She’s Got a Big Posse // 3. Get On Up // 4. Let the Good Times Roll (Nickel Bag) // 5. Never Caught Slippin’ // 6. I Got a Big Bonus Beat// 7. Situation Critical // 8. It’s a Dope Thang // 9. It’s Time to Bone // 10. Now You Have to Understand // 11. Getting Down 

Arabian Prince is mostly known for having been part of seminal gangsta rap group N.W.A, recording with them on N.W.A and the Posse and (allegedly) Straight Outta Compton, (allegedly) getting his vocals stripped from all but one song in post-production, the song he was still on essentially being a bonus track, tacked onto the album as an afterthought (and oft-cited as the reason Straight Outta Compton isn’t the perfect album it could have been), after the boys from Compton had decided that they didn’t really want to be an electro-funk dance outfit but the world’s most dangerous group in stead (Up until then Dre, Ren Eazy, Cube and Yella had been in a severe identity crisis, and when they had made-up their mind Arabian Prince got kicked out for what essentially constitutes “creative differences”.).

Keeping this in mind it is funny that Arabian Prince, for whom unlike Michel’le (another witness to Dr. Dre’s shady electro past) apparently there wasn’t even room as a solo-artist on Ruthless Records, comissioned an album cover that makes it seem as though he’s still very much part of the world’s most dangerous music franchise. What with the blood-red font in which his name is written, the dark shades and Raiders cap he sports and his gold rope-chain.

Despite what Brother Arab and/ or the people at Orpheus Records would have you believe, this is not N.W.A-offshoot. Not only as a matter of fact, but also in spirit.
Prince, who is all by himself here in the vocal booth, doesn’t drop the N-word anywhere, or any other curse word for that matter. This isn’t a problem in and by itself, profanity-free music can work (maybe even profanity-free gangsta rap) but it is is odd for a man from a gang called Niggaz With Attitude, coming straight out of Compton. And Brother Arab doesn’t quite pull it off lyrically, dropping some pretty pedestrian, clunky and unappropriately clean raps about achetypical gangsta rap subjects about violence, drugs and [bleep]ing your girl.

The beats all sound derivative, be it with jazz influence (Let the Good Times Roll (Nickel Back)I Got a Big Bonus Beat), like Compton Dre made them while on ritalin (She’s Got a Big PosseGet On UpNever Caught Slippin‘, Situation Critical) (This apparent lack of urgency may not be the beats fault, it may be just because unlike his former homeboys Arabian Prince doesn’t come across as remotely scary or violent) or the electronic dance-music N.W.A made in the form of Panic Zone and Something to Dance To (It’s a Dope ThingTime to BoneGettin’ Down)

It would seem that Dre, Cube, Ren, Eazy and Yella may have had a good reason for cutting Arabian Prince loose. Dude doesn’t have Cube or Ren’s rhymes, Eazy’s charisma or Dre and Yella’s beats (although the album cover does show that the man had some of that Suge Knight business sense). One is hard-pressed to see this guy contribute anything substantial to Straight Outta Compton, and he didn’t deliver the goods with his solo-debut either, which helped make his irrelevance and obscurity complete.

Best tracks
Get On Up
Let the Good Times Roll (Nickel Bag)

Recommendations
Don’t buy this album.


Method Man – Tical

Method Man
Tical
November 15, 1994
Def Jam RecordingsBMGSME
080/100
Method Man - Tical
1. Tical // 2. Biscuits // 3. Bring the Pain // 4. All I Need // 5. What the Blood Clot // 6. Meth vs. Chef (feat. Raekwon) // 7. Sub Crazy // 8. Release Yo’ Delf (feat. Blue Raspberry) // 9. P.L.O. Style (feat. Carlton Fisk) // 10. I Get My Thang In Action // 11. Mr. Sandman (feat. RZA, Inspectah Deck, Streetlife, Carlton Fisk & Blue Raspberry) // 12. Stimulation // 13. Method Man [Remix]

Considering that Shyheim wasn’t a Clan-member and that AKA the Rugged Child didn’t really have that much Wu-involvement, and that Words from a Genius and Ooh I Love You Rakeem were released before the Clan even existed, Method Man’s solo debut Tical gets the honour of being the first Wu-offshoot project. An honour indeed since the Wu’s debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was instrumental in bringing the focus of the hip-hop community back to the east-coast after the west had dominated for a while, and helped to redefine the east coast hardcore sound for the mid-’90s (and went platinum to boot).

Off course these are the kinds of critical acclaims that create unreasonably high expectations for subsequent work, expectations that are impossible to fulfill, even if more material of the exact same quality is dropped. (If an artist sticks to the sounds of his last album he’s accused of not going along with his time and if he chooses to emply new sounds he’s oft accused of not catering to his own fanbase, or even worse; selling out.) But with the aid of hindsight it is safe to say that Tical, while falling short of 36 Chambers‘ greatness is in all likelyhood as good as it could’ve been, and most definitely a must-listen for those who loved that album.

Due to the Clan’s contract, which signed them to Loud records, every individual Clan-member was able to get signed to whatever record label they wanted, Meth chose Def Jam.

RZA produces every track on here, and supplies more of the same minimalistic, ominous beats that made 36 Chambers such a critical and commercial success. Meth puts them to good use, and brings the ruckus with his unmistakable husky, low, cotton mouthed vocals delivering his grimy street-raps.

A Raekwon duet, allegedly created as a friendly rap-battle over who got to keep the RZA beat for his own album, (which would imply that Meth won) brings some of the lyrical chemistry to Tical that made 36 Chambers  a texbook classic, as does the posse cut Mr. Sandman with RZA, Deck and Clan affiliates Carlton Fisk and Streetlife.

But most of these songs consist of only Meth’s rhymes and RZA’s beats, making this album mostly a two-man show, which is a mixed blessing. On the one hand it was the group’s vocal chemistry that was a considerable amount of their appeal, and perhaps an ODB verse on for instance I Get My Thang In Action could’ve made the proceedings even more enjoyable than they already are. Tical shares this aspect with the first solo-album by an N.W.A member: Eazy-E’s Eazy-Duz-It.)

“What if”-bullshit aside though, Method Man gets to hold his own really well over the course of these thirteen tracks, with or without company and create a true solo-album, which is something for instance Raekwon never got to do since his textbook classic album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… has so much Ghostface Killah on it that Pretty Toney gets “guest starring” billing on the front-cover. RZA and Meth made a choice there how to go about with Tical and this decision has its merits. Also Tical is a solid effort that gives Wu-fans exactly what they wanted to hear sonically (as opposed to pushing the boundaries and introducing new sounds, again this is not a straightforward criticism, like the paragraph about few guests being included, this is just a reviewer noticing a choice having been made, which is a necessary thing to do in order to create good, succesful music.)

Meth shines particular on Bring the Pain, the album’s lead single, Method Man’s signature song and a classic hip-hop song in general, with his inescapable hook and RZA’s eerie beat.

All I Need is a ghetto lovesong that needs nothing but a hardcore RZA beat and Meth’s rhymes to get by (although it most certainly did need a Puff Daddy/ Trackmasters polish and an added Mary J. Blige contribution on the hook to make it one of the best-selling hip-hop singles of all time, the kind that has such an universal appeal your parents could dance to it on a fucking wedding party.)

Release Yo’ Delf manages to interpolate Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive while almost completely bypassing the queso, which is an admirable feat in any genre, let alone hip-hop, keeping in mind the direction the genre would go into a few years later with the rise of P. Daddy and Ma¢e.

Tical is a grimy, thugged-out release from start to finish from a bygone era in which there was an actual demand for non-gimicky street-rap undiluted by genre mixing. That’s not an automatic dismissal of whatever came after its late-’94 release date. Even Puff Diddy and Nelly have their moments, and when one is in the club one wants to hear club-bangers, but nevertheless one doesn’t have to be a hip-hop purist to start feeling nostalgic listening to it, the mid-’90s were golden years for hip-hop and Tical is a jewel.

Best tracks
Bring the Pain
All I Need
Meth Vs. Chef
Release Yo’ Delf
I Get My Thang In Action
Mr. Sandman
Stimulation

Recommendations
Buy this album, and find the single version of All I Need titled I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By off iTunes. It would be a horrible fit if it were included on this album what with it’s shiny, radio friendly sound, but it didn’t sell all those copies and win a grammy without a good reason. Judged out of Tical‘s context, it is not only accessible, but pretty good as well.


Sauce Money – Middle Finger U

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

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

Sorry Bleek!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Buy this album.


2pac – Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.

2pac
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.
February 16, 1993

Interscope RecordsUMG
070/100
2pac - Strictly 4 My Niggaz
1. Holler if Ya Hear Me // 2. Pac’s Theme [Interlude] // 3. Point the Finga // 4. Something 2 Die 4 [Interlude] // 5. Last Wordz (feat. Ice Cube & Ice-T) // 6. Souljah’s Revenge // 7. Peep Game (feat. Deadly Threat) // 8. Strugglin’ (feat. Live Squad) // 9. Guess Who’s Back // 10. Representin’ 93 // 11. Keep Ya Head Up (feat. Dave Hollister) // 12. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. // 13. The Streetz R Deathrow // 14. I Get Around (feat. Shock G & Money B) // 15. Papa’z Song (feat. Mopreme Shakur & Poppi) // 16. 5 Deadly Venomz (feat. Treach, Apache & Live Squad)

“There’s no reason for a record like this to be released. It has no place in our society.”
Dan Quayle (vice-president of the United States of America) on 2pac’s debut album 2Pacalypse Now.

A lot had happend to the man born as Lesane Parish Crooks, but known to everyone and their grandmother as Tupac Amuru Shakur, since the release of his debut. There was the Dan Quayle controversy, which had the then-vice president condemning it for its alleged inspiration of the murder of a state trooper. There had been more controversy because a stray bullet had killed a little boy at one of Pac’s live shows and even more controversy because he had filed a $10,000,000 civil suit against the Oakland Police Department who had allegedly beaten him for jaywalking (the case was eventually settled for $42,000).

Controversy sells. And it did help sell nearly a million and a half copies, without getting much airplay but based on word of mouth (not unlike a bunch of Comptonites with attitude problems). I like to believe that people mostly bought 2Pacalypse Now because it was actually quite decent, but I’d be lying to myself if I did.

Anyhow, since it did sell well the sequel was likely to serve-up more of the same material, passive street narratives. In stead however 2pac gets on a soapbox much more than he did last time around. In stead of showing the listeners a glimpse of the life, times, trials and tribulations of young women growing up in less than pleasant circumstances in poor urban areas, the way he did on Brenda’s Got a Baby, he actively speaks to them and tells them to keep a positive outlook on life on Keep Ya Head Up. Rather than telling a Soulja’s Story he executes a Soulja’s Revenge.

And he even manages to have some fun with the hoochies (and Digital Underground) in the club on I Get Around, which he never did on his debut and which kind of contradicting his pro-feminist stance found on a Keep Ya Head Up, although the man himself would offer-up the explanation that these songs aren’t contradictory at all since he’s sending messages to different types of women. (bullshit).

These contradictory tracks would make for a patchy schizofrenic album on which each individual song would render the next insincere if there wasn’t some middle ground in the form of street narratives such as the title track and The Streetz R Death Row, on which he explains how the streets effect his mental health and induce both apathy and paranoia, making him the man he is today (with today being february 16, 1993).

There are more guest rappers on here than last time around. Most notably West Coast heavyweights Ice Cube and Ice-T drop by for the ménage à trois Last Wordz. Live Squad, the group headed by Pac’s homeboy Stretch, pops up on two tracks, one of which, 5 Deadly Venomz also includes Naughty By Nature’s Treach and Flava Unit’s Apache. Digital Underground actually drops in for some guest verses on I Get Around, which they couldn’t be bothered to do the last last time.

The production, courtesy of Digital Underground, Stretch and Bobcat, is tighter and livelier than last time around and even though there’s still not much in the form of complete hooks, things aren’t quite as minimal as last time around. But adding richness and swagger does come at a price. Strictly contains some better songs than 2Pacalypse did, no doubt. Both I Get Around and Keep Ya Head Up, as well as the middle finger-to-his-absentee-father duet with his stepbrother Papa’z Song being prime examples, but as an album this is less than the sum of its parts whereas its predecessor was much more. Strictly lacks 2Pacalypse‘s intimate confessional feel. Still, it’s hard to stay mad when there’s this much movement away from 2pacalypse without loss of quality (deliberately avoiding the word progress here).

Also, this album doesn’t have any true low points like Young Black Male or Part Time Mutha off his debut were.

All in all Strictly 4 My Niggaz is a more professional, more diverse but less consistent and less compelling sophomore  release of one of hip-hop’s biggest characters, and even though it’s definitely a stepping stone to the celebration of excess that would be come All Eyez on Me one shouldn’t hate this album for it, because it is pretty good regardless.

Best tracks
Keep Ya Head Up
Soulja’s Revenge
I Get Around
Last Wordz
Papa’z Song

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


2pac – 2pacalypse Now

2pac
2pacalypse Now
November 12, 1991
Interscope Records/ UMG
075/100
2pac - 2pacalypse Now
1. Young Black Male // 2. Trapped (feat. Shock G) // 3. Soulja’s Story // 4. I Don’t Give a Fuck (feat. Pogo) // 5. Violent // 6. Words of Wisdom // 7. Something Wicked (feat. Pee Wee) // 8. Crooked Ass Nigga (feat. Stretch) // 9. If My Homie Calls // 10. Brenda’s Got a Baby (feat. Dave Hollister) // 11. Tha’ Lunatic (feat. Stretch) // 12. Rebel of the Underground (feat. Ray Luv & Shock G) // 13. Part Time Mutha (feat. Angelique & Poppi)

Being relatively new to their work, listening to Digital Underground’s Sex Packets and This is An E.P. Release I couldn’t really see just how 2Pac fitted in with the merry bunch that apparently birthed his career. Even if he did appear on Same Song the man is hardly known for being a P funk enthousiast or a laid-back funny guy, rather he was known for being quite the angry dude who liked to start shit, which makes him and Humpty Hump like day and night.

But Sons of the P however showed a more politicised D.U. that namechecked Nation of Islam and dissed black celebrities trying to look more caucasian and did quite well at that, and Pac followed suit by rhyming about his crack slanging career on his guest verse on The DLFO Shuttle, stressing that he didn’t much enjoy that particular lifestyle but had very little of a choice but to do so. After hearing that song the pairing made much more sense.

Now I don’t want to be a dope man, listen
I didn’t have a dime, a nickel, penny, a pot to piss in
See all my clothes had holes and they fit tight
Pray to God cause it’s hard trying to live right
Waiting on the train can’t hang with the street gangs
Making me insane, putting rain on my whole brain
But the train means change to better thangs
Can’t live with the negative and ghetto pains
Can’t be late, can’t wait to get to where we’re going
Almost ten to four and I’m sure that the train is showing
But I ain’t sure where it goes, I don’t really know it
But I got faith, that’s all it takes to get to where we’re going

It is this mindset, as well as the D.U.’s updated ’91 dusty, swingless funk beats that are found on Pac’s ’91 Interscope Records debut album 2Pacalypse Now.

His debut is different from his subsequent work in several ways.

Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z,  his sophomore album, included at least one celebratory radio single in the form of I Get Around. And on every single subsequent album release they became more prominent, aiding 2Pac in gaining radio actual radio hits, culminating in his Death Row debut album All Eyez on Me an album so bloated, single-minded, repetitive and overrated that it took some seriously brilliant marketing to sell it to the masses. For better or worse no such radio-friendly track can be found here. In fact hooks, the sword by which a radio song lives or dies, are barely present on this album at all. Even when R&B singers are brought in, such as on Brenda’s Got a Baby or Part Time Mutha everything remains raw, or at the very least meaningful and true to its creator’s beliefs.

Many of Pac’s subsequent social commentaries like the ode to single mothers Keep Ya Head Up, the ode to his single mother Dear Mama and the euology of his dead homies Life Goes On are much more positive than anything off 2Pacalypse: the 2pac found here is a rather passive and observative narrator of street life. Although he does parttake in the events he describes (by which I mean that several tracks he rhymes in first person, whether he actually did any of the shit he raps about himself I wouldn’t know) he doesn’t appear to have the idea that he’s ever significantly going to change anything and just rolls with the punches, doing what he has to in order to survive another day.  His tales are strikingly personal but not quite activist, mostly descriptive of events leaving the listener to draw his/ her own conclusions. On the album’s closest thing to a hit single Brenda’s Got a Baby he describes the trials and tribulations of an abused and impregnated ghetto girl, but never explicitly urges the listener to do something about it and “change the way we eat (…) live (…) treat each other” the way he famously did on his posthumous monster hit single Changes. It is this weary attitude that most separates 2Pacalypse from all of his other work. Some will say that he only mentions problems, and never comes up with any solutions but one must keep in mind that this is a rap album, essentially a piece of art. And the fact that Pac was just as clueless as to the solutions to these things which did really bother him, not unlike the people whose everyday struggle he rapped about, placed him among them, giving him credibility and sympathy other rappers lacked. After all 2pac was a musician, not a politician, and besides who wants to get preached to while listening to music? There’s an in-you-face subtle quality to this that most other albums couldn’t even dream about.

Most of these songs are pretty good, even if there are a few embarassments to be found on here. Young Black Male has Pac amateuristically speed-rapping his way through a not very engaging instrumental. Part Time Mutha, a prequel of sorts to Brenda’s Got a Baby, straight jacks Stevie Wonder’s Part-Time Lover in a rather lazy manner, with a rather generic female rapper dropping in for a verse, even if our host’s performance is just fine.

The rest is pretty damn good, with Trapped, Soulja’s StoryI Don’t Give a Fuck, Violent and If My Homie Calls being highlights because they flow tighter, have more interesting instrumentals, drop more profound knowledge or are simply better thought-through than the rest of what inhabits 2Pacalypse, and Brenda’s Got a Baby is hands-down the best song on here (It is considered canonical rap music for a good reason.) What remains is not quite filler but does run together. Given that this album stems from a time when albums were projects that were listened to in one piece, rather than bought off iTunes track-by-track, and also given that even the brainfarts are more intriguing than the highlights of most of today’s top rap artists “albums” this should be seen as a endorsement.

Here’s the thing. I’ve never considered myself much of a 2Pac fan, what with most of his die-hard fans being really fucking annoying pricks with a tendency of yelling things such as THUG LIFE and WEST SIDE without so much as a hint of irony, and All Eyes on Me (2Pac’s most famous album and one of hip-hop’s best selling albums in general), the only album of his I have heard in its entirety before I subjected myself to 2Pacalypse to write this review, sucking, save for five-to-ten songs (out of twenty seven).

But his debut is surprisingly entertaining and substantial, talking about real problems without our host catching a messiah complex, not mentioning THUG LIFE or WEST SIDE once, and it has effectively won me over and has me looking forward to going through his catalogue. Now, excuse my while I head for the yard to pour out a little liquor for the man (don’t want to do it here since I don’t want to make a mess in my room.)

Best tracks
Trapped
Soulja’s Story
I Don’t Give a Fuck
Violent
If My Homie Calls
Brenda’s Got a Baby

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Digital Underground – Sons of the P

Digital Underground
Sons of the P
October 15, 1991
Tommy Boy RecordsWarner Bros. RecordsWMG
080/100
Digital Underground - Sons of the P
1. The DFLO Shuttle (feat. 2pac) // 2. Hearbeat Props // 3. No Nose Job // 4. Sons of the P (feat. George Clinton) // 5. Flowin’ on the D-Line // 6. Kiss You Back // 7. Tales of the Funky // 8. The Higher Heights of Spirituality // 9. Family of the Underground (feat. Stretch & 2pac) // 10. The D-Flow Instrumental // 11. Good Thing We Rappin’

Following the appetizer/leftover that was an EP release alternative hip-hop group Digital Underground’s sophomore LP Sons of the P, their second release of 1991 expands on the sound of their classic debut Sex Packets.

Although its very title is a rather literal admission that their sound stems from the movement started by George Clinton, who makes an appearance on this album’s title track, Shock G, money B and their extensive posse move away from the P-funk slightly towards something approximating more traditional hip-hop. Not to say that they abondon it entirely, in fact this may very well be the true G-funk as opposed to Dr. Dre’s early ’90s sound which in fact owed more to the blaxploitation era Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes than to Parliament or Funkadelic. It’s not that the D.U. has turnt its back on the P, it’s just that the flows are tighter than last time around, Shock and Money seriously upped their skills and the beats hit harder than on their giddily, whimsically brilliant debut, which makes them somewhat less funky by default.

The subjects are more serious too, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek manner. No Nose Job may not be quite ment for literal interpretation (especially the part where some surgeon hilariously forces a nose job on a protesting Humpty Hump so that he may become a huge star), but it’s most definitely a much more profound statement than anything off Sex Packets, urging other black celebrities not to get cosmetic surgery or try to look less black via coloured contact lenses, because it might lead to black children growing up to dislike their appearances and think there’s something wrong with being black. On Hearbeat Props nation of islam, Malcolm X and Louis Farrakan are namechecked, and on The DFLO Shuttle 2pac talkes about having no choice but to sell drugs, and sounding like the thug life martyr everyone would get to know soon enough, for the very first time.

If the industry stories about how Digital Underground came into existence are true Sons of the P may be the album Shock G initially wanted to record, before he decided he didn’t want the Underground to sound like a Public Enemy redux. If Sons is an indication he might as well have done so, since despite some overlap in subject matter with Chuck D and cohorts they don’t really sound alike that much. Also the conscious, afro-centric lyricism fits Shock just as well as the sex-crazed humpty-dancing of D.U.’s debut album, making this experimentation with some new sounds quite succesful indeed.

Not that the guys have forgotten about the folks who bought Sex Packets. On the title track George Clinton himself gives his followers a thumbs-up, referring to himself and the D.U. as the sons of P, which is odd, because I recall him and Bootsy being fathers of the P, but whatever. Tales of the Funky is the moment that most recalls their debut, being that it’s a rather careless affair performed completely in P Funk slang (Bop Guns, Mothership connection and what not are namechecked) and Kiss You Back and It’s a Good Thing We’re Rappin’  are some vintage Humpty Hump sex rap, albeit the latter a bit more mysogynic and violent than I’m used to.

All in all, Sons of the P is a really good follow-up to Sex Packets, lacking highlight of the caliber of the Humpty Dance and Packet Man, but flowing better as an album, updating their sound and fucking around with some new lyrical themes quite succesfully, without selling their souls.

Well played.

Best tracks
No Nose Job
Tales of the Funky
Kiss You Back
Good Thing We’re Rappin’

Recommendations
Buy this album.


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.


Jay-Z – Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter

Jay-Z
Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
December 28, 1999
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
073/100
Jay-Z - Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter

1. Hova Song [Intro] // 2. So Ghetto // 3. Do It Again (Put Your Hands Up) (feat. Beanie Sigel & Amil) // 4. Dope Man // 5. Things That U Do  (feat. Mariah Carey) // 6. It’s Hot (Some Like It Hot) // 7. Snoopy Track (feat. Juvenile) // 8.  S. Carter (feat. Amil) // 9. Pop 4 Roc (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Amil) // 10. Watch Me (feat. Dr. Dre) // 11. Big Pimpin’ (feat. UGK) // 12. There’s Been a Murder // 13. Come and Get Me // 14. NYMP // 15. Hova Song [Outro]

Vol. 3 closes out Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime trilogy by repeating what made Vol. 2 such a monster hit. With icy playboy anthems such as Do It Again and Big Pimpin’ and, with some street tracks like So Ghetto, There’s Been a Murder and Watch Me thrown in for good measure (so that his Reasonable Doubt fanbase won’t walk away). And he does ’em as well as ever.

Some progress has been made, Swizz Beatz gets to produce only one song on the main version of this album in stead of Vol. 2‘s three while Timbaland does four as compared to Hard Knock Life‘s one. These figures are in and by themselves worth the higher grade. (I apologise to Swizz and his fans but respectively himself and their musical tastes aren’t very good.)

Jigga’s weed carriers do exactly as expected. Bleek and Amil can’t rap for shit and Sigel makes one look forward to listening to his album on Do It Again and Pop 4 Roc.

As for outside help, bringing in Juvenile to do the hook of Snoopy Track wasn’t such a good idea whereas calling over UGK for the Timbaland-produced club smash Big Pimpin’ most definitely was. Back in ’99 producing a club banger that sounds as though the backing track were recorded in the Middle East was actually innovative, and this song is oft imitated but never duplicated. Ignoring the quality of both tracks; the inclusion of either guest shows that Jay was aware of the up and coming dirty south rap-scene, which is one of the showcases of his business sense, which would lead him to Def Jam presidency, Vol. 3, like its two predecessors is built to sell to several hip-hop demographies.

Then there’s the Dr. Dre feature Watch Me, which has the man redoing Jay’s guest verse on the Notorious B.I.G.’s I Love the Dough in lieu of a hook. It’s not entirely clear why since the Doctor doesn’t produce anything here, in stead the Murder Inc.  head honcho Irv Gotti does the instrumental, which is some interesting trivia, because within a couple of years Dre and Irv would be the godfathers of two feuding rap dynasties. The inclusion of Dre is most likely packback for Jay ghostwriting Still D.R.E. The song itself is pretty decent by the way.

There’s Been a Murder has Shawn Corey Carter killing off his rapping alter-ego in order to go back to selling drugs in the streets, which is confusing because, as far as I know, his rap alter-ego is all about selling drugs in the streets, but whatever.

All in all Vol. 3… Life and Times of Shawn Carter is just another Jay-Z album, an expertly made expensive-ass shiny disc with some rough edges in the name of street cred.
It’s better than Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life even though it doesn’t have quite such a highlight as Hard Knock Life (although Big Pimpin‘ comes close) because the album flows better due to better non-singles, especially on the second half, but it’s still nowhere near Reasonable Doubt  quality or even  Vol. 1 quality for that matter.

It may appear that I am bored by this album, but that is not true. It’s better than most of the albums I wrote about lately. It’s just that since this sounds so much like Vol. 2 it’s not much fun to write about.

Let’s hope that with the end of this trilogy there’s some space for something new on Jay’s next album (Short answer; yes, his next album is the Blueprint, unless you count the Roc-a-Fella posse album the Dynasty as a proper Jigga solo-album, which I most certainly do not even if it was indeed marketed as such to boost sales.)

Best tracks
So Ghetto
Watch Me
Big Pimpin’
There’s Been a Murder
Come and Get Me
NYMP

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


the Game – Untold Story

the Game
Untold Story
October 5, 2004
Get Low Recordz
055/100
The Game - Untold Story
1. Intro (feat. JT the Bigga Figga) // 2. Neighbourhood Supastarz (feat. JT the Bigga Figga) // 3. When Shit Get Thick (feat. Sean T & JT the Bigga Figga) // 4. I’m Looking (feat. Blue Chip) // 5. Real Gangstaz // 6. Drama Is Real (feat. San Quinn) // 7. Compton 2 Fillmore (feat. JT the Bigga Figga) // 8. El Presidente (feat. Telly Mac) // 9. G.A.M.E. (feat. Young Noble) // 10. Cali Boyz // 11. Who The Illest (feat. Sean T) // 12. Bleek Is… // 13. Street Kings (feat. Get Low Playaz) // 14. Don’t Cry (feat. Blue Chip) // 15. Exclusively (feat. Get Low Playaz & Young Noble) // 16. Compton, Compton // 17. Outro (feat. JT the Bigga Figga)

The Game’s back story, living the street life selling drugs, getting shot the fuck up and surviving to find mega succes in hip-hop, reads an awful lot like West Coast version of his frenemy 50 Cent’s, hmmm…

Not only that but like Fiddy and Eminem (and the Clipse and the Black Eyed Peas and most likely a shitload of other artists) he has a semi-official debut album, recorded and leaked released before his official debut album the Documentary. I’m not talking a mixtape here,but an actual album; all of the featured material is original rhymes and beats.

Untold Story is that semi-official debut, after the man born Jayceon Taylor got shot a bunch of times in a drug deal he allegedly got in a coma, which he woke up from after three days suddenly feeling inspired to be a rapper because of the near-death experience.

Well, either that or he felt inspired to be a rapper and thought that this would be a good back story if you are inclined to believe 50 Cent over Game, I certainly don’t claim to know who’s telling the truth there, nor does it actually influence the quality of the music.

What’s however irrefutably true is that in 2001 Game got signed to independent Fillmore San Francisco record label Get Low Records, the very name of which may have gotten Jayceon in an ongoing beef with Roc-a-Fella records because Memphis Bleek’s boutique label is called Get Low Records too.

On JT‘s Get Low Recordz he recorded the double disc mixtape Live From Compton (2004), this album (2004), West Coast Resurrection (2005) and Untold Story, vol. 2 (2005), all of which may consist of original material or may be the same lyrics over newly constructed instrumentals, 2pac’s Nu Muxx Klazzics-style. I wouldn’t know yet as I haven’t heard them. All of these releases came out about three years after being recorded and after Game had already left the label and was already making a name as Dr. Dre’s latest signee, with the purpose that JT the Bigga Figga (Rapper/ Producer/ Get Low’s boss) could finally make some money off “discovering” the Game. After JT was done juicing the material he sold the masters to the mysterious entity FastLife Records which released G.A.M.E. (2006), which is most certainly the same old shit with new beats.

While these aren’t the noblest of artistic intentions they don’t rule out that Untold Story  contains some dope music.

As expected Game, who had been rapping for about a year when he recorded most of the material here, sounds both a lot less polished and a lot less husky, which isn’t to say he’s wack, he just hasn’t completely found his voice yet. And the production and guest verses sound a lot less expensive, for lack of a better word, which isn’t ment ass a diss either; JT just isn’t a Dr. Dre and these mostly unknown guest rappers aren’t G-Unit.

Being said that you shouldn’t cop this if you want more Documentary-like music, Untold Story isn’t a bad album. And Game, even though his voice changed since this, already did his signature name-dropping and pop-culture referencing punchline rapping.

Even though songs like Neighbourhood Supa StarzWhen Shit Getz Thick and Drama Is Real which have Game dueting local San Francisco rap veterans such as the previously mentioned JT the Bigga Figga, Sean T and San Quinn are nowhere near as jaw-dropping as the Documentary‘s singles, they certainly have their charms. G.A.M.E. and Exclusively both feature Young Noble, this album’s guest artist best known outside of the Bay Area’s Get Low fanbase. Although in 2004 Jayceon was already a bigger name than Noble, these tracks do aid his street cred by linking him indirectly to 2pac, and they certainly don’t bring Makaveli’s legacy to shame.

Compton to Fillmore, again featuring JT, has a decent Bollywood-infused beat in the tradition of Scott Stortch or Timbaland, and should get some asses shaking were you to bump it at a house party and could’ve been a single, were Game still around at Get Low to promote Untold Story.

Don’t Cry, a song dedicated to his daughter, is hands down the best thing on here, what with it’s pounding bassline and Game actually having subject matter beyond archetypical gangsta and guest rapper Blue Chip keeping-up.

Cali Boys, the shortest song on here, is pretty decent, even though it almost exclusively consists of Game listing other West Coast rappers.

Willingness to start shit, also a typical Jayceon Taylor trait, is also already present as proved by the Memphis Bleek-diss Bleek Is… named after Bleek’s debut single Memphis Bleek Is… The main reason behind this track is that Bleek had kicked off a boutique label called Get Low Records with his debut album in ’99, whereas JT the Bigga Figga had been repping Get Low since ’92. Even though dissing Bleek is one of my favorite pasttimes the song isn’t any good, which mystifies me because a parody of Memp Bleek Is… dissing it’s creator should write itself.

With its being seventeen tracks long and having no creative input of Game besides recording the vocals two to three years before this album was releasedUntold Story is obviously a flawed release. Game may have figured out how to rap already to the point where doesn’t embarass himself on the mic, but he still doesn’t really come off as that experienced, making Untold Story sounding like the practice round it ended up being. Sean T and JT producing everything on here is a mixed blessing, giving this album some much needed cohesiveness, but also making it so that a lot of it starts runs together and sounds alike. Some pop/rap culture references such as “Make ’em Harlem-shake like the new G-Dep” and “make ’em kiss the game goodbye like Jada” carbon date this to 2002 and JT shouting out Aftermath, G-Unit and Dr. Dre on several of the tracks as a constant reminder that Jayceon had already moved on when this was finished and released, is also not a good thing.  Finally; the guests may not be horrible rappers but they all fail to leave much of in impression.

But two of the songs are pretty good, and besides Bleek Is… nothing here outright sucks.

Best tracks
Compton to Fillmore
Don’t Cry

Recommendations
For die-hard fans of the Game or JT the Bigga Figga this is certainly worth an inspection. For casual fans of rap buying the below two song will probably suffice.