Tag Archives: Hip-Hop

Y?N-Vee – Y?N-Vee

Y?N-Vee
Y?N-Vee
October 18, 1994
PMP/ Rush Associated Labels/ Def Jam RecordingsBMGSME
063/100
YNV
1. Even When U Sleep // 2. All I Wanna Do // 3. 4 Play // 4. I’m Going Down // 5. Sceamin’ // 6. Sonshine’s Groove // 7. Chocolate // 8. Stra8 Hustler // 9. Tricks-N-Trainin’ (feat. Abstract Rude) // 10. Y?N-Vee // 11. Real G // 12. Gangsta’s Prayer // 13. We Got a Good Thing

One of the most amusing things about writing about pop music and researching its shelf life is that one is regularly confronted with odd fashion trends that appear to affirm that human history is cyclical. The hanging suspenders which are on full display on this album’s cover were apparently a thing twenty years ago, and fucking hell they made a comeback in street fashion not too long ago. If that doesn’t prove that humanity only makes technological progress but none ethically and therefor is doomed to repeat its mistakes increasingly efficiently until it inevitably causes its own demise then perhaps the next world war/ super genocide will.

L.A. based R&B/hip-hop quartet Y?N-Vee made its debut on that abysmal Johnny J album and performed most of the backing vocals on Thug Life: Volume 1. Apparently they inked a deal of their own with PMP Records, a Def Jam subsidiary that is best known for being the recording home of Montell Jordan. Their self-titled debut, and only album really, is the result of that signing. The Mary Jane-sampling Chocolate was a moderate hit apparently but Y?N-Vee never sold that many copies so everyone in the group had to return to their day jobs in order for Def Jam to recuperate that album advance shortly thereafter. Well not everyone in the group, apparently 2pac when he sprung from the klink in late 1995 still had Natasha Walker’s phone number in his rolodex from the Thug Life sessions so she got to be an unsung assistent to the creation of the diamond-selling, very first double CD of original material in the hip-hop genre All Eyez On Me. I’m sure that the paycheques for that job kept the lights on for a while, provided that Suge actually felt like sending them out off course. Given that Walker had a working relation with Johnny J and Thug Life, both before and after recording this album, it’s odd that they don’t make an appearance. Surely a 2pac guest appearance would’ve been big enough a selling point of this album for someone at Def Jam to pull out the chequebook? I’m also quite certain the man was available for the job. It’s not like he was in the hospital for being shot multiple times or in prison for being a convicted rapist yet. Was even Big Syke too busy polishing Pac’s boots to phone in a verse?

Y?N-Vee isn’t the most distinctive sounding mid-’90s R&B outfit out there, they basically sound like Zhané with rappers among its ranks, but Walker has a rather pleasant singing voice, and the rappers, while not dropping any knowledge, is perfectly competent at talking over instrumentals. Speaking of which: the production backing these girls, mostly courtesy of Doug Rasheed, isn’t half bad either. Mixing quiet storm and G-funk isn’t the most original idea ever, but it was at that time a proven formula for success and these beats are pretty sexy in a vintage ’94 type of manner. Sampling Mary Jane on one song and covering I’m Going Down on another is a bit much though since Mary J. Blige did the same on her My Life album released about a month after this came out. (I realise that this means that Y?N-Vee then would be the originators of these ideas and P. Daddy Blige the jacker but My Life is a textbook classic of ’90s R&B and Mary J. Blige is still working today so it gets a pass even if that is a bit unfair to today’s subjects.)
Taken on its own though this album’s relatively friendly, relatively warm approach to quitessential R&B and hip-hop subjects such as intercourse, infidelity and substance abuse leaves little to complain about. While not shying away from expletives or otherwise explicit content it does steer clear of obscenity most of the time.

It’s difficult choosing highlights from this consistent, slightly dull record. Everything sounds sort of same-ish, except I’m Going Down which is less mundanely, less datedly written because it’s a cover of a classic R&B song that doesn’t concern itself with being street smart. Chocolate‘s impeccable, sunny borrowed Rick James-groove is seductive fun, comparing a woman’s body to weed or actual chocolate or something along those lines. Even When U Sleep is a sexy, confident opener that establishes the mood of this record nicely and All I Wanna Do is one of the most suave things on here. Stra8 Hustler and Gangsta’s Prayer are decent attempts at gangsta rap and Real G is an ode to that genre and the style associated with it, incorporating the same Eddie Bo Hook and Sling sample DJ Quik used for his classic Jus’ Like Compton, which is a nice touch west coast hip-hop fans will be sure to appreciate. But this albums strength lies not in highlighs but rather in consistency. There are no real duds on here, so you can put the CD on and get busy with your Bae without changing songs for sixty or so minutes (provided that you live in the 1990s off course), and that definitely counts for something.

Best tracks
I’m Going Down
Chocolate

Recommendations
If you’re the type of person who enjoy TLC records Y?N-Vee is for you.


Nelly – Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention

Nelly
Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention
November 25, 2003
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
058/100
Nelly - Da Derrty Versions the Reinvention
1. Intro // 2. Country Grammar [Jay E Remix] (feat. E-40) // 3. Iz U // 4. E.I. [David Banner remix] // 5. Ride With Me [Jay E Remix] (feat. City Spud) // 6. Batter Up [Jay E Remix] (feat. Murphy Lee, Chocolate Tai, King Jacob, Prentiss Church & Jung Tru) // 7. If // 8. Hot In Herre [Basement Beats Remix] // 9. Dilemma [Jermaine Dupri Remix] (feat. Ali & Kelly Rowland) // 10. King’s Highway // 11. Groovin’ Tonight (St. Lunatics feat. Brian McKnight) // 12. Air Force Ones [David Banner Remix] (feat. David Banner & 8ball) // 13. Work It [Scott Storch Remix] (feat. Justin Timberlake) // 14. #1 [Remix] (feat. Postaboy & Clipse) // 15. Pimp Juice [Jay E Remix] (feat. Ron Isley) // 16. Tip Drill [Remix] (E.I.) (St. Lunatics)

Back when people still bought cds remix-albums were an easy way for record labels of juicing any particular artist’s fanbase for some cash whenever that artist didn’t have a proper album to promote. Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention is such an album, bridging the gap between Nelly’s 2002 blockbuster Nellyville and his 2004 double whammy Sweat and Suit. On this album you will find amended versions of hit songs from Nellyville and his debut Country Grammar of varying quality, all tied together by Nelly commenting on his ‘creative process’ in a sort of fake interview type of setting brought to us in skits. Did you know E-40 invented slang? Yeah, me neither…

On to the content: Everything labeled a ‘Jay E Remix’, which is is the absolute majority of the songs, can be automatically dismissed as a remix. Not because the beats suck, Jay E is a terrific producer and arguably half of the reason of Nelly’s success, but rather because the guy produced most of the original incarnations of these songs which were mostly not broke and therefore not in need of fixing.
Apparently he agreed with that assessment because the changes to his instrumentals are minimal to nonexistent. All that’s really added are newly recorded guest appearances which vary from entertaining enough such as the Ron Isley-featuring version of Pimp Juice and the Clipse on #1, to meh such as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it E-40 verse on Country Grammar, to godawful such as the new version of Batter Up which replaces B-team weedcarriers with Z-team weedcarriers. But the fact that Jay doesn’t go rampant creatively with altering his own shit might actually be for the better because the one time Jay E does actually change something substantial about a song the result is a version of Ride With Me that poorly attempts to fit the original hook into the melody of John Mayer’s No Such Thing for no other reason than that Nelly likes John and wanted to pay ‘tribute’ to him, which is very questionable reasoning at best. Nelly could‘ve called the guy up for a collabo and Mayer would probably have said yes, and that might’ve made for an entertaining collabo if Nelly’s later collabo with Tim McGraw Over and Over is any indication. In stead we’re left with this stupid shit that also does a terrible job at incorporating City Spud’s not-that-great-to-begin-with verse off the original version.
The remix of Hot In Herre which is credited to ‘Basemenent Beats’, a production team consisting of Jay E, Koko and Wally Beaming (and City Spud who is m.i.a. here because of a ten year prison stint) is pretty fucking awesome with what sounds like a recreation of the Neptunes’ bleepy, bloopy original beat with live instrumentation. I guess he did have something to ad here because he didn’t have a hand in creating the original instrumental.

Mississippi rapper and producer David Banner remixes E.I. into something much more scandalously entertaining than the original, although there wasn’t much need to tack on a second version of this remix on the end of the album with his boys from the St. Lunatics featuring but substituting verses with catchphrases (This version does however work really well as a floor-filler at parties, so perhaps it is the Nelly-solo version that is the redundant track out of the two.) His rock version of Air Force Ones however a fairly lame deal, which is a shame because new guest verses by himself and southern legend 8ball are a lot better than what the ‘Tics had come up with for the original.

Jermaine Dupri’s new version of Dilemma exposes the song for having been very reliant for its effect on its sappy original production as this stripped down version sounds dry and superficial. Scott Storch transforms Work It into an altogether more slinky affair that probably would’ve sounded better if Nelly hadn’t decided to re-record his vocals after popping a shitload of ritalin. It is what it is and it is mystifying.

That leaves a three original songs. Iz U is a pretty cool trunk-rattler that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Nellyville, that goes for Kings Highway and the Neptunes-produced If as well. Perhaps he was cleaning out the vaults or something. Anyway these songs are probably the only real reason for owners of Country Grammar and Nellyville to pick up The Reinvention.
In 2003 that might’ve cut it as an incentive for purchasing this album. In 2014 however you can just buy the individual songs off iTunes or Amazon and you’ll have all the added value of this album to Nelly’s catalogue for a lot less money than you would spend on the entire disc. That’s not to say Da Derrty Versions sounds bad. It’s a fairly decent Nelly-playlist, and with the exception of Air Force Ones and Ride With Me these remixes don’t actually sound any worse than they do in their original versions. Props for culling the only good song Groovin’ Tonight off that godawful St. Lunatics album, even if it was only to get incarcerated Lunatic City Spud some commisary (That would also explain why Spud is on that strange and shitty Ride With Me-John Mayer mashup). But if you’re a fan of Nelly’s you could probably make a much better Nelly-playlist yourself with the technology being available and manageable to everyone and their grandmother, making The Reinvention a dinosaur from a bygone era.

Best tracks
Iz U
If
Hot In Herre [Basement Beats Remix]
King’s Highway
Groovin’ Tonight
Pimp Juice [Jay E Remix]

Recommendations
Buy the above tracks off iTunes or Amazon, or pick this out of the used CD bin you find it for under six dollars.


Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel

Bobby Brown
Don’t Be Cruel
June 20, 1988
MCA RecordsUMG
080/100Bobby Brown - Don't Be Cruel

1. Cruel Prelude // 2. Don’t Be Cruel // 3. My Prerogative // 4. Roni // 5. Rock Wit’cha // 6. Every Little Step // 7. I’ll Be Good to You // 8. Take It Slow // 9. All Day All Night //10. I Really Love You Girl // 11. Cruel Reprise

Bobby Brown was once more than an ex-New Edition member and Whitney Houston’s ex-hubby (a faulty marriage well documented because Brown and Houston are ex-reality tv. stars as well as recording artists).
He was at one point R&B’s brightest young star as well as the archetypical boy band bad boy, that point was following the release of his sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel. When Robbie Williams gave Take That and Nigel Martin-Smith the finger to find bigger success solo than the group had ever had collectively he was basically following Bob’s career trajectory. When Donnie Wahlberg tried to set fire to a hotel with a Molotov cocktail… well I don’t think Bobby ever did something that fucked up, but the man has had plenty of lewd and laviscous content, driving under influence, police chase, resisting arrest and drug posession arrests on his name as well as the public image of a crackhead wifebeater. To each former teen heartthrob his own way of shedding the bubblegum pop image. Word to Justin Bieber.

Don’t Be Cruel was released at the height of the New Jack Swing era which supposedly blends old-fashioned R&B soul with old school hip-hop although acts like Guy, Al B. Sure! and Keith Sweat are simply soul singers with more electronic production than was usual in the ’80s backing them in my book with little to no hip-hop influences being noticeable, but that is just my opinion so you can ignore that if you want to.
Brown however did blur the line between soul and hip-hop rapping as much as he sings on the title track and doing an LL Cool J-esque rap on the ballad Roni and busting out a verse at the end of the video edit of Every Little Step adding hip-hop swagger to his rhythm and blues.

The producers involved L.A. Reid, Babyface and Teddy Riley had all had moderate success in the music business before Cruel (Teddy working on all those Uptown records and L.A. and Face as in-house producers for Dick Griffey’s SOLAR records.) but were to completely own mainstream contemporary R&B in the decade that was to follow this album’s release. It’s not difficult to see why, their work on this album is excellent. One could say that they kickstarted the ’90s with this and it wouldn’t be much of an overstatement.

If the first five songs following the intro aren’t the best five-song-run on an R&B album ever they’re up there with the best of them. From the title track’s slinky, sinister funk through My Prerogative‘s brassy middle-fingerfest. Roni‘s B-boy romanticism, Rock Wit’cha‘s more mature sexy business and Every Little Step‘s puppy love and pop ‘n’ lock groove. This is some terrific music making, with Bob’s charismatically gruff Rick James/James Brown-ish tenor locking tightly into the groove of the somersaulting drum machine clatter. He isn’t the best technical singer out there, having a rather limited vocal range, but he knows well how to stay in it while at the same time making full use of everything he’s got and is a born entertainer. What’s more is that his sense of rhythm is excellent and he appears to really enjoy singing these catchy songs with a natural charisma that allows him to come across as both badass and as a fun individual, a loveable rascal. It is one rather engaging, catchy affair. These songs were all in the top three of the US R&B charts, in the top ten of the US pop charts with three of them hitting #1 in the former and one, namely My Prerogative, hitting #1 on the latter and copping a Grammy. And well deserved.

If this album consisted of only these five songs Don’t Be Cruel would be a perfect ten. Following them however are four well meaning but forgettable cuts. I’ll Be Good to You is standard fare late-’80s Teddy Riley-funk. It’s not bad but it absolutely pales in comparison to his other contribution My Prerogative, the album’s biggest pop-hit and a Grammy winner. (A little bit of trivia: Boy George’s 1989 Teddy Riley-produced, hit-single Don’t Take My Mind On a Trip was originally slated to appear on Don’t Be Cruel. It’s easy to imagine Bobby perform it. I would love to hear Bob’s version if any of you readers has it on a hard drive somewhere.) And closing the album are three rather forgettable slow jams Bob himself co-produced with Cameo-frontman and King of Stage-producer Larry White that require more technical singing than Bob has to offer to bring them to life.

In short Don’t Be Cruel has a fan-fucking-tastic opening run but slightly falls apart at the end. But overall it still is a really good but somewhat forgotten album that packs more hits and more punch than you can shake a stick at and proving just why he was a thing once. It is the best New Edition album, solo or otherwise. For that it derserves to be aknowledged and revisited.

Best tracks
Don’t Be Cruel
My Prerogative
Roni
Rock Wit’cha
Every Little Step

Recommendations
Pick this up.


Jay-Z – Chapter One: the Greatest Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Murphy Lee – Da Skoolboy Presents Murphy’s Law

Murphy Lee
Da Skool Boy Presents Murphy’s Law
September 23, 2003
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
065/100
Murphy Lee - Murphy's Law
1. Be Myself [Intro] // 2. Don’t Blow It (feat. City Spud) // 3. Hold Up (feat. Nelly) // 4. Grandpa Gametight // 5. Luv Me Baby (feat. Jazzy Pha & Sleepy Brown) // 6. Murphy’s Law [Interlude] (performed by Darius Bradford & St. Louis Slim) // 7. Cool With It (feat. St. Lunatics) // 8. This Goes Out (feat. Nelly, Roscoe, Cardan, Lil Jon & Lil Wayne) // 9. What Da Hook Gon’ Be (feat. Jermaine Dupri) // 10. So X-Treme (feat. King Jacob & Jung Tru) // 11. How Many Kids You Got [Interlude] (performed by Darius Bradford & St. Louis Slim) // 12. I Better Go (feat. Avery Storm) // 13. Red Hot Riplets (feat. St. Lunatics) // 14. Regular Guy (feat. Seven) // 15. Gods Don’t Chill (feat. King Jacob & Jung Tru) // 16. Murphy Lee (feat. Zee) // 17. Head From a Midget [Interlude] (performed by Darius Bradford & St. Louis Slim) // 18. Shake Ya Tailfeather (Nelly, Diddy & Murphy Lee) // 19. Same Ol’ Dirty (feat. Toya)

Taking about the common rapper’s habit of landing all their homies from the hood a record deal as soon as they’ve sold a couple of records: it certainly has lead to a lot of mediocre to shitty albums being recorded and released. It’s almost as though for every entertaining Jay-Z record being released to the public a waste of time, money and plastic and aluminum hard drive space by Memphis Bleek gets to see the light of day.
Some times however a weed carrier has some actual skill behind the microphone and gets to become a cool supporting character in story of his more famous friend’s career. Such is the case with Nelly’s homeboy Murphy Lee(a.k.a. Da Skoolboy because he was the youngest out of the St. Lunatics posse), the second out of Nelly’s St. Lunatics posse with a solo career (third if you count Nelly himself) whose debut Murphy’s Law hit shelves in late 2003.

Although I can’t recall him so much as appearing on Country Grammar or Free City his guest verses on Ali’s moderate hit Boughetto and the remix of State Property’s Roc the Mic that appeared on Nellyville were pretty cool. However it wasn’t until the song Shake Ya Tailfeather off the Bad Boys II soundtrack dropped in the summer of ’03 that anyone in the public actually started wonderng who he was. The song was mostly Nelly’s, but also had a verse by P. Daddy (Because the soundtrack was released on Bad Boy Records and because that way Nelly wouldn’t have to pay for the video.) The final verse was Murphy’s though and arguably he stole the show, referencing Dragonball Z , Marvin Gaye and Voltron while talking about weed and pussy. That turned out a fantastic career move because Shake Ya Tailfeather hit worldwide charts like a brick and won a grammy for ‘best rap song by a duo or a group’ in 2004. It is this sort of success that gets the label heads to ‘see the potential’ and spend a little extra on beats and guest appearances when an album release is imminent, which was good for him since guest verses and hooks by Sleepy Brown and a littler Lil Wayne (amended by as a myriad of lesser-knowns), as well as assists by Jazze Pha, Jermaine Dupri, Mannie Fresh and Lil Jon are a definite asset when recording a party rap record like Murphy’s Law (That title was a given, wasn’t it?)

The album did go platinum, but that’s quite likely only because it had Shake Ya Tailfeather on it. I don’t recall ever hearing anything else of this being played on any radio or music video channels. Oh well, I’m sure Murphy Lee isn’t complaining.

His on-record persona is that of a nouveau riche street rascal that is just as likeable as his similar but more famous homie Nelly. Besides their boughetto similarities there are differences too, Murphy Lee is a much mellower dude. Nelly is the type of dude to slap the listener around the dancefloor with his success. Murphy seems to preoccupied with entertaining himself behind the mic for such posturing. Off course he brags himself through this album the way any commercial sub-gangsta rapper would in ’03, but he doesn’t land a sweaty, poon fest of a club banger like Hot In Herre or Work It or a thug utopia like Nellyville anwhere (except on Shake Ya Tailfeather which is the former, but it’s more of a Nelly song anyway). In stead he offers up a milder variety of midwestern party rap. Murphy’s Law is heavy on the poppy R&B cuts, midtempo Southern/ Midwestern party rap and it even has a smooth elevator jazz number in Cool With It.
Highlights include the album opener Don’t Blow It featuring incarcarated ‘tics member City Spud, the rowdy, Nelly assisted Mannie Fresh-produced banger Hold Up, Jazze Pha’s feverish come on-number Luv Me Baby, the uncharactaristically smooth St. Lunatics posse cut Cool With It, the reminiscent I Better Go featuring Avery Storm, the requisite ‘the money hasn’t changed me’ song Same Ol’ Dirty and off course the classic hit single Shake Ya Tailfeather.

Unfortunately the album has it’s fair share of clunkers too. The smooth seduction number Grandpa Gametight never gets to seductive because of its inexplicable, silly concept. As does What the Hook Gon’ BeThis Goes Out might as well be called Nationwide Weedcarriers ’03 what with (Kurupt’s little brother) Roscoe, Cardan (formerly of Ma$e’s group Harlem World) and a pre-stardom Lil Wayne appearing alongside Murphy Lee, Nelly and Lil  Jonathan. Murphy Lee is a silly sex rap with a female singer yelling out our hosts name to the tune of Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) and you can imagine how hard that shit falls flat on its face.

The remainder of the songs lands somewhere in between of good and bad right in the middle of meh. Nelly and Murphy Lee would’ve done well to leave a fair share of these songs on the cutting room floor as they weigh down Murphy’s Law significantly. But this has been the case with every St. Lunatics release so far so that was to be expected. As it is this is still a rather entertaining but flawed album by a very likeable rapper who knows his limitations, doesn’t try too hard and appears to only be out to entertain both himself and the listener. Kind of like how Country Grammar and Nellyville were. And if you enjoyed those albums Murphy’s Law is definitely for you.

Best tracks
Don’t Blow It
Hold Up
Luv Me Baby
Cool With It
I Better Go
Shake Ya Tailfeather
Same Ol’ Dirty

Recommendations
Pick up a used copy. Or a new one even as long as you’re not hideously overcharged for it.


Nelly – Nellyville

Nelly
Nellyville
June 25, 2002
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
068/100
Nelly - Nellyville
1. Nellyville // 2. Gettin’ It Started [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La) // 3. Hot In Herre // 4. Dem Boyz (feat. St. Lunatics) // 5. Oh Nelly (feat. Murphy Lee) // 6. Pimp Juice // 7. Air Force Ones (feat. St. Lunatics) // 8. In the Store [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La) // 9. On the Grind (feat. King Jacob) // 10. Dilemma (feat. Kelly Rowland) // 11. Splurge // 12. Work It (feat. Justin Timberlake) // 13. Roc the Mic [Remix] (State Property feat. Murphy Lee & Nelly) // 14. The Gank // 15. 5000 [Skit] // 16. #1 // 17. CG 2 (feat. St. Lunatics) // 18. Say Now // 19. Fuck It Then [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La)
bonus track
20. Girlfriend [Neptunes Remix] (*NSYNC feat. Nelly)

Nelly -the man, the myth, the band-aid abuser- really was the early 2000s Lil Wayne, although longtime Weezy-fans know that Lil Wayne himself was also a thing in that day and age. But what I mean to say by that is that Nelly was as succesful in 2002 as Lil Tunechi was in say 2010. There was nary a radio station one could turn on without hearing the man’s heavily accented words and sing-songy voice. Most of these hits are concentrated on Nellyville.

Nellyville showcases everything that was right and everything that was wrong with hip-hop in the early naughties. The Neptunes sound, continuous celebration of excess, an expanding assortiment of regional flavours of hip-hop hitting the mainstream, having each and every one of your friends come over to the studio to drop a verse for your album, R&B/pop-rap collaborations, singing your own hooks when no R&B singer was around without the aid of vocal effects, silly skits and really long tracklists and running times, keeping it gangsta with nary a hipster in sight. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

This album sold a tonne of copies too. Some seven million in the U.S.A. alone on the strength of it’s smash hit singles like Hot In HerreDillema and Work It. I’m sure even the Lunatics ate better off their three apearances than they did off the Free City and the Heavy Starch albums combined. The pre-iTunes era had some perks for weed carriers. These days they would’ve been forced to find a day job to support their “rap career” because people would just buy all the songs they like off iTunes and back then you had to cop the whole cd. In 2002 people did cop the cd because of Cornell Haynes, jr.’s punchy flows and catchy hooks that were delivered in a oddly intoxicating blend of shouting and velvetty crooning about being a gangsta and a hustler and a player and what not but mostly about having too much fun, over Jason “JE” Epperson’s dirty but poppy beats, with a couple of instruments by others including Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo thrown in for variety’s sake.

The album kicks off with the title track which describes a city that is Nelly’s utopia in which the weather is democratically decided upon, in which he is the mayor (or muhr as he pronounces it) and everything is gumdrops and ice cream. Only Nelly could make a song like this without sounding completely flaky. I’m sure everyone has heard Hot In Herre and Dilemma, two of the archetypical commercial rap songs of the era. The former is probably the most memorable Neptunes-produced club number ever with a feverish beat and Nelly’s blissfully ignorant raps and jokes that are so bad they’re good (“Stop pacin’, time wastin’, I got a friend with a pole in the basement” “What?” “I’m just Kidding like Jason!” “Oh.” “Unless you gon’ do it.”). The latter is something out of the Ja Rule playbook with our host and Destiny’s Child’s Kelly Rowland affectionately singing and sing-rapping come-ons at one another over a cheese fondue of an instrumental that blends philly soul with music box twinkling. You’d have to be a hardball cynic to hate these wide eyed optimistic and incredibly catchy jams.
Justin Timberlake, then of *NSYNC, gets to sing the hook of Work It which was good for him since appearing on this strip club anthem made him insteresting to slightly orlder teenagers than those who bought Celebrity, which was very necessary for the solo-album he was releasing later in 2002 to become succesful. The song still sounds really good today with it’s beat that’s simultaneously groovy and crunchy but it does give away how much Nelly relies on his superior flow and charisma to get his message across and not so much his lyrics which can be a bit off. (“She’s got me hypnotised, just like that Biggie guy.” and still P. Daddy invited him over to work on the second postumous Notorious B.I.G. album!?)
Air Force Ones is quite pleasant for a shoe commercial mostly pieced together by b-teamers due to it’s throbbing bounce-beat that harks back to Batter Up and Pimp Juice is the best shitty falsetto performed by a rapper ever, Jeffrey Atkins be damned.
#1 has our host proclaiming his dominance over the rap game and answering a KRS-One diss with gusto over a gloriously tangy instrumental.
Another highlight is Roc the Mic [Remix], an amended version of State Property’s debut single which has Sigel and Freeway copy the flow each other used on their respective verses the original version and Nelly and Murphy Lee managing to fit in pretty good with this significantly more gangsta, less frivolous duo. The edition of Nellyville I have finishes with the Neptunes remix to the *NSYNC-song girlfriend on which Nelly appeared, on here gets as clean as Justin gets dirty on Work It, so that’s a fair trade I guess. If you’re going to pick up Nellyville pick up this edition because it’s like an added bonus to what is essentially a nostalgia value pack. Besides the only other way of picking up this song is buying NSYNC’s Celebrity or stealing it off the internet off course.

The rest of the songs don’t really suck but don’t exactly warrant an honourable mention either. The biggest flaw about the album is that it’s twenty tracks (eighty miniutes) long, which leads me to believe that the man All Eyez on Me‘d this album, which means he recorded everything he could come up with in one go and without hearing it back for quality control purposes released everything he could fit onto a cd. If this were ten tracks long it woud be much better and much conciser. Still as it is Nellyville is more hit than miss and -dare I say it- a bit of a pop-rap classic that works as a time machine to the early Bush-era (your appreciation of this album may depend on your experience of those years.) and for that I salute it and Nelly himself.

Best tracks
Nellyville
Hot In Herre
Pimp Juice
Air Force Ones
Dilemma
Work It
Roc the Mic [Remix]
#1
Girlfriend [Remix]

Recommendations
Pick this one up. The good song are hella fun and Nellyville can’t be too expensive to come by.


Ali – Heavy Starch

Ali
Heavy Starch
April 30, 2002
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
060/100
Ali - Heavy Starch
1. Intro // 2. I Got This // 3. Crucial (feat. Murphy Lee) // 4. Ore-Ore-O // 5. No (feat. St. Lunatics) // 6. Boughetto (feat. Murphy Lee) // 7. 360 // 8. Wiggle Wiggle (feat. St. Lunatics) // 9. Drop Top (feat. Kandi) // 10. Collection Plate (feat. St. Lunatics) // 11. Passin’ Me By (feat. Toya) // 12. Bitch // 13. Beast (feat. Ray Ray) // 14. Cool as Hell
bonus
 tracks
15a. St. Louis Alumni (feat. STL Alumni) / 15b. Serious / 15c. Walk Away (feat. Ms. Toi & Nelly)

The first to come out of the St. Lunatics camp with a solo-album after undisputed alfa male Nelly was Ali. I can’t say I recall much of his contributions to Free City, but then I can’t remember many of Nelly’s verses either. Suffice to say the St. Lunatics’ debut album wasn’t a very memorable affair.

Heavy Starch Mostly gets right what Free City did wrong. It has some pretty pleasant instrumentals. I Got This has a bollywood-infused beat, CrucialNo360Wiggle Wiggle, Drop DropPassin’ Me By, Bitch have some of the same plodding, twinkling bounce-beats Nelly rode on to success with is debut Country Grammar. Boughetto brings an energetic club beat to the table and Collection Plate has some slinky southern funk backing up Ali and his Lunatic friends. Beast has some piano-keys going up and down the tone ladder. Everything is consistent enough to justify calling Heavy Starch an album but varied enough to keep you from falling asleep.

So what about Ali the rapper? Does he rise to the occasion? Well yes and no, he sounds like a complete tool for the most part, but his deep, rumbling, southern accented voice isn’t an unpleasant instrument. It’s just that his goofy thug raps aren’t very memorable one has to pay some serious attention to find out whether or not it is him on the mic on every one of the three St. Lunatics posse cuts, which means that each of the ‘tics could’ve recorded the exact same album with this set of beats.

Still the overall inoffensiveness and occasional cachiness of this, while not the most convincing argument for a purchase ever made, means that this is some perfectly decent party music, and that definitely counts for something.

Best songs
I Got This
Crucial
Boughetto
Wiggle Wiggle

Recommendations
Buy this only if you’re nostalgic for the Country Grammar era and sound. This makes for a decent second serving.


St. Lunatics – Free City

St. Lunatics
Free City
June 5, 2001
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
050/100
St. Lunatics - Free City
1. Just For You (The Introductory Poem) (performed by Amber Tabares) // 2. S.T.L. // 3. Okay // 4. Summer In the City // 5. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 1 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 6. Boom D Boom // 7. Midwest Swing // 8. Show ‘Em What They Won // 9.  Let Me In Now // 10. This Is the Life // 11. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 2 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 12. Scandalous // 13. Groovin’ Tonight (feat. Brian McKnight) // 14. Jang a Lang (feat. Penelope) // 15.Madd Baby Daddy, Part 3 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 16. Real Niggaz // 17. Here We Come // 18. Love You So (feat. Cardan) // 19. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 4 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock)

Succesful rappers should really stop assembling all their of friends, regardless whether they’re good at this rap thing or not, into a rap crew that actually records and releases albums to the general public. Although to be fair the St. Lunatics had been a thing since ’95, a good five years before Nelly came out with his solo-album Country Grammar. And in regard to their talent it would appear that whoever put the crew together made damn sure that all members but Nelly sounded completely meh.

Off course arguably the failure of their crew album to entertain the masses is not entirely on them since one of the things that made Country Grammar tick – some really, really good poppy production – is mostly absent here. It would be tempting to say that the absence of Lunatics member and Country Grammar-producer City Spud is the problem, especially since the best thing on Free City (I bet you can guess by now what held mr. Spud preoccupied from contributing more verses and beats than he did) is Groovin’ Tonight which is featuring and produced by him. Ironically this album succeeds in giving the listener a pretty good reason to want City Free. On the other hand it is actually Brian McKnight’s contribution on the hook that sets the song apart positively from the rest since Spud’s verse is no better than anything anyone else comes up with anywhere on this album, and the -admittedly- cool instrumental was probably a fluke since his Country Grammar contributions weren’t all that good.

Where Batter Up, the smash hit single off Nelly’s debut that introduced the Lunatics to the world, promised some good fun on an eventional album by the crew Free City fails to deliver. Shitty beats that may or may not have been leftovers from the Country Grammar sessions, uninspiredly delivered raps that could’ve been written by a bunch of stoned teenagers that first started rapping this morning and all sound the fucking same.
Blah.
Even the main attraction Nelly loses his charisma in this watery soup. Some outside help could’ve inproved matters considerably, so proves Groovin’ Tonight, but besides Brian the best that Nelly, Murphy Lee, Ali, Kijuan and SloDown could drill up was Cardan who appears on Love You So. Really? Cardan!? What do you pay Cardan for a guest verse? Yesterday’s leftover spaghetti? Was fucking Loon too busy polishing P. Daddy’s boots for a record deal to throw a guest verse your way, or some shit?

Avoid this album at all costs.

Best tracks
Scandalous
Groovin’ Tonight
Love You So

Recommendations
Don’t bother.


R. Kelly – R. Kelly

R. Kelly
R. Kelly
November 14, 1995
Jive Records/ SME
080/100
R. Kelly - R. Kelly
1. The Sermon // 2. Hump Bounce // 3. Not Gonna Hold On // 4. You Remind Me of Something // 5. Step In My Room // 6. Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby // 7. (You To Be) Happy (feat. the Notorious B.I.G.) // 8. Down Low (Nobody Has to Know) (feat. Ronald Isley & Ernie Isley) // 9. I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I) // 10. Thank God It’s Friday // 11. Love Is on the Way // 12. Heaven If You Hear Me // 13. Religious Love // 14. Tempo Slow // 15. As I Look Into My Life // 16. Trade My Life

A prime example of an album that gives you most of the kicks you get from it because it’s sort of weird is R. Kelly’s self-titled third solo album.
It manages to blur the line between earnest make out album and golden comedy record, a concept that would which would henceforth be Robert Kelly’s bread and butter.

He has matured a bit since unleashing 12 Play onto the world, this album doesn’t have any of the pimp banality that album served up on tracks like Summer Bunnies and I Like the Crotch on You. Because his rapping in particular went hand in hand with the superficiality those songs conveyed, and hopefully because he realised that he sucked at rapping coming off as some sort of generic party rapper like MC Hammer whenever he did it, all he does here is what he does best, which is sing.
And the songs he sings build on the songs off his sophomore album that were succesful. Your Body’s Callin’Bump and Grind and  Sex Me were career establishing and consolodating hits with their insidiously percolating quiet storm slow grooves combined with R. Kelly’s excellent Reese’s peanut butter cups-tenor and risqué lyrics. Lyrics that may still are as explicit and carnal as they were on the last album, but no longer as misogynic and objectifying. No longer is R. Kelly the overenthusiastic poonhound. This time around Robert plays the roll of the earnest, mature lover who worships you and whose sole life purpose is to get you in the seventh heaven with his bumpin’  and grindin’, even if he doesn’t necessarily want to stay around keeping you company forlong after the act. R. Kelly is a much less giddy album than 12 Play, but the veneer of added maturity somehow only serves to augments the comedic effect some of these songs have on the listener, the comedic effect that nobody but Robert knows to be intentional or not.

Kells liberally borrowed from soul legends such as Donny Hathaway, Barry White, Lionel Richie, Teddy Pendergrass, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Charlie Wilson, Luther Vandross, Isaac Hayes and the Isley Brothers (who appear on this album) which makes sense since arguably he was the heir to the fictional R&B throne that had been passed around between these listed names. He infuses variations of their brands of soul with Dr. Dre’s G-funk sound, which was in and by itself a dervative of some of these artists and serves up the quintessential soul record of 1995.
More than from any of these guys however Kelly appears to draw inspiration from Marvin Gaye, which draws an unfair comparison, but one that needs to be made regardless to place this album in proper context: Crafty as Robert was and still is at making sex songs, in Marvin Gaye’s league he is most definitely not, although he out of all of his contemporary peers he’s come the closest.

But still R. Kelly hadn’t yet (and still hasn’t) got anything under his belt as effortless sexy and soulful as Let’s Get It On or Sexual Healing which he probably never will either, which you shouldn’t blame the guy for since nobody but Marvin does. This is what separates pop’s craftsmen from the artists. The stars from the legends. But that didn’t stop Robert from finding his own way to create memorable classics and developing his own signature style of salacious love song, a style that may not be as beyond reproach as Marvin’s is amongst critics, but depending on your point of view is equally, if not more entertaining.
And one of the lessons he has learned from the late great one is to not be afraid to use silly metaphores. Marvin had songs with lyrics such as I’m hot just like an oven, I need some lovin’ but employed these somewhat sparingly and suptly, while mr. Kelly goes for broke with them here as is evident in the hook to his classic slow jam You Remind Me of Something.

You remind me of my jeep, I wanna ride it
Something like my sound, I wanna pump it
Girl you look just like my cars, I wanna wax it
And something like my bank account
I wanna spend it, baby
R. Kelly – You Remind Me of Something

These would be what the fuck!? lyrics are salvaged by R. Kelly’s impressive ability to sing them straightfacedly and soulfully, and by the music, which is everything these words aren’t: restrained, sexy and, dare I say it; classy.
The ensuing recordings are electrified with the tension this paradox creates, and with music lovers there is still a debate whether or not this man can be fucking serious with these songs, which is exactly what makes this man so fascinating in the first place.
Well that is an important part of it, but it wouldn’t mean anything without the fact that he’s got the musical chops to make these songs sound good, and a voice that is simply a amazing instrument.
(Also there’s his well documented personal life and legal troubles that leave a lot of room for speculation and blur the lines between his art and his reality, in the public’s perception at least, and his unwillingness or inability to alter his artistic persona to something less abiguously guilty at everything the man has been charged with in real life.)

Besides the demographic that enjoys Robert’s creations either ironically or with a large portion of good old christian guilt (another central theme to the man’s music explored on tracks like the Sermon, Thank God It’s FridayAs I Look Into My Life and Religious Love along with more random instances of other religious imagery) there are women R&B fans that couldn’t give a rats ass about all that analytic bull, and oddly enough either take songs like You Remind Me of Something at face value as a legitimately romantic song to get nasty to without minding the lyrics much because “the beats are sexy” (this is not a complaint), or on the other end of the R. Kelly spectrum flat-out refuse to listen to the man because he has been charged with (and acquitted of) statutory rape, while still being completely comfortable with Chris Brown, who is 500% more despicable and not 1/10 as talented, because smacking your bitch up in a fit of rage doesn’t count as a sexual offence.

For all these different categories of fans (and haters who hate the man for the exact same reasons his fans love him) R. Kelly has something to offer. For those who wish to sing along to quirky sex songs there’s the previously mentioned You Remind Me of Something and a jam called Hump Bounce, as well as the classic tale of love cheating and betrayal called Down Low (Nobody Has to Know), which goes to show that Robert is as good a storyteller as Slick Rick and was a precursor to his infamous Trapped In the Closet series (Down Low (Nobody Has to Know) unfortunately has only two pars of which only the first is included on this album).

For the romantics amongst us looking for the soundtrack to a long makeout session there’s those exact same songs, as well as less questionable inclusions like Love is on the Way, I Cant Sleep Baby (If I)Not Gonna Hold OnStep In My Room and Trade My Life. If you want to have a dance (at a tempo low enough to prevent you from breaking a sweat) there’s the Biggie-featuring (You to Be) Happy and the understated Thank God It’s Friday.

Everything is held together by Robert’s on-record persona and his sultry, impeccable productions. For fans of contemporary R&B and soul music; You’re hard pressed to find an a similar abum of better quality. R. Kelly is a classic in its genre, and a quantumleap forward for R. Kelly, building from 12 Play‘s hit-or-miss qualities to something consistently entertaining.

Best tracks
Hump Bounce
Not Gonna Hold On
You Remind Me of Something
(You To Be) Be Happy
Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)
I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I)
Thank God It’s Friday
Love Is on the way

Recommendations
If you’re into vintage R&B pick this up. It should teleleport you to a place that is both the sexy dimension and the uncanny valley, and make you laugh out loud in random intervals in the process. And there aren’t to many albums that can legitimately claim to do that to people.


Jay-Z – The Blueprint

Jay-Z
The Blueprint
September 11, 2001
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
085/100
Jay-Z - The Blueprint
1. The Ruler’s Back // 2. Takeover // 3. Izzo (H.O.V.A.) // 4. Girls, Girls, Girls (feat. Q-Tip, Slick Rick & Biz Markie) // 5. Jigga That Nigga // 6. U Don’t Know // 7. Hola’ Hovito (feat. Timbaland) // 8. Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love) // 9. Never Change (feat. Kanye West) // 10. Song Cry // 11. All I Need // 12. Renegade (feat. Eminem) // 13a. Blueprint (Momma Loves Me) / 13b. Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise) / 13c. Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2] (feat. Michael Jackson)

Released on the same date as the WTC attacks, september 11, 2001, Jay-Z’s fifth solo album of original material (sixth if you count The Dynasty: Roc la Familia as a Jay-Z solo album, which you definitely shouldn’t) sold tonnes of copies and recieved the kind of critical acclaim the Jiggaman  hadn’t seen since he dropped Reasonable Doubt. In the immortal words of the Notorious B.I.G., Jay “[blew] up like the world trade” simultaneously with the World Trade actually blowing up.

Where on Vol. 1, 23 the man had gained mass success by employing the electronic club banger-creators Timbaland and Swizz Beatz and got jiggy with glossmasters the Trackmasters, Irv Gotti and Puff Diddy, and The Dynasty had seen him do something similar with West-coast stalwart Rick Rock and up-and-comers the Neptunes.
On the Blueprint however he elected to primairily work with Roc-a-Fella in-house producers Bink, Just Blaze and Kanye West, all three of whom were test-driven on albums by Jigga’s interns Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek (both of whom aren’t anywhere to be found on this album).
These men brought to the studio a somewhat RZA/Pete Rock/DJ Premier-inspired soul-sampling sound that was a lot sunnier and more radio friendly than any track any of those three seminal producers tend to lay down, but still was a far cry from P. Daddy or Irv Gotti’s squeaky clean disco beats, which helped the medicine go down with hip-hop heads and critics, while veteran Jay-Z producers Timbaland and the Trackmasters got one track each, and Eminem, the only guest vocalist who gets to touch on anything beyond a hook, gets to produce the song on which he appears.

Content-wise Jay talks about his own majesty (The Ruler’s Back), how much more succesful he is both commercially and artistically than NaS and Prodigy of Mobb Deep (Takeover), his prowess in courting the ladies (Girls, Girls, Girls), general boasting (Jigga That NiggaIzzo (H.O.V.A.)Hova’ Hovito) and how despite all this success he is still deep down a street hustler (Never Change) and running the hip-hop game (U Don’t Know).
To balance out these rather emotionally vapid, yet entertaining-as-fuck gangsta’isms he throws in a song about how he regrets negatively impacting the lives of those he loves (Song Cry).
Jay-Z had the golden ratio of a commercially succesful gangsta rap album down to a tee pretty much when he dropped Vol. 1. Club bangers (for the ladies) plus just violence and drugs to appease the streets (men) equals platinum sales. And Vol. 2 and 3. as well as the Blueprint all abide to the #oldrules. But these new musical surroundings, as well as challenges to a battle for the throne by NaS and Mobb Deep, appear to have brought Shawn Cory Carter renewed lyrical vigor, as well as the need to mostly have the recording booth to himself while creating the Blueprint (sorry Bleek!).

The resulting album truly is the very best thing this guy has released since his classic debut, and depending on your tastes this one might even be better.
On Reasonable Doubt Jigga was so focused on his lyrical and flowing techniques and the mafioso image he was trying to convey that he came off as a bit statuesque, especially when paired with an playful Notorious B.I.G. who at that point was the undisputed king of New York and thus had little to prove. It never seemed that there was much self-expression on that album and Jigga came off as a cold-hearted technocrat/mafioso/rapping machine.
Over the course of his next string of albums Jay learnt to let loose and have fun a bit recording songs (something NaS has yet to learn after 20+ years in the game, and probably never will), but since none of them but the Blueprint could remotely fuck with Reasonable Doubt production-wise it was only here and now it truly showed.
Basically by 2001 Jay had already snatched up the crown that B.I.G. used to rock via his success (he had once literally attempted to do so on the 1997 Teddy Riley-produced song The City Is Mine, and I say attempted, because it had fallen flat on its face because of it’s cotton candy beat. But a year later Hard Knock Life pretty much actually accomplished Shawn’s coup d’état). And the Blueprint was the consolidation of Hova’s reign over New York, if not the whole of hip-hop.

Izzo (H.O.V.A) had the final bit of the summer of 2001 on smash when it dropped in late august of that year. And for good reason. The celebratory Kanye beat samples the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back in a reasonably creative manner while the Jiggaman celebrates having made the American dream his reality.
Takeover takes apart NaS and Prodigy so ruthlessly efficiently over Kanye’s Fame interpolation (the David Bowie song, not the musical film) that I’m confident that despite this rap war being over ten years ago and having long since resolved, it pisses both artists today still when it comes up on hip-hop radio .
Girls, Girls, Girls marries a confident playa attitude with affection rather than misogyny and goes for broke lyrically over what is the most soulful, and some would say best, beat of the entire album, courtesy of Just Blaze, with light support of three old school legends on the hook (speaking of old school legends, Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2] which appears as a hidden bonus track on the tail end of the album has an uncredited backing vocal by the late Michael Jackson, returning the favour after Jay appeared on the Trackmasters Remix of You Rock My World)
U Don’t Know has Hova refuting the claim (made by a sped-up vocal sample) that he doesn’t have a master plan in this rap game (as if anyone ever doubted it) and it’s a hustler anthem for the ages.
Song Cry manages to humanise this rap god by having him openly discuss his regrets and insecurities, which helps make it easier for people to root for the guy.

Unsurprisingly the album’s low points are those produced by Timbaland, Trackmasters and Eminem, unsurprising because, as expected, they don’t fit the sped-up ’60s/’70s soul theme and because they rely on gimmicks (though arguably Kanye’s chipmunk soul was a bit of a gimmick too) Jigga That Nigga incorporates bolywood sounds and Hola’ Hovito as Timbaland Having the balls to jump on the latin bandwagon that was a thing around the turn of the millenium. And the freedom-of-speech plea Renegade was better off as the Em-Royce collabo it originally was since Bad Meets Evil unlike Jigga actually racked up controversy with their lyrical content.
But even these songs are pretty entertaining by their own right. It’s not as though they are sucky or anything, it is just that they have the musfortune of sharing an album with a bunch of undisputed classics.

the Blueprint is spotless, and with a lot of derivative albums coming out following its release (not least its very own sequels created by Jay himself) it does its name justice. It is also the argument that convinced this reviewer that Jay-Z, not NaS was the best rapper on the East-Coast in 2001.

Best tracks
Takeover
Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
Girls, Girls, Girls
U Don’t Know
Song Cry
Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)
Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2]

Recommendations
Pick this one up, a.s.a.p.


Aaliyah – Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number

Aaliyah
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
May 24, 1994
Blackground Records/ Jive Records/ SME
070/100
Aaliyah - Age Ain't Nothing But a Number
1. Intro // 2. Throw Your Hands Up (feat. Second Chapter) // 3. Back and Forth (feat. R. Kelly) // 4. Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number // 5. Down With the Clique (feat. R. Kelly) // 6. At Your Best (You Are Love) // 7. No One Knows How to Love Me Quite Like You Do (feat. Second Chapter & R. Kelly) // 8. I’m So Into You (feat. Second Chapter) // 9. Street Thing // 10. Young Nation // 11. Old School (feat. R. Kelly) // 12. I’m Down // 13. Thing I Like // 14. Back and Forth [Mr. Lee & R. Kelly’s Remix] (feat. R. Kelly)

I wonder if R. Kelly regretted that album title any time during his career, like around february 2002 for instance.

Aaliyah Kelly (née Haughton) was singing for most of her life when she was signed to Blackground Records, her uncle Barry Hankerson’s Jive-distributed boutique label, by her uncle (who besides running an urban music label also managed succesful R&B singers Toni Braxton and R. Kelly at the time.) It is through her uncle that Robert got to mentor her and write and produce most of her debut album when she started recording in september 1993.

Age was a commercial success, maintaining a charts presence, spawning several hit singles, and selling five million copies worldwide by 2001 (according to wikipedia). And all was good until rumors spread that Robert and Aaliyah were maintaining a more-than-professional, more-than-friendly relationship while she was fifteen and he was twenty-seven (which is reason for scandal in America apparently.)

This would be irrelevant to the quality of this album’s music, if its content didn’t shamelessly hint at these rumors being true. Besides that title, which was supposed to be a statement of Aaliyah’s maturity for her age, R. Kelly maintains a presence on a couple of the songs in ad-lib capacity that feels as though he was breathing in her neck for the duration of the recordings. (Also allegedly a marriage certificate exists with Robert and our hostess of tonight’s names on it, and Aalyah’s contemporary age supposedly being eighteen. Getting married with a fake I.D. huh? Yeah, ain’t no way anybody is going to find out about that shit. Smart thinking Kells.)

In the interest of fairness though these suspect, conspicuous circumstances surrounding this album’s creation are going to be ignored for the remainder of the review.

Compared to R. Kelly’s latest release at the time 12 Play Age is a far more consistent, far less juvenile album. There are some ridiculous R. Kelly-isms to be found (“Now if you not down with my clique,
you can just doo-doo on a stick” – Down With the Clicque) but not a so much of them the album suffers as a whole.

On the faster cuts such as Throw Your Hands Up and No One Knows How to Love Me Quite Like You Do (long-ass song-title..) Robert supplies the same bump ‘n’ groove production that he sported on 12 Play‘s midtempo jams, but since it’s Aaliyah’s silky singing on them, rather than Robert’s blah rapped odes to your crotch, they don’t sound as wasted here. There is some wack rapping on here, courtesy of female rapper Second Chapter, who appears to have fallen off the face of the earth after recording her contributions to this album, but again it’s a lot less prominent than on 12 Play. These uptempo grooves have the girl riding these ‘beats for the jeeps’ comfortably and expertly.
On the slow jams he doesn’t seem to have learnt any new production tricks either breaking out the same nocturnal summer-breeze sound that made Your Body’s Calling such a smash hit the year before, but Aaliyah isn’t remotely a female version of Robert either vocally or persona wise, so everything is a lot less explicitly sexual than on the average R. Kelly record, while she still has her way with his production sound, on Old School and Young Nation for instance.

Aaliyah’s singing is excellent throughout. Seductive and restrained, not trying to hit every note on the ladder like poor man’s Mariah Carey or [enter your favourite the Voice candidate here], but just singing the damn songs already, putting her in the post-Sade cathegory od R&B singers rather than post-Whitney and making Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number a pleasure to the ear.

The best song on here is At Your Best (You Are Love), a song originally recorded by the Isley Brothers, affectionately and faithfully performed by Aaliyah who obviously respected the legendary group a lot (she also gives them a nod on Old School by mimicking the vocal melody of their classic song Between the Sheets and namechecks them on Young Nation, and since she covered an Isley Brothers song on her 100% R. Kelly-free sophomore we can safely assume it wasn’t just Robert trying to add some old school flava to this album, but something Aaliyah was genuinely comitted to doing).

As pleasant as Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number is, it is a rather vanilla, by-the-book post New Jack Swing urban soul record, in the vein of Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411? doing very little to push the genre forward. And while there’s nothing wrong in particular with that, especially when it is this well executed, one would be right in believing that her best days were ahead of her and would come about only if she were paired with a more adventurous producer (Timbaland).
Still this is a satisfactory album that anyone who appreciates vintage R&B sounds should check out.

Best tracks
Throw Your Hands Up
Back and Forth
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
At Your Best (You Are Love)
No One Knows To Love Me Quite Like You Do
Young Nation
Old School

Recommendations
Buy this album.


R. Kelly – 12 Play

R. Kelly
12 Play
November 9, 1993
Jive RecordsSME
065/100
R. Kelly - 12 Play

1. Your Body’s Callin’ // 2. Bump n’ Grind // 3. Homie Lover Friend // 4. It Seems Like You’re Ready // 5. Freak Dat Body // 6. I Like the Crotch on You/ Intermission // 7. Summer Bunnies // 8. For You // 9. Back to the Hood of Things // 10. Sadie // 11. Sex Me [Part 1 & 2] // 12. 12 Play

Born Into the 90’s had managed to get R. Kelly’s foot in the door in the world of urban music by selling a decent number of hits and racking up a couple of hits on the US R&B charts.
But only when he came back in november ’93, three back up dancers lighter, with his high-top fade shaven cleanly off and with beats tailor made for pillow-talk, and a couple of midtempo tracks you could dance to without breaking into a sweat, thrown in for good measure, only then it seemed he had truly left the late ’80s.

To say his debut and his sophomore album are day and night would be a bit much. But this album does differ quite a bit from his debut in that Robert seems to have completely let his hair down. Not only are the instrumentals a lot more mellow the second time around, but there are only two tracks that bear the pretence that R. Kelly isn’t some sort of poonhound, hollering at your girl with strips of condoms bulging out of his pockets. In fact you could play Born Into the 90’s and 12 Play in a musical tandem of sorts. Born as the club record to show the ladies at the club your moves to (with some slow jams thrown in for breaking the ice with close physical contact) and 12 Play as the album you’d throw on as soon as you get home, as the lascivious soundtrack to hourlong sexy business. (This might only work appropriately if you live in the early-to-mid ’90s though, since Born Into the 90’s  and to a much lesser extent 12 Play haven’t aged perfectly.)

In other ways 12 Play  is a more refined version of 90’s, Robert still feels the need to rap on Freak That BodyI Like the Crotch on YouSummer Bunnies and Back to the Hood of Things. And although he isn’t completely horrible at it and switches up his delivery within the song, singing hooks and bridges, then rapping on the verses, which helps, he still would have been better off singing the damn songs already and/or outsource the rap verses to professionals. (he would get the memo before putting out his third album in ’95).

12 Play contains the post new jack swing, quiet storm-classic Bump n’ Grind and Your Body’s Callin’, probably the most unridiculous, most seductive thing the man has ever put on wax. These, coincidentally the album’s first two tracks, along with their kindred songs It Seems Like You’re Ready and the two-part Sex Me (a precursor to his 32 episodes, and counting urban-opera Trapped in the Closet?), are the best songs on here, hands down. Unlike on the tough-guy bump ‘n’ mack songs Homie Lover FriendFreak Dat Body and *gulp* I Like the Crotch on You these songs are geniunely sexy, and unlike his later balladry he doesn’t yet throw in his weird-ass imagery. It is the same lack of hilarious oddness that helps the slow jams that cripples the faster numbers. I Like the Crotch on You literally revolves around its titular mission statement and grows old rather quickly, unlike Ignition [Remix]‘s car/sex metaphores.

Besides all this carnality the unconditional love-statement For You sounds positively ungenuine and the dedication to his dead mother in a cover of the Spinner’s Sadie (that song that got jacked for its hook by 2pac on Dear Mama) sounds genuinely soulful and angelic, if completely contradictory to everything that came before it in its earnest respect for women.

This album has some songs that don’t work anymore, and may never have worked at all, but when Robert is on he’s on, which makes his missteps easy to forgive.

Taken as a whole 12 Play is only a small step forward for R. Kelly, but the songs below are are either quantumleaps or at the very least enjoyable enough to warrant a listen.

Best tracks
Your Body’s Callin’
Bump n’ Grind
It Seems Like You’re Ready
Sadie
Sex Me [Parts 1 & 2]

Recommendations
If you find this album for cheap in the used-bin go for it, otherwise buy the above tracks off iTunes.


R. Kelly & Public Announcement – Born Into the 90’s

R. Kelly & Public Announcement
Born Into the 90’s
January 14, 1992
Jive Records/ SME
055/100
R. Kelly & Public Announcement - Born into the 90's
1. She’s Loving Me // 2. She’s Got That Vibe // 3. Definition Of a Hotti // 4. I Know What You Need // 5. Keep It Street // 6. Born Into the 90’s // 7. Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ) // 8. Dedicated // 9. Honey Love // 10. Hangin’ Out // 11. Hey Love (Mr. Lee feat. R. Kelly)

These days in the post-I Believe I Can Fly, post-Ignition [Remix]-world R. Kelly, songer, songwriter, producer, millionaire, playboy, extraordinaire, really needs no introduction (although with some people for less positive reasons than with others, both related to his music and his private life) but in early 1992 when his completely self-produced debut album Born into the 90’s dropped he was just another new jack on the scene, the very last to succesfully ride the coattails of Teddy Riley’s new jack swing movement.

For those not around in the late ’80s/early ’90s, New Jack Swing was urban dance-pop that married traditional R&B/soul vocals with the minimal, melody-lacking, pistoning, pumping hip-hop and dance music beats of the era, and this phase in pop music was instrumental in making sure that every R&B album released since featured at least half a dozen hip-hop verses and every hip-hop album released since has at least half a dozen R&B hooks on the quest for crossover appeal, leading to both really good and really bad music being made.

Being that the urban music world was already moving away from NJS in ’92  there was also another sound to be heard on this album. Also a mixture of hip-hop and R&B, but far mellower, more melodic, pioneered by the group JoDeCi on their ’91 release Forever My Lady, closer to the R&B/ soul sound of the late ’70s/ early ’80s. This sound can be heard on the ballads, two of which tellingly hit #01 on the US R&B charts, which none of the up-tempo numbers did.

The album is credited to R. Kelly & Public Announcement, but if anyone but Robert Kelly can be heard so much as sneezing anywhere on this album I’ll be damned. The lead- and background-singing, the rapping, the random talking-interjections and the voiceover thing that occasionally replies to said talking bits all seem to be the R., making these three gentlemen (I counted the people on the album cover that weren’t mr. Kelly) the most useless “band members” since Andrew Ridgely “played guitar” in Wham!

Most of the songs on Born Into the 90’s sound extremely dated (I suppose that this album’s title should provide ample warning) but for what they are they don’t sound bad. R. Kelly certainly doesn’t do NJS any worse than the style’s originators (Keith Sweat and a trio called Guy). She’s Loving MeShe’s Got That Vibe and I Know What You Need are probably as good as this obsolete genre gets (bar a couple of classic Bobby Brown, New Edition, Keith Sweat and Guy singles) but that doesn’t mean that anyone who didn’t grew up during this era and doesn’t get nostalgic feelings from this type of music, needs to hear them.

The ballads Slow dance (Hey Mr. DJ)Dedicated and Honey Love fare a lot better, go a long way in introducing R. Kelly’s signature PB&J vocals and his signature syruppy slow jam instrumentals (all that’s missing this first time around is the raindrops embedded in the rhythm section) to the masses, and were the only big hits off this album. it should be noted that Kells doesn’t drop any of his now-patented wacky sexual metaphores anywhere here. There’s no sexosaurus, he doesn’t compare his member to a remote control and on Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ) he seems to literally be talking about slow dancing (how cute!) so either he hadn’t come op with his signature lyric writing yet, or he just didn’t dare hitting the music listening audiences with them just yet on his debut album.

The only songs that outright suck are the ones on which R. Kelly shows off his rap skills on the majority of the track, such as Definition of a Hotti and the title track.
In 1992 nobody had come up with putting melody in a rap flow and harmonising along like BTNH or Ja Rule so Kells raps in flat voice, and while he know how to construct a flow and stay on beat he does sound horribly generic whenever he does it (He doesn’t quite go into MC Hammer territory, but he comes dangerously close. It also doesn’t help matters that everybody and their grandmother has sampled Patrice Rushen’s Remind Me for a R&B/hip-hop song, and that the title-track has to compete with much better songs using the same instrumental.)

There are two surprises on here, both on the tail-end of the disc.
Hangin’ Out pairs a rather vanilla midtempo NJS beat with a saucy sax and rather than bumpin’ and mackin’ his way through it, or making overly dramatic declarations of everlasting love, he goes for a nostalgic block party vibe and does a pretty terrific job with it.
Hey Love, a cover of the Stevie Wonder song and a duet with Chigaco rapper/ hip-hop/ house DJ Mr. Lee, that doesn’t really sound good but does have Robert sound almost exactly like Stevie himself, which is an impressive feat for any vocalist.

All in all Born Into the 90’s is a promising debut that was probably hot when it came out but hasn’t aged well at all. While it is interesting to hear Robert succumbing to long forgotten musical trends and finding his voice, this stuff won’t be of interest all but hardcore R. Kelly fans or those people who are nostalgic for the New Jack Swing era.

Best tracks
She’s Loving Me
Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)
Honey Love
Hangin’ Out

Recommendations
Buy the above four songs off iTunes, they are fairly entertaining. Leave the rest of this stuff alone, it’s not wack per se but it’s not that good either.


Nelly – Country Grammar

Nelly
Country Grammar
June 27, 2000
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
065/100
Front

1. Intro (performed by Cedric the Entertainer) // 2. St. Louie // 3. Greed, Hate, Envy // 4. Country Grammar (Hot Shit) // 5. Steal the Show (performed by St. Lunatics) // 6. Interlude (performed by Cedric the Entertainer) // 7. Ride With Me (feat. City Spud) // 8. E.I. // 9. Thicky Thick Girl (feat. Murphy Lee & Ali) // 10. For My (feat. Lil Wayne) // 11. Utha Side // 12. Tho Dem Wrappas // 13. Wrap Sumden // 14. Batter Up (feat. Murphy Lee & Ali) // 15. Never Let ‘Em C U Sweat (feat. the Teamsters) // 16. Luven Me // 17. Outro (performed by Cedric the Entertainer)

Few rapper have recieved as much love from pop audiences and simultaneously as much hate from the hip-hop community as Cornell Haynes, jr. did. He’s rivaled only by a handful, including Ja Rule, P. Daddy, Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer in this department. In fact he pissed off hip-hop grand elder KRS-One to such a degree with his debut album that a beef followed. But we’ll get to that when we’ll get to that.

Country Grammar was the solo debut album by the St. Louis, Missouri rapper. It should be noted that Nelly takes a lot of pride in hs hometown, namechecks it numerously and uses a lot of local slang in his rapping, creating a style that is unashamedly country as opposed to hip-hop’s urban original incarnations. In other words, not only was this hip-hop thing staying, it was spreading land inwards.

It sold over ten million copies in the U.S.A. alone, produced many hit singles instantaneously making him a household name in hip-hop and pop as well (Pop isn’t really a genre, is it?) leading to him scoring guest appearances on R&B and rap songs alike. He actually fit onto the radio-songs seamlessly due to his sing-songy flow, which sounded a bit like Ja Rule without the throat infection.

This melodious exuberant flow coupled with incessantly materialistic rhymes got him a following but it also got him unflattering critiques from peers and fans of the genre alike, who though he was more of an R&B artist than anything else. And although there’s certainly more harmony to his flow than was usual in the pre-autotune era he has a distinct hip-hop swagger and enough rhythm in his delivery to justify caling him a rapper, than you very much.

Now we’ve gotten that out of the way: Another thing people seem dislike about the man is that there’s not much substance to his lyrics. Now here the haters are on to something, Nelly songs are all about getting paid, getting laid, getting drunk, getting high, be it on life or on weed, with the occasional interlude of gloopy mawkish romanticism. So knowledge isn’t something you’ll come across on Country Grammar. It’s not that big a deal for what is ostensibly a pop artist. And he’s rather self-conscious about it too. Unlike Ja Rule, who tried and failed miserably at maintaining a level of street credibility  while sing-rhyming his way through beats that were glossier than Vogue magazine paper Nelly more or less embraces that he is a pop star first and foremost, and unlike martyr-complexed Jeffrey Atkins he actually manages to have some fun with it, rendering most of his work a guilty pleasure whereas Ja oft comes across as… well, guilty as charged with several counts of horrible music making. (On an unrelated note; does anyone else find it funny that Ashanti ended up dating Nelly? No, just me then?)

Country Grammar is produced by Jason “JE” Epperson and City Spud, a member of Nelly’s St. Lunatics posse, who give Nelly a St. Louis take on New Orleans funk to rap over. The album has a smooth, throbbing, sexy feel from start to finish with Nelly maintaining enough stamina to keep it from going off prematurely and going flaccid.

This album has its share of textbook pop/rap classic singles too. Ride With Me is a breezy, acoustic guitar-driven celebration of excess unrivaled in its straightforwardness. (“Why do I live this way? Hey, it must be the money!”)The title track literally united a children’s clapping game with Mannie Fresh-like bounce-beats and it brought rural lingo to big city. E.I. is a synonym for oral sex and a freakfest of a song that has a beat that is both relaxing and tittilating. On Batter Up Nelly introduces his St. Lunatics crew to the masses over a slow-bouncing beat that facilitates their proclamation of dominance over the rap game via baseball metaphores.

Other highlights include the xylopone infused Lunatics posse-cut Wrap Sumden and the Lil Wayne feature For My, which reminds the listener Weezy was around before autotune and that his brains weren’t always too sizzurp-fried for him to make sense on the mic.

Country Grammar has its share of filler. One could easily trim away five of the non-singles randomly without the quality of the album dropping significantly. Thicky Thick Girl if not for any other reason than its godawful title, and Luven Me which sounds too much like obvious influence Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s Don’t Stop which samples the same source material, are most eligible for exclusion.

Concluding: Nelly tackles this rap thing with obvious skill and zero pretence. He has a knack for catchy hooks and his raps, while not complex, rest comfortably above industy average. Country Grammar is one long smooth ride down Route 66 without any true potholes, which would nevertheless be better off shorter.

Best tracks
Ride With Me
Country Grammar
E.I.
Batter Up
For My

Recommendations
If you you don’t take it too seriously you can have a lot of fun with Country Grammar on blast. If fun is what you seek, you should pick it up.