Tag Archives: Irv Gotti

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.


Ja Rule – 7 Series Sampler: Pain Is Love

Ja Rule
7 Series Sampler: Pain Is Love
May 20, 2003
Murder Inc. RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
065/100
Ja Rule - 7 Series Sampler
1. Always On Time (feat. Ashanti) // 2.  Down Ass Bitch (feat. Charlie Baltimore) // 3. Never Again // 4. Lost Little Girl // 5. Pain Is Love // 6.  I’m Real [Murder Remix] (feat. Jennifer Lopez) // 7.  Livin’ It Up (feat. Case)

Back in 2003 internet music bootlegging was just starting to become a thing (anyone remember Napster or Limewire?) and so, in an effort to seduce people who would otherwise steal music from the web, Def Jam Recordings came with a radical solution: the EP.

A little more thought was put into it than that, by re-releasing an album without all the filler they could sell it for cheaper and because  it contained mostly the hits no skipping was required by the listener (The first generation of iPods had just come out, so not everyone knew how to make a playlist yet.)

Ja Rule was still a popular artist by then, so he was an obvious candidate, and because Def Jam didn’t want the EP to eat away the sales of Jeffrey’s latest album The Last Temptation they decided to go for the album he had released before that one; Pain Is Love, which had sold millions of copies and had completely fulfilled its chart-potential by then anyway, it was a no pain, no gain thing.

So they trimmed Ja Rule’s Pain Is Love from most of it’s non-singles until only seven tracks were left in such a way they didn’t have to cut Caddilac Tah, Black Child, Boo & Gotti, Jodie Mack, Missy Elliott and 2pac any aditional cheques, added nothing, rearranged them and put the resulting disc in record stores worldwide.

This would seem like some typical record company bullshit, which off course it was. But it just so happens that Pain Is Love had about six tracks on it that could either be considered a good song or a hit single (with about two of them being both). So with that in mind one has to give Def Jam kudo’s for including not only the the radio hits (although the person in charge of compiling this disc would have had to have been pretty fucking stupid to fail to do that right.) but also the best non-single, the existentialist mental breakdown that is Never Again.

It has to be said though that may have been a fortunate accident in selection, because this EP also contains the two very worst songs of the original album.

Nobody ever wanted to hear Jeffrey do social commentary, even those that did buy his self-absorbed sensitive thug persona (and all of his albums) back in the early naughties, so what the hell is Lost Little Girl doing here?
Pain Is Love‘s faux-philosophical pity me, martyr-lyrics and a typically unfortunately brassy hook and glossy beat go a long way in showing why these days Ja Rule is mostly a punchline.

As for the hits; Always on Time is still classic pop-thug/ R&B genius, Livin’ It Up is still jiggy, wide-eyed dancefloor fun, I’m Real [Remix] still has Jenny from da Block coming off as real a Barbie doll and it still has Jeffrey coming across as a jackass hollering at sluts with a bottle of K-Y, but I’m pretty sure that said sluts still like this song, so that’s a thing. And Down Ass Bitch still has some singing on it so bad it makes you wish they used autotune as freely back then, as they do now.

Also it would’ve been very sympathetic if Def Jam would’ve included the hit version of Ja’s Put It On Me featuring Lil’ Mo off the soundtrack to the Fast and the Furious, considering there is no Ja album, studio or compilation, that has the version that anyone gives a shit about on it.

Still this is probably the most Jeffrey any casual listener will ever need, so if you absolutely must have a legal hard copy of Always On Time this is the way to go.

Best tracks
Always on Time
Livin’ It Up
Never Again

Recommendations
Since you can probably pick this up for the price of a second hand single, because this probably has the least shitty songs of any of his abums, bar his debut Venni Vetti Vecci, and because this has arguably the two best songs of his career you can pick this up. Just don’t expect miracles from a Ja Rule album.


DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life (OST)

Various Artists
DJ Clue? Presents Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life (OST)
August 29, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
050/100
DJ Clue Presets Backstage Mixtape
1. Intro [Skit] // 2. Best of Me (Part 2) (Mýa feat. Jay-Z) // 3. In The Club (Beanie Sigel) // 4. Keep It Thorough (Prodigy) // 5. My Mind Right (Memphis Bleek) // 6. Who Did You Expect (the LOX) // 7. Wanna Take Me Back (T-Boz) // 8. Just Leave Your Love (Christión) // 9. Darlin’ (Rell) // 10. Millionaire (Hot Boys & Big Tymers) // 11. Road Dawgs (Amil, Eve, Da Brat & Jay-Z) // 12. Funkanella (Outkast, Killer Mike & Slimm Calhoun) // 13. Come and Get It (Redman & Lady Luck) // 14. Hate Music (Cam’ron & Juelz Santana) // 15. Gotta Be a Thug (Fabolous) // 16. Don’t Want Beef (Capene-N-Noreaga) // 17. Crime Life (Memphis Bleek, Lil’ Cease & Ja Rule) // 18. Say What You Want (Da Ranjahs & Ja Rule) // 19. People’s Court (Jay-Z)

The word “mixtape” is shown prominently on this album’s cover. Mixed bag would be accurate. DJ Clue? doesn’t perform a set, and unlike on his debut album The Professional he produces but one song here, for the rest of this disc he is relegated to “Shouting his own name” duties. “Music inspired by the movie” follows the word mixtape. That’s a lie too.

Not unlike what was the case with Streets Is Watching there’s not much of a movie to speak of that would “inspire” music. In fact Backstage is a documentary on the Hard Knock Life concert tour, which was headlined by Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man, Redman, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, Amil and DJ Clue? The documentary consisted mostly of interviews of rappers.

The most logical way of tying an album to a tour is by simply releasing a recording of one of the shows, unfortunately all live hip-hop albums suck balls. (I would say nearly all live hip-hop albums, but I have yet to hear an exception.)

Perhaps the most enjoyable way to go about this novelty release, which would’ve been inessential anyway would be to compile previously released hit-singles performed by the previously mentioned line-up of artists on the tour, such as Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life, DMX’s Slippin’, Redman’s I’ll Bee Dat! and Ja Rule’s Holla Holla. At least that way one could somewhat rightfully claim that Backstage: a Hard Knock Life was the music that inspired the movie and the disc would’ve been a nice Def Jam, class of ’99 yearbook.

In stead we are served what appears to be scraps and studio leftovers by artists who indiscriminately do or do not have anything to do with the tour, and may or may not have had supporting roles in the documentary (supporting interviews? What the hell?)

It’s not all bad though. In the Club has Beanie Sigel finally recording the Timbaland-helmed club banger that was so prominently absent from the Truth, and regardless of whether it was what you thought you wanted to hear from the guy, he does pull it off well. Keep It Thorough is Mobb Deep’s Prodigy’s finest solo song ever (although it can also be found on his solo debut H.N.I.C., sans Clue? shouting) Funkanella is a decent Dungeon Family posse cut and Millionaire has most of the contemporary Cash Money records roster (Juvenile, B.G., Birdman and Lil Wayne and others) doing their thing, for those who enjoy that sort of stuff.

Memphis Bleek and the LOX, Redman, Cam’ron, Fabolous, Ja Rule and a recently reunited Capone-N-Noreaga as well as a female rap-posse cosisting of Eve, Da Brat and Amil all put in work, with or without the aid of their subordinates, to various degrees of success, which makes sense I suppose, since they were all popular at the time. The Mýa song even has a decent excuse for appearing since it has a Jay-Z guest appearance, even if it and most of the rest of this music doesn’t need to be ever heard, let alone revisited.

What the likes of Rell, Christión da Ranjahs, T-Boz and Lil’ Cease are doing here is mystifying though. Even though the first three acts were on the Roc-a-Fella payroll at some point, they hadn’t been allowed into the studio for the recordings of any of the label’s recent memory projects (The TruthVol. 3). And Lil’ Cease, a dude who was an Notorious B.I.G. affiliate who never got to contribute to a Biggie album until the man was dead and powerless to stop him, and TLC’s T-Boz weren’t even signed to Def Jam anywhere in history.

Perhaps the Jiggaman gave Clue? the command to clean-out the Roc-a-Fella/ Def Jam vaults, as well as those of other record labels, just throw something together, slap the movie’s cover-photo on it and just release it already. Nowhere does this become more apparent than on one of the highlights, the album closer and Jigga solo-shot People’s Court where the man namedrops In My Lifetime, Vol. 2, which is most likely the album on which it was slated to appear. It was released some two years before this disc came out.

To sum it up: DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage: A Hard Knock Life Mixtape (Music Inspired by the Movie) is not a mixtape, doesn’t feature music inspired by the movie, doesn’t have so-called “DJ” Clue? doing anything DJ-like or useful otherwise, doesn’t feature the Jay-Z song Hard Knock Life, and doesn’t feature any music by Method Man, even though his face is featured on the cover.

Besides the shitloads of false-advertising there’s also the matter of what the listener actually gets on his plate; Most of the featured material is simply generic and doesn’t warrant any time, money or attention.

Best tracks
In the Club
Keep It Thorough
Funkanella
Don’t Want Beef
People’s Court

Recommendations
Look up the Beanie Sigel and solo Jay-Z songs and the CNN and OutKast songs, and let the rest be the rest. If you want to hear the Prodigy joint, which you should do, pick up the H.N.I.C.

Also on a somewhat unrelated note; pick up Sauce Money’s Middle Finger U.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Memphis Bleek – Coming of Age

Memphis Bleek
Coming of Age
August 3, 1999
Get Low Records/ Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
050/100
Memphis Bleek - Coming of Age

1. Pain In da Ass Intro // 2. Who’s Sleeping (feat. Reb) // 3.  Memphis Bleek is… // 4. What You Think of That (feat. Jay-Z) // 5. Murda 4 Life (feat. Ja Rule) // 6.  You’re All Welcome [Pain Interlude] // 7. Stay Alive in NYC // 8. You a Thug Nigga // 9. N.O.W. (feat. Da Ranjahs) // 10. Everybody // 11. I Won’t Stop (feat. Dark Half) // 12. My Hood to Your Hood (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 13. Why You Wanna Hate For (feat. Noreaga) // 14.  Regular Cat

Memp Bleek may be a lot of things, some of which are listed on the hook of this album’s Swizz Beatz produced monstrosity of a lead single Memphis Bleek Is…, but a good rapper is not one of them, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Jigga, who seems to not be in touch with him anymore these days, copped to only releasing this album so that the world would see just what it would be left with if he ever were to deliver on his threat to retire from rap music. This would certainly explain his lack of involvement with the project, except for his half-assed verse on What You Think of That he is nowhere to found. But perhaps he just had a lot of confidence in Bleek’s abilities.

Nah, that can’t be it. It would seem Jay-Z should know what good rap music sounds like.

Bleek’s problem is that his rapping style isn’t original or special in the least, which is nothing that good production cannot fix up to a certain point, but it’s still a handicap that prevents him from ever being able to release anything in the essential listening category, not unlike Ja Rule who makes an appearance. It is therefor unfortunate for Bleek that the production is mostly lacking. What’s up with that, Jigga? You couldn’t buy your boy some Timberland or DJ Premier tracks?

Still that doesn’t necessarily keep the man from creating radio fodder of varying quality given that the beats bang, knock or click and he can come up with catchy hooks or a gimmick.

Bleek’s hooks are what sink this ship, check the hook of the first single. Not that the Swizzy instrumental is something other rappers could turn into something good, but still this does sound like a really shitty version of NaS Is Like, and it is therefor not surprising he took offense. Also there’s What You Think Of That, which puts a perfectly functional beat to waste by repeating a stupid catchphrase dressed in nothing but generic gangsta’isms.

Where my niggaz at?
Where my bitches at?
I love these streets, what you think of that?
My whole team rock rocks, we don’t speak to cats
I’ma ball till I fall what you think of that?
What you think of that? What you think of that?
I’m a real ass nigga, what you think of that?
Where my niggaz at?
Where my bitches at?
I love these streets, what you think of that?
My whole team rock rocks, we don’t speak to cats
I’ma ball till I fall what you think of that?
What you think of that? What you think of that?
I’m a real ass nigga, what you think of that?

What think of this is best expressed in the immortal words of the Notorious B.I.G.

Disappear…vamoose…you’re wack to me,
Take them rhymes back to the factory.

Credit where credit is due however, Stay Alive in NYC is pretty decent for an amateur Jay-Z narrative, Is You a Thug Nigga has a pretty good beat and Murda 4 Life is as much a highlight here as it was on Ja Rule’s debut album on which it featured earlier, with its organ-infused Irv Gotti beat. Beanie Sigel and Noreaga also bring the heat with their respective guest appearances. Not that these above average sounding tracks salvage this album, this is still mostly stems and seeds.

For some reason however Coming of Age sold enough copies to warrant a stack of follow-ups, which means that in order to tell the Roc-a-Fella Records story I’ll have to hear another three of these albums. Groan.

Best tracks
Stay Alive in N.Y.C.
Murda 4 Life
Is You a Thug Nigga
My Hood to Your Hood
Why You Wanna Hate For

Recommendations
Don’t go near this one.


Irv Gotti Presents: The Remixes

Various Artists
Irv Gotti Presents: the Remixes
November 5, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
Irv Gotti Presents the Remixes

1. The Remixes [Skit] // 2. Unfoolish (Ashanti feat. the Notorious B.I.G.) // 3. I’m So Happy (Ashanti feat. Charlie Baltimore, D.O. Cannons & Young Merc) // 4. The Pledge [Remix] (Ashanti, Ja Rule, NaS & 2pac) // 5. O.G. [Remix] (Black Child & Caddilac Tah) // 6. Boss [Skit] // 7. Me & My Boyfriend (Toni Braxton feat. 2pac) // 8. Come-N-Go (Ashanti, Ja Rule, Caddilac Tah & 7Aurelius) // 9. Poverlous (Caddilac Tah)  // 10. Spanish Dancing [Skit] // 11. Rainy Dayz [Remix] (Mary J. Blige feat. Ja Rule) // 12. Moreno [Skit] // 13. Baby [Remix] (Ashanti feat. Scarface) // 14. Hard Livin’ (D.O. Cannons & Young Merc) // 15. No One Does It Better (Black Child, Caddilac Tah & Ja Rule) // 16. Remo’s Back [Skit] // 17. We Dem Boyz (Let’s Ride) (Chink Santana, D.O. Cannons & Young Merc) // 18. Baby [Remix] (Ashanti feat. Crooked I)

Remixes of tried and true hits and some added bonuses in the form of new tracks by Caddilac Tah and Black Child and some new cats (groan). 2pac involentarily pops up on two tracks, one of which, a Toni Braxton song, at least techically actually could have happened back in the ’90s because both Toni and Pac were around, and which started a beef between Braxton and Jay-Z who sampled the same pac song for his ’03 Bonnie & Clyde.

Scarface his vocals, featured first on a song called Mary Jane are reused for a remix of Ashanti’s Baby because the original already had stolen its beat already anyway. Then at the tail end of this dated novelty project a horribly miscast Crooked I re-does the re-mix in order to appear in full Ja Rule-capacity in its video, complete with mink coat. (I’m sure he doesn’t like it Joe, Joell and Royce bring that shit up.)

But hey some of the Ashanti tracks aren’t horrible, except for Unfoolish, which although it doesn’t sound bad, we had heard already on her own album, and which graverobs Biggie and morbidly puts him on the same album as 2pac, they’re all welcome additions to het catalogue. I’m So Happy more or less swipes the beat from the Gap Band’s Outstanding, which the original titled Happy did in a much more subtle manner, and The Pledge [Remix] replaces Caddilac Tah with NaS (no complaints there besides the 2pac thing.)

Besides Irv ruining Jeffrey’s Mary J. Blige duet Rainiy Dayz nobody does anything else worth mentioning so I’mma call it a day.

Best tracks
I’m So Happy, The Pledge [Remix], Baby [Remix] (Crooked I version)

Recommendations
What do you think?


Ja Rule – The Last Temptation

Ja Rule
The Last Temptation
November 19, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
Ja Rule - The Last Temptation

1. Intro // 2. Thug Lovin’ (feat. Bobby Brown) // 3. Mesmerize (feat. Ashanti) // 4. Pop Niggas (feat. Pharrell) // 5. The Pledge [Remix] (feat. NaS, Ashanti & 2pac) // 6. Murder Reigns // 7. Murder Me (feat. Caddilac Tah & Alexi) // 8. The Warning // 9. Connected (feat. Eastwood, Crooked I & Chink Santana) // 10. Emerica (feat. Young Life & Chink Santana) // 11. Rock Star // 12. Destiny [Outro]

Ja Rule hadn’t really had any major backlashes in his career up until the gruff-voiced reincarnation of Luther Vandross released The Last Temptation. Sure, that Fiddy guy didn’t like him too much and his old homeboy DMX had said some less than complementary things about him on record, but his first three albums had all been multi platinum sellers and booty bumping with J-Lo on I’m Real [Remix] and Ain’t It Funny [Remix] sure had been fun. It also seemed that because of How to Rob nobody in the hiphop community liked mr. Cent, and his debut album had been shelved, and he himself had been dropped from his record label, making him not a force to be reckoned with in the rap game.

Then Curtis Jackson got signed again, arguably to the biggest powerhouse label in hip-hop: Eminem’s Shady Records. He was talking shit again, about how Jeffrey was a sellout R&B artist and a 2pac imitating wanksta, and this time the world listened and nodded. So The Last Temptation desperately needed to re-establish Ja’s credibility.

At the same time Ja’s previous album had him and Irv Gotti finding a winning formula: Ja posturing grimily over hella slick beats with Ashanti singing a hook. This had sold Ja boatloads of albums and a stack of hit singles. He also had an audience to satisfy. And audience that wanted him to reprise Always on Time a couple of times.

These two contradictory ideas that stand at the foundation of The Last Temptation, a fascinatingly schizofrenic listen with a lot of truly mystifying choices being made.

After a rant of an intro things start off well enough with Thug lovin’which pick Whitney Houston’s then-hubby Bobby Brown out of the crack rocks moth balls to aid Jeffrey in a smoothed-out song of rugged romance. Mesmerize is a decent sequel to Always on Time that samples, ironically enough, the same source material as Ghetto Qu’ran, the song that allegedly got F. Cent shot nine times. No surprises there, musically or lyrically.

Then Ja remembers the streets all of a sudden and invites Pharrell over for a DMX/Fiddy Cent disfest. Not much worth mentioning here except for that it raises the question whether or not Skateboard P willingly helped create a 50/X dis, or was simply asked for a beat and e-mailed his most generic, never even remembering the fact and being hella surprised when the Murder Inc. paycheck came in the mail.

Murder Reigns samples Toto’s Africa of all things and has Ja going all 2pac/martyr on the listener. Speaking of the man, his disembodied voice can be heard on the outro of The Pledge [Remix], which also samples his own So Many Tears, for the beat. That’s fucking blasphemous, and I’m not even really that much of a Pac fan. The fuck NaS!? Were you threatened with grievous bodily harm into participating with this ridiculous horseshit? It would seem that there’s even a subliminal Snoop Dogg-diss in Ja’s verse, this was most likely instigated by Suge who gets a shout-out.

The title track had Irv Gotti breaking out a Rappers Delight-esque faux disco beat, and features the Notorious B.I.G.’s one-time dip on the side Charlie Baltimore dueting Jeffrey, who reverts back to his old constipated Barry White with laryngitis tricks on the hook, making the song unlistenable even though Baltimore actually sounds pretty good.

Murder Me draws inspiration from Anniversary by Tony! Toni! Toné!, and has Ja breaking out some of the worst sex lyrics The Last Temptation‘s side of Pretty Ricky’s Your BodyThe Last Temptation is by far hip-hop’s largest, most decadent waste of a sampling budget since Puff Diddy reigned over the charts. But apparently they saved the money on guest appearances, because except for Pharrell’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance on Pop Niggaz and Nasir’s verse, there’s no one on here who wouldn’t work for food. One has to wonder whether Gotti ever truly considered releasing albums by the likes of Caddilac Tah and Young Life.

Because Suge cleared the 2pac raping-and-pillageing that was Pain on Pain is Love and The Pledge [Remix] on here, two Death Row records get to spit alongside Jeffrey on Connected. It’s a highlight, what with Chink Santana’s Nate Dogg-esque vocals on the hook and his Dat Nigga Daz aping beat and Crooked I and Eastwood providing the best verses on this project, bar NaS. Emerica is another ecstasy anthem and Ja’s worst one yet.

Rock Star goes for the tried-and-true throw-some-rock-guitars-on-a-hip-hop-song-and-hope-for-crossover-appeal gimmick. Fans of both genres should hang their heads in shame.

The outro is a pretty decent machine gun funk beat, and Jeffrey certainly does his best with it, but ultimately it’s too little, too late.

Ja Rule actually held the advantage in the 50 Cent thing, up to this point, having sold milions of records and with nobody knowing who Curtis was. With this album however he more or less killed his own career before 50’s practice round was even over and his first real blow, in the form of Get Rich or Die Trying was even delt by at the same time trying to please everyone and being so self important that he creates music that borders on self-parody.

Best tracks
Thug Lovin’
Mesmerize
Connected
Destiny [Outro]

Recommedations
The above songs are some fanstastic naughties nostalgia, but the rest of this album is a total waste of time and money, and needs not be touched with a ten foot pole.


Irv Gotti Presents: the Inc.

Various artists
Irv Gotti presents: the Inc
July 2, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
Various artists - Irv Gotti presents the Inc

1. Intro (Irv Gotti, Chink Santana, Ronnie Bumps & Caddilac Tah) // 2. Gangstafied (Ja Rule, Caddilac Tah & Chink Santana) // 3. Down 4 U (Ja Rule, Ashanti, Vita & Charlie Baltimore) // 4. Nobody Does It Better (Charlie Baltimore & Ashanti) // 5. It’s Murda (Caddilac Tah, Chink Santana & D.C.) // 6. The Pledge (Ashanti & Caddilac Tah) // 7. Ride With Us (Jody Mack, Black Child & 0-1) // 8. O.G. (Black Child) // 9. The Rain (Jody Mack, 0-1 & Ja Rule) // 10. Here We Come (Vita, Irv Gotti & Ronnie Bumps) // 11. We Still Don’t Give a Fuck (Ronnie Bumps, D.O. Cannons, Young Merc, Jody mack, Rah, 0-1, Charlie Baltimore, Caddilac Tah & Black Child) // 12. 1 Hearse, 2 Suburban (Black Child, Ronnie Bumps & Young Merc) // 13. Ain’t It Funny [Remix] (Jennifer Lopez, Ja Rule & Caddilac Tah) // 14. Tha Nexx Niggaz (Chink Santana, Eastwood, Crooked I, Ronnie Bumps, Dave Bing, Black Child & Caddilac Tah) // 15. DC Joe [Skit] // 16. Hold On (Chink Santana)

A huge step up from Irv Gotti Presents: the Murderers but that’s not saying much. The production is slightly better than on either Pain is Love or Ashanti, which is saying something because production was mostly what those albums have going for them.

The fact that this manages to still be a less pleasant listening experience than either of those two albums is because this is ment to promote a revolving door cast of people nobody wants to hear record music. The best tracks on here feature vocals by people who already were known to the general public, so it’s a total failiure in that aspect. The only new guy who comes off as semi decent is Chink Santana who adds a faux West Coast vibe to some of these tracks with his Nate Dogg meets Bone Thugs vocals on some of the refrains and his Daz Dillinger-esque beats.

One bit of trivia will be of interest to fans of today’s hiphop. Crooked I makes a brief appearance on the posse cut Tha Nexx Niggaz, with Eastwood, because Death Row records, his record label at that time, had some kind of side deal with the Inc. that required Row and Inc. artists to appear on one another’s projects. Not that one-and-a-half bar by Crooked I make the Nexx Niggaz a must-listen or anything. And the gazilion bars by the likes of Caddilac Tah and Black Child will make any fan of well-written rap’s head explode. At least Crooked gets his contribution out of the way early, so you can turn that shit off when he’s done and get on with your life.

Not that everything here sounds like shit. Down 4 U is a prime Ja-Ashanti duet for those who are into that sort of thing, the Pledge is mostly Ashanti doing her thing over a bastardised 2pac beat. And Gangstafied, the opening track has a beat so teriffically ominous that even Caddy and Ronnie Bumps can’t completely wreck it, although not for lack of trying, mind you.

If this album were stripped of all the vocals of weed carriers and replaced by those of Jeffrey, or better yet a competent rapper like for instance the previously mentioned Crooked I, this might’ve been a rather decent album. Alas it is what it is.

Best tracks
Gangstafied
Down 4 U
The Pledge

Recommendations
Download the above tracks of iTunes or Amazon or Spotify.


Jay-Z – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

Jay-Z
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
September 29, 1998
Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
070/100
Jay-Z - Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life

1. Intro (Hand It Down) (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 2. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) // 3. If I Should Die (feat. Da Ranjahs) // 4. Ride or Die // 5. Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators 99) (feat. Big Jaz & Amil) // 6. Money, Cash, Hoes (feat. DMX) // 7. A Week Ago (feat. Too $hort) // 8. Coming of Age (Da Sequel) (feat. Memphis Bleek) //9. Can I Get a…(feat. Amil & Ja Rule) // 10. Paper Chase (feat. Foxy Brown) // 11. Resevoir Dogs (feat. the LOX, Beanie Sigel & Sauce Money) // 12. It’s Like That (feat. Kid Kapri) // 13. It’s Alright (feat. Memphis Bleek)

The first person you actually get to hear rhyme on The Life and Times of Shawn Carter, volume 2, after the mandatory Scarface-themed Pain in da Ass intro is Memphis Bleek. Said intro is all about how Jay-Z is going to leave the rap game for good after releasing this album, and leave Bleek as his successor. Not unlike what happened on the intro to Vol. 1, except that back then it was clearly an empty threat or a hollow promise, depending on your point of view, because he named his album vol. 1, which all but promises a sequel.

Everyone knows none of this actually happened. It’s a good thing, both because Bleek usually can’t rap for shit and because even though vol. 2 is critically acclaimed and sold shitloads of copies it’s far from a flawless goodbye party.

Part of the problem is the appearance of guests such as said Bleek, Da Ranjahs, Amil, Ja Rule and Foxy Brown, most of whom don’t have much of a career left today for a good reason. Part of the problem is that Swizz Beatz gets to produce three tracks, which is never a good thing. There’s one beat on here that’s produced by DJ Premier, a guy who should’ve been all over this. It’s a pretty good beat but it has nobody but (wait for it…) Memphis Bleek rhyming over it, and although he doesn’t quite put it to waste as he’s prone to do, it isn’t remotely what anyone wanted to hear on what was at one time suposed to be Jay-Z’s very last album. Que de la fucque!?

When Jigga has some guests that can keep up with him on the posse cut Resevoir Dogs Eric Sermon of all people fucks shit up by producing a boring-ass instrumental. Listen Jigga, if you gon’ have sucky rappers on your album and sucky beats at least put them together so you can keep the good stuff for yourself and those in your posse with actual talent. What do you mean, you released this album fourteen years ago and can’t change shit about it? You’re rich, buy a time machine.

That said there’s still a wealth of good music to be found here. Everybody and their grandmother knows the Annie-sampling title track and there’s not much to be said about it but that it’s an all-time hip-hop classic. Nigga What, Nigga Who has Shawn Carter starting a succesful partnership with Timbaland and ending a succesful partnership with Big Jaz over a stuttering futuristic instrumental and Amil doesn’t have to do anything but the hook, which helps. A Week Ago is a pretty good narrative about friendship going sour and snitching, and although Too $hort could’ve been put to better use than to rap only on the hook it’s still a highlight. Can I Get a… works because of its light footed instrumental and in spite of its guests list, and Money, Cash, Hoes is just some fun singalong club-shit, although the Swizz Beat is barely passable and the DMX cameo seems phoned-in and sticked on last-minute.

Jay himself is in fine form throughout even though he doesn’t get past his usual I-am-richer-than-thou and I-rap-now-but-I-used-to-sell-drugs shtick. His excellent conversational flow ties all of this shit together.

He can’t work miracles though. This album is fucking mediocre by his admittedly high standards. I hope Vol. 3 has less guests and better beats.

Best tracks
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators 99)
Can I Get a…
A Week Ago
Money, Cash, Hoes

Recommendations
You can buy this, it’s not entirely worthless and even pretty good in parts. But do go listen to Reasonable Doubt first.


Streets is Watching (OST)

Various artists
Streets is Watching (OST)
May 12, 1998
Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
055/100
Various Artists - The Streets Is Watching (OST)

1. It’s Alright (Jay-Z & Memphis Bleek) // 2. Love For Free (Jay-Z & Rell) // 3. Only a Customer (Jay-Z) // 4. Pimp This Love (Christión) // 5. Murdergram (Jay-Z, DMX & Ja Rule) // 6. The Doe (Diamonds In da Rough) // 7. Crazy (Usual Suspects) // 8. In My Lifetime [Remix] // 9. Your Love (Christión & Jay-Z) // 10. Thugs R Us (DJ Clue? & Noreaga) // 11. My Nigga Hill Figga (M.O.P.) // 12. Celebration (Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek, Sauce Money & Wais)

This Jay-Z album/1998 Roc-a-Fella records label sampler/ soundtrack to a “movie” is often overlooked in the official Jay-Z canon. Now, officialy this may not be a Jigga solo-album, but he is the guy on the front cover (although the front cover doubles as the movie’s front cover, and Streets is Watching the film is supposed to be a compilation of old Jay-Z music videos) and he appears on seven out of this album’s twelve cuts, making this his show if anyone’s. Here’s why no-one ever brings this album up.

The opening track has him dueting subordinate Memphis Bleek over some weak, pseudo futuristic production reminiscent of his 1997 hit single (Always be My) SunshineLove For Free is a pretty generic R&B tune that happens to feature Jay. It’s only by the third song, the Irv Gotti-produced Rick James-sampling Only a Customer, that Streets is Watching starts picking up steam.

Murdergram is one of the tracks recorded by the would-be hip-hop supergroup Murder Inc., before all participants save for Jeffrey moved on, and Irv Gotti was forced to replace Jay-Z and DMX by fucking Black Child and Tah Murdah, not long after this album’s release. Unlike It’s Murda off Ja Rule’s debut album (are you starting to see a recurring theme here?) this track doesn’t imply an entire album by the combination of X, Jigga and Ja might’ve lead to something great. It sounds like a generic late ’90s mixtape-track, complete with sucking-ass beat.

In My Lifetime, allegedly a remix or a re-recording of a pre-Reasonable Doubt Jay-Z single, and it sounds pretty grand. As does the Roc-a-Fella posse-cut Celebration, with its approriately victorious beat and Hova, his today m.i.a. homey Sauce and some cat called Wais proclaim victory over the rap game. Oh and Memphis Bleek proclaims victory over the rap game too, how cute!.

That’s about it for the Shawn Corey Carter contributions. The rest of the album is filled-out with appearances by subordinates and affiliates. R&B duo Christión bring two seedy R&B tracks to the table and rap group Diamonds in Da Rough make it known to the listener exactly why they never became a thing, while Noreaga and M.O.P. put in their Roc-a-Fella auditions fucking early, and manage not to entirely suck.

Crazy has got to be this album’s most curious inclusion. This lame-ass acoustic guitar-driven Backstreet Boys-styled R&B pop-cut had me wondering whether a Spotify commercial for air-freshener had popped up, which was confusing as fuck since I played this album in iTunes. What the fuck is this supposed to do for you Jiggaman? The Streets is Watching remember? You named your goddamn album that…

Best tracks
Only a Customer, In My Lifetime [Remix], Celebration, *I Can’t Get With That

*Not featured on this soundtrack, but according to wikipedia it was featured in the film this was supposed to score. It’s an entertaining as fuck early independent Jay-Z single, which has him speed-rapping over a rather simplistic old school beat. And it’s good fun.

Recommendations
Jay-Z fans definitely should buy the above three tracks off iTunes or Amazon or Spotify. They’re prime Jay-Z cuts. Most of the other tracks however are a sheer waste of time. Ever heard of Rell, Christión, Diamonds in da Rough or the Usual Suspects and Memphis Bleek? No? Good, because anything they record slurps diarrhoea straight out of the colon, whether it features Jay-Z or not. Fans of M.O.P. and Noreaga needn’t really come near this either. You should therefor not pick this album up, unless you find it for under $3,-, shipping costs included.


Ashanti – Ashanti

Ashanti
Ashanti
April 2, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
060/100
Ashanti - Ashanti
1. Intro // 2. Foolish // 3. Happy // 4. Leavin (Always on Time [Part II]) (feat. Ja Rule) // 5. Narrative Call [Skit] // 6. Call // 7. Scared (feat. Irv Gotti) // 8. Rescue // 9. Baby // 10. Voodoo // 11. Movies // 12. Fight (Over) [Skit] // 13. Over // 14. Unfoolish (feat. the Notorious B.I.G.) // 15. Shi Shi [Skit] // 16. Dreams // 17. Thank You

When listening to the snippets of hit singles Ashanti was featured on prior to recording this album, on the intro, one gets the impression that Ashanti’s number-one asset, besides looking gorgeous, is her ability to peacefully co-exist with nearly any rapper on a track. Even though she always sings in key and, more impressively, never engages in Stevie Wonder-esque melisma, like Beyoncé does always, she also never was the standout thing about the song she was featured on. That’s not to say she doesn’t bring anything to the table, far from it. Classic rapped/sung collaborations such as Always on Time and What’s Luv? wouldn’t have clicked remotely as well as they did without our hostess’ presence. It’s just that she was always there in a anonymous studio singer #9205 capacity, rather than as the next big R&B diva.

Yet and still Ashanti was the beginning of a several multi-platinum album career, not by having her trying to be Beyoncé, but by using her strengths. Ashanti walks through her debut album at a steady pace without so much as breaking a sweat, showing the world that if nothing else she’s at least an unrivaled mistress of lithe. With Irv Gotti and his second-in-comands 7Aurelius and Chink Santana breaking out soul sampling productions covered in a thin layer of shimmer powder, which is blown into the athmoshere via swooshing wind-effects.

Everything is tastefully done. With the absence of useless oversinging goes a absence of useless drama. When here relationship is good Ashanti isn’t Crazy In Love, but rather she is Happy. When she’s lamenting her inability to get out of a sour relationship with clarity on Foolish you have the feeling she’s going to be alright. You are proven correct on the Biggie mash-up sequel Unfoolish, twelve tracks later. She also does sensual better than many a contemporary, on tracks such as VoodooMovies and Baby, simply by putting her sexual confidence casually rather than making some sort of pseudo-bold statement out of it.

Finding highlights or low points on here is hard. A high point could be Unfoolish because it makes rather clever use of two Notorious B.I.G. verses plus ab-libs previously heard on his own Fuck You Tonight. The deal is, Debarge’s A Dream, which is sampled extensively on both Foolish and Unfoolish is also used B.I.G.’s own 1994 single One More Chance [Remix]. So what you have here is vocals and instrumentals of two B.I.G. songs mashed-up with Ashanti thrown in for good measure.

A low point is when Ashanti and Ja decide to reprise Always on Time but fail to come up with something catchy, and Jeffrey’s raspy voice nearly disrupts the impeccable, rippling flow of the album, which is otherwise nearly flawless. It really says it all that if Ashanti and these producers do their thing for an entire album without missing a step, and that only guest artists can influence the quality, either positively or negatively.

Best tracks
Foolish, Unfoolish, Happy, Baby

Recommendations
If you’re looking for sparkly, slight, cute pop-R&B that evaporates from the human conscience immediately and completely when you turn it off, Ashanti is your way to go. She certainly doesn’t suck, nor does she demand a purchase. I recommend a buy, but with the lowest priority.


Ja Rule – Pain Is Love

Ja Rule
Pain Is Love
October 2, 2001
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
060/100
Ja Rule - Pain Is Love

1. Pain Is Love [Skit] // 2. Dial M for Murder // 3. Livin’ It Up (feat. Case) // 4. The INC. (feat. Caddilac Tah, Black Child & Ashanti) // 5. Always On Time (feat. Ashanti) // 6. Down Ass Bitch (feat. Charlie Baltimore) // 7. Never Again // 8. Worldwide Gangsta (feat. Caddilac Tah, Black Child, Boo & Gotti) // 9. Leo [Skit] // 10. I’m Real [Murder Remix] (feat. Jennifer Lopez) // 11. Smokin’ & Ridin’ (feat. Jodie Mack & 0-1) // 12. (feat. Missy Elliot & Tweet) // 13. Big Remo [Skit] // 14. Lost Little Girl // 15. So Much Pain (feat. 2Pac) // 16. Pain Is Love

Ja Rule’s debut wasn’t so much good or promising as it was well-produced. His sophomore album sucked so much forcing people to listen to it could be a decent alternative to waterboarding. The Murderers album was even worse and the Fast and the Furious soundtrack was pretty goddamn underwhelming. Despite these minor quality complaints each and every one of them got gold to multi-platinum sales, thereby granting Jeffrey Atkins the chance to record a third solo album and also in the process giving Murder Inc. a large stack of plaques to hang onto the Crackhouse (the Murder Inc. recording studios) walls. It also lead to Ja becoming hottest MC in the game whose gravelly falsetto popped up on every second song on the radio, not limited to hiphop songs. Ja was pretty much 2001’s equivalent to Lil’ Wayne.

In the mean time the Murder Inc. sound, in a rather succesful attempt to become relevant evolved from something aching to DMX and his Ruff Ryders posse (Venni Vetti VecciIrv Gotti Presents… the Murderers) to an album that was split in the middle between that sound and something that sounded a lot like Sisqó with a severe laryngitis (Rule 3:36) to Pain Is Love.

Pain continues the evolution set in motion by songs like Between Me and You and Put It On Me and this album, like 3:36 is certainly made with both the streets and the pop charts in mind. The difference this time around however is that the line between the songs for the gangstas and the songs for the hoes is blurred. This is mostly due to new Inc. associate 7Aurelius, who co-produced most of Pain Is Love with label boss Irv Gotti and finally brought an identifiable production sound to the Murder Inc. label and Ja Rule the rapper, effectively making Ja his own man, owing little to DMX.

The flipside to this mostly positive development is that instead of being the DMX-clone he had been percieved as when his debut came out, he became a gangsta posturing 2001 approximation of Barry White, who even though he couldn’t rob an old lady if he were backed by the whole US army,  nevertheless included horribly a blasphemous word-for-word cover of an obscure 2pac song about ghetto hardship on his album with one verse by the Thug Life inventor himself thrown in for good measure. Not the best idea, that. This, as well as similarities between Jeffrey and Tupac, both vocally and appearance-wise, coincidental or not, would make the man a fish in a barrel when that 50 Cent character Ja had beef with would someday rise to prominence. But no-one could see that shit coming in 2001. And for a year or two Ja was the king of crossover thugs, sipping bubbly and rocking minks and Burberry hats like it was going out of fashion. (It was.)

Although lyrically he hadn’t evolved jack shit since his debut the new song-format and new producer, as well as the signing of R&B singer Ashanti, do give Ja the ability to pull some new tricks. Always on Time may be R&B to the point that it makes one wonder how Pain is Love ever ended up in the Hiphop department of your record store, but it is R&B par excellence and this tale of rugged romance is even well enough performed Jeffrey, whose gruff voice clashes wonderfully with 7’s sultry instrumental, that it is wholly derserving of its monster hit status. Ashanti’s syren call-esque hook is just icing on the cake. Her significance becomes clear when Ja gets to belt out his own hook, such as on the horrible pseudo futuristically produced, half-assed attempt at social commentary Lost Little Girl.

Another highlight is the Stevie Wonder sampling Livin’ It Up. This track was originally supposed to have appeared on 3:36 but Stevie wouldn’t clear the sample unless Murder Inc. would clear it of all its profanity, which they couldn’t do before the deadline. They decided to put the new, squeaky clean version on Pain is Love in stead. Although this censorship renders the song’s lyrics gibberish one would say that Jeffrey was never about lyrics and this in no way takes away from its effectiveness as a piece of wide-eyed, bouncy club fluff-fun.

Down Ass Bitch and I’m Real [Murder Remix] are pushing it. The former suffers from anther horrible Ja-the-singing-cookie-monster hook and a general Always on Time-redux sound. The latter has a Ja, who may or may not have had a couple too many Bacardi Breezers, get all cuddly, lovey-dovey with J-Lo, who makes everything even more awkward by dropping the N-word, even though she’s about as Afro-American as George W. Bush. The song works as a time travelling machine to the barely pre-9/11 time of this album’s release, but not so much as an actual song. X, featuring Missy Elliott who proves once again she sounds fine dueting anyone over any sort of beat, has that same cotton candy sound. But rightfully so, since the song is about the drug Ecstasy.

7Aurelius’ talent becomes even more apparent when on the posse cuts The INC.Worldwide Gangstas and Smokin’ and Ridin’  he makes even Jeffrey’s poppers and ecstasy carriers, who are too marginal to name individually, sound not like total shit.

Never Again has 7 and Irv flipping their slight pop sound to something just a little darker and Jeffrey even spits some not-entirely-inane lyrics on his experience of several existential problems, so that’s nice. It’s easily the best non-single off here.

Listening to Pain Is Love today one can easily see why it was such a hit with pop audiences worldwide. With a couple of unstoppable party singles, some even guiltier pleasures and a lot of rather bearable, inoffensive filler it makes for the perfect music to play in the background of a party. The big surprise is that except for I’m Real it hasn’t even aged as bad as one would think. It also made its creator the perfect stepping stone for Curtis Jackson, when he finally got to release an album, since by 2003 hiphop was getting pretty sick of him. Oh well.

Best tracks
Always On Time, Livin´ It Up, Never Again

Recommendations
You could go either way with this one. You could pick this up, but if you do you must make sure there’s no-one in the record store who could recognise you. Also make sure you tell the sales clerk that it’s an ironic gift or that it’s for a 2001-styled hipster theme party, or something. Then again your life will be just as much worth living if you never get to hear Lost Little Girl, so you could leave it wherever you found it without ever looking back, that’s fine too. With three million sold in the USA alone Pain is Love hardly needs your pity.


DMX – Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a bloody shame.

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

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


The Fast and the Furious (OST)

Various Artists
The Fast and the Furious (OST)
June 5, 2001
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100

1. Good Life [Remix] (Faith Evans feat. Ja Rule, Vita & Caddilac Tah) // 2. Pov City Anthem (Caddilac Tah) // 3. When a Man Does Wrong (Ashanti) // 4. Race Against Time II (Tank feat. Ja Rule) // 5. Furious (Ja Rule feat. Vita & 0-1) // 6. Take My Time Tonight (R. Kelly) // 7. Suicide (Scarface feat. Irv Gotti) // 8. The Prayer (Black Child) // 9. Tudunn Tudunn Tudunn (Funkmaster Flex feat. Noreaga) // 10. Hustlin’ (Fat Joe & Armageddon) // 11. Freestyle (Boo & Gotti) // 12. Rollin’ (Urban Assault Vehicle) (Limp Bizkit feat. DMX, Method man & Redman) // 13. Life Ain’t a Game (Ja Rule) // 14. Cali Diseaz (Shade Sheist feat. Nate Dogg) // 15. Didn’t I (Petey Pablo) 16. Put It On Me [Remix] (Ja Rule feat. Vita & Lil’ Mo) // 17. Justify My Love (Vita feat. Ashanti)

It’s a testament of Murder Inc. records’ popularity around the turn of the millenium that they were given the responsibility to create the soundtrack to the first volume in the series of underwhelming high budget Hollywood blockbuster films that seems to never stop spawning sequels that is the Fast and The Furious.

Since Irv Gotti was instrumental in bringing Jay-Z, DMX and Ja Rule to the general public one has to wonder what the hell happened to his tastes in rap music between those days and the moment Def Jam granted him his own label Murder Inc. Records. That was more or less the point I tried to make in my Irv Gotti Presents… the Murderers review. And it rings tue here too. Vita, Caddilac Tah and Black Child ruin an otherwise perfectly functional opening track: Faith Evans’ Good Life [Remix]. When they get to suck on their own the results are even worse. Pov City Anthem, The Prayer and Justify My Love are two instances of instantly skippable loudmouth wanksta rap and a ridiculous cover of a ridiculous Madonna song. Ja Rule himself doesn’t come off too well  either. Fuck You, lifted from his horrible sophomore album Rule 3:36, justifies DMX’s complaints about Ja taking his style and pissing all over it. Life Ain’t a Game has him sing-howling his way through a pseudo futuristic DaMizza beat. The one Rule joint here that warrant repeated listens is the radio edit of his hit single Put It On Me, which now includes Lil’ Mo. Since Ja’s 2000 solo album 3:36 includes an inferior Lil’ Mo-less version of the song there’s quite literally no reason to buy that. If anything that might give this album a raison d’être. And even that track is more of a “Haha, can you believe we used to listen to that shit ten years ago?” kind of guilty pleasure-y thing rather than an actual good song.

Luckily there’s more to it than Ja and Irv Gotti’s merry band of soon-to-be-stars this time around. Tank’s rendition of Ja Rule’s Race Against Time sounds pretty good. R. Kelly does his R. Kelly thing on Take My Time Tonight which will neither gain nor cost the man fans. Suicide has southern hip-hop veteran Scarface flip a line from Snoop Dogg’s Serial Killa to decent effectand for fansof Shade Sheist, Petey Pablo, Boo & Gotti, Terror Squad, Noreaga (you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of any of these artists, none of them are relevant any more) and fucking Limp Bizkit there’s something to be found here.

Production varies from decent (Suicide, Race Against Time) to horrible (Rollin’ (Urban Assault Vehicle), Life Ain’t A Game). And so does everything else. This makes for incredibly inessential listening. Still, for the Murder inc. Record label this was a step up after Irv Gotti presents… The Murderers and Rule 3:36. In part this has to do with the hired talent but also with their latest signee Ashanti and their new producer 7Aurelius. Perhaps Pain Is Love will be the first Murder Inc. Release since Venni Vetti Vecci that will not be a chore to listen to, huh?

Best tracks
Race Against Time II, Suicide, Put It On Me [Remix], *Good Life [Remix]

*Technically not on any edition of this soundtrack, but most likely found on a DJ Clue mixtape. Replaces the Ain’t No Nigga beat with a less distractingly familiar one. It also replaces bullshit Caddilac Tah and Vita verses with lukewarm but inoffensive Ja Rule.

Recommendations
Buy the above tracks off Amazon.


Irv Gotti Presents… the Murderers

Various artists
Irv Gotti presents… 
The Murderers
March 21, 2000
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG

040/100

1. Intro // 2. Murderers (Ja Rule, Black Child & Tah Murdah) // 3. Dem Niggaz (Ja Rule, Black Child, Tah Murdah & Vita) // 4. We Don’t Give a Fuck (Ja Rule, Black Child, Tah Murdah & Vita) // 5. Clowns [Skit] // 6. Shit Gets Ugly // 7. We Murderers Baby (Ja Rule & Vita) // 8. Interview With Vita [Skit] // 9. Vita, Vita, Vita (Vita) // 10. How Many Wanna Die (Ja Rule) // 11. Fuck Parole [Skit] // 12. We Getting High Tonight (Black Child) // 13. Tales From the Dark Side (DMX) // 14. I Love The Yankees [Skit] // 15. Get It Right (Tah Murdah) // 16. We Different (Tah Murdah, Black Child & Ja Rule) // 17. Remo [Skit] // 18. Rebels Symphony (Ja Rule, Vita, Tah Murdah, 01 & Black Child) // 19. Black Or White (Black Child) // 20. The 187 Murda Baptist Church Picnic [Skit] // 21. If You Were My Bitch (Shade Sheist, Black Child, Tah Murdah & Ja Rule) // 22. 96R-0709 (Chris Black) // 23. Crime Scene (Dave Bing, Black Child, Ronnie Bumps, Tah Murdah & 01) // 24. Somebody’s Gonna Die Tonigh (Dave Bing feat. Lil’ Mo) // 25. Holla Holla [Remix] (Ja Rule feat. Jay-Z, Vita, Black Child, Tah Murdah, Memphis Bleek & Busta Rhymes)

Crew albums have always been popular in hiphop and if We Are Young Money and Cruel Summer are any indication they aren’t going anywhere. They have always sucked too. Who wants to hear a bunch of people rap who just happen to hold a more famous person’s pot for him or be his body guard? This is a problem with a wholly original interesting artist and his posse, since people usually aren’t thrilled to listen to poor imitations of a famous rapper, which is usually the result if you let all your friends have a turn in the booth. What is the result if the artist that is supposed to bring in the crowds is derivative himself? In the case of Ja Rule second rate gangsta’isms become third rate. The concept of originality is thrown down a flight of stairs and Ja’s weaknesses become painfully clear when we have him yelling clichés at piss poor beats with Mitsubishi Tah and Crack Child.

DMX comes around to show these busters Caddilac Tah and Black Child how it’s done on Tales from the Dark Side under the condition that he doesn’t have to share a song with them. It’s a favour to his homeboy Irv Gotti, not Jeffrey Atkins, who isn’t invited to the party either.

Irv Gotti presents the Murderers is a precursor to a lot of things. The Ja-DMX beef (Tales From the Darkside). Murder Inc. Records dumping the ill-fitting Ruff Ryders-esque style of hardcore rap for something a little more melodic (If You Were My Bitch). And the the rap careers of Caddilac Tah, Vita and Black Child being stopped in their tracks (everything else). These guys are so obnoxiously terrible that they actively ruin some pretty good beats on the rare occasions they get one such as on the bluesy We Getting High Tonight  and the G-funk throwback Get It Right. On the bonus remix of Jeffrey’s first hit single Holla Holla you’ll actually be relieved when Black Child’s verse ends even if he passes the torch to goddamn Roc-a-Fella Records nobody Memphis Bleek, after which Busta Rhymes run laps around everyone before him and Jeffrey is left to attempt to clean up the mess.

Best tracks
How Many Wanna Die, Tales From the Dark Side, Holla Holla [Remix]

Recommendations
Download the DMX song off iTunes.


DMX – It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot

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

065/100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ja Rule – Rule 3:36

Ja Rule
Rule 3:36
October 10, 2000
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG

045/100

1. Intro // 2. Watching Me // 3. Between Me and You (feat. Christina Milian) // 4. Put It On Me (feat. Vita) // 5. 6. Feet Underground // 6. Love Me, Hate Me // 7. Die (feat. Tah Murdah, Black Child & Dave Bing) // 8. Fuck You (feat. 0-1 & Vita) // 9. I’ll Fuck You Girl [Skit] // 10. Grey Box [Skit] // 11. Extasy (feat. Tah Murdah, Black Child & Jayo Felony) // 12. It’s Your Life (feat. Shade Sheist) // 13. I Cry (feat. Lil’ Mo) // 14. One of Us // 15. Chris Black [Skit] // 16. The Rule Won’t Die

Jeffrey Atkins’ debut album Venni Vetti Vecci managed to sell over two million copies. That album boasted one massive hit single: Holla Holla which was made specifically for the dancefloor, but the rest of the album was a rather hardcore affair, in the tradition of DMX, not quite as good as X lyrically but still beter overall because the album lacked Swizz Beats fucking it up musically. On the follow-up Rule 3:36 the radio and the streets get equal time and attention, making it a rather schizophrenic affair. On the one hand there’s “hard” songs, such as Fuck You, where Ja tries to convince you that he definitely will fuck you up if he feels like it. On the other he is being the sensitive ladies man on Put It On Me, and he even cops to crying every once in a while on I Cry. This trans-demographic approach may have helped Ja sell hella albums and become the king of crossover thugs, but it didn’t give this album shelf life. Listening to it twelve years after it came out one must conclude that almost none of it works anymore.

The street songs are a lot more amped up than last time around, courtesy of Irv Gotti who apparently got a brand new casio keyboard for christmas. Ja adjusts accordingly by shouting, barking and singing his rhymes a lot more than on his debut. The results of this are that he finally becomes the poor man’s DMX he had already been oft accused of being in reviews of his debut. He gets assists from not a single A-list guest artist, but almost exclusively from his Murder Inc labelmates. Tah Murdah, Black Child, Vita, Dave Bing and 01 all suck at this rap stuff, and don’t add anything good to the proceedings.

On the radio songs he croons his heart out to the ladies, trouble is he has a horrible singing voice, sounding alot like a constipated person with a throat condition parodying Barry White. The ladies brought in to respond to his calls, Christina Milian, Lil’ Mo, are generic-as-hell singers who couldn’t inject personality into a performance if they had one.

The subject matter also doesn’t do the listener any favours. On the catchy yet hollow Between Me and You he brags about his homewrecking and cheating in such a wittless manner that one has to wonder what woman could possibly give a fuck. On Love Me, Hate Me he parades the fact that a lot of people want to bring him down because they are jealous of him. I prefer to think that even in 2000 there ware some people around with decent taste, who just wanted this bullshit off the radio. On the same track we learn that he fears that “[he] might get shot like Big & Pac for [his] genius.” I can’t see how Gotti let that one slide. Because DMX has songs about spirituality Rule decided he should have one too. One of Us is entirey awful, with Ja rewriting Joan Osborne’s What If God Was One of Us, and shouting what he came up with to the listener over an instrumental that sounds like something Swizz Beats might’ve puked out the next morning after a night of heavy drinking.

The album’s one good moment is Extasy, an ode to the drug where Rule interpolates a Barry White hook, Gotti provides the best instrumental of the evening, one that quite seccesfully emulates the feeling the drug gives its users, and where West Coast underground rapper Yayo Felony provides a stellar guest verse.

That’s it. That’s the only good song on here. Leave the rest of this alone like it is crack.

Best track:
Extasy

Recommendations:
Get Extasy off iTunes, leave the rest alone.


Ja Rule – Venni Vetti Vecci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations:
Buy this album.


Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt

Jay-Z
Reasonable Doubt
June 25, 1996
Roc-A-Fella Records/ Priority Records/ EMI
085/100

1. Can’t Knock The Hustle (feat. Mary J.Blige) // 2. Politics As Usual // 3. Brooklyn’s Finest (feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & DJ Clark Kent) // 4. Dead Presidents II // 5. Feelin’ It (feat. Mecca) // 6. D’Evils // 7. 22 Two’s // 8. Can I Live // 9. Ain’t No Nigga (feat. Foxy Brown) // 10. Friend or Foe // 11. Coming of Age (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 12. Cashmere Thoughts // 13. Bring It On (feat. Sauce Money & Big Jaz) // 14. Regrets

Whenever the pointless debate about who is the best rapper ever rears it head, and the discusion doesn’t end in a face-off between two dead guys; Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter is oft brought up. From what music he produces these days the average hardcore hiphop head wouldn’t draw the conclusion that he is one of the best ever. Obviously he and his collaborators are, even today, way above average in creating bearable radio music, but that doesn’t get you the props the Jiggaman recieves on a daily basis from the people who love rap. Unlike what is the case with Lil’ Wayne there are quite a few people other than the man himself who think that he is the best to ever have tried his hand talking over beats in a rhythmnic manner. Therefore the reasons for his widespread acclaim lie, for the better part, in his past.

In 1996 to be exact. After having spent years under the wing of his mentor Jaz-O a.k.a. Big Jaz, and appearing on songs by artists such as Big L and Big Daddy Kane Jay still didn’t have a record deal. Hence he and two of his friends; Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs, started their own record label Roc-a-Fella records, named after J.D. Rockefeller, because that guy was filthy fucking rich during his lifetime, which was one of Shawn’s goals. (Although, if you are prone to buy gangster rap shtick then you believe mr. Carter to have been loaded with cash already when this album came out because of cocaine trafficing career.) Now he had a label he proceeded to record Reasonable Doubt. After it’s release it became clear why Jay never got a record deal before, as the Major labels were ostensibly right about the marketability of what he was doing at the time. The album never hit higher than #23 on the billboard top 100 and while this in and by itself was not bad for a rap album at the time, it is telling that it took until 2002 (that’s six years) for the album to go platinum. So the crouds initially did not go apeshit over it, causing our host to panick over the profitability of his career and have his sophomore album In My Lifetime, vol. 1 to be overseen by rap’s at the time midas touch producer, P. Daddy, resulting in a couple of really embarassing singles.

But back to the matter at hand, the critics did thoroughly enjoy Reasonable Doubt, applauding the combination of Shawn’s mafioso raps (which were in part modeled after what Raekwon had done on his ‘94 solo debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…) and the characteristically East Coast production by such respected veterans as DJ Premier (Gang Starr, NaS, the Notorious B.I.G.) , Ski (Camp Lo) and Super DJ Clark Kent (Dana Dane, the Notorious B.I.G., Slick Rick, Rakim). Critics like it so much that the album is still seen as one of the finest efforts the hiphop genre has produced since it came to exist in the late ‘70s.

Listening to it today one must conclude that this album has its faults. Some of the songs, such as the album’s biggest single Can’t Knock the Hustle, are plain boring. Some of the guests (Memphis Bleek and Foxy Brown to be exact) deliver dreadfully mediocre performances on otherwise good songs, giving the listener the idea that the only concievable logical reason for their inclusion is to make our host sound even better by comparison. (This would in and by itself explain perfectly why Jay left Sauce Money in a ditch somewhere in the late ‘90s, but kept Memphis Bleek around for guest performances, until he left his entire Roc-a-Fella boutique label to rot, in order to start his new boutique label; Roc Nation, in 2008) And some of the instrumentals are dated in a manner that inspires meh. (actually only the last track Regrets, fits that bill)

With that said, it comes as close to perfection as any other textbook classic rap album. (Reasonable Doubt is most definitely on par with the likes Ready To Die, the Chronic or Straight Out Of Compton. The only comparable album that I can think of, that is significantly better is NaS’ Illmatic, because it has only one questionable inclusion, compared to this album’s four. And you could even rightfully argue that, because Reasonable Doubt is four tracks longer than Illmatic they contain the same amount of classic material.)  because all the other songs on here are fucking bonkers.  After the lengthy, pseudo-ambient yawn inducer-slash-album opener that is Can’t Knock the Hustle the album picks up steam with, what should have been the the first song, Politics as Usual. Over a Ski instrumental that is pleasant enough to keep ones attention, but remains sufficiently in the background so that the spotlight is on Jay’s performance, the man puts his conversational flow to use and tells the listener about his experiences in the streets selling drugs and what not. Whether or not he really lived this life is not up for debate here and is irrelevant. His tone, which one might use on an old friend one hasn’t seen in a long time, updating him about current events, makes it sound credible enough. It also helps that he rhymes his ass off here, providing punchlines for days. Following that treat comes Brooklyn’s Finest, a twilight of rap gods where Jay holds his own against the Notorious B.I.G., whom is considered by many, including yours truly, the best rapper ever. Again, these MC ranking lists are bullshit, but this collabo leads to a very specific comparison that simply demands your respect for Lil’ Jaz. He stands toe to toe with the then current king of New York. Therefor, at the very least, the man makes a case for that he was next in line for succession. And this lyrical sparring match leads results in a flawless duet. Other people who provide some impressive rhyming are Sauce Money and Big Jaz on the DJ Premier-produced Bring It On. In turn, them holding their own against Jay-Z,  gives an unfulfilled promise of brilliantly succesful careers of their own to come. Alas, Jay had more faith in Bleek. Or they simply weren’t prepared to shut up and hold Shawn’s pot for him, like Bleek was.

Another highlight is Feelin’ It, which is a mellow ass weed-inspired song-slash-boastfest that has a piano based DJ Ski instrumental that is just perfect to zone-out to when you’ve smoked a bowl and some awe-inspiring raps in the conversational style that earned Shawn a fanbase. Whether he’s boasting, threatning or introspective; he makes it seem as if he’s talking to you specifically. That is his most distinctive feature, both as a rapper and as a lyricist.

What y’all ain’t heard that nigga Jay high?
The Cristals they keep me wet like Baywatch
I keep it tight for all the nights my mom prayed I’d stop
Said she had dreams a sniper hit me with a fatal shot
Those nightmares ma
Those dreams you say you got give me the chills
But these mills make me hot y’all don’t feel me
Enough to stop the illin right?
But at the same time these dimes keep me feelin tight
I’m so confused
OK I’m gettin weeded now I know I’m contradicting myself
Look I don’t need that now

There’s so much highlight here that it is impossible to give them each the attention they deserve. The very best and most vivid of them all might be the DJ Premier produced Friend or Foe, which clocks under a minute and a half. Some of these songs just make one wish that Jiggaman wouldn’t have diluted his style on his follow-up to find platinum sales with Puff Daddy, Timbaland and the Neptunes. Off course nobody would’ve benifited from a stack of nearly identical albums, and club bangers have their place and time. Some of the work Jay has done later on with the likes of Pharrell is top notch, and no one can rightfully claim that Shawn cannot put together a good radio song. But the fact that the fantastic, ominous, Ski-produced Dead Presidents was this album’s first single and failed to make much of an impact on the charts, forcing mr. Carter to change his direction, makes a hiphop head dream of an alternate universe where the mainstream would’ve been down with more edgy stuff and facilitated the creation of more of it.

I’d rather die enormous than live dormant that’s how we on it
Live at the main event, I bet a trip to Maui on it
Presidential suites my resedential for the weekend
Confidentially speakin in codes since I sense you peekin
The NSX rental, don’t be fooled my game is mental
We both out of town dog, what you tryin to get into?
Viva, Las Vegas, see ya, later at the crap tables
meet me by the one that starts a G up
This way no fraud Willie’s present gam-b-ling they re-up
And we can have a pleasant time, sippin margaritas
Ge-ge-geyeahhh, can I live?
Can I live?

This verse, taken from the brilliant Irv Gotti produced Can I Live shows off an ambition that perfectly explains the artistic direction he would take after Reasonable Doubt made him a hood champion, but not the superstar he fancied himself being. And no-one can blame him for following and producing a lot of music that was and a lot better than what his peers brought to the table and still bring to the table today. Even if it did take the edge off a bit.

However, before the big hits, the major label presidency, the booty-bumping with Beyoncé and the constant recycling of the Notorious B.I.G.’s lines in “tribute” there was Reasonable Doubt, an album that after its first and worst track is finished playing, likes to pretend the radio didn’t exist and that presented the listener with something that is an interesting, entertaining piece of fiction backed by some well put-together music.

Best tracks:
Politics As Usual, Brooklyn’s Finest, Dead Presidents II, Feelin’ It, Can I Live, Friend or Foe, Bring It On

Recommendation:
Buy this album.