Tag Archives: L.E.S.

Shyheim – The Lost Generation

Shyheim
The Lost Generation
May 28, 1996
Noo Trybe/Virgin Records/EMIUMG
055/100
The Lost Generation--Front
1. Shit Iz Real (feat. DeLouie Avant Jr.) // 2. Dear God (feat. Pop The Brown Hornet, June Lover & Nikki Williams) // 3. Jiggy Comin’ // 4. 5 Elements (feat. Down Low Reka, June Lover, Pop the Brown Hornet & Rubbabandz) // 5. Shaolin Style (feat. Squigg Trust) // 6. Real Bad Boys // 7. What Makes the World Go Round (feat. Rubbabandz, Smoothe Da Hustler, Trigger & Dzalias Christ) // 8. Can You Feel It (feat. June Lover & King Just) // 9. Life As a Shorty // 10. Don’t Front/ Let’s Chill (feat. 702) // 11. Things Happen // 12. See What I See (feat. Dzalias Christ) // 13. Still There (feat. DeLouie Avant Jr.) //14. Young Gods (feat. Killa Sin, Madman, Rubbabands, Raekwon & RZA)

Wu-tang affiliate Shyheim’s first album sold enough copies for Virgin record to allow him a second studio album (although nothing can be found online about any sort of gold certification). And by the time it dropped in may ’96 the guy still would have to cross the border to Canada or Mejico to legally buy a beer because he was barely eighteen by that time.
For The Lost Generation he mostly worked with the same people that made AKA the Rugged Child such a moderate success: Producer RNS, who according to Discogs was at one point Wu-svengali RZA’s mentor, (although no other interwebs source can confirm this in a satisfactory manner) and members of the sorta, kinda Wu-affiliated GP Wu which supplied most of the guest vocals.
Like on AKA the Rugged Child RZA supplies but one beat, but unlike the last time around his contribution lasts for over two minutes and features some actual Wu-involvement in the vocal department, because the hook is performed by Prince Rakeem himself and Raekwon the Chef (although a would-be-much-appreciated verse from either official Wu-member is missing, sadly). M.O.P.-producer DR Period and NaS-veteran L.E.S. also get to provide beats for Shy to rock over.

Oddly enough Shyheim seems to actually have become less mature-sounding since recording AKA the Rugged Child. A simple and logical explanation would be that on that album he didn’t write his own lyrics, leaving that to an older rapper, whereas on this one he did everything himself.
Shy’s juvenile, irreverent style isn’t without merit and sort of fits him him on occasion. Quips like God help me out nigga would certainly lose their charm coming from an older rapper but work just fine on Dear God, a song about ghetto hardship and desparantion and a definite highlight with a bleak yet smackin’ and smooth RNS beat and Pop da Brown Hornet paying hommage to Snoop Dogg’s Murder Was the Case on the hook. Unfortunately for Shyheim Dear God is a rare highlight on an album filled with mediocracy.
Shit Is Real, the album opener, is supposed to establish Shy’s street cred, but it’s subject matter and backing music are a straight mismatch, although it would no doubt have sucked too even without its wimpy R&B instrumental.
Jiggy Comin’ is about Shyheim’s trouble with the police, which is all well but he sounds like the type of kid that was taken to his mother by the law enforcement for nicking a candy bar rather than being sent to the penitentiary for anything serious, and talks shit to his boys blowing the story up via this track.
Shaolin Style flips an already overused Patrice Rushen sample and manages to add nothing of value to the well-known melody, the Method Man samples on the hook be damned.
The Lost Generation also has an introspective song and a joint for the ladies, Don’t Front/Let’s Chill and Still There For Me respectively. Both of them fall flat on their faces because Shy’s persona isn’t developed enough to to them justice and he fills them with gangsta clichés in stead, and they are made worse by having rather shitty R&B guest appearances accompanying him.

That’s not to say The Lost Generation is all shit though. But the moments that do work aren’t working because of Shyheim and would’ve sounded equally well, if not better, with another rapper taking his place or do sound good because there actually isn’t much Shyheim on them to speak of. Can You Feel It works because of it’s bouncy disco production combined with the spacy vocal distortion. See What I See has a eerie, pounding, percussive piano based instrumental by DR Period with a catchy, sung chorus courtesy of studio singer Dzalias Christ, 5 Elements and What Makes the World Go Round work well enough but mostly because GP Wu take over the track and are backed by RNS productions that sounds like someone from the actual clan might rock over them, had they had the opportunity. As does Young Gods, but that’s because it it’s a RZA creation, because it has minimal vocal involvement by Rae and RZA himself and because quite possibly was offered to someone from the actual Clan before ending up here.

Life as a Shorty is the only moment on the record where Shy regains the lyrical momentum he had on Dear God, sounding convincing and credible enough in his roll as a young hoodlum and unique enough to justify him having a rap career. This unfortunately doesn’t happen a lot on The Lost Generation. An album that sees Shy probably having his first attempts at writing his own lyrics. As such we shouldn’t be too hard on the guy. But the person who fired his ghostwriter may have been premature doing so because the Shyheim we hear on this album for the most part sounds like he has just heard gangsta rap for the first time and then decided to dive head-first into recording an album which is never a good thing.
Let that however not be interpreted as an outright and complete dismissal of Shyheim as a rapper. His debut AKA the Rugged Child is pretty good, as are the songs listed below and his follow-up work may very well be too because he still had a lot of growing up to do at this point.

Best tracks
Dear God
5 Elements
Can You Feel It
What Makes the World Go Round
See What I See
Young Gods

Recommendations
Download the above tracks off iTunes or Amazon, or pick this album up if you find it for really cheap.

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Amil – A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal)

Amil
A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal)
September 19, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsColumbia RecordsSME
055/100
Amil - All Money Is Legal

1. Smile 4 Me // 2. I Got That (feat. Beyoncé) // 3. Get Down // 4. Y’all Dead Wrong // 5. Heard It All (feat. Jay-Z) // 6. Quarrels (feat. Carl Thomas) // 7. Girlfriend // 8. All Money Is Legal (A.M.I.L.) // 9. That’s Right (feat. Jay-Z) // 10. Anyday // 11. Raw // 12. No 1 Can Compare // 13. 4 da Fam (feat. Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek & Beanie Sigel)

I don’t know what it is with rappers and their love for really, really fucking stupid acronyms. There was the Notorious B.I.G.’s crew Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Junior Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes), Drake’s motto Y.O.L.O., 2pac’s claim that N.I.G.G.A. stood for Never Ignorant in Getting Goals Accomplished (when everybody knows that in reality it is a misspelling of the word nigger) and when Noreaga was forced to change his rap name because the record label he had just left owned his nom de plume, he became N.O.R.E. (Niggaz on the Run Eatin’) and in september 2000 Roc-a-Fella rapper Amil followed suit by transforming her actual given name into something that was a) retarded and b) not likely to be what her mother ment when she gave her a name.

No, not all money is legal. You could state that you’re out for the loot, regardless of whether you acquire it legally or illegally, which is an attitude one can have towards money, I suppose. But this album title is a straight untruthful claim, and to make your album title a straight up lie such as what was the case with the last Roc-a-Fella release doesn’t promise much in the form of good music, to this reviewer at least. Also: the cover sorta kinda paraphrases the album cover of Lil’ Kim’s Hard Core which indicates all sorts of bandwagon-jumping.

Lastly, having heard several Amil guest appearances on other Roc-a-Fella projects, most of which were less than awe-inspiring, expectations for this album are low, which may end up in Amil’s advantage because it’ll be hard for her to disappoint.

To start with the positive: A.M.I.L. isn’t quite the shitstorm it could’ve been, the production courtesy of the likes of EZ Elpee, the Trackmasters, Rockwilder, Just Blaze, Ty Fyffe and less well-known producers is serviceable enough throughout the album, if a bit formulaic. Contemplative soul-sampling beat here, rock-tinged ass-shaker there, club banger this, R&B-hook that. Amil herself rides the beats professionally enough with her girlishly sultry voice. Yes, this is not the obknoxiousness that was Memphis Bleek’s Coming of Age.

But then neither is this actually entertaining like Beanie Sigel’s album, let alone Sauce Money’s overlooked masterpiece. This is the most middle of the road-album in reviewers recent memory, and it’s ll the more boring because of it. The second single, the Beyoncé featuring financially independent ladies anthem I Got That is a good metaphore for the entire disc. Technically sufficient but, whoever has found themselves yearning for some technically sufficient music? It is as though B. herself ony appears because All Money Is Legal is a joint venture between Roc-a-Fella Records and her label Columbia Records. (I wonder if this studio Session is where Jay and Bey met, not that there’s a trace of him on this song, mind you.)

All of these songs have been done before and since, better and worse, fom the All Saints-biting Get Down to the Neptunes-aping Rockwilder jams Y’All Dead Wrong and Girlfriend. On That’s Right Jigga and Amil do a back and forth over an early Just Blaze beat that seems to take all the wrong cues from Swizz Beatz. It makes one wonder just for what audience an album this bland is supposed to be and also why the real Swizzy and Pharrell decided to skip this one. Well Jay-Z, any help answering these questions? (What’s that Shawn? You don’t remember ever having an Amil signed to your label?)

Nevertheless there are a couple of good songs on here, although their sounding good mostly doesn’t have anything to do with the qualities of our star attraction.

The lead single, the Ty Fyffe produced Roc-a-Fella posse cut 4 Da Fam has a instrumental so majestic that it manages to make Memphis Bleek sound pretty good on his opening verse, moreso than Beanie Sigel even. Off course Shawn Carter drops by and erases all memory of any previous rappers. Our hostess doesn’t necessarily suck on here but she does sound like she doesn’t have any business appearing on record with these gentlemen. Nevertheless Jay-Z fans would do good checking it out.

Quarrels has Bad Boy Records R&B singer Carl Thomas provide some hauntingly soulful vocals over an ominous beat produced by EZ Elpee, one of P. Daddy’s Hitmen, leaving miss All Money Is Legal a particularly easy job holding the fort. Literally all she does or needs to do to make this work is exist.

Heard It All  has Jay-Z more or less dissing the shit out of Amil over a mellow acoustic guitar-laced Just Blaze co-production, until she herself gets to perform the cliché’d “female view on pimpin'” on the third verse, poorly. Which is quite amusing, mostly because reality would imitate the proceedingings of this song shortly after the release of this album.

Best tracks
Quarrels
4 da Fam

Recommendations
A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal) left me entirely blasé, and likely so will it you. Nevertheless the two above songs are okay enough to warrant a purchase off iTunes, Spotift or Amazon. Just don’t listen to the rest of this album.

 


NaS – It Was Written

NaS
It Was Written
July 2, 1996
Columbia RecordsSME
080/100
NaS It Was Written

1. Album Intro // 2. The Message // 3. Street Dreams // 4. I Gave You Power // 5. Watch Dem Niggaz (feat. Foxy Brown) // 6. Take It In Blood // 7. NaS Is Coming (feat. Dr. Dre) // 8. Affirmitive Action (feat. AZ, Foxy Brown & Cormega) // 9. The Set Up (feat. Havoc) // 10.  Black Girl Lost (feat. JoJo) // 11. Suspect // 12. Shootouts // 13. Live Nigga Rap  (feat. Mobb Deep) // 14. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) (feat. Lauryn Hill)

No hip-hop album has inspired the concept of the sophomore slump the way It Was Written has. There’s quite literally no hip-hop head who will claim that his debut album is merely alright while It Was Written is the shit. Basically hip-hop heads used to have a disregard for today’s album because it wasn’t another Illmatic, one of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop albums ever. But, as usual, snobby opinions by over-analysing critics don’t seem to be much in line with what the man in the street thinks, because even today, seventeen years post its release, it’s still Nasir’s best-selling album out of his eleven solo releases.

Now that the smoke has cleared and people have finally gotten the fuck over the fact that NaS will not release another Illmatic ever  contemporary reviews have been becoming increasingly positive. Just compare the original ’96 review of this album with the december ’12 revisit, both on RapReviews.com and marvel at the attitude change, which is pretty representative for the view of the community as a whole on It Was Written, both then and now.

Back to ’96. It Was Written was bound to disappoint. Illmatic was a masterpiece and nobody bought it upon release, leading to both unreasonable expectations from those who did buy it, impossible to fulfill even if Nasir would’ve reused the Illmatic producers and lyrical themes, and also leading to NaS shifting his musical directions into something more (sigh) pop/commercial sending him on a collision course with his fanbase. Whether this change in sound was forced upon him by his money hungry label, instigated by a money hungry NaS or was NaS legitimately interested in trying some new sounds is unknown to me, here are the facts though: NaS switched his management from MC Serch, a well-known rap legend his his own right, as well as one of Illmatic‘s architects, to Steve Stoute, who managed Mary J. Blige at that time. Stoute and/or NaS chose not to invite over Illmatic producers Q-Tip, Large Professor and Pete Rock, but kept DJ Premier and L.E.S. around, presumably as to not completely let the existing fanbase go. To produce the rest of It Was Written they brought in the Trackmasters who had produced prior hits for Kool G Rap, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige and Method Man and do half of the tracks, as well as fellow Queensbridge hip-hop artists Mobb Deep, both to spit guest verses and to produce. Also recent Death Row Records refugee and West-Coast legend Dr. Dre produces one track. NaS’ debut album had exactly one guest verse; AZ’s on Life’s a Bitch. His sophomore featured the priously mentioned Mobb Deep and AZ as well as Foxy Brown, Cormega and R&B singers JoJo and Lauryn Hill. Final difference noticeable without actually listening to the album: Illmatic had but nine songs whereas It Was Written has thirteen (not counting intros). Basically one can correctly guess how this album differs from its predecessor and how this negatively impacts its sound before pressing play, different beats and not all of ’em as good as the last time around, more guests and not all of ’em being able to keep up and more songs than the last time around, not all of ’em warrant inclusion.

Luckily most of these things don’t turn out as problematic as they could have.

Under the influence of Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… album, as well as those following, including Jay-Z and AZ NaS started to parttake in a subgenre of gangster rap called mafioso rap. No longer was he Nasty NaS, the street thug running from police, selling drugs, drinking 40 oz.’s, robbing foreigners and ripping their green cards. This time he was NaS Escobar (named after the Columbian cocain kingpin Pablo Escobar) a moniker that was meant to indicate he had moven up in the world of crime, no longer having to do dirt but having people to do this for him. In a sense this new, more sophisticated thuggery warranted the more expensive, glossy sounds the Trackmasters brought to the table.

The opening track the Message could certainly go toe-to-toe with anything off Illmatic what with its Sting-sampling Trackmasters instrumental, NaS’ rant about his supremacy over the rap game taking subliminal shots at Biggie and 2pac and DJ Kid Kapri’s scratched-in hook consisting of lines from N.Y. State of Mind and Halftime. It’s not only as good as his previous work but it also shows NaS to be quite malleable, being able to adapt to fresh new sounds. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) has the Fugee’s Lauryn Hill re-singing the hook of Kurtis Blow’s song of the same title over a Trackmasters re-creation of an old Whodini beat while NaS describes his utopia of racial equity, equal distribution of wealth and freedom in general. It may be more radio friendly than anything off his debut, but it’s every bit as anthemic as It Ain’t Hard to Tell. With these songs NaS succesfully combined street crediblity with pop acessablity, something at which the pop mutations from Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime, Vol. 1; such as (Always Be My) Sunshine and The City Is Mine failed at miserably. (From this point Jay would only get better at them while NaS, well… Nas wouldn’t.) The only single that is slightly embarassing is Street Dreams, and only because Nas decides to interpolate (horribly re-sing) the hook of the Eurythmics Sweet Dreams, otherwise it’s fine, if a bit unspectacular.

There’s also some really good street cuts to be found here. The DJ Premier production I Gave You Power is a narrative told from the point of view of a gun and it is one of NaS’ signature songs for a reason. The two Mobb Deep collabos The Set Up and Live Nigga Rap, the former featuring only Havoc, the latter Prodigy as well, are also well on point. The same goes for the posse cut Affirmitive Action, featuring the original the Firm line-up: NaS, Foxy, Mega and AZ, So far so good.

Unlike Illmatic though this disc has some pretty mediocre stuff too: Black Girl Lost featuring Jodeci’s JoJo throws some social commentary into an album that’s mostly all about our host’s crimes and money, but unlike If I Ruled the World this track is preachy as fuck and falls flat because of it. Leave that shit to Pac, yo. Watch Them Niggas samples Bob James’ the Sponge and has a beat a little too dreamy for a song all about vigilance and back spabbers. Suspects and Shootouts are also unmemorable. Most disappointing of all is the Dr. Dre produced NaS Is Coming, with its boring-ass beat and NaS sleepwalking over it. It’s a blatant attempt at fan crossover, but that shit only works if some chemistry is on display, which here it is most certainly not.

While nothing (except for maybe NaS Is Coming because of how underwhelmingly disappointing it is) will make you want to break It Was Written in half and slit your wrists with it the bad songs do show exactly why this isn’t considered to be on par with Illmatic. It’s not as focused as that album was, and on most of these tracks the man seems distanced from his lyrics and performance. On his debut he at least sounded like he had lived everything he rapped about for the entire duration of the album whereas here, only on the lesser tracks, it would seem he tells tales he himself has heard second hand and doesn’t care that much about. Still the good songs are really good and there are a couple of classics to be found on here. And although this can’t fuck with its predecessor, that’s alright, most album’s can’t hold a candle to that one. And although I mentioned it all the fucking time throughout this review (it’s part of reviewing this particular album) one is best to see them completely seperately, even if Nas or Columbia Records may have somewhat called this comparison upon him by lazily reprising Illmatic‘s album cover.

Best Tracks
The Message
I Gave You Power
Affirmitive Action
The Set Up
Live Nigga Rap

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


50 Cent – Guess Who’s Back?

50 Cent
Guess Who’s Back?
April 26, 2002
Full Clip
060/100
Guess Who's Back (front)

1. Killa Tape [Intro] // 2. Rotten Apple // 3. Drop [Skit] // 4. That’s What’s Up (feat. G-Unit) // 5. U Not Like Me // 6. 50 Bars // 7. Life’s On the Line // 8. Get Out the Club // 9. Be a Gentleman // 10. Fuck You // 11. Too Hot (feat. NaS & Nature) // 12. Who U Rep With (feat. NaS & Nature) // 13. Corner Bodega // 14. Ghetto Qu’ran (Forgive Me) // 15. As the World Turns (feat. Bun B) // 16. Woo Kid Freestyle (feat. G-Unit) // 17. Stretch Armstrong Freestyle // 18. Doo Wop Freestyle

All things considered logically 50 Cent’s should’ve died when he got shot-up by what Fiddy claims to be henchmen for Kenneth “Supreme”  McGriff for recording Ghetto Qu’ran. 50 Would’ve become a hood legend, Big L style and Columbia Records would’ve released Power of the Dollar even though they originally wanted to shelve it, because martyrdom sells. 2pac’s estate built a whole stack of gold to multi-platinum releases off it. When that didn’t happen, and he got dropped by Columbia, because although he hadn’t died yet there was no question the people who shot him would have another crack at wacking him. And who could predict where and when they would do it or where the stray bullets might end up? (Interscope followed that same logic dropping a freshly gunned-down and locked up 2pac in 1994) by all means logically should’ve been blackballed by the industry, never to find a record deal again. This is because record label executives are scared shitless when it comes to dealing with someone who seems to have a bull’s-eye glued to their back. If they aren’t fearful for their lives then at the very least they may believe they won’t be able to recoup their investment and their employee’s record advance.

Initially this did happen, so mr. Cent being unable to find a label for which to record and a studio that would have him left for Canada, where he wasn’t blacklisted, to record and decided to enter the industry via the backdoor recording mixtapes with and without his crew G-Unit. With Curtis Jackson actually making money off these tapes and his live shows he reestablished his name in the New York rap scene. At one point he decided to collect some of these mixtape tracks, as well as songs off Power of the Dollar which didn’t make the final cut of the EP, and release the collection in the form of Guess Who’s Back? to record stores, I imagine New York wide, via the indie label Full Clip records. Then a bidding war erupted to sign Fiddy Thent. Somehow Guess Who’s Back? had found its way into Eminem’s stack of demo’s and Marshall Mathers liked what he heard so much that he decided to have a crack at signing him, in spite of the surrounding controversy. 50 jumped on the Shady/ Aftermath/ Interscope train and the rest is history as they say.

Guess Who’s Back? sounds like a mixtape/album hybrid, which isn’t surprising since a part of the tracks came from his unofficial output and a part of the tracks was supposed to be released on Power of the Dollar, a major label album. The few guest appearances are either natural (his G-Unit crew, with Yayo, sans Buck) or mystifying (the Bravehearts and Nature, both one time NaS’  weedcarriers. ) It’s especially hilarious to hear 50 bragging about “repping with QB, nigga” since the Bravehears both suck on the mic and never really became famous, whereas Fiddy was arguably the biggest hip-hop star from the mid-naughties. Off course NaS, who at the time of this song’s recording was much more famous than 50, is on here, too so it doesn’t lack complete sense. But it’s still funny to imagine Curtis having to put in an effort to get on this posse cut suckfest, hoping to achieve some mainstream exposure, only to have it disappear in the Columbia records vaults. It is hard to be believe that 50 would’ve dug it up it if it weren’t for the NaS namebrand recognition because the song isn’t very good. Too Hot is much better with a beat that sounds DJ Premier, NaS having one of those “kill everyone else on the track in one verse” days, Nature delivering his best verse ever and 50 coming up with a catchy hook. Since Guess Who’s Back? being a semi-official release, doesn’t come with liner notes it’s impossible to tell for sure who produced what. (Except for the tracks that were supposed to end up on Power of the Dollar and tracks that would later be used as bonus tracks for 50 Cent’s third debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin’.)

The ghetto self-help anthem Fuck You also has that Primo-sound, what with its dusty piano and drums and its refrain consisting exclusively from scratched-in vocal samples. Considering how eager Fiddy was to emphasize “[he is] reppin’ QB” on Who U Rep With, that DJ Premier actually is a big name in hiphop and doesn’t get name-checked even once it’s unlikely that he actually produced on here.  Whether he did or not, on here Curtis actually makes a case for that he would actually sound good over a real DJ Premier beat, talking about the events of his shooting and his ambitions regarding the rap game with a commendable passion and a killer wit.

More often than not though the tracks off Guess Who’s Back? are flawed. Rotten Apple has a rather ominous string loop backing it and was apparently this project’s only single, which is surprising because this kind of project typically doesn’t have singles, and also because both lyrically and beatwise it’s one of the album’s least engaging moments. Be a Gentleman is a not-so-subtle Jay-Z diss, which seems to be included only to stir up controversy and thereby interest for Curtis’ fledgling mainstream career. (This as opposed to Life’s on the Line on which Fiddy obviously means business with Ja Rule.) On Get out the Club Curtis goes after women who go after certain men because of their wealth and utters “bitch” more often than Too $hort would on an entire album. U Not Like Me and features some pretty hot verses, and again probably goes after Jeffrey Atkins but suffers from a boring-ass beat and an especially uninspired chorus.

That’s about as far as the new recordings that weren’t reviewed in the Power of the Dollar post go. That leaves a bunch of freestyles: That’s What’s Up50 Bars and the three tracks on the tail end of the disc. These work just fine as lyrical showcases for 50 and/or his crew but aren’t really good for anything else, mostly because of low sound quality and shitty instrumentals, as well as DJ Shout-outs disrupting the flow.

Overall Guess Who’s Back? makes for a decent semi-official pre-album mixtape. It is however nothing more than that. It’s too scattershot to function as a proper album. It is however easy to see how Eminem got the idea that signing Curtis would be a good idea, while listening to this. Although not everything on here works, not in small part due to the shoestring budget it was created on, Guess Who’s Back? is a decent showcase for 50’s skills. In the post Candy Shop-world it’s also pretty damn refreshing to hear the man spit with hunger. And especially in hip-hop there’s something to say for grit and style over polish and shine. Style this album serves in large amounts.

Best tracks
Killa Tape [Intro], Life’s on the Line, Fuck You, Too Hot, Ghetto Qu’ran (Forgive Me)

Recommendations
Guess Who’s Back is for die hard Curtis Jackson fans only. Specifically those who hate the direction his music took after *spoiler alert* the man completely fucking ran out of good ideas somewhere halfway during the recording of the Massacre. If that includes you and you find Guess Who’s Back? for a reasonable fee, by all means pick it up. General hiphop fans should just download the above tracks and be done with it.


AZ – Doe or Die

AZ
Doe or Die
October 10, 1995
EMI
075/100
AZ - Doe or Die

1. Intro (feat. NaS) // 2. Uncut Raw // 3. Gimme Yours (feat. NaS) // 4. Ho Happy Jackie // 5. Rather Unique // 6. I Feel For You (feat. Erica Scott) // 7. Sugar Hill (feat. Miss Jones) // 8. Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide (feat. NaS) // 9. Doe or Die // 10. We Can’t Win (feat. Amar Pep) // 11. Your World Don’t Stop // 12. Sugar Hill [Remix]

Making your recording debut on an instant undeniable classic album can be a mixed blessing. It happened to Brooklyn rapper Anthony “AZ” Cruz. His first bars the world actually got to hear were on the NaS song Life’s a Bitch off Illmatic. Since instantaneously became a thing in the hiphop-genre and AZ assisted him Anthony was seen as Nasir’s sidekick back in the day. Worse still, today he is mostly seen as “that guy who used to be NaS sidekick”. Life’s a Bitch, ain’t it?

On the plus side, since that particular guest-appearance was well received Anthony got to record a rap album that had his name and face on the front cover. What’s more. Because everyone in hiphop had heard Life’s a Bitch and liked it the album was heavily anticipated. When it dropped Doe or Die was hyped as being the next thing in the Illmatic franchise, which was supposed to be a good thing. In part this is true since some of Illmatic‘s personnel such as producers Pete Rock and L.E.S. as well as NaS himself are involved in Doe or Die‘s creation and tracks such as Rather Unique or the non-included, less polished, original version of Your World Don’t Stop definitely sound like NaS debut has inspired them.

On the other hand hiphop hadn’t stopped evolving during the 17 month gap between Illmatic and Doe or Die. There was Wu-Tang rapper Raekwon who had taken the gun-toting thug that had been gangster rap’s archetype ever since Str8 Outta Compton had taken the world by storm and replaced his 40OZ with a glass of Dom Perignon and his Dickies suit with a Versace one. Mafioso rap was born. On the other the Notorious B.I.G. had made it acceptable for hard-ass gangstas to make songs that sounded a lot like *gulp* R&B.

So Doe or Die, being in line with these trends, is trying to be a more expensive-ass sounding gangsta rap record, as if it were recorded by a cocaine kingpin, rather than a small time crack dealer, and it doesn’t shy away from pop sounds. This album as such wasn’t as much Illmatic‘s sequel as it was It Was Written‘s prequel. Keeping record sales in mind isn’t always a bad thing and Sugar Hill, the single that sold Doe or Die is a prime piece of R&B rap with L.E.S.  smooth mellow beat, R&B singer Miss Jones’ melodious hook and AZ’s lyrics about dreaming of having shiploads of money and kicking it all blending wonderfully and it did go gold for a reason (Today this shit wouldn’t have had a ghost of a chance of making it as a hit single, since, disregarding this day’s different production values, lyrical rap doesn’t have a place on either the radio or video channels. And I am convinced that there are people ou there that would consider Sugar Hill both old school and hardcore… Groan…)

The album’s other attempt at radio song featuring R&B chick: I Feel For You doesn’t fare so well. Oh well, at least AZ had one good  commercial hit-single in him.

A lot of the other songs contain some pretty worn out hiphop clichés, such as Uncut Raw which is about drug trafficking, Ho Happy Jackie which is about promiscuous women, Gimme Yours and Sugar Hill which are about getting money by any means and the illuminati who are discussed on We Can’t Win. Although it might seem that AZ goes through a checklist of standard hiphop subjects on Doe or Die he doesn’t run out of ideas or ever sound uninspired. His trademark flow and high-toned smooth voice remain interesting to listen to throughout this album’s 45 minutes. It just that you do get some bullshit and nonsense with AZ’s clever wordplay. Catchy bullshit and nonsense, but bullshit and nonsense nonetheless. Nowhere does Anthony spit such a flawless salvo as Nasir does on Halftime.

The instrumentals are also quite good. Pete Rock rocks some dirty drums and an angelic harp on Gimme Yours and some minimal melody on Rather Unique. Buckwild loops a horn-hit on Ho Happy Jackieand N.O. Joe produces some G-funk lite on the title track. However good the beats may be here there’s nothing as grand as N.Y. State of Mind, Life’s a Bitch or It Ain’t Hard to Tell‘s beats.

NaS pops up some three times but doesn’t overpower our host anywhere. In fact his dialogue on the intro and his singing on Gimme Yours‘s hook is lame as fuck. And when they do rhyme together on Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide they sound equally good as they did on Life’s a Bitch.

In short: Doe or Die is pretty good stuff. AZ and Doe or Die couldn’t really compete with Nas and Illmatic if they wanted to, but it doesn’t seem that this is what the people who created this were trying to do. In fact Doe or Die is very much its own creature. And it’s a quite enjoyable one at that.

Best tracks
Gimme Yours, Rather Unique, Sugar Hill, Doe or Die, *Your World Don’t Stop [Original Version]

*Not on any incarnation of the Doe or Die album, still well worth the 5 seconds it takes to find it on the internet as the less-polished original version version of Your World Don’t Stop sounds hella better than the version that ended up on Doe or Die because of the inclusion of a sax sample and less annoying backing vocals, and it definitely would’ve pushed Doe Or Die over the 80, were it included on the album. Damn you hindsight, right?

Recommendations
Buy this album.


NaS – Illmatic

NaS
Illmatic
April 19, 1994
Columbia Records/ SME
095/100

Nas - Illmatic
1. The Genesis (feat. AZ) // 2. N.Y. State of Mind // 3. Life’s a Bitch (feat. AZ & Olu Dara) // 4. The World Is Yours (feat. Pete Rock) // 5. Halftime // 6. Memory Lane (Sittin’ in the Park) // 7. One Love (feat. Q-Tip) // 8. One Time for Your Mind // 9. Represent // 10. It Ain’t Hard to Tell

As an album of original songs to listen to all the way through without skipping this is about as close to perfection the hiphop will ever get. It consists of ten tracks overall with not a single blatant attempts at getting pop/R&B-airplay. The intro is pretty useless, but after that there’s nine songs worth of uncut dope. Off course some songs are better than others, but nothing fits the “shitty” or even the “mediocre” label. In fact, if you like your hiphop not fused with other genres, well produced, with acrobatic flows, meaningful lyrics and clever punchlines NaS’ Illmatic will make your jaw drop. Hiphop greats like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor and Q-Tip produce some of that music that just isn’t made any more today. It would seem that these guys have plundered a vinyl store and subsequently sliced up a lot of music in order to create dusty, booming, ominous audio collages for NaS to showcase his perfect breath control, intricate wordplay, deft imagery, storytelling abilities and funny punchlines over, with NaS taking full advantage of the opportunity.

After the intro nearly derails the entire listening experience by putting you to sleep NaS wakes you the fuck up by yelling “Straight out the fucking dungeons of rap, where fake niggaz don’t make it back.” after which he unleashes a nearly endless stream of punchlines over DJ Premier’s suspenseful percussive piano-based instrumental. Nearly everyone of them is a quotable and has been quoted since this album’s release in ’94. After that classic NaS mellows out with friend and future group mate AZ on the L.E.S. produced Life’s a Bitch to talk about the gathering of wealth and the moral issues that come with it. The song ends in a trumpet solo by NaS’ father and jazz musician Olu Dara.

The World Is Yours references Slick Rick’s Hey Young World and features the legendary Pete Rock, who also produced the soulful instrumental, on the hook, and pays homage to the film Scarface. NaS’ line “I’m out for dead presidents to represent me.” would later spark Nasir’s beef with Jay-Z, after the latter sampled it for his for the hook after his Dead Presidents track on his ’96 debut, which is all sorts of ironic since Halftime which follows The World is Yours samples Jaz-O’s 1989 single Hawaiian Sophie, on which the Jiggaman made one of his earliest appearances. Ah good times not only for rap lovers but pop-trivia enthusiasts as well…

Memory Lane has NaS reminiscing on his childhood over a fittingly nostalgic, organ-laced DJ Premier instrumental and One Love is a letter put in rhyme to an inprisoned friend about recent events in Nasir’s neighbourhood over a great xylophone-rocking Q-Tip beat. One Time For Your Mind is all about what NaS does in his spare time and Represent is another punchliner that was sampled in a Jigga song.

It Ain’t Hard to Tell is the last song, the most accessible and in my opinion the best one, what with it’s Human Nature sampling Large professor beat and NaS being half-man, half amazing.

Yep, NaS ran a home run here. Or a hole in one might be a better simile. Unfortunately NaS switched management after this album from MC Serch, who undoubtedly helped the rookie get some aid by all these hiphop heavyweights, to Steve Stoute who got NaS in touch with the Trackmasters for making some 80’s music sampling commercial blingy hiphop, and got hit in the head with a champagne bottle by Puff Diddy, off all people, after the man suddenly remembered  he was a Roman Catholic and wasn’t supposed to appear crucified in a hiphop video, and Stoute accidentally forgot to have that scene edited out of the Hate Me Now video before airing it, more on that in due time. For now suffice to say Illmatic is golden and all the NaS dickriding fanboy praise is actually justified.

Best track
NY State of Mind, Life’s a Bitch, The World Is Yours, One Love, It Ain’t Hard to Tell

Recommedations
Buy this album.


50 Cent – Power of the Dollar

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

070/100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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