Tag Archives: Lil’ Rob

Jay-Z – Chapter One: the Greatest Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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? – The Professional

DJ Clue?
The Professional
December 15, 1998
Desert Storm Records/ Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
060/100
djclue

1. Intro (Diddy) // 2. Ruff Ryders Anthem [Remix] (DMX, Drag-On, Eve, Jadakiss & Styles P) // 3. It’s On (DMX) // 4. Fantastic 4 (Cam’ron, Big Pun, Noreaga & Canibus) // 5. Queensfinest (NaS) // 6. Exclusive New Shit (Nature) // 7. Gangsta Shit (Jay-Z feat. Ja Rule) // 8. Thugged Out Shit  (Memphis Bleek) // 9. It’s My Thang ’99 (EPMD, Keith Murray & Redman) // 10. Mariah Carey [Skit] (Mariah Carey) // 11. Whatever You Want (Flipmode Squad) // 12. That’s the Way (Fabolous, Foxy Brown & Ma$e) // 13. I Like Control (Missy Elliott, Mocha & Nicole Wray) // 14.  Bitch Be a Ho (Jermaine Dupri & R.O.C.) // 15. If They Want It (Fabolous) // 16. Pain In da Ass [Skit] // 17. The Professional (Big Noyd & Mobb Deep) // 18.  Brown Paper Bags (Raekwon) // 19. Cops & Robbers (DJ Muggs & Lord Tariq) // 20. Made Men (Made Men) // 21.  No Love (M.O.P.) // 22.  Come On  (Boot Camp Clik)

I apologise in advance for the interpunction but in my defense, this guy has a question mark in his artist name.

In a move that’s either really fucking stupid or really fucking brilliant (this album’s sales numbers indicate the latter) Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella records signed mixtape DJ, DJ Clue? to their roster. No disrespect to the man of the hour, Clue? is known in hip-hop for releasing high-quality mixtapes with exclusive songs not heard elsewhere before the era of internet bootlegs, and thus giving fans sneek previews at hot upcoming releases which is definitely service to the hip-hop community. But what such an individual has to do with a recording contract on a major label, where everything has to be cleared before release, from samples to songs, isn’t entirely clear to this reviewer.

Mixing and producing is one answer. Indeed seventeen out of the twenty-two tracks feature Clue? in a producer or co-producer capacity. But that leaves five tracks on which he has zero creative involvement, or at least doesn’t take credit for making beats, and not taking credit for doing for stuff you did actually do is not very hip-hop (unless you count Rick Ross’ CO stint). Also DURO produces or co-produces ten tracks here and his name isn’t on the front cover anywhere.

If Clue? had turned this one into an extended DJ set where every track is seamlessly mixed into the next then his name printed big-assedly on the front would be entirely justified, but alas, no such luck.

The man makes his presence mostly known by yelling his own name, the name of his record label, the name of one or more of the featured artists, the name of his album or random bullshit including but not limited to “killuminti”,  “new shit” and “exclusive” at random intervals, quite literally so you won’t forget who’s album you are currently listening to. This annoying habit has become a widely copied thing among hip-hop mixtape DJs, with people like DJ Skee and most famously DJ Khaled following suit.

So Clue?’s primary function is to “host” this project by yelling over otherwise perfectly functional tracks. Two things should be noted about this intriguing concept.

1. Nearly any jackass could do this particular hosting thing, so long as said jackass can raise his voice.

2. Everything would sound better if Clue? Had shown some restraint and just shut the fuck up or at least kept the yelling to a minimum.

That said the Professional is an okay reminder of who was hot in ’98 in hip-hop on the East coast. Listening to this album one can think of at least one thing Clue? had going for him, clout. Looking at the guestlist one has an easier time summing up who didn’t show up to contribute than it is who did.

Everyone from the Ruff Ryders to Puffy and Ma$e to the Wu-Tang to Mobb Deep to Jermaine Dupri to the Bootcamp Clik to M.O.P. are here. Even NaS, who probably had beef with Jigga already, gets down with Clue?, even if it means appearing on a Roc-a-Fella records release. The results are a late ’90s East Coast block party with a guest list that’ll have any fan of this particular era in rap salivating from just peeping the back cover.

Off course having many famous guests on your album doesn’t guarantee that your album will sound good, since it can lead to horrible chaotic mess, but since Clue? is behind the boards a lot he’s the one to give this album cohesiveness and direction. Quite the task indeed, especially since he’s a limited beatsmith, resorting mostly to the tried and true stale funk-loop-jacking of the time, coming off as a poor man’s Jermaine Dupri/ Puff Daddy/ Trackmaster. Not that he’s outright wack with the beats, It’s On  gives DMX a perfectly passable conventional East-Coast hip-hop beat, making this an especially welcome addition to his discography considering Swizzy wouldn’t leave him alone during the recordings of his second album of the year ’90 Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood.
The Jay-Z contribution Gangsta Shit, which features a pre-debut Ja Rule, who sounds like he wants to be an actual rapper rather than a Luther Vandross, is also pretty decent.
Fantastic 4 has 1998s golden boys Cam’ron, Big Pun, Noreaga and Canibus trade verses, and although it’s not an entirely natural collaboration at least everyone gets to show why they were a thing back then, especially Canibus who always sounds pretty good unless he’s on his own albums.

Nasir’s ode to his borough; Queensfinest certainly won’t cost him any fans and Busta Rhymes and his crew the Flipmode Squad do their thing on the posse cut Whatever You Want, which fortunately isn’t remotely similar to their song I Know What You Want featuring Mariah Carey.

Speaking of her, she’s featured on this album giggeling about with our host on an skit named after her, not singing a single note. This isn’t a complaint about the Professional‘s lack of R&B hooks (Clue? knows his audience it seems.), but I hope he didn’t have to pay her a lot of money for this vocal performance. Not that skits on hip-hop albums usually do sound good but here they seem especially useless with the Pain In da Ass [Skit] taking the cake. Oh well, at least they’re short and there’s only two of them.

Basically everyone here does exactly what you expect of him/her (well except Mariah…) with no-one fucking up badly, except for the tag-team of Ma$e and a then-unknown Fabolous, who decide to interpolate KC & the Sunshine Band’s That’s The Way (I Like It) with Foxy Brown on That’s the Way (I’m sure P. Daddy was jealous as fuck he didn’t think of that idea before, and wanted to kill Clue? like he says he once did on the intro…) But at least Fabby, who was once called a Ma$e redux, proves they don’t sound all that much alike when put on the same track, so that’s good for him.

A song that doesn’t necessarily sound awful, but is an excercise in futility nonetheless, is EPMD + Keith Murray & Redman’s (or the Def Squad + PMD’s) It’s My Thang ’99 because it’s the millionth hip-hop song re-using the beat to Jay-Z’s Ain’t No Nigga.

The remix of DMX’ Ruff Ryders Anthem, now featuring all the Ruff Ryders, isn’t bad but it might have been a more logical inclusion on the Ruff Ryders crew album Ryde or Die, vol. 1 because it is THE Ruff Ryders anthem and also because Clue? hasn’t got shit to do with it.

Overall what one should admire most about Clue? is his ability to surround himself with talented and popular rappers (Jay-Z, NaS, Mobb Deep, Raekwon,  M.O.P.) and to have the foresight to include up and comers (Ja Rule and Fabolous and Benzino) and his ability to create beats that are at least listenable, but none of these things per se make the Professional a must-own.

The Professional is a competently made but somewhat underwhelming vanity project.

Best tracks
It’s On, Fantastic 4, Queensfinest, Gangsta Shit, The Professional, Brown Paper Bags, No Love

Recommendations
For casual rap fans this isn’t a must-listen, but for fans of mid-to-late ’90s hip-hop the Professional is worth a try on spotify to see if it is worth a purchase.


Jay-Z – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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.