Tag Archives: MC Ren

Above the Law – Livin’ Like Hustlers

Above the Law
Livin’ Like Hustlers
December 1989 (Promo cassette version)
February 22, 1990 (Full version)
Ruthless RecordsEpic RecordsSME
085/100
Above the Law - Livin' Like Hustlers
1. Murder Rap // 2. Untouchable // 3. Livin’ Like Hustlers // 4. Another Execution // 5. Menace to Society // 6. Just Kickin’ Lyrics // 7. Ballin’  // 8. Freedom of Speech // 9. Flow On (Move No Mountain) // 10. The Last Song (feat. Dr. Dre, Eazy-E & MC Ren)

Above the Law is an Pomona CA hip-hop group that originally consisted of rapper/ producers Cold 178um and KMG the Illustrator as well as DJ Total K-Oss and Go Mack, who presumably was a hype man. And when their debut album Livin’ Like Hustlers dropped the Ruthless Records franchise was on a roll. Albums by N.W.A, Eazy-E and the D.O.C. had all gone gold to platinum cementing the label’s status as the preeminent hip-hop label of the day. Not only that but they were also able to release an album that quite succesfully catered to the R&B market (back in 1990 hip-hop and R&B were two distinct genres that were just starting to cuddle up) by songstress Michel’le.

What all these albums had in common was wall-to-wall Dr. Dre production with the occasional help from DJ Yella and/or Laylaw. Now their latest signees Above the Law were producers as well as rappers, but Dre is credited as a co-producer on every track on here, as he was credited with producing every track on every track on every Ruthless Records album so far.

It should be noted that Livin’ Like Hustlers doesn’t sound like any Dre production so far, except maybe the song the Formula off the D.O.C.’s No One Can Do It Better. Everything else he had done so far had been a lot more fast-paced and funk/dance-influenced, whereas this album is more mellow, jazzy and classic soul oriented. This could be explained by the fact that on Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-It the Doctor was aided by DJ Yella, on No One Can Do It Better he was left to do the beats himself and here he co-produced it with the entirety of the group. Another possible explanation is that Dre had just worked on an actual R&B album with slow jams on it, and therefore was in another state of mind than he would have been coming out of an N.W.A recording session.

Anyway, the mellow paced jazz/ soul vibe, with the elaborate use of more melody than was usual in hip-hop at the time, combined with rappers Cold 178um and KMG the Illustrator’s archetypical gangster raps (the album’s title should provide ample warning to those who aren’t into that sort of thing) definitely make this a prototype for the G-funk sound that Dre would rule the airwaves with less than three years later. And whether Dre or ATL produced the lion’s share of the music  they were all at the cradle of some revolutionary stuff here.

Given that there’s some controversy over who did what here I tend to go with ATL as the main musical architects, not only because of how the music sounds and how contemporary Dre beats sound, but also because Dre prescriptions tended to come with bits of Dre backing vocals at this time, which he does do here, but only on the title track, Just Kickin’ ItFlow On and the Last Song so I assume the man didn’t have much input with the remaining six songs. In all likelihood Dre put in a beat or two while ATL made most of these tracks themselves and had Dre adding some finishing touches to what they came up with. (But like everyone else who isn’t Dre or an ATL member I’m only guessing here. It’s not like I was even born yet when they recorded the fucking album or anything.)

As for the vocals, KGM and Cold 187 (whom I shall henceforth call by his other rap nickname Big Hutch, because that sounds more like something one would actually call a person) are technically proficient behind the mic. They basically come across as less lyrical, less nimble, more gangster-oriented versions of their then recently muted labelmate the D.O.C., what with their mid range voices and their ease behind the mic, which is to say they sound just fine. Although they lack Ren’s understated menace, Cube’s grit and Eazy’s natural, over-the-top charisma, their average-guy-from-the-street personas help these raps about the gangster lifes sound a lot less like they’re glorifying violence, misogyny and what not, as opposed to the various members of the world’s most dangerous group, who usually come across as a bunch of happy-go-lucky, murderous, alcoholic, wife-beating, crack-selling, “walked into the store, said this is a robbery, don’t need the money, it’s just a hobby” cartoon characters of Afro-American stereotypes on their albums, whereas ATL keeps things, if not real than at the very least plausible. The ATL rappers sound as though they could blast your brains out in a back alley, though they wouldn’t do it unless they had no other choice, and even then they still wouldn’t get their kicks out of it.

Highlight include the the ominous Murder Rap and Another Execution, the horned-up Untouchable and Livin’ Like Hustlers, the anti-censorship Freedom of Speech as well as the mandatory Ruthless posse cut on the tail end of the album on which Ren and Eazy take the shine (and on which Ice Cube and the D.O.C. shine in absence, the former because he was the only one out of N.W.A who chose to not get bent over by Jerry Heller and took his business to Priority Records in stead, and the latter because he had his vocal chords slashed in two in a car crash and was unable to rap.)

There’s only one wack moment on here, that would be Ballin’, which is all about how down Above the Law are with N.W.A and the D.O.C., throws an unnecessary stab in the direction of every rapper on the East-Coast (so this East-West rap beef was already a thing, huh?) and has an instrumental too fruity for its own good.

But besides that one misstep Livin’ Like Hustlers features nine tracks of pure gangster rap gold, that unlike N.W.A may have been forgotten by a lot of today’s rap audiences  and may not sound a lot like Straight Outta Compton but is almost equally entertaining and has had a lot more influence than it is given credit for on the genre as a whole, being a stepping-stone in the direction of the Chronic. (and with everybody from DJ Quik to Lil’ Kim to 2pac borrowing beats from this album).

This album deserves to be revisited.

Best tracks
Murder Rap
Untouchable
Another Execution
Menace to Society
Freedom of Speech
The Last Song

Recommendations
Buy this album.

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The D.O.C. – No One Can Do It Better

The D.O.C.
No One Can Do It Better
June 16, 1989
Ruthless Records/Atlantic RecordsWMG
090/100
The DOC - No One Can Do It Better
1. It’s Funky Enough // 2. Mind Blowin’ // 3. Lend Me an Ear // 4. Comm. Blues (feat. by Michel’le) // 5. Let The Bass Go // 6. Beautiful But Deadly // 7. The D.O.C. and the Doctor // 8. No One Can Do It Better // 9. Whirlwind Pyramid // 10. Comm. 2 (feat. MC Ren) // 11. The Formula // 12. Portrait of a Masterpiece // 13. The Grand Finalé (feat. Ice Cube, MC Ren & Eazy-E)

The story of the D.O.C.’s rapping-career is a tragic one. After his rap group the Fila Fresh crew got to take part in what some consider to be N.W.A’s first album N.W.A and the Posse the world’s most dangerous recording group probably learnt of the man’s existence when they finally got to listen to it themselves after they found out Macola Records released the damn record, which was a collection of some of their singles, with some unrelated songs by random artists thrown in for good measure, without their permission while they were touring.

Fortunately for N.W.A though their “posse album” sold a ton of copies, birthed their career and fortunately for D.O.C. they liked his contributions enough that he could parttake in the recording of the seminal gangsta rap classic Straight Outta Compton, writing rhymes for Dre and Eazy and lending vocals to several tracks, such as on Fuck the Police (it’s Doc on the intro).

Then as a reward for helping Eazy and Dre sound competent behind the mic he got to record his own album No One Can Do It Better, released in the summer of ’89,

In 1989 rhyming about how good you are at rhyming (rhymeception, if you’re into terrible cornball-ass gag-humour) was the thing to do. Everyone from RUN-DMC to the Sugarhill Gang had proclaimed their dominance over the rap game as well as their own superiority over “sucker MC’s” at one time or another, and perhaps rightfully so since RUN and DMC’s nursery rhymes had been cutting edge when the world first heard them. When the D.O.C. proclaimed dominance over the rap game however it was simply a matter of fact beyond a shadow of a doubt. No one could do it better indeed, bar maybe Kool G Rap, Rakim or KRS One.

D.O.C.’s rhymes and delivery were lightyears ahead of even his boys in N.W.A in terms of multi-syllable complexity. Peep this.

Ship it, ship it to the stations
in your jurisdiction
Others say I’m dope
and the others think I’m bitching
No crowd can avoid the D O to the C
When I’m P E R F O R M I N G
D.O.C. – It’s Funky Enough

And besides his lyrics and flow being on point the D.O.C. had enough skill to make it all feel natural and unforced. For all it’s expertly constructed complexity the guy is here for you entertainment first and formost, and even if his vocabulary is larger than average he doesn’t repeatedly and offensively smack the listener in the face with it, like for instance Canibus does whenever he drops one of his fucking albums. Also helping matters is the wall-to-wall pre-chroniced Dr. Dre-production, which brings a distinct funky, dusty scratchy atmosphere for our host to rhyme in. The combination of these beats and these rhymes make the D.O.C. one of the few old school rappers whose music could challenge the works of rappers from the second golden age, such as Nas, Biggie, Jay-Z or the Wu-Tang Clan when it’s enjoyability that’s concerned.

No One Can Do It Better has aged perfectly, with everything sounding vintage rather than outdated.

The best-known song It’s Funky Enough‘s opening line “One, and here comes the two to the three and four” is one of the most re-used in the hip-hop genre. The song’s instrumental is funky aplenty, and the song is hands-down the catchiest thing on here. With no profanity to speak of and and a beat that makes people want to shake their money makers and yet doesn’t compromise the Ruthless Records gangsta rap sound it’s a lesson in making a lead single for a rap album.

D.O.C. and the Doctor is the mandatory ode to the DJ that appears on all early hip-hop album, back when hip-hop albums had one producer per album, rather than five new producers (and twelve guest rappers as well as eight autotuned R&B singers) per individual song. Rather than the corny dickriding that constitutes most such cuts this is a display of actual chemistry between the rapper and the producer.

Mind Blowin’ is another display of the Doc and the Doctor’s combined potential being reached with Dre providing some percussive piano keys for his boy to play around with his words and his flow over to great effect.

Lend Me an Ear is sonically a much faster paced Straight Outta Compton with D.O.C. ripping the beat to shreds and quite succesfully  making a case for him being one of the best rappers ever.

The Formula may be the point where Dr. Dre discovered the G-funk sound that would revolutionise the rap world when he put out his solo debut in ’92.

Beautiful But Deadly, the mandatory ode to gold digging evil women, has a Licensed to Ill-era Rick Rubin-esque instrumental, what with it’s hard rock quitars and its distinctly funkless sound. It’s an interesting enough diversion since it sounds like nothing else on here, but it still fits in with the rest since it shares Doc’s golden voice, rhymes and delivery with the rest of the tracks.

The album ends with the Grand Finale, a Ruthless Records posse cut with Doc plus everyone in N.W.A minus Dre going for broke over the most Straight Outta Compton-esque instrumental of the album, and Doc being on par with the world’s most dangerous group.

Every song on here bangs, even the two commercial-themed interludes have their place. No One Can Do It Better leaves one salivating for more. Unfortunately for the world of hip-hop and for Doc himself he would lose his ability to rap soon after this album’s release when his vocal chords were severed after he flew through a windshield in a car crash, leaving him a thin rasp of a voice that was lightyears removed from his pleasant smooth voice displayed on here, relegating Doc to perform on skits on N.W.A’s and later Dr. Dre’s albums, as well as the ghostwriting that had made him the unofficial fifth member of the Comptonite posse in the first place.

Make no mistake, the D.O.C.’s loss of voice was every bit as much of a loss to hip-hop as the murder of the Notorious B.I.G., and No One Can Do It Better is all the proof one needs for it. Unlike Biggie and 2pac however Doc, who didn’t die a martyr’s death (he’s still alive today), wasn’t namedropped as frequently by other rappers, which means that very little of today’s rap music fans actually know who he is. (On the plus side Ruthless Records has withstood the temptation of pairing every shred of D.O.C. vocals with the likes of T.I. and Lil Wayne on frankensongs with krunk beats, released on “Tribute albums”.)

This is all the more reason to revisit No One Can Do It Better, a criminally underrated rap album that has stood the test of time a lot better than most rap albums from the 1980s. An album that gives off an unfulfilled promise of a long and prosperous career in music.

Best tracks
It’s Funky Enough
Beautiful But Deadly
The Formula
Lend Me an Ear
Portrait of a Masterpiece
The Grand Finalé

Recommendations
Pick this one up, now.


Eazy-E – Eazy-Duz-It

Eazy-E
Eazy-Duz-It
September 12, 1988
Ruthless Records/Priority RecordsEMI
085/100
Eazy-E - Eazy-Duz-It

1. [Prelude] Still Talkin’  // 2. Nobody Move // 3. Ruthless Villain (feat. MC Ren) // 4. 2 Hard Mutha’s  (feat. MC Ren) // 5.  Boyz-n-the-Hood [Remix] // 6. Eazy-duz-It // 7. We Want Eazy (feat. MC Ren & Dr. Dre) // 8. Eazy-er Said than Dunn // 9. Radio // 10. No More ?’s // 11.  I’mma Break It Down // 12. Eazy Chapter 8 Verse 10

Eazy-Duz-It is the first album by retired crack dealer turned Ruthless label boss/rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, as well as the first N.W.A offshoot. Eazy-E’s debut album follows Straight Outta Compton a month after its release.  By the logic of the music industry Eazy-Duz-It should’ve been pushed far into 1989 as to not hurt Straight Outta Compton‘s record sales. But  on the always unconventional Ruthless Records no such consideration seems to have been made here.

On with the review, Dre and Yella’s beats are dense, dusty and funky as they were the last time around and Eazy recites Cube, Ren and D.O.C.’s writings over them with the mischievous joy of a street-smart man-child. His high-pitched wine is best described as a thugged-out version of Sam Cooke and the mixture of boasting and threatning is over-the-top enough for anyone but the C. Delores Tuckers and the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world (or however may have filled his shoes back in ’88) to get the joke, or at the very least get that there’s a joke being made. As usual; Joke’s on Bill.

A major difference between Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-It is that since technically Eazy is the worst rapper in the world’s most dangerous group, but also the biggest character; he does best setting the mood rather than discussing serious shit, and that’s probably why are no profound statements being made such as on Fuck the Police or Express Yourself. Basically Eazy-Duz-It is Eric Wright taking no shit but talking a lot himself for twelve tracks long and it’s all the better for it.

There’s party-starters such as We Want EazyEazy-Er Said than Dunn, there’s conceptual raps No More ?’s which takes place in an interview-setting, and Nobody Move which is about performing stick-ups. There’s even a profanity-free song for the radio titled Radio (One thing you can’t accuse N.W.A of is hiding their intentions or mislabeling their songs.) And it all forms an exciting, never boring and well-rounded album.

Finally Eazy-Duz-It makes N.W.A and the Posse completely obsolete by taking the one song that actually sounded good that wasn’t on Straight Outta Compton already. That would be Boyz In da Hood.

Eazy-Duz-It isn’t for the faint-hearted, drugs, misogyny, guns and other street shit is being glorified and Eazy is willfully immoral throughout, but if you don’t take this album too seriously you can have a lot of fun with it. What keeps these staple-subjects of hip-hop interesting is Eazy’s undeniable charisma and his distictive delivery. It’s a shame he wouldn’t put out another full-length solo-album before his untimely death in 1995.

Best tracks
Nobody Move
Boyz-n-the-Hood [Remix]
We Want Eazy
Eazy-Er Said than Dunn
Radio
No More ?’s

Recommendations
Buy this album.


N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton

N.W.A
Straight Outta Compton
August 8, 1988
Ruthless Records/Priority Records/ EMI
090/100

N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton

1. Straight Outta Compton // 2. Fuck the Police (feat. the D.O.C.) // 3. Gangsta, Gangsta // 4. If It Ain’t Ruff // 5. Parental Discretion iz Advised (feat. the D.O.C.) // 6. 8 Ball [Remix] // 7. Something Like That // 8. Express Yourself // 9. Compton’s N the House [Remix] // 10. I Ain’t tha 1 // 11. Dope Man [Remix] // 12. Quiet on tha Set // 13. Something 2 Dance 2 (feat. Arabian Prince)

N.W.A and the Posse may not be a very good album, but its selling of 500 thousand+ copies made it known to record labels that there was an audience for Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, even though their lyrics contained more than a bit of profanity. What it didn’t do however, was prepare the world for gangsta rap crossing over to the mainstream.

Which is exactly what happened following the release of N.W.A’s real debut album: Straight outta Compton.

Funky and mischievous, well produced and accessible yet uncompromising in its creators’ beliefs and opinions N.W.A’s true debut Straight Outta Compton is gangsta rap at its very best.

With wall-to-wall production by Dr. Dre, aided by DJ Yella and with raps written by Ice Cube, MC Ren and the D.O.C. and performed by Cube, Ren, Dre and the alpha male in a group that consists of nothing but alpha males; Eazy-E, Straight Outta Compton may not have been gangsta rap’s starting point (at least Schooly D and Ice T and perhaps more rappers preceeded it)  but it is the album that singlehandedly brought the rap subgenre to the masses without the aid of Radio/MTV airplay (Raegan era media weren’t to keen on airing  cursing and references to sex, drugs and violence), as white suburban kids found it perfect for pissing off their parents.

That’s not to say controversy is all it has going for it. Far from it, Dre and Yella’s dense funky beats never fail to make one’s foot tap and are the perfect backdrops for Eazy, Cube, Ren and Dre to go rampant over. Although it’s dated because of how goddamn monumental it is, today, 24+ years after its august ’88 release it still sounds completely fresh.

Off course not everything has aged equally well. Fuck the Police is still a fine rap song as ever and the subject of corrupt racist pighead policemen is current still, but the controversy it stirred up upon release, the motherfucking FBI even sent this rap group a letter requesting them to tone it down, is hard to imagine today, taking away at least some of the impact this once had.

Other subjects than bad experiences with racist police include, but aren’t limited to representing your hometown (the title track and Compton’s N The House), the poor quality of the recording output of unnamed rivaling hip-hop groups (Something Like That), free speech (Express Yourself) and Eazy-E’s favourite beverage (8-Ball).

Unlike on follow-up albums the vibe is rowdy but good-natured throughout because although a shitload of threats and bragging get put to wax, it is all nonspecific enough to not dis any of the listeners personally. (Well maybe except for cops listening to Fuck the Police.)

Eazy’s high-pitched whine is irresistable as ever throughout, Ice Cube records one of the first Gold Digger songs ever and Ren proves he is a criminally underrated rapper on his solo-shot If It Ain’t Ruff.

This album beats the life out of N.W.A and the Posse, shits on it and runs off with its valuables 8ball and Dope Man, after which Eazy-E’s solo debut follows suit and cleans up by including Boys in da Hood.

The only track that doesn’t work is the Panic Zone reprise late ’80s electro-funk-rap Something 2 Dance 2, which isn’t because it sucks completely, but rather because it sounds completely out-of-place.

Straight Outta Compton is some really great stuff for those who like unadultered rap music which likes to pretend the radio doesn’t exist.

Best tracks
Straight Outta Compton
Fuck the Police
8 Ball [Remix]
Dope Man [Remix]

But the rest doesn’t fall far behind. Straight Outta Compton is rather consistent.

Recommendations
Buy this album, even if you aren’t inclined to like rap music, chances are you will like this album.


Various artists – N.W.A. and the Posse

Various artists
N.W.A and the Posse
November 6, 1987
Ruthless Records/ Macola Records
050/100
SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA
1. Boyz-N-the-Hood (Eazy-E) // 2. 8 Ball (N.W.A) // 3. Dunk the Funk (the Fila Fresh Crew) // 4. Bitch Iz a Bitch (N.W.A) // 5. Drink It Up (the Fila Fresh Crew) // 6. Panic Zone (N.W.A) // 7. L.A. Is the Place (Eazy-E & Ron-de-Vu) // 8. Dope Man (N.W.A) // 9. Tuffest Man Alive (the Fila Fresh Crew) // 10. Fat Girl (Eazy-E & Ron-de-Vu) // 11. 3 the Hard Way (the Fila Fresh Crew)

Never conventional N.W.A’s debut album is barely an album at all, but rather a collection of random-ass songs. Off course what are you expect when your ghetto-ass record label scraps some singles together and releases the fucker without your permission while you are on tour? This album is surely dominated by N.W.A with seven of the eleven tracks featuring some involvement by either the whole group or Eazy. It should be noted that most of the N.W.A tracks featured here would end up in superior remix capacity on either Str8 Outta Compton or Eazy’s Eazy-Duz-It.

Another notable act on here is the Fila Fresh Crew, which counted the D.O.C. among it’s ranks. As a whole this is a shoddy but promising album, but… the promising bit may just be retrospect talking. The sound is primitive and the songs are silly. Songs like L.A. Is the Place and Fat Girl, feature Eazy-E even giddier than usual spitting over some of the shittiest beatboxing since the dawn of hip-hop. Panic Zone is shitty Africa Bambaata impression.

The fact that all of the decent tracks are featured on other, better albums in better incarnations makes this one of the more inessential curiosity pieces out there. Unless you are a devout N.W.A stan who must own all things Eazy, you can just skip this one entirely and just start with Straight Outta Compton. It wouldn’t surprise me if not even Dr. Dre owns a copy of this anymore.

Best tracks
Boyz-n-da-Hood
8ball
Bitch Iz a Bitch
Dope Man

Recommendations
Go listen to Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-It, not this,