Tag Archives: N.Y.C.

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.

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Run-D.M.C. – Run-D.M.C.

Run-D.M.C.
Run-D.M.C.
March 27, 1984
Profile Records/ Arista Records/ SME

090/100
RUN DMC - RUN DMC

1. Hard Times // 2. Rock Box // 3. Jam-Master-Jay // 4. Hollis Crew (Krush-Groove 2) // 5. Sucker M.C.’s (Krush-Groove 1) // 6. It’s Like That // 7. Wake Up // 8. 30 Days // 9. Jay’s Game

Usually Bonkers writes about Hip Hop and Rap. Given He’s more into Ja Rule I’ll write about this iconic trio. Besides I wouldn’t want to trade with him. The Ja Rule/Murder Inc. stream of … was too much of a nuisance for my tastes even as a teen. Enough about that rubbish.

Run-D.M.C. consisted of Reverend Run a.k.a. Joey Simmons, D.M.C. a.k.a. Darryl McDaniels and Jam Master Jay a.k.a. Jason Mizell. Run’s brother Russell (Rick Rubin’s partner in founding Def Jam, early eighties) suggested Joey to work with a Darryl as partner MCs and after finishing high school Jason joined the two in 1982. Run DMC was complete and in 1983 It’s like that/Sucker M.C.’s saw the light of day. The first singles introduced a whole new sound to hip-hop. A RUN-D.M.C. song typically consisted of rapping over big sparse beats, minimal compositions, guitars shredding and Jam Master Jay showcasing his turntable skills. It was a total departure from the oversampled Soul and Disco driven sound best exemplified in Rappers Delight. Gone with the slick, in with the raw new sound. Run DMC’ new approach to Hip Hop influenced many contemporary rap artists, but it also had a cross-genre influence, felt also the Rock and Industrial scene. Skinny Puppy’s Pro-Test is a great example.

I press play and prepare, Hard Times, a Kurtis Blow cover, tells about financial hardship in daily life. The drum machine, effects and MCs become audible. A serious message in fresh rhymes and beats. Rock Box exemplifies all that made Run DMC awesome, inventing Rap-Rock with this one track . If you don’t cath my drift on how catchy this is understand: as I’m typing I have have a hard time supressing  the urge to play air guitar, on an old school Hip Hop track of all things. One could almost head bang to this eighties gem. I won’t even bother elaborating about the lyrics in my moment of utter enjoyment while I listen to some bragging over screaming guitars.

B-Boys and B-Girls of all nations gather, Jam-Master-Jay is Jam Master Jay exhibiting DJ his skills over breaks, beats and samples accompanied with some exemplary rhyming by Run and D.M.C. Hollis Crew continues with more break beats. What more can one say? One could even imagine Chuck Berry nodding his head to this. Given the MCs have great articulation while continuing their bragging, their dismissal of Sucker M.C.’s is justified. The breaks and samples sound somewhat repetitive but the lyrical flow is great. “You’ve got to know when to start when the beats commence”, the last line in this track says it all.

It’s Like That is included in its original incarnation, the one without the pumping beats. It’s basically a slower take on Hard Times. It’s the better track of the two, what with its “But it’s like that and that’s the way it is” chorus. The urgency of the lyrics gives it a timeless feel for the post eighties era. Musically Jam Master Jay is being quite adventurous on this track. Jam Master Jays reliance on the drum machine and only a few sample results in nicely layered parts and as well as very effective minimal parts on this one song. The usage of little soundbites interchanged with bass lines and big beats really makes this really enjoyable

Wake-Up is a smoother track about making the world a better place, with Jay again making the most of the instrumental with only a few samples and sound effects being used. His walls of sound with the snore in the background, early eighties ingenuity. 30 Days follows it as a danceable nod to the ladies with a wink to the Weather Sisters’ and the bragging continues. This is the most ‘poppy’ track on the album actually. But don’t be afraid that it’s downhill from there; Jay’s Game continues the Hip-Hop while the break beats enter your conscience leaving you no option but to bob your head to Jay’s crafty creation. No rapping here, just breaks and samples . I give in and move around on my chair while trying to type. (Needless to say I had to make a few corrections.)

There’s something that still requires some explanation. I didn’t really write about the lyrics and I already gave some hints. Run and DMC rhyme and brag their way through this album in their often playful yet preachy style. The lyrical content varies from ‘we’re better than thou’ to ‘listen to our message’ and repeats itself. Compared to the much smoother Melle Mel for instance Run and DMC come off as preachy, which can annoy at times. Still, it mostly works well with Jam Master Jay’s instrumentals and this album is a joy to listen to. There’s no real filler, with its nine tracks there isn’t any room for it on this album, therefore the best tracks section doesn’t indicate that the rest is bad. On the contrary every track on the album serves a purpose and sounds pretty good to say the least.

Best Tracks
Hard Times
Rock Box
Sucker M.C.’s
It’s Like That
Jay’s Game

Recommendations
RUN-D.M.C. is an important piece of Hip-Hop history. (If the alliteration isn’t confirmation enough of a recommendation I’ll be more exact.) Buy this album, or at least give it a good listen because this 1984 album still sounds fresh today and its influence is being felt today still.

My regards,

Rura88


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Memphis Bleek – Coming of Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Don’t go near this one.


Jay-Z – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Streets is Watching (OST)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.