Tag Archives: Nate Dogg

Thug Life – Thug Life: Volume 1

Thug Life
Thug Life: Volume 1
September 26, 1994
Out Da Gutter Records/ Interscope RecordsUMG
063/100
2pac-Thug-Life-Volume-1-cover-big
1. Bury Me a G (feat. Y?N-Vee) // 2. Don’t Get It Twisted // 3. Shit Don’t Stop (feat. Y?N-Vee) // 4. Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor (performed by 2pac) // 5. Stay True (feat. Stretch) // 6. How Long Will They Mourn Me (feat. Nate Dogg) // 7. Under Pressure (performed by 2pac feat. Stretch) // 8. Street Fame (feat. JMJ) // 9. Cradle to the Grave // 10. Str8 Ballin’ (performed by 2pac)

2pac never shied away from weed carriers company. Most of his albums have their fair share of guests appearances. Thug Life: Volume 1 however is the only album released during his lifetime to cast him as a member of a group of equals. In reality though it’s like 2pac is introducing Big Syke, Makadoshis , Rated R & Mopreme and to a lesser extent Stretch to the masses, while launching his vanity label Out da Gutter Records in the process, rather than him truly sharing the spotlight with these guys in equal measure.
Not only are his performances longer and more numerous than those of anyone else supposedly headlining but Pac is also the only one to have solo songs and more importantly has the charisma of five men rolled up in one where the rest is somewhat lacking.

This album was an important one for Pac because on it he first collaborated with a whole bunch of people who would help define his next few albums, such as producer Easy Mo Bee who would go on to produce some of the best songs on his best album Me Against the World, failed rapper and producer Johnny J who made more beats than anyone else on All Eyez On Me, rapper Big Syke who became 2pac’s placeholder on said beats whenever he was having a smoke break but somehow didn’t have his contributions removed before the album went into pressing, possibly because 2pac was in a hurry to release the album, had just used up his entire book of verses and needed all his new ideas for his Makaveli album, Death Row inmate Nate Dogg, and the ladies of R&B group Y?N-Vee who got to sing backup on many of 2pac’s hooks. Digital Underground, the group that introduced 2pac to the world, is nowhere to be found, perhaps because the man wanted to set up shop for himself.

Thug Life: Volume 1 is a heavily censored record but not in the removal of curse words-sense. Entire songs that 2pac wanted to have on here were deleted. At the time of its release hip-hop in general and gangsta rap in particular were under severe criticism by people such as Bob Dole and C. Delores Tucker, which apparently lead to Interscope Records cutting some of the tracks they felt would be controversial. I call bullshit on that however because most of the tracks assumed to have been cut aren’t that different from what did make it. Why would Is It Cool 2 Fuck be considered too controversial when Bury Me a G, almost the exact same song lyrically, is left on? The only exclusion that actually makes any sense in line with this reasoning is the original version of Runnin from tha Police with tha Outlawz, the Notorious B.I.G. and Stretch and only because 2pac had gotten in a gunfight with two off duty policemen in the previous year. (Off course despite the controversy, or maybe even because of it, Interscope would’ve been better off actually releasing the song, in the first place because it sounds awesome but also as a middle finger to censorship, to give this album a high profile guest appearance and to prevent that ghastly Eminem remix that came out nine years later from being hailed as a classic if not preventing its creation and release entirely.)

As it stands Volume 1, which by its very title made a promise for a sequel it wasn’t going to be able to keep, is a messy affair, not just as an album but also within individual songs.
Bury Me a G also makes a false promise by it’s title and it’s mournful instrumental. By all means this should‘ve been a song about fear of death, the afterlife or even under which letter to file Thug Life’s members’ remains in the case of their uneventful demise. It’s a song that’s mostly about one night stands however leading to any listener with an sort of attention span feeling cheated.
How Long Will They Mourn Me pull a similar bait-and-switch and adds insult to injury by wasting a serviceable Nate Dogg hook, or possibly a really shitty one even, it’s very difficult to tell with it being mixed so far into the background of the bluesy Warren G instrumental. (Nate is credited as a co-producer so perhaps the man was trying to protect his reputation and made himself as inaudible as he possibly could without giving up his first non-Death Row paycheque. Apparently someone noticed before the song was released as a single because he sounds much louder on the video version.) The hook asks the listener how long the listener will mourn either Pac or every member of Thug Life while the verses talk about entirely different dead gangstaz. It’s not a big  stretch by any measure but it still comes across as sloppy.
It should be noted that these are some of the best known songs off Volume 1, probably because 2pac talking about violent death always did sound fascinating but never moreso than after he suffered one. Also hip-hop listeners are oft willing to be forgiving of most mistakes in the vocal booth if the beats are on point, which they are here.
Cradle to the Grave is much better than either previously mentioned song and actually works pretty well as a lyrical showcase for the non-2pac members of the group as well as their label boss. Speaking of which, when they’re left unattended by Pac they actually sound a lot like people who could’ve had careers without him. Don’t Get It Twisted and Street Fame are in fact quite decent rap songs and makes one wonder whether these guys could’ve made Volume 2 work despite the star attraction catching a fatal case of the drive by shootings. (The answer is: Probably, but most definitely not on a major label.)
Shit Don’t Stop is an unrelenting West Coast party track that is about nothing in particular, but given this crew’s earlier misunderstandings of concepts and their failures to stay on topic anyway this approach may have been the best one for this crew. This song serves its purpose as something you can dance to which manages not to sound bad. There’s also a version with no 2pac and different verses by the other members, I’m happy to report it sounds just as good as the album version.
Stay True and Under Pressure pair Pac with his boy Stretch and although he was once a suspect in the first 2pac shooting, which does make it somewhat awkward hearing them rhyme together, he was perhaps a better collaborator than the guys 2pac lined up for the better part of this album because he has a more memorable voice than any one of them, bar Syke, and better rhyme skills to boot.
Off course there’s the 2pac solo-shots Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor and Str8 Ballin’ which are fine songs that any fan of the man’s pre-Death Row Records work should enjoy and are perhaps the best reason to pick up Thug Life: Volume 1. After all there’s a reason why even the other guy with a solo career, that would be Big Syke, never became a household name.
Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor is Pac’s first collabo with Johnny J who for better or worse would go on to produce most of All Eyez On Me and it’s another song about mourning, this time of the coherent kind.
Str8 Ballin’ is a collabo with legendary producer Easy Mo Bee who combines some sort of eerie fun fare carrousel ride melody with bubbly funk for Pac to talk about ghetto escapism over to great results.

Thug Life: Volume 1 is a good enough album to satisfy fans of pre-Death Row 2pac. Most of the production is bluesy and understatedly dramatic. The vocals performances by 2pac and his boys are for the most part adequate if at times a bit inconsequential. But if we’re being completely honest with ourselves: The man we all came to see here always was more about setting the mood than being a technically impressive rapper in most senses of the word. Setting moods this album does fairly well and while it probably is the least essential album the man released during its lifetime it’s still decent. And the cutting of several tracks from the playlist has the unintended benefit of making this album short, which is almost never a bad thing.

Best tracks
Don’t Get It Twisted
Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor
Cradle to the Grave
Str8 Ballin’

Recommendations
Pick this one up but try to find a used copy, or at the very least a cheap one. Also you should put 2pacalypse NowStrictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z. and Me Against the World higher on your list of priorities if you don’t already own those.

Advertisements

Fabolous – Ghetto Fabolous

Fabolous
Ghetto Fabolous
September 11, 2001
Desert Storm Records/ Elektra Records/ WMG
050/100
Fabolous - Ghetto Fabolous
1. Click & Spark // 2. Keepin’ It Gangsta // 3. Young’n (Holla Back) // 4. Get Right // 5. Ride For This (feat. Ja Rule) // 6. One Day // 7. Trade It All (feat. Jagged Edge) // 8. Right Now & Later On // 9. Take You Home (feat. Lil’ Mo) // 10. Get Smart // 11. Can’t Deny It (feat. Nate Dogg) // 12. Ma’ Be Easy // 13. We Don’t Give a Fuck // 14. Bad Guy (feat. Pain in Da Ass) // 15. Gotta Be a Thug // 16. If They Want It

Another rap album that dropped on that uneventful date (september 11, 2001) was Roc-a-Fella Records’ house DJ, DJ Clue?’s protégé Fabolous’ Ghetto Fabolous, although the fact that this shit actually came out may have done more damage than the 9/11 attacks. Fabolous’ debut is anything but fab, although I’ll be the first to admit that the man himself is almost entirely blameless.

Fab had been making a name for himself ever since he first appeared on a major label realease (DJ Clue?’s own major label debut the Professional) with his lackadasical, monotone flow (which got him compared to blingy cuddly-gangsta turned preacher Ma$e) and his funny/corny punchlines (which got him compared, a lot more flatteringly, to the likes of Big L)
The album had two songs that were moderately succesful on the U.S. charts back in 2001 (Can’t Deny It and Young’n (Holla Back)) but there’s really only one single sort of, kind of related to this album that people occasionally still listen to, which is the glossy Puff Diddy-featuring remix of Trade It All released on the soundtrack to the Ice Cube movie Barbershop.

Still this album could be considered a commercial success since it had moved over a million units by 2003, which was the time Fabby started having some real charts success with singles off his sophomore album, on which he emulated Ja Rule (who makes an appearance on Ghetto Fabolous), romantically dueting female R&B singers Lil’ Mo and Tamia over bootylicious beats.
Except unlike Jeffrey Fab brought his punchlines with him to these radio songs and knew better than to sing the refrains on his own material and in stead let the hired help do that. This is probably what saved him from the sort of riducule Ja would endure as soon as the hit songs stopped coming.
But I digress, suffice to say that this album earned its platinum plaque probably not because of its own merits, but rather because his 2003 album Street Dreams hit the jackpot and people in record stores (yes people bought actual physical copies of music they liked in stores, as late as 2003) picked this one up since they were there and expected Ghetto Fabolous to be another album of Into Yous and Can’t Let You Gos. I’m sure the people who bought Ghetto Fabolous for this reason women were pissed when they actually listened to it. (Street Dreams itself was hardly all acoustic guitars and Commodores-interpolations either, but we’ll get to that soon enough.)

Clue? and his cohort DURO, his colleague mixtape jackass DJ Envy, as well as relative unknowns Rush da Spyda, Omen, Armando Colon produce most of Ghetto Fabolous, and they don’t do a particularly good job, serving up overly glossy store brand imitations of what East Coast hip-hop tended to sound like at the time, that are too clean to be hard and too incomplete to be poppy (somewhat sketchy beats are what marred the first two installments of Clue?’s the Professional series. And it’s no different here.)
Surprisingly the Neptunes contribution and second single Youngn (Holla Back) is boring as hell too. I’m quite confident Pharrell and Chad don’t remember having ever made it. Maybe Clue? stole it out of their reject-bin while the guys were having an argument.
Get RightMa’ Be Easy and Right Now and Later On‘s beats were made on sleep walking strolls too, except this time by Rockwilder, Just Blaze and Timbaland respectively.
Can’t Deny It has Rick Rock selling Fab the exact same boring-ass beat he reused several times on most of his Dynasty contributions (I bet he charged full price too) while the usually reliable Nate Dogg jacks an old 2pac hook over it to meh results.

The other guests don’t add much either, Ja Rule gives Ride For This a DMX-esque overly shouty hook.
Lil’ Mo does that early naughties thing where an R&B singer jacks an old hook of a soul song (In this case I Wonder If I Take You Home by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam and Full Force) and goes out of his/her way to gangsta it’s lyrics up (In this case by unnaturally jamming the word “thug” into it). Yuck.
Speaking of uninspired, unneccesary gangstaness; Bad Guy has Roc-a-Fella skit-personality getting his bullshit Scarface on between Fab’s verses. It wasn’t funny on Reasonable Doubt and it still wasn’t on Ghetto Fabolous.

The only exception to this is Jagged Edge who give Fabby’s ode to a special lady a sunny hook over an uncharacteristically nice Clue?/DURO beat. It’s not quite as groovy as the Barbershop version, but it comes close and it compensates by not having that wack P. Daddy verse. Regardless it’s Ghetto Fabolous best song, hands down, it’s also the most pop (coincidence?)

As for Fab’s rapping, he is obviously a more than competent punchline rapper, one not devoid of pop appeal either, which is something Canibus or Big L can’t say about themselves. That’s not to say he doesn’t make any beginners mistakes. For instance he all but reuses the same outdated (it wasn’t even fresh in ’01 when Ghetto Fabolous dropped) New Jack City punchline on the album’s first two songs. Also the guy uses the same “swallow my babies” line on two of this album’s songs. This kind of fuckery makes Clue? come across as a sloppy executive producer and Fab as an uninspired rapper. Keeping in line with the corny movies-references; Leathal Weapon gets namedropped on Keeping It Gangsta as well. Not that referencing old movies is a major offence in and by itself (Although rappers, including Fab on this album, definitely overdid it with the Scarface-enacting. And the next rapper who goes and pulls that shit on his album needs to get his recording contract torn-up. One could quote the entire movie verbatim without having ever seen it if one has heard enough rap albums from the ’95-’05 timespan.), but as a running theme it makes it seem as though Fabby hadn’t entered a cinema in the decade prior to relesing his debut album, in which case movie-references may not be a good idea at all.
While he stays on beat and doesn’t fuckup majorly that often besides the minor offences dropping the occasional cheesy clunker of a punchline and tired gangsta’ism, but over these shitty beats he sounds like a complete tool, even if he simultaneously does show his ability to write actual songs as opposed to srings of bad jokes while keeping his style consistent, which isn’t exactly a given with rappers, especially punchline rappers.

Despite Fab having considerable talents there is absolutely no reason to revisit Ghetto Fabolous, an album that gives off a promise of a pretty decent sequel on the condition that the guy cops some proficient production, but has absoloutely nothing else going for it.

Best track
Trade It All

Recommendations
Don’t bother.


The Fast and the Furious (OST)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Buy the above tracks off Amazon.