Tag Archives: Pop

Nelly – Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention

Nelly
Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention
November 25, 2003
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
058/100
Nelly - Da Derrty Versions the Reinvention
1. Intro // 2. Country Grammar [Jay E Remix] (feat. E-40) // 3. Iz U // 4. E.I. [David Banner remix] // 5. Ride With Me [Jay E Remix] (feat. City Spud) // 6. Batter Up [Jay E Remix] (feat. Murphy Lee, Chocolate Tai, King Jacob, Prentiss Church & Jung Tru) // 7. If // 8. Hot In Herre [Basement Beats Remix] // 9. Dilemma [Jermaine Dupri Remix] (feat. Ali & Kelly Rowland) // 10. King’s Highway // 11. Groovin’ Tonight (St. Lunatics feat. Brian McKnight) // 12. Air Force Ones [David Banner Remix] (feat. David Banner & 8ball) // 13. Work It [Scott Storch Remix] (feat. Justin Timberlake) // 14. #1 [Remix] (feat. Postaboy & Clipse) // 15. Pimp Juice [Jay E Remix] (feat. Ron Isley) // 16. Tip Drill [Remix] (E.I.) (St. Lunatics)

Back when people still bought cds remix-albums were an easy way for record labels of juicing any particular artist’s fanbase for some cash whenever that artist didn’t have a proper album to promote. Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention is such an album, bridging the gap between Nelly’s 2002 blockbuster Nellyville and his 2004 double whammy Sweat and Suit. On this album you will find amended versions of hit songs from Nellyville and his debut Country Grammar of varying quality, all tied together by Nelly commenting on his ‘creative process’ in a sort of fake interview type of setting brought to us in skits. Did you know E-40 invented slang? Yeah, me neither…

On to the content: Everything labeled a ‘Jay E Remix’, which is is the absolute majority of the songs, can be automatically dismissed as a remix. Not because the beats suck, Jay E is a terrific producer and arguably half of the reason of Nelly’s success, but rather because the guy produced most of the original incarnations of these songs which were mostly not broke and therefore not in need of fixing.
Apparently he agreed with that assessment because the changes to his instrumentals are minimal to nonexistent. All that’s really added are newly recorded guest appearances which vary from entertaining enough such as the Ron Isley-featuring version of Pimp Juice and the Clipse on #1, to meh such as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it E-40 verse on Country Grammar, to godawful such as the new version of Batter Up which replaces B-team weedcarriers with Z-team weedcarriers. But the fact that Jay doesn’t go rampant creatively with altering his own shit might actually be for the better because the one time Jay E does actually change something substantial about a song the result is a version of Ride With Me that poorly attempts to fit the original hook into the melody of John Mayer’s No Such Thing for no other reason than that Nelly likes John and wanted to pay ‘tribute’ to him, which is very questionable reasoning at best. Nelly could‘ve called the guy up for a collabo and Mayer would probably have said yes, and that might’ve made for an entertaining collabo if Nelly’s later collabo with Tim McGraw Over and Over is any indication. In stead we’re left with this stupid shit that also does a terrible job at incorporating City Spud’s not-that-great-to-begin-with verse off the original version.
The remix of Hot In Herre which is credited to ‘Basemenent Beats’, a production team consisting of Jay E, Koko and Wally Beaming (and City Spud who is m.i.a. here because of a ten year prison stint) is pretty fucking awesome with what sounds like a recreation of the Neptunes’ bleepy, bloopy original beat with live instrumentation. I guess he did have something to ad here because he didn’t have a hand in creating the original instrumental.

Mississippi rapper and producer David Banner remixes E.I. into something much more scandalously entertaining than the original, although there wasn’t much need to tack on a second version of this remix on the end of the album with his boys from the St. Lunatics featuring but substituting verses with catchphrases (This version does however work really well as a floor-filler at parties, so perhaps it is the Nelly-solo version that is the redundant track out of the two.) His rock version of Air Force Ones however a fairly lame deal, which is a shame because new guest verses by himself and southern legend 8ball are a lot better than what the ‘Tics had come up with for the original.

Jermaine Dupri’s new version of Dilemma exposes the song for having been very reliant for its effect on its sappy original production as this stripped down version sounds dry and superficial. Scott Storch transforms Work It into an altogether more slinky affair that probably would’ve sounded better if Nelly hadn’t decided to re-record his vocals after popping a shitload of ritalin. It is what it is and it is mystifying.

That leaves a three original songs. Iz U is a pretty cool trunk-rattler that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Nellyville, that goes for Kings Highway and the Neptunes-produced If as well. Perhaps he was cleaning out the vaults or something. Anyway these songs are probably the only real reason for owners of Country Grammar and Nellyville to pick up The Reinvention.
In 2003 that might’ve cut it as an incentive for purchasing this album. In 2014 however you can just buy the individual songs off iTunes or Amazon and you’ll have all the added value of this album to Nelly’s catalogue for a lot less money than you would spend on the entire disc. That’s not to say Da Derrty Versions sounds bad. It’s a fairly decent Nelly-playlist, and with the exception of Air Force Ones and Ride With Me these remixes don’t actually sound any worse than they do in their original versions. Props for culling the only good song Groovin’ Tonight off that godawful St. Lunatics album, even if it was only to get incarcerated Lunatic City Spud some commisary (That would also explain why Spud is on that strange and shitty Ride With Me-John Mayer mashup). But if you’re a fan of Nelly’s you could probably make a much better Nelly-playlist yourself with the technology being available and manageable to everyone and their grandmother, making The Reinvention a dinosaur from a bygone era.

Best tracks
Iz U
If
Hot In Herre [Basement Beats Remix]
King’s Highway
Groovin’ Tonight
Pimp Juice [Jay E Remix]

Recommendations
Buy the above tracks off iTunes or Amazon, or pick this out of the used CD bin you find it for under six dollars.


New Kids on the Block – Hangin’ Tough

New Kids on the Block
Hangin’ Tough

September 6, 1988
Columbia RecordsSME
055/100
New Kids on the Block - Hangin' Tough
1. You Got It (The Right Stuff) // 2. Please Don’t Go Girl // 3. I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) // 4. Cover Girl // 5. I Need You // 6. Hangin’ Tough // 7. I Remember When // 8. What’cha Gonna Do (About It) // 9. My Favorite Girl // 10. Hold On

Whenever paying attention to New Kids on the Block I never cease to find amusement in the idea that this group was recruited and assembled solely for the purpose of producer Maurice Starr getting back at his former New Edition pupils for singning to MCA Records to have a succesful career, after he brought them fame by producing their debut and releasing it on his indie label, without him getting any share of the profits whatsoever.
Off course this probably is not reality, or rather it’s not the complete story: New Kids on the Block was started first and foremost to compensate Starr’s lack of said profits because the man, like anyone, enjoyed having an income, although my proposition of Starr’s reasoning is most likely not entirely without truth.

Whichever of the man’s life purposes NKotB primarily served (that’s one shitty acronym, when you pronounce it not one syllable is won from the full name) vengeance or greed, doesn’t really matter because their sophomore album Hangin’ Tough achieved them both in one fell swoop by selling over seventeen million copies worldwide, which is seven million more than New Edition’s and Bobby Brown’s 1988 albums Heart Break and Don’t Be Cruel sold combined. Add to that the three million people who casually picked up a copy of the Kids 1986 self-titled debut, which had been gathering dust on shelves for two years by the time the second one dropped, and you’ll find that the New Kids and Starr sold well over double what New Edition sold that year, despite putting out somewhat derivative, inferior product. I’m not sure what of many possible causes led to this situation but to some it would seem that Starr was willing to get his goals of being filthily rich and victorious over New Edition by any means, even if that meant riding so called institutional racism that disadvantaged other members of his own so called race.

Hangin’ Tough plays like New Kids of the Block but a bit more streamlined and a bunch less funky. It would seem that the advent of New Jack Swing didn’t go unnoticed by producer Starr. Indeed Hangin’ Tough sounds like Teddy’s tinny-drum-machine-‘n’-keyboards sound chill filtred to neutrality, with some rock-ish guitars thrown in to please white parents. The result of Maurice fucking around with this sound is some impeccably produced and sung ballads and dance numbers. Despite getting the sound down Hangin’ Tough lacks the attitude to be credible to the homeboys in the streets the way Guy or Bobby brown or the sexiness to appeal to Al B. Sure! and Keith Sweat’s ladies. That was quite alright though because Starr was aiming for an entirely different demographic, one which got their albums by whining at their parents to buy them (One of the more effective ways of marketing stuff, today as much as then).
With this in mind it was probably the right decision to strip the music of every notion of personality and settle for catchy and hollow. This album is filled to the brim with the kind of naive visions of love people in their early teens can relate to, performed confidently and quite good by five handsome boys girls in their early teens like to look at on posters on bedroom walls.

Knowing that, it is probably a moot point to call the album insincere, plastic and soulless (which off course are things this album is) but I kid you not, listening to Hangin’ Tough makes one reconsider New Kids on the Block‘s artistry because that album with it’s jingling guitars, vocoder work and funky air of 100% raw milk queso sounded a lot more fun than this pasteurised horseshit. Who knew a bunch of white kids from Boston would be better at aping the Jackson Five innocently and joyfully than they ever were at trying their hand at something slicker and tougher? (I suppose all of you are now raising your hands at their computer screen, you do realise that I can’t see you, right?)

Nevertheless I have no real issues with Hangin’ Tough I suppose. I couldn’t remember so much as a single individual song after Hangin’ Tough was through, which must mean nothing even sucked memorably about it.

Best tracks
Please Don’t Go Girl

Recommendations
Meh.


Whitney Houston – Whitney

Whitney Houston
Whitney
June 2, 1987
Arista RecordsSME
068/100
Whitney Houston - Whitney
1. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) // 2. Just the Lonely Taking Again // 3. Love Will Save the Day // 4. Didn’t We Almost Have It All // 5. So Emotional // 6. Where You Are // 7. Love Is a Contact Sport // 8. You’re Still My Man // 9. For the Love of You // 10. Where Do Broken Hearts Go // 11. I Know Him So Well (feat. Cissy Houston)

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and if there’s anything Whitney Houston didn’t leave Whitney Houston (and probably more importantly; Clive Davis) it was broke.

So for her sophomore album, called Whitney, the same merry bunch of shlockmasters; Naranda Michael Walden, Michael Masser and Kashif were assembled to write a set of songs to similar to that on her debut (Jermaine Jackson was given the boot apparently).
The resulting album is some light, pleasant shopping mall music that every white, middle-aged woman person was bound to experience as as specifically about him/ her. A trick that is what popular music is all about and, do not kid yourself, always has been about, but is rarely pulled off as brilliantly and purposefully as it is by Whitney, Clive and their assembly line songwriters. Or perhaps the trick is solely Clive’s, convincing Whitney that these song were specifically about her because she still sings them with gusto, and if not passion itself at the very least an imitation of passion that is indistinguishable from the real thing. Who was milking who exactly isn’t fully clear and is open for debate. Since I saw her explaining in an Oprah interview how deep something completely purposefully instinct R. Kelly wrote for her was, I like to believe she enjoyed making this type of music, and was actually a lot like her audience relating a lot to these generic songs about struggles that belong to no-one in particular. Feel free to disagree with that, I’m not an expert on music industry fuckery.

What isn’t up for debate however is that this album made everyone involved with its creation richer as it sold some twenty five million copies worldwide, some five million less than it’s predecessor, but hey who gives a shit. Twenty five million meant that in an era when people still paid for music the vast majority of those who picked up the first album picked up the sophomore (and were quite likely to do so again the third time around). This meant that Clive Davis and Whitney Houston were not simply succesful but that they had hit a gold mine that wasn’t going to run dry anytime soon.

Even if you don’t particularly enjoy this diva pop-R&B thing it’s quite easy to see why those who do would pick up a Whitney Houston album. It’s simply a matter of fact that she is a terrific singer, technically. She has a great, big mezzo-soprano voice that the New York times once desribed in a concert review as “a technical marvel from its velvety depths to its ballistic middle register to its ringing and airy heights.” and as “clean and strong, with barely any grit, well suited to the songs of love and aspiration that were the breakthrough hits from her first two albums” in an necrology. Indeed Whitney sold the best because technically she was the best, and no criticism on other aspects of her artistry can take that away from her. This technical singing is almost worth the price of admission of Whitney alone.

My beef then isn’t so much with miss Houston, but rather with her legion of American Idol/The Voice of [insert your country here] imitators, who learnt all the wrong lessons from her and Mariah (and arguably Stevie Wonder as well) and try to sing like her, ‘flaunting their vocal range’, but end up sounding incapable of holding a note and singing the goddamn song already, in stead. This, ladies and gentlemen, is quite simply put because they’re always not as good.
It’s easy imagining how Whitney‘s songs would sound if they were performed by such a third-rate store brand imitation of miss Houston. (And in fact they have been performed a plenty on these shows.) Dry and superficial. The words would come across as the generic pap songwriting they are and the backing music would make for something hotel-elevator worthy.

Since they’re performed by the real deal though.. well.. one should be a little more careful making such assessments. Whitney actually was, as Charlie Sheen would put it, capable of turning tin cans into gold. She breathes emotion and life into these songs. Perhaps overly dramatic, larger-than-life-sized-emotions that are phrased in an overly well mannered fashion that isn’t how people experience stuff, but then again she is after all a diva and not one of those ‘girl next door’ type of singers. And these self-important, overblown projections of feelings are probably perfect backdrops for post-breakup binge-ice cream eating sessions or something. (Listening to this album while tipsy is however not recommended. Lest you get tearjerked, you pansy.) Even if this album makes your hairs on your neck stand up, whether be it for all the wrong or all the right reasons, there’s no denying that there’s a certain epic quality to it.

As much as this album is similar to its similarly titled predecessor there are differences as well. Whitney is quite upbeat and uptempo. The debut was all ballads while you could dance to about 50% of the second album (if nobody is around while lip-syncing into a hairbrush in front of the mirror). The first album was all homewrecking-sentimentality, amorous insecurity and emotional breakdowns, this one has but one moment of such ambivalence. That’s Didn’t We Almost Have It All, which is bound to be someone‘s favourite song ever.
There’s also a little more sex on this album. Although it is for the most part weirdly ambiguous sex. And Love Is a Contact Sport is actually not about the contact sport-aspects of love you’d expect an R&B song with that title to be about, which can only be called a practical joke on the listener.
Just the Lonely Talking Again, is a ballad about the age-old question whether an unnamed love interest wants her for her booty or actually likes het as a person. It is a highlight because of its stripped down approach, relatively speaking off course, this is still a diva pop album. The backing music is pleasantly lush but not covered in a thick layer of shimmer. And Whitney’s vocal performance is atypically restrained, but excellent as always.
Love Will Save the Day throws in some lively latin rhythms that, when combined with a catchy song about the power of positivity makes the best song on the album. It would seem that producer Jellybean was listening to the Miami Sound machine before creating this beat. It also makes one wonder what guilty pleasures miss Houston could’ve produced if she would’ve gotten to record a straight disco or dance album, unhindered by ueberschtick balladry.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)So Emotional and Love Is a Contact Sport are also functional and impeccably produced ’80s R&B dance songs, even if they’re not nearly as good or memorable as Love Will Save the Day.

As for the ballads. The previously mentioned Just the Lonely Talking Again sounds sincere and sexy. As does the Isley Brothers cover For the Love of You with its hovering sax riff. Where You Are walks the line. You’re Still My ManDidn’t We Almost Have It AllWhere Do Broken Hearts Go and the duet with mother Cissy I Know Him So Well (Written by ABBA puppetmasters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and Jesus Christ Superstar/Evita co-creator Tim Rice, and originally part of Rice’s musical Chess.) however is the kind of music that causes instant diabetes and dental cavities. It is the sort of vile super-Disney song that help either helps you through your day or makes you want to kill yourself.

(Speaking of hugely succesful shit that will make you want to kill yourself, ABBA and musicals. Why the fuck hasn’t someone written a lame story around Whitney Houston’s hits and sent that shit to Broadway yet? That shit would just make everyone filthily rich all over again. Mamma Mia! made two billion dollars worldwide and I’m sure Whitney’s music will bring out similar numbers. We’ll call it Queen of the Night. Catherine Johnson, you may have the idea. All I want is a visionary executive producer credit, a fair share of the cash and guarantees I’ll never actually have to watch the fucking show.

Call me!)

Whitney is the type of album that shows both the music industry and Whitney Houston at the peak of their powers, breaking down racial barriers on MTV and other mainstream pop outlets, and separating as many people from their hard earned cash as possible while doing that. It is an incredibly refined product meant to appeal to as many people as possible. And it’s pretty awesome for how accomplished it is in doing that. It helps that miss Houston in fact has one of music’s best. voices. ever. And that the people behind the boards are accomplished queso craftsmen. It is too bad indeed that she never used her powers for good and recorded something truly soulful or less pop charts and MOR radio oriented, but then again she wouldn’t seem very interested in that anyway (Just look up any Whitney Houston interview on youtube. Avant garde she was not.) so it is most likely best to take this music at face value, and consider this pop diva as the artist she truly was, and this music as a product she took pride in delivering to the masses, perhaps even believing it was high art.
Does that however mean you should listen to it? Probably, here’s why. This music aims to please the senses and through it the emotions, without challenging the listener. And it has enough know how to pull it off. I’m not saying that buying Whitney is anything more than buying into a shiny, fluffy illusion with artificial preservatives and taste- and colour enhancers gilore. But if that’s a thing you enjoy every once in a while then hey, there’s no shame in that. We all have our guilty pleasures. As far as diva-pop goes: this is the top segment of the market. And sometimes you just have to take a big greasy bite out of that Big Mac, yo.

Best tracks
Just the Lonely Talking Again
Love Will Save the Day
Where You Are
For the Love of You

Recommendations
If you can enjoy big radio pop that is sterile clean and professional, also a bit pompous, yet prude and old fashioned, and lacks any sort of real edge, you may want to pick this up. Just hide it in a place where only you can find it, and use headphones when you listen to it. You won’t want the neighbours ‘thinking things’.


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.


Nelly – Nellyville

Nelly
Nellyville
June 25, 2002
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
068/100
Nelly - Nellyville
1. Nellyville // 2. Gettin’ It Started [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La) // 3. Hot In Herre // 4. Dem Boyz (feat. St. Lunatics) // 5. Oh Nelly (feat. Murphy Lee) // 6. Pimp Juice // 7. Air Force Ones (feat. St. Lunatics) // 8. In the Store [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La) // 9. On the Grind (feat. King Jacob) // 10. Dilemma (feat. Kelly Rowland) // 11. Splurge // 12. Work It (feat. Justin Timberlake) // 13. Roc the Mic [Remix] (State Property feat. Murphy Lee & Nelly) // 14. The Gank // 15. 5000 [Skit] // 16. #1 // 17. CG 2 (feat. St. Lunatics) // 18. Say Now // 19. Fuck It Then [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La)
bonus track
20. Girlfriend [Neptunes Remix] (*NSYNC feat. Nelly)

Nelly -the man, the myth, the band-aid abuser- really was the early 2000s Lil Wayne, although longtime Weezy-fans know that Lil Wayne himself was also a thing in that day and age. But what I mean to say by that is that Nelly was as succesful in 2002 as Lil Tunechi was in say 2010. There was nary a radio station one could turn on without hearing the man’s heavily accented words and sing-songy voice. Most of these hits are concentrated on Nellyville.

Nellyville showcases everything that was right and everything that was wrong with hip-hop in the early naughties. The Neptunes sound, continuous celebration of excess, an expanding assortiment of regional flavours of hip-hop hitting the mainstream, having each and every one of your friends come over to the studio to drop a verse for your album, R&B/pop-rap collaborations, singing your own hooks when no R&B singer was around without the aid of vocal effects, silly skits and really long tracklists and running times, keeping it gangsta with nary a hipster in sight. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

This album sold a tonne of copies too. Some seven million in the U.S.A. alone on the strength of it’s smash hit singles like Hot In HerreDillema and Work It. I’m sure even the Lunatics ate better off their three apearances than they did off the Free City and the Heavy Starch albums combined. The pre-iTunes era had some perks for weed carriers. These days they would’ve been forced to find a day job to support their “rap career” because people would just buy all the songs they like off iTunes and back then you had to cop the whole cd. In 2002 people did cop the cd because of Cornell Haynes, jr.’s punchy flows and catchy hooks that were delivered in a oddly intoxicating blend of shouting and velvetty crooning about being a gangsta and a hustler and a player and what not but mostly about having too much fun, over Jason “JE” Epperson’s dirty but poppy beats, with a couple of instruments by others including Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo thrown in for variety’s sake.

The album kicks off with the title track which describes a city that is Nelly’s utopia in which the weather is democratically decided upon, in which he is the mayor (or muhr as he pronounces it) and everything is gumdrops and ice cream. Only Nelly could make a song like this without sounding completely flaky. I’m sure everyone has heard Hot In Herre and Dilemma, two of the archetypical commercial rap songs of the era. The former is probably the most memorable Neptunes-produced club number ever with a feverish beat and Nelly’s blissfully ignorant raps and jokes that are so bad they’re good (“Stop pacin’, time wastin’, I got a friend with a pole in the basement” “What?” “I’m just Kidding like Jason!” “Oh.” “Unless you gon’ do it.”). The latter is something out of the Ja Rule playbook with our host and Destiny’s Child’s Kelly Rowland affectionately singing and sing-rapping come-ons at one another over a cheese fondue of an instrumental that blends philly soul with music box twinkling. You’d have to be a hardball cynic to hate these wide eyed optimistic and incredibly catchy jams.
Justin Timberlake, then of *NSYNC, gets to sing the hook of Work It which was good for him since appearing on this strip club anthem made him insteresting to slightly orlder teenagers than those who bought Celebrity, which was very necessary for the solo-album he was releasing later in 2002 to become succesful. The song still sounds really good today with it’s beat that’s simultaneously groovy and crunchy but it does give away how much Nelly relies on his superior flow and charisma to get his message across and not so much his lyrics which can be a bit off. (“She’s got me hypnotised, just like that Biggie guy.” and still P. Daddy invited him over to work on the second postumous Notorious B.I.G. album!?)
Air Force Ones is quite pleasant for a shoe commercial mostly pieced together by b-teamers due to it’s throbbing bounce-beat that harks back to Batter Up and Pimp Juice is the best shitty falsetto performed by a rapper ever, Jeffrey Atkins be damned.
#1 has our host proclaiming his dominance over the rap game and answering a KRS-One diss with gusto over a gloriously tangy instrumental.
Another highlight is Roc the Mic [Remix], an amended version of State Property’s debut single which has Sigel and Freeway copy the flow each other used on their respective verses the original version and Nelly and Murphy Lee managing to fit in pretty good with this significantly more gangsta, less frivolous duo. The edition of Nellyville I have finishes with the Neptunes remix to the *NSYNC-song girlfriend on which Nelly appeared, on here gets as clean as Justin gets dirty on Work It, so that’s a fair trade I guess. If you’re going to pick up Nellyville pick up this edition because it’s like an added bonus to what is essentially a nostalgia value pack. Besides the only other way of picking up this song is buying NSYNC’s Celebrity or stealing it off the internet off course.

The rest of the songs don’t really suck but don’t exactly warrant an honourable mention either. The biggest flaw about the album is that it’s twenty tracks (eighty miniutes) long, which leads me to believe that the man All Eyez on Me‘d this album, which means he recorded everything he could come up with in one go and without hearing it back for quality control purposes released everything he could fit onto a cd. If this were ten tracks long it woud be much better and much conciser. Still as it is Nellyville is more hit than miss and -dare I say it- a bit of a pop-rap classic that works as a time machine to the early Bush-era (your appreciation of this album may depend on your experience of those years.) and for that I salute it and Nelly himself.

Best tracks
Nellyville
Hot In Herre
Pimp Juice
Air Force Ones
Dilemma
Work It
Roc the Mic [Remix]
#1
Girlfriend [Remix]

Recommendations
Pick this one up. The good song are hella fun and Nellyville can’t be too expensive to come by.


Ali – Heavy Starch

Ali
Heavy Starch
April 30, 2002
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
060/100
Ali - Heavy Starch
1. Intro // 2. I Got This // 3. Crucial (feat. Murphy Lee) // 4. Ore-Ore-O // 5. No (feat. St. Lunatics) // 6. Boughetto (feat. Murphy Lee) // 7. 360 // 8. Wiggle Wiggle (feat. St. Lunatics) // 9. Drop Top (feat. Kandi) // 10. Collection Plate (feat. St. Lunatics) // 11. Passin’ Me By (feat. Toya) // 12. Bitch // 13. Beast (feat. Ray Ray) // 14. Cool as Hell
bonus
 tracks
15a. St. Louis Alumni (feat. STL Alumni) / 15b. Serious / 15c. Walk Away (feat. Ms. Toi & Nelly)

The first to come out of the St. Lunatics camp with a solo-album after undisputed alfa male Nelly was Ali. I can’t say I recall much of his contributions to Free City, but then I can’t remember many of Nelly’s verses either. Suffice to say the St. Lunatics’ debut album wasn’t a very memorable affair.

Heavy Starch Mostly gets right what Free City did wrong. It has some pretty pleasant instrumentals. I Got This has a bollywood-infused beat, CrucialNo360Wiggle Wiggle, Drop DropPassin’ Me By, Bitch have some of the same plodding, twinkling bounce-beats Nelly rode on to success with is debut Country Grammar. Boughetto brings an energetic club beat to the table and Collection Plate has some slinky southern funk backing up Ali and his Lunatic friends. Beast has some piano-keys going up and down the tone ladder. Everything is consistent enough to justify calling Heavy Starch an album but varied enough to keep you from falling asleep.

So what about Ali the rapper? Does he rise to the occasion? Well yes and no, he sounds like a complete tool for the most part, but his deep, rumbling, southern accented voice isn’t an unpleasant instrument. It’s just that his goofy thug raps aren’t very memorable one has to pay some serious attention to find out whether or not it is him on the mic on every one of the three St. Lunatics posse cuts, which means that each of the ‘tics could’ve recorded the exact same album with this set of beats.

Still the overall inoffensiveness and occasional cachiness of this, while not the most convincing argument for a purchase ever made, means that this is some perfectly decent party music, and that definitely counts for something.

Best songs
I Got This
Crucial
Boughetto
Wiggle Wiggle

Recommendations
Buy this only if you’re nostalgic for the Country Grammar era and sound. This makes for a decent second serving.


St. Lunatics – Free City

St. Lunatics
Free City
June 5, 2001
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
050/100
St. Lunatics - Free City
1. Just For You (The Introductory Poem) (performed by Amber Tabares) // 2. S.T.L. // 3. Okay // 4. Summer In the City // 5. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 1 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 6. Boom D Boom // 7. Midwest Swing // 8. Show ‘Em What They Won // 9.  Let Me In Now // 10. This Is the Life // 11. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 2 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 12. Scandalous // 13. Groovin’ Tonight (feat. Brian McKnight) // 14. Jang a Lang (feat. Penelope) // 15.Madd Baby Daddy, Part 3 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 16. Real Niggaz // 17. Here We Come // 18. Love You So (feat. Cardan) // 19. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 4 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock)

Succesful rappers should really stop assembling all their of friends, regardless whether they’re good at this rap thing or not, into a rap crew that actually records and releases albums to the general public. Although to be fair the St. Lunatics had been a thing since ’95, a good five years before Nelly came out with his solo-album Country Grammar. And in regard to their talent it would appear that whoever put the crew together made damn sure that all members but Nelly sounded completely meh.

Off course arguably the failure of their crew album to entertain the masses is not entirely on them since one of the things that made Country Grammar tick – some really, really good poppy production – is mostly absent here. It would be tempting to say that the absence of Lunatics member and Country Grammar-producer City Spud is the problem, especially since the best thing on Free City (I bet you can guess by now what held mr. Spud preoccupied from contributing more verses and beats than he did) is Groovin’ Tonight which is featuring and produced by him. Ironically this album succeeds in giving the listener a pretty good reason to want City Free. On the other hand it is actually Brian McKnight’s contribution on the hook that sets the song apart positively from the rest since Spud’s verse is no better than anything anyone else comes up with anywhere on this album, and the -admittedly- cool instrumental was probably a fluke since his Country Grammar contributions weren’t all that good.

Where Batter Up, the smash hit single off Nelly’s debut that introduced the Lunatics to the world, promised some good fun on an eventional album by the crew Free City fails to deliver. Shitty beats that may or may not have been leftovers from the Country Grammar sessions, uninspiredly delivered raps that could’ve been written by a bunch of stoned teenagers that first started rapping this morning and all sound the fucking same.
Blah.
Even the main attraction Nelly loses his charisma in this watery soup. Some outside help could’ve inproved matters considerably, so proves Groovin’ Tonight, but besides Brian the best that Nelly, Murphy Lee, Ali, Kijuan and SloDown could drill up was Cardan who appears on Love You So. Really? Cardan!? What do you pay Cardan for a guest verse? Yesterday’s leftover spaghetti? Was fucking Loon too busy polishing P. Daddy’s boots for a record deal to throw a guest verse your way, or some shit?

Avoid this album at all costs.

Best tracks
Scandalous
Groovin’ Tonight
Love You So

Recommendations
Don’t bother.


John Mayer – Inside Wants Out

John Mayer
Inside Wants Out
September 24, 1999
Mayer Music, LLC
060/100

Inside Wants Out

1. Back to You // 2. No Such Thing // 3. My Stupid Mouth // 4. Neon // 5. Victoria // 6. Love Soon // 7. Comfortable // 8. Neon 12:47 AM // 9. Quiet // 10.  Not Myself

For a guy who appears to rack up controversy whenever he opens his mouth to an interviewer John Mayer sure is quite the gentle, easy-going and some would say boring ‘singer-songwriter’ artist. If his independently 1999 debut EP Inside Wants Out is representative of his work that is.

This ten track EP, that would’ve been labeled an LP, had it been in the exact same form released fifteen years sooner, finds Mayer’s velvetty tenor backed by his own acoustic guitar (and the occasional other instrument, but mostly his guitar). It makes for the perfect autumn coffeehouse music and though a few of its songs were re-recorded for his full length debut Room For Squares it doesn’t exactly sound like a rough draft of that album.

For better or worse (and I am going with worse) there is no Your Body Is a Wonderland here, or anything else that blatantly goes after MOR-radio. Not that there’s anything on this folksy/jazzy pop EP that doesn’t fit on MOR radio, mind you. But nothing on here quite seem quite as intent on dominating that particular radio format as his first big hit was, either. Guess whe know now why Your Body Is a Wonderland became his first big hit.

His debut EP appears to lack impact almost as deliberately as his most talked-about interviews appear to be there to draw piss from the interviewer taking it from him (although whether either of these things are achieved by design or default remains not entirely clear). Which is one of the two pardoxes of the man that listening to these songs gives off. The other is that unlike his interviews his lyrics are mostly clever and do contain some insight and humour. But then again he does eloquently account for his lack of conversational eloquence on My Stupid Mouth, which retrospectively can only be read as a disclaimer, this self-proclaimed Captain Backfire has apparently been having Michael Richards PR nightmares pre-fame even, as well as a Benneton heart and a David Duke cock.

It is too bad that these stories are more interesting than the actual music on Inside Wants Out. A lot of these songs would (and some eventually did) benefit from a more complete instrumentation. Mayer’s music persona simply isn’t interesting enough to work as some sort of self accompanying troubadour, even if he does have the guitar-playing and songwriting chops to justify calling him a musician; this guy needs to be a rock star with a band backing him up in order to work, and soon he would be.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is a far cry fom a horrible way to start, in part thanks to it’s short running time: it’s not around long enough to overstay its welcome, let alone annoy.
It’s only real fault is that it is just not very interesting to listen to, and everyone knows that in Easy Listening music this quality is no death sin. Besides, from here on it would go nowhere but up (well, musically at least.)

Best tracks
No Such Thing
Neon
Comfortable

Recommendations
This is pretty good background music fodder for a playlist put together for reastaurant or a coffee bar containing similarly-minded stuff like Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua. It’s also well fit to read the sunday morning papers to, but that’s about the extent of what situations this is going to work in. Well, besides elevators off course.


New Kids on the Block – New Kids on the Block

New Kids on the Block
New Kids on the Block
April 1, 1986
Columbia RecordsSME
063/100
NKOTB - NKOTB
1. Stop It Girl // 2. Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) // 3. Popsicle // 4. Angel // 5. Be My Girl // 6. New Kid on the Block // 7. Are You Down // 8. I Wanna Be Loved By You // 9. Don’t Give Up On Me // 10. Treat Me Right

So it’s 1986 and New Edition was a big thing with several platinum albums under their collective belt. Bobby got the hell out of dodge, but his solo debut album was dropping soon enough, and his career was definitely going places from there, not all of them good but the man did reach the highest highs heights as well as the lowest lows of anyone in the group. The other four members dropped their first and last album as a quartet, a collection of standards that had been performed to death several times over already before any NE member had even learnt to talk, that while not being very exciting at least proved that they were still a thing. And what’s more, soon they would be joined by Johnny Gill whose dark chocolate vocals would give them soul creditials previously unattainable. So yeah Ronnie, Ricky, Ralph, Mike and Bobby (and Johnny) had all come far on the road to succes that they started walking in 1983 with their group debut Candy Girl.

And Maurice Starr, business savvy teen pop svengali was understandably pissed off about all this, because he had discovered the boys, produced their debut album and then just when the money started coming in they left him out to rot by signing to MCA records and not employing him as their producer.
Starr plotted his revenge, not only on NE but also on the entire world (*twirls moustache and laughs maniacally*) and immediately assembled another group of kids to sing and dance their way to stardom and fill his pockets. Only this time they were all white, which opened up an entirely new market, since these teen pop groups were most succesful with those audiences that could identify with or have a crush on the performers, which is the main reason why there are black Barbies on the market and main characters of all races and both sexes in sitcoms. Relatability people, the trick to selling something mass-produced is to make the consumer believe that your product is specifically about/for him/ her. And starting in 1986 there was a white version of the New Edition of the Jackson 5 on the market as well. Arguably there had been such a thing already in the form of the Osmonds, but the Osmonds were actually family like the Jacksons. NE and NKOTB were manufactured product. Especially New Kids on the Block who were recruited from five hundred auditioning boys and pieced together both by mastermind Starr.

The teenaged girls never even stood a chance.

Donnie Wahlberg, his little brother Mark, his best friend Danny Wood, one-time schoolmate Jordan Knight and his older brother Jonathan were the chosen ones, so while NKOTB weren’t all related to one another there were two pairs of brothers in the group, and they probably were all at the very least vaguely familiar with each other before they became a boyband in 1984. Well initially they were. Mark was replaced by Joey McIntyre for having ADHD concentration problems or something. This time around Starr decided not to release their debut on his Warlock label but had them signed to Columbia, so they dropped it in 1986 and then… nothing.

Apparently the teenaged girls resisted the temptation just fine, thank you very much. Maybe the sweaters and shirts the guys wore on the front cover were too godawful for the ’80s even. Anyway, Starr had some explaining to do in the Columbia offices because he hadn’t made the executives richer. And then Columbia didn’t release NKOTB from their contracts, nor did they fire Starr as the group’s producer, which is a peculiar thing to do for a record company, but it paid off ultimately because their ’88 sophomore album, backed by better marketing sold seventeen million copies worldwide. Then in a brilliant bit of marketing Columbia decided to release a third single off their debut right in the middle of promoting their sophomore in the summer of ’89. That song, a Delphonics Cover titled Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) with Jordan on leads, became a hit, like every NKOTB song released in that day and age and the debut went triple platinum after gather gathering dust on record store shelves for three years, kinda like how Blunted of Reality rode the Score‘s coattails in 1996.

So what does it actually sound like? Well, New Kids on the Block sounds exactly like Candy Girl. There’s the same jingling guitars, the same vocoder work courtesy of Starr himself, there’s a different Michael Jackson emulator doing most of the leads (Joey), there’s a kid with a somewhat gruffer voice busting out the occasional rap filling Bobby’s roll (Donnie), there’s a lot of saccharine love songs, there’s a primitive rap jam with redundant handclaps  where everyone takes a turn behind the mic. If Maurice Starr learnt any new tricks since creating Candy Girl he sure goes out of his way to hide it from the listener. Someone should take a time machine to 1997 and hand this album over to Puff Diddy and Pastor Ma$e because they sampled the shit out of songs off NE’s debut on several occasions but appear to have completely overlooked this one as a source of recycle-able grooves.

The albums are so similar in fact that I don’t even have to think of a new end for this review:
Most of these songs are sunny, mildly funky electronic pop-soul concoctions that may be a bit too cheerful, saccharine and exuberant for some people’s tastes (New Kids on the Block was after all the world’s second manufactured, producer-groomed boyband) but as far as teen-pop goes this is pretty terrific stuff. Hooky hooks, danceable instrumentation and lyrics that are simple but never nonsensical. Stop It GirlPopsicle and Angel stand out in particular, although Are You Down and Treat Me Right (can you guess the recurring theme in these songs?) don’t fall far behind.

Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind?) and I Wanna Be Loved By You are respectively pretty sweet death-of-puppy-love and yearning-for-puppy-love ballads, and although Joey can’t really fuck with mid-’70s Michael in this type of song (who can really?) he’s still got a lot more soul than your average teen heartthrob in the Justin Bieber/ Donny Osmond category.

New Kids on the Block is, like most teen pop albums, pure uncut fluff. It is however pretty good fluff. And while it doesn’t even hint at the greatness what was  to come in the form of follow-up albums and solo projects by its various members it is more often than not bouncy, groovy, catchy music that’ll get you to tap your foot or nod you head or do whatever your music listening tic forces you to do. And for that it warrants a revisit, although you may want to pick up Candy Girl by New Edition first because it’s a slightly better album.

Best tracks
Stop It Girl
Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)
Popsicle
Angel
I Wanna Be Loved By You

Recommendations
Pick this up if you find it for a reasonable price. It isn’t very substantial or very original, but the guys have nice voices and Maurice Starr gave them catchy songs. And if you don’t take it too seriously and don’t over-analise it you can have a lot of fun with it.


R. Kelly – R.

R. Kelly
R.
November 10, 1998
Jive Records/ SME
075/100
cover
DISC I: the Show
1. Home Alone (feat. Keith Murray & Kelly Price) // 2. Spendin’ Money // 3. If I’m With You // 4. Half on a Baby // 5. When a Woman’s Fed Up // 6. Get Up On a Room // 7. One Man // 8. We Ride (feat. Cam’ron, Noreaga, Vegas Cats, Jay-Z & Tone) // 9. The Opera // 10. The Interview (feat. Suzanne Lemignot) // 11. Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy // 12. Don’t Put Me Out // 13. Suicide // 14. Etcetera // 15. If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time // 16. What I Feel/ Issues // 17. I Believe I Can Fly
DISC II: the After Party/The Hotel
1. The Chase // 2. V.I.P. // 3. Did You Ever Think (feat. Tone) // 4. Dollar Bill (feat. Foxy Brown & Tone) // 5. Reality // 6. Second Kelly // 7. Ghetto Queen (feat. Crucial Conflict) // 8. Down Low Double Life // 9. Looking For Love // 10. Dancing With a Rich Man // 11. I’m Your Angel (feat. Céline Dion) // 12. Money Makes the World Go ‘Round (feat. NaS) // 13. Gotham City

There was a period in the late ’90s when every urban recording artist recorded a magnum opus in the form of a double album. 2pac had set off the trend with his All Eyez on Me in 1996, B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan had followed suit with Life After Death and Wu-Tang Forever respectively in 1997, and R. Kelly served up his contribution under the name of his single consonant front initial in ’98. Brief as that title is, the album is thirty tracks long, a running time that makes it a celebration of excess by definition.  Too much time for a single artist to fill up arguably.

He certainly has his methods of somewhat succesfully attempting to make the album’s two hours and ten minutes bearable. One of them is being purposefully all over the map musically. Not only are there the usual hip-hop/disco/funk infused party jams (Home AloneSpendin’ MoneyIf I’m With YouWe RideOnly the Loot Can Make Me HappyV.I.P.Did You Ever Think, Dollar BillGhetto QueenDancing With a Rich ManMoney Makes the World Go Round) and soul infused slow songs that are either for baby making (Half on a BabyGet Up on a RoomEtcetera2nd Kelly) or relationship contemplation (When a Woman’s Fed UpOne ManDon’t Put Me OutSuicideIf I Could Turn Back the Hands of TimeWhat I Feel/ IssuesReality and Down Low Double Life), which is what one would expect from the man, but there are also huge, sugary, gospel-infused M.O.R. easy listening ballads such as I Believe I Can FlyGotham City and I’m Your Angel (the first two culled from soundtracks) and actual gospel Looking For Love, as well as weird nods to opera and *gulp* yodeling.

Off course all of this genre-hopping is done is mostly traditional. After all most contemporary soul album from the ascend of the genre onward have contained dance numbers and ballads, and taking into account that the literal opera bit of R. is a silly skit, not an earnest attempt at going for Pavaroti’s spot, it makes Robert’s most original idea this time around that he figured that you could in fact if you are so inclined, put Céline Dion and Jay-Z on the same album, and make multi-platinum sales, not in spite of it but because of it. As simple as this innovation seems, its implications are still felt in today’s pop music landscape.
R. is a musical blockboster by design. Robert effortlessly juggles several styles of contemporary R&B, doing most of the dirty work himself, both in the booth and behind the boards, but brings hotshot rappers (Keith Murray, Cam’ron, Noreaga, Foxy Brown, Jay-Z and Nas), singers (Kelly Price and Céline Dion) and producers (Puff Diddy, Trackmasters and G-One)  into the studio to augment and complement the listening experience. It really should be noted that Robert takes this cross-demographic appeal thing to an entirely new level here. With R. he milks Jigga’s homeboys, Luther’s ladies and Céline’s schlock-lovers in one go, without so much as breaking a sweat. And by almost literally succesfully working with everybody he cemented his at-the-time status as pop’s most succesful allrounder.R. bears its influences on its sleeve. On Home Alone he blends Off the Wall era Michael Jackson with West-Coast hip-hop.When a Woman’s Fed Up has Donny Hathaway breathing vicariously through it.If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time is a expertly dragging doo-wop ballad in the vein of the Platters. And over the project as a whole looms the mighty shadow of Marvin Gaye. Robert’s pop sensibilities are what separate him from the pack (well except Jacko off course.) Much like Michael’s his soul is watered down and sweetened enough (as well as possibly sold to the devil) to fit onto monst nonspecific radio formats.

As far as the smooth radio soul goes this album has it’s fair share of contemporary classics. Not discussing I Believe I Can Fly and I’m Your Angel, which are too slick to even pretend to be soul songs (gospel-pop would be rather accurate), When a Woman’s Fed Up and If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time are good as requiems of relationships get.
Suicide is a tense and dramatic song that could’ve come out the Isaac Hayes playbook.
Did You Ever Think expresses Robert’s bewilderment at his own success while Trackmaster Tone continually asks him whether he ever thought he’d a successful as an artist before he suddenly was, and a Spanish guitar blurrs the line between poppy and sinister in the background.
Half on a Baby and Get Up On a Room probably have been responsible for several conceptions since it’s release, they’re some of those frankly sexy songs that can do that (Rumor has it that the former was originally written for Bobby Brown’s Forever album, but didn’t make the cut since Bob decided to spend his album advance on coke, rather than outside songwriting and production negociate full creative controll and produce the album himself, to commercially and critically abysmal results. I have a hard time imagining Bob perform it, since I have a hard time seeing it work as anything other a silky smooth honey-tongued R. Kelly song.)

The hip-hop influenced tracks bang as well. Home Alone has Def Squad alumnus Keith Murray and hip-hop soulstress Kelly Price, as well as DJ Quik’s frequent co-producer G-One delivering a funky, heavy club banger, and We Ride is a cool New York Rap posse cut, with a breezy midnight-ride-through-the-desert beat (on which Noreaga delivers the golden line: Ayo, it’s so deep, I told my shorty just last week. A-huh, it’s like you remind me of my jeep.)

Another thing that ties him to the King of pop, this time in his Dangerous incarnation, is a rampant sense of paranoia. Robert preposterously rants about playa haters who want his cash, the media that only wants to sell news whether truthful or not, racist cops who want him in jail while knowing he’s innocent, as well as people who simply don’t like his music, all together conspiring his downfall as though they’re having a go at his crucifiction, with him being a messiah of sorts. On the opening skit of disc two: The Chase there’s even a secret player hater police/ army that is in hot pursuit of him, attempting to stop his music from being heard and attempting to assasinate his talent (I wish I could make this up). Unlike Michael’s however most of these assertions are, whether intentional or not, humourous and absurd enough to not be quite as fucking annoying.

Kells again blends the sacred in the profane in his music as he did on R. Kelly, seemingly making him some sort of preacher-pimp head of a church-club of sexy business, generously sprinkling around bodily fluids and doing unholy shit with his followers Kind of like some Roman catholic clerics. To him there is no experience more spiritual than a good lay, it really cleans the soul. Simultaneously his songs are charged with guilt, whether it is about christian sin or wronging a lady. It is this dual tension that sets him apart from similarly mindedly laviscious R&B artists like Next, and it is this is what his detractors often fail to see him do. It adds richness, colour and depth (or at the very least the illusion of depth) to songs that would be rendered completely juvenile without it. After all; what is more fascinating? A righteous brother struggling with his negative tendencies and trying to do right, while at the same time aknowledging how much pleasure and fulfillment giving in to these tendencies bring him or a mindless mysogynic poon hound? It also puts the man in a line of soul singers that goes from Ray Charles, through the previously mentioned Marvin Gaye to Prince.

The wacky songwriting is still present too. And I’m not talking about I Believe I Can Fly‘s lyrics that are so pompous that they beg, beg, beg parody. I’m talking songs like 2nd Kelly, which helps carbon date this to the time when the internet was just starting to become a thing where he tries to seduce the ladies from the point of view of a computerised R. Kelly, a computer virus, a webcamming service or all three and are so intrinsically weird that they are one hundred percent spoof-proof.

A direct result from the album being as long as it is is that there’s going to be songs it would be better without. Down Low Double Life is a song he had done twice over already before R. hit shelves. There’s no real need to have both Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy and Money Makes the World Go Round. In fact, if I were Barry Hankerson I’d had cut them off both because Did You Ever Think is also about the moulah and is a far better song than either of those two with the least wack Trackmasters instrumental.
Ghetto Queen only features rap group Crucial Conflict because they happened to live in Chicago which is Robert’s hometown, not because of any sort of perceptible talent.
Spendin’ Money and Dollar Bill are only here because in 1998 respectively Puff Diddy and Foxy Brown were a thing, and it was a legal requirement to include one of his disco-recycling beats and one of here clunky-ass oversexualised verses (I realise that something beong oversexualised is a weird and hypocritical complaint on an R. Kelly album, but I can’t really rephrase it while still having it make sense, so there you have it) on an urban music album if it were to be released. Not because they’re good songs.

This album’s issues aren’t too much for the good stuff to overcome. And the good stuff is definitely in the majority.
But one must keep in mind that this album is two hours and ten minutes long, which means that it would probably still be too long to listen to in one go even if the lesser material were taken out of the equation. This is the main argument against double albums of original material, a dinosaur-form of releasing music, killed by the Pirate Bay, iTunes and Spotify which allowed us to buy single songs and put them in playlists in whichever order we liked. When this came out for consumers more music really was better because you couldn’t buy any other form of music other than compact discs. That R. is actually as good as it is despite its flaws may mean that besides Wu-Tang Forever (which had the constant creative input of over nine people) this may very well be the best urban double disc out there. And despite being flawed it really is too good not to recommend to lovers of good pop, even if Robert arguably would’ve done better slimming it down to one single CD. If he had done that, and done that properly he would’ve made his best album ever. As it stands it may not be his best album, but is probably is his definitive one.

Best tracks
Home Alone
Half on a Baby
When a Woman’s Fed Up
We Ride
Suicide
If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time
I Believe I Can Fly
Did You Ever Think
Second Kelly
I’m Your Angel

Recommendations
Pick this up.


New Edition – All For Love

New Edition
All For Love
November 8, 1985

MCA RecordsUMG
070/100
New Edition - All For Love
1. Count Me Out // 2. A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes) // 3. Sweet Thing // 4. With You All the Way // 5. Let’s Be Friends // 6. Kickback // 7. Tonight’s Your Night // 8. Whispers In the Bed // 9. Who Do We Trust // 10. School // 11. All For Love

By the time All For Love dropped New Edition was on a roll. Their indie label debut Candy Girl had put the five boys from Boston firmly on the map in ’83. The following year major label MCA had bought them out of their recording contract leaving them heavily in debt to their new employers, but their self-titled sophomore album was pretty successful and went a long way in helping to recoup MCA’s investment and solving NE’s debt. It should therefor come as no surprise that their third album serves up more of the stuff that made their previous disc go double platinum. Sunny R&B-pop with absolute alpha male and Michael Jackson-emulator extraordinaire Ralph Tresvant on leads and the other four guys mostly in backup capacity, snagging up the occasional lead vocal when Ralph was out of the booth taking a piss or something. And all of the guys were apparently content with that.

Well, all but oneAll For Love would be the last New Edition album released before Bobby Brown decided to start a solo-career, ostensibly because according to him All For Love sounds like he might as well had already left before they started recording it. (He’s not entirely right, he pops up on Count Me OutKickback and School and Who Do We Trust is mostly his show, but over the course of this album he doesn’t get as much time on leads as Ralph does, so he was right about that.) But we’ll get to Bob’s solo adventures soon enough.

This album is an enjoyable enough sequel to New Edition. It’s a bit harder, crisper and more electro funkafied and danceable than what they did the last time around. But that’s speaking relatively only to their last album, off course. You can still just picture your grandmother walking into the room while All For Love is on, and commenting on N.E. being “Such nice boys”. There’s no real edge of any sort. Which was supposedly the other reason for Bobby to get himself kicked out leave. He didn’t agree with the artistic direction they were headed in. (Looks like Robbie Williams took notice.) But for this album’s intents and purposes that may not be such a bad thing. The hooks are still as catchy as ever and Ralph is still as good an MJ update as he was the last time around.

Count Me Out has Ralph explaining why he can’t hang with the gang because he has to do stuff with his lady while Bobby, Ricky, Ronnie and Mike doing their best to convince him to do otherwise because no-one will come to the New Edition shows when he’s not there and it’s got cute and catchy conceptual songwriting that today’s teen pop/R&B could use more of.
A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes) is a slow, romantic electro-funk groove that either or both of your parents at some point may have done the robot to.
Sweet Thing could be the intro to an ’80s sitcom about a white suburban family with a strict but just father with a golden heart, an overbearingly loving and understanding mother, an insecure teenage daughter, a quirky preteen son and a dog who get into shenanigans together, and it summons exactly that type of cozy mood.
With You All The Way could be about giving up one’s virginity if it were sung by a girl, but since it’s Tresvant it’s about sticking with a loved one through thick and thin. Unless you’re part of the twerk generation there’s a small chance you’ll get laid if you put this on while in a romantic situation with a girl.
Let’s Be Friends has the boys friendzoning some girls because they’re “going too fast”, which may or may not be something that guys actually did in 1985 (For the record, I don’t think they did).
And the rest of the songs with titles KickbackTonight’s Your NightWhispers In Bed, Who Do You TrustSchool and All For Love are exactly what you expect of them if you know what NE is all about.

All For Love is a lot like today’s teen pop albums by the likes of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus with age-appropriate songs about romantic situations, except more fun and soulful and with a vintage veneer that makes everything sound more classy than it in reality probably is.
The album does nothing to push either NE or music as a whole forward by fucking with new sounds, in fact it sounds like the last album they did, this one must concur to mr. Brown, “that New Edition of the Jackson 5” stuff remains the mantra the producers, songwriters and Ralph appear repeated when working on this, as they had since their debut. But besides the preachy, old-school hip-hop inluenced School there are no real missteps, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t an entertaining collection of music. And if that’s what you’re looking for in music you’ve just found it.

Best tracks
Count Me Out
A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes)
With You All the Way

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Daft Punk – Homework

Daft Punk
Homework
20 January 1997
Virgin Records
UMG
090/100

Daft Punk - Homework

1. Daftendirekt // 2. Wdpk 83.7 fm // 3. Revolution 909 // 4. Da Funk // 5. Phoenix // 6. Fresh // 7. Around The World // 8. Rollin’& Scratching // 9. Teachers // 10. High Fidelity // 11. Rock’n Roll // 12. Oh Yeah // 13. Burnin’ // 14. Indo Silver Club // 15. Alive // 16. Funk Ad

Daft Punk is a team up of two DJs who became popular in the early nineties. They were influenced by Funk, early electronic music, Techno and eighties Pop à la Roxy Music. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter a.k.a. Daft Punk were part of a new generation of so-called Dance artists like Basement Jaxx, Moby and Armand van Helden just to name a few. Continuing the list: Junkie XL, Air, The Chemical Brothers and you understand how fertile that period was for electronic music.

In 1996 their album Homework was released in Europe. In the U.S.A release followed in 1997. It was an immense success that put them on the map of the music world we know today. Their sound of Funk and Disco infected House and Techno still seduces unsuspecting people to shuffle their feet. I grew up in the nineties and Daft Punk’s work was part of the mainstream music channels like TMF and MTV (before reality TV took over what still calls itself Music TeleVision).

One presses play and Daftendirekt begins. A low voice makes its presence and after 35 seconds the beat starts. “Da funk back to the time, come on” is repeated and slowly the track unveils its full mix. Wdpk 83.7 fm is basically the radio promo that officially starts the album.

Revolution 909 starts with a thumping beat and sirens that introduces an infectious House tune. The samples have a retro sound to it. After 3:10 a short Techno interlude mixes up the sound after which the Disco infused House continues. Da Funk is a personal favourite track of mine on this album. The break-beat intro is so effective in luring one into the raw electronic groove. Big beats and break-beats are in a rare harmony that aren’t often heard. The electronic soloing in the middle of the track really gives this track a unique vibe.

Phoenix starts with dry beats, high hats follow and step by step the sounds make their introduction. Daft Punk want to lure you into their sound and successfully so, I am practically dancing on my chair. Fresh like water on a beach. Electric keys, beats and groove introduce me to Fresh. Again the layers of sounds just lure you in. This is more of a chill-out House track to which you can still dance or just read a book. The fade out, water on a beach…

Around The World changed many things. The video of for this track changed the world of music forever. The sound of this track was a groovy revelation in its time. This track gets people exited to boogie like MJ’s Blame It On The Boogie can do it. What’s left to add? 7 full minutes of pure electronic funky ecstasy. Rollin’& Scratchin’ is different. A repetitive dry beat becomes louder and louder while the samples slowly come together. If this track had screaming vocals and wailing guitars it would be Industrial, it is brutal yet listenable. Instead it is noisy Techno. It has a strange appeal one has to be in the mood for.

Teachers, the title tells you enough. Daft Punk mentions the names of those who inspired them. Over a break beat with a vocal sample so one can take notes before you start searching.
High Fidelity, back to beats and samples. A sample is looped and cut over one beat in various beats throughout the entire track. This results in a funky House track that remains remarkably fun to listen to.

Beats and hand claps introduce Rock’n Roll. Slowly an electronic noise repeats itself more and more. If Hard Rock would be turned into electronic music this somewhat matches my imagined outcome. A strange electronic sound wails like a lead guitar over the beats. Just like Rollin’& Scratching this track is brutal yet listenable. Oh Yeah follows as groove and a slow beat with a vocal samples slow down the pace. This track is a short transition to the last part of the album. But as a separate track it still stands on its own.

Slow beats, a strange noise and an old sample start Burnin’. This track is cool for its subtle effect while you are lured into another House groove. Daft Punk really know how to immerse the listener into the music. Even the most reluctant party goer cannot resist the urge to just dance. Indo Silver Club’s intro starts softly. After that the funky House groove takes you away. This is one of those tracks that immediately hits or misses. It sounds shy of bland but its hook can catch anyone off guard. I happen to have a weak spot for this track.

Alive starts and futuristic bombastic sounds enter make their entrance. The sounds come in one by one and at 2:08 the futuristic eighties Disco groove just takes the listener to another place entirely. This music could easily be a soundtrack for a chase in a Sci-Fi film from the eighties. This track is simply epic. Funk Ad closes the album. The outro for the album is a slow groove that slowly fades out with the sound of Da Funk…

Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter produced this album to have a particular sound. When listening through headphones, AKG K500s I initially thought the album sounded slightly loud. Not brick walled just more emphasized lows and highs for a more exiting sound. On this album it works. Just be careful with the listening volume. A part from that you can hear the craftsmanship both DJs put in this album. But there’s one think I would like to know from you, if you can spare a moment: why the name Daft Punk?

Best Tracks
Da Funk
Phoenix
Around The World
Rock’n Roll
Indo Silver Club
Alive

Recommendations
This album, gives one the feeling of listening to a freshly copied bootleg of a Daft Punk gig. There is no filler to speak of, everything works and when one stops thinking the music takes over. Also, in its own way this album marked a new era of electronic music a.k.a. Dance. Even today this album still sounds fresh and different. Highly recommended…

My regards,

Rura88


Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston
February 14, 1985
Arista RecordsSME
070/100
Whitney Houston - Whitney Houston
1. You Give Good Love // 2. Thinking About You // 3. Someone For Me // 4. Saving All My Love For You // 5. Nobody Loves Me Like You Do (feat. Jermaine Jackson) // 6. How Will I Know // 7. All At Once // 8. Take Good Care of My Heart (Jermaine Jackson feat. Whitney Houston) // 9. Greatest Love of All // 10. Hold Me (Teddy Pendergrass feat. Whitney Houston)

In 1985 and Whitney Houston came fresh on the scene with her self-titled debut album. Whitney was the daughter of grammy winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, with whom she toured a lot at a young age, gaining her first stage experience. Apparently she was offered a bunch of record deals at a young age but her mother declined these because she wanted Whitney to finish high school, which is difficult to do with an international recording career. In 1983 however, she got signed by Arista head honcho Clive Davis. And Davis, Houston and a bunch of producers, including MJ’s big brother Jermaine, got it cracking. Allegedly because of Whitney’s gospel-styled vocals it took them two years to find a suitable set of pop songs, because as tame and slick as Whitney Houston is, it was considered revolutionary upon release. That is really hard to imagine for those who weren’t there at the time to experience the buzz firsthand. You see. For those of us who weren’t around in the mid-’80s to late ’90s, Whitney Houston is best known as that woman whose saccharine pop-soul plays in the background while we’re at the mall to purchase a new winter coat. A generic “diva”.

That is entirely unfair. Houston pioneered the style. The style being melismatically singing over sugarcoated, marshmellow-centred pop instrumentals. Not that this trivia convince anyone that Whitney Houston is a legitimate artist if that person is already convinced of the opposite being true, but that person just may begrudgingly have to give her originality points already.

Whitney Houston sure was a polarising figure for someone who recorded such vanilla-flavoured pop songs. Noted by the record buying audiences, critics and everyone with ears for her exceptional vocal talent and loved to death by her fans. But many of those same critics also believed that in the best case she was satisfied with recording whatever sterile, unexceptional material her producers handed her, or that in the worst case she purposely put her vocal talent to waste, in order to make herself and her label boss Clive Davis filthily rich, by recording songs that appealed to white, middle aged housewives easy listening/ adult contemporary audiences, by dropping every notion of funk, soul and grit to separate as many people from their hard-earned money as possible.

For my money it was the former. As Robert Christgau put it in his 1985 review of this album: “I’d never claim that this sweet, statuesque woman and her sweet, statuesque voice are victims of exploitation. She obviously believes in this schlock.” Kitschy as everything here is, it’s all expertly and properly made and performed earnestly and more than competently by the lady of the hour.  Whitney‘s self-indulgent earnestness is at the very same time at the core of it’s problem. (Anyone who sings lines like “I believe that children are the future.” as she does on Greatest Love of All, without blinking loses cool points immediately, just listen to the ballads off Michael Jackson’s Bad and Dangerous albums.) It is this general air of self-importance that makes this less fun to listen to than, say, New Edition, an album that exists solely to entertain and manages to have some fun doing so, even if Whitney Houston is probably the technically superior effort between the two albums. But to miss Houston’s credit, this probably was the kind of music she wanted to make too, because she does give it her all here and racks up some technically excellent performances over the span of this album’s fifty minutes and ten songs, even blowing more established soul-singers such as Teddy Pendergrass (surprising) and Jermaine Jackson (less surprising) completely out of the water on wat were originally their own songs on their own albums, transplanted to this one.

Her singing is so good in fact that it goes a long way in covering up the fact that most of the material she gets to perform is indeed some corporate songwriting and music-making at its worst, trying to incorporate as many contemporary musical trends  into the most inoffensive musical format available (Kenny G-esque sax solos, clunky synth playing and syrupy strings on most of the ballads and ’80s cop movie car-chase sequence music on Thinking About You.), with lyrics that are meant to appeal to as many women people as possible by going on about romantic situations. I.e.: having met the love of your life (You Give Good Love), having an affair with a married man (Saving All My Love For You), wondering whether someone she has a crush on will ever love her back (How Will I Know) having a complete emotional breakdown (All At Once), all the while maintaining an impossible level of politeness, grace and modesty. In other words Whitney may be properly emoting theatrically, but nowhere does she actually convey any emotion the way anyone would ever actually experience it. Never are there any feelings of spite. On Saving All My Love For You she doesn’t even consider asking the guy to leave his wife to be with her in stead, or telling the guy’s wife that she’s been doing him because “[he’s] got [his] family, and they need [him] there.”

So Whitney Houston is well made to appear lifelike and relatable to as many people as possible, telling tales about the ups and downs of love without trying to shock anyone with profanity, eventually turning out to be no-one’s actual reality. Still if you are the type of person who likes to let yourself be fooled by calculated, measured melodrama this the way to go. Also, the girl could sing. Before the was smoking bobby brown with Bobby Brown and before Mariah ran with her style and topped her in the vocal range department she was arguably technically the best singer in music. This is evident when you realise that some of this mid-1980s shtick is actually saved from blandness by her performances, and that these corporate-songwriter creations are sung a lot more convincingly than they deserve to be. She could actually turn these tin cans into gold with her enormous, unusually clear mezzo-soprano voice. Off course to maximize the potential you’d have to give apply this fantastic instrument to some well written, interesting material. Alas, not much in the form of that is to be found on Whitney Houston, but it would occur later on in her career (i.e.: My Love Is Your Love).

Concluding: Whitney Houston is simultaneously both a good showcase of Whitney’s more than considerable talents and a pretty generic album. For the most part she does her nickname the Voice justice. But the material she gets to work with can’t quite keep up. And Whitney, while technically is singing excellently, can’t quite put reality into these songs beyond a soap-opera level, though she comes close through sheer technical skill.

Best tracks
You Give Good Love
Saving All My Love For You
How Will I Know
All At Once
Greatest Love of All

Recommendations
If you are a fan of sappy, slick, big ballads and well-performed vocal acrobatics and enjoy watching shows such as the VoiceWhitney Houston is for you. It is a textbook classic in the genre of “diva” pop, and possibly it’s highlight. If you’re looking for something realer,  more gritty, and less candy-coated you may have to go find yourself a copy of What’s the 411?.


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.


Johnny Gill & Stacey Lattisaw – Perfect Combination

Johnny Gill & Stacey Lattisaw
Perfect Combination
February 27, 1984
Cotillon Records/ Atlantic RecordsWMG
055/100
Johnny Gill & Stacey Lattisaw - Perfect Combination
1. Block Party // 2. Fun And Games // 3. Falling In Love Again // 4. 50/50 Love // 5. Perfect Combination // 6. HeartBreak Look // 7. Baby It’s You // 8. Come Out of the Shadows

Johnny Gill’s debut album hadn’t sold very well or provided the charts with any hits (the internet provides no clues of the opposite being true), so the people of Cotillon/ Atlantic records decided to put him in the studio with proven success and labelmate Stacey Lattisaw (Wikipedia says they were childhood friends as well, believe what you will) to pimp him to her fanbase and to create a cute teeny 1980s update of a Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell duet album (although those two things are actually one and the same thing.)

That this album isn’t  as horrible as that description makes it sound is largely to thank the vocalists for, Johnny with his singing that sounded like it belonged to a man twice his age, and miss Lattisaw sounding capable and confident beyond her years as well, but to a lesser extent (they were both seventeen when they dropped this).

The sound is fine for those who enjoy this particular brand of queso (not me.). The midtempo cuts sound like store brand imitations of SOLAR Records svengali Leon Sylvers III’s post-disco electro-pop jams. (Shalamar’s A Night To Remember, Lakeside’s Fantastic Voyage, Dynasty’s Midas Touch et al.) and the ballads sound like they are rejects from the An Officer and a Gentleman soundtrack.
That’s not to say anything sounds horrible, in fact the songwriting itself puts most of today’s R&B music to shame in it’s ability to choose a subject/ concept and stick to it, and this Naranda Michael Walden guy seems at least adequate in putting together a record, but that is not to say you should give a fuck.

That the best thing on here is a cover of an old Shirelles song, previously covered by the Beatles, written by Burt Bacharach is telling about the songwriting. Kinda how Johnny’s debut‘s best song was a cover of an old Sam & Dave song written by Isaac Hayes.

Best tracks
Perfect Combination
Baby It’s You

Recommendations
Don’t bother.


DJ Clue? – The Professional 2

DJ Clue?
The Professional 2
Februari 27, 2001
Desert Storm RecordsRoc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
055/100
DJ Clue - The Professional 2
1. Intro (Diddy) // 2. Back to Life 2001 (Mary J. Blige & Jadakiss) // 3. Jay-Z Freestyle (Jay-Z) // 4. Who’s Next (DMX) // 5. Coming For You (Beanie Sigel & Freeway) // 6. Fantastic 4 [Part 2] (the LOX, Cam’ron, Nature & Fabolous) // 7. Getting It (Busta Rhymes & Rah Digga) // 8. C.R.E.A.M. 2001 (Raekwon & Ghostface Killah) // 9. What the Beat (Method Man, Eminem & Royce da 5’9′) // 10. Lil’ Mo Interlude (Lil’ Mo) // 11. Fuck a Bitch (Kurupt & Snoop Dogg) // 12. Change the Game [Remix] (Jay-Z feat. Tha Dogg Pound, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Static Major) // 13. My Niggaz Dem (Trick Daddy & Trina) // 14. Live from the Bridge (NaS) // 15. So Hot (Foxy Brown) // 16. Chinatown (Junior M.A.F.I.A.) // 17. Bathgate Freestyle (Bathgate) // 18. M.A.R.C.Y. (Memphis Bleek & Geda K) // 19. I Don’t Care (Capone-N-Noreaga) // 20. The Best of Queens (It’s Us) (Mobb Deep) // 21. Red (Redman) // 22. Dangerous (Lady Luck & DJ Muggs) // 23. Phone Patch (Ty Shaun)

If nothing else this album delivers on the promise its title makes in the sense that this is an industry gathering of people the absolute majority of whom, at the time of this album’s release at least, were rapping for a living. This is professional rap music. For this major label appropriation of his mixtape concept DJ Clue? drummed up most of 2001’s urban music industry heavyweights. Including new york’s elite (NaS, Mobb Deep, DMX, Cam’ron, Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Mary J. Blige, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Capone-N-Noreaga and his label boss Jay-Z) who in turn brought with them their subordinates (Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Geda K, the LOX, Rah Digga, Foxy Brown, Nature), some hotshots from outside of NYC (Snoop, tha Dogg Pound, Eminem, Royce da 9’5′, Redman, Trick Daddy and Trina), an up-and-comer (Fabolous) and people who were never heard from before or since (Bathgate, Ty Shaun) and a bunch of beatmakers who were popular at the time to complement Clue?’s own productions (Rockwilder, Rick Rock, Just Blaze) and despite the combined efforts of all these people, and then some, the Professional 2, like its prequel, is quite the solid but underwhelming listening experience.

That is not to say that there’s prevalent wackness to speak of, but the combined effort of these people should lead to some really good rap music where in fact it delivers mediocracy. In stead of shining and enjoying themselves everyone just coasts along forcedly, as though they’re hanging out at a family gathering out of obligation rather than free will, on a sunday, after drining their brains out the night before, but try to make the best of it anyway. If that doesn’t sound like the blockparty you (or DJ Clue?) might’ve hoped for with that guest list you would be absolutey right.

There’s nothing wrong in particular with songs such as Live From the Bridge by NaS, C.R.E.A.M. 2001 by Rae & Ghost, Who’s Next by DMX, Fuck a Bitch by Snoop & kurupt, Getting It by Busta Rhymes and Rah Digga, The Best of Queens (It’s Us) by Mobb Deep or I Don’t Care by Capone-N-Noreaga, but if they were featured on one of the albums by these respective artists they would be skippable filler tracks, whereas here they are the album actual highlights by proxy, since there’s also shitty tracks by Memphis Bleek, Foxy Brown, the Junior M.A.F.I.A. present here. There’s also a lazy cover of Soul II Soul’s Back to Life by Mary J. Blige and Jadakiss and a silly R&B interlude by Lil’ Mo that fill the roll of low points.

In order to simulate the mixtape experience a couple of “freestyles” over previously used beats are thrown in, but I don’t need to hear anyone rock over Notorious B.I.G.’s Who Shot Ya instrumental ever again, even if it is Jay-Z not doing a horrible job. This beat has been re-used so many times before and since I can hardly stand to hear even the far superior original, classic status be damned.

Speaking of the Jiggaman, his Change the Game off The Dynasty: Roc la Familia has been remixed to include Kurupt and Daz of tha Dogg Pound, which isn’t a bad decision since their West Coast-style connects with the Rick Rock beat much better than Memphis Bleek or Beanie Sigel’s, both of whom are still on the song. Problem is it wasn’t that good a song to begin with, and even this upgrade can’t really make it a must-listen.

The absolute highlight of the night is What the Beat that gets Method Man, Redman, Eminem and Royce da 9’5′ on one track  what with its simple but effective two-note piano based instrumental, and Meth and Em’s hilariously grimey verses. Fans of Em in particular should look it up since he rarey sparred with rappers of this caliber anywhere else in his career and hasn’t put out anything this much twisted fun on his last three albums, which is to say for the last nine years. The only possible drawback to the track is that these rappers weren’t necessarily in one studio at one time since nobody on here but Royce aknowledges the presence of the others on the song, which they almost certainly would have done if they were aware that the verses they were recording would end up on this posse cut, what with rapper’s tendency to shout out everybody from the song’s engineer to their aunt’s dentist (everyone does go out of their way to shout-out Clue?) but that doesn’t mean the resulting song isn’t really fucking good.

This places it in contrast with the album’s other random-ass posse cut Fantastic 4, part 2, which pairs the LOX with Cam’ron, Fabolous and Nature, which means that the amount of participans is six, not four. None of the six rappers seems particularly excited to be there, except Fabby who at the time could really use the exposure.

Overall the Professional 2 was intended by its creator to be for everyone, with artists recruited from every corner of thje USA, with little cohesion in style and thereby fails to be for anyone in particular, while still being hella boring, with the invited guests bring their B-game. These problems are only aggravated by Clue?’s incessant yelling and unimpressive production, which I’ve discussed in detail in my review of the Professional 1. While nothing on here will make you want to break the cd in two and slice your wrists with it, there’s no real need for anyone to pick this up either.

Meh.

Best track
What the Beat

Recommendations
Find What the Beat on iTunes, it’s a really good song. And if you fancy for instance the Wu, Snoop or Busta in particular then perhaps their singular contributions too. But don’t pick up the entire album. It isn’t very good, you see.


Jay-Z – The Dynasty: ROC la Familia

Jay-Z
ROC la Familia: The Dynasty
October 30, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
060/100
Jay-Z - Roc la Familia The Dynasty

1. Intro // 2. Change the Game (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Static Major) // 3. I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) (feat. Pharrell & Omillio Sparks) // 4. Streets Is Talking (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 5. This Can’t Be Life (feat. Beanie Sigel & Scarface) // 6. Get Your Mind Right Mami (feat. Memphis Bleek, Snoop Dogg & Rell) // 7. Stick 2 the Script (feat. Beanie Sigel & DJ Clue?) // 8. You, Me, Him, Her (feat. Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel & Amil) // 9. Guilty Until Proven Innocent (feat. R. Kelly) // 10. Parking Lot Pimpin’ (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Lil’ Mo) // 11. Holla (performed by Memphis Bleek) // 12. 1-900-Hustler (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Freeway) // 13. The R.O.C. (performed by Beanie Sigel & Memphis Bleek) // 14. Soon You’ll Understand // 15. Squeeze First // 16. Where Have You Been (feat. Beanie Sigel)

Because Bleek, Sigel and Jigga each had gold to platinum albums under their belts (one shouldn’t put Sigel and Bleek in the same league as Hova outside of this context) and because they were all signed to the same record label a group album made sense. That way Beans and Memph could ride Hova’s coattails towards a higher status of celebrity and hopefully even higher album sales, and Hova could play the record label executive he always fancied himself as being, while at the same time helping his boys out.

Amil’s album had gone halfway copper, and therefore she gets but a bunch of namechecks (but not paycheques) as though she were still around (it is entirely possible that she used to actually be on most of these songs but was removed last minute, though not the references to her existence, since that would require a whole lot of re-recording), as well as no more than one verse on this project by a group she was supposed to be an integral part of, which is less than the work she got to put in on the last two Jay-Z solo-albums. Oh well, it’s not like she had anything substantial to offer to the proceedings (although one could argue that neither did Bleek.) Question is: Why not replace her with a more talented rapper, such as for instance Sauce Money?

Anyway, that was the bit about how the actual musical content came into existence. Then someone at Def Jam thought it unlikely that people would give a fuck about a hip-hop supergroup (a group made-up of members who already had careers prior to the group’s existence) mostly because of how well The Firm: the Album did four years prior (I’m just guessing here…) and decided to release the album anyway, but with Jay-Z’s name stamped in an obscenely large font onto the album cover to lure people into believing that this was a Jigga solo-release so that Hova’s fans could find it, in record stores near them. Not only does this album almost exclusively consist of ROC posse cuts (Not counting the intro there are but three songs on here that don’t feature Bleek or Sigel) but two tracks don’t feature the Jiggaman at all, making this the worst case of false advertising since DJ Clue? Presents Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life. Especially since two out of the three singles released off this project didn’t feature Sigel or Bleek but just Jay-Z and some supporting R&B vocals.

Since this wasn’t actually a Jay-Z solo-album even though it was explicitly marketed as such, Jay decided to not call up Timbaland and Swizz Beatz to produce this album so he could save money on beats fuck around with some new sounds to push the hip-hop genre forward. Fortunately for Hov, Bleek and Mac (and Amil, but not really) the up-and-comers that were hired in stead were the Neptunes, Kanye West and Just Blaze, who would become the genre’s production superstars before long. San Francisco Bay based production veteran Rick Rock also got some play. Hova called in favors from the likes of R. Kelly, Snoop Dogg, Static Major, Lil’ Mo. Sigel snuck two of his State Property boys into the studio and the resulting album would be the worst Jay-Z solo album so-far, if it counted that is.

It’s not all bad though, as usual Jay is good for a couple of catchy singles, most notably the blingy Neptunes helmed come on-number Give It to Me (I Just Wanna Love Ya) featuring Pharrell in an amateur Curtis Mayfield capacity and State Property-member Omillio Sparks in the most useless cameo appearance in recent memory…
Um… But the beat is an okay example of the archetypical Neptunes sound and Jay sleepwalks over it in a pleasant-enough manner, which is all you can expect from radio fodder such as this.

Things get a little more substantial on Guilty Until Proven Innocent on which Hov talk about his (then) recent legal troubles (Hova had allegedly stabbed record executive Lance Rivera for leaking songs ment for Vol. 3)  over a boisterous Rockwilder beat. It is sort of amusing to hear Robert rant about being not guilty on the hook, with his upcoming legal troubles in mind.

Change the Game, the only released single that actually had the rest of the “Dynasty” on it, sucks balls what with its repetetive, bland Rick Rock beat, everybody rapping just coasting along and Static Major’s hook which makes it apparent that the man was bored out of his mind when he recorded it. The same goes for all of Rock’s contributions from the needlessly sparkly Snoop Dogg-assisted Get Your Mind Right to the Lil’ Mo-featuring Parking Lot Pimpin’ to the Hova solo-shot Squeeze 1st.

Just Blaze and Kanye West fare a lot better with their soul-sampling beats that layed the Blueprint for what rap was going to sound like for the years to come (pun intended). Especially Kanye’s sole contribution, the Scarface-featuring This Can’t Be Life is dope, easily the best track on here. Streets Is Talking the sequel of sorts to 1997’s Streets Is Watching isn’t quite as good as its prequel, but it comes close nevertheless. And the Shawn Carter-solo Soon You’ll Understand is a precursor to what greatness was to come on the Blueprint.

The Bink!-produced 1-900 Hustler has all of the Dynasty (well, except Amil off course) plus Freeway, answer called-in questions about gangsta life on a fictitious radio show of the titular name. In spite of, or maybe because of its corny concept and its hilariously graphic execution it works and it is one of the few moments on this album where Roc La Familia shines as a group, as opposed Bleek getting out-rapped by Sigel and Sigel getting out-rapped by Hov. Another point where this supergroup thing actually works is the album closer Where Have You Been on which Jigga and Mac diss the shit out of their absentee father both sounding legitimately emotional, never moreso than the moment where Sigel almost throws up.

Besides these instances of brilliance, as well as the previously mentioned This Can’t Be Life there isn’t much in the form of chemistry to be found amongst the group members. Which is not to say that the Memphis Bleek solo-song is actually good (It is telling that most of what does work doesn’t actually feature Bleek), but yeah this is a serious problem for the success rate which lies comfortably beneath 50%. It is a testamant to how good the good songs are that this got the rating it did get.

Best tracks
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
Streets Is Talking
This Can’t Be Life
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
1-900-Hustler
Soon You’ll Understand
Where Have You Been

Recommendations
would tell you to pick up the above songs individually off iTunes, Amazon or Spotify if I weren’t convinced that this would cost you more money than to simply buy the album. And the above tracks are certainly worth owning. So I’m going to say: Buy it but just don’t spend over five bucks on it and don’t put it on top of your to do list.


Amil – A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best tracks
Quarrels
4 da Fam

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

 


Nelly – Country Grammar

Nelly
Country Grammar
June 27, 2000
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
065/100
Front

1. Intro (performed by Cedric the Entertainer) // 2. St. Louie // 3. Greed, Hate, Envy // 4. Country Grammar (Hot Shit) // 5. Steal the Show (performed by St. Lunatics) // 6. Interlude (performed by Cedric the Entertainer) // 7. Ride With Me (feat. City Spud) // 8. E.I. // 9. Thicky Thick Girl (feat. Murphy Lee & Ali) // 10. For My (feat. Lil Wayne) // 11. Utha Side // 12. Tho Dem Wrappas // 13. Wrap Sumden // 14. Batter Up (feat. Murphy Lee & Ali) // 15. Never Let ‘Em C U Sweat (feat. the Teamsters) // 16. Luven Me // 17. Outro (performed by Cedric the Entertainer)

Few rapper have recieved as much love from pop audiences and simultaneously as much hate from the hip-hop community as Cornell Haynes, jr. did. He’s rivaled only by a handful, including Ja Rule, P. Daddy, Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer in this department. In fact he pissed off hip-hop grand elder KRS-One to such a degree with his debut album that a beef followed. But we’ll get to that when we’ll get to that.

Country Grammar was the solo debut album by the St. Louis, Missouri rapper. It should be noted that Nelly takes a lot of pride in hs hometown, namechecks it numerously and uses a lot of local slang in his rapping, creating a style that is unashamedly country as opposed to hip-hop’s urban original incarnations. In other words, not only was this hip-hop thing staying, it was spreading land inwards.

It sold over ten million copies in the U.S.A. alone, produced many hit singles instantaneously making him a household name in hip-hop and pop as well (Pop isn’t really a genre, is it?) leading to him scoring guest appearances on R&B and rap songs alike. He actually fit onto the radio-songs seamlessly due to his sing-songy flow, which sounded a bit like Ja Rule without the throat infection.

This melodious exuberant flow coupled with incessantly materialistic rhymes got him a following but it also got him unflattering critiques from peers and fans of the genre alike, who though he was more of an R&B artist than anything else. And although there’s certainly more harmony to his flow than was usual in the pre-autotune era he has a distinct hip-hop swagger and enough rhythm in his delivery to justify caling him a rapper, than you very much.

Now we’ve gotten that out of the way: Another thing people seem dislike about the man is that there’s not much substance to his lyrics. Now here the haters are on to something, Nelly songs are all about getting paid, getting laid, getting drunk, getting high, be it on life or on weed, with the occasional interlude of gloopy mawkish romanticism. So knowledge isn’t something you’ll come across on Country Grammar. It’s not that big a deal for what is ostensibly a pop artist. And he’s rather self-conscious about it too. Unlike Ja Rule, who tried and failed miserably at maintaining a level of street credibility  while sing-rhyming his way through beats that were glossier than Vogue magazine paper Nelly more or less embraces that he is a pop star first and foremost, and unlike martyr-complexed Jeffrey Atkins he actually manages to have some fun with it, rendering most of his work a guilty pleasure whereas Ja oft comes across as… well, guilty as charged with several counts of horrible music making. (On an unrelated note; does anyone else find it funny that Ashanti ended up dating Nelly? No, just me then?)

Country Grammar is produced by Jason “JE” Epperson and City Spud, a member of Nelly’s St. Lunatics posse, who give Nelly a St. Louis take on New Orleans funk to rap over. The album has a smooth, throbbing, sexy feel from start to finish with Nelly maintaining enough stamina to keep it from going off prematurely and going flaccid.

This album has its share of textbook pop/rap classic singles too. Ride With Me is a breezy, acoustic guitar-driven celebration of excess unrivaled in its straightforwardness. (“Why do I live this way? Hey, it must be the money!”)The title track literally united a children’s clapping game with Mannie Fresh-like bounce-beats and it brought rural lingo to big city. E.I. is a synonym for oral sex and a freakfest of a song that has a beat that is both relaxing and tittilating. On Batter Up Nelly introduces his St. Lunatics crew to the masses over a slow-bouncing beat that facilitates their proclamation of dominance over the rap game via baseball metaphores.

Other highlights include the xylopone infused Lunatics posse-cut Wrap Sumden and the Lil Wayne feature For My, which reminds the listener Weezy was around before autotune and that his brains weren’t always too sizzurp-fried for him to make sense on the mic.

Country Grammar has its share of filler. One could easily trim away five of the non-singles randomly without the quality of the album dropping significantly. Thicky Thick Girl if not for any other reason than its godawful title, and Luven Me which sounds too much like obvious influence Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s Don’t Stop which samples the same source material, are most eligible for exclusion.

Concluding: Nelly tackles this rap thing with obvious skill and zero pretence. He has a knack for catchy hooks and his raps, while not complex, rest comfortably above industy average. Country Grammar is one long smooth ride down Route 66 without any true potholes, which would nevertheless be better off shorter.

Best tracks
Ride With Me
Country Grammar
E.I.
Batter Up
For My

Recommendations
If you you don’t take it too seriously you can have a lot of fun with Country Grammar on blast. If fun is what you seek, you should pick it up.


Prince Rakeem – Oooh I Love You Rakeem

Prince Rakeem
Oooh I Love You Rakeem
July 1, 1991
Tommy Boy RecordsWarner Bros. RecordsWMG
050/100
Prince Rakeem - Oooh We Love You Rakeem
1. Ooh We Love You Rakeem [Baggin’ Ladies Mix] // 2. Ooh We Love You Rakeem [Baggin’ Ladies Instrumental] // 3. Deadly Venoms [Vocals Up] // 4. Sexcapades [DMD Mix] // 5. Sexcapades [Wutang Mix] // 6. Sexcapades [DMD Radio Mix] // 7. Sexcapades [DMD Instrumental] // 8. Sexcapades [Wutang Instrumental]

Like his boy GZA, RZA had something of a career before Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) came out, gained a cult following and started a hip-hop dynasty. Not that it was going anywhere in the direction of what one could consider succesful, but Ooh I Love You Rakeem, which isn’t named after the single Ooh We Love You Rakeem, exists, so therefor it is an inevitable speed-bump in the Wu-Tang discography, much like GZA’s Words From a Genius.

Ooh We Love You Rakeem, officially called an EP, but in reality it is a glorified maxi-single, what with its instrumentals and remixes sequenced right after their original incarnations. It would seem that the intended audience for this is DJs and, once RZA became the legend he is today with the Clan, Wu-completists. (Just kidding, I don’t actually think Tommy Boy had the foresight to predict Rakeem becoming what he is today. Everything on this EP more or less points to them pushing RZA in the opposite direction.)

Eight tracks long this “album” has only three actual songs; the sorta, kinds title track, Deadly Venoms and Sexcapades: all of them about how much play he gets from the ladies. On most of these songs his rapping sounds like a mix of LL Cool J’s and label mate Shock G’s, and not as this album cover implies: the Fresh Prince. Allegedly (according to himself) he already was in fact already the grimy rapper the world would get to know on later releases, but Tommy Boy records forced this radio friendly style upon him.

The surpise is that it doesn´t suit him that poorly. Except for the Ooh We Love You Rakeem on which he goes balls-out Digital Underground on us, which should be left to Humpty, nothing here sucks balls. Deadly Venoms, which would an have all-female Wu-Tang offshoot group named after it, definitely wouldn’t sound out of place on 36 Chambers if it had Meth, ODB, Deck, Rae or Ghost on it. Both the Wu-Tang Mix and the DMD Mix of Sexcapades knock, although they don’t sound different enough to warrant inclusion of both.

Also, the instrumental versions of Ooh I Love You Rakeem and the two Sexcapades may be interesting to own for aspiring rappers, but offer little to the average listener.

So, there you have it. Two, or three out of these eight are commendable whereas the rest isn’t. Devout Wu-followers should have a peep at this, although even they have little reason to pay for something that includes three instrumentals, two remixes and only three actual songs.

Best tracks
Deadly Venoms
Sexcapades [Wu-Tang Mix]

Recommendations
Get the above two tracks off iTunes.