Tag Archives: Pop

Foxy Brown – Ill Na Na

Foxy Brown
Ill Na Na
November 19, 1996
Violator EntertainmentDef Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
050/100
Foxy Brown Ill Na Na
1. Intro… Chicken Coop // 2. (Holy Matrimony) Letter to the Firm // 3. Foxy’s Bells // 4. Get Me Home (feat. Blackstreet) // 5. The Promise (feat. Havoc) // 6. Interlude… The Set Up // 7. The Chase // 9.  Ill Na Na (feat. Method Man) // 10. No None’s //11. Fox Boogie (feat. Kid Kapri) // 12. I’ll Be (feat. Jay-Z) //13. Outro

Ill Na Na if not Foxy Brown’s entire career exists solely because of horny teenagers and because, allegedly, unfoundedly and unprovenly, she used to do the nasty with both NaS and Jigga, not unlike how Lil’ Kim fucked her way up the rap game via the Notorious B.I.G. Difference is that Kimberley is a gifted if limited rapper whereas Foxy couldn’t rap her way out of a paper bag. Her flow is abominable and her ghostwritten rhymes replace substance with references to her pussy and boobs. Nothing against pussy and boobs per se, but rather than hearing a full album of this shit I’d rather watch porn or something, has more substance and leaves one with a less hollow feeling.

Foxy’s Bells jacks an LL Cool J song (guess which one!) pretty straightforwardly and poorly, Get Me Home has either the whole of Teddy Riley’s R&B ensemble Blackstreet fucking our hostess, or just one of ’em while the rest cheers sings backing vocals. Fox Boogie has DJ Kid Kapri trying to make people say ughhh again, jacking an already sucky hook wholesale. Jay-Z ghostwrites most of this project and appears on Ill Be, cashing amost as many cheques as the Trackmasters while NaS off all people, who was about to get in a supergroup with Foxy, couldn’t be bothered to fart in the booth, let alone record a guest appearance. None of the other Firm-members; AZ, Nature or Cormega seemed to  have time to contribute either, inspiring the theory that the Firm only included Foxy because of commercial considerations inspired by her being conventionally attractive.

Unlucky victims whose record labels forced the chores of appearing on Fox’ songs upon them include Havoc of Mobb Deep and Method Man. Production is handled by the Trackmasters and wannabe Trackmasters. This shit sucks balls, avoid this album if you have any affinity with good music. It is disappointing, it is embarassing, it is a waste of plastic/ harddrive space.

Best tracks
The Promise
I’ll Be

Recommendations
Go to hell.


NaS – It Was Written

NaS
It Was Written
July 2, 1996
Columbia RecordsSME
080/100
NaS It Was Written

1. Album Intro // 2. The Message // 3. Street Dreams // 4. I Gave You Power // 5. Watch Dem Niggaz (feat. Foxy Brown) // 6. Take It In Blood // 7. NaS Is Coming (feat. Dr. Dre) // 8. Affirmitive Action (feat. AZ, Foxy Brown & Cormega) // 9. The Set Up (feat. Havoc) // 10.  Black Girl Lost (feat. JoJo) // 11. Suspect // 12. Shootouts // 13. Live Nigga Rap  (feat. Mobb Deep) // 14. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) (feat. Lauryn Hill)

No hip-hop album has inspired the concept of the sophomore slump the way It Was Written has. There’s quite literally no hip-hop head who will claim that his debut album is merely alright while It Was Written is the shit. Basically hip-hop heads used to have a disregard for today’s album because it wasn’t another Illmatic, one of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop albums ever. But, as usual, snobby opinions by over-analysing critics don’t seem to be much in line with what the man in the street thinks, because even today, seventeen years post its release, it’s still Nasir’s best-selling album out of his eleven solo releases.

Now that the smoke has cleared and people have finally gotten the fuck over the fact that NaS will not release another Illmatic ever  contemporary reviews have been becoming increasingly positive. Just compare the original ’96 review of this album with the december ’12 revisit, both on RapReviews.com and marvel at the attitude change, which is pretty representative for the view of the community as a whole on It Was Written, both then and now.

Back to ’96. It Was Written was bound to disappoint. Illmatic was a masterpiece and nobody bought it upon release, leading to both unreasonable expectations from those who did buy it, impossible to fulfill even if Nasir would’ve reused the Illmatic producers and lyrical themes, and also leading to NaS shifting his musical directions into something more (sigh) pop/commercial sending him on a collision course with his fanbase. Whether this change in sound was forced upon him by his money hungry label, instigated by a money hungry NaS or was NaS legitimately interested in trying some new sounds is unknown to me, here are the facts though: NaS switched his management from MC Serch, a well-known rap legend his his own right, as well as one of Illmatic‘s architects, to Steve Stoute, who managed Mary J. Blige at that time. Stoute and/or NaS chose not to invite over Illmatic producers Q-Tip, Large Professor and Pete Rock, but kept DJ Premier and L.E.S. around, presumably as to not completely let the existing fanbase go. To produce the rest of It Was Written they brought in the Trackmasters who had produced prior hits for Kool G Rap, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige and Method Man and do half of the tracks, as well as fellow Queensbridge hip-hop artists Mobb Deep, both to spit guest verses and to produce. Also recent Death Row Records refugee and West-Coast legend Dr. Dre produces one track. NaS’ debut album had exactly one guest verse; AZ’s on Life’s a Bitch. His sophomore featured the priously mentioned Mobb Deep and AZ as well as Foxy Brown, Cormega and R&B singers JoJo and Lauryn Hill. Final difference noticeable without actually listening to the album: Illmatic had but nine songs whereas It Was Written has thirteen (not counting intros). Basically one can correctly guess how this album differs from its predecessor and how this negatively impacts its sound before pressing play, different beats and not all of ’em as good as the last time around, more guests and not all of ’em being able to keep up and more songs than the last time around, not all of ’em warrant inclusion.

Luckily most of these things don’t turn out as problematic as they could have.

Under the influence of Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… album, as well as those following, including Jay-Z and AZ NaS started to parttake in a subgenre of gangster rap called mafioso rap. No longer was he Nasty NaS, the street thug running from police, selling drugs, drinking 40 oz.’s, robbing foreigners and ripping their green cards. This time he was NaS Escobar (named after the Columbian cocain kingpin Pablo Escobar) a moniker that was meant to indicate he had moven up in the world of crime, no longer having to do dirt but having people to do this for him. In a sense this new, more sophisticated thuggery warranted the more expensive, glossy sounds the Trackmasters brought to the table.

The opening track the Message could certainly go toe-to-toe with anything off Illmatic what with its Sting-sampling Trackmasters instrumental, NaS’ rant about his supremacy over the rap game taking subliminal shots at Biggie and 2pac and DJ Kid Kapri’s scratched-in hook consisting of lines from N.Y. State of Mind and Halftime. It’s not only as good as his previous work but it also shows NaS to be quite malleable, being able to adapt to fresh new sounds. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) has the Fugee’s Lauryn Hill re-singing the hook of Kurtis Blow’s song of the same title over a Trackmasters re-creation of an old Whodini beat while NaS describes his utopia of racial equity, equal distribution of wealth and freedom in general. It may be more radio friendly than anything off his debut, but it’s every bit as anthemic as It Ain’t Hard to Tell. With these songs NaS succesfully combined street crediblity with pop acessablity, something at which the pop mutations from Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime, Vol. 1; such as (Always Be My) Sunshine and The City Is Mine failed at miserably. (From this point Jay would only get better at them while NaS, well… Nas wouldn’t.) The only single that is slightly embarassing is Street Dreams, and only because Nas decides to interpolate (horribly re-sing) the hook of the Eurythmics Sweet Dreams, otherwise it’s fine, if a bit unspectacular.

There’s also some really good street cuts to be found here. The DJ Premier production I Gave You Power is a narrative told from the point of view of a gun and it is one of NaS’ signature songs for a reason. The two Mobb Deep collabos The Set Up and Live Nigga Rap, the former featuring only Havoc, the latter Prodigy as well, are also well on point. The same goes for the posse cut Affirmitive Action, featuring the original the Firm line-up: NaS, Foxy, Mega and AZ, So far so good.

Unlike Illmatic though this disc has some pretty mediocre stuff too: Black Girl Lost featuring Jodeci’s JoJo throws some social commentary into an album that’s mostly all about our host’s crimes and money, but unlike If I Ruled the World this track is preachy as fuck and falls flat because of it. Leave that shit to Pac, yo. Watch Them Niggas samples Bob James’ the Sponge and has a beat a little too dreamy for a song all about vigilance and back spabbers. Suspects and Shootouts are also unmemorable. Most disappointing of all is the Dr. Dre produced NaS Is Coming, with its boring-ass beat and NaS sleepwalking over it. It’s a blatant attempt at fan crossover, but that shit only works if some chemistry is on display, which here it is most certainly not.

While nothing (except for maybe NaS Is Coming because of how underwhelmingly disappointing it is) will make you want to break It Was Written in half and slit your wrists with it the bad songs do show exactly why this isn’t considered to be on par with Illmatic. It’s not as focused as that album was, and on most of these tracks the man seems distanced from his lyrics and performance. On his debut he at least sounded like he had lived everything he rapped about for the entire duration of the album whereas here, only on the lesser tracks, it would seem he tells tales he himself has heard second hand and doesn’t care that much about. Still the good songs are really good and there are a couple of classics to be found on here. And although this can’t fuck with its predecessor, that’s alright, most album’s can’t hold a candle to that one. And although I mentioned it all the fucking time throughout this review (it’s part of reviewing this particular album) one is best to see them completely seperately, even if Nas or Columbia Records may have somewhat called this comparison upon him by lazily reprising Illmatic‘s album cover.

Best Tracks
The Message
I Gave You Power
Affirmitive Action
The Set Up
Live Nigga Rap

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


J.J. Fad – Supersonic

J.J. Fad
Supersonic
1988
Ruthless Records/Atlantic Records/ WMG
070/100
J.J. Fad - Supersonic

1. Supersonic // 2. Way Out // 3. Blame It on the Muzick (feat. Dr. Dre) // 4. In the Mix // 5. Eenie Meenie Beats // 6. My Dope Intro // 7. Let’s Get Hyped // 8. Now Really // 9. Time Tah Get Stupid // 10.  Is It Love

On N.W.A and the Posse Dre, Eazy, Ren, Cube, Arabian Prince and Yella hadn’t yet figured out whether they wanted to be hardcore gangstaz, as in Boyz In da Hood or electro-hop party starters as on Panic Zone. On Straight Outta Compton they had mostly made their choice and they had mostly kept their most electro-inclined member; Arabian Prince out of the proceedings. Apparently he was working on this in stead.

J.J. Fad’s Supersonic is what Straight Outta Compton could’ve been if the world’s most dangerous group would’ve gone for the dancefloors rather than the streets. High energy beats with lyrics that are mostly commands to dance and some boasting about the rhyme skillz of the artists you’re listening to, as well as general freshness, thrown in for good measure. It’s an infectious mixture that’s more in line with what Teddy Riley was cooking up at the time than the work of the Compton residents with attitude issues who were working on this behind the scenes. (Dre, Arabian Prince and Yella produce this in its entirety while Eric Wright and Jerry Heller took all the revenue. Whether Cube, Ren and D.O.C. wrote any of these raps I know not.)

Supersonic is split in two halves, the pop-side and the hip-hop side. The first half of the album may be a little too vanilla for fans of N.W.A., the beats are more slick and polished than on Straight Outta Compton or Eazy-Duz-It and no profanity is being dropped anywhere. But it contains some first-class, pop-rap. Especially the title track, which was resurrected some time ago as Fergie’s Fergalicious, is some cornily endearing fun.

The second half however contains some vintage late-80s Dre/Yella beats that one can imagine Eazy, Cube, Ren and D.O.C. ripping to shreds. Let’s Get Hyped in particular wouldn’t sound out of place on an N.W.A disc, if the b-word were dropped more than once, that is. Now Really is a dis-track aimed at competing female rap-group Sugar and Spice and seems to be included mostly to start some shit so that Supersonic might have some street cred, not the best idea that, but Dre saves the day by providing another banging-ass beat. Time to Get Stupid is a short DJ cut on whitch Dre has some turntable fun. And Is It Love closes out the album by going after LL Cool J’s I Need Love. All the music is on point and instrumentally this album is really good, if a bit all over the map.

As for J.J. Fad themselves, they are perfectly serviceable rappers. That is; they know how to flow and stay on beat. But a lot of their lingo (“time to come correct”, “cold gettin’ stupid”) dates this album as much as the outfits they sport on the album cover do. Also it’s really hard to tell MC JB, Baby D and Sassy C apart since they all sound identical. In fact, one could almost convince this reviever that there was only one girl rapping here.

As a whole Supersonic is a nicely executed piece of pop fluff that was probably born out of Eazy and Jerry seeing the pop-rap thing going down and wanting a piece of the action, or maybe Dre made the electro beats featured on the first half of the album for Straight Outta Compton, but used them for this project in stead after N.W.A switched directions. Don’t read these theories as a dismissal though. Supersonic is some campy fun and does in fact deserve to be revisited, especially so that the teen-aged girls who like to bump Fergalicious know where she got it from.

Best tracks
Supersonic
Blame It On the Muzick
Let’s Get Hyped

Recommendations
If you find this album in the discount section of your local record store, or in the used-bin or for cheap on the internet by all means pick it up.


Jamie Foxx – Peep This

Jamie Foxx
Peep This
July 19, 1994

20th Century Fox Records/ UMG
059/100
Jamie Foxx - Peep This

1. Peep This // 2. Experiment // 3. Miss You // 4. Dogg House (feat. The Poetess) // 5. Infatuation // 6. Baby Don’t Cry // 7. Precious // 8. Your Love // 9. Summertime // 10. If You Don’t Love Me // 11. Don’t Let the Sun (Go Down on Our Love) // 12. Peep This Out // 13. Light a Candle

“Why you signed Jamie Foxx?”, “Is this a comedy album?”, “Ain’t that that brother from the living colour?”

The opening track has soundbites of people questioning the legitimacy of this album, which makes sense because in 1994 Jamie Foxx was known as a comedian and an actor, but few knew the man can sing. Also novelty albums by people who only record music because they’re famous, but have no real business doing so are one of those Hollywood things that unfortunately never seem to die out. (Word to Paris Hilton)

To his credit Jamie is, as we the post-Gold Digger music audiences know, in fact a pretty good singer. On Peep This he works his way through thirteen mostly self-written and self-produced songs and considering mainstream R&B was what he was going for and the year was ’94 one has to admit that the album at least sounds authentic enough.

The album is a bit too heavy on the overly dramatic soft rocking Boyz II Men/ Jodeci inspired slow jams, so when Foxx finds some room for mid- and uptempo new jack swingers like he does on Miss You, Precious and Your Love it’s a breath of fresh air. Dog House is another standout track about Jamie being forced to spend the night in the Dog House after being caught cheating by his girl (So this is a comedy album after all) and Don’t Let the Sun Go Down (On Our Love) has our hero singing and accopanying himself on the piano and showcases his vocal talents wonderfully. Foxx is an effective singer in the tradition of Brian McKnight, but with an voice of his own, although not a very distinct production sound. But that’s not very surpising as McKnight owns that middle of the road R&B sound, and all you have to do in order to sound like him is conform to trends and be likeable. Unlike many a contemporary Jamie doesn’t engage in useless melisma, so kudo’s for that. Unfortunately there’s an a lot of repetitive, mawkish material, too much shlock.

You try telling the two singles Experiment and Infatuation apart.

“Girl, Jamie got it goin’ on”, “I didn’t know he could sing!”
Peep This Out ends the album pretty much on the same note Peep This kicked it off, except for that people are now convinced he’s a talented singer. He certainly convinced me of this fact, but apparently not record buying audiences in ’94, considering nobody seems to own this or has even heard of this album (well except maybe Kanye West). Many of Foxx’s music fans seem to believe 2005’s Unpredictable is his debut. Not to say that it deserved much better since it’s mostly not a very interesting effort, but it is a bit puzzling considering what music was actually popular at that time. In ’94 almost every song off Peep This would’ve fit seemlessly onto R&B radio.

Because this singing business didn’t turn out to be very profitable it does make sense the man waited eleven years to record another album (he had other shit to do, you know), and chose to let Kanye and Timbaland as well as a myriad of others produce it the next time around, it also makes for more interesting listening experience than this one could even dream of being.

Peep This is merely alright.

Best tracks
Miss You
Precious
Your Love
Dog House
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down (On Our Love)

Recommendations
Except for Dog House, which could be an R. Kelly reject, Peep This plays like a long lost brian McKnight album. Which is to say a rather vanilla strain of ’90s R&B. If that’s your thing, go for it. The rest of you needs not bother.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Skee-Lo – I Wish

Skee-Lo
I Wish
June 27, 1995
Altra Moda Music/ Scotti Brothers Records/ All American Communications/ BMGSME
075/100
skeeloiwish
1. Superman  // 2. I Wish // 3. Never Crossed My Mind // 4. Top Of the Stairs // 5.  Come Back to Me // 6. Waitin’ for You  // 7. Holdin’ On // 8. You Ain’t Down // 9. Crenshaw (feat. Funke & Trend) // 10. This Is How It Sounds // 11. The Burger Song // 12. I wish [Street Mix]

Skee Lo is about as good of an example of a one-hit-wonder you can give. In 1995 his single I Wish hit the top twenty of  charts worldwide. That might not seem like much of an achievement today but back then the pop charts still weren’t entirely used to hip-hop songs. After that song disappeared from the charts Skee was never heard from again, which is a shame because his debut album showed a lot of promise.

Apparently he isn’t from L.A., but according to Wikipedia he had been living there for about a decade when he released this album, which explains the explicitly left coast feel it gives off. (Although today a hiphop album typically has thirty tracks produced by the fifty hottest producers of the moment and features the illest MC’s from across the north American continent, making it sound all over the map by default, in the mid-‘90s you could pretty much accurately deduce from where a rapper hailed by actually listening to his/her music. Usually because over the span of somewhere between twelve and fifteen tracks an artist and a handful of producers got enough time behind the mic/ boards to form and show an identity usually coloured by the variety of hiphop that was popular in their hometown.) 1995 California hiphop was syrupy G-funk which usually meant that it incorporated melodic synthesizers, slow hypnotic grooves, a deep bass, cheesy female backing vocals and a high-pitched, whiny, hovering synthesizer lead. That doesn’t however mean that Skee is a Snoop Doggy Dogg clone. Antoine “Skee-Lo” Roundtree isn’t a ho-macking, drug-selling gangsta but displays an every day guy-persona with some street-knowledge instead. He openly raps about his own problems, which include insecurity about his height, his wealth and his percieved lack of prestige on the title track and Top Of the Stairs. A rare occurance in the Gangsta dominated hip-hop scene of ’95.

He does brag occasionally but usually not about anything but his rhyme skills, which he proves as fairly impressive in the process on Superman. And when he does talk about the streets he sounds genuinely scared that something bad might happen to him out there on Never Crossed My Mind. Not that I Wish is all about how poor, unattractive and whimpy he is. On the contrary; he talks about the joys of life such as hanging out with is boys on sundays on the mellowed out Crenshaw, and even the eating various fast foods on the jazzy the Burger Song.

He’s actually not unlike Coolio or Warren G in the content department. As far as his flow is concerned Skee-Lo sort of kind of sounds like Twista dropping his usual speed-rapping antics in favor of something a little more mellow.

All in all I Wish is a pretty impressive debut. Even though there’s nothing that tops the smash-hit title track there isn’t really a skippable track to be found here either.

Best track
I Wish

Recommendations
If you find this in your record store pick it up.


Johnny Gill – Johnny Gill

Johnny Gill
Johnny Gill
January 16, 1983
Cotillon Records/ Atlantic Records/ WMG
055/100
Johnny Gill - Johnny Gill (1)
1. Super Love // 2. Thank You // 3. Show Her Love // 4. Guilty // 5. When Something Is Wrong With My Baby // 6. Every Radio // 7. I’m Sorry // 8. I Love Making Music // 9. You // 10.  Half Steppin’

If you can spot the crime against style on this album cover please leave a comment, hint: it isn’t the Jheri curl.

Johnny Gill the singer was always something special, even though Johnny Gill the album wasn’t, well not his 1983 debut anyway. His 1990 album, confusingly also titled Johnny Gill is actually quite good.

What’s most striking about this album is how little the teenager on the album cover resembles the man one would imagine the voice you hear on record to belong to, indeed the powerful soul vocals sounds really mature. And not in a preteen Michael Jackson way either, Michael just sounded extraordinairily skilled and experienced for someone his age, Gill actually sounds like a thirty year old.

Not that he sounds gimmicky, au contraire, he’s one of the top R&B vocalists of his era when it’s reach and power that is concerned, not unlike Whitney Houston, with whom he would in the future affiliate through New Edition.

Also not unlike Houston’s Gill’s debut album suffers from a serious case of professionally made but generic sounding ’80s pop/ R&B material the boy had to sing his way through. And not in a trashy fun sense the way his future group New Edition’s debut Candy Girl was.

Props to Gill for making the ride as enjoyable as it actually is. Shame on Cotillon for not getting him the musical collaborators he deserved. Not that they didn’t get Johnny a prefessional producer, Freddie Perren is a former member of Motown Record’s production company The Corporation, which produced hit singles for the Likes of the Jackson 5, Gloria Gaynour, the Sylvers and many other Motown Greats, but he brings none of that heat here.

That is; He doesn’t land a classic record but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely useless, Super Love and Guilty are passable post-disco stabs at electro funk. Show Her Love is an okay drum-less R&B ballad in the vein of MJ’s She’s Out of My Life. These songs certainly aren’t bad and should satisfy fans of early-to-mid ’80s R&B.

Best of all is Johnny’s cover of Sam & Dave’s When Something is Wrong With My Baby, which is actually a ’60s soul song, and showcases Johnny’s range really well.

I’m Sorry and Every Radio are some cornball bullshit, though. I Love Makin’ Music and Half Steppin’ fall flat in their attempts at funky. And You wants to be classic Motown-ish slow jam, but is too flaccid to compete.

So, one good track, four okay ones and five terrible ones. That leaves this one at barely passable. Luckily Johnny got another shot at recording an album, because the boy certainly would eventually turn out to have good music in him, not now though, since this was not only a critical failiure but also a commercial one.

Best track
When Something is Wrong With My Baby

Recommendations
Nothing on here warrants a purchase.


Irv Gotti Presents: The Remixes

Various Artists
Irv Gotti Presents: the Remixes
November 5, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
Irv Gotti Presents the Remixes

1. The Remixes [Skit] // 2. Unfoolish (Ashanti feat. the Notorious B.I.G.) // 3. I’m So Happy (Ashanti feat. Charlie Baltimore, D.O. Cannons & Young Merc) // 4. The Pledge [Remix] (Ashanti, Ja Rule, NaS & 2pac) // 5. O.G. [Remix] (Black Child & Caddilac Tah) // 6. Boss [Skit] // 7. Me & My Boyfriend (Toni Braxton feat. 2pac) // 8. Come-N-Go (Ashanti, Ja Rule, Caddilac Tah & 7Aurelius) // 9. Poverlous (Caddilac Tah)  // 10. Spanish Dancing [Skit] // 11. Rainy Dayz [Remix] (Mary J. Blige feat. Ja Rule) // 12. Moreno [Skit] // 13. Baby [Remix] (Ashanti feat. Scarface) // 14. Hard Livin’ (D.O. Cannons & Young Merc) // 15. No One Does It Better (Black Child, Caddilac Tah & Ja Rule) // 16. Remo’s Back [Skit] // 17. We Dem Boyz (Let’s Ride) (Chink Santana, D.O. Cannons & Young Merc) // 18. Baby [Remix] (Ashanti feat. Crooked I)

Remixes of tried and true hits and some added bonuses in the form of new tracks by Caddilac Tah and Black Child and some new cats (groan). 2pac involentarily pops up on two tracks, one of which, a Toni Braxton song, at least techically actually could have happened back in the ’90s because both Toni and Pac were around, and which started a beef between Braxton and Jay-Z who sampled the same pac song for his ’03 Bonnie & Clyde.

Scarface his vocals, featured first on a song called Mary Jane are reused for a remix of Ashanti’s Baby because the original already had stolen its beat already anyway. Then at the tail end of this dated novelty project a horribly miscast Crooked I re-does the re-mix in order to appear in full Ja Rule-capacity in its video, complete with mink coat. (I’m sure he doesn’t like it Joe, Joell and Royce bring that shit up.)

But hey some of the Ashanti tracks aren’t horrible, except for Unfoolish, which although it doesn’t sound bad, we had heard already on her own album, and which graverobs Biggie and morbidly puts him on the same album as 2pac, they’re all welcome additions to het catalogue. I’m So Happy more or less swipes the beat from the Gap Band’s Outstanding, which the original titled Happy did in a much more subtle manner, and The Pledge [Remix] replaces Caddilac Tah with NaS (no complaints there besides the 2pac thing.)

Besides Irv ruining Jeffrey’s Mary J. Blige duet Rainiy Dayz nobody does anything else worth mentioning so I’mma call it a day.

Best tracks
I’m So Happy, The Pledge [Remix], Baby [Remix] (Crooked I version)

Recommendations
What do you think?


Ja Rule – The Last Temptation

Ja Rule
The Last Temptation
November 19, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
Ja Rule - The Last Temptation

1. Intro // 2. Thug Lovin’ (feat. Bobby Brown) // 3. Mesmerize (feat. Ashanti) // 4. Pop Niggas (feat. Pharrell) // 5. The Pledge [Remix] (feat. NaS, Ashanti & 2pac) // 6. Murder Reigns // 7. Murder Me (feat. Caddilac Tah & Alexi) // 8. The Warning // 9. Connected (feat. Eastwood, Crooked I & Chink Santana) // 10. Emerica (feat. Young Life & Chink Santana) // 11. Rock Star // 12. Destiny [Outro]

Ja Rule hadn’t really had any major backlashes in his career up until the gruff-voiced reincarnation of Luther Vandross released The Last Temptation. Sure, that Fiddy guy didn’t like him too much and his old homeboy DMX had said some less than complementary things about him on record, but his first three albums had all been multi platinum sellers and booty bumping with J-Lo on I’m Real [Remix] and Ain’t It Funny [Remix] sure had been fun. It also seemed that because of How to Rob nobody in the hiphop community liked mr. Cent, and his debut album had been shelved, and he himself had been dropped from his record label, making him not a force to be reckoned with in the rap game.

Then Curtis Jackson got signed again, arguably to the biggest powerhouse label in hip-hop: Eminem’s Shady Records. He was talking shit again, about how Jeffrey was a sellout R&B artist and a 2pac imitating wanksta, and this time the world listened and nodded. So The Last Temptation desperately needed to re-establish Ja’s credibility.

At the same time Ja’s previous album had him and Irv Gotti finding a winning formula: Ja posturing grimily over hella slick beats with Ashanti singing a hook. This had sold Ja boatloads of albums and a stack of hit singles. He also had an audience to satisfy. And audience that wanted him to reprise Always on Time a couple of times.

These two contradictory ideas that stand at the foundation of The Last Temptation, a fascinatingly schizofrenic listen with a lot of truly mystifying choices being made.

After a rant of an intro things start off well enough with Thug lovin’which pick Whitney Houston’s then-hubby Bobby Brown out of the crack rocks moth balls to aid Jeffrey in a smoothed-out song of rugged romance. Mesmerize is a decent sequel to Always on Time that samples, ironically enough, the same source material as Ghetto Qu’ran, the song that allegedly got F. Cent shot nine times. No surprises there, musically or lyrically.

Then Ja remembers the streets all of a sudden and invites Pharrell over for a DMX/Fiddy Cent disfest. Not much worth mentioning here except for that it raises the question whether or not Skateboard P willingly helped create a 50/X dis, or was simply asked for a beat and e-mailed his most generic, never even remembering the fact and being hella surprised when the Murder Inc. paycheck came in the mail.

Murder Reigns samples Toto’s Africa of all things and has Ja going all 2pac/martyr on the listener. Speaking of the man, his disembodied voice can be heard on the outro of The Pledge [Remix], which also samples his own So Many Tears, for the beat. That’s fucking blasphemous, and I’m not even really that much of a Pac fan. The fuck NaS!? Were you threatened with grievous bodily harm into participating with this ridiculous horseshit? It would seem that there’s even a subliminal Snoop Dogg-diss in Ja’s verse, this was most likely instigated by Suge who gets a shout-out.

The title track had Irv Gotti breaking out a Rappers Delight-esque faux disco beat, and features the Notorious B.I.G.’s one-time dip on the side Charlie Baltimore dueting Jeffrey, who reverts back to his old constipated Barry White with laryngitis tricks on the hook, making the song unlistenable even though Baltimore actually sounds pretty good.

Murder Me draws inspiration from Anniversary by Tony! Toni! Toné!, and has Ja breaking out some of the worst sex lyrics The Last Temptation‘s side of Pretty Ricky’s Your BodyThe Last Temptation is by far hip-hop’s largest, most decadent waste of a sampling budget since Puff Diddy reigned over the charts. But apparently they saved the money on guest appearances, because except for Pharrell’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance on Pop Niggaz and Nasir’s verse, there’s no one on here who wouldn’t work for food. One has to wonder whether Gotti ever truly considered releasing albums by the likes of Caddilac Tah and Young Life.

Because Suge cleared the 2pac raping-and-pillageing that was Pain on Pain is Love and The Pledge [Remix] on here, two Death Row records get to spit alongside Jeffrey on Connected. It’s a highlight, what with Chink Santana’s Nate Dogg-esque vocals on the hook and his Dat Nigga Daz aping beat and Crooked I and Eastwood providing the best verses on this project, bar NaS. Emerica is another ecstasy anthem and Ja’s worst one yet.

Rock Star goes for the tried-and-true throw-some-rock-guitars-on-a-hip-hop-song-and-hope-for-crossover-appeal gimmick. Fans of both genres should hang their heads in shame.

The outro is a pretty decent machine gun funk beat, and Jeffrey certainly does his best with it, but ultimately it’s too little, too late.

Ja Rule actually held the advantage in the 50 Cent thing, up to this point, having sold milions of records and with nobody knowing who Curtis was. With this album however he more or less killed his own career before 50’s practice round was even over and his first real blow, in the form of Get Rich or Die Trying was even delt by at the same time trying to please everyone and being so self important that he creates music that borders on self-parody.

Best tracks
Thug Lovin’
Mesmerize
Connected
Destiny [Outro]

Recommedations
The above songs are some fanstastic naughties nostalgia, but the rest of this album is a total waste of time and money, and needs not be touched with a ten foot pole.


Irv Gotti Presents: the Inc.

Various artists
Irv Gotti presents: the Inc
July 2, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100
Various artists - Irv Gotti presents the Inc

1. Intro (Irv Gotti, Chink Santana, Ronnie Bumps & Caddilac Tah) // 2. Gangstafied (Ja Rule, Caddilac Tah & Chink Santana) // 3. Down 4 U (Ja Rule, Ashanti, Vita & Charlie Baltimore) // 4. Nobody Does It Better (Charlie Baltimore & Ashanti) // 5. It’s Murda (Caddilac Tah, Chink Santana & D.C.) // 6. The Pledge (Ashanti & Caddilac Tah) // 7. Ride With Us (Jody Mack, Black Child & 0-1) // 8. O.G. (Black Child) // 9. The Rain (Jody Mack, 0-1 & Ja Rule) // 10. Here We Come (Vita, Irv Gotti & Ronnie Bumps) // 11. We Still Don’t Give a Fuck (Ronnie Bumps, D.O. Cannons, Young Merc, Jody mack, Rah, 0-1, Charlie Baltimore, Caddilac Tah & Black Child) // 12. 1 Hearse, 2 Suburban (Black Child, Ronnie Bumps & Young Merc) // 13. Ain’t It Funny [Remix] (Jennifer Lopez, Ja Rule & Caddilac Tah) // 14. Tha Nexx Niggaz (Chink Santana, Eastwood, Crooked I, Ronnie Bumps, Dave Bing, Black Child & Caddilac Tah) // 15. DC Joe [Skit] // 16. Hold On (Chink Santana)

A huge step up from Irv Gotti Presents: the Murderers but that’s not saying much. The production is slightly better than on either Pain is Love or Ashanti, which is saying something because production was mostly what those albums have going for them.

The fact that this manages to still be a less pleasant listening experience than either of those two albums is because this is ment to promote a revolving door cast of people nobody wants to hear record music. The best tracks on here feature vocals by people who already were known to the general public, so it’s a total failiure in that aspect. The only new guy who comes off as semi decent is Chink Santana who adds a faux West Coast vibe to some of these tracks with his Nate Dogg meets Bone Thugs vocals on some of the refrains and his Daz Dillinger-esque beats.

One bit of trivia will be of interest to fans of today’s hiphop. Crooked I makes a brief appearance on the posse cut Tha Nexx Niggaz, with Eastwood, because Death Row records, his record label at that time, had some kind of side deal with the Inc. that required Row and Inc. artists to appear on one another’s projects. Not that one-and-a-half bar by Crooked I make the Nexx Niggaz a must-listen or anything. And the gazilion bars by the likes of Caddilac Tah and Black Child will make any fan of well-written rap’s head explode. At least Crooked gets his contribution out of the way early, so you can turn that shit off when he’s done and get on with your life.

Not that everything here sounds like shit. Down 4 U is a prime Ja-Ashanti duet for those who are into that sort of thing, the Pledge is mostly Ashanti doing her thing over a bastardised 2pac beat. And Gangstafied, the opening track has a beat so teriffically ominous that even Caddy and Ronnie Bumps can’t completely wreck it, although not for lack of trying, mind you.

If this album were stripped of all the vocals of weed carriers and replaced by those of Jeffrey, or better yet a competent rapper like for instance the previously mentioned Crooked I, this might’ve been a rather decent album. Alas it is what it is.

Best tracks
Gangstafied
Down 4 U
The Pledge

Recommendations
Download the above tracks of iTunes or Amazon or Spotify.


Jay-Z – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Streets is Watching (OST)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ashanti – Ashanti

Ashanti
Ashanti
April 2, 2002
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
060/100
Ashanti - Ashanti
1. Intro // 2. Foolish // 3. Happy // 4. Leavin (Always on Time [Part II]) (feat. Ja Rule) // 5. Narrative Call [Skit] // 6. Call // 7. Scared (feat. Irv Gotti) // 8. Rescue // 9. Baby // 10. Voodoo // 11. Movies // 12. Fight (Over) [Skit] // 13. Over // 14. Unfoolish (feat. the Notorious B.I.G.) // 15. Shi Shi [Skit] // 16. Dreams // 17. Thank You

When listening to the snippets of hit singles Ashanti was featured on prior to recording this album, on the intro, one gets the impression that Ashanti’s number-one asset, besides looking gorgeous, is her ability to peacefully co-exist with nearly any rapper on a track. Even though she always sings in key and, more impressively, never engages in Stevie Wonder-esque melisma, like Beyoncé does always, she also never was the standout thing about the song she was featured on. That’s not to say she doesn’t bring anything to the table, far from it. Classic rapped/sung collaborations such as Always on Time and What’s Luv? wouldn’t have clicked remotely as well as they did without our hostess’ presence. It’s just that she was always there in a anonymous studio singer #9205 capacity, rather than as the next big R&B diva.

Yet and still Ashanti was the beginning of a several multi-platinum album career, not by having her trying to be Beyoncé, but by using her strengths. Ashanti walks through her debut album at a steady pace without so much as breaking a sweat, showing the world that if nothing else she’s at least an unrivaled mistress of lithe. With Irv Gotti and his second-in-comands 7Aurelius and Chink Santana breaking out soul sampling productions covered in a thin layer of shimmer powder, which is blown into the athmoshere via swooshing wind-effects.

Everything is tastefully done. With the absence of useless oversinging goes a absence of useless drama. When here relationship is good Ashanti isn’t Crazy In Love, but rather she is Happy. When she’s lamenting her inability to get out of a sour relationship with clarity on Foolish you have the feeling she’s going to be alright. You are proven correct on the Biggie mash-up sequel Unfoolish, twelve tracks later. She also does sensual better than many a contemporary, on tracks such as VoodooMovies and Baby, simply by putting her sexual confidence casually rather than making some sort of pseudo-bold statement out of it.

Finding highlights or low points on here is hard. A high point could be Unfoolish because it makes rather clever use of two Notorious B.I.G. verses plus ab-libs previously heard on his own Fuck You Tonight. The deal is, Debarge’s A Dream, which is sampled extensively on both Foolish and Unfoolish is also used B.I.G.’s own 1994 single One More Chance [Remix]. So what you have here is vocals and instrumentals of two B.I.G. songs mashed-up with Ashanti thrown in for good measure.

A low point is when Ashanti and Ja decide to reprise Always on Time but fail to come up with something catchy, and Jeffrey’s raspy voice nearly disrupts the impeccable, rippling flow of the album, which is otherwise nearly flawless. It really says it all that if Ashanti and these producers do their thing for an entire album without missing a step, and that only guest artists can influence the quality, either positively or negatively.

Best tracks
Foolish, Unfoolish, Happy, Baby

Recommendations
If you’re looking for sparkly, slight, cute pop-R&B that evaporates from the human conscience immediately and completely when you turn it off, Ashanti is your way to go. She certainly doesn’t suck, nor does she demand a purchase. I recommend a buy, but with the lowest priority.


Datarock – Red

Datarock
Red
2009
Young Aspiring Professionals/ Nettwerk Music Group/ EMI
070/100

Datarock - Red

1.The Blog // 2.Give It Up // 3.True Stories // 4.Dance! // 5.Molly // 6.Do It Your Way // 7.In The Red // 8.Fear Of Death // 9.Amarillion // 10.The Pretender // 11.Back In The Seventies // 12.Not Me // 13.New Days Dawn

Fast forward to 2009. The second album by the Norwegian band Datarock is released. Is there a difference compared to the first album? Yes and no and yes my opinion will include comments about music.

The Blog grabs you by the technological throat by treating the evolution and the importance of the internet and world wide web in a fuzzy almost industrial approach to the music combined with samples and distortion. Either way the opener sucks you into the album right away. Give It Up continues the fast pace yet is lighter on lyrical content with its Romeo & Juliet plot on a typical eighties Pop track à la Michael Jackson/Quincy Jones. True Stories slows down the pace with a modest bass groove and playful percussion while referring to the many eighties influences of Datarock (Talking Heads among others). After which Dance! picks up the pace again with a disco groove that forces you to move while the vocalist keeps planting the word “Dance” in your head. I guess you understand by now.

Molly is a more moody song about childhood love with a typical eighties sound combining synthesizers and guitar with screeching vocals for. I quite like the song actually. Do It Your Way and In The Red follow and I would categorize both tracks almost as filler. Thing is the rushed and distorted Do It Your Way combined with the relaxing “In The Red” which simply sounds clean and gives away the Doors left their mark on this band and I like hearing that. In The Red is completely instrumental and therefore very welcome for varieties sake at least. The synthesizer sounds take me back to the early eighties.

Fear Of Death is lovely song about death and love with a bit of fuzzy guitar and synthesizer melodies. The understated drumming keeps impressing me. The gem of the album, the ultimate ode to the eighties called “Amarillion” follows. What can I add, this song makes me smile and yes it is one big wink to the seventies and eighties with unexpected references over a very smooth and groovy instrumental, nothing sounds overdone. Allow me to wallow in the pleasure, this song brings me back and words are severely insufficient. The Pretender increases the pace again over a catchy disco groove with hilarious lyrics about all of us with a repetitious yet catchy lyrics. Back In The Seventies says it all with a turn to a Ska groove turning into an organ driven Disco track. The harp sample alone. Right after 2.20 the synthesizer solo takes this song to unprecedented highs. Not Me follows with a heavy synthesizer groove and jumpy beats with a shouty refrain accompanied by a jarring guitar unlike anywhere else on this album. The ‘fuzz’ is back while the guitar gets the lead role. From fuzz to tranquil grooving the last song gives you something to slowly ponder about while you chill out over a more soulful track about endings and new beginnings. New Days Dawn is the stand-out closer.

I guess it is clear I like this album. In some ways it resembles their first effort. The opening and closing tracks share typical similarities while the eclectic influences keep the variation in the listening experience. “Red” is more driven by danceable rhythms though.

Best Tracks
True Stories, Dance, Amarillion, Back In The Seventies

Recommendations
My recommendation stays the same. If you don’t have that weak spot for the seventies and eighties this album might not be your cup of tea, sorry. For now “Amarillion” is on repeat.

My regards,

Rura88

P.S. Bonkers, sorry for the delay.


Ja Rule – Pain Is Love

Ja Rule
Pain Is Love
October 2, 2001
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
060/100
Ja Rule - Pain Is Love

1. Pain Is Love [Skit] // 2. Dial M for Murder // 3. Livin’ It Up (feat. Case) // 4. The INC. (feat. Caddilac Tah, Black Child & Ashanti) // 5. Always On Time (feat. Ashanti) // 6. Down Ass Bitch (feat. Charlie Baltimore) // 7. Never Again // 8. Worldwide Gangsta (feat. Caddilac Tah, Black Child, Boo & Gotti) // 9. Leo [Skit] // 10. I’m Real [Murder Remix] (feat. Jennifer Lopez) // 11. Smokin’ & Ridin’ (feat. Jodie Mack & 0-1) // 12. (feat. Missy Elliot & Tweet) // 13. Big Remo [Skit] // 14. Lost Little Girl // 15. So Much Pain (feat. 2Pac) // 16. Pain Is Love

Ja Rule’s debut wasn’t so much good or promising as it was well-produced. His sophomore album sucked so much forcing people to listen to it could be a decent alternative to waterboarding. The Murderers album was even worse and the Fast and the Furious soundtrack was pretty goddamn underwhelming. Despite these minor quality complaints each and every one of them got gold to multi-platinum sales, thereby granting Jeffrey Atkins the chance to record a third solo album and also in the process giving Murder Inc. a large stack of plaques to hang onto the Crackhouse (the Murder Inc. recording studios) walls. It also lead to Ja becoming hottest MC in the game whose gravelly falsetto popped up on every second song on the radio, not limited to hiphop songs. Ja was pretty much 2001’s equivalent to Lil’ Wayne.

In the mean time the Murder Inc. sound, in a rather succesful attempt to become relevant evolved from something aching to DMX and his Ruff Ryders posse (Venni Vetti VecciIrv Gotti Presents… the Murderers) to an album that was split in the middle between that sound and something that sounded a lot like Sisqó with a severe laryngitis (Rule 3:36) to Pain Is Love.

Pain continues the evolution set in motion by songs like Between Me and You and Put It On Me and this album, like 3:36 is certainly made with both the streets and the pop charts in mind. The difference this time around however is that the line between the songs for the gangstas and the songs for the hoes is blurred. This is mostly due to new Inc. associate 7Aurelius, who co-produced most of Pain Is Love with label boss Irv Gotti and finally brought an identifiable production sound to the Murder Inc. label and Ja Rule the rapper, effectively making Ja his own man, owing little to DMX.

The flipside to this mostly positive development is that instead of being the DMX-clone he had been percieved as when his debut came out, he became a gangsta posturing 2001 approximation of Barry White, who even though he couldn’t rob an old lady if he were backed by the whole US army,  nevertheless included horribly a blasphemous word-for-word cover of an obscure 2pac song about ghetto hardship on his album with one verse by the Thug Life inventor himself thrown in for good measure. Not the best idea, that. This, as well as similarities between Jeffrey and Tupac, both vocally and appearance-wise, coincidental or not, would make the man a fish in a barrel when that 50 Cent character Ja had beef with would someday rise to prominence. But no-one could see that shit coming in 2001. And for a year or two Ja was the king of crossover thugs, sipping bubbly and rocking minks and Burberry hats like it was going out of fashion. (It was.)

Although lyrically he hadn’t evolved jack shit since his debut the new song-format and new producer, as well as the signing of R&B singer Ashanti, do give Ja the ability to pull some new tricks. Always on Time may be R&B to the point that it makes one wonder how Pain is Love ever ended up in the Hiphop department of your record store, but it is R&B par excellence and this tale of rugged romance is even well enough performed Jeffrey, whose gruff voice clashes wonderfully with 7’s sultry instrumental, that it is wholly derserving of its monster hit status. Ashanti’s syren call-esque hook is just icing on the cake. Her significance becomes clear when Ja gets to belt out his own hook, such as on the horrible pseudo futuristically produced, half-assed attempt at social commentary Lost Little Girl.

Another highlight is the Stevie Wonder sampling Livin’ It Up. This track was originally supposed to have appeared on 3:36 but Stevie wouldn’t clear the sample unless Murder Inc. would clear it of all its profanity, which they couldn’t do before the deadline. They decided to put the new, squeaky clean version on Pain is Love in stead. Although this censorship renders the song’s lyrics gibberish one would say that Jeffrey was never about lyrics and this in no way takes away from its effectiveness as a piece of wide-eyed, bouncy club fluff-fun.

Down Ass Bitch and I’m Real [Murder Remix] are pushing it. The former suffers from anther horrible Ja-the-singing-cookie-monster hook and a general Always on Time-redux sound. The latter has a Ja, who may or may not have had a couple too many Bacardi Breezers, get all cuddly, lovey-dovey with J-Lo, who makes everything even more awkward by dropping the N-word, even though she’s about as Afro-American as George W. Bush. The song works as a time travelling machine to the barely pre-9/11 time of this album’s release, but not so much as an actual song. X, featuring Missy Elliott who proves once again she sounds fine dueting anyone over any sort of beat, has that same cotton candy sound. But rightfully so, since the song is about the drug Ecstasy.

7Aurelius’ talent becomes even more apparent when on the posse cuts The INC.Worldwide Gangstas and Smokin’ and Ridin’  he makes even Jeffrey’s poppers and ecstasy carriers, who are too marginal to name individually, sound not like total shit.

Never Again has 7 and Irv flipping their slight pop sound to something just a little darker and Jeffrey even spits some not-entirely-inane lyrics on his experience of several existential problems, so that’s nice. It’s easily the best non-single off here.

Listening to Pain Is Love today one can easily see why it was such a hit with pop audiences worldwide. With a couple of unstoppable party singles, some even guiltier pleasures and a lot of rather bearable, inoffensive filler it makes for the perfect music to play in the background of a party. The big surprise is that except for I’m Real it hasn’t even aged as bad as one would think. It also made its creator the perfect stepping stone for Curtis Jackson, when he finally got to release an album, since by 2003 hiphop was getting pretty sick of him. Oh well.

Best tracks
Always On Time, Livin´ It Up, Never Again

Recommendations
You could go either way with this one. You could pick this up, but if you do you must make sure there’s no-one in the record store who could recognise you. Also make sure you tell the sales clerk that it’s an ironic gift or that it’s for a 2001-styled hipster theme party, or something. Then again your life will be just as much worth living if you never get to hear Lost Little Girl, so you could leave it wherever you found it without ever looking back, that’s fine too. With three million sold in the USA alone Pain is Love hardly needs your pity.


The Fast and the Furious (OST)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Buy the above tracks off Amazon.


Datarock – Datarock

Datarock
Datarock
July 25, 2005
Young Aspiring Professionals
080/100
Datarock - Datarock

1.Bulldozer // 2. I Used To Dance With My Daddy // 3.Computer Camp Love // 4.Fa-Fa-Fa // 5. Princess //  6. Sex Me Up // 7.Night Flight To Uranus // 8.Ugly Primadonna // 9.Maybelline // 10. Laurie // 11.The Most Beautiful Girl

Given I don’t watch television anymore I sometimes randomly explore the once total random Youtube. Every now and then Datarock would show up in the list of suggested videos and after a while I just had to know if any album had been released. Some months later their albums arrived and since then their two albums have been added to my MP3-player and stayed on it. Only albums I really like stay on the device.

Travel back in time to 2005. A band from Norway releases its first album. Their quirky approach to music inspired by the Talking Heads, David Bowie and other seventies and eighties influences is unmistakable. Datarock is from Bergen where Royksopp  also comes from. The moment  their Indie sound started to sell the label Nettwerk took over and the band went on tour.

Bulldozer  rages through like the ‘best’ BMX-anthem ever. The following track introduces typical Datarock disco with a slow groove and gibberish. Computer Camp Love serves as a groovy ode to old school computer nerds with humorous romance with Judy. Fa-Fa-Fa is nothing more than Disco intertwined with an meandering bass groove and a cheesy nod to the Talking Heads while inducing you to swing those hips while the superficially soulful lyrics complement the instrumental part. Princess start jumpy and results in an ode to Ramones-like Pop with even more shallow lyrics. The intro of  Sex Me Up  sounds like an electric bagpipe melody leading to serious Disco. The title speaks for its self.

Night Flight To Uranus is an instrumental gem given its lyrics don’t distract from the genius construction of the song. The transitions are exemplary smooth yet go from moody eighties Pop to Disco to Michael Schenker like guitar solos. In short the ambiguity of the lyrics adds a silly note to an exquisitely composed song with an intro that takes you back to science fiction space age electro. Ugly Primadonna continues the more synthesizer driven instrumentals up to the point that you hear electronic farts. Oh dear did I mention farts? So what, more Disco grooving on a thick bass line and beats.

Maybelline is not a Chuck Berry cover. It’s parody on the famous slogan “Maybe she’s born with it maybe it’s Maybelline” over slow beats and a dark groove. Oh yes the lingering guitar make me want to listen to Blackmore, Hendrix and Prince. Did I just write that? Yes I did. Laurie sounds like an exemplary Pop song driven by that typical seventies sound of a four man band with a bit of distortion. Surely the lyrics are shallow but I don’t care one bit. A subtle drum pattern and synthesizer melody seduce me to listen to The Most Beautiful Girl. It’s a nerdy song both in composition and lyrics with. More melody driven it soothes the listening experience with relaxing keyboard arrangements. Quite the pleasure in my opinion.

Now, do I like this album? Yes I adore it for a very simple reason. This band has a sense of humor, appreciates its heritage in both a cheesy and a serious way and the album is very eclectic without sounding disjointed. “

Best tracks
Dance With My Daddy, Computer Camp Love, Fa-Fa-Fa, Night Flight To Uranus

Recommendations
As much as I enjoyed Datarock, I can’t recommend this album to everyone. If like me you have a weak spot for the fun side of the seventies and eighties try this album. I still like it after numerous listens. Red suit on the short list…

My regards,

Rura88


Craig David – Born to Do It

Craig David
Born To Do It
August 14, 2000
(UK)
July 17, 2001
(USA)
Atlantic Records Warner Bros. Records/ WMG

070/100

1. Fill Me In // 2. Can’t Be Messing ‘round // 3. Rendezvous // 4. 7 Days // 5. Follow Me // 6. Key To My Heart*// 7. Fill Me In [Part II]*// 8. Last Night // 9. Walking Away // 10. Time to Party // 11. Booty man // 12. Once A Lifetime // 13. You Know What // 14. Re-Rewind

*Only on USA editions of this album.

The only real reason I went to have a peep at It’s All About the Stragglers is because it was the first major label project Craig David appeared on. Am I doing that album a disservice? Am I going too far in completing mr. David’s discography? Probably neither of the two, since although Stragglers was a guilty pleasure, it made for incredibly inessential listening. And Craig was the only person who appeared on it whose music career survived that of the Artful Dodger. Well except Mark “The Artful Dodger” Hill himself, who kept producing hit songs for Craig including this entirety of this album; David’s debut Born to Do It (There were a bunch of other guys in Artful Dodger, which was offcially a group, but nobody knows what exactly it was they did.)

What surprises me about Born to Do It  is that its original British incarnation was actually released months before It’s All About the Stragglers, making the latter not an auditioning tape for a bunch of artists that Mark Hill might grant a solo-LP if their debut single managed to captivate an audience, which was one of the few impressions it left on me. But rather it was a greatest hits for a group whose only real member had moved on to bigger and better (more profitable) things already. Those things being Born to Do It.

The British version of Born to Do It, released in august of 2000, I do not have. In stead I have the US version, released nearly a year later, which includes two extra tracks. This isn’t mentionable in and by itself, an interationally released album often has different track lists in different countries. But it does make for a nice bridge to that mr. David also sold a bunch of records in the USA, leaving a lot of contemporary British pop tarts, including Robbie Williams, biting Transatlantic dust.

Craig’s style of rapping/singing could be approached by blending fellow goatee’d-up British soul singer/heartthrob George Michael with the midwestern US rappers Bone-Thugs ’n Harmony’s tendency to cram more syllables into a bar than you though was humanly possible, while being quite a lot more suave than either. Add to that beats by himself and Hill that Usher would’ve made his around this time in the naughties and you have an album that sold something around seven million copies worldwide.

One reason it sold so well is that the 2step niche, of which David was the poster boy, is thrown to the sharks for all but three tracks. Except for Re-Rewind (the Artful Dodger garage-hit that put Craig on the map), Fill Me In, (which is easily the most edgy thing on here, with Craig sneaking past the parents of the chick he just bedded on his way out), and Can’t Be Messing ‘round, it is a completely conventional pop/R&B record, limited even in it’s hiphop influences, making it approriate for shopping malls as well as MTV.

Gentle sounding acoustic guitar driven pop such as Rendezvous and 7 Days were instrumental in making our man of the hour the pop star he became. And although it’s a bit gentle and tame, especially compared to today’s thumping house-y R&B, it’s pretty terrific stuff. Although there’s quite a lot of downtempo material there’s just enough switching up the flow of the album to keep the listener from falling asleep. Craig works equally well ballads and dance numbers. The bouncing disco-esque sequel to Fill Me In for instance has a nice mellow preparing-to-hit-the-club vibe and as does Time To Party, with its Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See sample. The only time Craig seems to actually seems to arrive at said party (presumably having spent the previous consecutive twelve hours grooming his facial hair) is at the tail end of the disc when Re-Rewind comes on, which is indicative of how good Born to Do It could’ve been if Craig and Mark would’ve decided to record a garage record rather than a R&B one (although it probably still would only have been so-so considering how It’s All About the Stragglers sounded.)

So all in all Born to Do It is an okay typical early 2000s R&B album. Generic lyrics about love and fucking, expertly generic beats. Nothing surprising on here, nothing godawful (except for the hook of Booty Man, where craig spells out webfan site for the girl he’s about to do the nasty with). Pretty good if this is your cup of tea. It is sure is mine.

Best tracks:
Fill Me In, Can’t Be Messing ‘round, 7 Days [DJ Premier Remix]* feat. Mos Def, Fill me In (Part II) Walking Away, Re-Rewind

*Alright, technically not on any incarnation of the album. But this hiphop version of the song kicks the original’s ass, just for staring at it funny. Also indicative of what might’ve happened if Craig had invited a couple of different, more distinctive producers and guests to record with. Check it out.

Recommendations:
Buy this Album


Artful Dodger – It’s All About the Stragglers

The Artful Dodger
It’s All About the Stragglers
November 27, 2000
London Recordings/ UMG

060/100

1. Think About Me (feat. Michelle Escoffery) // 2. Re-Rewind (feat. Craig David) // 3. Outrageous (feat. Lyn Eden) // 4. Please Don’t Turn Me On (feat. Lifford) // 5. Twentyfourseven (feat. Melanie Blatt) // 6. Something (feat. Lifford) // 7. Movin’ Too Fast (feat. Romina Johnson) // 8. R U Ready (feat. MC Alistair) // 9. I Can’t Give Up (feat. Nadia) // 10. Woman Trouble (feat. Robbie Craig & Craig David) // 11. What You Gonna Do? (feat. Craig David) // 12. It Ain’t Enough (feat. MZ May & MC Alistair) // 13. We Should Get Together (feat. Nadia)

Pop music audiences are fickle, but no subgroup more so than mainstream electronic music listeners. An electronic music genre that hovers in the underground can survive for decades without losing their underground popularity and credibility (psychedelic trance and D&B for instance), but once the mainstream adopts it it usually burns out within five years or so. So for those curious about the fate of Dubstep in ten years or so; look no further than It’s All About the Stragglers, the only album released by the Artful Dodger, the flagship artists of the long dead and buried 2step garage genre.

2step garage is Drum & Bass’ smoothed-out cousin, that had quite some mainstream-niche popularity in the late-‘90s to early naughties. It’s music people who are today in their mid- to late twenties to mid thirties listened to at drugged-out parties ten years ago. It’s Dubstep 2000. UKG was born circa 1999 and it was more or less completely dead by 2003. Listening today you’ll be hard-pressed not to regard it as huge chunk of cheese. Question is: Does the cheese stink? (Side note: For the record. I already think of most dubstep as horrible, cheesy, cliché’d crap. And I don’t think the element of vintage will make the dubstep-experience better or worse for me.)

On of 2step’s characteristics is that it usually, though not always, lacks the 4/4 kick drum pattern found in most other forms of dance music, replacing it with more unusual rhythms by for instance placing snare sounds at unusual timings and accents. Also it’s hella more slick and melodic than it’s daddy; liquid Drum & Bass, oft lacing the beats with R&B vocals, making it accessible to the mainstream, or commercial and corny depending on your point of view. My point of view is that UKG is a electronic genre that is gentler, more melodic, more pleasant and yes more pop (What is that even?) than what is blasted in clubs and rave-parties these days. Without glorifying the music I’ll state that I’ll take this over dubstep, tekno, techno, teqneau and what not anytime.

Right. On with the review.

It’s All About the Stragglers is not so much a cohesive album as a collection of previously-released singles. But in 2012 it’s dated/ vintage feel is all the cohesion this reviewer needs, and then some. Most of these songs feature a typically atypical, jittery 2step rhythm, with some poppy bassline and glittery melody, and a competent athough faceless vocalist on top of it.

Within the 50 plus minute span of this shiny compact disc everything starts running together seamlessly, with only three real highlights. This goes not only for the songs but also for the hired vocalists. You try keeping soundalike no-names Michelle Escoffery, Nadia and Romina Johnson apart without looking at the credits. But keeping in mind that this is clubbing music, made for you to shake your ass to, not for close scrutiny by smartass critics, this is besides the point. Stragglers makes for quite entertaining retro dancefloor-fodder. As such you could actually play it in it’s entirety without coming across something off-puttingly bad. Which must’ve been super handy at the time of Stragglers’ release, since you needn’t change cd’s as often at house parties, to maintain the good times.

Today, however, we have iTunes and Spotify, in which you’re not required to change discs in order to switch to another album or artist. Therefor those who can’t be bothered to give half a fuck about yesteryear’s dance music fad can just listen to the songs from the “best tracks” section. The absolute star attraction off this album is the immortal floor filler Re-Rewind, which just so happens to be the debut appearance of a certain Craig David. (After garage died out Mark Hill, the only guy who remains from the original line-up of Artful Dodger, remained with David for couple more years, creating more conventional pop songs. David, by the way, sounds like faceless vocalist #1085 on Re-Rewind as well as on his other two appearances on Stragglers, just like ever other voice on here does. Funny how he became the breakout star. That’s probably only because Re-Rewind became the album’s biggest hit. I wonder if Lifford would’ve had a solo-career if he would’ve been on that song rather than Craig.)

Please Don’t Turn Me On is another high point, with it’s acoustic guitar riff and it’s tempo-changes, and Lifford’s imitations of emoting, while singing about being tempted to cheat and what not. The only other thing worth mentioning is that Melanie Blatt of female vocal quartet All Saints gets a track to herself in Twentyfourseven.

So that’s that. It’s All About the Stragglers is a time capsule, brilliant for 2000-themed parties and nostalgia in general. An unrivaled novelty item. Also it was the launchpad for Craig David’s career, which is… something. It’s not essential listening but it does contain a few terrific songs and it’s nice enough to look to listen to once in its entirety on spotify or grooveshark or something. The three songs in the best tracks section are required listening though.

(By the way, as of late 2step, as well as other forms of UK Garage are in some sort of revival. So after dubstep seemingly dies out forever, probably in a year or so, it’ll probably come back to life after ten years. Groan.)

Best tracks:
Re-Rewind, Please Don’t Turn Me On, Woman Trouble

Recommendations:
Either purchase the album second hand or buy the above three tracks off iTunes or Amazon.


Jay-Z – In My Lifetime, vol. 1

Jay-Z
In My Lifetime, vol. 1
Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
November 4, 1997

080/100

1. A Million and One Questions/ Rhyme No More [Intro] // 2. The City Is Mine (feat. Blackstreet)// 3. I Know What Girls Like (feat. Lil’ Kim & Diddy) // 4. Imaginary Player // 5. Streets is Watching // 6. Friend or Foe ’98 // 7. Lucky Me // 8. (Always Be My) Sunshine (feat. Foxy Brown & Babyface) // 9. Who You With II // 10. Face Off (feat. Sauce Money) // 11. Real Niggaz (feat. Too $hort) // 12. Rap Game/ Crack Game // 13. Where I’m From // 14. You Must Love Me (feat. Kelly Price)

After Reasonable Doubt made Shawn Corey Carter b.k.a. Jay-Z a hood star, he wanted to be a pop star too. If not to be on the radio, then in order to pay the rent. Priority Records, the parent label to Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella records had dropped him and his boys because Reasonable Doubt didn’t sell that well initially. (After several of Shawn’s follow-up albums had gone platinum people finally became interested in his debut and in 2002, six years after it was originally released, Reasonable Doubt was certified platinum.) The most effective way to sell millions of records is to strike a deal with the devil. In ’97 the devil was Puff Diddy, who oversaw the creation of In My Lifetime, vol. 1 from his ‘executive producer’ chair. He hired, among others, R&B cats Teddy Riley and Babyface who didn’t know jack shit about gangster rap, to produce this fucker and jacks a bunch of ‘80s songs for their hooks and beats, along the way in making jigga his bitch, like had Ma$e.

The results are notorious (no pun intended). The City is Mine finds Jiggaman proclaiming his dominance over the New York rap scene, which isn’t all that strange a claim considering his debut album is hailed as one of the crowning achievements of the hiphop genre as a whole. But it sounds all sorts of ridiculous with Teddy Riley’s R&B outfit interpreting Glenn Frey on the hook alongside him, even if Jay himself comes more than correct lyrically. I Know What Girls Like is almost magnificent in showing what was wrong with mainstream hiphop in ’97. Suffice to say it has P. Daddy ‘interpolating’ (meaning poorly re-singing) the hook to the Waitresses´ I Know What Boys Like to an obviously flattered Lil’ Kimberly who then proceeds to sing it back to him, with Jay sounding like awkward, bored and slightly annoyed, not unlike a single person hanging around an overly gropy  couple. (Always Be My) Sunshine is the glittered-up sequel to Reasonable Doubt’s Foxy Brown duet Ain’t No Nigga. The beat isn’t good like the one that’s on the previously mentioned song, and Foxy Brown isn’t tacked on to the rear end of the song like the last time, but actually trading verses with Jay, so there’s no easy way around her via the skip button.

Considering that these songs were the most visible representation of this album at the time of its release In My Lifetime’s poor reputation as the point where Jay-Z sold out, is understandable, but incorrect. In fact, having listened to it, most of the rest of these tracks are nearly Reasonable Doubt-good. A Million and One Questions/ Rhyme No More rolls up two hot DJ Premier instrumentals in one track, with Jay-hova rhyming over it in his typical manner. Streets Is Watching has Ski sampling Labi Siffre’s  I Got the for an exceptionally hot three verses about paranoia. (Unfortunately Siffre wouldn’t sign off on the sample clearance unless the track was censored. The exact same thing happened to Eminem’s 1999 major label debut single My Name Is, which samples the same source material) Face Off and Real Niggaz find the Jiggaman do some lyrical sparring with respectively Sauce Money and Too $hort, two rappers who can actually keep up with Shawn both in terms of charisma and rhyme skillz, so that’s nice.

Imaginary Player is a perfect example of the art of braggadocio and the lyrical highlight of the album.

I got bail money, XXL money
You got flash now, one time we’ll reveal money
I spit the hottest shit, you need it I got it shit
That down South Master P, Bout It Bout It shit
I got blood money, straight up thug money
That brown paper bag under your mattress drug money
You got show dough, little to no dough
Sell a bunch of records and you still owe dough
I got 900 and 96 plus 4 more dough
You crazy, you full gazy, and loco with dough papo

There’s even more highlights, the NaS sampling Rap Game/ Crack Game that started that long-ass beef, which is the only song I know of that makes some good use of the ‘Rap is really just like selling dope’ metaphor. The ‘I come from a low income neighbourhood where life is not very comfortable’ tale of Where I’m From and the contemplative somber numbers Lucky Me and You Must Love Me are also stellar.

In the end one must conclude that if one subtracts the three worst tracks one is left with an album that is in fact almost as good as Reasonable Doubt and hella better than the average rap disc from this era. Jay-Z never fell off or made a commercial album (well he did at a certain point, but In My Lifetime, vol. 1 is not that album). He just added a couple of club bangers to an otherwise pretty hardcore set. And although there’s nothing against club bangers per se, all of those three included here happen to suck big floppy donky dick. But let that not discourage you from giving this a spin. As a whole it is quite good actually.

Best tracks:
Imaginary Player, Streets Is Watching, Lucky Me, Rap Game/ Crack Game, Where I’m From, You Must Love Me

Recommendations:
Buy this album.