Tag Archives: Rashad Smith

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.

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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.


50 Cent – Power of the Dollar

50 Cent
Power of the Dollar (LP)
Januari 25, 2000
*
Trackmasters Entertainment/ Columbia Records/ SME

070/100

1. Intro // 2. The Hit // 3. The Good Die Young // 4. Corner Bodega (Coke Spot) // 5. Your Life’s on the Line // 6. That Ain’t Gangsta // 7. As the World Turns (feat. Bun B) // 8. Ghetto Qu’ran (Forgive Me) // 9. Da Repercussions // 10. Money by Any Means (feat. Noreaga) // 11. Material Girl (feat. Dave Hollister) // 12. Thug Love (feat. Beyoncé) // 13. Slo Doe // 14. Gun Runner (feat. Black Child) // 15. You Ain’t No Gangsta // 16. Power of the Dollar // 17. I’m a Hustler // 18. How to Rob (feat. The Madd Rapper)
*This was the planned release date. The full version of Power of the Dollar was never officially released.

50 Cent
Power of the Dollar (EP)
September 12, 2000
Trackmasters Entertainment/ Columbia Records/ SME
055/100

1. Thug Love (feat. Beyoncé) // 2. I’m A Hustler // 3. Da Heatwave (feat. Noreaga)// 4. Your Life’s on the Line // 5. How to Rob (feat. The Madd Rapper)

Whether you love him or hate him you have to have some admiration for Curtis Jackson III. If not for his raps then at least for his persistence and his business sense. The latter is something he developed over the years, the former has always been present. He is one of those people who just won’t give up. Time and again he had a promising career thrown to the sharks, sometimes because of shit he couldn’t stop from happening too. He was born to a fifteen year old cocaine dealing mother in South Jamaica in Queens New York. His mother accidentally gassed herself after consuming a spiked drink while having the gas running when Fifty was 8, or so Wikipedia would have you believe, after which he moved in with his grandparents. In his early teens he became a drugdealer and after getting caught with weapons of some kind and narcotics of some kind he was sent to correctional boot camp. When he came back he, by his own admission immediately started selling dope again, but was careful not to get caught because correctional bootcamp really sucked. At some point he deemed the rap game more profitable than the crack game.

When he was 21 he started rapping in a friend’s basement, but the magic really started happening when he learned the craft of actual songwriting when the legendary DJ/producer Jam Master Jay picked him up and taught him to count bars and write choruses (Which would make Jay indirectly one of the Just a Lil’ Bit culprits…) Curtis was also signed to Jay’s record label and recorded his debut album with Jay, but it got shelved. (Poor Fiddy.) Curtis then left Jay’s label to hook up with pop-rap/R&B-producers the Trackmasters. They saw a potential hiphop star in the young whippersnapper and recorded his second debut album Power of the Dollar.

Things were looking bright for him since his debut single How to Rob stirred up quite a bit of controversy as it consisted of hilariously graphic detailed descriptions of how 50 was going to rob a lot of rappers and R&B singers who were at the time more famous and succesful than he was (or industry niggas, as he calls them.) The song which was obviously about as tongue-in-cheek as hip-hop gets, actually garnered quite a few responses from the likes of Jay-Z and Ghostface killah. Mariah Carey allegedly threatened to leave Columbia records, the label that housed both her and Curtis at the time, if 50 wouldn’t change the lyrics about her in the song. The man proved then for the first time that he’s good at getting the sort of publicity money can’t buy, which to a much lesser extent still rings true today. Another song on Power of the Dollar titled Your Life’s on the Line dissed the shit out of, at the time, superstar throaty disco singer rapper Ja Rule, which would become a recurring theme in Fiddy’s art. The song however that would spawn the rest of his career however was titled Ghetto Qu’ran which described the dealings of drug kingpin and Ja Rule-assiciate Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, who got so pissed off about it that he sent someone to plug 50 Cent his famous 9 holes.

Miraculously it didn’t kill him (which later inspired Curtis to name a video game he was in Bulletproof), but it did scare the shit out of the kind folks at Columbia Records. So much that they fired Fiddy and shelved the original version of Power of the Dollar (the latter of which they probably would’ve done anyway because it was one of the first albums to fall victim to pre-release internet bootlegging) , but they did release an EP with four of its songs and one that otherwise would’ve been left on the cutting room floor, at the end of the fiscal year as a tax write-off.

The story of how Fiddy rebounded and ended up with Em and Dre to record his third debut album will be told another day. This review is about Power of the Dollar. An album that manages to simultaneously be the best album Fif had in him (not counting the Jam Master Jay record, I never heard it because it never leaked to the general public.) and much less interesting than it’s back story.

Since our man hadn’t yet got shot in the jaw his diction is miles ahead from the Ma$e-like drawl hearn on In da Club. Since he hadn’t made any real rap dollars yet he sounds hungry and a lot more believable dropping gangsta’isms  than he would on almost any future recordings. Also his assholish sense of humour doesn’t get a more positive showcase than How to Rob, nor does his introspective side ever come out better than on Ghetto Qu’ran.

The production sounds like what Puff Daddy would give one of his signees around 2000 if he wanted to incarnate his idea of a “street” album (see also Black Rob’s Life Story, G. Dep’s Child of the Ghetto  and Shyne’s Shyne): Cinematic, dramatic at times soulful, with some stale, forced R&B collabo’s and disco-lite thrown in for good measure. This should come as no surprise to those who know a bit about the Trackmasters who were at a certain point in competition with Puff for the title of jiggiest shiny suit bearer alive. Both Puffy and Tone & Poke got a critical beating in the late ‘90s for their disco-rap beats and therefor reverted back to a more fundamentalist, hardcore hip-hop sound, except super-polished and with the charts in mind.

More often than not it works. Da Repercussions, Your Life’s on the Line, That Ain’t Gangsta, Ghetto Qu’ran, Da Repercussion and I’m a Hustler all walk the line between pop accessibility and street credibilty well enough. One could criticise the album for the songs sounding alike and running together somewhat. One could flip this and praise this album for consistency. This reviewer chooses the latter.

A couple of tracks don’t click. Such as The Hit and the Good Die Young,mostly due to bland and misplaced instrumentals. It’s not that things get really unpleasant however, until our host gets paired with an R&B artist for a misguided love song. Anyone who has heard Ciara’s Can’t Leave ‘Em Alone on which Curtis appears will know what I’m talking about. Not that hearing a young Fiddy dueting a young Beyoncé isn’t interesting from a historical point of view (although no-one nut them can be sure they ever shared a recording booth) but the song suck dick and swallows. The rappers that showed up generally fare better. UGK’s Bun B actually has 50 sound faux-southern on their collabo As the World Turns and Noreaga delivers the album’s best punchline “I like my hoes like summer, no class” on Money By any Means.

Taken as a whole Power of the Dollar is a pretty okay album. Not one that drops jaws and warrants many repeated listens and nothing awful either. Although it doesn’t have any potential smash hit singles on it like his later albums it also doesn’t have the abundance of filler. Those who can’t stand Fiddy Cent because of Candy Shop and the like would do good to check this out.

Best tracks
Your Life’s On the Line, That Ain’t Gangsta, Ghetto Qu’ran, Da Repercussions, How To Rob, *Rowdy Rowdy

*Not on any version of Power of the Dollar but a song recorded during the same sessions this album was. Appeared on the soundtrack of the 1999 film In Too Deep (yeah me neither) and was released as a single. And it’s a pretty good song.

Recommendations
You can’t buy Power of the Dollar legally, unless you go for the EP version, which is a pretty poor selection of what’s available on the internet bootleg version. We at the digging in the crates blog do not condone illegal music downloading, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.