Tag Archives: Roc-a-Fella Records

Jay-Z – Chapter One: the Greatest Hits

Jay-Z
Chapter One: the Greatest Hits
March 11, 2002
Northwestside RecordsBMGSME
080/100
Jay-Z - Chapter One. the Greatest Hits
1. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) [Radio Edit] // 2. Wishing On a Star [D’Influence Mix Radio Edit] (feat. Gwen Dickey) // 3. Sunshine [Radio Edit] (feat. Babyface & Foxy Brown) // 4. The City Is Mine (feat. Blackstreet) // 5. Can’t Knock the Hustle [Radio Edit] (feat. Mary J. Blige) // 6. Ain’t No Nigga [Original Radio Edit] (feat. Foxy Brown) // 7. Imaginary Playa // 8. Money Ain’t a Thang (Jermaine Dupri feat. Jay-Z) // 9. Can I Get a… (feat. Amil & Ja Rule) // 10. Streets Is Watching // 11. Money, Cash, Hoes (feat. DMX) // 12. I Know What Girls Like [Fly Girly Dub] (feat. Lil’ Kim & Diddy) // 13. Feelin’ I(feat. Mecca) // 14. Dead Presidents II //
bonus tracks
15. Wishing On a Star [D’Influence Mix Full Version] (feat. Gwen Dickey) 16. Can’t Knock the Hustle [Fool’s Paradise Remix] (feat. Melissa Morgan) // 17. Ain’t No Nigga [Rae & Christian Mix] (feat. Foxy Brown) // 18. Brooklyn’s Finest (feat. the Notorious B.I.G.)

Jay-Z’s first greatest hits album came to be completely without his involvement and quite possibly completely without his knowledge of it happening. Chapter One: the Greatest Hits, released in early 2002 in order to ride the success of his album the Blueprint compiles all the hits from Jigga’s first three albums Reasonable DoubtIn My Lifetime vol. 1 and vol. 2 and it wasn’t even released on Roc-a-Fella records, the label all of these songs appeared on.
I’m sure Jay was dazed and confused when he found the cheque from Sony subsidiary Northwestside Records on his doormat, a label he probably had never even heard of in his lifetime. (On a side note: I wonder if Kanye at one point held this album in his hands when he was working on launching that ‘new person’ thing with Kim Kardashian last year.)
It turns out that Def Jam, Roc-a-Fella records’ parent label was distributed by Sony Music Entertainment from 1984 to 1998, and it is probably for this reason that Sony had the rights necessary for compiling and releasing a compilation such as this one. This also helps explain the otherwise curious omission of hit singles from Vol. 3, the last album released before the Blueprint. By 1999, the year Vol. 3 was released Def Jam, and Roc-a-Fella with it had already jumped ship to the Universal Music Group.

Chapter One: the Greatest Hits  is therefore nothing but a byproduct of music industry technicalities. But it nevertheless is a nice trip through Jay-Z’s early catalog from a purely commercial point of view. These are after all Jay’s most successful singles from the 1996-’98 period, although even disregarding the bonus-tracks some curious choices have been made (I Know What Girls Like and The City Is Mine made the cut but Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators ’99) and It’s Alright were left off? Never mind quality control, the latter respective two were higher-charting songs than the former respective two, besides being better songs by anyone’s standards except P. Daddy’s.) Keeping in mind that this amount of hits is the yield of only two years is pretty impressive in and by itself.

It is also worth noting that a lot of songs, Sunshine and Can’t Knock the Hustle in particular, sound much  better in their shortened radio edits and surrounded by their fellow hit singles than they do in their full-length incarnations on the albums on which they originally appeared. This is most likely because their instrumentals are perfectly enjoyable in measured doses but will grate on the ears when allowed to run on far beyond the three minute mark. It also helps that Can’t Knock the Hustle appears to have gotten a make over for it’s single release that has seriously tightened up the vocal production.

Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), the song that opens the album, is probably today still Jay’s biggest singular stroke of genius. Having the streets- and the pop-audiences eating from the palm of his hand in one go. It is with this song that he truly took over Biggie’s crown, speaking of which.. 
The City Is Mine
is still too polished for a proclamation of dominance over the rap-game with its rubbery Teddy Riley instrumental and its vocodered BlackStreet hook, but in retrospect the man was absolutely right in crowning himself king of New York. Looking back today it is simply a matter of fact.
Ain’t No Nigga and Sunshine are fun, fluffy ‘males vs. females’ cuts, and even Foxy Brown’s inclusion sounds logical and tolerable in these abreviated edits (Although it still remains questionable whether they were worth her having a career with solo albums and shit.)
Can I Get a… finds Jay abandoning Fox for another conventionally good-looking but not-very-talented female rapper Amil (I guess that Jay made as much money as he did because he’s a business man as much as he is an artist, and keeps in mind what appeal music video will have to whom, when selecting the line-up for the songs on his albums that are poised to be singles) and has the first appearance on a charting single by a certain Ja Rule. That’s a whole lot of poorly recieved careers launched in one song. May it be a consolation price that it is a good song largely in thanks to Irv Gotti’s lightly treading instrumental.
Money Ain’t a Thang, originally taken from Jermaine Dupri’s solo debut Life in 1472, but for this occasion redistilled from Vol. 2 on which it appeared as a bonus-track, is hands down Jay’s most balltastic song from the shiny suit era. It is also a song that other rappers haven’t stopped quoting and paraphrasing since it was released, even if few will have realised that its hook quotes from Jigga’s own Can’t Knock the Hustle.
Money Cash Hoes work despite Jay-Z, invited guest DMX and producer Swizz Beatz each doing a horrible job with their respective contributions. Somehow they all cancel each other out and leave nothing but an entertaining singalong song for the clubs.
Streets Is Watching is quintessential early Jay-Z, but it was never a single nevermind a hit. So its inclusion is curious but not unwelcome. It makes one wonder what Chapter One could’ve been if it were a compilation of rareties, pre-Reasonable Doubt singles and guest appearances, and songs that appeared on compilations such as Streets Is Watching. One could make a fantastic compilation out of I Can’t Get With That, Dead Presidents (I)In My Lifetime and Hawaiian Sophie and such. But Chapter One is a not that album, so I better stop daydreaming and get back to the review…
Imaginary Playa may very well be the exact point where where Jay-Z invented swag. It’s beat that suggest a sort of cold disaffection combined with Jay having hella fun exposing unnamed competing rappers as busters makes an underrated classic. Again: not a single. Guess we can conclude that this Greatest Hits concept is out of the window by now. It makes one wonder whether someone at Northwestside records actually knew and liked Jigga’s catalog because this is positively starting so sound like a perfectly decent, if limited, ‘best of’. (Perhaps the person compiling Chapter One disliked Memphis Bleek as much as I do and this was why It’s Alright failed to make the cut, even if it’s a pretty decent song.)
Feelin’ It and Dead Presidents II weren’t exactly big hits but they are amongst Jay’s best songs, and they are an effective introduction to Reasonable Doubt for the uninitiated, so their inclusion is warranted. It is puzzling however that the original Dead Presidents isn’t on here since that actually was a hit single, with a gold certification even. Guess nobody at Northwestside records wanted to make the call to EMI, Jay himself or whoever owns the right to that song (not Sony or Def Jam though, because it didn’t appear on the Def Jam/ Sony re-release of Reasonable Doubt), lest they risk legal action preventing this compilation from even coming out.

My favourite inclusion is Wishing On a Star [D-Influence Mix] because a) It makes the original, rather boring Trackmasters produced version (which was a UK-only bonus on In My Lifetime, Vol. 1) completely obsolete, and b) because it grants the fantastic UK acid jazz band D-Influence (calling them underrated would be the understatement of the century, even though they have four albums under their belt I’d call them undiscovered) a paycheck that was probably the biggest they’ve ever gotten. (For this reason I’ll even condone Northwestside records including it two version that are only different in that one of them is two minutes longer than the other.) This song is almost worth the price of admission alone. (Or.. you know a trip to Amazon.com or iTunes if you already own everything else. Make sure to get the long version labeled as a bonus track.)

The album closes with four bonus-tracks, the first one of which is the previously mentioned long version of Wishing On a Star. The following two are a pretty cool Irv Gotti remix of Can’t Knock the Hustle and a completely unneccesary remix of Ain’t No Nigga that removes the most fun part of the original: the “No-one-can-fuck-you-bet-ter”-chorus. These tracks neither add nor subtrackt much to the equation, which is fine and all since bonus tracks are usually there only to fill up the remaining room on the compact disc. Although it would’ve been nice if these two cuts were so polite to make room for Originators ’99 and It’s Alright. But you can’t have everything I suppose. The last one however is Jigga’s awesome collabo with the Notorious B.I.G., rightfully called Brooklyn’s Finest off Reasonable Doubt. Why wasn’t this included in the proper track listing one must ask because it is definitely one of the best things on here. Oh well, at least it’s here right?

Chapter One: the Greatest Hits is about as good a job as one could do compiling a single Jay-Z disc using only his first three albums as a source to pick songs from, trying to please everyone. And if that doesn’t sound like an ideal purchase consider this: With a combination of radio edits of hit singles, fan favourites and and even a couple of rareties thrown in, it is in fact pretty representative of what the man was doing during those early career establishing years. That’s breaking down the creation of a rap album into a scientific equation (or a ‘blueprint’ if you will): Radio and club-songs plus street songs in equal measure equals platinum record sales and charts hits. Interestingly by the time Vol. 3 dropped he had perfected the art (word to Max from hhid) and he had gotten sick of it before creating The Blueprint. So this is very much a constructive phase of Jay’s mainstream career, not that you tell that from the individual songs which all sound professionally made and pretty good with Jay-Z’s conversative flow and icy playboy persona fully formed (except I Know What Girls Like off course, which sounds like shit no matter what you release it on). And it is interesting that this album’s creators have been able to capture that process that has on occasion led him to some pretty suspect collaborators such as Babyface, Teddy Riley, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, P. Daddy and Ja Rule. It is telling that most of these people have little career left while Jay keeps the his coming to this day.
More importantly though: it makes for a mostly entertaining listen from start to finish, and if that’s not a good reason to pick this up I don’t know what is. Just watch out that you don’t get a whole lot of stuff you already have because it’s a rough economy, and considering the direction Jay’s career would go following these songs there is no need to make the man richer unless you absolutely have to.

Best tracks
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Can’t Knock the Hustle [Radio Edit]
Imaginary Playa
Ain’t No Nigga [Original Radio Edit]
Money Ain’t a Thang
Can I Get a…
Streets Is Watching
Feelin’ It
Dead Presidents II
Wishing on a Star [D’Influence Mix Full Version]
Brooklyn’s Finest

Recommendations
If you’re unfamiliar with Jay-Z’s first three albums this is a pretty good place to start and you should pick this up.


State Property – State Property

Various Artists
State Property (OST)
January 29, 2002
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
075/100
State Property - State Property OST
1. Roc the Mic (Freeway & Beanie Sigel) // 2. Sun Don’t Shine (Young Chris, Oschino, Freeway & Neef) // 3. It’s Not Right (Freeway, Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Beanie Sigel) // 4. Do You Want Me (Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 5. Sing My Song (Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 6. No Glory (Beanie Sigel) // 7. Bitch Niggas (Beanie Sigel & Omilio Sparks) // 8. Why Must I (Beanie Sigel & Omilio Sparks) // 9. International Hustler (Freeway) // 10. Hood I Know (Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Young Chris, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 11. Got Nowhere… (Beanie Sigel & Freeway) // 12. Trouble Man (Beanie Sigel, Omilio Sparks & Oschino) // 13. Don’t Realise (Beanie Sigel & Rell)

You know when a franchise is on a roll when it’s B-teamers get to ink their boys a deal and record an album with them. Off course calling Sigel a b-teamer wouldn’t be because of any sort percievable of lack of talent, mind you. Sigel is a B-teamer only because despite him doing alright for himself his albums never did Kanye West or Jay-Z numbers either because he wasn’t as likeable and hence markerable as either of those two superstar artists. Because he didn’t want to taint his gangsta rap albums with pop songs or probably both. The thing then that Beans brought to the table was raw street credibility. Just when Jay would lean a bit too far in the pop direction for hip-hop heads’ tastes Beans would bring out a cold hard gangsta rap album to keep Roc-a-fella Records’ street audiences happy.

It would be safe to say then that the records this guy did sell were sold to a small but dedicated fanbase who had no interest in compromising pop records, and that the same could be expected by an album coming from his protégés Freeway, Peedi Peedi, Young Chris, Neef, Omilio Sparks & Oschino. Catering to these expectations is exactly what State Property has done for their self-titled debut that also doubled as the soundtrack for Beanie Sigel & Co.’s movie debut, also called State Property (Had Beans learned nothing from Ma$e’s Harlem World, the group he named after his debut and how well that shit worked out?)
Now I personally haven’t seen this movie yet (and I have no immediate plans of doing so) but at least one person must have, because according to Wikipedia State Property (the movie) currently, twelve years following its release is still the reigning number one movie when it comes to utterences of the word ‘fuck’ per minute (bar a documentary on the word ‘fuck’ itself.) “Fuck is spoken 3.65 times per minute or 321 times in 88 minutes.” Wow. That should tell you exactly how much Beanie Mac cares about giving the media something they can play without giving their censors a burn out in in the process of preparing it for American mainsteam consumption.
This would also mean that the amout of ‘fucks’ uttered in the movie greatly exceeds that of the gangsta rap album that serves as its soundtrack. This is quite the achievement!
This in turn would mean that after shooting the movie the guys started to record the album but were *wait for it* literally out of fucks to give.

The opposite of this cornball-ass joke appears to have been the case. While every movie critic who saw it State Property (the movie) hated, hated, hated it, music critics actually took a liking to the album. And while not even Beanie Sigel’s mother could be convinced to buy a ticket for the film, State Property (the album) had a fairly healthy charts presence and could arguably be called succesful in its mission of launching the careers of Beans’ Philedelphia friends. Especially Freeway and the duo of Young Chris and Neef Buck who together record under the name Young Gunz. Both of these acts have had gold albums, which is good for them, but not necessarily good for Beans because when Beans left Roc-a-Fella Records to sign with Dame Dash’s new label and a beef between the Jiggaman and Mac ensued, most of State Property stuck with Jay-Z, apparently against his wishes.

Oh well, at least at the time when this album came out it was all good.. sorta. The fact that the album did so much better than the movie could be explained by the fact that State Property had been rapping for a while because they were rappers and this z-grade attempt at recording a b-movie was completely new to them.

The album kicks off with a club jam with Freeway handling the first and final verse, Sigel providing the creamy centre and both of them going back-and-forth on the hook. It’s a catchy song, but not your little sister’s birthday party kind of hip-hop song. Just Blaze’s beat is bouncy and a sparse kind of way and Sigel’s verse is all about the Notorious B.I.G. and firearms. It was the only single released of the album and sounds a lot more consise than that version with Murphy Lee and Nelly on it that appeared on Nellyville.
Following it is Sun Don’t Shine, a song about getting cornholed hardship in the hood with a crappy pseudo Neptunes instrumental backing up everyone but Sigel and Sparks. Speaking of Sparks: One would think that he’d have Pharrell’s phone number after helping to create the hook of I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) so that he could arrange a real Neptunes beat. It is almost as though with these first two songs State Property tried to lure potential buyers into believing that this album was going to be a sequel of sorts to The Dynasty: ROC la Familia.

From there on however it is away with the pop and in with gloomy soul-sampling beats. It’s Not Right sounds a lot like a sequel to This Can’t Be Life, except with Jay and Scarface being replaced by Beans his boys. Matter of fact, Roc-a-Fella in-house R&B singer Rell notwithstanding, there are go guest appearances by non-State Property members, ROC or otherwise. Whether this was Jay giving Beans a vote of confidence that him and his boys could record a perfectly good album without his help and an apology for having the balls to include one of his own solo-songs on Beans’ solo-debut album the Truth for absolutely no reason at all or simply because Beyoncé’s bootylicious booty had just started keeping occupied to record music, and also because he was spending the lion’s share of State Property’s album budget with her in Mexico recording the ’03 Bonnie And Clyde video is not entirely clear to me. Apparently he did executive this album with his boys Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs. Which probably means that the triumvirate removed Memphis Bleek from the studio he was occupying to make room for the guys. But the result of this is that Sigel, Free and company get to run their own show and  that there’s no famous guest’s appearances to skip forward to, which means they have my full attention.

State Property keeps it grimy throughout. Even the come-on number for the ladies Do You Want Me, which has Chris, Sparks and Oschino on it, has the sort of creepy-ass beat, courtesy of Rick Rock, that suggests something else than hot romance. The fact that they guys all seem to be hollering at the same chick doesn’t really help. Moving on.
Sing My Song has Omilio singing his song poorly (but not poorly enough to grate on the ears) over a bluesy beat made by some cat called Zukhan, and dueting Oschino talking all sorts of ‘profound’ stuff about the ghetto life, and managing quite well to entertain.No Glory has the kind of beat that blends mafioso movie music with blaxploitation movie music and lets Sigel go rampant over it by his goddamn self spouting all kinds of violent nonsense but sounding as good and pissed off as ever. The beat even tricks you into believing it’ll switch up somewhere in the middle but it doesn’t. Tense.
Bitch Niggas is the anti-snitch that is mandatory on this type of album with Sparks and Sigel going for broke with it, not adding much to this particular sub-genre of gangsta rap, but sounding pretty awesome nevertheless, not in a small part thanks to it’s fine instrumental.
Why Must I jacks a George Clinton hook via Snoop’s What’s My Name and fails miserbly at doing anything good with it, mostly because this sort of thing has been done by every rapper ever since Jesus and his posse recorded the New Testament, and also because the first shitty beat since Sun Don’t Shine nearly derailed this entire listening experience.
International Hustler pairs Freeway with M.O.P.-producer DR Period for a rowdy excercise in gangsta non sequitors. It’s clear why after Beans Freeway would be the most succesful guy out of the crew.
Hood I Know, which has everyone in the crew except Neef on it, is a clunker again because of it’s car-commercial beat that is too glossy to be underground and too incomplete to succesfully be pop.
Got Nowhere… is Kanye’s only production contribution and it’s not bad a beat for Sigel and Freeway to duet over, although one would expect more from the billionaire, playboy, philantropist, artiste extraordinaire we know today. But then again back then he was only a ‘humble’ producer.
Trouble Man takes on a remorseful vibe and has Sparks, Sigel and Oschino wonder why they’ve so unfortunate in life early on. Yeah… Me neither, but it does sound good. And hey substance isn’t what this album is for.
The final track Don’t Realise pairs the albums biggest star Beanie Sigel with R&B singer Rell, a guy who to my knowledge had been signed to the Roc from the beginning but never was allowed near the studio when Jay was recording. It’s a nice upbeat way to end the evening.

Best tracks
Roc the Mic
It’s Not Right
No Glory
Bitch Niggas
International Hustler
Got Nowhere…
Don’t Realise

State Property is actually as good as Beanie Sigel’s then-latest album The Reason, which was good news for not only him, his fans, and these guys but also Jay-Z who went on to make a pretty penny off having these guys to his label. (And even though the movie allegedly sucked balls Beans got to create a State Property 2 as well, and got sent to prison so soon after that it can hardly be called a coincidence) But we’ll get to that when we will. For now to lovers of uncompromising but professionally made gangsta rap I recommend a purchase of this album.


Jay-Z – The Blueprint

Jay-Z
The Blueprint
September 11, 2001
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
085/100
Jay-Z - The Blueprint
1. The Ruler’s Back // 2. Takeover // 3. Izzo (H.O.V.A.) // 4. Girls, Girls, Girls (feat. Q-Tip, Slick Rick & Biz Markie) // 5. Jigga That Nigga // 6. U Don’t Know // 7. Hola’ Hovito (feat. Timbaland) // 8. Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love) // 9. Never Change (feat. Kanye West) // 10. Song Cry // 11. All I Need // 12. Renegade (feat. Eminem) // 13a. Blueprint (Momma Loves Me) / 13b. Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise) / 13c. Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2] (feat. Michael Jackson)

Released on the same date as the WTC attacks, september 11, 2001, Jay-Z’s fifth solo album of original material (sixth if you count The Dynasty: Roc la Familia as a Jay-Z solo album, which you definitely shouldn’t) sold tonnes of copies and recieved the kind of critical acclaim the Jiggaman  hadn’t seen since he dropped Reasonable Doubt. In the immortal words of the Notorious B.I.G., Jay “[blew] up like the world trade” simultaneously with the World Trade actually blowing up.

Where on Vol. 1, 23 the man had gained mass success by employing the electronic club banger-creators Timbaland and Swizz Beatz and got jiggy with glossmasters the Trackmasters, Irv Gotti and Puff Diddy, and The Dynasty had seen him do something similar with West-coast stalwart Rick Rock and up-and-comers the Neptunes.
On the Blueprint however he elected to primairily work with Roc-a-Fella in-house producers Bink, Just Blaze and Kanye West, all three of whom were test-driven on albums by Jigga’s interns Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek (both of whom aren’t anywhere to be found on this album).
These men brought to the studio a somewhat RZA/Pete Rock/DJ Premier-inspired soul-sampling sound that was a lot sunnier and more radio friendly than any track any of those three seminal producers tend to lay down, but still was a far cry from P. Daddy or Irv Gotti’s squeaky clean disco beats, which helped the medicine go down with hip-hop heads and critics, while veteran Jay-Z producers Timbaland and the Trackmasters got one track each, and Eminem, the only guest vocalist who gets to touch on anything beyond a hook, gets to produce the song on which he appears.

Content-wise Jay talks about his own majesty (The Ruler’s Back), how much more succesful he is both commercially and artistically than NaS and Prodigy of Mobb Deep (Takeover), his prowess in courting the ladies (Girls, Girls, Girls), general boasting (Jigga That NiggaIzzo (H.O.V.A.)Hova’ Hovito) and how despite all this success he is still deep down a street hustler (Never Change) and running the hip-hop game (U Don’t Know).
To balance out these rather emotionally vapid, yet entertaining-as-fuck gangsta’isms he throws in a song about how he regrets negatively impacting the lives of those he loves (Song Cry).
Jay-Z had the golden ratio of a commercially succesful gangsta rap album down to a tee pretty much when he dropped Vol. 1. Club bangers (for the ladies) plus just violence and drugs to appease the streets (men) equals platinum sales. And Vol. 2 and 3. as well as the Blueprint all abide to the #oldrules. But these new musical surroundings, as well as challenges to a battle for the throne by NaS and Mobb Deep, appear to have brought Shawn Cory Carter renewed lyrical vigor, as well as the need to mostly have the recording booth to himself while creating the Blueprint (sorry Bleek!).

The resulting album truly is the very best thing this guy has released since his classic debut, and depending on your tastes this one might even be better.
On Reasonable Doubt Jigga was so focused on his lyrical and flowing techniques and the mafioso image he was trying to convey that he came off as a bit statuesque, especially when paired with an playful Notorious B.I.G. who at that point was the undisputed king of New York and thus had little to prove. It never seemed that there was much self-expression on that album and Jigga came off as a cold-hearted technocrat/mafioso/rapping machine.
Over the course of his next string of albums Jay learnt to let loose and have fun a bit recording songs (something NaS has yet to learn after 20+ years in the game, and probably never will), but since none of them but the Blueprint could remotely fuck with Reasonable Doubt production-wise it was only here and now it truly showed.
Basically by 2001 Jay had already snatched up the crown that B.I.G. used to rock via his success (he had once literally attempted to do so on the 1997 Teddy Riley-produced song The City Is Mine, and I say attempted, because it had fallen flat on its face because of it’s cotton candy beat. But a year later Hard Knock Life pretty much actually accomplished Shawn’s coup d’état). And the Blueprint was the consolidation of Hova’s reign over New York, if not the whole of hip-hop.

Izzo (H.O.V.A) had the final bit of the summer of 2001 on smash when it dropped in late august of that year. And for good reason. The celebratory Kanye beat samples the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back in a reasonably creative manner while the Jiggaman celebrates having made the American dream his reality.
Takeover takes apart NaS and Prodigy so ruthlessly efficiently over Kanye’s Fame interpolation (the David Bowie song, not the musical film) that I’m confident that despite this rap war being over ten years ago and having long since resolved, it pisses both artists today still when it comes up on hip-hop radio .
Girls, Girls, Girls marries a confident playa attitude with affection rather than misogyny and goes for broke lyrically over what is the most soulful, and some would say best, beat of the entire album, courtesy of Just Blaze, with light support of three old school legends on the hook (speaking of old school legends, Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2] which appears as a hidden bonus track on the tail end of the album has an uncredited backing vocal by the late Michael Jackson, returning the favour after Jay appeared on the Trackmasters Remix of You Rock My World)
U Don’t Know has Hova refuting the claim (made by a sped-up vocal sample) that he doesn’t have a master plan in this rap game (as if anyone ever doubted it) and it’s a hustler anthem for the ages.
Song Cry manages to humanise this rap god by having him openly discuss his regrets and insecurities, which helps make it easier for people to root for the guy.

Unsurprisingly the album’s low points are those produced by Timbaland, Trackmasters and Eminem, unsurprising because, as expected, they don’t fit the sped-up ’60s/’70s soul theme and because they rely on gimmicks (though arguably Kanye’s chipmunk soul was a bit of a gimmick too) Jigga That Nigga incorporates bolywood sounds and Hola’ Hovito as Timbaland Having the balls to jump on the latin bandwagon that was a thing around the turn of the millenium. And the freedom-of-speech plea Renegade was better off as the Em-Royce collabo it originally was since Bad Meets Evil unlike Jigga actually racked up controversy with their lyrical content.
But even these songs are pretty entertaining by their own right. It’s not as though they are sucky or anything, it is just that they have the musfortune of sharing an album with a bunch of undisputed classics.

the Blueprint is spotless, and with a lot of derivative albums coming out following its release (not least its very own sequels created by Jay himself) it does its name justice. It is also the argument that convinced this reviewer that Jay-Z, not NaS was the best rapper on the East-Coast in 2001.

Best tracks
Takeover
Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
Girls, Girls, Girls
U Don’t Know
Song Cry
Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)
Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2]

Recommendations
Pick this one up, a.s.a.p.


Beanie Sigel – The Reason

Beanie Sigel
The Reason
June 26, 2001
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
075/100
Beanie Sigel - The Reason
1. Nothing Like It // 2. Beanie Mack (Bitch) // 3. So What You Saying (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 4. Get Down // 5. I Don’t Do Much // 6. For My Niggas (feat. Daz Dillinger) // 7. Watch Your Bitches // 8. Think It’s a Game (feat. Freeway, Young Chris & Jay-Z) // 9. Man’s World // 10. Gangsta, Gangsta (feat. Kurupt) // 11. Tales of a Hustler (feat. Omilio Sparks) // 12. Mom Praying (feat. Scarface) // 13.Still Got Love For You (feat. Jay-Z & Rell) // 14. What Your Life Like 2

While there remains a strong case for the allegations that Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter was a horrible label boss when it’s gangsta rap that was concerned, with proof found in albums such as Memphis Bleek’s Coming of Age and The Understanding and Amil’s A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal), also taking into consideration how good the ROC’s output could‘ve been, e.g.: Sauce Money’s Middle Finger U, there was at one point at the very least one rapper, other than the Jiggaman himself, with both talent behind the microphone and a Roc-a-Fella Record deal.

That rapper, ladies and gentlemen, is Beanie Sigel whose debut album the Truth also went gold solely because of the Roc-a-Fella records logo and because the back-cover said it featured Jay-Z on several songs (one song titled Anything even featured jay-Z by himself, with not a trace of Beans to be found, in a desperate attempt to sell Beans to Jigga’s audience that may or may not have worked.) but in Sigel’s case I can live with that outcome, because unlike Bleek, Sigel is a talent that deserves to be heard.

His second album featured production by some of the relatively new Roc-a-Fella hot-shots Just Blaze and some cat who goes by the name of Kanye West, both of whom brought a new, smooth, classic soul-sampling sound to hip-hop making the Reason a prototype of sorts for Jay-Z’s career re-establishing album the Blueprint (somehow I think there’s a pun in there). Other people who contributed beats were Rick Rock, the miscast West-Coast veteran who worked on the Bleek-Sigel-Jigga triumvirate-album The Dynasty: ROC La Familia, and gets to collect a cheque for turning in his first few failed attempts at creating the not-very-good Change the Game-beat that Sigel had rocked over twice already anyway, on I Don’t Do Much and For My Niggas. Also future G-Unit label president Sha Money XL brings in an instrumental. Besides the previously mentioned Rick Rock-produced songs, and Man’s World and Still Got Love For You which suffer from over-familiar samples being used, all the beats sound fresh.

Guests include Kurupt and Daz on seperate tracks, both of whom had collaborated with the ROC not long before on Jay-Z’s Change the Game [Remix], usual Roc suspects Bleek and Jay-Z, Sigel’s State Property cronies Freeway, Young Chris and Omilio Sparks and Houston-rap veteran, and Sigel’s good friend Scarface. With the exception of Kurupt and Daz, whose verses I cannot recall existing, everyone justifies his presence, and with the guests and the beats being mostly pretty good, all this album needs is Sigel rising up to the challenge of bypassing the imfamous the sophomore slump. Spoiler alert: he more than does.

Having listened to the Reason it is safe to say that Beans had upped his game a bit since the Truth. While that album got by well enough because of the man’s rugged persona and his expert lyrics, it was a bit boring flow-wise. While on the Reason he still isn’t entering NaS or Jay-Z territory he does play around with his flow a little more without dropping the ball, while maintaining the qualities that had him make the Truth such an entertaining album. It’s marginal progress that makes all the difference, and coupled with the new sounds it makes the Reason a better, more interesting album.

Highlights include the vintage Kanye production of Nothing Like It which opens the album, the rowdy Just Blaze-produced-club banger and lead single Beanie Mack (Bitch), and the old-school/P funk-tinged Bleek-collabo So What You Saying, on which Bleek sounds a lot better than on any track of either of his first two solo-albums. The blaxploitation funk-infused pimp-anthem Watch Your Bitches picks up the steam after the lacklustre I Don’t Do Much. And on Think It’s a Game our host and his State Property-boys show why exactly they were signed to the ROC by displaying chemistry with Hov himself. On the knocking Kanye West-produced Gangsta, Gangsta Sigel is joined by fellow philedelphian rapper Kurupt who only appears on the hook, which given his post-Death Row track-record of mostly horrible verse may have been a pretty good idea.

Omilio Sparks, who fullfilled a similarly useless roll as Kurupt did on Gangsta, Gangsta, on Jay-Z’s I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me) proves that he’s good for more than meh half-hooks on his verse on Tales of a Hustler, which along with Think It’s a Game makes this reviewer enthousiastic about checking out State Property’s group-debut.

On all these tracks Sigel is the confident gangsta who will rob you at gunpoint, and for those of you who are into that sort of thing Sigel plays the roll well. But for those who want a little humanity with their sex and violence there’s the the emotional sequel to one of the better tracks off his debut in What Your Life Like 2, the Scarface-collabo Mom Crying and (if you’re not sick and tired of rappers rhyming over that exact same Isaac Hayes’ Ike’s Mood 1 loop everytime you play a hip-hop album released during the last twenty years) the sequel to (and the semi-apology for) Where Have You Been which was a middle finger to Sigel and Jay-Z’s absentee fathers, and arguably the best song on The Dynasty: ROC la Familia.

The Reason just barely falls short of being a textbook classic, but at the time it was a more entertaining album than any Jay-Z album since In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 had been, which may have made it one of the more important reasons (no pun intended) for Jay-Z stepping his game up on the Blueprint. And if you’re a fan of unapolagetic, no-frills, well-made gangster rap then forget about that slightly overrated album , which you’ve probably heard in abundance, for just a minute and pick up the massively underrated the Reason, for it will not disappoint you.

Best tracks
Nothing Like It
Beanie Mack (Bitch)
So What You Saying
Watch Your Bitches
Think It’s a Game
Tales of a Hustler
Mom Prayin
What Your Life Like 2

Recommendations
Buy this album.


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.


Memphis Bleek – The Understanding

Memphis Bleek
The Understanding
December 5, 2000
Get Low Records/ Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
050/100
Memphis Bleek - The Understanding
1. Intro – U Know Bleek // 2. Do My… (feat. Jay-Z) // 3. I Get High // 4. We Get Low // 5. Change Up (feat. Jay-Z & Beanie Sigel) // 6. My Mind Right [Remix] (feat. Jay-Z, H. Money Bags & Beanie Sigel) // 7. Hustler (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 8. All Types of Shit // 9. PYT (feat. Jay-Z & Amil) // 10. Bounce Bitch // 11. They’ll Never Play Me  // 12. Everyday (feat. Carl Thomas) // 13. Is That Your Chick [Remix] (Jay-Z feat. Twista, Missy Elliott & Memphis Bleek) // 14. In My Life

Niggas said I can’t do it
Funny I done it
The album is here, now who the fuck want it?

And so commences the second album by Brooklyn rapper Memphis Bleek, a guy best known at the time for his shitty hit song Memph Bleek Is… of his equally shitty debut album Coming of Age named after the first Jay-Z song our host of the night ever made sound less appealing back in ’96.

But in all fairness, when we first got to hear Bleek in ’96 on Reasonable Doubt‘s Coming of Age, he was sixteen years old (an industry story goes that the person who was actually supposed to appear on that song was Wu-Tang clan affiliated at-the-time child-rapper Shyheim, who declined allowing Bleek to step in, for whatever ridiculous reason he must regret the shit out of today, considering what standing both Reasonable Doubt and Jay-Z have in today’s hip-hop game) and so there was a lot of room for growth for young Bleek as far as far as rapping skills were concerned from when we first heard him rap on.

Now Coming of Age didn’t show much signs of growth, and neither did the collaboration album The Dynasty: ROC la Familia with Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel but… but… *groan* let’s hope for the best shall we?

Basically Bleek has upped his game a bit. This album has actual highlights. Intro – U Know Bleek has a pretty decent celebratory Just Blaze instrumental and our host’s agressive, urgent flow works well enough. And clocking under two minutes neither overstays its welcome, even if Bleek asks the listener who the fuck wants his album, one people told him specifically he couldn’t make and condones his music inspiring school shootings.

I Get High is so fucking stupid (It’s a song about the merits of smoking pot while driving down the interstate, without a destination even being so much as considered) it makes a U-turn to hilarious, what with its straightfaced rap by Bleek and it’s tailor-made-to-get-baked-to instrumental. Try to take the train or the bus in stead of the car whenever so much as approaching the East-Coast of the United States though. Bleek never showed the ability to understand irony, so he probably literally likes to do this shit in real life.

And then there’s Is That Your Chick, an all-star posse song with Jay-Z, Twista and Missy Elliott on a banging-ass Timbaland beat. Good song but Bleek is a complete nonfactor. His two verses on the song (as opposed to his bos Jay-Zs’s three verses on the song) are the most skippable parts. For those caring, a slightly more explicit, Memphis Bleek-free version of the song titled Is That Your Bitch was released on the European version of Jay-Z’s Vol. 3 album that sounded both better and more concise than this. It was left off the USA version due to bootlegging, so Bleek got Timbo, Missy and Twista on his album due to a technicality. That doesn’t take away from that it is hands-down the best thing on here.

As for the rest of this album. Meh.

Do My and Bounce Bitch are generic, rude, unsexy club bangers. We Get Low sounds like Just Blaze miscarriaging Swizz Beatz musical child, while Bleek still fails to understand how to write a hook. And on Change UpPYT, My Mind Right and Hustlers he gets outclassed in turns by Beanie Sigel and/or Jay-Z with overall the results never really ending up on the right side of acceptable.

Also the closing track My Life samples I Wanna Know What Love Is by Foreigner, which bypasses the P. Daddy and heads straight for Pittbull levels of wrongful sampling.

Better luck next time, Bleek!

Best tracks
Intro – U Know Bleek
I Get High
Is That Your Chick?

Recommendations
Stay away from this shit. Get the Bleek-free version of Is That Your Chick off iTunes and, if you smoke pot and like to laugh, I Get High too.


Jay-Z – The Dynasty: ROC la Familia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Amil – A.M.I.L. (All Money Is Legal)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best tracks
Quarrels
4 da Fam

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

 


DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life (OST)

Various Artists
DJ Clue? Presents Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life (OST)
August 29, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
050/100
DJ Clue Presets Backstage Mixtape
1. Intro [Skit] // 2. Best of Me (Part 2) (Mýa feat. Jay-Z) // 3. In The Club (Beanie Sigel) // 4. Keep It Thorough (Prodigy) // 5. My Mind Right (Memphis Bleek) // 6. Who Did You Expect (the LOX) // 7. Wanna Take Me Back (T-Boz) // 8. Just Leave Your Love (Christión) // 9. Darlin’ (Rell) // 10. Millionaire (Hot Boys & Big Tymers) // 11. Road Dawgs (Amil, Eve, Da Brat & Jay-Z) // 12. Funkanella (Outkast, Killer Mike & Slimm Calhoun) // 13. Come and Get It (Redman & Lady Luck) // 14. Hate Music (Cam’ron & Juelz Santana) // 15. Gotta Be a Thug (Fabolous) // 16. Don’t Want Beef (Capene-N-Noreaga) // 17. Crime Life (Memphis Bleek, Lil’ Cease & Ja Rule) // 18. Say What You Want (Da Ranjahs & Ja Rule) // 19. People’s Court (Jay-Z)

The word “mixtape” is shown prominently on this album’s cover. Mixed bag would be accurate. DJ Clue? doesn’t perform a set, and unlike on his debut album The Professional he produces but one song here, for the rest of this disc he is relegated to “Shouting his own name” duties. “Music inspired by the movie” follows the word mixtape. That’s a lie too.

Not unlike what was the case with Streets Is Watching there’s not much of a movie to speak of that would “inspire” music. In fact Backstage is a documentary on the Hard Knock Life concert tour, which was headlined by Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man, Redman, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, Amil and DJ Clue? The documentary consisted mostly of interviews of rappers.

The most logical way of tying an album to a tour is by simply releasing a recording of one of the shows, unfortunately all live hip-hop albums suck balls. (I would say nearly all live hip-hop albums, but I have yet to hear an exception.)

Perhaps the most enjoyable way to go about this novelty release, which would’ve been inessential anyway would be to compile previously released hit-singles performed by the previously mentioned line-up of artists on the tour, such as Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life, DMX’s Slippin’, Redman’s I’ll Bee Dat! and Ja Rule’s Holla Holla. At least that way one could somewhat rightfully claim that Backstage: a Hard Knock Life was the music that inspired the movie and the disc would’ve been a nice Def Jam, class of ’99 yearbook.

In stead we are served what appears to be scraps and studio leftovers by artists who indiscriminately do or do not have anything to do with the tour, and may or may not have had supporting roles in the documentary (supporting interviews? What the hell?)

It’s not all bad though. In the Club has Beanie Sigel finally recording the Timbaland-helmed club banger that was so prominently absent from the Truth, and regardless of whether it was what you thought you wanted to hear from the guy, he does pull it off well. Keep It Thorough is Mobb Deep’s Prodigy’s finest solo song ever (although it can also be found on his solo debut H.N.I.C., sans Clue? shouting) Funkanella is a decent Dungeon Family posse cut and Millionaire has most of the contemporary Cash Money records roster (Juvenile, B.G., Birdman and Lil Wayne and others) doing their thing, for those who enjoy that sort of stuff.

Memphis Bleek and the LOX, Redman, Cam’ron, Fabolous, Ja Rule and a recently reunited Capone-N-Noreaga as well as a female rap-posse cosisting of Eve, Da Brat and Amil all put in work, with or without the aid of their subordinates, to various degrees of success, which makes sense I suppose, since they were all popular at the time. The Mýa song even has a decent excuse for appearing since it has a Jay-Z guest appearance, even if it and most of the rest of this music doesn’t need to be ever heard, let alone revisited.

What the likes of Rell, Christión da Ranjahs, T-Boz and Lil’ Cease are doing here is mystifying though. Even though the first three acts were on the Roc-a-Fella payroll at some point, they hadn’t been allowed into the studio for the recordings of any of the label’s recent memory projects (The TruthVol. 3). And Lil’ Cease, a dude who was an Notorious B.I.G. affiliate who never got to contribute to a Biggie album until the man was dead and powerless to stop him, and TLC’s T-Boz weren’t even signed to Def Jam anywhere in history.

Perhaps the Jiggaman gave Clue? the command to clean-out the Roc-a-Fella/ Def Jam vaults, as well as those of other record labels, just throw something together, slap the movie’s cover-photo on it and just release it already. Nowhere does this become more apparent than on one of the highlights, the album closer and Jigga solo-shot People’s Court where the man namedrops In My Lifetime, Vol. 2, which is most likely the album on which it was slated to appear. It was released some two years before this disc came out.

To sum it up: DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage: A Hard Knock Life Mixtape (Music Inspired by the Movie) is not a mixtape, doesn’t feature music inspired by the movie, doesn’t have so-called “DJ” Clue? doing anything DJ-like or useful otherwise, doesn’t feature the Jay-Z song Hard Knock Life, and doesn’t feature any music by Method Man, even though his face is featured on the cover.

Besides the shitloads of false-advertising there’s also the matter of what the listener actually gets on his plate; Most of the featured material is simply generic and doesn’t warrant any time, money or attention.

Best tracks
In the Club
Keep It Thorough
Funkanella
Don’t Want Beef
People’s Court

Recommendations
Look up the Beanie Sigel and solo Jay-Z songs and the CNN and OutKast songs, and let the rest be the rest. If you want to hear the Prodigy joint, which you should do, pick up the H.N.I.C.

Also on a somewhat unrelated note; pick up Sauce Money’s Middle Finger U.


Beanie Sigel – The Truth

Beanie Sigel
The Truth
February 9, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
070/100
Beanie Sigel - The Truth
1. The Truth // 2. Who Want What (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 3. Raw & Uncut (feat. Jay-Z) // 4. Mac Man // 5. Playa (feat. Amil & Jay-Z) // 6. Everybody Wanna Be a Star // 7. Remember Them Days (feat. Eve) // 8. Stop, Chill // 9. Mac & Brad (feat. Scarface) // 10. What a Thug About // 11. What Ya Life Like // 12. Ride 4 My //13. Die // 14. Anything (performed by Jay-Z)

Spit like August
I’m “the Truth” I’m not lying

I’m the reason why Jay feel comfortable retiring.

That line taken from Sigel’s guest verse on Jigga’s Pop 4 Roc is both a pretty straightforward announcement of this album hitting stores soon and quite the claim indeed. Considering Jay-Z was and is considered one of New York’s finest rappers, and Sigel, well… at that time nobody actually knew who he was. But let’s be honest; If Jay ever were to deliver on his threat to retire it wouldn’t be because motherfucking Mempis Bleek could hold down Roc-a-Fella records in his absence (Sorry Bleek!)

Sigel first made some noise appearing on Jay-Z’s Resevoir Dogs, as well as songs by Memphis Bleek, Puff Diddy and the Roots. Hailing from Philadelphia he was one of the first non-New York artists on Roc-a-Fella, and certainly the first one to get to release an album there paving the way for a certain Kanye West, who supplies his first Roc-a-Fella production contribution here, but was still years away from a rap career.

Jay’s Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter had already seen the Roc moving away somewhat from the pop-rap sounds that had made Vol. 1Vol. 2 and to a lesser extent Memphis Bleek’s Coming of Age hit albums. But The Truth takes this movement to the next level and likes to pretend the R&B charts don’t exist. There’s zero R&B hooks and no expensive-ass Timbaland/ Swizz Beatz club tracks making this an album one for hip-hop heads only. In fact, one can easily imagine Jigga hearing the final product, panicking about who the hell would buy a rap-album without lame-ass pop concessions and included his own Oliver!-sampling  mediocre-ass Hard Knock Life-reprise Anything as a bonus-track, in a final attempt to seduce the ladies into buying The Truth.

The album features thirteen tracks (not counting Anything because Beans ain’t got shit to do with it) produced by a myriad of producers. In the hands of a less capable rapper this would lead to a sonic chaos. But Sigel pulls it together with his snarling, agressive style somewhat reminiscent of Ice Cube at his most angry. Unlike Coming of Age The Truth isn’t an amateur’s rendition of In My Lifetime, Vol. 1Kicking off with the early Kanye production/ title track Beans grabs the listener by the throat with his sheer intensity. He’s not a technichian the way Jay-Z is, his flows are relatively simple compared to those of his boss, rather it’s the way he makes one feel his words. Finding highlights is hard since Sigel couldn’t be bothered to cater to the radio, one should rather take the Truth as a whole. Nevertheless; Raw & Uncut may be the umpteenth song comparing hip-hop music to some narcotic but Beans seems invested enough in his performance, the blaxploitation-inspired beat is nice and groovy. It also has a nice back-and-forth going on between our host and the guy who signs his paychecks. (No such luck with the Memph Bleek-duet Who Want What, what with Roc-a-Fella production neophyte Just Blaze giving Sigel his impression of a Swizz Beat, or the Amil-feature Playa that comes thisclose to being a radio song, lacking only listenability. It truly seems that the only people with talent in on the Roc-a-Fella payroll at this time were Jay and Sigel) An even better match for Sigel to duet here is Houston rap-vetaran Scarface who gets down with our host on the simply titled Mac & Brad over an understated instrumental. The fact that Beans holds his own here is definitely proof the man is no joke. The only complaint I can come up with here is that they fade out the track while Face is still rapping, the fuck? But arguably Beans is best served solo. The title track, Stop, ChillWhat a Thug AboutWhat Your Life Like and Die are the must succesful showcases of Sigel’s gangsta raps served neat, with no ice. Especially the latter on which the man contemplates what violent, unpleasant way he’ll meet his maker given that death is certain and he lives the gangsta lifestyle, over an atypically mournful Prestige beat.

As good as these highlights are it’s not all good here. Remember them Days has a cotton candy of an instrumental and puts three perfectly seviceable Beans verses and a meh Eve hook to waste. Mac Man is a overly gimmicky shitstorm with it’s video game sample (guess which one!) and then there’s the previously mentioned Roc-a-Fella guest appearances on Who Want What and Playa.

But if you kept count you’ll have noticed that the good mostly outways the bad here, and Sigel more or less gives off the idea that although Jay’s crown would be a bit too heavy for him (Beans could never maintain a constant charts presence like Jigga man has been doing from ’96 ’til now.) But there’s no doubt he could keep the Roc relevant in the absence of Shawn Carter.

Unfortunately for our host things wouldn’t end up remotely like that, but that story is for another day.

Best tracks
The Truth
Raw & Uncut
Stop, Chill
Mac & Brad
What a Thug About
What Your Life Like
Die

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Memphis Bleek – Coming of Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations
Don’t go near this one.


DJ Clue? – The Professional

DJ Clue?
The Professional
December 15, 1998
Desert Storm Records/ Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
060/100
djclue

1. Intro (Diddy) // 2. Ruff Ryders Anthem [Remix] (DMX, Drag-On, Eve, Jadakiss & Styles P) // 3. It’s On (DMX) // 4. Fantastic 4 (Cam’ron, Big Pun, Noreaga & Canibus) // 5. Queensfinest (NaS) // 6. Exclusive New Shit (Nature) // 7. Gangsta Shit (Jay-Z feat. Ja Rule) // 8. Thugged Out Shit  (Memphis Bleek) // 9. It’s My Thang ’99 (EPMD, Keith Murray & Redman) // 10. Mariah Carey [Skit] (Mariah Carey) // 11. Whatever You Want (Flipmode Squad) // 12. That’s the Way (Fabolous, Foxy Brown & Ma$e) // 13. I Like Control (Missy Elliott, Mocha & Nicole Wray) // 14.  Bitch Be a Ho (Jermaine Dupri & R.O.C.) // 15. If They Want It (Fabolous) // 16. Pain In da Ass [Skit] // 17. The Professional (Big Noyd & Mobb Deep) // 18.  Brown Paper Bags (Raekwon) // 19. Cops & Robbers (DJ Muggs & Lord Tariq) // 20. Made Men (Made Men) // 21.  No Love (M.O.P.) // 22.  Come On  (Boot Camp Clik)

I apologise in advance for the interpunction but in my defense, this guy has a question mark in his artist name.

In a move that’s either really fucking stupid or really fucking brilliant (this album’s sales numbers indicate the latter) Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella records signed mixtape DJ, DJ Clue? to their roster. No disrespect to the man of the hour, Clue? is known in hip-hop for releasing high-quality mixtapes with exclusive songs not heard elsewhere before the era of internet bootlegs, and thus giving fans sneek previews at hot upcoming releases which is definitely service to the hip-hop community. But what such an individual has to do with a recording contract on a major label, where everything has to be cleared before release, from samples to songs, isn’t entirely clear to this reviewer.

Mixing and producing is one answer. Indeed seventeen out of the twenty-two tracks feature Clue? in a producer or co-producer capacity. But that leaves five tracks on which he has zero creative involvement, or at least doesn’t take credit for making beats, and not taking credit for doing for stuff you did actually do is not very hip-hop (unless you count Rick Ross’ CO stint). Also DURO produces or co-produces ten tracks here and his name isn’t on the front cover anywhere.

If Clue? had turned this one into an extended DJ set where every track is seamlessly mixed into the next then his name printed big-assedly on the front would be entirely justified, but alas, no such luck.

The man makes his presence mostly known by yelling his own name, the name of his record label, the name of one or more of the featured artists, the name of his album or random bullshit including but not limited to “killuminti”,  “new shit” and “exclusive” at random intervals, quite literally so you won’t forget who’s album you are currently listening to. This annoying habit has become a widely copied thing among hip-hop mixtape DJs, with people like DJ Skee and most famously DJ Khaled following suit.

So Clue?’s primary function is to “host” this project by yelling over otherwise perfectly functional tracks. Two things should be noted about this intriguing concept.

1. Nearly any jackass could do this particular hosting thing, so long as said jackass can raise his voice.

2. Everything would sound better if Clue? Had shown some restraint and just shut the fuck up or at least kept the yelling to a minimum.

That said the Professional is an okay reminder of who was hot in ’98 in hip-hop on the East coast. Listening to this album one can think of at least one thing Clue? had going for him, clout. Looking at the guestlist one has an easier time summing up who didn’t show up to contribute than it is who did.

Everyone from the Ruff Ryders to Puffy and Ma$e to the Wu-Tang to Mobb Deep to Jermaine Dupri to the Bootcamp Clik to M.O.P. are here. Even NaS, who probably had beef with Jigga already, gets down with Clue?, even if it means appearing on a Roc-a-Fella records release. The results are a late ’90s East Coast block party with a guest list that’ll have any fan of this particular era in rap salivating from just peeping the back cover.

Off course having many famous guests on your album doesn’t guarantee that your album will sound good, since it can lead to horrible chaotic mess, but since Clue? is behind the boards a lot he’s the one to give this album cohesiveness and direction. Quite the task indeed, especially since he’s a limited beatsmith, resorting mostly to the tried and true stale funk-loop-jacking of the time, coming off as a poor man’s Jermaine Dupri/ Puff Daddy/ Trackmaster. Not that he’s outright wack with the beats, It’s On  gives DMX a perfectly passable conventional East-Coast hip-hop beat, making this an especially welcome addition to his discography considering Swizzy wouldn’t leave him alone during the recordings of his second album of the year ’90 Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood.
The Jay-Z contribution Gangsta Shit, which features a pre-debut Ja Rule, who sounds like he wants to be an actual rapper rather than a Luther Vandross, is also pretty decent.
Fantastic 4 has 1998s golden boys Cam’ron, Big Pun, Noreaga and Canibus trade verses, and although it’s not an entirely natural collaboration at least everyone gets to show why they were a thing back then, especially Canibus who always sounds pretty good unless he’s on his own albums.

Nasir’s ode to his borough; Queensfinest certainly won’t cost him any fans and Busta Rhymes and his crew the Flipmode Squad do their thing on the posse cut Whatever You Want, which fortunately isn’t remotely similar to their song I Know What You Want featuring Mariah Carey.

Speaking of her, she’s featured on this album giggeling about with our host on an skit named after her, not singing a single note. This isn’t a complaint about the Professional‘s lack of R&B hooks (Clue? knows his audience it seems.), but I hope he didn’t have to pay her a lot of money for this vocal performance. Not that skits on hip-hop albums usually do sound good but here they seem especially useless with the Pain In da Ass [Skit] taking the cake. Oh well, at least they’re short and there’s only two of them.

Basically everyone here does exactly what you expect of him/her (well except Mariah…) with no-one fucking up badly, except for the tag-team of Ma$e and a then-unknown Fabolous, who decide to interpolate KC & the Sunshine Band’s That’s The Way (I Like It) with Foxy Brown on That’s the Way (I’m sure P. Daddy was jealous as fuck he didn’t think of that idea before, and wanted to kill Clue? like he says he once did on the intro…) But at least Fabby, who was once called a Ma$e redux, proves they don’t sound all that much alike when put on the same track, so that’s good for him.

A song that doesn’t necessarily sound awful, but is an excercise in futility nonetheless, is EPMD + Keith Murray & Redman’s (or the Def Squad + PMD’s) It’s My Thang ’99 because it’s the millionth hip-hop song re-using the beat to Jay-Z’s Ain’t No Nigga.

The remix of DMX’ Ruff Ryders Anthem, now featuring all the Ruff Ryders, isn’t bad but it might have been a more logical inclusion on the Ruff Ryders crew album Ryde or Die, vol. 1 because it is THE Ruff Ryders anthem and also because Clue? hasn’t got shit to do with it.

Overall what one should admire most about Clue? is his ability to surround himself with talented and popular rappers (Jay-Z, NaS, Mobb Deep, Raekwon,  M.O.P.) and to have the foresight to include up and comers (Ja Rule and Fabolous and Benzino) and his ability to create beats that are at least listenable, but none of these things per se make the Professional a must-own.

The Professional is a competently made but somewhat underwhelming vanity project.

Best tracks
It’s On, Fantastic 4, Queensfinest, Gangsta Shit, The Professional, Brown Paper Bags, No Love

Recommendations
For casual rap fans this isn’t a must-listen, but for fans of mid-to-late ’90s hip-hop the Professional is worth a try on spotify to see if it is worth a purchase.


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.


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.


Christión – Ghetto Cyrano

Christión
Ghetto Cyrano
October 7, 1997
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
059/100
Christión - Ghetto Cyrano
Chapter 1the Streets
1. The Getto (What Ya Gotta Do// 2. Full of Smoke // 3. Pull It // 4. Where I’m From [Interlude] // 5. Where I’m from
Chapter 2: the Relationship
6. Midnight X-Ta-C // 7. Anything Goes // 8. I Wanna Get Next to you // 9. Face Like Yours
Chapter 3: the Love
10. Bring Back Your Love // 11. Come To Me // 12. Soon
Chapter 4: the Aftermath
13. Tonight // 14. aftermath

The most pretentious thing that the people responsible for this album did is include Cyrano in its name, which is supposed to refer to either 17th century French science fiction writer Cyrano de Bergerac or the play based on the man that portrays him as some sort of poetic dirty uncle. There was also apparently a 1913 opera called Cyrano, but Anthony Allen and Kenni Ski don’t strike me as opera lovers (Though admittedly I have been wrong before in similar assessment). Ghetto Cyrano may even be named after the 1991 atrocity of a musical one of my countrymen excreted after consuming an entire script of said play, with an entrée of Hans Zimmerman and an side dish of Tim Rice.
Considering that this is supposedly divided into four ‘chapters’ I’m going to go with the play, since plays are oft divided into acts (acts goddamn it, not chapters!), which the person who namedropped Cyrano into their conscience either failed to mention, or the boys in this R&B duo – who probably didn’t go to see the play for themselves – inconveniently failed to recall when they explained their vision of a concept of an album that was like a 19th century play from France, with Chapters and shit!, to Damon Dash and were too lazy too look up afterwards since him and the Jiggaman had inked them a deal already anyway and looking it up on the internet would’ve cost them more time and money since it was 1997 and all there was available was shitty Dial-Up internet access and well… ain’t nobody got time for that.
Either that or they read L’Autre monde ou les états et empires de la Lune and stuffed Ghetto Cyrano full of hidden 1657 satire references, which off course I wouldn’t notice because I haven’t read it personally (I’m not that much of a culture-buff), in which case the joke would be on me. If this is the case please leave a comment so I can see my error of judgment.
In the unlikely event this is fact the division in ‘chapters’ still doesn’t remotely make sense since only the five opening tracks show any sort of entity seperate from the rest: The first five are about ‘street life’ while the remaining three ‘chapters’ comprising nine tracks are all about love and sex, and definitely not the edgy crush-on-your neice kind that ol’ Cyrano was so lyric about in the fictitious play written about him more than a century after he died.

What’s almost equally mystifying is how these two guys from the bay area of California got signed to the very New York-centric Roc-a-Fella Records, and were not only the first R&B act on the label, but the first act bar label boss Jay-Z to get to release their album on it altogether. It actually takes some pretty close inspection of the packaging to find that out though since you can find nary a Jay-Z fingerprint on it. Sure, his name is stamped on the back with Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs who all ‘executive produce’, but he doesn’t drop as much as a single line on it. Nor are there any of the producers that were associated with the Roc at the time present. Christión gets to produce all of this stuff for themselves with some mystery guy called Poetry Man who appears to never have worked on anything other than Ghetto Cyrano. Well, that’s not to say that this record is entirely free of Jay: The opening track The Ghetto (What Ya Gotta Do) has a small shard of Jigga’s vocals that seem to have been lifted from Reasonable Doubt‘s closing song Regrets that’s dropped into the chorus for no real reason other than to stress to the listener that they in fact were on his label. The same happens on Pull It, as though the Roc didn’t yet have the cash to fly Christión to Brooklyn or fly Jay to Frisco (which may have been the truth since Reasonable Doubt didn’t sell very well and the first real success in the form of In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 had yet to drop), so in stead of having them record together they e-mailed Jigga’s voice across the country, but were, once again, severely restricted to an absolute minimum by what the technology of the time had to offer, which raises another question: Why did Christión sign to a not (yet) very succesful label on the other side of the country that wouldn’t offer them any musical back up? Couldn’t they have made things a lot simpler and just have brought their business to a respectable label much closer to home like Death Row?

All of these questions are probably never going to get answers since Christión’s faces can currently be on San Francisco milk cartons and Jay-Z by this point can hardly remember having at one point owned a record label called Roc-a-Fella, let alone having these two signed to it and not working with them on recording their album.
This review is the most press these guys have recieved in seventeen years and it ends on a mixed note.

There is one song on this that is an undeniable classic. That is the Marvin Gaye-sampling contemplative smokers anthem Full of Smoke, that sounds a like a Curtis Mayfield update for the mid-’90s, which was a hit-single and the music video of which at the very least places the guys in one room with Dame Dash. Which is a reminder that Jay wasn’t the only guy behind the wheel of the Roc but that Dame Dash had some influence on the proceedings at the very least early on (and if Cam’ron is to be believed later on too, but only when Jay went on vacation for a while. *tosses the Roc-offices keys to Dame and tells him to water the plants and not throw any wild parties*).
Pull It and Where I’m From are fairly decent blacksploitation grooves, and Midnight X-Ta-C is an okay song to get nasty to I suppose and Face Like Yours isn’t a bad love song. Problem is none of these songs except the hit-single pack much of a punch, and neither does anything else. These guys sound like 2pac’s second-rate hook-singer Danny Boy, which means that besides theone good song they had in them as a lead-act they probably were only truly good as a studio-tool for the occasional R&B hook of a hip-hop song, which was a career that was probably denied them by Jay himself since their only appearances from here on on the Roc-a-Fella label were the off second-rate compilation like the Streets Is Watching OST and Hard Knock Life OST, but other than that they were denied even the slightest bit of Memphis Bleek album action, no matter how much Dame begged him to give his boys some play.

Jay-Z may be a good rapper, but he really does appear to be complete dick of a boss. Word to Beanie Sigel and Dame Dash. This however doesn’t he wasn’t right about really ever fucking with Christión musically or something, and it’s hard to see anything significant being lost here like what was the case with Sauce Money’s Middle Finger U and his subsequent career and laxk thereof. With the exception of their lone hit Christión made well meaning, well informed but ultimately completely generic urban soul. Ghetto Cyrano is a historically remarkable album because of the label it was released on that nevertheless only delivers anything of enduring interest to listeners in the form of its first and only charting single, while the rest of the music featured on it refuses to be of any detectable quality whatsoever. Both the songwriting and the singing are really bland. Arguably even Bleek, whose music definitely sounds a lot worse than Christión’s, has more right to a Roc-deal because at the very least delivers that sound that Jay’s fans appear to enjoy (albeait in a store brand imitation form.) Hell, this album doesn’t even have the Pain in da Ass intro!

Best track
Full of Smoke

Recommendations
Download Full of smoke, it’s a great song, but don’t listen to the rest of this album. It’s boring as watching paint dry.


Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt

Jay-Z
Reasonable Doubt
June 25, 1996
Roc-A-Fella Records/ Priority Records/ EMI
085/100

1. Can’t Knock The Hustle (feat. Mary J.Blige) // 2. Politics As Usual // 3. Brooklyn’s Finest (feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & DJ Clark Kent) // 4. Dead Presidents II // 5. Feelin’ It (feat. Mecca) // 6. D’Evils // 7. 22 Two’s // 8. Can I Live // 9. Ain’t No Nigga (feat. Foxy Brown) // 10. Friend or Foe // 11. Coming of Age (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 12. Cashmere Thoughts // 13. Bring It On (feat. Sauce Money & Big Jaz) // 14. Regrets

Whenever the pointless debate about who is the best rapper ever rears it head, and the discusion doesn’t end in a face-off between two dead guys; Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter is oft brought up. From what music he produces these days the average hardcore hiphop head wouldn’t draw the conclusion that he is one of the best ever. Obviously he and his collaborators are, even today, way above average in creating bearable radio music, but that doesn’t get you the props the Jiggaman recieves on a daily basis from the people who love rap. Unlike what is the case with Lil’ Wayne there are quite a few people other than the man himself who think that he is the best to ever have tried his hand talking over beats in a rhythmnic manner. Therefore the reasons for his widespread acclaim lie, for the better part, in his past.

In 1996 to be exact. After having spent years under the wing of his mentor Jaz-O a.k.a. Big Jaz, and appearing on songs by artists such as Big L and Big Daddy Kane Jay still didn’t have a record deal. Hence he and two of his friends; Dame Dash and Kareem Biggs, started their own record label Roc-a-Fella records, named after J.D. Rockefeller, because that guy was filthy fucking rich during his lifetime, which was one of Shawn’s goals. (Although, if you are prone to buy gangster rap shtick then you believe mr. Carter to have been loaded with cash already when this album came out because of cocaine trafficing career.) Now he had a label he proceeded to record Reasonable Doubt. After it’s release it became clear why Jay never got a record deal before, as the Major labels were ostensibly right about the marketability of what he was doing at the time. The album never hit higher than #23 on the billboard top 100 and while this in and by itself was not bad for a rap album at the time, it is telling that it took until 2002 (that’s six years) for the album to go platinum. So the crouds initially did not go apeshit over it, causing our host to panick over the profitability of his career and have his sophomore album In My Lifetime, vol. 1 to be overseen by rap’s at the time midas touch producer, P. Daddy, resulting in a couple of really embarassing singles.

But back to the matter at hand, the critics did thoroughly enjoy Reasonable Doubt, applauding the combination of Shawn’s mafioso raps (which were in part modeled after what Raekwon had done on his ‘94 solo debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…) and the characteristically East Coast production by such respected veterans as DJ Premier (Gang Starr, NaS, the Notorious B.I.G.) , Ski (Camp Lo) and Super DJ Clark Kent (Dana Dane, the Notorious B.I.G., Slick Rick, Rakim). Critics like it so much that the album is still seen as one of the finest efforts the hiphop genre has produced since it came to exist in the late ‘70s.

Listening to it today one must conclude that this album has its faults. Some of the songs, such as the album’s biggest single Can’t Knock the Hustle, are plain boring. Some of the guests (Memphis Bleek and Foxy Brown to be exact) deliver dreadfully mediocre performances on otherwise good songs, giving the listener the idea that the only concievable logical reason for their inclusion is to make our host sound even better by comparison. (This would in and by itself explain perfectly why Jay left Sauce Money in a ditch somewhere in the late ‘90s, but kept Memphis Bleek around for guest performances, until he left his entire Roc-a-Fella boutique label to rot, in order to start his new boutique label; Roc Nation, in 2008) And some of the instrumentals are dated in a manner that inspires meh. (actually only the last track Regrets, fits that bill)

With that said, it comes as close to perfection as any other textbook classic rap album. (Reasonable Doubt is most definitely on par with the likes Ready To Die, the Chronic or Straight Out Of Compton. The only comparable album that I can think of, that is significantly better is NaS’ Illmatic, because it has only one questionable inclusion, compared to this album’s four. And you could even rightfully argue that, because Reasonable Doubt is four tracks longer than Illmatic they contain the same amount of classic material.)  because all the other songs on here are fucking bonkers.  After the lengthy, pseudo-ambient yawn inducer-slash-album opener that is Can’t Knock the Hustle the album picks up steam with, what should have been the the first song, Politics as Usual. Over a Ski instrumental that is pleasant enough to keep ones attention, but remains sufficiently in the background so that the spotlight is on Jay’s performance, the man puts his conversational flow to use and tells the listener about his experiences in the streets selling drugs and what not. Whether or not he really lived this life is not up for debate here and is irrelevant. His tone, which one might use on an old friend one hasn’t seen in a long time, updating him about current events, makes it sound credible enough. It also helps that he rhymes his ass off here, providing punchlines for days. Following that treat comes Brooklyn’s Finest, a twilight of rap gods where Jay holds his own against the Notorious B.I.G., whom is considered by many, including yours truly, the best rapper ever. Again, these MC ranking lists are bullshit, but this collabo leads to a very specific comparison that simply demands your respect for Lil’ Jaz. He stands toe to toe with the then current king of New York. Therefor, at the very least, the man makes a case for that he was next in line for succession. And this lyrical sparring match leads results in a flawless duet. Other people who provide some impressive rhyming are Sauce Money and Big Jaz on the DJ Premier-produced Bring It On. In turn, them holding their own against Jay-Z,  gives an unfulfilled promise of brilliantly succesful careers of their own to come. Alas, Jay had more faith in Bleek. Or they simply weren’t prepared to shut up and hold Shawn’s pot for him, like Bleek was.

Another highlight is Feelin’ It, which is a mellow ass weed-inspired song-slash-boastfest that has a piano based DJ Ski instrumental that is just perfect to zone-out to when you’ve smoked a bowl and some awe-inspiring raps in the conversational style that earned Shawn a fanbase. Whether he’s boasting, threatning or introspective; he makes it seem as if he’s talking to you specifically. That is his most distinctive feature, both as a rapper and as a lyricist.

What y’all ain’t heard that nigga Jay high?
The Cristals they keep me wet like Baywatch
I keep it tight for all the nights my mom prayed I’d stop
Said she had dreams a sniper hit me with a fatal shot
Those nightmares ma
Those dreams you say you got give me the chills
But these mills make me hot y’all don’t feel me
Enough to stop the illin right?
But at the same time these dimes keep me feelin tight
I’m so confused
OK I’m gettin weeded now I know I’m contradicting myself
Look I don’t need that now

There’s so much highlight here that it is impossible to give them each the attention they deserve. The very best and most vivid of them all might be the DJ Premier produced Friend or Foe, which clocks under a minute and a half. Some of these songs just make one wish that Jiggaman wouldn’t have diluted his style on his follow-up to find platinum sales with Puff Daddy, Timbaland and the Neptunes. Off course nobody would’ve benifited from a stack of nearly identical albums, and club bangers have their place and time. Some of the work Jay has done later on with the likes of Pharrell is top notch, and no one can rightfully claim that Shawn cannot put together a good radio song. But the fact that the fantastic, ominous, Ski-produced Dead Presidents was this album’s first single and failed to make much of an impact on the charts, forcing mr. Carter to change his direction, makes a hiphop head dream of an alternate universe where the mainstream would’ve been down with more edgy stuff and facilitated the creation of more of it.

I’d rather die enormous than live dormant that’s how we on it
Live at the main event, I bet a trip to Maui on it
Presidential suites my resedential for the weekend
Confidentially speakin in codes since I sense you peekin
The NSX rental, don’t be fooled my game is mental
We both out of town dog, what you tryin to get into?
Viva, Las Vegas, see ya, later at the crap tables
meet me by the one that starts a G up
This way no fraud Willie’s present gam-b-ling they re-up
And we can have a pleasant time, sippin margaritas
Ge-ge-geyeahhh, can I live?
Can I live?

This verse, taken from the brilliant Irv Gotti produced Can I Live shows off an ambition that perfectly explains the artistic direction he would take after Reasonable Doubt made him a hood champion, but not the superstar he fancied himself being. And no-one can blame him for following and producing a lot of music that was and a lot better than what his peers brought to the table and still bring to the table today. Even if it did take the edge off a bit.

However, before the big hits, the major label presidency, the booty-bumping with Beyoncé and the constant recycling of the Notorious B.I.G.’s lines in “tribute” there was Reasonable Doubt, an album that after its first and worst track is finished playing, likes to pretend the radio didn’t exist and that presented the listener with something that is an interesting, entertaining piece of fiction backed by some well put-together music.

Best tracks:
Politics As Usual, Brooklyn’s Finest, Dead Presidents II, Feelin’ It, Can I Live, Friend or Foe, Bring It On

Recommendation:
Buy this album.