Tag Archives: Sean “Puffy” Combs

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.


Usher – Usher

Usher

Usher

08-30-1994

LaFace Records/ Sony Music Entertainment

The Usher on this album’s cover looks fifteen years old and kind of chubby, don’t you think? Yeah, Who knew?

So, Usher’s debut album was released in 1994. Before those of you who were around in ’94 think I’m shitting you because You Make Me Wanna came out years later: that song which was his breakthrough single in 1997, but it was not his debut single. An entire self-titled album preceded it. Now, you are forgiven if you don’t even barely remember this album it wasn’t a very big success. It was however, as we all know now, the kick-start of a very successful career that is still going strong today. (Although what Usher is most known for today is dancing around with Justin Bieber in his videos. In many a way Usher’s career is quite similar to that of JB (although not completely, because obviously there was no such thing youtube in ‘94.) Usher Raymond IV was born in 1978 in Dallas, Texas but spent most of his younger years in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was raised by his single mother, who until 2007 was also his manager. In 1991 he joined a local Urban Boy band called NuBeginning, which fucking sucked and after one bootleg-ish album he was out again. In 1993 he was on Star Search which apparently was the early ‘90s equivalent of American Idol/ Pop Idol where he was spotted by an LaFace A&R guy who arranged an audition for one of that label’s head honchos, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, and Usher left they guy very much impressed which meant that he had hit the jackpot because LaFace was big pimpin’ at the time when it was R&B acts that was concerned. After L.A. put his debut single Call Me a Mack on the soundtrack to the John Singleton-directed, 2pac and Janet Jackson co-starring 1993 drama film Poetic Justice the recording of his debut album could commence.  Because in 1994 Get him to the Greek’s  Sean “Sergio Roma” Combs was also becoming a big name in urban music after successfully launching his Bad Boy Entertainment imprint via the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die and Craig Mack’s Project: Funk the World albums and because L.A.’s partner in crime Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds was probably busy writing and producing every goddamn song on the radio at the time the album was overseen by L.A. and Puff. Both of them had musical connections a plenty and, among others Al B. Sure!, JoDeCi’s DeVanté Swing, Faith Evans, Brian-Alexander Morgan, Dave “Jam” Hall, Puffy himself, and Timbaland, who allegedly produced alongside of DeVante but wasn’t credited, were all drummed up to make this fifteen-year-old sound good. Usher was relocated from his Atlanta residence to Puff Daddy’s house where he was allegedly exposed for the first time in his life to marijuana, alcohol, sex and hanging around with the big stars. Possibly because Puff, didn’t want his name on some kiddy stuff but rather wanted to make an adult mature album and wanted Usher to have the experience to sing the material being someone who really lived that shit, but more likely because marijuana, alcohol, sex and big stars are the things you are going to encounter in abundance when hanging around at one of the residences owned by the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy, and when you let a 15 year old walk around in such a place unattended to, well, you get the picture. They got it cracking and released Usher’s self-titled debut… to the sound of crickets, but after all these years of collecting dust on record store shelves this finally sold over 500 k. And it is my favorite Usher album.

Wanna know why?, read on!

1. I’ll Make It Right

This cool-ass, grooving Puff Daddy-Alex Richbourg co-helmed hiphop track gives it up to the old school by throwing in a soundbite from the Audio Two’s classic Top Billin’, which was a nice touch and a trick repeated by 50 Cent on his 2007 hit single I Get Money, albeit with a different sample from that song. Beatwise this is what people today, who have never actually heard the real thing, would call old school hiphop, but it’s still pretty decent. Usher’s singing is technically okay and with all these factors combined I would say that this was in fact a pretty decent album opener.

2. Interlude I

A lot of 1990s R&B albums have these, short melodramatic melodic interludes. I’m not sure why these exist, other than to fill up a cd’s playing time or up the total amount of tracks contained within the compact disc. It sure as hell does beat hiphop’s tendency of throwing generally unfunny skits in between songs because unlike that kind of bullshit this does in fact count as actual music.

3. Can U Get Wit It?

Puff’s Uptown Records homeboy and JoDeCi member and producer DeVanté Swing writes and produces a quintessentially mid-‘90s R&B-G-funkish-sex ballad, classy vocoder work included, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since he pioneered this style with said group. Off course since this is a carbon copy of that group’s musical output one could now compare Usher’s vocal style to theirs and make some sense with the comparison. Usher is a much more modest singer than K-Ci and Jojo are, and it’s refreshing to hear a JoDeCi song, performed without their typically flashy, over the top melisma. (That would be my biggest beef with ‘90s contemporary R&B, seriously boys and girls… Just because Stevie sounded okay enough hitting every note on the ladder doesn’t mean you will too. Oh, nevermind. That piece of honest advice came seventeen years too late… And for Usher it was unnecessary. He got it already.) On the other hand the fifteen year old incarnation of Ush doesn’t really sound comfortable singing this adult themed material like he hadn’t done any of this sex stuff yet (which, for all we know might be the truth.) So concluding: I really liked the beat and even sort of liked Usher’s interpretation of a Jodeci song, however, this reminded me just a little bit of the Key of Awesome’s parody of Justin Bieber, which ironically contains the line “I know all of Usher’s dances.” as well as those duets between the Lonely Island and Justin Timberlake (Dick In a Box, Motherlover, 3way (Golden Rule)) anyone of them applies, because they are each parodies of this particular musical era and genre) so overall meh.

4. Think of You

This velvetty Puff Daddy-Chucky Thompson co-production rocks a Biz Markie vocal sample lifted from his guest appearance on Big Daddy Kane’s Just Rhymin’ With Biz and was co-written by Faith Evans, Usher and Usher’s future LaFace-labelmate Donell Jones. This is both a lot more catchy and a lot less risqué than the previous single. Can U Get Wit It, hence it sounds a lot better and more credible and it was probably because of that why this became the only minor hit song off Usher. Either way. If one of you readers want to make me really, really happy please leave a comment listing all the similar songs from this era you know about because I fucking love this one.

5. Crazy

Crazy is a love ballad driven by a pretty good shuffling instrumental created by Brian-Alexander Morgan, the guy behind most of SWV’s hits, with Usher putting in a decent emotive performance.

6. Slow Love

This has got the same credibility problem as Can U Get Wit It but not nearly as good an instrumental.

7. The Many Ways

Written and produced by Kiyamma Griffin and early ‘90s R&B superstar Al B. Sure! this lush, hooky, melodic, extra suave ballad is by far the best song off Usher. Yes the use of a piano-intro which then morphs into an outdated synth plus the sound effect of a drop of water sizzling on a hot metallic surface is the pinnacle of cheesy. Yes, indeed, there isn’t much substance to be found on The Many Ways but contemporary R&B songs generally aren’t the place to look for when it’s well thought-through interesting lyrics that’s concerned. When it’s catchy music and lyrics one can easily relate to though, this is definitely your genre and in these aspects The Many Ways delivers very well. The video however tries to sell Usher as the pint-sized loverman again, which didn’t work all that well at the time of release since nobody bought either the single or the album, but today is fun sorta, kinda… since he comes off as some random fifteen-year-old kid who looks and sounds like Usher a lot parodying the 2004 version of him really well.

8. I’ll Show You Love

This groovy, James Brown sampling Puff Daddy-Alex Richbourg instrumental is really good, but Usher, while sounding decent comes across as a tool, which means you could put pretty much put any R&B singer on here and have a quality song… (Well any R&B singer except Jason Derülo, that guy sucks! Oh, and Trey Songz and… Whoever else has only been popular in the post-autotune era? Right, That guy is an exception too! )

9. Interlude 2 (Can’t Stop)

Please refer to my comments on Interlude 1.

 10. Love Was Here

Too dramatic for the fifteen year old Usher to carry. If the song’s writer Al B. Sure! used it for himself and would’ve let his falsetto fetish run wild over, this would’ve sounded a lot more natural and better because of it.

11. Whispers

Whoa, DeVanté returns to the studio with a beat so goddamn chilled-out and uplifting that I forgot about Usher’s existence for five minutes straight, and he was singing on the entirety of the song.

12. You Took My Heart

Heavy D’s homeboy DJ Eddie F drops by with an instrumental that fits the rest of the album sonically but does little more. It carries Usher’s vocals to their intended destination but isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off. Although you won’t be inclined to interrupt your knocking of boots (ha!) to press the >| button if you would have this album on.

13. Smile Again

Puff, Herb Middleton and Faith write a bluesy song that probably would’ve been a better fit for Faith, herself, although Usher doesn’t do a terrible job with it. I really wonder to whom the high note at the end of this song belongs.

14. Final Goodbye

A breakup song that serves double duty as a supposedly clever announcement that the album is over, and so was Usher’s career for the time being. On the real though, sometime after this album’s release this really did seem like a final goodbye. The albums chart positions, record sales and radio play weren’t very good and if it weren’t for his later successes it would be highly unlikely that Usher would ever even earn a gold plaque, which eventually it just barely did probably in the absence of a follow-up in the years following My Way.

Best tracks

I’ll Make It Right, Crazy, Think Of You, The Many Ways, I’ll Show You Love, Whispers

Conclusions

So yeah. I really dig this album. Yes, Usher hasn’t really found his voice here yet, yes extremely dated sound, yes few outstanding radio singles, yes Usher’s vocals are wholly unexceptional and melt away in Usher’s expensive ass production. I know, I know. I just heard the thing. But what I like about this is its un-poppy, unmistakably 1994 hiphop-soul sound. Because of all the cheesy instrumentation, its occasional straightforward jacking of elements of other tracks and because of there being only one singer on leads for the entire album there’s a remarkable consistency to be found on here. Also returning to the point of Usher’s singing being secondary to the beats. I think here this is a good thing. If K-Ci and JoJo sang these songs the vocals would probably be more impressive but they would try to impress the listener with their vocal ranges rather than just sing the goddamn songs already, a tendency which makes their JoDeCi songs so distinctive and most of their post-JoDeCi work so goddamn unlistenable. Besides Usher’s vocals are competent enough and the songs are generally well written for what they are. This album doesn’t provide any clues as to why three years after this album’s flopping Usher was still signed to LaFace and got to record a sophomore album but I’m glad he did anyway because Ush, save for his post Here I Stand work, of which I have heard very little as always been one of the better pop radio artists around. But we’ll discuss follow-up albums in due time. [Edit: Finally I would like to point out my own hypocrisy before anyone else does. Yes, I liked this album pretty much for the exact same reasons I hated Justin’s My Worlds. Deal with it, bitch. There is nothing one can objectively say about music. This reviewer knows this and hence, what is boringly repetitive on Justin’s album can be remarkably consistent here.]

Recommendations

For fans of early ‘90s, post-New Jack Swing R&B (Mary J. Blige, Ginuwine, JoDeCi, Al B. Sure!, Aaliyah, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, Brandy, Ralph Tresvant et al.) picking this one up should be a no-brainer. This takes you back from the era of Blackberries and Biebers to the simpler era of Pagers and high top fades in an instant. For fans of Usher as a pop artist, this is a tough one. Usher doesn’t sound like any of his follow-up albums. All which came after this was decidedly pop-radio oriented compared to this, which is best at home on (currently throwback) quiet storm-radio formats. There’s nothing on here which is as catchy as You Make Me Wanna, U Remind Me or such and hence fans of those songs are possibly going to find this hella boring. But you can test this for yourself by listening to the songs listed in the best tracks cathegory. Especially Think of You and The Many Ways are fit for this purpose.