Tag Archives: Teddy Riley

Heavy D & the Boyz – Big Tyme

Heavy D & the Boyz
Big Tyme
June 12, 1989
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
080/100
Heavy D & the Boyz - Big Tyme
1. We Got Our Own Thang (feat. Teddy Riley) // 2. You Ain’t Heard Nuttin Yet // 3. Somebody For Me (feat. Al B. Sure!) // 4. Mood For Love // 5. Ez Duz It, Do It Ez // 6. A Better Land // 7. Gyrlz, They Love Me // 8. More Bounce // 9. Big Tyme // 10. Flexin’ // 11. Here We Go Again, Y’all // 12. Let It Flow

Living Large... may be considered a classic today (for reasons unknown to this reviewer because I recall it being a wildly uneven effort with lots of sucking and only a handful of good songs) but it never sold that well. Big Tyme was the point where Heavy D & the Boys became what you could consider commercially succesful, selling over a million copies and hitting #01 on the R&B album-charts.
The is discrepancy in sales figures between the debut album and this one is entirely justified, to this reviewer anyway, Big Tyme is in fact a much superior album with a much slicker sound and a much better hit/miss ratio. Four of these songs were released as singles, and while none of them were charting hits of importance (except for We Got Our Own Thang which apparently hit #15 in the Netherlands) they’re all considered classics of the golden age of hip-hop.

Big Tyme is well mannered and good natured frivolity. Gangsta rap may have been taking flight on the West coast to land itself in college dorms nationwide to the sound of cash registers clanking, but D likes to pretend that it never happened because on this album he’s as much in B-Boy mode as RUN-DMC was in ’83; bragging about his rhyme skills and hollering at the ladies but never in a menacing manner. He never so much as drops a single curse.
(Unless you count “Happy like a faggot in jail.”, which is in fact sort of shocking in how cheerfully casual it is dropped. Remember kids Big Tyme is from a different era in which homophobia was much more commonplace and accepted than it is today.)
The guy sounds as though he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but would beat you in a rap battle and then proceeded to run off with your girlfriend. D’s rhyme style hasn’t changed one bit since the last time around.

His musical backdrops, provided by his DJ, Eddie F, his cousin Pete Rock and old school powerhouse Marley Marl, as wel as himself, are a lot more melodic, slicker and less clunky than they were the last time around, which helps the medicine go down tremendously. We Got Our Own Thang may have been Teddy Riley’s loungiest creation yet, Somebody For Me makes one wonder why Dwight never got to appear on In Effect Mode because not only were they labelmates but him and Al B. Sure! display some pretty cool chemistry, More Bounce isn’t boring at all despite rocking an overplayed Zapp sample. Even the faux-reggae of Mood For Love and the preachy as fuck Better Land aren’t a stinky sort of cheesy. Let It Flow and Flexin’ have some old fashionedly cool beats that would make for good background at a house party.
Even the mandatory boastfest about D’s success with the opposite sex Gyrls, they Love Me sounds pretty good.
The title track samples James Brown’s Sex Machine for the third time in D’s career (and the second time on this album) and finally creates a good update.

While there are almost zero instances of the man dropping any mind blowing knowledge (although he does speak some truths about crack cocaine and rap-haters on Better Land) that really isn’t or shouldn’t be the point of a Heavy D album. In stead one should admire the nimbleness of his flows and the catchiness of his music. In fact calling Heavy D a ‘party rap’ artist wouldn’t do the man a disservice because having a good time appears to be what the man was all about and this, ladies and gentlemen, is party rap par excellence.
One shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a hefty dose of good spirited, unadutered fun every once in a while, and backed with some seriously good music this is exactly what Big Tyme provides. It’s a throwback to a time when the hip-hop genre knew not to take itself so seriously all the time and for all these things it deserves a revisit.

Heavy D. rest in peace. May your memory live on.

Best tracks
We Got Our Own Thang
Somebody For Me
Gyrlz They Love Me
More Bounce
Big Tyme
Flexin’

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel

Bobby Brown
Don’t Be Cruel
June 20, 1988
MCA RecordsUMG
080/100Bobby Brown - Don't Be Cruel

1. Cruel Prelude // 2. Don’t Be Cruel // 3. My Prerogative // 4. Roni // 5. Rock Wit’cha // 6. Every Little Step // 7. I’ll Be Good to You // 8. Take It Slow // 9. All Day All Night //10. I Really Love You Girl // 11. Cruel Reprise

Bobby Brown was once more than an ex-New Edition member and Whitney Houston’s ex-hubby (a faulty marriage well documented because Brown and Houston are ex-reality tv. stars as well as recording artists).
He was at one point R&B’s brightest young star as well as the archetypical boy band bad boy, that point was following the release of his sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel. When Robbie Williams gave Take That and Nigel Martin-Smith the finger to find bigger success solo than the group had ever had collectively he was basically following Bob’s career trajectory. When Donnie Wahlberg tried to set fire to a hotel with a Molotov cocktail… well I don’t think Bobby ever did something that fucked up, but the man has had plenty of lewd and laviscous content, driving under influence, police chase, resisting arrest and drug posession arrests on his name as well as the public image of a crackhead wifebeater. To each former teen heartthrob his own way of shedding the bubblegum pop image. Word to Justin Bieber.

Don’t Be Cruel was released at the height of the New Jack Swing era which supposedly blends old-fashioned R&B soul with old school hip-hop although acts like Guy, Al B. Sure! and Keith Sweat are simply soul singers with more electronic production than was usual in the ’80s backing them in my book with little to no hip-hop influences being noticeable, but that is just my opinion so you can ignore that if you want to.
Brown however did blur the line between soul and hip-hop rapping as much as he sings on the title track and doing an LL Cool J-esque rap on the ballad Roni and busting out a verse at the end of the video edit of Every Little Step adding hip-hop swagger to his rhythm and blues.

The producers involved L.A. Reid, Babyface and Teddy Riley had all had moderate success in the music business before Cruel (Teddy working on all those Uptown records and L.A. and Face as in-house producers for Dick Griffey’s SOLAR records.) but were to completely own mainstream contemporary R&B in the decade that was to follow this album’s release. It’s not difficult to see why, their work on this album is excellent. One could say that they kickstarted the ’90s with this and it wouldn’t be much of an overstatement.

If the first five songs following the intro aren’t the best five-song-run on an R&B album ever they’re up there with the best of them. From the title track’s slinky, sinister funk through My Prerogative‘s brassy middle-fingerfest. Roni‘s B-boy romanticism, Rock Wit’cha‘s more mature sexy business and Every Little Step‘s puppy love and pop ‘n’ lock groove. This is some terrific music making, with Bob’s charismatically gruff Rick James/James Brown-ish tenor locking tightly into the groove of the somersaulting drum machine clatter. He isn’t the best technical singer out there, having a rather limited vocal range, but he knows well how to stay in it while at the same time making full use of everything he’s got and is a born entertainer. What’s more is that his sense of rhythm is excellent and he appears to really enjoy singing these catchy songs with a natural charisma that allows him to come across as both badass and as a fun individual, a loveable rascal. It is one rather engaging, catchy affair. These songs were all in the top three of the US R&B charts, in the top ten of the US pop charts with three of them hitting #1 in the former and one, namely My Prerogative, hitting #1 on the latter and copping a Grammy. And well deserved.

If this album consisted of only these five songs Don’t Be Cruel would be a perfect ten. Following them however are four well meaning but forgettable cuts. I’ll Be Good to You is standard fare late-’80s Teddy Riley-funk. It’s not bad but it absolutely pales in comparison to his other contribution My Prerogative, the album’s biggest pop-hit and a Grammy winner. (A little bit of trivia: Boy George’s 1989 Teddy Riley-produced, hit-single Don’t Take My Mind On a Trip was originally slated to appear on Don’t Be Cruel. It’s easy to imagine Bobby perform it. I would love to hear Bob’s version if any of you readers has it on a hard drive somewhere.) And closing the album are three rather forgettable slow jams Bob himself co-produced with Cameo-frontman and King of Stage-producer Larry White that require more technical singing than Bob has to offer to bring them to life.

In short Don’t Be Cruel has a fan-fucking-tastic opening run but slightly falls apart at the end. But overall it still is a really good but somewhat forgotten album that packs more hits and more punch than you can shake a stick at and proving just why he was a thing once. It is the best New Edition album, solo or otherwise. For that it derserves to be aknowledged and revisited.

Best tracks
Don’t Be Cruel
My Prerogative
Roni
Rock Wit’cha
Every Little Step

Recommendations
Pick this up.


Guy – Guy

Guy
Guy
June 13, 1988
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
080/100
Guy - Guy1. Groove Me // 2. Teddy’s Jam // 3. Don’t Clap… Just Dance // 4. You Can Call Me Crazy (feat. Timmy Gatling & Al B. Sure!) // 5. Piece of My Love // 6. I Like // 7. ’round and ’round (Merry Go ’round of Love) // 8. Spend the Night // 9. Goodbye Love // 10. My Business (feat. Timmy Gatling)

Teddy’s late ’80s drum machine-‘n’-synth beats aren’t the most sophisticated instrumentals ever made and Aaron’s third rate Stevie-isms are far from original way of singing R&B music, but put them together and the resulting album is an album far funkier than it has any right to be. Guy is one of those things greater than the sum of its parts.

Guy was the brainchild of producer Teddy Riley and his childhood friend Timmy Gatling. They recruited singer Aaron Hall to join them and Guy started recording their epinomous debut album for Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records under the guidance of manager Gene Griffin who is also credited as co-producer of every track of this album. Apparently Hall and Riley didn’t get along in person despite their on-wax chemistry because right before Guy was released Gatling was so sick of their animosity he got the hell out of dodge.
It is for this reason he sings lead vocals on two of the album’s tracks and gets eight songwriting credits even though when the album dropped he was no longer officially considered a part of the group and is nowhere to be found on the album’s cover. (The guy who was called in as Gatling’s last-minute replacement for a tour Guy did with New Edition was Aaron’s brother Damion who is on the cover but did zilch in creating the music.)

Changing line-ups would be recurring thing in Teddy Riley’s performing career, especially in his second group BLACKstreet.

One thing that sets apart Guy from the other completely Riley-produced LP we had so far, Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever, is that the majority of the songs are uptempo where Sweat was mostly about slow jams.
Another thing that sets apart Keith Sweat and Aaron Hall is that Aaron has a far more fiery, gospel-infused vocal style.
Who says that New Jack Swing artists were passed through cookie cutter and were indistinct of one another? (Many music critics do.)

Guy marries soul vocal stylings with hip-hop production stylings the way no complete album had done before it. It also follows some hip-hop conventions of the time. For instance it has a DJ cut in the form of Teddy’s Jam.

Teddy  really did his thing with these lo fi synths and drum machines creating a slightly overcrowded, machanical variety of the funk. Hall, Gatling and Riley himself when he sings lead on Spend the Night are the humanising components. Back in 1988 this must’ve sounded pretty futuristic but today the vibe is mostly quaintly old school (or vintage as some would call it..).

Groove Me and ’round and ’round (Merry Go Round of Love) are the best things on here. They’re ballsy party jams that a lot of club DJs would do well to revisit.
Teddy’s Jam also fits that bill although because of it’s relative lack of vocals one might run the risk of partygoers believing they put on some backing music from a primitive video game.
Piece of My Love and Spend the Night aren’t the best New Jack Swing ballads by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re not bad and their inclusion helps prevent the monotony of nothing but pistoning dance beats that otherwise would’ve occured.

Overall Guy is a pretty good flagship release for the New Jack Swing genre, being pretty representative of its dance music side, with a few ballads thrown in for good measure.
The production, despite of (or because of) being rather dated, is pretty cool and Aaron Hall is a charismatic frontman who performs these songs with enough gusto to make up for his minor lackings as a singer. It’s too bad that short, high-quality R&B releases such as this, Make It Last Forever and In Effect Mode (among others) would soon be a thing of the past after the ascent of the CD and the possibility it created for artists to make their album’s twice as long as they could be in the vinyl/ cassette era (Guy’s 1990 sophomore album The Future is 72:02 minutes long compared to this one’s 44:42 which means as much as that a shitload of watered down, unfocused filler made the cut) but that makes one only appreciate releases like this that much more. Good stuff.

Best tracks
Groove Me
Teddy’s Jam
’round and ’round (Merry Go ’round of Love)
Piece of My Love

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Al B. Sure! – In Effect Mode

Al B. Sure!
In Effect Mode
Uptown Records/ Warner Bros. RecordsWMG
May 3, 1988
080/100
Al B. Sure! - In Effect Mode
1. Nite and Day // 2. Oooh, This Love Is So // 3. Killing Me Softly // 4. Naturally Mine // 5. Rescue Me // 6. Off on Your Own (Girl) // 7. If I’m Not Your Lover // 8. Just a Taste of Lovin’ // 9. Noche y Dia

I wonder if it today still would be possible for an R&B singer to be on the cover of his major label album with his unabrow fully intact (not to mention that peach fuzz on his upper lip) and sell records. I guess that grooming habits have changed for men as well as women since 1988.

Al B. Sure! was the second act to release an album on Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records after making his debut appearances on Heavy D’s Living Large… in the prior year. Apparently he got his break in the music industry performing at a talent show organised by Sony Music Entertainment in 1987 where he was picked the winner by music industry legend Quincy Jones. How he went from Sony to MCA-distributed Uptown records, and then had his albums distributed through random, unaffiliated Warner Bros. is unknown to me but that is what happened.

New Jack Swing inventor Teddy Riley was supposed to produce the album wall-to-wall but after finishing two songs with Al he got called away to supply his beats to Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever in stead (presumably to cash a bigger cheque). The two songs he did produce were If I’m Not Your Lover and You Can Call Me Crazy. The latter didn’t make the cut of In Effect Mode but was transplanted to the 1988 epinomous debut album of Teddy Riley’s group Guy with Timmy Gatling on vocals. The same Timmy Gatling who left the group right after the first album was released. Oh the music industry trivia.
After Teddy left Al B. decided to produce the album himself with assists by his cousin Kyle West, which turnt out a fortunate turn of events since the instrumentals these two created were actually a little different from Riley’s. Sure! and West infuse their New Jack Swing quiet storm with quirky soft rock guitar riffs, percolating synths and groovy synth funk basslines, which helped Sure! create a niche of his own in the budding New Jack Swing movement. Keith Sweat was the soul man, Bobby Brown would be the bad boy, Teddy Riley was the svengali and Al B. Sure! was the romantic soft-rocker.

Nite and Day is about as graceful as an R&B ballad can get with Al’s floaty falsetto riding the atmospheric instrumental and the lyrics about ‘making love in the rain’ and ‘feeling so deep it comes within’. It is the perfect soundtrack to a romantic daydream. Actually that description fit the entirety of In Effect Mode. It’s a dreamy exercise in romanticism that’s so high above the clouds that even the earnestness of it all can’t weigh it down. Wow.
Off On Your Own (Girl) has the sort of tumbling groove you could lounge equally well to as you could dance to it and its pleading subject matter is something that’s easily relatable and Sure! turns out to do uptempo numbers just as well as he does his signature balladry.
Oooh this Love Is So manages to make something seductive out of fingersnaps, keyboards and not much more and is probably the best showcase of Sure!’s voice on this album.
The worst of the lot on here is probably the ‘hard’ sounding numbers If I’m Not Your Lover and Just a Taste of Your Lovin’ tacked on at the end, and even those are fairly decent. It’s just easy to imagine Bobby Brown doing a slightly better job at performing them. But they do contribute to the album in creating more variety.

The rest of these songs are pretty cool too. Besides a Spanish language version of Nite and Day there isn’t any filler on here and like Make It Last Forever its length of only eight tracks is a prime example of ‘less is more’, one many of today’s artists could learn a thing or two from.

In Effect Mode is a terrific R&B album. It’s got this veneer of old school romantic class over it, as though it is willing to wait until the second date to get into your pants (if you are capable of restraining yourself, that is) with a slight hint of hip-hop swagger. Also it’s short, which with albums is never a bad thing.

Best tracks
Nite and Day
Oooh This Love Is So
Off On Your Own (Girl)

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Keith Sweat – Make It Last Forever

Keith Sweat
Make It Last Forever
November 24, 1987
Vintertainment/ Elektra RecordsWMG
080/100
Keith Sweat - Make It Last Forever
1. Something Just Ain’t Right // 2. Right and a Wrong Way // 3. Tell Me It’s Me You Want // 4. I Want Her // 5. Make It Last Forever (feat. Jacci McGhee) // 6. In the Rain // 7. How Deep Is Your Love // 8. Don’t Stop Your Love (feat. Jacci McGhee)

Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever is often seen as the startingj point of New Jack Swing, the musical genre that first succesfully blended soul-styled vocals with hip-hop styled beats, but that’s only because Teddy Riley is behind the boards. This album is in fact simply a quiet storm album on which nobody plays actual instrument beyond Teddy and the off keyboard. The only thing that ties this to the hip-hop of 1987 is the use of the same tinny drum machine clatter and the same sparkly keyboards one might find on a Heavy D album, only this time around they’re used to create something for the ladies, not the B-boys.

With that said, it is a really good quiet storm album. Keith’s yearning tenor is a terrific instrument and blends well with Riley’s beats which go back-and-forth between ballads (Right and a Wrong Way, Tell Me It’s Me That You Want, Make It Last ForeverIn the RainHow Deep Is Your Love) and midtempo funk numbers (Something Just Ain’t RightI Want HerDon’t Stop Your Love).

Make It Last Forever is instantly datable to 1987, but not in a corny or bad manner. The songwriting may be a little too earnest and lacking in the four letter word and house beats-departments for many a modern R&B aficianado but its old fashioned charm may just be what Chris Brown’s output is lacking for others.

The guest appearances are kept to a minimum (no rappers here) so these fourty minutes, divided into eight tracks are quite sufficient to get to know Keith and watch him drop a couple of classics in the mean time, most notably the title track and I Want Her.
Keeping the album brief has the advantage of making you want even more when the album is done spinning, and isn’t that what a guy called Keith Sweat should strive to achieve?

Best tracks
Make It Last Forever
Don’t Stop Your Love

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Heavy D & the Boys – Living Large…

Heavy D & the Boys
Living Large…
October 25, 1987
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
058/100
Heavy D & the Boys Living Large...
1. The Overweight Lover’s in the House // 2. Nike // 3. Chunky But Funky [Remix] // 4. Dedicated (feat. Al B. Sure!) // 5. Here We Go // 6. On the Dance Floor // 7. Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon (feat. Al B. Sure!) // 8. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me // 9. Overweighter // 10. I’m Getting Paid // 11. Rock the Bass // 12. Mr. Big Stuff [Remix] // 13. Don’t You Know (feat. Al B. Sure!)

It makes sense that Heavy D was the first out of the Uptown posse to have an album of his own since his was the only song off Uptown Is Kickin’ It that’s remotely memorable.

Livin’ Large… is a fairly decent yet rather dated debut. The beats, courtesy of the likes of Marley Marl and Teddy Riley, as well as D and Eddie F themselves, are the sort of rather minimal hippety hoppety stuff that Jam Master Jay would churn out in his sleep and Heavy’s rhymes are, well… chunky but funky creating a total package that’s best described as well mannered frivolity. Not in the least because D steers clear of each and every curse word and steers clear of each and every form of social commentary. He might’ve had the D but his name ain’t Chuck.

For the most part it sounds as though Heavy D and DJ Eddie F were simply going down a checklist of mandatory concepts to have their hip-hop album considered for release in 1987. There’s a glorified shoes commercial (Nike), a bunch of cuts that boast about Heav’s skills in getting the ladies and how he rhymes better on the mic than you do (there’s a lot of overlap between these two types of songs), an ode to the DJ (Here We Go) and a smalzy I Need Love-esque romantic cut tacked onto the end where our host completely forgets to rhyme and just talks to the subject of his affections for four minutes or so while wingman, labelmate and R&B singer extraordinaire Al B. Sure! tries to help get her panties wet without involving molly (or at the very least without bragging about tossing it into her drink without her knowledge).

What sets Heavy D, and the old school in general, apart from most of the rap music that came after it is that it seems content juggling around a couple of fairly simple concept, that it has a rather childish sense of humour and is delivered in a enthusiatisc manner. The contrast with the cold, detached yet super vivid gangsta years that weren’t too far away when this album dropped couldn’t be bigger. It is for this reason that Living Large… may be a little bland to your ears.
If however you’re easily charmed by the old school Livin’ Large… is most likely the album for you. Heavy D may not drop any curses but that doesn’t mean he isn’t the sort of cocky individual that rhymes laps around you and will steal your girlfriend despite packing a few extra pounds (the central theme to Living Large…), is not too cool to bust a move (On the Dance Floor), has better kicks than you (Nike), generally more money (I’m Getting Paid). D proudly flaunts his origins whether he’s namechecking the place he grew up (Money Yearning Mount Vernon) or incorporating a mild reggae flavour into a beat (I’m Gonna Make You Love Me) (D was originally from the island of Jamaica)

His delivery is smooth and rhythmic and his beats are pretty competent. Especially when a more obvious sample comes to the forefront (Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon incorporates parts of James Brown’s Sex Machine and Overweighter has clearly identifyable parts of the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back in it) the music sounds pretty complete. Living Large… is far from great but it’s entertaining enough to be considered a promising start of a succesful career, which off course it was.

Living Large… is alright for what it is I suppose. Especially seen in the light of the time when it dropped, which was a simpler time for hip-hop and perhaps music and even the world in general. But despite that and the fact that Living Large… has a handful of entertaining songs there’s no need for people should listen to the album in its entirety today.

The songs listed below however are wholeheartedly recommended for a listen, so listening to Living Large… wasn’t a complete exercise in futility.

Best tracks
The Overweight Lover’s In the House
Chunky But Funky [Remix]
Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon
Mr. Big Stuff
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
Overweighter
Rock the Bass

Recommendations
Buy the best tracks off iTunes. Don’t buy the entire album. Unless you come across it for less than five dollars.


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.