Tag Archives: Universal Music Group

2pac – Me Against the World

2pac
Me Against the World
March 14, 1995
Out Da Gutta Records/ Interscope RecordsUMG
073/100
2pac - Me Against the World
1. Intro (performed by Dan O’Leary, Debbie Hambrick, Jay Jensen, Jill Rose & Sarah Diamond) // 2. If I Die Tonite // 3. Me Against the World (feat. Dramacydal & Puff Johnson) // 4. So Many Tears (feat. Digital Underground, Stretch & Thug Life) // 5. Temptations // 6. Young Niggaz (feat. Killa, Funky Drummer & Moe Z.M.D.) // 7. Heavy In the Game (feat. Richie Rich, Ebony Foster & Lady Levi) // 8. Lord Knows (feat. G-Money, Kenyatta Forman, Killa, Kim Armstrong & Natasha Walker) // 9. Dear Mama (feat. Reggie Green & Sweet Franklin) // 10. It Ain’t Easy // 11. Can U Get Away // 12. Old School // 13. Fuck the World // 14. Death Around the Corner// 15. Outlaw (feat. Dramacydal & Rah Rah)

2pac is  the JFK of rap: very charismatic, inspirational and influential, surrounded by drama during his lifetime and conspiracy theories in death, fairly popular when he was alive but never moreso than after he got shot and killed in the public eye and, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, overrated as hell in what he actually achieved in the realm of the living while nobody can say with any accuracy just what the guy could and would’ve done if his ending was less premature.
It’s not as though the man didn’t leave a slew of commercially and artistically succesful releases in his wake. In fact every album he released up until this one has already gotten a recommendation for a purchase on this website. But he never dropped anything as significant as Ready to DieIllmaticReasonable Doubt or The Chronic and the almost god-like reverence many people had for him, the phrase “best rapper dead or alive” was dropped casually in one sentence with the name 2pac on a regular basis, in the late ’90s and the naughties was ridiculous. A lot of people held the opinion that not only are Brenda’s Got a BabyKeep Your Head Up and Dear Mama deep and meaningful songs (which admittedly they are), but that also they aren’t at all at a contradiction with his more violent, misogynistic, homophobic and otherwise less socially responsible moments, most infamously Hit ‘Em Up. In other words 2pac could get away with pretty much anything on his albums and still be considered a martyr and a saint, so long as he included at least one thoughtful or pseudo thoughtful track on there. The truth is probably that while 2pac, a classically trained actor mind you, was one of the few people in gangsta rap who could deliver both conscious material and hyper violence with equal fervour and credibilty, there was never as much of a unified vision to it as his fanboys would like you to believe. He was just really good at setting moods, no matter what that mood was. And it should be noted that 2pac may have lived a lot of shit he rapped about, he had been in prison and he may not have seriously known or believed it when he layed down some of those vocals but he would eventually meet a violent death in the streets, but there was a lot of fiction in his raps too: He never seriously was a drug dealer for instance and it was sort of mathematically impossibly for him to beef with everyone he mentioned on 7 Day Theory, so Pac may not have been the realest motherfucker to have ever existed, he was however life sized.

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Thug Life – Thug Life: Volume 1

Thug Life
Thug Life: Volume 1
September 26, 1994
Out Da Gutter Records/ Interscope RecordsUMG
063/100
2pac-Thug-Life-Volume-1-cover-big
1. Bury Me a G (feat. Y?N-Vee) // 2. Don’t Get It Twisted // 3. Shit Don’t Stop (feat. Y?N-Vee) // 4. Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor (performed by 2pac) // 5. Stay True (feat. Stretch) // 6. How Long Will They Mourn Me (feat. Nate Dogg) // 7. Under Pressure (performed by 2pac feat. Stretch) // 8. Street Fame (feat. JMJ) // 9. Cradle to the Grave // 10. Str8 Ballin’ (performed by 2pac)

2pac never shied away from weed carriers company. Most of his albums have their fair share of guests appearances. Thug Life: Volume 1 however is the only album released during his lifetime to cast him as a member of a group of equals. In reality though it’s like 2pac is introducing Big Syke, Makadoshis , Rated R & Mopreme and to a lesser extent Stretch to the masses, while launching his vanity label Out da Gutter Records in the process, rather than him truly sharing the spotlight with these guys in equal measure.
Not only are his performances longer and more numerous than those of anyone else supposedly headlining but Pac is also the only one to have solo songs and more importantly has the charisma of five men rolled up in one where the rest is somewhat lacking.

This album was an important one for Pac because on it he first collaborated with a whole bunch of people who would help define his next few albums, such as producer Easy Mo Bee who would go on to produce some of the best songs on his best album Me Against the World, failed rapper and producer Johnny J who made more beats than anyone else on All Eyez On Me, rapper Big Syke who became 2pac’s placeholder on said beats whenever he was having a smoke break but somehow didn’t have his contributions removed before the album went into pressing, possibly because 2pac was in a hurry to release the album, had just used up his entire book of verses and needed all his new ideas for his Makaveli album, Death Row inmate Nate Dogg, and the ladies of R&B group Y?N-Vee who got to sing backup on many of 2pac’s hooks. Digital Underground, the group that introduced 2pac to the world, is nowhere to be found, perhaps because the man wanted to set up shop for himself.

Thug Life: Volume 1 is a heavily censored record but not in the removal of curse words-sense. Entire songs that 2pac wanted to have on here were deleted. At the time of its release hip-hop in general and gangsta rap in particular were under severe criticism by people such as Bob Dole and C. Delores Tucker, which apparently lead to Interscope Records cutting some of the tracks they felt would be controversial. I call bullshit on that however because most of the tracks assumed to have been cut aren’t that different from what did make it. Why would Is It Cool 2 Fuck be considered too controversial when Bury Me a G, almost the exact same song lyrically, is left on? The only exclusion that actually makes any sense in line with this reasoning is the original version of Runnin from tha Police with tha Outlawz, the Notorious B.I.G. and Stretch and only because 2pac had gotten in a gunfight with two off duty policemen in the previous year. (Off course despite the controversy, or maybe even because of it, Interscope would’ve been better off actually releasing the song, in the first place because it sounds awesome but also as a middle finger to censorship, to give this album a high profile guest appearance and to prevent that ghastly Eminem remix that came out nine years later from being hailed as a classic if not preventing its creation and release entirely.)

As it stands Volume 1, which by its very title made a promise for a sequel it wasn’t going to be able to keep, is a messy affair, not just as an album but also within individual songs.
Bury Me a G also makes a false promise by it’s title and it’s mournful instrumental. By all means this should‘ve been a song about fear of death, the afterlife or even under which letter to file Thug Life’s members’ remains in the case of their uneventful demise. It’s a song that’s mostly about one night stands however leading to any listener with an sort of attention span feeling cheated.
How Long Will They Mourn Me pull a similar bait-and-switch and adds insult to injury by wasting a serviceable Nate Dogg hook, or possibly a really shitty one even, it’s very difficult to tell with it being mixed so far into the background of the bluesy Warren G instrumental. (Nate is credited as a co-producer so perhaps the man was trying to protect his reputation and made himself as inaudible as he possibly could without giving up his first non-Death Row paycheque. Apparently someone noticed before the song was released as a single because he sounds much louder on the video version.) The hook asks the listener how long the listener will mourn either Pac or every member of Thug Life while the verses talk about entirely different dead gangstaz. It’s not a big  stretch by any measure but it still comes across as sloppy.
It should be noted that these are some of the best known songs off Volume 1, probably because 2pac talking about violent death always did sound fascinating but never moreso than after he suffered one. Also hip-hop listeners are oft willing to be forgiving of most mistakes in the vocal booth if the beats are on point, which they are here.
Cradle to the Grave is much better than either previously mentioned song and actually works pretty well as a lyrical showcase for the non-2pac members of the group as well as their label boss. Speaking of which, when they’re left unattended by Pac they actually sound a lot like people who could’ve had careers without him. Don’t Get It Twisted and Street Fame are in fact quite decent rap songs and makes one wonder whether these guys could’ve made Volume 2 work despite the star attraction catching a fatal case of the drive by shootings. (The answer is: Probably, but most definitely not on a major label.)
Shit Don’t Stop is an unrelenting West Coast party track that is about nothing in particular, but given this crew’s earlier misunderstandings of concepts and their failures to stay on topic anyway this approach may have been the best one for this crew. This song serves its purpose as something you can dance to which manages not to sound bad. There’s also a version with no 2pac and different verses by the other members, I’m happy to report it sounds just as good as the album version.
Stay True and Under Pressure pair Pac with his boy Stretch and although he was once a suspect in the first 2pac shooting, which does make it somewhat awkward hearing them rhyme together, he was perhaps a better collaborator than the guys 2pac lined up for the better part of this album because he has a more memorable voice than any one of them, bar Syke, and better rhyme skills to boot.
Off course there’s the 2pac solo-shots Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor and Str8 Ballin’ which are fine songs that any fan of the man’s pre-Death Row Records work should enjoy and are perhaps the best reason to pick up Thug Life: Volume 1. After all there’s a reason why even the other guy with a solo career, that would be Big Syke, never became a household name.
Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor is Pac’s first collabo with Johnny J who for better or worse would go on to produce most of All Eyez On Me and it’s another song about mourning, this time of the coherent kind.
Str8 Ballin’ is a collabo with legendary producer Easy Mo Bee who combines some sort of eerie fun fare carrousel ride melody with bubbly funk for Pac to talk about ghetto escapism over to great results.

Thug Life: Volume 1 is a good enough album to satisfy fans of pre-Death Row 2pac. Most of the production is bluesy and understatedly dramatic. The vocals performances by 2pac and his boys are for the most part adequate if at times a bit inconsequential. But if we’re being completely honest with ourselves: The man we all came to see here always was more about setting the mood than being a technically impressive rapper in most senses of the word. Setting moods this album does fairly well and while it probably is the least essential album the man released during its lifetime it’s still decent. And the cutting of several tracks from the playlist has the unintended benefit of making this album short, which is almost never a bad thing.

Best tracks
Don’t Get It Twisted
Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor
Cradle to the Grave
Str8 Ballin’

Recommendations
Pick this one up but try to find a used copy, or at the very least a cheap one. Also you should put 2pacalypse NowStrictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z. and Me Against the World higher on your list of priorities if you don’t already own those.


GP Wu – Don’t Go Against the Grain

GP Wu
Don’t Go Against the Grain
January 21, 1997
MCA RecordsUMG
060/100
GP Wu - Grain Rar
1. Smoking // 2. 1st Thing First // 3. Two Gats Up // 4. Blow Up // 5. Party People // 6. If You Only Knew // 7. Hit Me With That Shit // 8. Hip Hop // 9. Chamber Danger // 10. Underground Emperor // 11. Life Bid // 12. Don’t Go Against the Grain // 13. Things Ain’t What They Used to Be // 14. Black on Black Crime

GP Wu are considered by most rap aficianados who’ve heard of them affiliates of the Wu-Tang Clan, but other than having members Pop the Brown Hornet and Down Low Recka namechecked by Wu ringleader RZA on the intro of classic song Clan in da Front alongside a myriad of other then-no-name people they never got much out of it. Especially in the way of musical collaborations with people who were actually in the Clan. The closest any one of the guys got before the release of Don’t Go Against the Grain was Rubbabandz his appearance on the RZA produced Young Godz off Shyheim’s sophomore album The Lost Generation.
Child rapper Shyheim is the artist the people in GP Wu are most associated with being that they provided the most guest verses on his first two albums. Shy and GP member Pop the Brown Hornet are both cousins of Clan member Ghostface Killah and possibly each other so that helps explain that connection. Oddly enough neither Shy nor Ghost show up on this album, nor could RZA be bothered to throw a leftover beat their way.
Perhaps MCA Records spent the entire budget for Don’t Go Against the Grain, which can’t have been that much, on securing the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee as the album’s executive producer, even though his presence isn’t actually felt one way or another.
You could therefore if you were uninformed listen to this album thinking these guys are some sort store brand imitations of the Wu Tang Clan with no connection with the actual group whatsoever, which is serious problem for a group that actually has Wu in its name. Wu fans are known to pick up anything remotely Wu-attached but they usually will check for a good guest appearance on the back-cover before deciding to purchase or not.
Speaking of the now defunct demographic of record store customers: What’s up with that artwork? It looks like Don’t Go Against the Grain is a metal album or something… (It most certainly is not.)
That sort of mislabeling product on several levels can be potentially disastrous sales figures of your album, and perhaps it did contribute to this one flopping harder than it necessarily needed to. Although lack of any sort of hit single was also a most definitely a contributing factor.

The fact that the album went aluminum is unfortunate because while Pop the Brown Hornet, June Luva, Rubbabandz, Down Low Recka and producer RNS aren’t as virtuous as the actual Wu-Tang Clan they do adequately recreate their sound without going so over the top with it that they could be considered biters (No kung fu movie dialogue samples, no sped-up soul vocals and not too much in the way of five percenter islam-inspired lyrics). And their guest appearances on Shyheim’s albums must’ve gotten some folks to notice them.
It isn’t unthinkable that this could’ve gone gold with some assistance by Ghost, Shy, RZA or anyone else in the Clan or if they included a song produced by Puff Diddy and featuring Ma$e, and released it as a single with a video directed by Hype Williams shot on Times Square.

This album is consistently entertaining in a rather conventional 1997 New York hard core thug rap kind of way. None of the guys spit anything that hasn’t been heard better before or since, but they’re all competent rappers and because they all have distinct voices they’re all fairly easy to tell apart which helps the medicine go down.
The subject matter is all fairly standard. Substance abuse (Smoking), fire arms (Two Gats Up), hedonism and boasting of superior rap skills (Party People), the sexual prowess of GP with women who are already taken (If You Only Knew), the state of the genre (Hip Hop), the state of society (Things Ain’t The Same and Black on Black Crime) and nothing in particular (Hit Me With That Shit).
The same can be said of the productions courtesy of group member Down Low Recka and RNS. They tend to have a sese of urgency and dramatic minimalism not unlike RZA’s beats, but less spacy and less artisan. Blow Up and Hit Me With That Shit have a sort of jazzy feel because of its incorporation of minimal trumpet hits, Party People is suitably jiggy, Life Bid mixes cheesy ’80s rock synths with old school horror movie organs, Black on Black Crime features some mournful strings. The beats all perfectly nice when they’re on but appear to be satisfied with slipping from ones conscience when they’re done playing.

While there isn’t actually much to complain about here it makes sense that this album didn’t go gold, even if it easily could have with proper promotion and a better radio single. It might even have been for the better that this album was both the beginning and end of the Gladiator Posse discography. It’s not like they had that much content here, nor did they have that interesting a way of talking about their non-content. A sophomore release might’ve taken them beyond exhaustion of their subject matter, beats and rhymes. I’m not suggesting that I wish all of them should’ve stopped working after dropping this one, but perhaps their talents were better spent on the occasional guest verse here and there, especially Pop the Brown Hornet and his distinct-sounding voice.
Anyway Don’t Go Against the Grain is alright, but merely alright.

Best tracks
Smoking
Blow Up
Hit Me With That Shit
Life Bid
Party People
Black On Black Crime

Recommendations
If you are a fan of the Wu of olde and can find this for cheap in the used bin of your local record store (If there is still a thing such as a local record stores) you can pick this up. You’ll probably get a few good spins out of it.


Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever

Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Forever
June 3, 1997
Loud RecordsRCA Records/ BMG Music Group/ SME
080/100
WuTangForever
DISC I
1. Wu-Revolution (performed by Popa Wu & Uncle Pete) // 2. Reunited (feat. Ms. Roxy) // 3. For Heaven’s Sake (feat. Cappadonna) // 4. Cash Still Rules/Scary Hours (Still Don’t Nothing Move But The Money) // 5. Visionz // 6. As High As Wu-Tang Get // 7. Severe Punishment // 8. Older Gods // 9. Maria (feat. Cappadonna) // 10. A Better Tomorrow // 11. It’s Yourz
DISC II
1. Intro // 2. Triumph (feat. Cappadonna) // 3. Impossible (feat . Tekitha) // 4. Little Ghetto Boys (feat. Cappadonna) // 5. Deadly Melody (feat. Streetlife & Dreddy Kruger) // 6. The City // 7. The Projects (feat. Shyheim) // 8. Bells of War // 9. The M.G.M. // 10. Dog Shit //11. Duck Seazon // 12. Hellz Wind Staff (feat. Streetlife) // 13. Heaterz (feat. Cappadonna) // 14. Black Shampoo // 15. Second Coming (performed by Tekitha) // 16. The Closing // 17. Sunshower // 18. Projects [International Remix] (feat. Shyheim)

Double-disc albums were a hype in the late ’90s urban music world and if an act didn’t have one it wasn’t considered whole. Tupac Shakur started the trend with his diamond-selling All Eyez On Me in ’96 and plenty of R&B/hip-hop artists would soon follow in his tracks, including arch rival the Notorious B.I.G., R. Kelly and several others. These albums, though some were well-received and have reached what one would call ‘classic status’, generally represent a bloated mess of imperial overstretch in these artists’ respective career. Shakur’s album All Eyez on Me, the project that kickstarted the trend, was the worst offender. It sounded like he recorded it all in one go and completely ran out of ideas after the first few songs or so and only regaining his momentum very sporadically over the course of the rest of the album and nevertheless released it to the masses without ever looking back. What we are digging into today however is its polar opposite when it’s the overall quality that is concerned, probably because Shakur was filling two discs of original material by his self (with lots of help of his untalented weed carriers Tha Outlawz and to a lesser degree his labelmates Snoop, Dre, Daz, Kurupt and whoever accidentally walked into the wrong studio, but still. All Eyez on Me was essentially 2pac headlining two full CD’s of material.) and the Wu-Tang Clan has nine official members who all get equal billing and are all to varying degrees main attractions.

Wu-Tang Forever marks the end of RZA’s famed and mysterious five year plan. Not even Method Man claims to know just what that plan might have been, but it had something to do with dropping a trail of classic solo albums by individual members between the group’s debut album and their sophomoric one. It goes TicalReturn to the 36 ChambersOnly Built 4 Cuban Linx…Liquid Swords and Ironman.
(Also there was supposed to be a Inspectah Deck album released somewhere between Liquid Swords and Ironman but RZA’s basement which contained all of his equipment and prerecorded beats that were intended for that one, and apparently Ironman was higher on RZA’s list of priorities.)

Wu-Tang Forever extensively features Cappadonna, a Wu-affiliate who would’ve been one of the original nine members but went to prison before having been able to make any contribution to Enter the Wu-Tang and was replaced by Method Man in stead. The man had resurfaced on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and contributed to Ghostface Killah’s Ironman. Even though he is credited as a featured guest on Wu-Tang Forever whenever he pops up, and he pops up quite often, he was more or less considered the Clan’s tenth member when it was released. RZA would later disown Cappadonna as an official Clan affiliate because Cappa completely lost his rapping mojo of an alleged financial conflict between the two where Cappachino claimed RZA owed him money and RZA claimed he was full of it.

Wu-svengali RZA had for the most part abandoned the gruff, dusty and minimalistic sound that made Enter the Wu-Tang such a notable success. Having produced a stack of classic albums since his instrumentals became increasingly rich and cinematic over the course of discs that went from Tical to Ironman. On Wu-Tang Forever he added a new element to his bag of tricks. He took vocal samples from old soul records and changed the pitch to make them sound high and quirky, possibly to save money on background singers which he could then spend on honey-dipped blunts and pointy rings. He then proceeded to incorporate them into his beats. This is a hip-hop production technique many people think Kanye West invented. RZA, who previously did pretty much all the work behind the boards on anything released by any of the Clansmen stepped aside for eight of the album’s twenty nine tracks which he left to his cronies True Master, 4th Disciple and for some reason Inspectah Deck whose instrumental contrubutions aren’t very good but also not that numerous. Whether this was done for variation’s sake or simply because RZA couldn’t come up with twenty nine instrumentals of consistently good quality on his own (It happens to the best of us) is unknown to me, but it is what it is.

The album’s first disc is off to a meh start with its bullshit intro on which two non-Clan members get to rant for nearly seven minutes about five percent islam, a religion that apparently every member of the Clan was practicing at the time. Nothing against taking pride in one’s religion but this track couldn’t have been more tedious and pretentious if they followed it with a full recital of each and every scripture of every religion known to mankind ever while keeping the same beat on for the entire duration.
Following that is a somewhat uneven collection of music which is to be expected from an album that consist of the combined efforts of ten rappers and four producers divided by twenty eleven tracks. The disc sounds good for the most part. The majority of the songs are highlights. The tense the Wu-noir opening cut Reunited which has the three cousins GZA, ODB and RZA + Method Man ripping shit up and setting the mood for what is to come.
For Heaven’s Sake has Deck outrap Masta Killa and Cappadonna over a quintessential chipmunk-soul beat.
It’s Yourz blends RZA’s typical dusty sound with something akin to old school disco rap. Rae, U-God, RZA, Deck all get to rock it but GFK walks away with the track.
OB4L reprise Older Gods (that doesn’t appear to be complimentary to Shyheim’s Young Gods) and the ode to positive thinking that is A Better Tomorrow and the grimy but catchy are all prime Wu posse cuts as well.
Low points are the unsexy sex rap Maria, the Deck-produced Visionz and the shitty Cash Rules sequel Cash Still Rules Everything Around Me.

The second disc opens with a dismissal of Rap ‘n’ Bullshit R&B-rap artists by RZA & GZA, presumably P. Daddy & Ma$e. I wonder if RZA remembered that You’re All I Need to Get By song that got Method Man, Mary J. Blige and P. Daddy a grammy, or that Babyface Remix that had Ghostface Killah rhyme the exact same verse he performed on this album’s Visionz. (I’m also curious what RZA had to say when he first heard that Justin Bieber song that had Raekwon and Kanye West on it, if he ever hear it at all.)
Obviously there’s more posse cuts on this disc. Triumph is arguably the best thing on the entire project with its cinematic instrumental and all the official Wu-tang plus Cappadonna rocking over it. The only complaint about this one is that Ol Dirtly Bastard is severely underused by not being allowed to spit a verse of his own and being relegated to shit-talking on the intro and in between verses in stead. I suppose you can’t have it all. The song is still really, really good anyway.
Impossible has the most eerie, spaced out instrumental so far and has among others Ghostface Killah tear it to shreds.
Little Ghetto Boys is a fairly nice word of advice to its titular subjects about not choosing the wrong path although reusing that Donny Hathaway sample for the hook was then and still is a surefire way of getting your song unfavourably compared to a classic songs by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg and P. Daddy with Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z.
Fans of the debut album’s production sound get thrown another bone by way of Deadly Melody, a showcase for mostly Method Man and his apprentice Street Life.
Bells of War is a good listen too and the Rae-Ghost duet The M.G.M. Wu-Tang Forever is as good a showcase of their usual on-record Chemistry as anything off OB4C or Ironman.
The Projects finally puts Shyheim in the same room as most of the clan members so good for him that he’s finally proven to be a true Wu-B-teamer. It’s not good for anyone or anything else though because it’s beat sounds like RZA was only half finished creating it before his pizza was delivered or something.The ODB gets a solo offering with Dog Shit and it sucks balls, the man always was a hit or miss individual. The part at the end where he tell his fellow clansmen that they remind him of the backup dancers of En Vogue though almost makes it worth sitting through.
Speaking of horrible solo-efforts: U-God, a rapper who was incarcerated during most of the recording of 36 Chambers and is considered by many to be the worst rapper in the group gets a solo-showcase of his own in the form of Black Shampoo, a hilariously unsettling sex rap with an instrumental that sounds like it was made by Barry White on acid, over which the man invites the listener to let him clip his or her toenails, among a diverse range of other odd sexy business.
The City is Inspectah Deck’s chance to fly solo. It’s good enough to make one desperately want to hear his aborted flushed solo debut, so listen to it at your own risk.
RZA, Raekwon and oddly enough Tekhita, one of the Clan’s go-to studio songstresses, get fairly decent solo-offerings as well

Overall Wu-Tang Forever, like any non-greatest hits double disc album this reviewer is aware of, would’ve benefited if it had been edited down to a single disc. That however would have meant that the guys weren’t competing with Biggie and 2pac for best double disc album of the late ’90s which hardly would’ve been an option worth considering. And it’s still a really good album in the incarnation in which it was released. Bar Dog ShitMaria and Black Shampoo most of the lesser tracks are entertaining filler rather than bad songs. Wu-Tang Forever retains enough of the old to keep the fans happy but introduces enough new to justify having a sophomore album in the first place. The album is a great showcase for one of hip-hop’s greatest franchises at the peak of its powers.

Best tracks
Reunited
Severe Punishment
It’s Yourz
For Heaven’s Sake
Older Godz
A Better Tomorrow
Triumph
Impossible
Deadly Melody
Bells of War
The City
Black Shampoo

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Shyheim – The Lost Generation

Shyheim
The Lost Generation
May 28, 1996
Noo Trybe/Virgin Records/EMIUMG
055/100
The Lost Generation--Front
1. Shit Iz Real (feat. DeLouie Avant Jr.) // 2. Dear God (feat. Pop The Brown Hornet, June Lover & Nikki Williams) // 3. Jiggy Comin’ // 4. 5 Elements (feat. Down Low Reka, June Lover, Pop the Brown Hornet & Rubbabandz) // 5. Shaolin Style (feat. Squigg Trust) // 6. Real Bad Boys // 7. What Makes the World Go Round (feat. Rubbabandz, Smoothe Da Hustler, Trigger & Dzalias Christ) // 8. Can You Feel It (feat. June Lover & King Just) // 9. Life As a Shorty // 10. Don’t Front/ Let’s Chill (feat. 702) // 11. Things Happen // 12. See What I See (feat. Dzalias Christ) // 13. Still There (feat. DeLouie Avant Jr.) //14. Young Gods (feat. Killa Sin, Madman, Rubbabands, Raekwon & RZA)

Wu-tang affiliate Shyheim’s first album sold enough copies for Virgin record to allow him a second studio album (although nothing can be found online about any sort of gold certification). And by the time it dropped in may ’96 the guy still would have to cross the border to Canada or Mejico to legally buy a beer because he was barely eighteen by that time.
For The Lost Generation he mostly worked with the same people that made AKA the Rugged Child such a moderate success: Producer RNS, who according to Discogs was at one point Wu-svengali RZA’s mentor, (although no other interwebs source can confirm this in a satisfactory manner) and members of the sorta, kinda Wu-affiliated GP Wu which supplied most of the guest vocals.
Like on AKA the Rugged Child RZA supplies but one beat, but unlike the last time around his contribution lasts for over two minutes and features some actual Wu-involvement in the vocal department, because the hook is performed by Prince Rakeem himself and Raekwon the Chef (although a would-be-much-appreciated verse from either official Wu-member is missing, sadly). M.O.P.-producer DR Period and NaS-veteran L.E.S. also get to provide beats for Shy to rock over.

Oddly enough Shyheim seems to actually have become less mature-sounding since recording AKA the Rugged Child. A simple and logical explanation would be that on that album he didn’t write his own lyrics, leaving that to an older rapper, whereas on this one he did everything himself.
Shy’s juvenile, irreverent style isn’t without merit and sort of fits him him on occasion. Quips like God help me out nigga would certainly lose their charm coming from an older rapper but work just fine on Dear God, a song about ghetto hardship and desparantion and a definite highlight with a bleak yet smackin’ and smooth RNS beat and Pop da Brown Hornet paying hommage to Snoop Dogg’s Murder Was the Case on the hook. Unfortunately for Shyheim Dear God is a rare highlight on an album filled with mediocracy.
Shit Is Real, the album opener, is supposed to establish Shy’s street cred, but it’s subject matter and backing music are a straight mismatch, although it would no doubt have sucked too even without its wimpy R&B instrumental.
Jiggy Comin’ is about Shyheim’s trouble with the police, which is all well but he sounds like the type of kid that was taken to his mother by the law enforcement for nicking a candy bar rather than being sent to the penitentiary for anything serious, and talks shit to his boys blowing the story up via this track.
Shaolin Style flips an already overused Patrice Rushen sample and manages to add nothing of value to the well-known melody, the Method Man samples on the hook be damned.
The Lost Generation also has an introspective song and a joint for the ladies, Don’t Front/Let’s Chill and Still There For Me respectively. Both of them fall flat on their faces because Shy’s persona isn’t developed enough to to them justice and he fills them with gangsta clichés in stead, and they are made worse by having rather shitty R&B guest appearances accompanying him.

That’s not to say The Lost Generation is all shit though. But the moments that do work aren’t working because of Shyheim and would’ve sounded equally well, if not better, with another rapper taking his place or do sound good because there actually isn’t much Shyheim on them to speak of. Can You Feel It works because of it’s bouncy disco production combined with the spacy vocal distortion. See What I See has a eerie, pounding, percussive piano based instrumental by DR Period with a catchy, sung chorus courtesy of studio singer Dzalias Christ, 5 Elements and What Makes the World Go Round work well enough but mostly because GP Wu take over the track and are backed by RNS productions that sounds like someone from the actual clan might rock over them, had they had the opportunity. As does Young Gods, but that’s because it it’s a RZA creation, because it has minimal vocal involvement by Rae and RZA himself and because quite possibly was offered to someone from the actual Clan before ending up here.

Life as a Shorty is the only moment on the record where Shy regains the lyrical momentum he had on Dear God, sounding convincing and credible enough in his roll as a young hoodlum and unique enough to justify him having a rap career. This unfortunately doesn’t happen a lot on The Lost Generation. An album that sees Shy probably having his first attempts at writing his own lyrics. As such we shouldn’t be too hard on the guy. But the person who fired his ghostwriter may have been premature doing so because the Shyheim we hear on this album for the most part sounds like he has just heard gangsta rap for the first time and then decided to dive head-first into recording an album which is never a good thing.
Let that however not be interpreted as an outright and complete dismissal of Shyheim as a rapper. His debut AKA the Rugged Child is pretty good, as are the songs listed below and his follow-up work may very well be too because he still had a lot of growing up to do at this point.

Best tracks
Dear God
5 Elements
Can You Feel It
What Makes the World Go Round
See What I See
Young Gods

Recommendations
Download the above tracks off iTunes or Amazon, or pick this album up if you find it for really cheap.


Nelly – Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention

Nelly
Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention
November 25, 2003
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
058/100
Nelly - Da Derrty Versions the Reinvention
1. Intro // 2. Country Grammar [Jay E Remix] (feat. E-40) // 3. Iz U // 4. E.I. [David Banner remix] // 5. Ride With Me [Jay E Remix] (feat. City Spud) // 6. Batter Up [Jay E Remix] (feat. Murphy Lee, Chocolate Tai, King Jacob, Prentiss Church & Jung Tru) // 7. If // 8. Hot In Herre [Basement Beats Remix] // 9. Dilemma [Jermaine Dupri Remix] (feat. Ali & Kelly Rowland) // 10. King’s Highway // 11. Groovin’ Tonight (St. Lunatics feat. Brian McKnight) // 12. Air Force Ones [David Banner Remix] (feat. David Banner & 8ball) // 13. Work It [Scott Storch Remix] (feat. Justin Timberlake) // 14. #1 [Remix] (feat. Postaboy & Clipse) // 15. Pimp Juice [Jay E Remix] (feat. Ron Isley) // 16. Tip Drill [Remix] (E.I.) (St. Lunatics)

Back when people still bought cds remix-albums were an easy way for record labels of juicing any particular artist’s fanbase for some cash whenever that artist didn’t have a proper album to promote. Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention is such an album, bridging the gap between Nelly’s 2002 blockbuster Nellyville and his 2004 double whammy Sweat and Suit. On this album you will find amended versions of hit songs from Nellyville and his debut Country Grammar of varying quality, all tied together by Nelly commenting on his ‘creative process’ in a sort of fake interview type of setting brought to us in skits. Did you know E-40 invented slang? Yeah, me neither…

On to the content: Everything labeled a ‘Jay E Remix’, which is is the absolute majority of the songs, can be automatically dismissed as a remix. Not because the beats suck, Jay E is a terrific producer and arguably half of the reason of Nelly’s success, but rather because the guy produced most of the original incarnations of these songs which were mostly not broke and therefore not in need of fixing.
Apparently he agreed with that assessment because the changes to his instrumentals are minimal to nonexistent. All that’s really added are newly recorded guest appearances which vary from entertaining enough such as the Ron Isley-featuring version of Pimp Juice and the Clipse on #1, to meh such as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it E-40 verse on Country Grammar, to godawful such as the new version of Batter Up which replaces B-team weedcarriers with Z-team weedcarriers. But the fact that Jay doesn’t go rampant creatively with altering his own shit might actually be for the better because the one time Jay E does actually change something substantial about a song the result is a version of Ride With Me that poorly attempts to fit the original hook into the melody of John Mayer’s No Such Thing for no other reason than that Nelly likes John and wanted to pay ‘tribute’ to him, which is very questionable reasoning at best. Nelly could‘ve called the guy up for a collabo and Mayer would probably have said yes, and that might’ve made for an entertaining collabo if Nelly’s later collabo with Tim McGraw Over and Over is any indication. In stead we’re left with this stupid shit that also does a terrible job at incorporating City Spud’s not-that-great-to-begin-with verse off the original version.
The remix of Hot In Herre which is credited to ‘Basemenent Beats’, a production team consisting of Jay E, Koko and Wally Beaming (and City Spud who is m.i.a. here because of a ten year prison stint) is pretty fucking awesome with what sounds like a recreation of the Neptunes’ bleepy, bloopy original beat with live instrumentation. I guess he did have something to ad here because he didn’t have a hand in creating the original instrumental.

Mississippi rapper and producer David Banner remixes E.I. into something much more scandalously entertaining than the original, although there wasn’t much need to tack on a second version of this remix on the end of the album with his boys from the St. Lunatics featuring but substituting verses with catchphrases (This version does however work really well as a floor-filler at parties, so perhaps it is the Nelly-solo version that is the redundant track out of the two.) His rock version of Air Force Ones however a fairly lame deal, which is a shame because new guest verses by himself and southern legend 8ball are a lot better than what the ‘Tics had come up with for the original.

Jermaine Dupri’s new version of Dilemma exposes the song for having been very reliant for its effect on its sappy original production as this stripped down version sounds dry and superficial. Scott Storch transforms Work It into an altogether more slinky affair that probably would’ve sounded better if Nelly hadn’t decided to re-record his vocals after popping a shitload of ritalin. It is what it is and it is mystifying.

That leaves a three original songs. Iz U is a pretty cool trunk-rattler that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Nellyville, that goes for Kings Highway and the Neptunes-produced If as well. Perhaps he was cleaning out the vaults or something. Anyway these songs are probably the only real reason for owners of Country Grammar and Nellyville to pick up The Reinvention.
In 2003 that might’ve cut it as an incentive for purchasing this album. In 2014 however you can just buy the individual songs off iTunes or Amazon and you’ll have all the added value of this album to Nelly’s catalogue for a lot less money than you would spend on the entire disc. That’s not to say Da Derrty Versions sounds bad. It’s a fairly decent Nelly-playlist, and with the exception of Air Force Ones and Ride With Me these remixes don’t actually sound any worse than they do in their original versions. Props for culling the only good song Groovin’ Tonight off that godawful St. Lunatics album, even if it was only to get incarcerated Lunatic City Spud some commisary (That would also explain why Spud is on that strange and shitty Ride With Me-John Mayer mashup). But if you’re a fan of Nelly’s you could probably make a much better Nelly-playlist yourself with the technology being available and manageable to everyone and their grandmother, making The Reinvention a dinosaur from a bygone era.

Best tracks
Iz U
If
Hot In Herre [Basement Beats Remix]
King’s Highway
Groovin’ Tonight
Pimp Juice [Jay E Remix]

Recommendations
Buy the above tracks off iTunes or Amazon, or pick this out of the used CD bin you find it for under six dollars.


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.


New Edition – Heart Break

New Edition
Heart Break
June 20, 1988
MCA RecordsUMG
075/100
New Edition - Heart Break
1. Introduction // 2. That’s the Way We’re Livin’ // 3. Where It All Started // 4. If It Isn’t Love // 5. Skit #1 // 6. N.E. Heart Break // 7. Crucial // 8. Skit #2 // 9. You’re Not My Kind of Girl // 10. Superlady // 11. Can You Stand the Rain // 12. Competition // 13. Skit #3 // 14. I’m Comin’ Home // 15, Boys to Men

When Bobby Brown kicked himself out of New Edition he took their collective nutsack with him if Under the Blue Moon and King of Stage were indicative.
In the mean time Johnny Gill’s career wasn’t really going places despite evident talent. His first two solo-albums and the collaborative album with Stacey Lattisaw hadn’t made him the star Cotillon Records thought he was when they signed him and I imagine that the label quietly released him from his contractual obligations, as is the way with record labels and unsuccesful artists. The label by the way didn’t fail at getting  Gill to the top of the charts for lack of trying by the way, most acts don’t get three strikes at success. They tend to get dropped immediately when their debuts tank.
I’m not sure how Ralph, Ronnie, Ricky and Mike met Johnny but the music industry is a small world and given that they had met one can just see five lightbulbs pop up over the boys heads. NE was missing something and Johnny was all unfulfilled (and unemployed) potential. Why wouldn’t he join the group?

This album was released on the exact same day as Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel. That’s some serious marketing genius from whoever it was at MCA Records, the label on which both albums were released, that got to make that decision. In 1986 Bobby Brown split from New Edition very tumultuously and very pubically creating a feud between the singer and his former group. That feud had pretty much ended and become a healthy form of competition when New Edition and Bobby Brown were releasing Don’t Be Cruel and Heart Break. Apparently the guys weren’t that immature. And considering the fact that they were old friends who had been through a lot together after all and more importantly both parties had remained commercially successful in music following the split it wasn’t too difficult for them to reconcile. No hard feelings. But for many fans New Edition vs. Bobby Brown was still very much a thing. So when the fans got to the record store and saw these albums fresh on the shelf they felt more compelled to pick at least one of the two albums up to support the party they felt was right in the messy split, which pushed the sales figures of both albums up. Kanye and Fifty Cent pulled a similar marketing shenanigan in 2007. It always works to make an audience have the idea they have power over proceedings and have a real choice in matters. It is the multi million dollar equivalent of putting two tip jars on a bar with Justin Bieber and Chuck Norris names on them and letting customers decide who they like better by putting their tip in the jar with the person of their choice. The entire success of reality tv. talent concept shows like Pop Idol or The Voice on which the next pop idol is being chosen by viewers voting is also based on this idea of making the audience feel like they’re involved in this shit. If only that idea worked better for politics and getting people to actually vote for that shit, right?

In the mean time the world of contemporary R&B was changing around them. Guy had incorporated some hip-hop elements into the sound of traditional soul music to mass success. So Naranda Michael Walden, Ray Parker jr. and Freddie Perren weren’t called in for their services. Unfortunately the guys couldn’t get any Teddy beats because he was busy hanging out with frienemy Bob making his prerogative sound good.
So in stead they reached out to production team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who had spent ’86 and ’87 helping Michael’s little sister succesfully transitioning into musical adulthood to see if they could do the same for the new edition of New Edition. Truth be told Jam and Lewis didn’t change that much about New Edition’s sound. The biggest difference between the sound of Heart Break and any of their previous albums is that New Edition sounds like a group of adults rather than a pack of young boys, which is because by ’88 they were aged around twenty and because the addition of Johnny Gill meant that they collectively sounded older by default since that guy has had the voice of a singer aged thirty since he was fifteen.In stead of racking up second rate Teddy Riley beats Jam & Lewis mostly create a bunch of lush compositions that build on the strengths of the group but sounded less sunny than their previous work and really sounds like nothing more or less than the logical next step after 1985’s All For Love and Gill’s sophomore solo album Chemistry of the same year.

Tresvant, the previously undisputed alpha male of the group lets go of the microphone more often than he previously did and not only in favour of new kid on the block Johnny (perhaps he was afraid of another walk out by a member if business proceded as usual.) but also on occasion to perpetual third in command Ricky Bell, and because of that the group sounds a lot more like a group.
Gill and Tresvant’s voices sound very well together because they’re completely different. Johnny has a chocolaty rich baritone comparable to Luther Vandross’ while Ralph’s voice sounds like Michael Jackson airy tenor, forming a nice contrast. This can be heard at work best on Can You Stand the Rain. The addition of Gill also created a new harmony in the group’s backing vocals which can be peeped on You’re Not My Kind of Girl. Of the remaining three only Ricky Bell pops up in a lead singing capacity on occasion. The rest isn’t in the forefront enough to leave much of an impression, which considering the actual raps heard on Bell Biv Devoe records may very well be for the better. Speaking of rap, not much of that going on on this album. Guess Bobby was the only the hip-hop enthousiast of the group with any influence.

Besides the Jam & Lewis tracks NE slipped two songs on here they produced themselves with Whitney Houston producer and the Time band-member (with among others Jam & Lewis and unofficially Prince) Jellybean Benitez. To their credit these instrumentals don’t sound any less good than the others songs.

There’s a fair share of hit songs and it’s all good stuff. If It Isn’t Love and You’re Not My Kind of Girl are some of those cute little concept songs that NE succesfully took to the charts previously with the likes of Cool It Now and Count Me Out with Tresvant questioning a relationship problem and discussing the matter with the other guys. N.E. Heartbreak is the most hip-hop thing on here and it proves that Ronnie, Ricky, Michael, Ralph and Johnny could rock that swingbeat almost as well as Bobby.
Crucial is sweet and bouncy enough to deserve its hit-status and all is pretty well. The very best thing on here however is hands down Can You Stand the Rain, a quiet storm classic if ever there was one with the lead being passed back-and-forth between Tresvant and Gill and Ricky Bell getting some shine too. It is the most convincing argument in favour of New Edition sans Brown with Gill. It is difficult imagining the NE of old doing this record at all, let alone doing it justice.
Competition also deserves an honourable mention because it has Ralph and Ricky lamenting the split with Bobby, although Tresvant, the writer of the song, could’ve chosen more elaborate wording because it could just as easily be interpreted as an anti-war or even an anti-capitalism song, which contemporary R&B just isn’t a suitable medium for (Workers of the world unite, in front of the fireplace while New Edition gets in your pants).
Boys to Men, the album closer, which has Gill on leads inspired another R&B group to change its name and reach for the stars, eventually ending up making it big under NE member Michael Bivins’ managment (guess which one) and is also notable for the fact that Gill, who thought of it as too childish for his tastes to completely overperform parts of it out of protest. Despite his attempts to fuck it up is was still well recieved by critics so that’s some talented singer problem right there.
The rest of the songs are well meaning R&B-fluff, a little bland on occasion, but never off-puttingly so.

If Under the Blue Moon raised questions of New Edition’s relevance without Brown’s swagger keeping things interesting Heart Break makes it very clear that New Edition, with the addition of Gill, still had a reason for existence, and a moderately new, fresh and more classy, mature artistic direction. For my money Brown had the better, more interesting album with Don’t Be Cruel (and contemporary music buying audiences thought so too since Cruel sold about four times as many copies as Heart Break did) but Heart Break sold two million, which isn’t bad, and it inspired a succesful concert tour which had Al B. Sure! and Brown on it as opening acts (which made it okay for Bobby fans to buy Heart Break and for Ralph-fans to pick up Don’t Be Cruel, clever boys).
Following Heart Break the guys split up with succesful albums coming from Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant and unexpectedly the rump-group Bell Biv Devoe, which consisted of Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ron Devoe. With the solo-success of its members for a while seemed like New Edition was history for good. Until Ralph, Johnny, Bobby and BBD each dropped an album that was disappointingly saleswise and they reunited New Edition as a sextet with both Gill and Brown included for an album in ’96, that was. Look out for all those albums being reviewed on the site sooner than later.
For now: Heart Break is a pretty good late ’80s R&B album that you would do well to check out.

Best tracks
If It Isn’t Love
N.E. Heartbreak
Crucial
You’re Not My Kind of Girl
Can You Stand the Rain
Boys to Men

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.


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.


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.


Murphy Lee – Da Skoolboy Presents Murphy’s Law

Murphy Lee
Da Skool Boy Presents Murphy’s Law
September 23, 2003
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
065/100
Murphy Lee - Murphy's Law
1. Be Myself [Intro] // 2. Don’t Blow It (feat. City Spud) // 3. Hold Up (feat. Nelly) // 4. Grandpa Gametight // 5. Luv Me Baby (feat. Jazzy Pha & Sleepy Brown) // 6. Murphy’s Law [Interlude] (performed by Darius Bradford & St. Louis Slim) // 7. Cool With It (feat. St. Lunatics) // 8. This Goes Out (feat. Nelly, Roscoe, Cardan, Lil Jon & Lil Wayne) // 9. What Da Hook Gon’ Be (feat. Jermaine Dupri) // 10. So X-Treme (feat. King Jacob & Jung Tru) // 11. How Many Kids You Got [Interlude] (performed by Darius Bradford & St. Louis Slim) // 12. I Better Go (feat. Avery Storm) // 13. Red Hot Riplets (feat. St. Lunatics) // 14. Regular Guy (feat. Seven) // 15. Gods Don’t Chill (feat. King Jacob & Jung Tru) // 16. Murphy Lee (feat. Zee) // 17. Head From a Midget [Interlude] (performed by Darius Bradford & St. Louis Slim) // 18. Shake Ya Tailfeather (Nelly, Diddy & Murphy Lee) // 19. Same Ol’ Dirty (feat. Toya)

Taking about the common rapper’s habit of landing all their homies from the hood a record deal as soon as they’ve sold a couple of records: it certainly has lead to a lot of mediocre to shitty albums being recorded and released. It’s almost as though for every entertaining Jay-Z record being released to the public a waste of time, money and plastic and aluminum hard drive space by Memphis Bleek gets to see the light of day.
Some times however a weed carrier has some actual skill behind the microphone and gets to become a cool supporting character in story of his more famous friend’s career. Such is the case with Nelly’s homeboy Murphy Lee(a.k.a. Da Skoolboy because he was the youngest out of the St. Lunatics posse), the second out of Nelly’s St. Lunatics posse with a solo career (third if you count Nelly himself) whose debut Murphy’s Law hit shelves in late 2003.

Although I can’t recall him so much as appearing on Country Grammar or Free City his guest verses on Ali’s moderate hit Boughetto and the remix of State Property’s Roc the Mic that appeared on Nellyville were pretty cool. However it wasn’t until the song Shake Ya Tailfeather off the Bad Boys II soundtrack dropped in the summer of ’03 that anyone in the public actually started wonderng who he was. The song was mostly Nelly’s, but also had a verse by P. Daddy (Because the soundtrack was released on Bad Boy Records and because that way Nelly wouldn’t have to pay for the video.) The final verse was Murphy’s though and arguably he stole the show, referencing Dragonball Z , Marvin Gaye and Voltron while talking about weed and pussy. That turned out a fantastic career move because Shake Ya Tailfeather hit worldwide charts like a brick and won a grammy for ‘best rap song by a duo or a group’ in 2004. It is this sort of success that gets the label heads to ‘see the potential’ and spend a little extra on beats and guest appearances when an album release is imminent, which was good for him since guest verses and hooks by Sleepy Brown and a littler Lil Wayne (amended by as a myriad of lesser-knowns), as well as assists by Jazze Pha, Jermaine Dupri, Mannie Fresh and Lil Jon are a definite asset when recording a party rap record like Murphy’s Law (That title was a given, wasn’t it?)

The album did go platinum, but that’s quite likely only because it had Shake Ya Tailfeather on it. I don’t recall ever hearing anything else of this being played on any radio or music video channels. Oh well, I’m sure Murphy Lee isn’t complaining.

His on-record persona is that of a nouveau riche street rascal that is just as likeable as his similar but more famous homie Nelly. Besides their boughetto similarities there are differences too, Murphy Lee is a much mellower dude. Nelly is the type of dude to slap the listener around the dancefloor with his success. Murphy seems to preoccupied with entertaining himself behind the mic for such posturing. Off course he brags himself through this album the way any commercial sub-gangsta rapper would in ’03, but he doesn’t land a sweaty, poon fest of a club banger like Hot In Herre or Work It or a thug utopia like Nellyville anwhere (except on Shake Ya Tailfeather which is the former, but it’s more of a Nelly song anyway). In stead he offers up a milder variety of midwestern party rap. Murphy’s Law is heavy on the poppy R&B cuts, midtempo Southern/ Midwestern party rap and it even has a smooth elevator jazz number in Cool With It.
Highlights include the album opener Don’t Blow It featuring incarcarated ‘tics member City Spud, the rowdy, Nelly assisted Mannie Fresh-produced banger Hold Up, Jazze Pha’s feverish come on-number Luv Me Baby, the uncharactaristically smooth St. Lunatics posse cut Cool With It, the reminiscent I Better Go featuring Avery Storm, the requisite ‘the money hasn’t changed me’ song Same Ol’ Dirty and off course the classic hit single Shake Ya Tailfeather.

Unfortunately the album has it’s fair share of clunkers too. The smooth seduction number Grandpa Gametight never gets to seductive because of its inexplicable, silly concept. As does What the Hook Gon’ BeThis Goes Out might as well be called Nationwide Weedcarriers ’03 what with (Kurupt’s little brother) Roscoe, Cardan (formerly of Ma$e’s group Harlem World) and a pre-stardom Lil Wayne appearing alongside Murphy Lee, Nelly and Lil  Jonathan. Murphy Lee is a silly sex rap with a female singer yelling out our hosts name to the tune of Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) and you can imagine how hard that shit falls flat on its face.

The remainder of the songs lands somewhere in between of good and bad right in the middle of meh. Nelly and Murphy Lee would’ve done well to leave a fair share of these songs on the cutting room floor as they weigh down Murphy’s Law significantly. But this has been the case with every St. Lunatics release so far so that was to be expected. As it is this is still a rather entertaining but flawed album by a very likeable rapper who knows his limitations, doesn’t try too hard and appears to only be out to entertain both himself and the listener. Kind of like how Country Grammar and Nellyville were. And if you enjoyed those albums Murphy’s Law is definitely for you.

Best tracks
Don’t Blow It
Hold Up
Luv Me Baby
Cool With It
I Better Go
Shake Ya Tailfeather
Same Ol’ Dirty

Recommendations
Pick up a used copy. Or a new one even as long as you’re not hideously overcharged for it.


Nelly – Nellyville

Nelly
Nellyville
June 25, 2002
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
068/100
Nelly - Nellyville
1. Nellyville // 2. Gettin’ It Started [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La) // 3. Hot In Herre // 4. Dem Boyz (feat. St. Lunatics) // 5. Oh Nelly (feat. Murphy Lee) // 6. Pimp Juice // 7. Air Force Ones (feat. St. Lunatics) // 8. In the Store [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La) // 9. On the Grind (feat. King Jacob) // 10. Dilemma (feat. Kelly Rowland) // 11. Splurge // 12. Work It (feat. Justin Timberlake) // 13. Roc the Mic [Remix] (State Property feat. Murphy Lee & Nelly) // 14. The Gank // 15. 5000 [Skit] // 16. #1 // 17. CG 2 (feat. St. Lunatics) // 18. Say Now // 19. Fuck It Then [Skit] (performed by Cedric the Entertainer & La La)
bonus track
20. Girlfriend [Neptunes Remix] (*NSYNC feat. Nelly)

Nelly -the man, the myth, the band-aid abuser- really was the early 2000s Lil Wayne, although longtime Weezy-fans know that Lil Wayne himself was also a thing in that day and age. But what I mean to say by that is that Nelly was as succesful in 2002 as Lil Tunechi was in say 2010. There was nary a radio station one could turn on without hearing the man’s heavily accented words and sing-songy voice. Most of these hits are concentrated on Nellyville.

Nellyville showcases everything that was right and everything that was wrong with hip-hop in the early naughties. The Neptunes sound, continuous celebration of excess, an expanding assortiment of regional flavours of hip-hop hitting the mainstream, having each and every one of your friends come over to the studio to drop a verse for your album, R&B/pop-rap collaborations, singing your own hooks when no R&B singer was around without the aid of vocal effects, silly skits and really long tracklists and running times, keeping it gangsta with nary a hipster in sight. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

This album sold a tonne of copies too. Some seven million in the U.S.A. alone on the strength of it’s smash hit singles like Hot In HerreDillema and Work It. I’m sure even the Lunatics ate better off their three apearances than they did off the Free City and the Heavy Starch albums combined. The pre-iTunes era had some perks for weed carriers. These days they would’ve been forced to find a day job to support their “rap career” because people would just buy all the songs they like off iTunes and back then you had to cop the whole cd. In 2002 people did cop the cd because of Cornell Haynes, jr.’s punchy flows and catchy hooks that were delivered in a oddly intoxicating blend of shouting and velvetty crooning about being a gangsta and a hustler and a player and what not but mostly about having too much fun, over Jason “JE” Epperson’s dirty but poppy beats, with a couple of instruments by others including Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo thrown in for variety’s sake.

The album kicks off with the title track which describes a city that is Nelly’s utopia in which the weather is democratically decided upon, in which he is the mayor (or muhr as he pronounces it) and everything is gumdrops and ice cream. Only Nelly could make a song like this without sounding completely flaky. I’m sure everyone has heard Hot In Herre and Dilemma, two of the archetypical commercial rap songs of the era. The former is probably the most memorable Neptunes-produced club number ever with a feverish beat and Nelly’s blissfully ignorant raps and jokes that are so bad they’re good (“Stop pacin’, time wastin’, I got a friend with a pole in the basement” “What?” “I’m just Kidding like Jason!” “Oh.” “Unless you gon’ do it.”). The latter is something out of the Ja Rule playbook with our host and Destiny’s Child’s Kelly Rowland affectionately singing and sing-rapping come-ons at one another over a cheese fondue of an instrumental that blends philly soul with music box twinkling. You’d have to be a hardball cynic to hate these wide eyed optimistic and incredibly catchy jams.
Justin Timberlake, then of *NSYNC, gets to sing the hook of Work It which was good for him since appearing on this strip club anthem made him insteresting to slightly orlder teenagers than those who bought Celebrity, which was very necessary for the solo-album he was releasing later in 2002 to become succesful. The song still sounds really good today with it’s beat that’s simultaneously groovy and crunchy but it does give away how much Nelly relies on his superior flow and charisma to get his message across and not so much his lyrics which can be a bit off. (“She’s got me hypnotised, just like that Biggie guy.” and still P. Daddy invited him over to work on the second postumous Notorious B.I.G. album!?)
Air Force Ones is quite pleasant for a shoe commercial mostly pieced together by b-teamers due to it’s throbbing bounce-beat that harks back to Batter Up and Pimp Juice is the best shitty falsetto performed by a rapper ever, Jeffrey Atkins be damned.
#1 has our host proclaiming his dominance over the rap game and answering a KRS-One diss with gusto over a gloriously tangy instrumental.
Another highlight is Roc the Mic [Remix], an amended version of State Property’s debut single which has Sigel and Freeway copy the flow each other used on their respective verses the original version and Nelly and Murphy Lee managing to fit in pretty good with this significantly more gangsta, less frivolous duo. The edition of Nellyville I have finishes with the Neptunes remix to the *NSYNC-song girlfriend on which Nelly appeared, on here gets as clean as Justin gets dirty on Work It, so that’s a fair trade I guess. If you’re going to pick up Nellyville pick up this edition because it’s like an added bonus to what is essentially a nostalgia value pack. Besides the only other way of picking up this song is buying NSYNC’s Celebrity or stealing it off the internet off course.

The rest of the songs don’t really suck but don’t exactly warrant an honourable mention either. The biggest flaw about the album is that it’s twenty tracks (eighty miniutes) long, which leads me to believe that the man All Eyez on Me‘d this album, which means he recorded everything he could come up with in one go and without hearing it back for quality control purposes released everything he could fit onto a cd. If this were ten tracks long it woud be much better and much conciser. Still as it is Nellyville is more hit than miss and -dare I say it- a bit of a pop-rap classic that works as a time machine to the early Bush-era (your appreciation of this album may depend on your experience of those years.) and for that I salute it and Nelly himself.

Best tracks
Nellyville
Hot In Herre
Pimp Juice
Air Force Ones
Dilemma
Work It
Roc the Mic [Remix]
#1
Girlfriend [Remix]

Recommendations
Pick this one up. The good song are hella fun and Nellyville can’t be too expensive to come by.


Ali – Heavy Starch

Ali
Heavy Starch
April 30, 2002
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
060/100
Ali - Heavy Starch
1. Intro // 2. I Got This // 3. Crucial (feat. Murphy Lee) // 4. Ore-Ore-O // 5. No (feat. St. Lunatics) // 6. Boughetto (feat. Murphy Lee) // 7. 360 // 8. Wiggle Wiggle (feat. St. Lunatics) // 9. Drop Top (feat. Kandi) // 10. Collection Plate (feat. St. Lunatics) // 11. Passin’ Me By (feat. Toya) // 12. Bitch // 13. Beast (feat. Ray Ray) // 14. Cool as Hell
bonus
 tracks
15a. St. Louis Alumni (feat. STL Alumni) / 15b. Serious / 15c. Walk Away (feat. Ms. Toi & Nelly)

The first to come out of the St. Lunatics camp with a solo-album after undisputed alfa male Nelly was Ali. I can’t say I recall much of his contributions to Free City, but then I can’t remember many of Nelly’s verses either. Suffice to say the St. Lunatics’ debut album wasn’t a very memorable affair.

Heavy Starch Mostly gets right what Free City did wrong. It has some pretty pleasant instrumentals. I Got This has a bollywood-infused beat, CrucialNo360Wiggle Wiggle, Drop DropPassin’ Me By, Bitch have some of the same plodding, twinkling bounce-beats Nelly rode on to success with is debut Country Grammar. Boughetto brings an energetic club beat to the table and Collection Plate has some slinky southern funk backing up Ali and his Lunatic friends. Beast has some piano-keys going up and down the tone ladder. Everything is consistent enough to justify calling Heavy Starch an album but varied enough to keep you from falling asleep.

So what about Ali the rapper? Does he rise to the occasion? Well yes and no, he sounds like a complete tool for the most part, but his deep, rumbling, southern accented voice isn’t an unpleasant instrument. It’s just that his goofy thug raps aren’t very memorable one has to pay some serious attention to find out whether or not it is him on the mic on every one of the three St. Lunatics posse cuts, which means that each of the ‘tics could’ve recorded the exact same album with this set of beats.

Still the overall inoffensiveness and occasional cachiness of this, while not the most convincing argument for a purchase ever made, means that this is some perfectly decent party music, and that definitely counts for something.

Best songs
I Got This
Crucial
Boughetto
Wiggle Wiggle

Recommendations
Buy this only if you’re nostalgic for the Country Grammar era and sound. This makes for a decent second serving.


St. Lunatics – Free City

St. Lunatics
Free City
June 5, 2001
Derrty EntertainmentUMG
050/100
St. Lunatics - Free City
1. Just For You (The Introductory Poem) (performed by Amber Tabares) // 2. S.T.L. // 3. Okay // 4. Summer In the City // 5. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 1 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 6. Boom D Boom // 7. Midwest Swing // 8. Show ‘Em What They Won // 9.  Let Me In Now // 10. This Is the Life // 11. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 2 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 12. Scandalous // 13. Groovin’ Tonight (feat. Brian McKnight) // 14. Jang a Lang (feat. Penelope) // 15.Madd Baby Daddy, Part 3 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock) // 16. Real Niggaz // 17. Here We Come // 18. Love You So (feat. Cardan) // 19. Madd Baby Daddy, Part 4 [Skit] (performed by Donneash Ferguson & Little Rock)

Succesful rappers should really stop assembling all their of friends, regardless whether they’re good at this rap thing or not, into a rap crew that actually records and releases albums to the general public. Although to be fair the St. Lunatics had been a thing since ’95, a good five years before Nelly came out with his solo-album Country Grammar. And in regard to their talent it would appear that whoever put the crew together made damn sure that all members but Nelly sounded completely meh.

Off course arguably the failure of their crew album to entertain the masses is not entirely on them since one of the things that made Country Grammar tick – some really, really good poppy production – is mostly absent here. It would be tempting to say that the absence of Lunatics member and Country Grammar-producer City Spud is the problem, especially since the best thing on Free City (I bet you can guess by now what held mr. Spud preoccupied from contributing more verses and beats than he did) is Groovin’ Tonight which is featuring and produced by him. Ironically this album succeeds in giving the listener a pretty good reason to want City Free. On the other hand it is actually Brian McKnight’s contribution on the hook that sets the song apart positively from the rest since Spud’s verse is no better than anything anyone else comes up with anywhere on this album, and the -admittedly- cool instrumental was probably a fluke since his Country Grammar contributions weren’t all that good.

Where Batter Up, the smash hit single off Nelly’s debut that introduced the Lunatics to the world, promised some good fun on an eventional album by the crew Free City fails to deliver. Shitty beats that may or may not have been leftovers from the Country Grammar sessions, uninspiredly delivered raps that could’ve been written by a bunch of stoned teenagers that first started rapping this morning and all sound the fucking same.
Blah.
Even the main attraction Nelly loses his charisma in this watery soup. Some outside help could’ve inproved matters considerably, so proves Groovin’ Tonight, but besides Brian the best that Nelly, Murphy Lee, Ali, Kijuan and SloDown could drill up was Cardan who appears on Love You So. Really? Cardan!? What do you pay Cardan for a guest verse? Yesterday’s leftover spaghetti? Was fucking Loon too busy polishing P. Daddy’s boots for a record deal to throw a guest verse your way, or some shit?

Avoid this album at all costs.

Best tracks
Scandalous
Groovin’ Tonight
Love You So

Recommendations
Don’t bother.


Genius/ GZA – Liquid Swords

Genius/ GZA
Liquid Swords
November 7, 1995
MCA RecordsUMG
085/100
GZA - Liquid Swords
1. Liquid Swords (feat. RZA) // 2. Duel of the Iron Mic (feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Masta Killa & Inspectah Deck) // 3. Living In the World Today (feat. RZA & Method Man) // 4. Gold (feat. Method Man) // 5. Cold World (feat. GZA, Inspectah Deck & Life) // 6. Labels (feat. RZA) // 7. 4th Chamber (feat. Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest & RZA) // 8. Shadowboxin’ (feat. Method Man) // 9a. Hell’s Wind Staff  /9b. Killah Hills 10304 (feat. RZA & Ol’ Dirty Bastard) // 10. Investigative Reports (feat. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah & U-God) // 11. Swordsman // 12. I Gotcha Back (feat. RZA) // 13. B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth) (performed by Killah Priest)

GZA’s Liquid Swords is by a wide consensus amongst Clan-fanboys considered the absolute finest of the solo-albums that any of the Wu’s nine members produced ever.
While personally this reviewer would give Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… that particular assessment (I’m admittedly not a much of a connoisseur) he does recognise it as being an extremely good rap album.

Here’s what it has going for it:
GZA for the time being (the time being 1995) was the best MC in the clan in at least the aspect of rapping for rapping’s sake. Rae and Ghost had better story telling raps, ODB and Meth had more distinct sounding voices and charisma (and hence more pop appeal and better-selling album) and RZA may have been the mastermind and the artiste out of the group, but nobody had individual lines like GZA did. Off course good punchlines don’t necessarily make good songs (word to Canibus) but GZA had a large enough attention span, as well as a smooth, calm delivery to ensure that his recording were cohesive enough.
Also Liquid Swords is the first Wu-solo album that features all of the other Clan-members alongside  its main attraction in guest capacity. Besides R&B singer Life and religious ranter Killah Priest no B-teamers were allowed near the project. This ensured several good things:
1. GZA couldn’t afford to self-indulge too much because he always was in company in the booth, which helped prevent stupid-ass songs like Stay Out of Bars off his forgotten Cold Chillin’-debut Words From the Genius, Vol. 1.
2. The people he was surrounded with were as talented as he was so he had to put in an effort on each song not to lose the spotligh.
3. He worked with people he was comfortable with and was proven to have chemistry with.
Finally Liquid Swords had the monolithic production courtesy of his cousin and Clan ringleader RZA at a time when that guaranteed banging beats. Prince Rakeem had in the two years prior created almost four complete albums of fantastic and unmistakable production for the entire Clan, Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Raekwon (guest starring Ghostface Killah) respectively and showed no sings of slowing down with Liquid Swords (although in truth by this time probably was working towards a burn-out because Liquid Swords was the penultimate Wu-solo album not handles almost exclusively by Bobby Digital, bar his own albums. And along with RZA leaving the studio every once in a while, the guarantee of Wu-solo albums being hot by default disappeared, which means that either this album or Ghostface Killah’s Iron Man, depending on who you ask, marks the end of the group’s golden era.).

The Genius had released an album prior to this one four years earlier when there was no such thing as the Wu, on Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie’s legendary old school hip-hop label Cold Chillin’ Records. That album had surprisingly mediocre beats (by the usually reliable Easy-Mo-Bee) and had the man performing mistifying pop-rap/ house-rap songs such as the Wu-jack swing number (which is exactly as shitty as that sounds) Come Do Me. Everyone has to start somewhere I suppose. Words From a Genius, Vol. 1 is however not the place to start your GZA experience. Liquid Swords is superior in every aspect.
It’s hard to imagine any one of the Wu’s fans being disappointed with Liquid Swords when it dropped. It has everything one could’ve come to expect from the Clan so far: battle raps, religious imagery, chess references, nerdy gangsta raps, eerie yet warm beats and kung-fu samples breaking it all up. One could argue that the Wu were playing it safe by not offering their fans but the fans know that sticking to the script in this case was actually a good thing.

Despite both Bad Boy Records and Death Row Records (The both of which are name-checked along with a myriad of other labels, most of which have gone bankrupt by now, on Labels.) habing already risen to the forefront of the hip-hop genre and to the top of the charts by ’95 with different, distinct R&B-infused sounds this album didn’t follow the trend and pretended the mainstream didn’t exist. There zero songs for the ladies, null jams for the clubs and no songs for the radio.
In stead we get typical prime, grimy Wu material that is perfect for small, marijuana-laced social gatherings.
The title track has a catchy hook though, and songs like Duel of the Iron MicGold and Shadowboxin’ to which Meth and ODB lend their voices have the most pop appeal, given that you’re into the Wu-æsthetic, but even these relatively accessible songs are grimier than most rap album’s songs for the streets. It was this uncompromising attitude to hip-hop that is the Clan’s bread and butter and is characteristic of their best work. (Their bids for radio play conversely are almost universely considered shitty by the fans.)
Duel of the Iron Mic4th Chamber, Shadowboxin‘, Duel of the Iron MicCold World and Investigative Reports are some of the best Wu-collabos put to wax while the title track, GoldLabelsSwordsmanHells Wind Staff/ Killah Hills 10304 and I Gotcha’ Back allow GZA to take the spotlight.

Liquid Swords is a prime example of the Wu-movement at the peak of its powers, everything just works. There are no real weak spots, bar maybe the closing track B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth) which is a self-important religious rant. Still RZA and GZA can’t be blamed for that one since it’s a Killah Priest solo-shot with a 4th Disciple beat. And even that song doesn’t entirely suck.

Best tracks
Liquid Swords
Duel of the Iron Mic
Cold World
Labels
4th Chamber
Shadowboxin’

Recommendations
Pick it up.


Bobby Brown – King of Stage

Bobby Brown
King of Stage
December 11, 1986
MCA RecordsUMG
065/100
Bobby Brown - King of Stage
1. Girlfriend // 2. Girl Next Door // 3. Baby I Wanna Tell You Something // 4. You Ain’t Been Loved Right // 5. King of Stage // 6. Love Obsession // 7. Spending Time // 8. Seventeen // 9. Your Tender Romance

While New Edition was rebooting the Platters and Maurice Starr was rebooting New Edition, Bobby Brown, whose ties with all these people were severed, was busy recording his solo-debut album King of Stage. Most people who followed New Edition would probably have sworn that Ralph, being that he sang all the leads and was arguably the best singer out the group (until Johnny Gill became a member anyway), would be not only the first one to have a solo album but would also become the brightest star. Unfortunately for Tresvant Brown got to do both those things after his bandmates voted him out of the group in late 1985.

Bobby Brown’s solo career is most remembered – when it isn’t completely and unfortunately eclipsed by the memory of all that Bobby-Whitney stuff – for his sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel, which along with debut albums by Keith Sweat and Guy helped popularise new jack swing, an R&B-mutation that combined early hip-hop’s hard-hitting drums and minimal melody with classic soul’s smoothed-out sung vocals (although most New Jack Swing artists also rapped on their own records at the very least every once in a while).

King of Stage is a rap-soul hybrid as well, but a more primitive, less integrated one. And bar the title track nothing on here could remotely be considered hip-hop or strongly hip-hop influenced like his subsequent work. Basically this album’s instrumentals are typical ’80s funk-jams and slow dancers, with one imitation RUN-DMC beat thrown in for good measure, mostly provided by Cameo-frontman Larry Blackmon as well as Isaac Hayes/Isley Brothers/Aretha Franklin songwriter Michael Lovesmith and Boston club DJ John Luongo, over which Bobby mostly sings but busts out the occasional LL Cool J’s I Need Love-esque rap verse too. The resulting album is a lot more funky, ballsy and swaggering than anything NE came up with, as was to be expected since Brown was rather vocal about resenting his (by the time of this album’s release former) group’s bubblegum image and sound, which is one of the reasons he got excommunicated by his mates in the first place. Brown appears to delight in his chance to be a grown up-type of soul singer, which results in a more than halfway decent album that’s a lot more expressive and a lot less gimmicky than what NE ever did. The comparison with Under the Blue Moon is especially beneficial (although that’s as much Under the Blue Moon‘s fault as it is King of Stage‘s merit.)

The appeal of this album is for the most part personality-based. Bobby isn’t the best singer or the best rapper around, nor is a he handed the most memorable set of songs to perform. It’s all in the fairly decent yet somewhat unremarkable zone. But then there’s Bobby’s undeniable natural charm and a boyish buoyance that do work some magic. Bob is a born entertainer. Though a confident performer he also appears to well know the limits of his gruff tenor. The vocalists that appear to inspire him are Rick James and James Brown, and though he’s nowhere near as talented as these two greats he does seem to have learnt the right lessons from them. Like the hardest working man in showbiz he punctuates his songs with the more-than-occasional joyous grunt.

Girlfriend, his first solo-single hit number one on the U.S. R&B charts when it came out and it’s a nice little ’70s inspired love song, complete with saucy sax and it would’ve slipped seamlessly onto either New Edition or All For LoveGirl Next Door is a synthy funk number that shows the Cameo influence while still allowing Bob’s individuality to shine through, and the same can be said for the similarly minded Baby I Wanna Tell You Something. On the title track Bob rhymes about over a Jam Master Jay-aping beat that appears to incorporate a James Brown vocal sample (Since this was released before the sample wars nobody is credited so one can never be sure.) Bouncy up-tempo cuts like Love Obsession and Your Tender Romance summon the mental image of Axel Foley driving his convertible through LA, and whether that works as a good thing you can make out for yourself.

Obvious missteps are Seventeen, a misguided stab social commentary on a girl getting off track and pregnant and on sex and drugs. It doesn’t only sound ridiculous and hypocritical coming from Bob, knowing that soon enough he himself would be off track and on drugs, but it also isn’t a very good song that tries to accomplish drama through crappy ’80s synths (Yes I am aware King of Stage was recorded in the ’80s), and the fairly boring ballad Spending Time that has Bob trying to breathe life into it with all his might, but accomplishing little but showing the limits of his vocal range.  As a whole however King of Stage works more often than it doesn’t.

Kudos to the people at MCA for having the sense to keep this album brief at nine songs and including mostly good ones to boot. Bobby’s debut is a pretty decent attempt at establishing a career and a musical identity outside of NE with songs such as King of Stage and Your Tender Romance, while still catering to the audience of his former group with Girlfriend and Girl Next Door. It may not have been the massive breakthrough hit he wanted, but it was succesful enough for the record label to let him record another album. And record another album he did, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

Best tracks
Girlfriend
Girl Next Door
King of Stage
Your Tender Romance

Recommendations
If you’re into ’80s R&B that may not be very substantial but does pack a punch, and you happen to come across this for a reasonable price a purchase may be in order.


New Edition – Under the Blue Moon

New Edition
Under the Blue Moon
October 10, 1986
MCA RecordsUMG
060/100
(Photo: MCA Records)
1. Earth Angel // 2. A Million to One // 3. Duke of Earl // 4. (Hey There) Lonely Girl // 5. A Thousand Miles Away // 6. What’s Your Name // 7. Tears on My Pillow (feat. Little Anthony) // 8. Blue Moon // 9. Since I Don’t Have You // 10. Bring Back the Memories

Somewhere between the release of All For Love and the recording of this album the bad boy of the group Bobby Brown left New Edition semi-volontarily to pursue a solo-career; He was allegedly voted out by the other members. What does one do after essentially severing one’s own testicles? If you’re a musical entity then recording the most delicate album of your career would be a plausible answer. And with New Edition you would be entirely correct for assuming that this is what they did. The quartet incarnation of NE had scored a hit single with Earth Angel, a cover of a seminal ’50s doo-wop hit off the Karate Kid soundtrack, so MCA commissioned a full album of 1950s and ’60s R&B standards filtred through the minds, bodies, souls and voices of Ronnie, Ricky, Mike and Ralph, as well as the mid-’80s productions of Freddie Perren. The results are both overly cotton candy sweet and sticky and sort of visionary: R&B artists would record this sort of retro cover-songs and cover-albums more and more often as a reaction to New Jack Swing’s modernist coupe d’état that would be instigated by among others – ironically enough – former NE member Bobby Brown some two years from this album’s release.

What keeps this love boat from going the way of the Titanic is the fact that this album is kept brief enough not to irritate, just over half an hour to be exact. This leaves the impression that Under the Blue Moon was recorded as a quick filler album  to show the fans that yes NE was alive and well without Bobby Brown, thank you very much, and that’s probably because it is. Without any defiance to speak of that is a shitty artistic statement if ever there were one. And the closest thing to defiance that the boys do on here is invite Little Anthony of seminal Doo Wop group Little Anthony and the Imperials to harmonise with them on Tears on My Pillow as a sort of audition for Bobby’s replacement without so much as explicitly stating the fact (History teaches us that he didn’t make it…), guess Bobby took all the defiance with him.

Still New Edition work well enough here as a blend of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the Platters, and lead singer Tresvant gets to flex his voice and show his range a little bit, which gives him some more artistic credibility than he had before, as does Ricky Bell with his cover of (Hey There) Lonely Girl. But that’s hardly enough to make this a must-listen. After all competent singing of cover versions of songs that have been performed in a similar vein elsewhere, but better, are often as grating as terrible music making (word to the Voice and similar-minded shows), and this is exactly what’s on display on this album for the most part.

The only exceptions to this are a banging up-tempo version of Blue Moon, the hit version of Earth Angel – probably because they were just trying something new when they recorded the song rather than churning out R&B standard #528 as they did with most other songs on here – and the only original song Bring Back the Memories whose title doubles as the album’s mission statement. These songs are bright with the youthful freshness that made the boys from Boston a force to be reckoned with in the first place.

The rest however is only of interest to collectors of everything NE, your sixty seven year old aunt and/or hardcore doo-wopsters who insist on having heard every version of Since I Don’t Have You that’s there to be heard.

Best tracks
Earth Angel
Blue Moon
Bring Back the Memories

Recommendations
Don’t bother. While this isn’t a horrible album there are much better R&B standards albums and much better NE albums out there.


Sparkle – Sparkle

Sparkle
Sparkle
May 20, 1998
Rockland RecordsInterscope RecordsUMG
070/100
Sparkle - Sparkle
1. Good Life (feat. Cam’ron & Nature) // 2. Time to Move On // 3. Lean on Me // 4. I’m Gone // 5. Turn Away // 6. What About // 7. Be Careful (feat. R. Kelly) // 8. Nothing Can Compare // 9. Quiet Place [Interlude] // 10. Lovin’ You // 11. Straight Up // 12. Vegas (feat. Strings) // 13. No Greater [Prelude] // 14. Play On // 15. Plenty Good Love

Rather than putting himself in the flesh in the background on his protégé’s album cover this time around R. Kelly has found a much subtler way to make his presence on Sparkle known to the record buying audiences. I’m sure that if you put in a little effort you will spot it eventually.
Now if this R. Kelly Inn. sounds like a brothel pleasant place to stay to you, you aren’t far off, because Sparkle is the very first album released by his short lived but very own interscope subsidiary boutique label Rockland Records, and R. Kelly is pimping it with all his might doing his very best to make visitors comfortable enough to “come again some time.”

Sparkle sounds like what Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number would have sounded like if it would’ve been recorded in the R. Kelly-era rather than in the 12 Play-era. Sparkle even sounds somewhat similar to Aaliyah, although she’s not quite as virtuous a singer. That’s to say: It sounds pleasant enough but ultimately not very distinctive.

Part of its somewhat bland nature is that nowhere does anybody remind anyone of a jeep. Robert’s wacky songwriting is mostly kept in check, which may be for the better since not everyone can deliver such lines without something becoming very wrong about the resulting music. In its place there are elaborate stories of inner city love, loss and betrayal that mostly steers clear of melodrama because of Sparkle’s unassuming singing style.

That there’s nothing very wrong with Sparkles, combined with Robert’s sultry, blaxploitation-influenced production, helps to establish a romantic mood when it’s on that makes it very suitable for a night on the sofa with the misses and a bottle of vin rouge.

There’s one undeniable classic on here, that would be the R. Kelly duet Be Careful which is one of those “both sides of the argument” songs that is Robert’s forte whenever he duets a lady singer. It has the same sort of bluesey backdrop that When a Woman’s Fed Up has, and both singers sound terrific over it. That no-one has had the common sense to include it on an R. Kelly compilation yet is beyond me. Though it may have something to do with the fact that Robert and Sparkle’s hate one another’s guts these days, allegedly due to Sparkle’s fourteen y.o. neice allegedly appearing on what allegedly was the R. Kelly Sex Tape.

Sparkle is for the most part one of those albums that is quite simply a pleasant enough second serving of a proven success, in this case what made Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number and R. Kelly successful. And that while that isn’t very spectacular this is still quite decent musically and serves its purpose well. It’s purpose being pleasant when on while not getting in the way of a good lay.

Best track
Be Careful
Time to Move On
Turn Away

Recommendations
Pick this up if you like light R&B that goes down smooth and can manage to find it for a reasonable price.