Tag Archives: West-Coast Hip-Hop

Y?N-Vee – Y?N-Vee

Y?N-Vee
Y?N-Vee
October 18, 1994
PMP/ Rush Associated Labels/ Def Jam RecordingsBMGSME
063/100
YNV
1. Even When U Sleep // 2. All I Wanna Do // 3. 4 Play // 4. I’m Going Down // 5. Sceamin’ // 6. Sonshine’s Groove // 7. Chocolate // 8. Stra8 Hustler // 9. Tricks-N-Trainin’ (feat. Abstract Rude) // 10. Y?N-Vee // 11. Real G // 12. Gangsta’s Prayer // 13. We Got a Good Thing

One of the most amusing things about writing about pop music and researching its shelf life is that one is regularly confronted with odd fashion trends that appear to affirm that human history is cyclical. The hanging suspenders which are on full display on this album’s cover were apparently a thing twenty years ago, and fucking hell they made a comeback in street fashion not too long ago. If that doesn’t prove that humanity only makes technological progress but none ethically and therefor is doomed to repeat its mistakes increasingly efficiently until it inevitably causes its own demise then perhaps the next world war/ super genocide will.

L.A. based R&B/hip-hop quartet Y?N-Vee made its debut on that abysmal Johnny J album and performed most of the backing vocals on Thug Life: Volume 1. Apparently they inked a deal of their own with PMP Records, a Def Jam subsidiary that is best known for being the recording home of Montell Jordan. Their self-titled debut, and only album really, is the result of that signing. The Mary Jane-sampling Chocolate was a moderate hit apparently but Y?N-Vee never sold that many copies so everyone in the group had to return to their day jobs in order for Def Jam to recuperate that album advance shortly thereafter. Well not everyone in the group, apparently 2pac when he sprung from the klink in late 1995 still had Natasha Walker’s phone number in his rolodex from the Thug Life sessions so she got to be an unsung assistent to the creation of the diamond-selling, very first double CD of original material in the hip-hop genre All Eyez On Me. I’m sure that the paycheques for that job kept the lights on for a while, provided that Suge actually felt like sending them out off course. Given that Walker had a working relation with Johnny J and Thug Life, both before and after recording this album, it’s odd that they don’t make an appearance. Surely a 2pac guest appearance would’ve been big enough a selling point of this album for someone at Def Jam to pull out the chequebook? I’m also quite certain the man was available for the job. It’s not like he was in the hospital for being shot multiple times or in prison for being a convicted rapist yet. Was even Big Syke too busy polishing Pac’s boots to phone in a verse?

Y?N-Vee isn’t the most distinctive sounding mid-’90s R&B outfit out there, they basically sound like Zhané with rappers among its ranks, but Walker has a rather pleasant singing voice, and the rappers, while not dropping any knowledge, is perfectly competent at talking over instrumentals. Speaking of which: the production backing these girls, mostly courtesy of Doug Rasheed, isn’t half bad either. Mixing quiet storm and G-funk isn’t the most original idea ever, but it was at that time a proven formula for success and these beats are pretty sexy in a vintage ’94 type of manner. Sampling Mary Jane on one song and covering I’m Going Down on another is a bit much though since Mary J. Blige did the same on her My Life album released about a month after this came out. (I realise that this means that Y?N-Vee then would be the originators of these ideas and P. Daddy Blige the jacker but My Life is a textbook classic of ’90s R&B and Mary J. Blige is still working today so it gets a pass even if that is a bit unfair to today’s subjects.)
Taken on its own though this album’s relatively friendly, relatively warm approach to quitessential R&B and hip-hop subjects such as intercourse, infidelity and substance abuse leaves little to complain about. While not shying away from expletives or otherwise explicit content it does steer clear of obscenity most of the time.

It’s difficult choosing highlights from this consistent, slightly dull record. Everything sounds sort of same-ish, except I’m Going Down which is less mundanely, less datedly written because it’s a cover of a classic R&B song that doesn’t concern itself with being street smart. Chocolate‘s impeccable, sunny borrowed Rick James-groove is seductive fun, comparing a woman’s body to weed or actual chocolate or something along those lines. Even When U Sleep is a sexy, confident opener that establishes the mood of this record nicely and All I Wanna Do is one of the most suave things on here. Stra8 Hustler and Gangsta’s Prayer are decent attempts at gangsta rap and Real G is an ode to that genre and the style associated with it, incorporating the same Eddie Bo Hook and Sling sample DJ Quik used for his classic Jus’ Like Compton, which is a nice touch west coast hip-hop fans will be sure to appreciate. But this albums strength lies not in highlighs but rather in consistency. There are no real duds on here, so you can put the CD on and get busy with your Bae without changing songs for sixty or so minutes (provided that you live in the 1990s off course), and that definitely counts for something.

Best tracks
I’m Going Down
Chocolate

Recommendations
If you’re the type of person who enjoy TLC records Y?N-Vee is for you.


Digital Underground – The Body-Hat Syndrome

Digital Underground
The Body-Hat Syndrome
October 5, 1993
Tommy Boy RecordsWarner Bros. RecordsWMG
080/100
Digital Underground - The Body Hat Syndrome
1. Return of the Crazy One // 2. Doo Woo You // 3. Holly Wanstaho // 4. Bran Nu Swetta // 5. The Humpty Dance Awards (feat. 2pac) // 6. Body-Hats [Part I] // 7. Dope-a-Delic (Do-U-B-leeve-in-d-Flo?) // 8. Intermission // 9. Wussup wit the Luv (feat. 2pac) // 10. Digital Lover // 11. Carry the Way (Along Time) // 12. Body-Hats, [Part II] // 13. Circus Entrance // 14. Jerkit Circus // 15. Circus Exit (The After Nut) // 16. Shake and Break // 17. Body Hats [Part III] // 18. Do Ya Like It Dirty? // 19. Bran Nu Sweat This Beat // 20. Wheee!

Outside of their small but dedicated fanbase Digital Underground is mostly known for being 2pac’s first vehicle on the road to stardom, for those too young to remember Humpty Dance being a mild hit anyway. That’s a shame because their post-Sex Packets discography is some terrific stuff. And despite sporting two Shakur guest appearances (one of which is on a skit) Digital Underground’s brand of party rap has little to do with 2pac’s blend of consious gangsta rap, Keep Your Head Up, and not-so-consious gangsta rap, I Get Around.
Even if the latter is produced by the Underground Railroad and features Money B and Shock G. The song has both rappers adjusting to 2pac’s stylo, and Pac even wrote both their verses. 2pac’s lone musical guest appearance on Wassup With the Luv? finds the DU in a similar situation recording what is essentially a 2pac song, a sort of less hopeful, more pissed off variation of what Marvin talked about on What’s Going On. But other than that the Underground remains less seriously, determinedly political on their third full length studio album than Shakur. This essentially a return to the good natured party music that was their debut, after dissing an unnamed celebrity for trying and succeeding at looking whiter to sell records on No Nose Job off their sophomore album Sons of the P.

Dr. Dre maybe known as George Clinton’s hip-hop heir, but Shock G and Money B would be much more fitting pretenders to the throne (No-one can truly succeed the George, especially considering the man is still alive and still active in music.)
Where Dre took George’s sound (as well as lots of blaxploitation, which no other critic ever seems to aknowledge) and mixed it with hip-hop, but completely ignored the P funk state of mind, in stead maintaining the gangsta rap lyrical themes, and the posturing that comes with it, that were the rivers and the lakes he was used to from his time in N.W.A.
Shock G however embraced the P with all of its silliness. Dre describes himself “looking like [he] robbed Liberace.” while Shock G once described himself as “[looking] like MC Hammer on crack”, which is pretty representative for the difference in mood between Death Row Records and the DU. It is probably for this reason that the DU was nowhere to be found on any Pac’s Death Row output, while they were all over his Insterscope albums.

On with the review: The Body Hat Syndrome, the concept the three title tracks revolves around, is every bit as silly as the Sex Packets of their debut. If the cover hasn’t given it away; It’s about a body-sized condom that protects the body and mind from brainwashing, mind impregnation, maleducation, the media and other, less abstract things such as the KKK, HIV, the LAPD, crack cocaine and television. Off course there is a serious, political message in there but that message is hidden behind/ diluted with the DU’s trippy fun. That’s the biggest difference between Shock G and Pac: Shock has his tongue planted firmly up his cheek most of the time while Pac is usually either discussing some depressing, dead earnest shit or having some juvenile gangsta fun (often both over the course of the same song. Pac wasn’t one for sticking to a subject most of the time. Especially on his later output)

The Body Hat Syndrome is a mellow, groovy, funky, flirty, sleazy, bacchian booze orgy that doesn’t take itself too serious but is bursting with confidence and is the perfect soundtrack of a house party with a bunch of kinda high, kinda drunk folks. It doesn’t demand much of the listener. In fact the less attention you pay to it the better it sounds. That’s not to say it’s bad, in fact it’s some great stuff. But it does mean that rappers Shock G a.k.a. Humpty Hump, Money B and new member Saafir aren’t lyrical rappers. They’re not about telling stories or dropping knowledge and in stead more about putting stuff that sounds cool or ridiculous in a loose, funky flow. Putting it under a magnifying glass is therefor somewhat of an exercise in futility as this album , except Wussup Wit the Luv isn’t about individual lines, verses or songs even. It’s about setting the mood. And that it does with verve.

It is too bad that the Underground never became as succesful as their most famous protégé 2pac. Arguably their music, while a little too off, psychedelic and funky to be called poppy, is a lot more accessible than 2pac’s activism and tough guy posturing. I guess that the fact that the DU and Pac are entirely different musical creatures helps explain why 2pac’s sizeable fanbase never ran out to pick up Sex Packets, Sons of the P or The Body-Hat Syndrome.
Oh well, I guess one can find consololation that their talent and hard work didn’t leave them entirely penniless, though nothing can be found on the interwebs about any gold or platinum certification they pretty much have to have some copies of their previous albums to be granted a third album by Tommy Boy records (although by that logic they must’ve sold null copies of The Body-Hat Syndrome because they parted ways with the label after this one droppd) and I’m sure their work on 2pacalypse NowStrictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. and Me Against the World really brought in the revenue. But today they are all but forgotten and it’s time to give their own albums some time and attention. Shock G, Money B and now Saafir, as well as their myriad of backing musicians should be better known and more acclaimed than they are today. Especially since this would be the kind of hip-hop that people who generally claim not to like hip-hop usually find quite enjoyable.
If you find a copy of The Body-Hat Syndrome or of any of their previous releases (even This Is an EP Release, though that one should be lowest on your list of DU priorities) you should take it home. It is well worth the cash. Also I’m sure Humpty Hump will apreciate it.

Best tracks
Wussup With the Luv
The Return of the Crazy One

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Above the Law – Livin’ Like Hustlers

Above the Law
Livin’ Like Hustlers
December 1989 (Promo cassette version)
February 22, 1990 (Full version)
Ruthless RecordsEpic RecordsSME
085/100
Above the Law - Livin' Like Hustlers
1. Murder Rap // 2. Untouchable // 3. Livin’ Like Hustlers // 4. Another Execution // 5. Menace to Society // 6. Just Kickin’ Lyrics // 7. Ballin’  // 8. Freedom of Speech // 9. Flow On (Move No Mountain) // 10. The Last Song (feat. Dr. Dre, Eazy-E & MC Ren)

Above the Law is an Pomona CA hip-hop group that originally consisted of rapper/ producers Cold 178um and KMG the Illustrator as well as DJ Total K-Oss and Go Mack, who presumably was a hype man. And when their debut album Livin’ Like Hustlers dropped the Ruthless Records franchise was on a roll. Albums by N.W.A, Eazy-E and the D.O.C. had all gone gold to platinum cementing the label’s status as the preeminent hip-hop label of the day. Not only that but they were also able to release an album that quite succesfully catered to the R&B market (back in 1990 hip-hop and R&B were two distinct genres that were just starting to cuddle up) by songstress Michel’le.

What all these albums had in common was wall-to-wall Dr. Dre production with the occasional help from DJ Yella and/or Laylaw. Now their latest signees Above the Law were producers as well as rappers, but Dre is credited as a co-producer on every track on here, as he was credited with producing every track on every track on every Ruthless Records album so far.

It should be noted that Livin’ Like Hustlers doesn’t sound like any Dre production so far, except maybe the song the Formula off the D.O.C.’s No One Can Do It Better. Everything else he had done so far had been a lot more fast-paced and funk/dance-influenced, whereas this album is more mellow, jazzy and classic soul oriented. This could be explained by the fact that on Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-It the Doctor was aided by DJ Yella, on No One Can Do It Better he was left to do the beats himself and here he co-produced it with the entirety of the group. Another possible explanation is that Dre had just worked on an actual R&B album with slow jams on it, and therefore was in another state of mind than he would have been coming out of an N.W.A recording session.

Anyway, the mellow paced jazz/ soul vibe, with the elaborate use of more melody than was usual in hip-hop at the time, combined with rappers Cold 178um and KMG the Illustrator’s archetypical gangster raps (the album’s title should provide ample warning to those who aren’t into that sort of thing) definitely make this a prototype for the G-funk sound that Dre would rule the airwaves with less than three years later. And whether Dre or ATL produced the lion’s share of the music  they were all at the cradle of some revolutionary stuff here.

Given that there’s some controversy over who did what here I tend to go with ATL as the main musical architects, not only because of how the music sounds and how contemporary Dre beats sound, but also because Dre prescriptions tended to come with bits of Dre backing vocals at this time, which he does do here, but only on the title track, Just Kickin’ ItFlow On and the Last Song so I assume the man didn’t have much input with the remaining six songs. In all likelihood Dre put in a beat or two while ATL made most of these tracks themselves and had Dre adding some finishing touches to what they came up with. (But like everyone else who isn’t Dre or an ATL member I’m only guessing here. It’s not like I was even born yet when they recorded the fucking album or anything.)

As for the vocals, KGM and Cold 187 (whom I shall henceforth call by his other rap nickname Big Hutch, because that sounds more like something one would actually call a person) are technically proficient behind the mic. They basically come across as less lyrical, less nimble, more gangster-oriented versions of their then recently muted labelmate the D.O.C., what with their mid range voices and their ease behind the mic, which is to say they sound just fine. Although they lack Ren’s understated menace, Cube’s grit and Eazy’s natural, over-the-top charisma, their average-guy-from-the-street personas help these raps about the gangster lifes sound a lot less like they’re glorifying violence, misogyny and what not, as opposed to the various members of the world’s most dangerous group, who usually come across as a bunch of happy-go-lucky, murderous, alcoholic, wife-beating, crack-selling, “walked into the store, said this is a robbery, don’t need the money, it’s just a hobby” cartoon characters of Afro-American stereotypes on their albums, whereas ATL keeps things, if not real than at the very least plausible. The ATL rappers sound as though they could blast your brains out in a back alley, though they wouldn’t do it unless they had no other choice, and even then they still wouldn’t get their kicks out of it.

Highlight include the the ominous Murder Rap and Another Execution, the horned-up Untouchable and Livin’ Like Hustlers, the anti-censorship Freedom of Speech as well as the mandatory Ruthless posse cut on the tail end of the album on which Ren and Eazy take the shine (and on which Ice Cube and the D.O.C. shine in absence, the former because he was the only one out of N.W.A who chose to not get bent over by Jerry Heller and took his business to Priority Records in stead, and the latter because he had his vocal chords slashed in two in a car crash and was unable to rap.)

There’s only one wack moment on here, that would be Ballin’, which is all about how down Above the Law are with N.W.A and the D.O.C., throws an unnecessary stab in the direction of every rapper on the East-Coast (so this East-West rap beef was already a thing, huh?) and has an instrumental too fruity for its own good.

But besides that one misstep Livin’ Like Hustlers features nine tracks of pure gangster rap gold, that unlike N.W.A may have been forgotten by a lot of today’s rap audiences  and may not sound a lot like Straight Outta Compton but is almost equally entertaining and has had a lot more influence than it is given credit for on the genre as a whole, being a stepping-stone in the direction of the Chronic. (and with everybody from DJ Quik to Lil’ Kim to 2pac borrowing beats from this album).

This album deserves to be revisited.

Best tracks
Murder Rap
Untouchable
Another Execution
Menace to Society
Freedom of Speech
The Last Song

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Arabian Prince – Brother Arab

Arabian Prince
Brother Arab
September 1, 1989
Orpheus RecordsEMI
055/100
Arabian Prince - Brother Arab
1. Sound Check // 2. She’s Got a Big Posse // 3. Get On Up // 4. Let the Good Times Roll (Nickel Bag) // 5. Never Caught Slippin’ // 6. I Got a Big Bonus Beat// 7. Situation Critical // 8. It’s a Dope Thang // 9. It’s Time to Bone // 10. Now You Have to Understand // 11. Getting Down 

Arabian Prince is mostly known for having been part of seminal gangsta rap group N.W.A, recording with them on N.W.A and the Posse and (allegedly) Straight Outta Compton, (allegedly) getting his vocals stripped from all but one song in post-production, the song he was still on essentially being a bonus track, tacked onto the album as an afterthought (and oft-cited as the reason Straight Outta Compton isn’t the perfect album it could have been), after the boys from Compton had decided that they didn’t really want to be an electro-funk dance outfit but the world’s most dangerous group in stead (Up until then Dre, Ren Eazy, Cube and Yella had been in a severe identity crisis, and when they had made-up their mind Arabian Prince got kicked out for what essentially constitutes “creative differences”.).

Keeping this in mind it is funny that Arabian Prince, for whom unlike Michel’le (another witness to Dr. Dre’s shady electro past) apparently there wasn’t even room as a solo-artist on Ruthless Records, comissioned an album cover that makes it seem as though he’s still very much part of the world’s most dangerous music franchise. What with the blood-red font in which his name is written, the dark shades and Raiders cap he sports and his gold rope-chain.

Despite what Brother Arab and/ or the people at Orpheus Records would have you believe, this is not N.W.A-offshoot. Not only as a matter of fact, but also in spirit.
Prince, who is all by himself here in the vocal booth, doesn’t drop the N-word anywhere, or any other curse word for that matter. This isn’t a problem in and by itself, profanity-free music can work (maybe even profanity-free gangsta rap) but it is is odd for a man from a gang called Niggaz With Attitude, coming straight out of Compton. And Brother Arab doesn’t quite pull it off lyrically, dropping some pretty pedestrian, clunky and unappropriately clean raps about achetypical gangsta rap subjects about violence, drugs and [bleep]ing your girl.

The beats all sound derivative, be it with jazz influence (Let the Good Times Roll (Nickel Back)I Got a Big Bonus Beat), like Compton Dre made them while on ritalin (She’s Got a Big PosseGet On UpNever Caught Slippin‘, Situation Critical) (This apparent lack of urgency may not be the beats fault, it may be just because unlike his former homeboys Arabian Prince doesn’t come across as remotely scary or violent) or the electronic dance-music N.W.A made in the form of Panic Zone and Something to Dance To (It’s a Dope ThingTime to BoneGettin’ Down)

It would seem that Dre, Cube, Ren, Eazy and Yella may have had a good reason for cutting Arabian Prince loose. Dude doesn’t have Cube or Ren’s rhymes, Eazy’s charisma or Dre and Yella’s beats (although the album cover does show that the man had some of that Suge Knight business sense). One is hard-pressed to see this guy contribute anything substantial to Straight Outta Compton, and he didn’t deliver the goods with his solo-debut either, which helped make his irrelevance and obscurity complete.

Best tracks
Get On Up
Let the Good Times Roll (Nickel Bag)

Recommendations
Don’t buy this album.


The D.O.C. – No One Can Do It Better

The D.O.C.
No One Can Do It Better
June 16, 1989
Ruthless Records/Atlantic RecordsWMG
090/100
The DOC - No One Can Do It Better
1. It’s Funky Enough // 2. Mind Blowin’ // 3. Lend Me an Ear // 4. Comm. Blues (feat. by Michel’le) // 5. Let The Bass Go // 6. Beautiful But Deadly // 7. The D.O.C. and the Doctor // 8. No One Can Do It Better // 9. Whirlwind Pyramid // 10. Comm. 2 (feat. MC Ren) // 11. The Formula // 12. Portrait of a Masterpiece // 13. The Grand Finalé (feat. Ice Cube, MC Ren & Eazy-E)

The story of the D.O.C.’s rapping-career is a tragic one. After his rap group the Fila Fresh crew got to take part in what some consider to be N.W.A’s first album N.W.A and the Posse the world’s most dangerous recording group probably learnt of the man’s existence when they finally got to listen to it themselves after they found out Macola Records released the damn record, which was a collection of some of their singles, with some unrelated songs by random artists thrown in for good measure, without their permission while they were touring.

Fortunately for N.W.A though their “posse album” sold a ton of copies, birthed their career and fortunately for D.O.C. they liked his contributions enough that he could parttake in the recording of the seminal gangsta rap classic Straight Outta Compton, writing rhymes for Dre and Eazy and lending vocals to several tracks, such as on Fuck the Police (it’s Doc on the intro).

Then as a reward for helping Eazy and Dre sound competent behind the mic he got to record his own album No One Can Do It Better, released in the summer of ’89,

In 1989 rhyming about how good you are at rhyming (rhymeception, if you’re into terrible cornball-ass gag-humour) was the thing to do. Everyone from RUN-DMC to the Sugarhill Gang had proclaimed their dominance over the rap game as well as their own superiority over “sucker MC’s” at one time or another, and perhaps rightfully so since RUN and DMC’s nursery rhymes had been cutting edge when the world first heard them. When the D.O.C. proclaimed dominance over the rap game however it was simply a matter of fact beyond a shadow of a doubt. No one could do it better indeed, bar maybe Kool G Rap, Rakim or KRS One.

D.O.C.’s rhymes and delivery were lightyears ahead of even his boys in N.W.A in terms of multi-syllable complexity. Peep this.

Ship it, ship it to the stations
in your jurisdiction
Others say I’m dope
and the others think I’m bitching
No crowd can avoid the D O to the C
When I’m P E R F O R M I N G
D.O.C. – It’s Funky Enough

And besides his lyrics and flow being on point the D.O.C. had enough skill to make it all feel natural and unforced. For all it’s expertly constructed complexity the guy is here for you entertainment first and formost, and even if his vocabulary is larger than average he doesn’t repeatedly and offensively smack the listener in the face with it, like for instance Canibus does whenever he drops one of his fucking albums. Also helping matters is the wall-to-wall pre-chroniced Dr. Dre-production, which brings a distinct funky, dusty scratchy atmosphere for our host to rhyme in. The combination of these beats and these rhymes make the D.O.C. one of the few old school rappers whose music could challenge the works of rappers from the second golden age, such as Nas, Biggie, Jay-Z or the Wu-Tang Clan when it’s enjoyability that’s concerned.

No One Can Do It Better has aged perfectly, with everything sounding vintage rather than outdated.

The best-known song It’s Funky Enough‘s opening line “One, and here comes the two to the three and four” is one of the most re-used in the hip-hop genre. The song’s instrumental is funky aplenty, and the song is hands-down the catchiest thing on here. With no profanity to speak of and and a beat that makes people want to shake their money makers and yet doesn’t compromise the Ruthless Records gangsta rap sound it’s a lesson in making a lead single for a rap album.

D.O.C. and the Doctor is the mandatory ode to the DJ that appears on all early hip-hop album, back when hip-hop albums had one producer per album, rather than five new producers (and twelve guest rappers as well as eight autotuned R&B singers) per individual song. Rather than the corny dickriding that constitutes most such cuts this is a display of actual chemistry between the rapper and the producer.

Mind Blowin’ is another display of the Doc and the Doctor’s combined potential being reached with Dre providing some percussive piano keys for his boy to play around with his words and his flow over to great effect.

Lend Me an Ear is sonically a much faster paced Straight Outta Compton with D.O.C. ripping the beat to shreds and quite succesfully  making a case for him being one of the best rappers ever.

The Formula may be the point where Dr. Dre discovered the G-funk sound that would revolutionise the rap world when he put out his solo debut in ’92.

Beautiful But Deadly, the mandatory ode to gold digging evil women, has a Licensed to Ill-era Rick Rubin-esque instrumental, what with it’s hard rock quitars and its distinctly funkless sound. It’s an interesting enough diversion since it sounds like nothing else on here, but it still fits in with the rest since it shares Doc’s golden voice, rhymes and delivery with the rest of the tracks.

The album ends with the Grand Finale, a Ruthless Records posse cut with Doc plus everyone in N.W.A minus Dre going for broke over the most Straight Outta Compton-esque instrumental of the album, and Doc being on par with the world’s most dangerous group.

Every song on here bangs, even the two commercial-themed interludes have their place. No One Can Do It Better leaves one salivating for more. Unfortunately for the world of hip-hop and for Doc himself he would lose his ability to rap soon after this album’s release when his vocal chords were severed after he flew through a windshield in a car crash, leaving him a thin rasp of a voice that was lightyears removed from his pleasant smooth voice displayed on here, relegating Doc to perform on skits on N.W.A’s and later Dr. Dre’s albums, as well as the ghostwriting that had made him the unofficial fifth member of the Comptonite posse in the first place.

Make no mistake, the D.O.C.’s loss of voice was every bit as much of a loss to hip-hop as the murder of the Notorious B.I.G., and No One Can Do It Better is all the proof one needs for it. Unlike Biggie and 2pac however Doc, who didn’t die a martyr’s death (he’s still alive today), wasn’t namedropped as frequently by other rappers, which means that very little of today’s rap music fans actually know who he is. (On the plus side Ruthless Records has withstood the temptation of pairing every shred of D.O.C. vocals with the likes of T.I. and Lil Wayne on frankensongs with krunk beats, released on “Tribute albums”.)

This is all the more reason to revisit No One Can Do It Better, a criminally underrated rap album that has stood the test of time a lot better than most rap albums from the 1980s. An album that gives off an unfulfilled promise of a long and prosperous career in music.

Best tracks
It’s Funky Enough
Beautiful But Deadly
The Formula
Lend Me an Ear
Portrait of a Masterpiece
The Grand Finalé

Recommendations
Pick this one up, now.


DJ Clue? – The Professional 2

DJ Clue?
The Professional 2
Februari 27, 2001
Desert Storm RecordsRoc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
055/100
DJ Clue - The Professional 2
1. Intro (Diddy) // 2. Back to Life 2001 (Mary J. Blige & Jadakiss) // 3. Jay-Z Freestyle (Jay-Z) // 4. Who’s Next (DMX) // 5. Coming For You (Beanie Sigel & Freeway) // 6. Fantastic 4 [Part 2] (the LOX, Cam’ron, Nature & Fabolous) // 7. Getting It (Busta Rhymes & Rah Digga) // 8. C.R.E.A.M. 2001 (Raekwon & Ghostface Killah) // 9. What the Beat (Method Man, Eminem & Royce da 5’9′) // 10. Lil’ Mo Interlude (Lil’ Mo) // 11. Fuck a Bitch (Kurupt & Snoop Dogg) // 12. Change the Game [Remix] (Jay-Z feat. Tha Dogg Pound, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Static Major) // 13. My Niggaz Dem (Trick Daddy & Trina) // 14. Live from the Bridge (NaS) // 15. So Hot (Foxy Brown) // 16. Chinatown (Junior M.A.F.I.A.) // 17. Bathgate Freestyle (Bathgate) // 18. M.A.R.C.Y. (Memphis Bleek & Geda K) // 19. I Don’t Care (Capone-N-Noreaga) // 20. The Best of Queens (It’s Us) (Mobb Deep) // 21. Red (Redman) // 22. Dangerous (Lady Luck & DJ Muggs) // 23. Phone Patch (Ty Shaun)

If nothing else this album delivers on the promise its title makes in the sense that this is an industry gathering of people the absolute majority of whom, at the time of this album’s release at least, were rapping for a living. This is professional rap music. For this major label appropriation of his mixtape concept DJ Clue? drummed up most of 2001’s urban music industry heavyweights. Including new york’s elite (NaS, Mobb Deep, DMX, Cam’ron, Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Mary J. Blige, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Capone-N-Noreaga and his label boss Jay-Z) who in turn brought with them their subordinates (Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Geda K, the LOX, Rah Digga, Foxy Brown, Nature), some hotshots from outside of NYC (Snoop, tha Dogg Pound, Eminem, Royce da 9’5′, Redman, Trick Daddy and Trina), an up-and-comer (Fabolous) and people who were never heard from before or since (Bathgate, Ty Shaun) and a bunch of beatmakers who were popular at the time to complement Clue?’s own productions (Rockwilder, Rick Rock, Just Blaze) and despite the combined efforts of all these people, and then some, the Professional 2, like its prequel, is quite the solid but underwhelming listening experience.

That is not to say that there’s prevalent wackness to speak of, but the combined effort of these people should lead to some really good rap music where in fact it delivers mediocracy. In stead of shining and enjoying themselves everyone just coasts along forcedly, as though they’re hanging out at a family gathering out of obligation rather than free will, on a sunday, after drining their brains out the night before, but try to make the best of it anyway. If that doesn’t sound like the blockparty you (or DJ Clue?) might’ve hoped for with that guest list you would be absolutey right.

There’s nothing wrong in particular with songs such as Live From the Bridge by NaS, C.R.E.A.M. 2001 by Rae & Ghost, Who’s Next by DMX, Fuck a Bitch by Snoop & kurupt, Getting It by Busta Rhymes and Rah Digga, The Best of Queens (It’s Us) by Mobb Deep or I Don’t Care by Capone-N-Noreaga, but if they were featured on one of the albums by these respective artists they would be skippable filler tracks, whereas here they are the album actual highlights by proxy, since there’s also shitty tracks by Memphis Bleek, Foxy Brown, the Junior M.A.F.I.A. present here. There’s also a lazy cover of Soul II Soul’s Back to Life by Mary J. Blige and Jadakiss and a silly R&B interlude by Lil’ Mo that fill the roll of low points.

In order to simulate the mixtape experience a couple of “freestyles” over previously used beats are thrown in, but I don’t need to hear anyone rock over Notorious B.I.G.’s Who Shot Ya instrumental ever again, even if it is Jay-Z not doing a horrible job. This beat has been re-used so many times before and since I can hardly stand to hear even the far superior original, classic status be damned.

Speaking of the Jiggaman, his Change the Game off The Dynasty: Roc la Familia has been remixed to include Kurupt and Daz of tha Dogg Pound, which isn’t a bad decision since their West Coast-style connects with the Rick Rock beat much better than Memphis Bleek or Beanie Sigel’s, both of whom are still on the song. Problem is it wasn’t that good a song to begin with, and even this upgrade can’t really make it a must-listen.

The absolute highlight of the night is What the Beat that gets Method Man, Redman, Eminem and Royce da 9’5′ on one track  what with its simple but effective two-note piano based instrumental, and Meth and Em’s hilariously grimey verses. Fans of Em in particular should look it up since he rarey sparred with rappers of this caliber anywhere else in his career and hasn’t put out anything this much twisted fun on his last three albums, which is to say for the last nine years. The only possible drawback to the track is that these rappers weren’t necessarily in one studio at one time since nobody on here but Royce aknowledges the presence of the others on the song, which they almost certainly would have done if they were aware that the verses they were recording would end up on this posse cut, what with rapper’s tendency to shout out everybody from the song’s engineer to their aunt’s dentist (everyone does go out of their way to shout-out Clue?) but that doesn’t mean the resulting song isn’t really fucking good.

This places it in contrast with the album’s other random-ass posse cut Fantastic 4, part 2, which pairs the LOX with Cam’ron, Fabolous and Nature, which means that the amount of participans is six, not four. None of the six rappers seems particularly excited to be there, except Fabby who at the time could really use the exposure.

Overall the Professional 2 was intended by its creator to be for everyone, with artists recruited from every corner of thje USA, with little cohesion in style and thereby fails to be for anyone in particular, while still being hella boring, with the invited guests bring their B-game. These problems are only aggravated by Clue?’s incessant yelling and unimpressive production, which I’ve discussed in detail in my review of the Professional 1. While nothing on here will make you want to break the cd in two and slice your wrists with it, there’s no real need for anyone to pick this up either.

Meh.

Best track
What the Beat

Recommendations
Find What the Beat on iTunes, it’s a really good song. And if you fancy for instance the Wu, Snoop or Busta in particular then perhaps their singular contributions too. But don’t pick up the entire album. It isn’t very good, you see.


2pac – Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.

2pac
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.
February 16, 1993

Interscope RecordsUMG
070/100
2pac - Strictly 4 My Niggaz
1. Holler if Ya Hear Me // 2. Pac’s Theme [Interlude] // 3. Point the Finga // 4. Something 2 Die 4 [Interlude] // 5. Last Wordz (feat. Ice Cube & Ice-T) // 6. Souljah’s Revenge // 7. Peep Game (feat. Deadly Threat) // 8. Strugglin’ (feat. Live Squad) // 9. Guess Who’s Back // 10. Representin’ 93 // 11. Keep Ya Head Up (feat. Dave Hollister) // 12. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. // 13. The Streetz R Deathrow // 14. I Get Around (feat. Shock G & Money B) // 15. Papa’z Song (feat. Mopreme Shakur & Poppi) // 16. 5 Deadly Venomz (feat. Treach, Apache & Live Squad)

“There’s no reason for a record like this to be released. It has no place in our society.”
Dan Quayle (vice-president of the United States of America) on 2pac’s debut album 2Pacalypse Now.

A lot had happend to the man born as Lesane Parish Crooks, but known to everyone and their grandmother as Tupac Amuru Shakur, since the release of his debut. There was the Dan Quayle controversy, which had the then-vice president condemning it for its alleged inspiration of the murder of a state trooper. There had been more controversy because a stray bullet had killed a little boy at one of Pac’s live shows and even more controversy because he had filed a $10,000,000 civil suit against the Oakland Police Department who had allegedly beaten him for jaywalking (the case was eventually settled for $42,000).

Controversy sells. And it did help sell nearly a million and a half copies, without getting much airplay but based on word of mouth (not unlike a bunch of Comptonites with attitude problems). I like to believe that people mostly bought 2Pacalypse Now because it was actually quite decent, but I’d be lying to myself if I did.

Anyhow, since it did sell well the sequel was likely to serve-up more of the same material, passive street narratives. In stead however 2pac gets on a soapbox much more than he did last time around. In stead of showing the listeners a glimpse of the life, times, trials and tribulations of young women growing up in less than pleasant circumstances in poor urban areas, the way he did on Brenda’s Got a Baby, he actively speaks to them and tells them to keep a positive outlook on life on Keep Ya Head Up. Rather than telling a Soulja’s Story he executes a Soulja’s Revenge.

And he even manages to have some fun with the hoochies (and Digital Underground) in the club on I Get Around, which he never did on his debut and which kind of contradicting his pro-feminist stance found on a Keep Ya Head Up, although the man himself would offer-up the explanation that these songs aren’t contradictory at all since he’s sending messages to different types of women. (bullshit).

These contradictory tracks would make for a patchy schizofrenic album on which each individual song would render the next insincere if there wasn’t some middle ground in the form of street narratives such as the title track and The Streetz R Death Row, on which he explains how the streets effect his mental health and induce both apathy and paranoia, making him the man he is today (with today being february 16, 1993).

There are more guest rappers on here than last time around. Most notably West Coast heavyweights Ice Cube and Ice-T drop by for the ménage à trois Last Wordz. Live Squad, the group headed by Pac’s homeboy Stretch, pops up on two tracks, one of which, 5 Deadly Venomz also includes Naughty By Nature’s Treach and Flava Unit’s Apache. Digital Underground actually drops in for some guest verses on I Get Around, which they couldn’t be bothered to do the last last time.

The production, courtesy of Digital Underground, Stretch and Bobcat, is tighter and livelier than last time around and even though there’s still not much in the form of complete hooks, things aren’t quite as minimal as last time around. But adding richness and swagger does come at a price. Strictly contains some better songs than 2Pacalypse did, no doubt. Both I Get Around and Keep Ya Head Up, as well as the middle finger-to-his-absentee-father duet with his stepbrother Papa’z Song being prime examples, but as an album this is less than the sum of its parts whereas its predecessor was much more. Strictly lacks 2Pacalypse‘s intimate confessional feel. Still, it’s hard to stay mad when there’s this much movement away from 2pacalypse without loss of quality (deliberately avoiding the word progress here).

Also, this album doesn’t have any true low points like Young Black Male or Part Time Mutha off his debut were.

All in all Strictly 4 My Niggaz is a more professional, more diverse but less consistent and less compelling sophomore  release of one of hip-hop’s biggest characters, and even though it’s definitely a stepping stone to the celebration of excess that would be come All Eyez on Me one shouldn’t hate this album for it, because it is pretty good regardless.

Best tracks
Keep Ya Head Up
Soulja’s Revenge
I Get Around
Last Wordz
Papa’z Song

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


2pac – 2pacalypse Now

2pac
2pacalypse Now
November 12, 1991
Interscope Records/ UMG
075/100
2pac - 2pacalypse Now
1. Young Black Male // 2. Trapped (feat. Shock G) // 3. Soulja’s Story // 4. I Don’t Give a Fuck (feat. Pogo) // 5. Violent // 6. Words of Wisdom // 7. Something Wicked (feat. Pee Wee) // 8. Crooked Ass Nigga (feat. Stretch) // 9. If My Homie Calls // 10. Brenda’s Got a Baby (feat. Dave Hollister) // 11. Tha’ Lunatic (feat. Stretch) // 12. Rebel of the Underground (feat. Ray Luv & Shock G) // 13. Part Time Mutha (feat. Angelique & Poppi)

Being relatively new to their work, listening to Digital Underground’s Sex Packets and This is An E.P. Release I couldn’t really see just how 2Pac fitted in with the merry bunch that apparently birthed his career. Even if he did appear on Same Song the man is hardly known for being a P funk enthousiast or a laid-back funny guy, rather he was known for being quite the angry dude who liked to start shit, which makes him and Humpty Hump like day and night.

But Sons of the P however showed a more politicised D.U. that namechecked Nation of Islam and dissed black celebrities trying to look more caucasian and did quite well at that, and Pac followed suit by rhyming about his crack slanging career on his guest verse on The DLFO Shuttle, stressing that he didn’t much enjoy that particular lifestyle but had very little of a choice but to do so. After hearing that song the pairing made much more sense.

Now I don’t want to be a dope man, listen
I didn’t have a dime, a nickel, penny, a pot to piss in
See all my clothes had holes and they fit tight
Pray to God cause it’s hard trying to live right
Waiting on the train can’t hang with the street gangs
Making me insane, putting rain on my whole brain
But the train means change to better thangs
Can’t live with the negative and ghetto pains
Can’t be late, can’t wait to get to where we’re going
Almost ten to four and I’m sure that the train is showing
But I ain’t sure where it goes, I don’t really know it
But I got faith, that’s all it takes to get to where we’re going

It is this mindset, as well as the D.U.’s updated ’91 dusty, swingless funk beats that are found on Pac’s ’91 Interscope Records debut album 2Pacalypse Now.

His debut is different from his subsequent work in several ways.

Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z,  his sophomore album, included at least one celebratory radio single in the form of I Get Around. And on every single subsequent album release they became more prominent, aiding 2Pac in gaining radio actual radio hits, culminating in his Death Row debut album All Eyez on Me an album so bloated, single-minded, repetitive and overrated that it took some seriously brilliant marketing to sell it to the masses. For better or worse no such radio-friendly track can be found here. In fact hooks, the sword by which a radio song lives or dies, are barely present on this album at all. Even when R&B singers are brought in, such as on Brenda’s Got a Baby or Part Time Mutha everything remains raw, or at the very least meaningful and true to its creator’s beliefs.

Many of Pac’s subsequent social commentaries like the ode to single mothers Keep Ya Head Up, the ode to his single mother Dear Mama and the euology of his dead homies Life Goes On are much more positive than anything off 2Pacalypse: the 2pac found here is a rather passive and observative narrator of street life. Although he does parttake in the events he describes (by which I mean that several tracks he rhymes in first person, whether he actually did any of the shit he raps about himself I wouldn’t know) he doesn’t appear to have the idea that he’s ever significantly going to change anything and just rolls with the punches, doing what he has to in order to survive another day.  His tales are strikingly personal but not quite activist, mostly descriptive of events leaving the listener to draw his/ her own conclusions. On the album’s closest thing to a hit single Brenda’s Got a Baby he describes the trials and tribulations of an abused and impregnated ghetto girl, but never explicitly urges the listener to do something about it and “change the way we eat (…) live (…) treat each other” the way he famously did on his posthumous monster hit single Changes. It is this weary attitude that most separates 2Pacalypse from all of his other work. Some will say that he only mentions problems, and never comes up with any solutions but one must keep in mind that this is a rap album, essentially a piece of art. And the fact that Pac was just as clueless as to the solutions to these things which did really bother him, not unlike the people whose everyday struggle he rapped about, placed him among them, giving him credibility and sympathy other rappers lacked. After all 2pac was a musician, not a politician, and besides who wants to get preached to while listening to music? There’s an in-you-face subtle quality to this that most other albums couldn’t even dream about.

Most of these songs are pretty good, even if there are a few embarassments to be found on here. Young Black Male has Pac amateuristically speed-rapping his way through a not very engaging instrumental. Part Time Mutha, a prequel of sorts to Brenda’s Got a Baby, straight jacks Stevie Wonder’s Part-Time Lover in a rather lazy manner, with a rather generic female rapper dropping in for a verse, even if our host’s performance is just fine.

The rest is pretty damn good, with Trapped, Soulja’s StoryI Don’t Give a Fuck, Violent and If My Homie Calls being highlights because they flow tighter, have more interesting instrumentals, drop more profound knowledge or are simply better thought-through than the rest of what inhabits 2Pacalypse, and Brenda’s Got a Baby is hands-down the best song on here (It is considered canonical rap music for a good reason.) What remains is not quite filler but does run together. Given that this album stems from a time when albums were projects that were listened to in one piece, rather than bought off iTunes track-by-track, and also given that even the brainfarts are more intriguing than the highlights of most of today’s top rap artists “albums” this should be seen as a endorsement.

Here’s the thing. I’ve never considered myself much of a 2Pac fan, what with most of his die-hard fans being really fucking annoying pricks with a tendency of yelling things such as THUG LIFE and WEST SIDE without so much as a hint of irony, and All Eyes on Me (2Pac’s most famous album and one of hip-hop’s best selling albums in general), the only album of his I have heard in its entirety before I subjected myself to 2Pacalypse to write this review, sucking, save for five-to-ten songs (out of twenty seven).

But his debut is surprisingly entertaining and substantial, talking about real problems without our host catching a messiah complex, not mentioning THUG LIFE or WEST SIDE once, and it has effectively won me over and has me looking forward to going through his catalogue. Now, excuse my while I head for the yard to pour out a little liquor for the man (don’t want to do it here since I don’t want to make a mess in my room.)

Best tracks
Trapped
Soulja’s Story
I Don’t Give a Fuck
Violent
If My Homie Calls
Brenda’s Got a Baby

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Digital Underground – Sons of the P

Digital Underground
Sons of the P
October 15, 1991
Tommy Boy RecordsWarner Bros. RecordsWMG
080/100
Digital Underground - Sons of the P
1. The DFLO Shuttle (feat. 2pac) // 2. Hearbeat Props // 3. No Nose Job // 4. Sons of the P (feat. George Clinton) // 5. Flowin’ on the D-Line // 6. Kiss You Back // 7. Tales of the Funky // 8. The Higher Heights of Spirituality // 9. Family of the Underground (feat. Stretch & 2pac) // 10. The D-Flow Instrumental // 11. Good Thing We Rappin’

Following the appetizer/leftover that was an EP release alternative hip-hop group Digital Underground’s sophomore LP Sons of the P, their second release of 1991 expands on the sound of their classic debut Sex Packets.

Although its very title is a rather literal admission that their sound stems from the movement started by George Clinton, who makes an appearance on this album’s title track, Shock G, money B and their extensive posse move away from the P-funk slightly towards something approximating more traditional hip-hop. Not to say that they abondon it entirely, in fact this may very well be the true G-funk as opposed to Dr. Dre’s early ’90s sound which in fact owed more to the blaxploitation era Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes than to Parliament or Funkadelic. It’s not that the D.U. has turnt its back on the P, it’s just that the flows are tighter than last time around, Shock and Money seriously upped their skills and the beats hit harder than on their giddily, whimsically brilliant debut, which makes them somewhat less funky by default.

The subjects are more serious too, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek manner. No Nose Job may not be quite ment for literal interpretation (especially the part where some surgeon hilariously forces a nose job on a protesting Humpty Hump so that he may become a huge star), but it’s most definitely a much more profound statement than anything off Sex Packets, urging other black celebrities not to get cosmetic surgery or try to look less black via coloured contact lenses, because it might lead to black children growing up to dislike their appearances and think there’s something wrong with being black. On Hearbeat Props nation of islam, Malcolm X and Louis Farrakan are namechecked, and on The DFLO Shuttle 2pac talkes about having no choice but to sell drugs, and sounding like the thug life martyr everyone would get to know soon enough, for the very first time.

If the industry stories about how Digital Underground came into existence are true Sons of the P may be the album Shock G initially wanted to record, before he decided he didn’t want the Underground to sound like a Public Enemy redux. If Sons is an indication he might as well have done so, since despite some overlap in subject matter with Chuck D and cohorts they don’t really sound alike that much. Also the conscious, afro-centric lyricism fits Shock just as well as the sex-crazed humpty-dancing of D.U.’s debut album, making this experimentation with some new sounds quite succesful indeed.

Not that the guys have forgotten about the folks who bought Sex Packets. On the title track George Clinton himself gives his followers a thumbs-up, referring to himself and the D.U. as the sons of P, which is odd, because I recall him and Bootsy being fathers of the P, but whatever. Tales of the Funky is the moment that most recalls their debut, being that it’s a rather careless affair performed completely in P Funk slang (Bop Guns, Mothership connection and what not are namechecked) and Kiss You Back and It’s a Good Thing We’re Rappin’  are some vintage Humpty Hump sex rap, albeit the latter a bit more mysogynic and violent than I’m used to.

All in all, Sons of the P is a really good follow-up to Sex Packets, lacking highlight of the caliber of the Humpty Dance and Packet Man, but flowing better as an album, updating their sound and fucking around with some new lyrical themes quite succesfully, without selling their souls.

Well played.

Best tracks
No Nose Job
Tales of the Funky
Kiss You Back
Good Thing We’re Rappin’

Recommendations
Buy this album.


J.J. Fad – Supersonic

J.J. Fad
Supersonic
1988
Ruthless Records/Atlantic Records/ WMG
070/100
J.J. Fad - Supersonic

1. Supersonic // 2. Way Out // 3. Blame It on the Muzick (feat. Dr. Dre) // 4. In the Mix // 5. Eenie Meenie Beats // 6. My Dope Intro // 7. Let’s Get Hyped // 8. Now Really // 9. Time Tah Get Stupid // 10.  Is It Love

On N.W.A and the Posse Dre, Eazy, Ren, Cube, Arabian Prince and Yella hadn’t yet figured out whether they wanted to be hardcore gangstaz, as in Boyz In da Hood or electro-hop party starters as on Panic Zone. On Straight Outta Compton they had mostly made their choice and they had mostly kept their most electro-inclined member; Arabian Prince out of the proceedings. Apparently he was working on this in stead.

J.J. Fad’s Supersonic is what Straight Outta Compton could’ve been if the world’s most dangerous group would’ve gone for the dancefloors rather than the streets. High energy beats with lyrics that are mostly commands to dance and some boasting about the rhyme skillz of the artists you’re listening to, as well as general freshness, thrown in for good measure. It’s an infectious mixture that’s more in line with what Teddy Riley was cooking up at the time than the work of the Compton residents with attitude issues who were working on this behind the scenes. (Dre, Arabian Prince and Yella produce this in its entirety while Eric Wright and Jerry Heller took all the revenue. Whether Cube, Ren and D.O.C. wrote any of these raps I know not.)

Supersonic is split in two halves, the pop-side and the hip-hop side. The first half of the album may be a little too vanilla for fans of N.W.A., the beats are more slick and polished than on Straight Outta Compton or Eazy-Duz-It and no profanity is being dropped anywhere. But it contains some first-class, pop-rap. Especially the title track, which was resurrected some time ago as Fergie’s Fergalicious, is some cornily endearing fun.

The second half however contains some vintage late-80s Dre/Yella beats that one can imagine Eazy, Cube, Ren and D.O.C. ripping to shreds. Let’s Get Hyped in particular wouldn’t sound out of place on an N.W.A disc, if the b-word were dropped more than once, that is. Now Really is a dis-track aimed at competing female rap-group Sugar and Spice and seems to be included mostly to start some shit so that Supersonic might have some street cred, not the best idea that, but Dre saves the day by providing another banging-ass beat. Time to Get Stupid is a short DJ cut on whitch Dre has some turntable fun. And Is It Love closes out the album by going after LL Cool J’s I Need Love. All the music is on point and instrumentally this album is really good, if a bit all over the map.

As for J.J. Fad themselves, they are perfectly serviceable rappers. That is; they know how to flow and stay on beat. But a lot of their lingo (“time to come correct”, “cold gettin’ stupid”) dates this album as much as the outfits they sport on the album cover do. Also it’s really hard to tell MC JB, Baby D and Sassy C apart since they all sound identical. In fact, one could almost convince this reviever that there was only one girl rapping here.

As a whole Supersonic is a nicely executed piece of pop fluff that was probably born out of Eazy and Jerry seeing the pop-rap thing going down and wanting a piece of the action, or maybe Dre made the electro beats featured on the first half of the album for Straight Outta Compton, but used them for this project in stead after N.W.A switched directions. Don’t read these theories as a dismissal though. Supersonic is some campy fun and does in fact deserve to be revisited, especially so that the teen-aged girls who like to bump Fergalicious know where she got it from.

Best tracks
Supersonic
Blame It On the Muzick
Let’s Get Hyped

Recommendations
If you find this album in the discount section of your local record store, or in the used-bin or for cheap on the internet by all means pick it up.


Eazy-E – Eazy-Duz-It

Eazy-E
Eazy-Duz-It
September 12, 1988
Ruthless Records/Priority RecordsEMI
085/100
Eazy-E - Eazy-Duz-It

1. [Prelude] Still Talkin’  // 2. Nobody Move // 3. Ruthless Villain (feat. MC Ren) // 4. 2 Hard Mutha’s  (feat. MC Ren) // 5.  Boyz-n-the-Hood [Remix] // 6. Eazy-duz-It // 7. We Want Eazy (feat. MC Ren & Dr. Dre) // 8. Eazy-er Said than Dunn // 9. Radio // 10. No More ?’s // 11.  I’mma Break It Down // 12. Eazy Chapter 8 Verse 10

Eazy-Duz-It is the first album by retired crack dealer turned Ruthless label boss/rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, as well as the first N.W.A offshoot. Eazy-E’s debut album follows Straight Outta Compton a month after its release.  By the logic of the music industry Eazy-Duz-It should’ve been pushed far into 1989 as to not hurt Straight Outta Compton‘s record sales. But  on the always unconventional Ruthless Records no such consideration seems to have been made here.

On with the review, Dre and Yella’s beats are dense, dusty and funky as they were the last time around and Eazy recites Cube, Ren and D.O.C.’s writings over them with the mischievous joy of a street-smart man-child. His high-pitched wine is best described as a thugged-out version of Sam Cooke and the mixture of boasting and threatning is over-the-top enough for anyone but the C. Delores Tuckers and the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world (or however may have filled his shoes back in ’88) to get the joke, or at the very least get that there’s a joke being made. As usual; Joke’s on Bill.

A major difference between Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-It is that since technically Eazy is the worst rapper in the world’s most dangerous group, but also the biggest character; he does best setting the mood rather than discussing serious shit, and that’s probably why are no profound statements being made such as on Fuck the Police or Express Yourself. Basically Eazy-Duz-It is Eric Wright taking no shit but talking a lot himself for twelve tracks long and it’s all the better for it.

There’s party-starters such as We Want EazyEazy-Er Said than Dunn, there’s conceptual raps No More ?’s which takes place in an interview-setting, and Nobody Move which is about performing stick-ups. There’s even a profanity-free song for the radio titled Radio (One thing you can’t accuse N.W.A of is hiding their intentions or mislabeling their songs.) And it all forms an exciting, never boring and well-rounded album.

Finally Eazy-Duz-It makes N.W.A and the Posse completely obsolete by taking the one song that actually sounded good that wasn’t on Straight Outta Compton already. That would be Boyz In da Hood.

Eazy-Duz-It isn’t for the faint-hearted, drugs, misogyny, guns and other street shit is being glorified and Eazy is willfully immoral throughout, but if you don’t take this album too seriously you can have a lot of fun with it. What keeps these staple-subjects of hip-hop interesting is Eazy’s undeniable charisma and his distictive delivery. It’s a shame he wouldn’t put out another full-length solo-album before his untimely death in 1995.

Best tracks
Nobody Move
Boyz-n-the-Hood [Remix]
We Want Eazy
Eazy-Er Said than Dunn
Radio
No More ?’s

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Skee-Lo – I Wish

Skee-Lo
I Wish
June 27, 1995
Altra Moda Music/ Scotti Brothers Records/ All American Communications/ BMGSME
075/100
skeeloiwish
1. Superman  // 2. I Wish // 3. Never Crossed My Mind // 4. Top Of the Stairs // 5.  Come Back to Me // 6. Waitin’ for You  // 7. Holdin’ On // 8. You Ain’t Down // 9. Crenshaw (feat. Funke & Trend) // 10. This Is How It Sounds // 11. The Burger Song // 12. I wish [Street Mix]

Skee Lo is about as good of an example of a one-hit-wonder you can give. In 1995 his single I Wish hit the top twenty of  charts worldwide. That might not seem like much of an achievement today but back then the pop charts still weren’t entirely used to hip-hop songs. After that song disappeared from the charts Skee was never heard from again, which is a shame because his debut album showed a lot of promise.

Apparently he isn’t from L.A., but according to Wikipedia he had been living there for about a decade when he released this album, which explains the explicitly left coast feel it gives off. (Although today a hiphop album typically has thirty tracks produced by the fifty hottest producers of the moment and features the illest MC’s from across the north American continent, making it sound all over the map by default, in the mid-‘90s you could pretty much accurately deduce from where a rapper hailed by actually listening to his/her music. Usually because over the span of somewhere between twelve and fifteen tracks an artist and a handful of producers got enough time behind the mic/ boards to form and show an identity usually coloured by the variety of hiphop that was popular in their hometown.) 1995 California hiphop was syrupy G-funk which usually meant that it incorporated melodic synthesizers, slow hypnotic grooves, a deep bass, cheesy female backing vocals and a high-pitched, whiny, hovering synthesizer lead. That doesn’t however mean that Skee is a Snoop Doggy Dogg clone. Antoine “Skee-Lo” Roundtree isn’t a ho-macking, drug-selling gangsta but displays an every day guy-persona with some street-knowledge instead. He openly raps about his own problems, which include insecurity about his height, his wealth and his percieved lack of prestige on the title track and Top Of the Stairs. A rare occurance in the Gangsta dominated hip-hop scene of ’95.

He does brag occasionally but usually not about anything but his rhyme skills, which he proves as fairly impressive in the process on Superman. And when he does talk about the streets he sounds genuinely scared that something bad might happen to him out there on Never Crossed My Mind. Not that I Wish is all about how poor, unattractive and whimpy he is. On the contrary; he talks about the joys of life such as hanging out with is boys on sundays on the mellowed out Crenshaw, and even the eating various fast foods on the jazzy the Burger Song.

He’s actually not unlike Coolio or Warren G in the content department. As far as his flow is concerned Skee-Lo sort of kind of sounds like Twista dropping his usual speed-rapping antics in favor of something a little more mellow.

All in all I Wish is a pretty impressive debut. Even though there’s nothing that tops the smash-hit title track there isn’t really a skippable track to be found here either.

Best track
I Wish

Recommendations
If you find this in your record store pick it up.


the Game – Untold Story

the Game
Untold Story
October 5, 2004
Get Low Recordz
055/100
The Game - Untold Story
1. Intro (feat. JT the Bigga Figga) // 2. Neighbourhood Supastarz (feat. JT the Bigga Figga) // 3. When Shit Get Thick (feat. Sean T & JT the Bigga Figga) // 4. I’m Looking (feat. Blue Chip) // 5. Real Gangstaz // 6. Drama Is Real (feat. San Quinn) // 7. Compton 2 Fillmore (feat. JT the Bigga Figga) // 8. El Presidente (feat. Telly Mac) // 9. G.A.M.E. (feat. Young Noble) // 10. Cali Boyz // 11. Who The Illest (feat. Sean T) // 12. Bleek Is… // 13. Street Kings (feat. Get Low Playaz) // 14. Don’t Cry (feat. Blue Chip) // 15. Exclusively (feat. Get Low Playaz & Young Noble) // 16. Compton, Compton // 17. Outro (feat. JT the Bigga Figga)

The Game’s back story, living the street life selling drugs, getting shot the fuck up and surviving to find mega succes in hip-hop, reads an awful lot like West Coast version of his frenemy 50 Cent’s, hmmm…

Not only that but like Fiddy and Eminem (and the Clipse and the Black Eyed Peas and most likely a shitload of other artists) he has a semi-official debut album, recorded and leaked released before his official debut album the Documentary. I’m not talking a mixtape here,but an actual album; all of the featured material is original rhymes and beats.

Untold Story is that semi-official debut, after the man born Jayceon Taylor got shot a bunch of times in a drug deal he allegedly got in a coma, which he woke up from after three days suddenly feeling inspired to be a rapper because of the near-death experience.

Well, either that or he felt inspired to be a rapper and thought that this would be a good back story if you are inclined to believe 50 Cent over Game, I certainly don’t claim to know who’s telling the truth there, nor does it actually influence the quality of the music.

What’s however irrefutably true is that in 2001 Game got signed to independent Fillmore San Francisco record label Get Low Records, the very name of which may have gotten Jayceon in an ongoing beef with Roc-a-Fella records because Memphis Bleek’s boutique label is called Get Low Records too.

On JT‘s Get Low Recordz he recorded the double disc mixtape Live From Compton (2004), this album (2004), West Coast Resurrection (2005) and Untold Story, vol. 2 (2005), all of which may consist of original material or may be the same lyrics over newly constructed instrumentals, 2pac’s Nu Muxx Klazzics-style. I wouldn’t know yet as I haven’t heard them. All of these releases came out about three years after being recorded and after Game had already left the label and was already making a name as Dr. Dre’s latest signee, with the purpose that JT the Bigga Figga (Rapper/ Producer/ Get Low’s boss) could finally make some money off “discovering” the Game. After JT was done juicing the material he sold the masters to the mysterious entity FastLife Records which released G.A.M.E. (2006), which is most certainly the same old shit with new beats.

While these aren’t the noblest of artistic intentions they don’t rule out that Untold Story  contains some dope music.

As expected Game, who had been rapping for about a year when he recorded most of the material here, sounds both a lot less polished and a lot less husky, which isn’t to say he’s wack, he just hasn’t completely found his voice yet. And the production and guest verses sound a lot less expensive, for lack of a better word, which isn’t ment ass a diss either; JT just isn’t a Dr. Dre and these mostly unknown guest rappers aren’t G-Unit.

Being said that you shouldn’t cop this if you want more Documentary-like music, Untold Story isn’t a bad album. And Game, even though his voice changed since this, already did his signature name-dropping and pop-culture referencing punchline rapping.

Even though songs like Neighbourhood Supa StarzWhen Shit Getz Thick and Drama Is Real which have Game dueting local San Francisco rap veterans such as the previously mentioned JT the Bigga Figga, Sean T and San Quinn are nowhere near as jaw-dropping as the Documentary‘s singles, they certainly have their charms. G.A.M.E. and Exclusively both feature Young Noble, this album’s guest artist best known outside of the Bay Area’s Get Low fanbase. Although in 2004 Jayceon was already a bigger name than Noble, these tracks do aid his street cred by linking him indirectly to 2pac, and they certainly don’t bring Makaveli’s legacy to shame.

Compton to Fillmore, again featuring JT, has a decent Bollywood-infused beat in the tradition of Scott Stortch or Timbaland, and should get some asses shaking were you to bump it at a house party and could’ve been a single, were Game still around at Get Low to promote Untold Story.

Don’t Cry, a song dedicated to his daughter, is hands down the best thing on here, what with it’s pounding bassline and Game actually having subject matter beyond archetypical gangsta and guest rapper Blue Chip keeping-up.

Cali Boys, the shortest song on here, is pretty decent, even though it almost exclusively consists of Game listing other West Coast rappers.

Willingness to start shit, also a typical Jayceon Taylor trait, is also already present as proved by the Memphis Bleek-diss Bleek Is… named after Bleek’s debut single Memphis Bleek Is… The main reason behind this track is that Bleek had kicked off a boutique label called Get Low Records with his debut album in ’99, whereas JT the Bigga Figga had been repping Get Low since ’92. Even though dissing Bleek is one of my favorite pasttimes the song isn’t any good, which mystifies me because a parody of Memp Bleek Is… dissing it’s creator should write itself.

With its being seventeen tracks long and having no creative input of Game besides recording the vocals two to three years before this album was releasedUntold Story is obviously a flawed release. Game may have figured out how to rap already to the point where doesn’t embarass himself on the mic, but he still doesn’t really come off as that experienced, making Untold Story sounding like the practice round it ended up being. Sean T and JT producing everything on here is a mixed blessing, giving this album some much needed cohesiveness, but also making it so that a lot of it starts runs together and sounds alike. Some pop/rap culture references such as “Make ’em Harlem-shake like the new G-Dep” and “make ’em kiss the game goodbye like Jada” carbon date this to 2002 and JT shouting out Aftermath, G-Unit and Dr. Dre on several of the tracks as a constant reminder that Jayceon had already moved on when this was finished and released, is also not a good thing.  Finally; the guests may not be horrible rappers but they all fail to leave much of in impression.

But two of the songs are pretty good, and besides Bleek Is… nothing here outright sucks.

Best tracks
Compton to Fillmore
Don’t Cry

Recommendations
For die-hard fans of the Game or JT the Bigga Figga this is certainly worth an inspection. For casual fans of rap buying the below two song will probably suffice.


N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton

N.W.A
Straight Outta Compton
August 8, 1988
Ruthless Records/Priority Records/ EMI
090/100

N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton

1. Straight Outta Compton // 2. Fuck the Police (feat. the D.O.C.) // 3. Gangsta, Gangsta // 4. If It Ain’t Ruff // 5. Parental Discretion iz Advised (feat. the D.O.C.) // 6. 8 Ball [Remix] // 7. Something Like That // 8. Express Yourself // 9. Compton’s N the House [Remix] // 10. I Ain’t tha 1 // 11. Dope Man [Remix] // 12. Quiet on tha Set // 13. Something 2 Dance 2 (feat. Arabian Prince)

N.W.A and the Posse may not be a very good album, but its selling of 500 thousand+ copies made it known to record labels that there was an audience for Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, even though their lyrics contained more than a bit of profanity. What it didn’t do however, was prepare the world for gangsta rap crossing over to the mainstream.

Which is exactly what happened following the release of N.W.A’s real debut album: Straight outta Compton.

Funky and mischievous, well produced and accessible yet uncompromising in its creators’ beliefs and opinions N.W.A’s true debut Straight Outta Compton is gangsta rap at its very best.

With wall-to-wall production by Dr. Dre, aided by DJ Yella and with raps written by Ice Cube, MC Ren and the D.O.C. and performed by Cube, Ren, Dre and the alpha male in a group that consists of nothing but alpha males; Eazy-E, Straight Outta Compton may not have been gangsta rap’s starting point (at least Schooly D and Ice T and perhaps more rappers preceeded it)  but it is the album that singlehandedly brought the rap subgenre to the masses without the aid of Radio/MTV airplay (Raegan era media weren’t to keen on airing  cursing and references to sex, drugs and violence), as white suburban kids found it perfect for pissing off their parents.

That’s not to say controversy is all it has going for it. Far from it, Dre and Yella’s dense funky beats never fail to make one’s foot tap and are the perfect backdrops for Eazy, Cube, Ren and Dre to go rampant over. Although it’s dated because of how goddamn monumental it is, today, 24+ years after its august ’88 release it still sounds completely fresh.

Off course not everything has aged equally well. Fuck the Police is still a fine rap song as ever and the subject of corrupt racist pighead policemen is current still, but the controversy it stirred up upon release, the motherfucking FBI even sent this rap group a letter requesting them to tone it down, is hard to imagine today, taking away at least some of the impact this once had.

Other subjects than bad experiences with racist police include, but aren’t limited to representing your hometown (the title track and Compton’s N The House), the poor quality of the recording output of unnamed rivaling hip-hop groups (Something Like That), free speech (Express Yourself) and Eazy-E’s favourite beverage (8-Ball).

Unlike on follow-up albums the vibe is rowdy but good-natured throughout because although a shitload of threats and bragging get put to wax, it is all nonspecific enough to not dis any of the listeners personally. (Well maybe except for cops listening to Fuck the Police.)

Eazy’s high-pitched whine is irresistable as ever throughout, Ice Cube records one of the first Gold Digger songs ever and Ren proves he is a criminally underrated rapper on his solo-shot If It Ain’t Ruff.

This album beats the life out of N.W.A and the Posse, shits on it and runs off with its valuables 8ball and Dope Man, after which Eazy-E’s solo debut follows suit and cleans up by including Boys in da Hood.

The only track that doesn’t work is the Panic Zone reprise late ’80s electro-funk-rap Something 2 Dance 2, which isn’t because it sucks completely, but rather because it sounds completely out-of-place.

Straight Outta Compton is some really great stuff for those who like unadultered rap music which likes to pretend the radio doesn’t exist.

Best tracks
Straight Outta Compton
Fuck the Police
8 Ball [Remix]
Dope Man [Remix]

But the rest doesn’t fall far behind. Straight Outta Compton is rather consistent.

Recommendations
Buy this album, even if you aren’t inclined to like rap music, chances are you will like this album.


Various artists – N.W.A. and the Posse

Various artists
N.W.A and the Posse
November 6, 1987
Ruthless Records/ Macola Records
050/100
SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA
1. Boyz-N-the-Hood (Eazy-E) // 2. 8 Ball (N.W.A) // 3. Dunk the Funk (the Fila Fresh Crew) // 4. Bitch Iz a Bitch (N.W.A) // 5. Drink It Up (the Fila Fresh Crew) // 6. Panic Zone (N.W.A) // 7. L.A. Is the Place (Eazy-E & Ron-de-Vu) // 8. Dope Man (N.W.A) // 9. Tuffest Man Alive (the Fila Fresh Crew) // 10. Fat Girl (Eazy-E & Ron-de-Vu) // 11. 3 the Hard Way (the Fila Fresh Crew)

Never conventional N.W.A’s debut album is barely an album at all, but rather a collection of random-ass songs. Off course what are you expect when your ghetto-ass record label scraps some singles together and releases the fucker without your permission while you are on tour? This album is surely dominated by N.W.A with seven of the eleven tracks featuring some involvement by either the whole group or Eazy. It should be noted that most of the N.W.A tracks featured here would end up in superior remix capacity on either Str8 Outta Compton or Eazy’s Eazy-Duz-It.

Another notable act on here is the Fila Fresh Crew, which counted the D.O.C. among it’s ranks. As a whole this is a shoddy but promising album, but… the promising bit may just be retrospect talking. The sound is primitive and the songs are silly. Songs like L.A. Is the Place and Fat Girl, feature Eazy-E even giddier than usual spitting over some of the shittiest beatboxing since the dawn of hip-hop. Panic Zone is shitty Africa Bambaata impression.

The fact that all of the decent tracks are featured on other, better albums in better incarnations makes this one of the more inessential curiosity pieces out there. Unless you are a devout N.W.A stan who must own all things Eazy, you can just skip this one entirely and just start with Straight Outta Compton. It wouldn’t surprise me if not even Dr. Dre owns a copy of this anymore.

Best tracks
Boyz-n-da-Hood
8ball
Bitch Iz a Bitch
Dope Man

Recommendations
Go listen to Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-It, not this,


Digital Underground – This Is an EP Release

Digital Underground
This Is an EP Release
July 1, 1991
Tommy Boy Records/ Warner Bros. Records/ WMG
065/100
Digital Underground - This Is an EP Release
1. Same Song (feat. 2pac) // 2. Tie the Knot // 3. The Way We Swing [Remix] // 4. Nuttin’ this Funky // 5. Packet Man [Worth a Packet Remix] // 6. Arguin’ On da Funk

Sex Packets was some terrific stuff and left me wanting a chaser badly. This isn’t it. Although This Is an EP release isn’t without merit it seems mostly something cooked up by Tommy Boy records to make some quick cash by throwing together remixes, songs that may or may not be Sex Packets outtakes and a single taken from a soundtrack. While they were at it couldn’t they have thrown in the songs that were exclusively available on the casette version of Digital Underground’s debut album as well?

That said: This Is an EP Release is still hella fun to listen to when it’s on. The remix of Packet Man and Tie the Not take Digital Underground and blends it with Soul II Soul’s creating something more slick than you’re used to from these guys, to great effect.

Same Song taken from the Dan Aykroyd film Nothing But Trouble is also some good stuff with it’s electronic funk instrumental and 2pac’s atypically unthuggish blink-and-you’ll-miss it debut on record appearance. Ain’t Nothin’ this Funky hardly lives up to it’s title but is passable nonetheless.

Argiun’ On the Funk is Shock G and his alter ego arguing over a beat without so much as dropping a rhyme and doesn’t add anything to the Digital Underground catalogue, nor does the remix to The Way We Swing.

And then This is an EP Release is Over. With six tracks there isn’t much room for filler, but still there’s two tracks that are wholly inessential and one that walks the line. That leaves three dope cuts that might as well have been bonus tracks on Sex Packets or maybe Digital Underground’s Sons of the P. Considering that they weren’t this EP is still something every DU fan should check out.

Best tracks
Same Song, Packet Man [Worth a Packet Remix]

Recommendations
Beyond these two songs only real Digital Underground fans should spend money on this.


Digital Underground – Sex Packets

Digital Underground
Sex Packets
March 26, 1990
Tommy Boy Records/ Warner Bros. Records/ WMG
080/100
Digital Underground - Sex Packets
1. The Humpty Dance // 2. The Way We Swing // 3. Rhymin’ on the Funk // 4. The New Jazz (One) // 5. Underwater Rimes [Remix] // 6. Gutfest ’89 [Edit] // 7. The Danger Zone // 8. Freaks of the Industry // 9. Doowutchulike // 10. Packet Prelude // 11. Sex Packets // 12. Street Scene // 13. Packet Man // 14. Packet Reprise

Listening to Sex Packets it’s hard to believe that Digital Underground would go on to produce one of hip-hop’s biggest stars and most polarizing figures. It’s not just that there isn’t so much as a trace of 2pac’s actual haunting baritone on here, but stylistically Humpty Hump and his merry band of, um… well… band members don’t seem to be too preoccupied with writing pro feminist raps, tales of ghetto life and dissing the shit out of Bad Boy records. Although if we are to believe Wikipedia Digital Underground was initially supposed to be militant, political and spreading social awareness until Public Enemy chose to take possesion of that niche. Oh well.

If this story is true then it was Chuck D, Flava Flav and co. who freed the Underground’s hands to create a solid party record, owing more to George Clinton than they do to any hip-hop predecessor or contemporary. Digital Underground’s style is probably best described as the love child of George Clinton and Sir Mix-a-Lot. With Shock G being the schizofrenic ringleader, Money B being the second in command, DJ Fuze, Chopmaster J and a whole lot of others being regular players and so many people in the shifting stable of vocalists and musicians going in and out of the studio that it’s usually hard to figure out who’s present and who does what.

If you’re looking for enlightment, poetry or even well put-together flows Digital Underground isn’t for you. The album is filled with instructions of how to dance, party and have a good time in general as well as lots of goofy, surreal humor in the place of lyricism, not unlike what LMFAO does today. Shock G, the alpha male of the group oft resorts to the use of alternate personalities such as the nasally voiced goofball Humpty hump.

The intrumentals are also great throughout. Although within a couple of years after this album every rapper and his grandmother had spit over one or more of these Parliament-meets-Zapp beats one has to keep in mind that when Sex Packets came out it wasn’t yet as played out. Also Shock and his lieutenants don’t put in stale funk or lazy straightforward sampling.

If you are looking for a good natured party rap album that’s light and funky Sex Packets is definitely the way to go. Songs such as the Humpty DanceDoowutchalikeRhymin’ on the Funk and Underwater Rimes [Remix] are hella fun to listen to and overlooked hip-hop classics. And that more or less goes for the entirety of this consistently dope album. The good times are rollin’ and everyone is invited and advised to join in.

Best tracks
The Humpty Dance, Rhymin’ on the Funk, Underwater Rhimes [Remix], Doowutchyalike, Sex Packets

Recommendations
Buy this one.


The Fast and the Furious (OST)

Various Artists
The Fast and the Furious (OST)
June 5, 2001
Murder Inc. Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ UMG
050/100

1. Good Life [Remix] (Faith Evans feat. Ja Rule, Vita & Caddilac Tah) // 2. Pov City Anthem (Caddilac Tah) // 3. When a Man Does Wrong (Ashanti) // 4. Race Against Time II (Tank feat. Ja Rule) // 5. Furious (Ja Rule feat. Vita & 0-1) // 6. Take My Time Tonight (R. Kelly) // 7. Suicide (Scarface feat. Irv Gotti) // 8. The Prayer (Black Child) // 9. Tudunn Tudunn Tudunn (Funkmaster Flex feat. Noreaga) // 10. Hustlin’ (Fat Joe & Armageddon) // 11. Freestyle (Boo & Gotti) // 12. Rollin’ (Urban Assault Vehicle) (Limp Bizkit feat. DMX, Method man & Redman) // 13. Life Ain’t a Game (Ja Rule) // 14. Cali Diseaz (Shade Sheist feat. Nate Dogg) // 15. Didn’t I (Petey Pablo) 16. Put It On Me [Remix] (Ja Rule feat. Vita & Lil’ Mo) // 17. Justify My Love (Vita feat. Ashanti)

It’s a testament of Murder Inc. records’ popularity around the turn of the millenium that they were given the responsibility to create the soundtrack to the first volume in the series of underwhelming high budget Hollywood blockbuster films that seems to never stop spawning sequels that is the Fast and The Furious.

Since Irv Gotti was instrumental in bringing Jay-Z, DMX and Ja Rule to the general public one has to wonder what the hell happened to his tastes in rap music between those days and the moment Def Jam granted him his own label Murder Inc. Records. That was more or less the point I tried to make in my Irv Gotti Presents… the Murderers review. And it rings tue here too. Vita, Caddilac Tah and Black Child ruin an otherwise perfectly functional opening track: Faith Evans’ Good Life [Remix]. When they get to suck on their own the results are even worse. Pov City Anthem, The Prayer and Justify My Love are two instances of instantly skippable loudmouth wanksta rap and a ridiculous cover of a ridiculous Madonna song. Ja Rule himself doesn’t come off too well  either. Fuck You, lifted from his horrible sophomore album Rule 3:36, justifies DMX’s complaints about Ja taking his style and pissing all over it. Life Ain’t a Game has him sing-howling his way through a pseudo futuristic DaMizza beat. The one Rule joint here that warrant repeated listens is the radio edit of his hit single Put It On Me, which now includes Lil’ Mo. Since Ja’s 2000 solo album 3:36 includes an inferior Lil’ Mo-less version of the song there’s quite literally no reason to buy that. If anything that might give this album a raison d’être. And even that track is more of a “Haha, can you believe we used to listen to that shit ten years ago?” kind of guilty pleasure-y thing rather than an actual good song.

Luckily there’s more to it than Ja and Irv Gotti’s merry band of soon-to-be-stars this time around. Tank’s rendition of Ja Rule’s Race Against Time sounds pretty good. R. Kelly does his R. Kelly thing on Take My Time Tonight which will neither gain nor cost the man fans. Suicide has southern hip-hop veteran Scarface flip a line from Snoop Dogg’s Serial Killa to decent effectand for fansof Shade Sheist, Petey Pablo, Boo & Gotti, Terror Squad, Noreaga (you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of any of these artists, none of them are relevant any more) and fucking Limp Bizkit there’s something to be found here.

Production varies from decent (Suicide, Race Against Time) to horrible (Rollin’ (Urban Assault Vehicle), Life Ain’t A Game). And so does everything else. This makes for incredibly inessential listening. Still, for the Murder inc. Record label this was a step up after Irv Gotti presents… The Murderers and Rule 3:36. In part this has to do with the hired talent but also with their latest signee Ashanti and their new producer 7Aurelius. Perhaps Pain Is Love will be the first Murder Inc. Release since Venni Vetti Vecci that will not be a chore to listen to, huh?

Best tracks
Race Against Time II, Suicide, Put It On Me [Remix], *Good Life [Remix]

*Technically not on any edition of this soundtrack, but most likely found on a DJ Clue mixtape. Replaces the Ain’t No Nigga beat with a less distractingly familiar one. It also replaces bullshit Caddilac Tah and Vita verses with lukewarm but inoffensive Ja Rule.

Recommendations
Buy the above tracks off Amazon.