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.

Advertisements

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.