Public Enemy – Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age (August 23, 1994)

The last time we heard from PE was in 1992 with their half new material-half remixes album Greatest Misses. I thought it was almost a complete waste of wax (read my thoughts on the album here), but it was clearly just a little something to wet the mouths of PE fans and hold them over until the next full length project was ready. It took them three years, but Public Enemy would return in 1994 with their 5th full length release, cleverly (or ridiculous, depending on your point of view) titled, Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age.

The new Shocklee-less Bomb Squad (although Keith would help with a few tracks) would handle most of the production work on Muse Sick, with Chuck D holding down the vocals and Flava Flav playing court jester. Although Muse Sick was relatively successful, numbers wise (it earned PE a gold plaque), it received mix reviews and left fans and critics questioning the legendary group’s relevancy; including Def Jam, as this would be their final release on the monumental label.

As Posdnuos once said “Everybody cools off from being hot, it’s about if you can handle being cold or not”.

Whole Lotta Love Goin On In The Middle Of HellMuse Sick begins with a series of vocal samples (including a snippet from the hood classic, The Mack) before a male voice (maybe Tet, since the liner notes give him credit for “background vocals”) comes in to give an almost inaudible monologue about the year 2000 and the president of The New World Order declaring war against the last attempt to unite African people: “crackers and devils who are programmed on a superiority complex aimed to make game of the righteous and turn them into niggatrons” (“niggatrons” is hi-larious!). Then the stripped down Gary G-Wiz/Carl Ryder produced instrumental drops and Chuck D spits one verse in his signature preacher’s voice, rebuking his contemporaries and spreading his conscious gospel. The songs over before you can pronounce the full song title, but this was a dope way to kick things off.

Theatrical Parts – Interlude that bleeds directly into the next song…

Give It Up – This was the lead single from Muse Sick and the only song I remember from the album. G-Wiz and Carl Ryder are credited for the backdrop, which is built around a twangy guitar loop that Chuck continues to spew his anti “niggatron” rhymes over. I didn’t like this one at all back in the day, but it’s almost passable today.

What Side You On? – Over a decent up-tempo backdrop, Chuck’s asking the listener to choose a side. My favorite parts of the song are the thumpin’ bass line and the dope drum solo near the end.

Bedlam 13:13 – Bedlam: a scene of uproar and confusion. I’m not sure what the “13:13” part is about, but whatever. Over an eerie backdrop that sounds like a demonic force clashing with an angelic choir, Chuck D talks his shit (“Give Up Gotta Live up, to my name, triple double in the rap game”) and keeps it conscious (“I’m tearin’ down the house that Jack built, cause he killed whoever he wanted, and hunted, and taxed the backs of the environment macks, who plan, in the silence of the scams”). I didn’t care much for this one the first few listens, but it definitely sounds better the more you listen to it.

Stop In The Name… – Chuck spits one quick verse in his booming vocal over a hard drum beat with dark undertones.

What Kind Of Power We Got? –  Flavor Flav gets his first solo joint of the evening and it’s a doozy. I’m sorry, I meant snoozy. Flav has never been a great emcee (or should I say rapper, because I don’t think he ever really wrote his rhymes), but at least on past PE albums he was actually entertaining (see “911 Is A Joke”, “Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man, “A Letter To The New York Post”). He sounds absolutely horrid on this one, and his self-produced instrumental (with a co-credit going to Sleek, who also received a co-production credit for “What Side You On?”) is godawful.

So Whatcha Gone Do Now? – G-Wiz and C. Ryder create a laidback very unPE-like  instrumental for this one. Chuck D uses the melodic backdrop to denounce black on black crime and the worship of guns, drugs and money in the black community. Easily my favorite song on Muse Sick.

White Heaven/Black Hell – Sticking with the mellow vibes from the previous song, PE slows thing down even more with this mellow instrumental. Chuck delivers his bars in an almost nursery rhyme-like fashion, as he dedicates this one to the plight of the black man in America. I dug it.

Race Against Time – PE ramps the BPM’s and the energy level up from the previous song, as Chuck D matches its intensity with bars full of substance.

They Used To Call It Dope – Chuck spits a quick spoken word piece over very subdue drums.

Aintnuttin Buttersong – Tridash.

Live And Undrugged Pt 1 & 2 – Chuck and Sleek come together to create this rough instrumental that’s reminiscent of PE’s classic late eighties-early nineties records. Chuck rides the groove to perfection on part one and then spits a spoken word piece on the same beat for part 2. Dope.

Thin Line Between Law & Rape – On this one Chuck’s addressing the white man’s obsession with stealing shit from the black man, from his freedom (see the African Slave Trade), to his musical stylings. I love Chuck’s message, but the uninspired instrumental and Flavor Flav’s sloppily delivered hook, sink this ship very quickly.

I Ain’t Mad At All – Another very bad Flavor Flav solo joint. I’m still in shock that Keith Shocklee (hee…hee…hee) produced this embarrassingly bad instrumental.

Death Of A Carjacka -Chuck and company build the ill instrumental around an Isaac Hayes loop. I’m still trying to figure out if this is about an actual carjacking or if Chuck is speaking metaphorically. Either way, this beat bangs.

I Stand Accused – They smile in your face, all the time wanna take your place. Chuck’s addressing these backstabbers on this mid-tempo backdrop (with a co-production credit going to the underrated Easy Mo Bee). “Paybacks a crazy ass message, sent to the writers who criticize, they’re fuckin’ with a freedom fighter”. I like this one.

Godd Complexx – The third and final Flavor Flav solo joint, and probably the worst of the three.

Hitler Day – Now that’s a song title that will grab your attention immediately. Chuck goes after Columbus and his absurd claim to discovering America, because, how do you discover a land where people already live? Another strong message from Mr. D, I just wasn’t crazy about the rockish backdrop.

Harry Allen’s Interactive Super Highway Phone Call To Chuck D – All these years and I thought the Media Assassin, Harry Allen was a white dude. Thanks to Twitter, the other day I discovered he was a brother. Anyways…on this interlude Harry leaves a voicemail for Chuck discussing his theory on where the music business is headed, and he turns out to wax prophetic as a lot of the things he mentions have come to pass, which gave me goosebumps. He also mentions Q-Tip in his voicemail, so you can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Living In A Zoo (Remix) – The original version of this song was released on the CB4 Soundtrack in 1992. This remix sounds way more emptier than the o.g. mix.

Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age definitely has more to offer than PE’s previous “hold you over until our next real album is ready” release Greatest Misses. But even with it having more enjoyable songs than their previous release, it’s the first full length PE album that showed chinks in their once impenetrable armor. There are a few great production moments, but the majority is lackluster, Flavor Flav is annoying as shit, and even the head of the militant monster, Chuck D seems to have lost a step, or maybe just ran out of new ground to cover. To make matters worse, the 21 track count makes Muse Sick almost indigestible in one sitting. And if one were to sit and digest the entire album at once, he’s sure to become a… sick muse.

-Deedub

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Organized Konfusion – STRESS: The Extinction Agenda (August 16, 1994)

We first heard from the two man crew of Pharoahe Monch and Prince Poe, collectively known as Organized Konfusion, in 1991 when they dropped their self-titled debut album. Staying true to their Queens roots, the duo mixed boom-bap and jazzy loops with their abstract rhyming style, and even if they didn’t win commercially, the critics and fans loved them alike. My opinion of their debut album was different from the status quo, but whatever (if you are interested in my opinion on the album, click here). Organized Konfusion would return in 1994 with their sophomore effort STRESS: The Extinction Agenda.

Like their debut, OK would handle the bulk of the production duties on STRESS. They would also give an up and coming producer named Buckwild a shot (and I believe it was his first “professional” work) to produce three joints on the album. Like its predecessor, STRESS didn’t move a ton of units, but it did earn the twosome tons of critical acclaim (including an impressive 4.5 mics from The Source), and many deemed it a classic.

Let’s stroll down memory lane and see if STRESS is worthy of the “classic” title.

IntroSTRESS begins with a clunky instrumental that Pharoahe and Prince Poe use to spit the most abstract random shit that I’ve heard on an album Intro in a long time. It goes from Pharoahe talking about living with the “homeless and outcasts” to Poe giving the middle finger to “racist cabbies, waitresses, construction workers, bus drivers” etc. etc.  The first minute of this 2 minute Intro is Pharoahe repeating “I’m so confused”. My sentiments exactly.

Stress – This was the album’s lead single. Buckwild’s instrumental uses an epic horn loop that makes the whole thing sound colossal. Pharoahe and Poe bring it out even more with their preacher-like deliveries and confidence. This still sounds amazing.

The Extinction Agenda – I’m not crazy about OK’s instrumental, but it grows on you the more you listen to it. Pharoahe and Poe rap their abstract asses off on it, though.

Thirteen – Over a stripped down jazzy Buckwild produced instrumental (suitable for midnight marauding), Pharoahe goes dolo and rips the shit out of this track. He elegantly spits: “I’m no slave to a rhythm, I grip it, then I take its name and change its religion, then I chop the foot off the fuckin’ beat, for trying to escape the track now it’s obsolete”. Even though it gets kind of weird on the final verse when he invites his foes to suck his “dick from the back with a crazy straw”, this song was phenomenal.

Black Sunday – Organized uses the same Eugene McDaniels loop that the Gravediggaz used for “Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide”, and that ATCQ used first on Peoples Instinctive (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Poe and Pharoahe use the dark and drab backdrop to talk about their humble beginnings and their struggle to get in the rap game. Lyrically, the fellas came with it, but the instrumental is boring as shit. It’s amazing how two different producers can flip the same loop and get completely different results.

Drop Bombs – Short interlude with a passable instrumental that the fellas use to yell their chant on for about a minute and half.

Bring It On – Pharoahe and Poe are in battle mode as they boast about their mic abilities and invite any would be competitors to step up and bring it. Again, these dudes can rap their asses off, but their instrumental just sounds like noise to me.

Why – Buckwild gets his third and final production credit of the evening, bringing the energy down a bit with this jazzy mid-tempo groove. Pharoahe and Poe use it to pour out their hearts, sharing how the ladies in their lives tried to play them, as they rhetorically ask why on the hook. Heavy on the soul, light on the cheese: this is how a hip-hop love song should be done.

Let’s Organize –  Q-Tip (Tribe Degrees Of Separation: check again) stops by to add some adlibs and takes care of the hook, while Prince Poe, Pharoahe Monch and O.C. take care of the bars. The three emcees fair well on the mic, but it’s OK’s bouncy backdrop dripping with good vibes and Q-Tip’s contributions that make this record great. No matter when or how many times I listen to this song it always feels good.

3-2-1 – Organized Konfusion keeps the good times rolling, as they loop up the same Blue Mitchell sample that Jazzy Jeff hooked up for FP on “Ain’t No Place Like Home” from the Home Base album, but was first used on MC Trouble’s (rip) “Big Ol’ Jazz” from the House Party 2 Soundtrack. Anyways, I love the instrumental and Pharoahe and Poe sound cool spittin’ on it. This is another one that I can put on repeat and never get tired of the soulful good vibes it emanates.

Keep It Koming – Organized puts toothpicks in their mouths and pimp strut all over this smooth groove. This is some cool hip shit. Can you dig it?

Stray Bullet – Before Nas made “I Gave You Power” and 2pac made “Me and My Girlfriend”, Organized Konfusion had “Stray Bullet”. In fine detail, Pharoahe and Poe each spit a verse coming from the perspective of a stray bullet and chronicle it’s journey into its victim. OK’s gloomy instrumental makes you feel a bit uneasy and impatiently await the lurking doom. This was dope.

Maintain – The final song of the evening finds the duo discussing the struggle of just trying to keep their heads above water in this life: “Poppa always told meeee, be all you can beeeeee…and maintain”. Rockwilder’s credited with the somber backdrop built around an ill piano loop that serves as the perfect canvas for P&P’s vulnerable rhymes. I distinctly remember shoveling the snow at my parent’s house while listening to this song in my Walkman in the winter of ’95. Time is illmatic, and this was the perfect way to end STRESS.

STRESS starts off sluggish, but heats up by the midway point and ends on fire. The sluggish start has nothing to do with Pharoahe and Poe’s rhymes, but more so their mediocre production work (the two Buckwild produced tracks are the only thing that keep the first half of STRESS from being a production snorefest). By halftime, OK finds their production footing and (along with 1 more Buckwild produced track) turns the rest of STRESS into musical bliss. I wouldn’t call STRESS a classic, but the second half is good enough to make it a solid album. Feel free to kill me in the comments, but I’m sticking to my story.

-Deedub

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Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep (August 9, 1994)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this post off by saying rest in peace to Richard “Bushwick Bill” Shaw. Rest easy, black man. 

The Gravediggaz are an offshoot group consisting of Frukwan (formerly of Stetsasonic) aka The Gatekeeper, Poetic aka The Grym Reaper, Wu-Tang Clan founder and defacto leader, Rza aka The RZArector and another former member of Stetsasonic and the unofficial forth member of De La Soul (which is a part of The Native Tongue collective that, yep you guessed it, A Tribe Called Quest is also a part of (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check), Prince Paul. They are credited for creating the horrorcore sub-genre, which pretty much consists of dark production mixed with spooky death themed rhymes. The Gravediggaz would release their debut album, 6 Feet Deep in the summer of 1994.

The master of conceptual albums, Prince Paul, is responsible for the vision and most of  6 Feet Deep‘s production, as the liner notes credit him as the album’s “Overseer”. The album would receive favorable review, and even though the sells weren’t great, over the years it has developed a cult like following.

Or should I say occult.

Side note: The European release of 6 Feet Deep was cleverly titled Niggamortis and included the bonus track “Pass The Shovel”.

Just When You Thought It Was Over (Intro)6 Feet Deep opens with this super short Intro, welcoming the listener to the album.

Constant Elevation – The first song of the evening finds Grym Reaper and Gatekeeper exchanging creepy verses before Rza swoops in to wrap things up on the song’s final verse. Prince Paul builds the instrumental around a slightly zany off-kilter piano loop, which serves as the perfect canvas for the three emcee’s colorful rhymes. I’m not sure what the song title has to do with their content, but this was pretty entertaining.

Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide – This was the second single from the album, and my first introduction to the Gravediggaz. Reaper, Gatekeeper and Rza take turns mixing horrorcore verbiage (“the crazy, maniac, yo, lunatic, I circle like a shark when the fresh blood drips”) with comical punchlines (“Me being wack, is like naps on Kojak”). Prince Paul recycles the same Eugene McDaniels’ loop that ATCQ used for the interludes on Peoples Instinctive (there’s another Tribe Degrees of Separation for dat ass!) for the instrumental, which is a great loop for a horrorcore group’s backing music. The liner notes credit Kurious for “Guest Spook Vocals”. Must have been his ghost, because I definitely didn’t hear him on this track.

Detective Trip (Trippin’) – Prince Paul hooks up a jazzy backdrop with an ill dark guitar riff, while the rest of the fellas discuss their drugs of choice and the “trip” they send them on. If you don’t dig (no pun intended) this one the first time around, it will definitely grow on you after a few listens. This time around, the liner notes credit Biz Markie and MC Serch as “Guest Spook Vocalists”. Hit me in the comments if you know what this whole “Spook Vocalist” thing is about.

2 Cups Of Blood – Prince Paul lays down the dark, raw and minimal instrumental that Rza and Grym Reaper tag team and terrorize for approximately a minute and a half. This is the prelude for the next song…

Blood Brothers – Gatekeeper joins his Gravedigging brethren on this one, which is only right, since it’s all about the brotherhood. He also gets credit for the serious mid-tempo instrumental. This was dope.

360 Questions – A quick interlude that has Gravediggaz Stans asking seven random questions about the group. A few of the questions won’t make since until you listen a little further into the album, but more on that in a minute. The last question (“Who killed Tommy’s boy?”) is a jab at Tommy Boy Records, to which all four of the Gravediggaz were signed to at some point.

1-800 Suicide – This was the third and final single released from 6 Feet Deep. The Gatekeeper, Grym Reaper and Rza use Prince Paul’s equally dark, somber and soulful backdrop to give that extra push to those contemplating suicide and suggestions on how to seal the deal if you need it. Even with its comical undertones, this is some dark demented shit that would never see the light of day in today’s sensitive climate. Call me sick, but I found it entertaining (especially Rza’s verse).

Diary Of A Madman – This was the lead single from 6 Feet Deep. The production on this one is credited to Rza, RNS and Prince Paul, but it has Rza’s fingerprints all over it. The dim mid-tempo instrumental is punctuated by a spooky vocal loop of a female choir ensemble that haunts the track, beautifully. The Gravediggaz, along with Wu-Tang affiliates, Shabazz the Disciple and Killah Priest (whose name I always confuse with the O.G. Wu-Tang Clansmen, Masta Killa), each take turns to spew the most sick and vile rhymes they can think of. The answers to a few of the questions asked during the “360 Questions” interlude get answered here, which is why it would have made more sense to move this song up earlier in the album’s sequencing or place the interlude later.

Mommy, What’s A Gravedigga? – Prince Paul hooks up an ill Patrice Rushen guitar loop for the instrumental, as each of the GD’s spit no more than eight bars, and the song ends just as your head starts to get a solid bob going.

Bang Your Head – I don’t know what’s worse about this song: the generic instrumental or the annoying hook. Either way, I absolutely despise this song.

Here Comes The Gravediggaz – This is the only track on 6 Feet Deep that one of the Gravediggaz didn’t have a hand in the production (the credit goes to Mr. Sime). It makes for a decent filler song.

Graveyard Chamber – This is another one that I knew Rza produced the moment I heard the beat drop (the dusty drums and dark piano loop are a (no pun intended) dead giveaway). He, Gatekeeper and the Reaper, are joined by Dreddy Krueger (who sounds like a poor man’s Ghostface Killah and is an obvious candidate for worst Moniker), Scientific Shabazz, and making his second appearance of the evening, Killah Priest, who spits the illest line of the song when he threatens to “dig through your chest like a jar of Vaseline”. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but it’s solid and fits within the album’s dark theme.

Deathtrap – Masta Ace makes a guest appearance as he provides the intro spoken word for this one. Gatekeeper, RZA and Reaper each get a verse and share different scenarios that led random people to stumble into the grips of death. I love Prince Paul’s instrumental, which works perfectly with the crew’s content.

6 Feet Deep – Over off beat drums and a drunken piano loop, The GD’s give us one last outrageously psychotic song for the road. And the hook is super catchy.

Rest In Peace (Outro) – Over rough drums and an Albert King loop that Prince Paul puts an evil spell on, Rza, both literally and figuratively, shouts out his Gravedigga bredrin, random people, song titles from the album and other random thoughts. Fittingly, the song fades out with a vocal sample of someone singing “someday you are going to die”, driving home the album’s theme, while leaving the listener with an eerie feeling and pondering if these dudes were joking the entire album or dead serious (pun intended).

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, or an album by its cover artwork. 6 Feet Deep is definitely one of those occasions. Under Prince Paul’s directive the Gravediggaz stay true to the album’s death obsessed theme, with The Gatekeeper, Grym Reaper and Rza (and their guests) providing colorfully morbid rhymes over dark and spooky production work. With the exception of “Bang Your Head” and a minor misstep in the track sequencing (see “360 Questions”), 6 Feet Deep is a very well thought out, executed and entertaining listen. Some may take offense or be uncomfortable with the album’s dark and sometimes controversial content, but it’s all in jest. Or is it?

-Deedub

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Boogiemonsters – Riders Of The Storm: The Underwater Album (August 2, 1994)

Just like Top Quality, Dred Scott, The UMC’s and Ill Al Skratch, the Boogiemonsters are another group that came on scene and, as Nas once said, “popped for a minute, spit a sentence” then the game got rid of them. The four man crew (consisting of Vex, Mondo, Yodared and Myntric) met while attending Virginia State University. The fellas clicked, decided to formed a group and begin working on demos and doing shows around campus. They continued to work the college scene and eventually struck a deal with Pendulum/EMI where they would release their debut album, Riders Of The Storm: The Underwater Album in 1994.

The Boogiemonsters would render most of the production duties to the relatively unknown producer Derek Jackson (who goes by the alias “D!”), with The LG Experience (remember him from the Ill Al Skratch post?) lending some help on a handful of tracks. The album didn’t move a ton of units or receive a lot of praise, but it did gain a cult-like following from some of the true heads.

And I’m one of them.

Jugganauts – Juggernaut: A huge, powerful and overwhelming force or institution. I don’t know if this song supports that definition, but Vex, Mondo and them other two dudes sound nice spitting their abstract rhymes over the thumpin’ bass line, beautiful strings and melodic groove.

Recognized Thresholds Of Negative Stress – This was the first single from Riders Of The Storm. Vex and Mondo use D!’s ill backdrop to discuss membranes, cytoplasm, electro spectroscopic storms, the impending apocalypse, and the frustration of having Nikes that don’t match your gear. You know, real nerd shit. But when you have an instrumental as dope as this, you could rap about the elements on the periodic table and it would still sound good. By the way, I absolutely love the organ sample (or is it played live?) sprinkled throughout song.

Boogie – The Boogiemonsters keep the good times rollin’ with this one. D! (with a co-production credit going to the Boogiemonsters) hooks up a smooth up-tempo-feel-good groove that Vex and Mondo flex their abstract styling all over. Side note: Scott Storch is credited for the keyboard play on this one.

Muzic Appreciation (Sweet Music) – The first solo joint of the evening goes to Vex. D! slows things down with this beautifully soulful backdrop that Vex uses to express his affection for his first and only love, music. Vex cleverly compares music to a woman as he raps “I wish I could undress her, I wish I could caress her, like she does my soul, but I am so much lesser, she’s always there for me when I need her like my moms, relaxin’ all my drama, I come into her arms”. Sometimes all you need is one verse to get your point across, and Vex does just that with this one.

Mark Of The Beast – Shit just got REAL serious, folks. Vex and Mondo dive deep into the book of Revelation and discuss the apocalypse, the rapture and the mark of the beast. You don’t know what the mark of the beast is? Go read the book of Revelation then, foo! The Boogiemonsters are credited for the bleak instrumental, which matches the song’s content, perfectly.

Altered States Of Consciousness – Thankfully, D! lightens up the mood with this breezy mid-tempo bop (that borrows part of its bass line from The Gap Band’s “Outstanding”). I think all four members contribute verses to this one, but sometimes it’s hard to tell, since Vex is the only member with a unique rap voice. Their rhymes are all over the place, but the soulful backdrop will keep you entertained.

Honeydips In Gotham – The second single from the album finds the Boogiemonsters rapping praises to all the fly sistas in the city over a fly melodic instrumental. This one was definitely inspired by ATCQ’s “Bonita Applebum” (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check); not only in content, but the “wah wah” loop the instrumental is built around sounds a lot like the background noise that Q-Tip is speaking over at the beginning of “Bonita Applebum” (go ahead and listen to both of them…I’ll wait). I remember a remix of this song around a loop of the Isley Brothers’ “Living For The Love Of You”. It was cool, but doesn’t compare to the original.

Strange – I believe this was the third single released from Riders Of The Storm. D! hooks up another bangin’ bass line and throws in a slick Cameo vocal sample, as Vex and Mondo continue to dish out their abstract one-two punch.

Old Man Jacob’s Well – This may be the saddest hip-hop song ever created. The somber instrumental creates the mood for the BM’s to go inside the psyche of a serial killer named Old Man Jacob, whose killed 14 kids and is looking for his 15th victim. The first verse introduces the listener to the self-loathing psychopath, but the second verse is probably the hardest to listen to, as we hear the little boy that will soon become Old man Jacob’s next victim get abducted. The song ends with Old Man Jacob indulging in more self-loathing and almost trying to justify his actions, as he disposes of the child’s body in his well. It’s a painful listen (even harder today since I’m now a father), but good music should evoke your emotions, whether good, bad, or indifferent.

Bronx Bombas – I’m not sure if there is a way to smoothly transition out of the morbid subject matter from the previous song, but the Boogiemonsters chose to hit us with a Mondo solo joint. D! provides a dope groove, dripping with good vibes and West Coast sensibilities, for Mondo to spit one quick verse about a night at a club that quickly turns into a rap battle. He never says if he won the battle or not, but D! damn sure wins with this instrumental.

Salt Water Taffy (Slo Jam) – More of the usual: Decent rhymes and beautiful production (Scott Storch gets his second keyboard credit of the evening on this one).

Riders Of The Storm – The BM’s throw their jazzy melodic formula out the window on this one. D! (with a co-production credit going to the Boogiemonsters) hooks up a hectic paced backdrop with another thumpin’ bass line, as all four members spit a verse, and I think they each invited a cousin to spit a verse as well. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but still solid.

Recognized Thresholds Of Negative Stress (Stressless Mix) – The instrumental for this remix is very soothing, pleasing to the ear, and makes for a great ending to the album.

The Boogiemonsters rhyming style may be too eclectic and abstract for some hip-hop fans (though I personally think Vex and Mondo are competent emcees; and Vex would only get sharper by the time their sophomore effort rolled around), and I’ll give you that. But there is absolutely no way you can front on the production work on Riders Of The Storm. D!along with the Boogiemonsters and friends, craft a nearly flawless batch of instrumentals, that will make you feel the full gamut of emotions. If anything, they could have done a better job of mixing it, as sometimes the vocals sound drowned out by the music (or maybe that was intentional, playing off the whole “Underwater Album” thing), but even with that minor discrepancy, Riders Of The Storm is a great debut by the Boogiemonsters, that even A Tribe Called Quest would be proud of.

-Deedub

 

 

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Ill Al Skratch – Creep Wit’ Me (August 2, 1994)

The first time I heard the name Ill Al Skratch, I immediately thought he was a deejay. It wasn’t until after seeing the video for “Where My Homiez?” that I realized Ill Al Skratch was a duo, consisting of Brooklyn native Big Ill (“Ill” being an acronym for I Lyrical Lord) and Harlem’s own, Al Skratch. This is a misunderstanding that a simple ampersand placed between Ill and Al could have cleared up, but whatever. Al started in the game as a DJ and then morphed into an emcee after a few different group situations didn’t work out. While working on his solo demo, Al met Big Ill (who was already gaining momentum in New York for a freestyle he kicked at a Big Daddy Kane party, where he apparently dissed the party’s host, and a feature in The Source‘s once highly coveted “Unsigned Hype” column (June of 1993 issue)) at a studio working on his demo as well with a producer named LG The Experience (who is the younger brother to Easy Mo Bee). Al would bless Ill’s demo and things would progress until the two formed a group and eventually inked a deal with Mercury Records, where they would release their debut album, Creep Wit’ Me in the summer of 1994.

For Creep Wit’ Me, Ill (who is Puff Daddy’s doppelganger) and Al would call on LG The Experience and Lorider to handle the album’s production work from beginning to end. The album produced a couple of well-received singles, but shockingly didn’t move enough units to earn the duo a gold plaque, which the group has openly blamed on Mercury for not giving the album the proper promotion to make it a commercial success.

But here at TimeIsIllmatic, we don’t care about commercial success. We’re only interested in if the music is good or not.

Random Factoid: Ill Al Skratch were tapped by Michael Jackson himself to spit a verse on the remix for “They Don’t Care About Us” from his HIStory album.

They Got Love For Us – A simple Intro with Ill and Al performing their first single “Where My Homiez?” live, to very receptive crowd, hence the reason they used it for the album.

Where My Homiez? (Come Around My Way) – This was the lead single from Creep Wit’ Me. Big Ill and Al Skratch send this out to each other and the rest of their homeboys. LG and Lorider build the instrumental around an interpolation of Barry White’s “Playing Your Game, Baby” and chase it with a touch of r&b; and it goes down pretty smooth. Neither Ill nor Al display great lyricism, but the catchy hook and smooth groove help qualify this as a hip-hop classic in my book.

This Is For My Homiez – Sticking with the “homiez” theme, the storyline for this one has Al free on the streets while his buddy Ill is incarcerated, leaving them both with a bad case of the lonelies. As the story goes, this was actually the demo that Ill was working on the first time he met Al, and “Where My Homiez?” is subsequently the remix for this song, which explains the similar hook, melodies and adlibs. LG and Lorider use the same formula as the o.g. version, this time using an interpolation of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Devotion” and giving it a hip-hop twist. The instrumental is a cool melodic groove, but the content is repetitive and should have at least been placed later in the album’s sequencing.

I’ll Take Her – This was the second single from Creep Wit’ Me. Ill and Al were clearly looking to win over the female fans with this one by bringing in Brian McKnight to sing the hook and adlibs, while our hosts boast about snatching up your chick if you don’t treat her right, over a heavily r&b flavored instrumental and a clever EPMD vocal sample. Speaking of Brian McKnight and snatching up the next man’s chick, my brother actually lost a girl to Mr. McKnight back in the day, but that’s a story for another day. This one may be too r&b for some of you hardcore hip-hop heads, but I liked this one back in the day and I still enjoy it 25 years later.

Chill With That – Ill and Al talk their shit over this solid mid-tempo bop. That’s all I got.

Where My Homiez? (Come Around My Way) (Dub Version) – Ill and Al wrap up the first half of Creep Wit’ Me, completing their three piece “Homiez” Suite with this dub mix of the original.

Creep Wit’ Me – The title track finds our hosts along with their guest Mike Real doing their best Onyx impersonation, and as you probably expected, it’s mad corny. To add insult to injury, the instrumental is way too clean and melodic for the fellas aggressive animated antics.

Get Dough – What would a hip-hop album be without an ode to making money (and another rapper misquoting I Timothy 6:10, this time by Al Skratch)? Our hosts invite the incredibly dope and underrated vocalist, Lisa Fischer to sprinkle some adlibs and sing the hook on this one. I would have loved to hear her sing a verse over this slick instrumental, but the song is still solid, as is.

Uptown Connection – Zoundwavez and LRC join Ill and Al on this cipher joint, and the hosts rap circles around their guests. But the true standout on this one is the dope LG/Lorider instrumental. I absolutely love the organ breaks on it.

Classic Shit (Ill’s Solo) – Ill gets the first solo joint of the evening, and he’s talkin’ big shit in a distorted vocal tone over a decent backdrop. On his final verse, Ill spits what may have inspired the late great Big Pun’s iconic “Little Italy” verse from “Twinz”: “Even if you’re large I’m breakin’ you down little, and brittle, it’s not a riddle, your shittle, be in a hospital” (your thoughts?). The instrumental is a little subdued for Ill’s aggressive rhymes, but it’s still a decent listen.

Summertime (It’s All Good) (Al’s Solo) – Al uses his solo joint to celebrate summer time in New York city, which pretty much revolves arounds the ladies. LG and Lorider attempt to capture that breezy summertime feel with the instrumental, but it comes off cheesy, and the singing on the hook borders on annoying.

I’ll Take Her (Brian’s Flow) – This a dub mix of the 0.g. mix with just Brian McKnight’s adlibs and hook. It would have dope to hear BM add a couple of verses to the track, but that didn’t happen. And we’re done.

Creep Wit’ Me feels like Ill and Al knew they had two hot singles (in “Where My Homiez?” and “I’ll Take Her”) and then added the rest of the tracks just to fill out an album (which might explain why they felt the need to also include the dub tracks for the first two singles). Neither Ill nor Al are superb lyricists (but Ill is clearly the stronger emcee of the two) and their subject matter is extremely limited, but LG and Lorider rescue what could have been a potential train wreck with some pretty solid production work. LG and Lorider create their own unique sound, blending soul breaks with hip-hop sensibilities and sprinkle a futuristic sophistication on it. Creep Wit’ Me is a decent debut, and entertaining enough to peak my interest to listen to its follow-up.

-Deedub

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MC Eiht Featuring CMW – We Come Strapped (July 19, 1994)

In 1992, Compton’s Most Wanted released their third album, Music To Driveby, which in my opinion is the group’s magnum opus (read my thoughts on the album here), at least from their nineties catalog, as I stopped following them as the last millennium came to a close. Music To Driveby would also be the last album until 2000 that the CMW collective would release an album under the CMW name. In 1993, MC Eiht was tapped to contribute a song for the Menace II Society Soundtrack as a solo artist. His song, “Streiht Up Menace” (which was produced by one of his CMW partner DJ Slip), would go on to be the second single and easily the biggest hit from the album. Riding high off the success of “Streiht Up Menace”, MC Eiht would sign a solo deal with Epic (CMW’s first three albums were released on the independent label Orpheus with distribution for the last two through Epic) and release his debut solo album (even though the title reads “MC Eiht featuring CMW”) We Come Strapped in the summer of 1994.

Gone are the usual CMW album production suspects, DJ Unknown and DJ Mike T. For We Come Strapped Eiht would rely on himself, DJ Slip, along with Ric Roc for the production, with a co-arrangement credit going to Willie Z, whose responsible for all the keyboard work on the album. Even though the previous three CMW albums were critical darlings, We Come Strapped would be the first album to earn Eiht and crew a gold plaque.

I haven’t listened to We Come Strapped in years, but if my memory serves me correct, I enjoyed the album back in the day. Let’s see how it’s held up over the years.

Niggaz That Kill (Endolude)We Come Strapped opens with a slow building dark synth instrumental and Eiht setting the tone for the album, as he spits one quick verse, warning anyone within earshot that you can get shot for fuckin’ with CMW. Eiht has one of the smoothest vocal tones in hip-hop history, but he does make one minor misstep when he says “Like a dope fiend I steal to your fuckin’ jaw, left connects than I switch to the southpaw” (for those who didn’t catch it, “southpaw” is slang for being “left-handed”). Despite that minor infraction, this is an entertaining intro that Eiht and crew cleverly subtitle “Endolude” (the first of several), paying homage to their favorite weed strand.

Def Wish III (Intro) – I’m pretty sure the soundbites in this intro are from the movie Deep Cover. Correct me in the comments if I’m wrong.

Def Wish III – MC Eiht gives us part three of his “Def Wish” series, as he continues his feud with fellow Comptonite rival, DJ Quik. Eiht lands some decent blows (I love the line about “DJ Quik in a khaki bikini”, which is a hi-larious visual), and it was pretty gangsta to hear Eiht instruct the “bitches” to sing the hook at the end of his final verse, to which they (well, “she”…the liner notes only credits a Carla Evans, so they must have just stacked her vocals to make it sound like a group of girls) quickly oblige. The instrumentation on this was pretty dope as well.

Take 2 With Me – Eiht and crew slow things way down, as our host paints a cinematic tale of a shootout with the cops that gets rather bloody. The slick instrumental sounds like the perfect theme music for a 2am drive-by.

All For The Money – This was the lead single from We Come Strapped. CMW loops up a slick sample from Tyrone Davis’ “In The Mood” (that the Beatnuts also used on Street Level‘s “Lick The Pussy”), as Eiht continues to spew out gangsta tales of crime and violence, luring the listener in with his smooth, always composed vocal that sounds like a percussion soloing over the smooth groove he, DJ Slip and Willie Z created. This one still sounds amazing 25 years later.

Compton Cyco – Eiht goes on a murder spree over this hard DJ Slip instrumental. This is what gangsta rap is supposed to sound like. Geah!

Niggaz Make The Hood Go Round – Eiht discusses the happenings in the hood as evidence to his theory that “niggas” are responsible for keeping the hood alive. Even though they don’t credit it, the instrumental definitely uses a dark interpolation of The Stylistics’ “People Make The World Go Around”, and I love the funky breakdown at the end of the song. This was dope.

Nuthin’ But High (Endolude) – Eiht takes a mid-album break to get high all over Willie Z’s smooth keys on this short but tasty interlude endolude.

We Come Strapped – CMW has always respected DJ Premier’s production work, giving him shoutouts in their album liner notes and on wax, and also using some of the same loops that he’s flipped (which is why it wasn’t a big surprise to hear Eiht and Premo team up for Eiht’s 2017 release, Which Way Iz West, with Premo serving as the executive producer and producing a portion of the album’s songs). For this title track, CMW incorporates the intro from Johnny Hammond’s “Big Sur Suite” that Premo earlier used on Daily Operation‘s “24-7/365” interlude. Eiht continues to spit his “gangsta shit” as Willie Z and DJ Slip mix the “Big Sur Suite” loop with the signature West Coast synth siren sound. Not a terrible song, but definitely one of the less potent joints on the album.

Can I Still Kill It – This is part two to CMW’s “Can I Kill It” from their second album Straight Checkn ‘Em. Over low-key laid back synth keys, Eiht is once again on a hoe stroll, looking for a chick that’s down to let him go up in her “like a Mack truck” and squeeze on yo’ ass and grab yo’ tits”. Eiht definitely sounded more entertaining the first time around (although it was pretty funny to hear him boast “pussy so big that I can’t even feel it, but fuck it, Imma still kill it”) and this instrumental doesn’t hold a flame to the slick Teddy Pendergrass loop used on part one.

Goin’ Out Like Geez – Eiht picks up where he left off at on “All For The Money”, spinning another gangsta tale over an epic synth instrumental. It would have been dope to hear a MC Eiht/Spice 1 collaborative album with the two of them spittin’ gangsta tales over epic instrumentals like this one (I know they released The Pioneers album in 2004 (which I will check out someday), but that was way after their prime years). But even without Spice 1, Eiht entertains with this one.

Nuthin’ But The Gangsta – Speaking of Spice 1, he and an unlikely guest, Redman, stop by to join MC Eiht on this one, as they celebrate the gangsta within. Compared to Eiht and Spice 1’s verses, Redman’s sticks out like a sore thumb, but that contrast along with his word play, help him steal the show, similar to what he did on EPMD’s classic cipher joint “Head Banger”. Willie Z plays the perfect keys to create the beautifully melodic backdrop for the threesome to get busy over. Well done.

Hard Times – This is a throw away joint that could of have been left off the album.

Compton Bomb – On this one, Eiht uses CMW’s music as a metaphor for weed, and everybody wants a hit: “even Caucasians, dip in they savings, to come and get the funky shit on special occasions”. Willie Z does it again, tapping out some beautiful keys, and Josh Achzinger adds some slick guitar licks to perfect the instrumentation and back up the boastful song title.

2 Tha Westside (Endolude) – Over a breezy backdrop, Eiht shouts out his people, bringing We Come Strapped to an end.

For We Come Strapped, MC Eiht and CMW dump the traditional sample-based production style that dominated their first three releases, for a more synthesized live instrumentation sound. I don’t know if they were just looking to experiment or were tired of paying out the ass for sample clearances, but whatever the reason, most of this shit sounds dope. MC Eiht doesn’t cover any new territory, delivering more gangsta tales in his signature smooth laid back vocal tone, which works perfect within the scheme of the album’s instrumentals. In my opinion, Music To Driveby is still CMW’s best work, but We Come Strapped  is another solid project in CMW’s underappreciated catalog.

-Deedub

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Coolio – It Takes A Thief (July 19, 1994)

I actually met Coolio about ten years ago chillin’ in a random Minneapolis bowling alley in the dead of winter. Strange, right? I first became familiar with Coolio’s music when the South Central L.A. born-Compton transplant was part of WC & The M.A.A.D. Circle (yes, W.C. as in a third of Westside Connection). On their 1991 debut album Ain’t A Damn Thang Changed (which I had on cassette back in the day and am actively looking for a reasonably priced CD copy), Coolio played Flava Flav to Dub-C’s Chuck D, but with better rhyming ability and more substance than the clock-wearing jester, and at times actually outshined (if not also out rhymed) his leader on the album. Ain’t A Damn Thang Changed failed commercial, which made W.C. temporarily step away from the game, but he encouraged Coolio to pursue a solo career. Coolio would do just that, recording a demo to shop around and soon would land a deal with Tommy Boy Records, where he would release his debut album It Takes A Thief in the summer of 1994.

Coolio would recruit his homie Dobbs The Wino (which is a hi-larious moniker) to produce most of the album, with help from a few others, including Coolio’s old M.A.A.D. circle bredrin, DJ Crazy Toones (rip). Thanks in large part to the hit single “Fantastic Voyage” (more on that in a bit), It Takes A Thief would earn Coolio a platinum plaque and spark his run of commercial success in the mid-nineties.

I found a copy of  It Takes A Thief a few years back in the dollar bins, and have not listened to it in its entirety until now, but I do remember some of the singles and videos from the album. Hopefully, some the hunger that drew me to Coolio in his M.A.A.D. Circle days was still present in the mist of his newly found crossover success.

Fantastic VoyageIt Takes A Thief opens with, what I’ll call, the second biggest hit in Coolio’s catalog. Dobbs The Wino loops up Lakeside’s classic of the same name, while Coolio raps about a place free of drama, worry, poverty and violence (which is a bit confusing, considering in his opening bars he instructs the homies to “grab your gat with the extra clip” to take on this voyage). The Lakeside jacking was kind of lazy (and even though the liner notes doesn’t credit it, I swear Dobbs also uses portions of Vaughan Mason & Crew’s “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll”), but Coolio’s personality combined with the catchy hook, bouncy backdrop and thick bass line, make this pop hit hard to resist, no matter how hard you try.

County Line – I vaguely remember this song and video back in the day, but I had no idea it was the lead single from It Takes A Thief. Coolio uses this one to comically layout his scheme to scam the system for Government assistance at the county office, even though he’s a recognizable rapper (people are asking him for his autograph while he waits in line) with a record out. Coolio’s storyline actually has a few funny moments, but Dobbs skeleton instrumental is too empty to bring his rhymes to life.

Mama, I’m In Love Wit A Gangsta – Apparently this was the fourth and final single released from It Takes A Thief, but I’ve never heard it before today. Coolio plays an incarcerated murderer going back and fourth with his baby mama (played by LeShaun) through phone calls and letters, as they struggle to keep their family together, but LeShaun’s undying love (no pun intended) for Coolio will give her the strength she needs to wait on her locked down lover. The song opens with a loop from Roy Ayers “Mystic Voyage” (that FP & Jazzy Jeff’ used on “Just Kickin’ It” from the Code Red album, and J Rock’s “Don’t Sleep On Me” from his lone release, Streetwize), which I thought for sure would morph into another loop from the same song (like the two previous songs mentioned), but when the beat drops, Dobbs uses a dope Isley Brothers loop instead, and it’s a masterful thing of beauty.

Hand On My Nutsac – Coolio stays true to his East Coast roots with this one, as Dobbs hooks up a smooth mid-tempo bop for our host to talk his shit on. It took me a few listens to get it, but Coolio and Dobbs (on the production) do their thing on this one.

Ghetto Cartoon (Includes Cleo’s Mood) – Coolio borrows Ice Cube’s “A Gangsta’s Fairytale” blueprint, but instead of using nursey rhyme characters, he uses cartoon characters. Unfortunately, Coolio’s version isn’t anywhere near as entertaining as Cube’s, and Dobb’s instrumental sounds like Bomb Squad dud.

Smokin’ Stix – Coolio dedicates this one to the drug he affectionately calls stix, which is embalming fluid mixed with sherm. Dobbs’ builds a solid instrumental around a loop from BT Express’ “You Got It, I Want It” (it could have been super dope if he would have incorporated the break he brings in at the end of the song throughout the rest of the song, but whatever), but I wasn’t crazy about this song.

Can-O-Corn – Our host relives his humble beginnings on this one, recalling the days of his childhood when he was so poor all he had to eat was a can of corn. Dobbs loops up a portion of Rufus’ “An Everlasting Love” and Joe Blow (which is a great alias for a percussionist) adds live horns, creating the perfect instrumental for Coolio’s sad heartfelt testimony. Side note: a portion of Coolio’s verse was used in Poetic Justice, as part of Lucky’s (played by 2pac) cousin, Khalil’s demo tape. Speaking of Poetic Justice, rest in peace to John Singleton, the writer and director of that movie and several other black cinema classics.

U Know Hoo! – Coolio reunites with WC and Crazy Toones, as they rep for their crew and the west coast. Coolio and Dub-C sound decent enough, but Crazy Toones’ instrumental lacks the energy needed to make their verses pop.

It Takes A Thief – This title track takes the album down a dark road, as Coolio pivots from charismatic clown to a cold calculated criminal that will do what it takes, including kill you, to survive. Dobb’s dark and emotional backdrop serves as the perfect canvas for Coolio’s menacing rhymes that are bound to leave you feeling uneasy and wanting to invest in a gun to protect you and yours. Great song.

Bring Back Somethin Fo Da Hood – This one did nothing for me.

N Da Closet – Dobbs builds this emotional backdrop around a loop of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” that our host uses to discuss his bout with coke and crack. In a genre that does a lot of “macho man” posturing, its always refreshing to hear an emcee being honest and vulnerable about his life struggles. Well done, Coolio.

On My Way To Harlem – I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out the meaning and purpose of this one. This was clearly filler material that should have been scrapped.

Sticky Fingers – Sticking to the album’s theme, our host uses this one to boast about his gift to gaffle. Coolio’s rhymes aren’t nearly as “pearl-clutching” as his bars on “It Takes A Thief” (at one point he raps “I stole a link from my auntie and sold it to my uncle”), and Dobbs’ bouncy backdrop gives the song a much more playful feel than the title track. Side note: a portion of this song was also used in Poetic Justice as part of Lucky’s cousin, Khalil’s demo.

Thought You Knew – Dobbs loops up Malcom McLaren’s “Hobo Scratch”, creating the perfect West Coast backdrop for our host and a few of his homeboys, PS and Billy Boy, to rhyme over. Coolio easily out rhymes his sup par buddies and spits some of the hardest bars I’ve heard him spit to date: “You aint nothing but a pistol, that’s fuckin’ with a missile, I chew your ass like grizzle, til the ref blow the whistle”. It’s not a great song, but decent.

Ugly Bitches – Coolio gets playful on this one as he pokes fun at all the ugly girls he’s banged out, hi-lariously claiming “the best pussy” he ever had came from “ugly bitches” on a portion of the hook. The laughs stop during the final verse when Coolio spins a tale about his homeboy who gets an ugly chick pregnant and then kills her because the baby comes out looking like an insect (Don’t feel bad, I laughed too…the shits funny, but it ain’t funny). Dobbs (with a co-production credit going to Doug Rasheed) builds the instrumental around a loop from Delegation’s “Oh Honey”, which is also where Coolio got his inspiration for the hook. In my mind, this loop will always belong to 3 Times Dope’s “Funky Dividends”, but this song made me laugh, so I’ll give Coolio and Dobbs a pass for using it.

I Remember – The final song on It Takes A Thief finds Coolio along with Billy Boy and J-Ro from Tha Alkaholiks, reminiscing about their childhood experiences. Each party involved spits a verse, but Billy Boy (who sounds a lot like Coolio on this one) bats second and surprisingly steals the show with a strong verse detailing his life changing experience of moving from Monessen, PA to Compton, CA at the age of nine, where he had to quickly learn the law of the land in order to survive (“Compton California where the killers grow, forced to live a life that I didn’t know, wore the wrong colors cause I didn’t know the facts, caught a bitch, caught a case, caught a slug in my back…but I adapted quickly. suckas try to get me, now the fools better run cause this is drive-by Billy”). Gary “G-Luv” Herd loops up an ill Al Green sample for the instrumental, and an uncredited male vocalist belts rough heartfelt vocals on the hook, creating the perfect soulful canvas for Coolio and his buddies to paint on. Great way to end the album.

It Takes A Thief will go down in the annuals of hip-hop as the “Fantastic Voyage” album, as that single would become a big crossover hit for Coolio. But that assessment would only be made if you skim through the album instead of listening to it and fully digesting it. If you take some time with It Takes A Thief, you’ll find that Coolio is much more than the animated character that the album’s first few singles and videos painted him as. Throughout It Takes A Thief‘s 16 song track list, Coolio proves that he’s mutli-dimensional, showing vulnerability, humility, anger, fear, pain and a sense of humor. Dobbs The Wino does a pretty solid job of crafting an even blend of East and West Coast flavored instrumentals for our host to rhyme over, and while not all the production, or Coolio’s verses, work, two-third’s of It Takes A Thief‘s does, with a handful of great records and spectacular production moments mixed into the that count. It Takes A Thief is far from a classic, but it deserves more respect than being labeled the “Fantastic Voyage” album.

-Deedub

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