Raw Fusion – Hoochiefied Funk (April 26, 1994)

Raw Fusion is the Oakland based two-man team of Money B and DJ Fuze, which was a direct offshoot of the larger collective, Digital Underground. The duo’s connection with DU is without question what helped them parlay a side deal with Hollywood Basic, where they would release two albums: their 1991 debut, Live From The Styleetron and the subject of today’s post, Hoochiefied Funk.

According to the liner notes, Money B and DJ Fuze would handle the bulk of the production load, with a few assists from their DU affiliates. I’ve never heard Live From The Styleetron before, and this post marks my first time listening to Hoochiefied Funk (an obvious candidate for worst album title), an album I didn’t even know existed until I stumbled upon a copy of the cd a few years ago in the dollar bin at one of my favorite spots (shoutout to Cheapos!). Other than the incredibly reasonable price, I bought Hoochiefied Funk because of Raw Fusion’s connection to Digital Underground, a group that I’ve respected through the years, and I was also curious to see if Money B could carry an entire album as the lead emcee.

So, lets see how this one pans out.

The New Jazz (Intro)Hoochiefied Funk begins with a minute and a half of what’s supposed to be a “new jazz”. I’m not a fan, but it’s short, so whatever.

Hoochiefied Funk – Raw Fusion gets the title track out the way right away. The duo lay down a very average instrumental, while Money B spits even less impressive rhymes about the importance of having that “hoochiefied funk” playing in your ride if you’re looking to attract, um, hoochies. Yes, the song sounds just as bad as it reads.

Freaky Note – Raw Fusion slows things way down, with some live instrumentation brought to you courtesy of John Wilson on bass guitar and The Piano Man on keys. Money B uses the smooth instrumentation to talk extremely dirty to the object of his erection, while Shock G stops by to sing the hook, which compliments the instrumental well. I actually enjoyed this one.

A Penny For Your Thoughts – Over an awful instrumental, Money B disses all the gold diggin’ chicks (that he refers to as “tricksters”) who are down to spread ’em for the right price. This was almost unbearable.

I Got Flavor – No, you don’t, an neither does the instrumental. Wait…did Money B just say “When I’m rhyming like Common”? When did he ever spit that nice?

Red Riding Good – Money B turns the kid story of Little Red Riding Hood into a raunchy misogynistic debacle. The instrumental is decent, but Money sounds mad pervy with rhymes like “I don’t know the age, I never checked the ID, but she’s just another woman for me” and “Red, what nice breast you have”. Next…

Bumpin’ ‘Em – I love the Cold 187um (from Above The Law) vocal sample. Everything else about this song is trash.

Action Packed – Money B takes a break from talking about hoochies and goes into “battle mode”. He even throws a flailing swing at Das EFX with “I mean I’m sick of suckas flexin’ they need to get that ass tapped, diggidy this diggidy that trying to lose me with the fast rap”, which is kind of corny considering Das was done with the “diggidy thing” by 1994, and the fact that both Dray and Skoob would wash Money on the mic if they decided to pull the style they originated back out. Undaprivileged Courtney Skankkin (that’s a mouthful) joins Money on the hook with a short chant that gives the song a pinch of a reggae vibe (and is probably my favorite part of the song). This isn’t a terrible song, but I’m not crazy about it, either.

Do Doo Mc’s – Pot, meet kettle.

Word For The Day – Raw Fusion, with an assist from Big D The Impossible, creates a dope mid-tempo groove, and DU affiliate, Clee stops by and lends a misogynistic verse to match Money B’s. Clee’s verse fairs a little better than is his buddy’s, but neither of them really impress. The true star of this one is the instrumental.

Do Your Homework – On this one Money B’s warning all the fellas to be careful in how you treat your lady, before a player, like himself, creeps in and bangs her out. Shock G lends another helping hand, as he sings the hook and he and the rest of The D-Flow team get a co-production credit for the funkdafied instrumental. I wasn’t really feeling this one, but it did spark me to come up with a new segment that I’ll call “Tribe Degrees of Separation”, that will somehow tie a song, album or other randomness to a Tribe Called Quest: This song incorporates a sample of the hook from ATCQ’s “Buggin’ Out”.

Dirty Drawls – Apparently this was a bonus track only available on the cd version of Hoochiefied Funk. D-Flow gets another co-production credit for this one and Shock G makes yet another appearance contributing a partial verse and helps with the hook, as he, Money B and Clee playfully tell their side chicks that in order to gain main chick status, you have to love them down to their dirty drawls. The song, including the instrumental (shoutout to The Piano Man, credited for arranging the keyboards and samples), has DU’s signature fun, light-hearted good vibes dripping all over it, and is easily the strongest song on the album. Well, at least the cd version.

Yo Daddy Yo – Raw Fusion samples The World’s Famous Supreme Team’s “Hey Mr .DJ” for the backdrop, as Money B celebrates his dad, which unfortunately, is rarely heard in hip-hop songs. Money is not a great lyricist, but his rhymes on this one come off honest and heartwarming without sounding corny.

To Hell With It – Speaking of hell, this song (even though it gives us yet another Tribe Degrees of Separation moment when Money says “Now let me kick the last scenario like Tribe and the Leaders”) is hot garbage.

As I suspected going into this post, Money B doesn’t have enough lyrical ammo to carry an entire project on his own, and his impotency will begin to lull you to sleep three songs into the album. I was hoping that he and DJ Fuze would call on their DU brethren (D-Flow Production Squad) to at least help them give Hoochiefied Funk some flavor on the production end. D-Flow does get two co-production credits (and Shock G adds some swag to a couple of tracks), but only one of them ends up working, sonically, rendering the majority of the album as bland as bread and crackers. There is really no reason why Hoochiefied Funk should exist. But if it must, it should have been a maxi-single with “Freaky Note”, “Dirty Drawls”, “Yo Daddy Yo” and the instrumental from “Word For The Day” on it.

-Deedub

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Nas – Illmatic (April 19, 1994)

Tuesday April 19, 1994. I was a junior in high school, barely two weeks into the seventeenth year of my life, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I left school at lunch to catch the city bus (the 18S, to be exact) to Southdale Mall. My mission was the “New Release” section at Sam Goody (remember when physical music stores existed, and you had to leave your house to purchase music?). Tuesdays had become my favorite day of the week, because that’s when all the new albums were released, and it seemed like every week there were at least two or three new albums coming out that I deemed worthy of a portion of my hard earned Taco Bell paycheck. But this Tuesday there was only one album on my mind: Nas’ debut album, Illmatic.

By 1994, Nas had already created quite a buzz for himself. First with his 1991 jaw dropping verse on Main Source’s “Live At The Barbeque” (where with blasphemous swag he boasted “when I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus”) and later building on that momentum in ’92 with a solid performance on MC Serch’s (who played a key role in getting Nas signed to Columbia) “Back To The Grill”. The tail end of 1992 would see Nasir releasing “Halftime”, the lead single from the Zebrahead Soundtrack (shoutout to Michael Rapaport!). “Halftime” would make some noise and helped build the anticipation for Illmatic‘s arrival to earth.

When I picked up my Illmatic cassette at Sam Goody (Years later I would buy it on cd and vinyl) that historic day, I heard the angels sings. I remember going back to school with the cassette and when one of my guys saw that I had it he ask to see the insert and almost immediately a cipher of brothers formed, all in awe and memorized by the ill artwork which donned a pic of a young peasy headed snot nosed Nas hovering over a picture of his Queensbridge projects in the background. Even before listening to the album, the artwork had us blown away (yes, I’m sure the cover was inspired by the artwork from the Howard Hanger Trio’s 1974 album “A Child Is Born”, but it was still ill).

Illmatic would consist of a lean ten tracks, mostly produced by an elite crop of hip-hop producers: DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor and Q-Tip. The album would slowly earn Nas a gold plaque (and several years later a platinum), but more importantly it would go on to be a critical darling (yep, The Source gave it 5 mics) and is considered by most to be one of (if not the) greatest hip-hop albums every recorded. Hell, it’s even been the subject of classes at Harvard.

Illmatic is one of a handful of albums that I revisit at least a few times every year, and based on this introduction, you probably already know how I feel about it. I mean, my entire blog’ theme is based around it.

Sidenote: If you’re looking for an in-depth breakdown and analysis on Illmatic check-out Michael Eric Dyson and Sohail Daulatzai’s book “Born To Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic”. Great read.

The Genesis – Instead of just titling this “Intro” or “Beginning”, Nasir cleverly titles it “Genesis”, cause that’s what brothers with depth do. It opens with a clip from the hip-hop cult classic movie Wild Style, and then the instrumental from Grandmaster Caz’ theme song from the movie’s soundtrack plays, while Nas, Jungle (Nas’ brother) and AZ discuss their goals and aspirations over it. Nas then seems to get frustrated by all of AZ and Jungle’s antics and shuts the opening track down saying “Niggas, don’t listen, man…representin’, its illmatic.”

N.Y. State Of Mind – Premo drops one of his vintage raw and dusty instrumentals for our host, who uses this song to warm shit up and let you know where his mind is at. I love how Nas begins this one, seemingly searching for the right rhymes, as he says “I don’t know how to start this shit” before going in with “rappers, I monkey flip ’em, with the funky rhythm I be kickin’, musician, inflicting composition”, and he never lets up from there: “It drops deep as it does in my breath, I never sleep cause sleep is the cousin of death, beyond the walls of intelligence life is defined, I think of crime, when I’m in a New York state of mind”…”the smooth criminal on beat breaks, never put me in your box if your shit eats tapes”. Need I say more?

Life’s A Bitch – L.E.S. hooks up a loop from the Gap Band’s classic record “Yearning For Your Love”, which is hard to go wrong with. Nas and the only other emcee to bless Illmatic with a verse, AZ, go toe to toe, spitting equally superb verses and ironically, bring life to the song’s bleak outlook on life. Nas’ dad, Olu Dara closes things out with some live trumpet chords as the song fades out. This one is short, sweet and perfect.

The World Is Yours – This was the second single released from Illmatic. Pete Rock lays down a beautifully dark instrumental built around a sick Ahmad Jamal piano loop and his signature heavy drums laid underneath it. With ease, Nasir comes in and completely obliterates Pete’s phenomenal production (seriously, this one is “T.R.O.Y.” level sick!) from his opening lines: “I sip the Don P, watchin’ Gandhi ’til I’m charged, writing in my book of rhymes, all the words past the margin, to hold the mic I’m throbbin’, mechanical movement, understandable smooth shit, that murders move with…the thief’s theme, play me at night, they won’t act right, the fein of hip-hop has got me stuck like a crack pipe”. When it comes to street-poetry, from beginning to end, this song IS the standard. Come on, man: “Born alone, die alone, no crew to keep my crown or throne, I’m deep I sound alone, caved inside, 1,000 miles from home, I meet a new nigga for this black cloud to follow, cause while it’s over me it’s too dark to see tomorrow”.  Pound for pound, beat for beat, lyric for lyric, this is one of the three greatest hip-hop records of all time. Side note: The remix for this song (produced by Q-Tip) had a different second verse from Nas (and he changes his cipher completing footwear from Timbs to Nikes on the first verse) and that verse is equally as potent as the original verse.

Halftime – Like I mentioned in the opening, this song was originally released as the lead single off the Zebrahead Soundtrack, which came out in October of 1992, and was later tacked on to Illmatic. Extra P gets his first production credit of the evening, as he puts together a hard bass heavy instrumental that Nas bodies with what feels like minimal effort: “I use to hustle, now all I do is relax and strive, when I was young I was a fan of the Jackson Five, I drop jewels, wear jewels hope to never run it, with more kicks than a baby in a mother’s stomach, Nasty Nas has to rise, cause I’m wise, this is exercise, ’til the microphone dies.” When I heard him say “puttin’ hits on 5-0, cause when its my time to go, I’ll wait for God with the 4-4” on the song’s final verse, I knew this dude was going to be great. Fittingly, this song marks the halftime for Illmatic if you’re listen to it on cassette.

Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park) – Premo slides Nas a dope mid-tempo backdrop that has a bit of soulful feel, thanks to a haunting vocal loop that serves as the ghost of times past, which is fitting since Nas spends most of the song walking down memory lane. Nas drops a lot of ill lines, but the most ill and visual one for me is:”I reminisce on park jams, my man was shot for a sheep coat, Choco blessings make me see him drop in my weed smoke.” In my opinion, this is the most underappreciated song on Illmatic, which is a travesty because it’s ridiculously ill.

One Love – This was the third and final single released from Illmatic. Q-Tip (I’m so proud that somehow my favorite hip-hop group of all-time is connected to my favorite album of all time) builds this bluesy and bleak backdrop around a dope Heath Brothers’ loop that serves as the perfect canvas for Nas to read (or rap) letters he’s sent to a couple of his incarcerated homies: “What up kid? I know shit is rough doing your bid, when the cops came you should have slid to my crib, fuck it black, no time for lookin’ back, its done, plus congratulations you know you got a son, I heard he looks like ya, why don’t your lady write ya? Told her she should visit that’s when she got hyper, flippin’ talkin’ bout he acts to rough, he didn’t listen he be riffin’ while I’m tellin’ him stuff, I was like yeah, shorty don’t care, she a snake too, fuckin’ with them niggas from that fake crew that hate you”. The final verse finds Nas grappling with his own sanity, thanks to the drama of the streets (“you see the streets had me stressed something terrible, fuckin’ with them corners have a nigga up in Bellevue”), before he paints an ill visual with words about an encounter and conversation he had with a twelve-year-old Queensbridge thug that he calls Shorty Doo-wop (the detail he displays in their exchange is amazing…but I’ve already quoted more of this song than I planned on quoting, and I wouldn’t be doing the exchange any justice by only quoting a piece of it, so go listen to it again for your damn self!). This is a masterpiece and comes in a close second to “The World Is Yours” for the best song on Illmatic.

One Time 4 Your Mind – Large Professor lays down a drowsy funk backdrop that Nas rides through the hood like Deebo on Red’s beach cruiser. I’ve often heard people say this is Illmatic‘s filler song, but I disagree. It might be the weakest link in the chain, but if we’re talking about a Cuban link chain, are there really any weak links?

Represent – Premo gets his third and final production credit on Illmatic, and in my opinion, this is the strongest of his three. He takes an obscure xylophone loop and it becomes the backbone to this cold and sinister backdrop that our host uses to “represent” (a term that was used way too often by rappers in the nineties) his hood and discuss the every day happenings there: “any day could be your last in the jungle, get murdered on the humble, guns’ll blast niggas tumble, the corners is the hot spot full of mad criminals, who don’t care, guzzlin’ beer, we all stare.” Yet another great record.

It Ain’t Hard To Tell – The final song of the evening was also, ironically, the lead single from Illmatic. Extra P grabs a couple of loops from MJ’s classic “Human Nature” record and builds a slick instrumental around it. Speaking of around it, Nas (“the Afrocentric Asian, half-man, half-amazin'”) raps circles around this beat, or as he boasts on the song’s final verse: “I dominate break loops giving mics menstrual cycles”. To have a classic song like this so deep in the album’s sequencing speaks volumes to how great a record Illmatic is.

Nas sets the new standard for lyrical dexterity on Illmatic. Every song on the album is brimming with content, as Nas doesn’t waste one song, verse, bar or word on nonsense or fluff. And when you add the magnificent production from the top of the crop producers that sonically back his hood poetry, what you get ladies in gentleman, is perfection. From the album title, to the artwork, to the rhymes and music, Illmatic is a flawless masterpiece, and the greatest hip-hop album ever recorded.

-Deedub

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Main Source – Fuck What You Think (March 22, 1994)

In 1991 Main Source hit the earth like a comet with their debut album Breaking Atoms. Led by Large Professor (who already had a pretty impressive production resume by this point), the trio by way of Queens made their mark with potent production and witty well-timed rhyming from their cool handed leader. The threesome’s formula would wind up giving hip-hop an undisputed classic album, but soon after, everything fell apart. The backbone of the group, Large Professor would eventually say “fuck those two deejays” and left the group to go on a “self mission” (see his verse on Midnight Marauders‘ “Keep It Rollin'”), which left the Canadian born brothers, K-Cut and Sir Scratch missing a large (no pun intended) part of their production team and without an emcee. Since Main Source still had a deal with Wild Pitch, Cut and Scratch would eventually recruit another Queens emcee, Mikey D, whose name might not ring a bell with most of you, but in the eighties the dude was revered for his tenacious battle raps (legend has it that the O.G. Melle Mel was one of his victims) and depending on who you ask, LL Cool J (who was once in a group with Mikey back in the earlier eighties) bit some of his rhyme style and swag. This reconstructed version of Main Source, looking to prove the naysayers wrong, would release Fuck What You Think.

K-Cut and Sir Scratch would produce all but one track on Fuck What You Think, with Mikey D holding down microphone duties. The album was released in March of 1994 and produced at least one single, but any potential momentum that Fuck What You Think might have built up would come to a screeching halt later that year, when Main Source 2.0 broke up and the label decided to shelf the album. Fuck What You Think would be re-released in 1998, but by then the rigor mortis had fully set in on Main Source and not even their families were checking for them anymore.

In 2017 the original trio would put their beefs behind them and reunited to perform live on stage for the first time in over 25 years. Proving that time heals all wounds, and is truly, illmatic.

Diary of a Hit ManFuck What You Think opens with Mikey D sharing a tale about the hard life of a hit man over a dark K-Cut instrumental. Mikey delivers his entertaining rhymes with a coldness that matches the frigidness of the instrumental, step for step and his story will keep you on the edge of your seat, up until the chilling climax. This one plays like a well-executed short hip-hop novel. Well done, fellas.

Only the Real Survive – This is the only song on Fuck What You Think that Sir Scratch or K-Cut didn’t produce. The production credit goes to L.T. who builds a beautiful backdrop around a loop from Pleasure’s “Thoughts of Old Flames” (that would also later be flipped on Rakim and Big Daddy Kane records, just to name a few). Mikey does a good job of riding the track, as he smoothly spills lines like “Yo, I’m a scholar, not a follower but a leader out to make a dollar, without fasten the white collar.” I don’t know if I like this mellow track sequenced right after the dark bleakness that was the opening song, but it’s still a dope joint in its own right.

What You Need – Its way too early in the album for filler material and that’s exactly what this song feels like. Mikey D sounds sharp on the mic (especially in comparison to his deejays, Sir Scratch and K-Cut, who step from behind the boards and briefly jump on the mic during the song’s final verse), but the stock hook (which kind of sounds like something Extra P would have written) and K-Cut’s instrumental just don’t…cut it.

Merrick Boulevard -This song finds Mikey D paying respect to the Queens’ street that he represents. I wasn’t crazy about Sir Scratch’s mediocre instrumental or Mikey’s rhymes on this one, even though it was kind of amusing to hear him say the exact number (123) of battles he’s been in and won, which if true is pretty impressive.

Down Low – This is a phrase that has taken on different meanings in hip-hop through the years. Mikey D’s not “coming out the closet” but is more so referring to himself as the best kept secret in hip-hop for the previous 15 years. Based on the way he murders this smooth K-Cut instrumental, there may be some truth to that statement. This was sick.

Intermission – We’ve reached the midway point of Fuck What You Think, and K-Cut was kind enough to provide some laid back soothing music while you take your bathroom break or grab something to eat.

Where We’re Coming From – Main Source kicks off the second half of Fuck What You Think with more filler material. Next…

Hellavision – Sir Scratch recycles an instrumental that was originally used for a song recorded for Main Source’s first album, titled “Time” (which didn’t make the final cut for the first issue of Breaking Atoms, but was later released as a bonus cut on the 2006 reissue). Mikey D gets a little conscious as he talks about the ill effects TV has on our society. Mike does a good job getting his point across, and Scratch’s instrumental is solid.

Fuck What You Think – For the title track Mikey D shares the mic with his special guest Shaqueen, while K-Cut and Sir Scratch take another stab at rhyming and it sounds like they may be taking subliminal shots at their former front man, Large Professor…or I could be completely off and just looking to reignite a beef that has been dead for years now. Regardless, K-Cut puts his foot in this nasty instrumental.

Set It Off – Lotto, Shaqueen and a young Jadakiss and Sheek Louch of the Lox (who were going by the Warlocks at the time) join Mikey D on this cipher joint. Everybody involved does a decent job pulling their own weight, but the true star of this song is Sir Scratch’s soulful mid-tempo backdrop.

Scratch & Kut 94Fuck What You Think closes with Sir Scratch and K-Cut laying down some dope beats and cutting them up, properly. Nice way to give the deejays/producers some shine and close out the album.

Mikey D’s a solid emcee. He has a dope voice, delivery and can actually spit. He’s just not Large Professor. Speaking of Large Professor, his influence is definitely missed on the production side of Fuck What You Think. K-Cut and Sir Scratch do a pretty decent job holding down Fuck What You Think, but with the heart and soul of the group gone (no disrespect to Mikey D) Fuck What You Think  doesn’t hold a candle to the masterpiece that was Breaking Atoms.

-Deedub

 

 

 

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Dred Scott – Breakin’ Combs (March 22, 1994)

Jonathan “Dred” Scott is an emcee/producer who was born in New York but grew up in Los Angles. Jonathan’s alias, Dred Scott, was taken from the name of a slave who went to court an attempt to buy his freedom, and won the case at the state level, only later to have the decision overturned by the Supreme Court (bastards). Nonetheless, the case would become a pivotal milestone in the movement towards abolishing slavery in the United States…and that concludes your history lesson for today, folks. Both of Dred’s parents were artists (his father was a singer and his mother a dancer) who actually met on Broadway, so it was only a matter of time before Dred would spread his creative wings, choosing hip-hop as his art form of choice. After grinding on the chitlin’ circuit aka the underground scene, Dred Scott would sign a deal with A&M Records, where he would release his debut album Breakin’ Combs.

Dred Scott once told the O.G. hip-hop journalist Dr. Bombay in an interview that the “Comb” in the album’s title symbolizes rules and styles that hip-hop tries to put you in based on where you’re from. “So for me, I’m breakin’ out of all that”, said Scott. “I’m breakin’ boundaries. The comb symbolized boundaries.” The album’s liner notes have random quotes and one is from Dred Scott that supports this sentiment:”Labeling my style would be like trying to comb my hair” (which would be difficult, considering he rocked locks). Like his alias, I believe the album title also represents Dred’s Afrocentric pride, as in he’s so black that his nappy hair would break any comb it comes in contact with (plus the album’s artwork dons an afro pick). Dred Scott would produce the entirety of Breakin’ Combs (the liner humorously read “Produced & Arranged by Dred Scott (Yes, I do my own beats)”), which did produce a few singles that made some noise on the underground level, but both the singles and the album failed to chart, and Dred Scott would fade away in to hip-hop obscurity.

I found Breakin’ Combs a few years ago at a Pawn America that was getting rid of all their cds and selling them all for two or three dollars a piece (which is an amazing deal considering the cheapest you can find a used copy of the album on Amazon is for $43). Since I remembered a few of Dred’s singles being pretty dope, I figured I had…wait for it… “nutin’ ta lose”, so I bought it. Die hard Dred Scott fans will get that corny pun now and the rest of you after you read this post.

Back In The Day – Not to be confused with Ahmad’s song with the same name that was also released as a single in 1994 (stay tuned for more on Ahmad’s debut album in a few more moons). Over a fresh jazz drenched backdrop, Dred tells his story of humble beginnings, hustle and hunger that ultimately helped him secure his record deal. Ahmad’s single would go on to be the bigger hit of the two (I mean, its hard to out do the smooth hypotonicness of that ill Bobby Womack guitar loop that Ahmad used on the remix), but Dred Scott’s joint is still really dope.

Duck Ya Head – Over a decent mid-tempo backdrop Dred Scott shares a long drawn out tale of how karma can catch up with you when you’re involved in ill deeds, even though it sounds like the whole story is supposed to be a dream…I think. Dred raps the whole song with a slightly animated wacky delivery, which makes some of his rhymes hard to understand. I’m not a fan of this one.

Can’t Hold It Back – Dred combines a big horn loop with hard drums and a slick moody bass line, and turns it into a nasty backdrop for he and his guest, Da Grinch, to flex on. Dred gets busy, but Da Grinch (who reminds me of Freddy Foxxx aka Bumpy Knuckles on this one) takes the final verse and steals Christmas (which he does cleverly make reference to on his verse) and the whole show. This was dope.

Check The Vibe – I believe this was the third single released from Breakin’ Combs, and one of the reasons I bought the album. Dred lays down an instrumental that is equally melodic, somber and beautiful, as he waxes poetic with lines like: “I see the visions of my brothers no longer here, I hold back a tear, when he whispers in my ear” and “A young girl starin’ in the car to the right, I smile back taken by my own sense of sight”. His wife, Adriana Evans compliments the beauty of the track, blessing it with her sweet vocal during the hook. This one sounds better today than it did nearly 25 years ago.

Dirty Old Man Skit – I’m really not sure why this skit even exists. First of all, it interrupts all the beauty and depth that “Check The Vibe” brought. Furthermore, it’s pointless and adds nothing to the album. Next…

The Story – Dred Scott’s instrumental on this one reminds me of the dopeness that Premo created for Mos Def’s masterpiece “Mathematics”. Our host uses the solid backdrop to spin a tale about how a slow Friday night turns into a dramatic eventful evening that leaves Dred wishing he would have stayed his ass at home. This was decent and a lot better executed than the hot mess that was “Duck Ya Head”.

To Da Old School – This interlude opens with Dred and his label mate Tragedy aka the Intelligent Hoodlum, in the studio getting ready to record, before Dred drops the bombshell on his guest that his drum machine is broken. But have no fear, because Dred Scott can make beats with his hands as well as with his mouth. He drops a decent beatbox for Trag to spit an average freestyle over, and all this is to set up the next song.

Funky Rhythms – Our host lays down a dope mid-tempo groove (I’m a sucka for a dope organ loop) as he and Tragedy takes turns spittin’ rhymes on the mic, and both do a serviceable job.

Swingin’ From The Tree – Dred pulls out his wacky animated flow once again for this one (he actually sounds a little like Sadat-X at the start of his first verse), as he’s calling out the Uncle Toms and lighter shaded blacks who try to dissociate themselves from the rest of us black folks. But as Dred puts it, no matter how hard these sellouts try “there’s no escaping the noose around your neck in your light skin ecstasy, swingin’ from the tree right next to me”. Adriana Evans reappears and does her best Hillary Banks impersonation, as she plays a redbone female trying to explain away her blackness in between Dred’s verses. This song had good intentions, but Dred’s conscious content gets lost in his cartoonish delivery.

Intro – I’m left to assume that if you bought Breakin’ Combs on cassette, this “Intro” marks the beginning of side two. The short interlude has Dred Scott chomping on chips while doing a radio interview (so professional) and answering the interviewer’s request to describe his style. His response then bleeds into the next song…

Nutin’ Ta Lose – If my memory serves me correct, this was the first Dred Scott record that I ever heard. Over a hard bass-heavy backdrop (the bass line on this one reminds me of Nas’ “Halftime”) Dred grabs the mic and goes for broke because “like a runaway slave headed north with no shoes” he’s “got nothin’ to lose”. This was solid.

Liar – Dred lays down a smooth mellow groove (I love the guitar lick sprinkled in for good measure) and proceeds to drop gem after gem for the duration of this song: “If the beat is fat should I put it on a diet? If a crack fiend is selling me a pullout should I buy it? On the spot…on the spot…on the spot…on the spot…the soul leaves the body as the flesh starts to rot…the leaders with the little dicks have all the power, so the milk from the breast of the earth turns sour…sad is the man with the barefoot blues, ’til he sees the naked brother only having a pair of shoes…tell a girl you love her, but is that really true? Your genitals make you belief that you do, so she lets you ride her like the Lone Ranger, ejaculation makes the girl look like a stranger”. This joint definitely puts Dred Scott’s lyrical ability on display and is easily one of the strongest songs on Breakin’ Combs.

Rough E Nuff – Wait. Did he really just make light of getting molested by his female babysitter when he was eight? Regardless, this song is useless fodder.

My Mind Is Driftin’ – This may be Dred Scott’s magnum opus. Over a beautiful jazzy instrumental (Dred had beats, yo!) our host lets his stream of consciousness flow, spilling his best bars on Breakin’ Combs: “Mother says time flies when you’re having fun, Pop said it flies even if you’re having none”, “Visions of a Motherland that I never knew, see the gangsta take the forty top off the brew, pour it out for the G six feet below, like an African king many moons ago…it’s all connected, so don’t ask why, that’s cause I know how to kiss the sky.” Dred drops so many jewels and ill visual rhymes that this whole song is worthy of quoting. This is my favorite song on the album.

They Don’t Know – Coming on the heels of the greatness that was the previous song, this shit is almost blasphemous. Our host spits probably his most underwhelming rhymes of the evening, and both his instrumental and his guest Big Domino (not to be confused with the “Getto Jam” Domino) are trash.

Frankie’s Groove – The final song on Breakin’ Combs begins with Dred Scott sharing his theory on why there aren’t that many young black musicians (which is a pretty solid one). The song then morphs into a jam session with his friends: JMD on drums, Rastine Calhoun on sax, Danny Grissett on keys and Osama Afifi on bass. Collectively, they make pleasant jazzy album outro music.

I was familiar with a few of Dred Scott’s songs before this post and respected his rhyming ability, but after living with Breakin’ Combs for the past few weeks, I was pleasantly surprised with just how lyrical and conscious Mr. Scott could be. His less impressive moments on Breakin’ Combs come when he tries to be playful and light-hearted, rapping with his animated cadence and delivery (see “Duck Ya Head”, “Swingin’ From The Tree” and “Ruff E Nuff”), which almost feels like he’s (maybe at the label’s request) dumbing himself down so not to come off too conscious; but don’t sleep (no pun intended), Dred is very smart and as the kids say, woke. And he may be as dope a producer as he is an emcee, as he strings together some flavorful soundscapes with a handful of great instrumentals mix in the pot as well. Breakin’ Combs does have a few issues, but the good far out weighs the bad, making this a solid debut from Dred Scott, and leaving me wondering why the hell he didn’t continue making hop-hop music.

Dred Scott once said in an interview many moons ago: “I’m just an emcee who’s trying to do dope hip-hop, and every once in a while there will be a deep message in there”. That statement pretty much sums up Breakin’ Combs in a nutshell.

-Deedub

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Gang Starr – Hard To Earn (March 8, 1994)

As a group, we last heard from Gang Starr in 1992 with their stellar third album, Daily Operation. From that point on, individually, the duo stayed busy, with Premo producing tracks for several artist (including Heavy D, Da Youngstas, several tracks on KRS-One’s solid solo debut, Return of the Boom Bap, and a third of the tracks on Nas’ soon to be released classic debut, Illmatic), while Guru would embark on his solo-career, releasing the first installment of his Jazzmatazz series in 1993. The duo would reconnect and in 1994 released their fourth album, Hard To Earn.

Hard To Earn‘s liner notes says “All songs produced by DJ Premier and GURU for GANG STARR PRODUCTIONS INC”, but like all the previous Gang Starr albums, we all know that Premier is the maestro who sculpted the soundscape for this project. Hard To Earn would go on to receive heaps of praise and critical acclaim, as well as a 4 mic rating from The Source upon its release. Random Factoid: Hard To Earn is the first Gang Starr album released with a “Parental Advisory” sticker.

Strangely, even with the flattering review and solid rating, The Source didn’t include Hard To Earn on its 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums of All-Time list in 1998. Even more surprising, Gang Starr’s second and third albums, Step in the Arena and Daily Operation, both made the list, even though they both received a lower rating than Hard To Earn (both received 3.5 mics). My memories of Hard To Earn tell me this was an egregious error on The Source‘s behalf, but let me revisit the album to see if The Source‘s decision was just.

Intro (The First Step)Hard To Earn begins with a blunted loop and Guru discussing the do’s and don’ts for inspiring emcees, specifically when they come in contact with established emcees. I still chuckle every time I hear Guru describe these eager fellas, with their “breath stinkin’ like a muthafucka…spittin’ and shit.” Great intro.

ALONGWAYTOGO – The song opens with a dope mid-tempo drum pattern accompanied by a clever vocal loop from Phife Dawg (rip). Then Premo brings in a dark Quincy Jones loop for Guru to boast, talk his shit, advise emcees to do some self-evaluating and hits them with a few rhetorical questions: “Here’s the deal, like Shaquille O’Neal, if you don’t know what you’re doing how the hell can you be real?” and on his final verse: “All about the real necessities of life, all about the game, and all about the name, G to the A to the N to the G, STARR, we know who we are, but do you know who you are?” Premo also brings in a slickly chopped up vocal loop of Phife’s rhyming partner Q-Tip, which ends up being a nice added touch to the song and a little unintentional homage to my favorite rap group of all-time. This joint sounds as amazing today as it did 25 years ago.

Code Of The Streets – This was the second single released on Hard To Earn. Premier lays out probably the most sophisticated instrumental in his lengthy catalog, building a masterful instrumental around a loop taken from Monk Higgins version of “Little Green Apples”. Guru then discusses the ill shit that dudes do to survive and get respect on the streets, before pledging his allegiance and vowing to stay true to the street codes through his music on his final verse. Because of his monotone voice and deadpan delivery, many tend to sleep on Guru’s lyricism, but he proves to be a strong wordsmith as he cleverly spits: “Nine times out of ten I win with the skills I be yielding, with the tenth one kneeling, let me express my feelings, Guru has never been one to play a big shot, it’s just the styles I got that keep the mic hot”. This is arguably a top 10 Gang Starr songs of all time, which is scary considering it’s probably not the best song on Hard To Earn.

Brainstorm – Just as the title suggest, Guru lets his stream of consciousness flow, as he unleashes a slew of battle raps for any would be competitors over a stripped-down, but still potent Premo instrumental.

Tonz ‘O’ Gunz – Guru discusses the gun epidemic that was prevalent then and is still now a problem in the hood. He also briefly talks about white supremacist groups who train their own to kill blacks, which is why he packs and “stands in the face of hatred, lettin’ off mad shots watching devils run naked.”  This is a solid song, but if someone put a gun to my head (pun intended) and forced me to take one song off of Hard To Earn, this would be the one.

The Planet – This may be the most disgusting instrumental that Premo ever created (hit me in the comments…I’m ready for the debate). Guru uses Preem’s ruggedly blunted masterpiece to share his real life story about leaving Boston for Brooklyn aka The Planet, in his quest to make it in this here rap game. Guru does a solid job articulating his journey, but words can’t describe how ridiculous Premo’s banger is on this one.

Aiiight Chill… – Everyone from Nas to MC Eiht show love to DJ Premier on this short interlude. Aiiight Chill…

Speak Ya Clout – Guru, Jeru Da Damaja, and Lil Dap (half of the Group Home, and possibly the first rapper to use “Lil” as a prefix in his rap moniker) pick up where they left of at on Daily Operation‘s “I’m The Man”, with Premo sliding each emcee a different beat to rock over. They change the order a bit this time, with Jeru going first, Lil Dap second, and Guru wrapping things up. Premo’s beats aren’t bad, but they don’t compare to the crop he used on “I’m The Man”. Jeru clearly won the first go round, but this one easily goes to Guru.

DWYCK – This was originally released as the B-side to Daily Operation‘s title track, but would arguably become the biggest hit in Gang Starr’s catalog (the chick in the yellow bikini in the video was gorgeous!). Nice and Smooth join Guru on the mic as they all take turns riding Premo’s addictive high energy instrumental (this song may have the greatest bass line of any hip-hop song ever recorded (shoutout to Clarence Wheeler & The Enforcers)…yeah, I said it!) and match it step for step. It would be an understatement to call this classic record a banger. This might be in my top ten hip-hop songs off all time.

Words From The Nutcracker – The other half of the Group Home, Melachi the Nutcracker gets his chance to spit a quick verse over an ill Premo production. Melachi, who has a simple flows and slight vocabulary, does a good job of using his limited skill to make this short interlude interesting: “So what the fuck, ya’ll I’m movin’ on up,  gonna swim in big bucks, like Scrooge McDuck, and if ya don’t like it and you wanna step up, then open your mouth and suck my nuts”.

Mass Appeal – This was the lead single and in my opinion, the best song on Hard To Earn. Premo hooks up the illest and most blunted backdrop in his catalog, and Guru spits his strongest bars on the album and arguably in his career: “A lot of rappers be like one-time wonders, couldn’t say a fly rhyme if there was one right under, their noses, I hate those muthafuckin’ posers”….”I represent, set up shit, like a tent boy, you’re paranoid, cause you’re a son like Elroy”…”Your head’ll bop, when I drop my crop of pure bomb, just like the seashore I’m calm, but wild, with my monotone style, because I don’t need gimmicks, give me a fly beat and I’m all in it.” Classic Gang Starr, and easily one of the top 5 songs in their hefty catalog.

Blowin’ Up The Spot – Guru continues to talk his shit and rep for Gang Starr over an understated funky backdrop.

Suckas Need Bodyguards – This was the third and final single released from Hard To Earn. Guru uses the epic backdrop to talk his shit and call out all the sucka emcees who like to front like their hard. This was dope, and I absolutely love the energy on the hook(specifically Malachi the Nutcracker’s).

Now You’re Mine – Premo chops up a nasty horn loop and when combined with an ill bass line and drums, it turns into a menacing instrumental, which works as the perfect canvas for Guru to paint his analogy between rhyming and basketball. It’s kind of amusing to hear the 5’8 Guru talk about doing 360 degree dunks, catching and slamming down alley oops and swatin’ his opponents shots; but the rhymes are clever and very well executed.

Mostly Tha Voice – Preem slows the tempo down and lays a sick thick bass line for Guru to talk about the importance of an emcee’s voice. “A lot of rappers use hooks to their shit, but if you took that shit out, and you took all the music out, what would remain? The voice, no doubt.” The song ends with Big Shug begging Guru for a chance to rhyme, to which Guru reluctantly agrees as the song fades out.

F.A.L.A. – In case you’re curious and didn’t quite catch it during the hook, “FALA” is an acronym for “Fuck Around Lay Around”. As promised at the end of the previous song, Guru gives his fellow Boston bredrin Big Shug a shot on the mic. Shug, who I like but is far from a great emcee (and may be a better singer than rapper…listen to “No Time To Play” from Guru’s Jazzmatazz Vol. 1), does a decent job on his first verse, but then Guru has to jump on the track and show him up for the remainder of the song. Premo puts more of his genius on display as he takes a simple piano loop and turns it into a ridiculously ill instrumental. And I love the Das EFX vocal sample he brings in on the hook, proof that Premo is the king of turning a hot line into a hot song.

Comin’ For Datazz – The last song of the evening finds Guru aggressive and sending threats to all would be competitors over a rough up-tempo backdrop. Short, nothing sweet and a great way to end this superb album.

The Japanese release of Hard To Earn had an additional track that the rest of the world didn’t get, titled “Doe In Advance”, which is easily accessible on the web. It’s a cool song, but I didn’t feel robbed for not getting it on the North American version, and “Comin’ For Datazz” makes for a much better close out song.

Hard To Earn finds Premo peaking, dishes up his best batch of Gang Starr beats yet, and throughout the album Guru backs up his opening line on “Now You’re Mine”: “I write the ill type rhymes, now I’m reaching my prime”. With only a few guest appearances, the duo seamlessly hem together a hefty seventeen track album, sprinkling in four or five of the greatest hip-songs of all time. Sorry, Source, but ya’ll got this one completely wrong. I love Step in the Arena as well as Daily Operation (I even thought No More Mr. Nice Guy was a decent album), but Hard To Earn is far more superior than any of Gang Starr’s previous albums to this point. Hard To Earn is an underrated hip-hop classic and an unsung cornerstone of arguably the greatest year in recorded hip-hop.

-Deedub

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SFC – Illumination (February 28, 1994)


We last heard from the pioneering Christian hip-hop group SFC (which is an acronym for Soldiers For Christ) in 1992 with their third release Phase III, which many Christian hip-hop heads consider to be a classic. Over the years the line-up in SFC has seen a few changes: the group started out as a 4 man crew for their debut, went down to two for their second effort, then for Phase III, back to three. By 1994 there was only one. Sup The Chemist would carry on the SFC name single-handedly for the fourth and final SFC album, Illumination.

Like the previous three SFC albums, Sup would handle most of the production load on Illumination, receiving a helping hand for a few of the album’s tracks from a couple of his Christian bredrin along the way. Illumination is a Christian hip-hop album, so of course it didn’t sell a ton of units, as it was released in 1994 at a time when Christian hip-hop wasn’t as well received as it is now, with artist like Andy Mineo and Lecrae charting and making platinum selling albums.

But here at TimeIsIllmatic we don’t care about charts and record sales. We only care about good old entertaining hip-hop music. So, without further adieu lets see if  Illumination  fits the mold. And the church said: amen.

IntroIllumination  opens with what I’m left to assume is Sup playing deejay, as he places a collage of cuts and scratches over a drum beat and a very soothing loop for this short intro.

One Time – The first actual song of the evening finds Sup playing with the pace of his flow while displaying his wordplay and making innocent emcee boasts (“now I be tearin’ up this mic like a rent-a-car, straight beltin’ negatively like snow upon the mountain, wisdom be shootin’ out like water from a fountain, my formula is very complex, when understood its more satisfying than sex”). In his first verse Sup makes reference to it be 1995 (even though Illumination clearly came out in 1994), so maybe this is Sup’s way of saying he’s a head of his time, or he didn’t think Illumination would come out until ’95, or it was an honest mistake. Regardless, he sounds dope on this one, and I love the heavy drums, the melodic sample placed over them and the pretty horn loop brought in during the hook.

Illumination – Sup gets a little more serious than the previous song, as he speaks in parable and chops up some of his theology, but manages to keep it light-hearted in only a manner a wily veteran like Sup could do. Once again he makes reference to it being 1995 as he signs off with “It’s not just a rap song, but something encouraging you to do right not wrong, Sup, peace, ’95, I’m gone”. Lyrically, the title track is solid, but Sup’s instrumental is lacking and Jurny Big’s hook is way too wordy for it to be effective.

C-Mode Fizzunk – In case you’re curious, our host explains in the song’s first verse that the “C” in the song title is for Christ. Sup and Peace 586 concoct this mellow yet simultaneously hard backdrop that has Sup “expressin’ his beliefs over beats” and reppin’ for Jesus without sounding preachy, or as he puts it in the song’s final verse: “They look closely, then they see, that I’m not that ordinary everyday rhymin’ hallelujah in the pew, but I bring reality to you”. This was a solid joint that sounds better the more you listen to it.

Interlude – We Can – Someone named Red Bonez performs a spoken word piece and is nearly drowned out by the laid back jazzy after hours club music playing behind him. Next…

Respect – LPG (which is Jurny Big, who did the hook on “Illumination”, and Dax) joins  Sup on this cipher joint, as they discuss the long lost virtue know as respect. Sup easily sons his guests on this one, and I’m still trying to figure out what the hell Jurny Big was talking about with his line  “Through eyes of Andre Dawson playing basketball in Atlanta”, since he’s got the wrong sport and city for the MLB Hall of Famer. I’ve definitely heard better verses from all three emcees involved, and I’m not crazy about Peace 586’s instrumental.

The Vibe – Meh…I could take it or leave it.

How I Cope – Sup’s instrumental reminds me of the remix version of Outkast’s “Player’s Ball”, and I dig it. He uses the slightly R&B tinged instrumental to discuss how God’s word (aka The Bible) helps him maintain in his struggle against the craziness and temptations that this world brings. One of the reasons Sup is one of my favorite “Christian” emcees is because he’s never been afraid to be honest and vulnerable; I’m not sure how many other “holy hip-hop artist” would be willing to admit “I hate being broke, sometimes I wanna go sell dope” on a record. This is arguably the best song on Illumination.

Interlude – Mighty Gun – The band from the “We Can” Interlude is back for this spoken word piece, as DJ Cut No Slack Cartoon (definitely an early candidate for 1994’s Worst Moniker Award) recites a piece written by Michael Washington about…yep, you guessed it. Next…

Don’t Nap – Sup hooks up a soulful backdrop as he gives all the fake emcees some lessons and advises them to simply grow up. Nicely done.

Make Money – The production credit is given to Tunnel Rat Productions (which is the crew both LPG and Peace 586 were a part of), so props to who ever created this soothing instrumental built around a beautiful guitar loop. Sup uses it to discuss his quest to make a million dollars while staying true to his Lord and Savior in the process, which isn’t difficult when you “don’t love it (money) but just respect it”. Our host’s flow kind of collapses at the end of the song, but I still enjoyed this one.

Phat – The loop on this one sounds like waking up at 5am to get ready for work on a Monday morning, but in a good way, if that’s possible. The warm loop comes alive when Sup drops some drums underneath it and has fun spitting random rhymes and even kicks an authentic freestyle at the end of the song, where he once again talks about it being 1995.

Interlude – If I – One last spoken word piece (which the liner notes credit to a J.T.) with the same band from the previous interludes playing behind him. And like the two previous spoken word pieces, this one did nothing for me.

Existing In Time – Sup hooks up a bootleg Premo-esque instrumental and does a weak  Jeru Da Damaja impersonation on the mic, stringing big words together like “Algebraic comprehension, the homosapiens alliteration” and “Perpetuity ceaseless, imprisonment in the hourglass, the chronometry theorized” that would even put Albert Einstein to sleep. Side note: J.T. and Red Bonez, who both appeared on one of the album’s spoken word interludes, are given co-writing credit for this bore-fest. This was trash.

Ladies and Gents – For the final song on Illumination Sup lays down a mid-tempo jazzy groove with a lovely horn loop and invites his friends The Caucasian (another candidate  for worst moniker), Small-Boy Slack and Cartoon to join him on this short and sweet farewell.

On Illumination Sup does a pretty solid job bearing the brunt of the load on both the boards and the mic, providing a jazz-infused soundscape that will please the ear, as he proves to be a skilled charismatic emcee that can entertain. Like most hip-hop albums, there are a few ideas that should have been left on the cutting room floor (i.e. all three of the spoken word interludes and “Existing In Time”), but Illumination definitely has more bright spots (no pun intended) than dull moments.

-Deedub

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Casual – Fear Itself (February 1, 1994)

By 1994 the Hieroglyphics crew was fast on their way to becoming a force to be reckoned with. In 1993 the West Coast collective released Del The Funky (or sometimes Funkee) Homosapien’s No Need For Alarm, followed by Souls of Mischief’s debut album 93′ Til Infinity, both which were well received and respected by most hip-hop heads alike. Oakland native, Jon “Casual” Owens, who made cameos on both albums as well as Kurious’ A Constipated Monkey, would be next up to bat for the Hiero crew in 1994, releasing his debut album, Fear Itself on Jive Records.

Fear Itself‘s (which is taken from the famous Franklin Roosevelt quote) soundscape would be shaped by most of the same parties that helped shape Del’s No Need For Alarm and Soul’s 93′ Til Infinity: Domino, Del, Jay-Biz and Casual. Fear Itself didn’t move a ton of units, nor did it make a ton of noise when it was released. I was aware the album existed back in the day. but never checked for it, and honestly don’t remember hearing any of its singles or seeing any videos, which is kind of surprising considering it was released on Jive, who did market and promote for a lot of their artist back in the day.

If you read this blog on a regular basis you already know how I feel about Casual. Hopefully Fear Itself will turn me into a believer.

Intro – Casual kicks Fear Itself off with a simple yet enjoyable Domino produced instrumental and a true freestyle straight off the top of the dome that sounds pretty impressive and gets the album off to a good start.

You Flunked – Casual spits battle rhymes and sounds very similar to his Hieroglyphics leader, Del. Our host also gets his first production credit of the evening, laying down a decent instrumental with a warm horn loop brought in during the hook, that I absolutely love. This was a decent listen.

Me-O-Mi-O – Domino’s instrumental sounds like something you would hear on Sesame Street and Casual continues to spew relentless battle raps. Next…

Get Off It – I like Casual’s instrumental, but I’m quickly becoming bored with his repetitive content.

That’s How It Is – This was the first song on Fear Itself to catch my attention the first listen through. Del concocts a serious instrumental laced with a nasty horn loop that means business. Casual is still in battle mode, but spits his strongest lines on this one: “I write raps and when niggas bite I clap, cause they shit sound better now”…”to alligators lurking in the moat, peep what I wrote, ya bit so hard I thought the shit was a quote”…”Enough with the wackness, enough is my check, enough with these muthafuckas bitin’ Das EFX”. This is definitely one of the strongest songs on Fear Itself.

That Bullshit – Prior to his legendary battle with Casual and the Hiero crew, Saafir was in good standing with his Oakland bredrin. So much so that our host even gave Saafir his own spot on Fear Itself to spit a quick verse over a an instrumental he produced himself. I wasn’t a fan of Saafir before this one and I’m definitely not one after hearing this, um, bullshit.

Follow The Funk – More of the same: Casual boasting over a decent Domino instrumental. Next…

Who’s It On – Domino hooks up a pleasant jazzy backdrop for Causal and his Hiero bredrin, Pep Love and Del to each spit a verse on. The instrumental definitely outshines the emcees on this one. And another thing: what’s up with all Casual’s hooks being one line phrases repeated a thousand times over? Lame.

I Didn’t Mean To – For the first time on Fear Itself, our host steps away from the boasting and battle rhymes. Casual’s all tongue-in-cheek as he issues a half-ass apology to his homeboy for smashin’ his girl. This was a cute concept and Casual’s instrumental was pretty nice.

We Got It Like That – The more I listen to Fear Itself the more I appreciate Domino’s production, like this one for instance. But on the flip side, the more I listen to Casual’s “one trick pony rhyming style” the less entertaining Fear Itself sounds.

A Little Something – Our host gets a duet with his mentor, Del. Casual lays the decent track for the duo to each spit a verse over and lets his guest bat first, then follows right behind him, sounding like his shadow. Short and sweet.

This Is How We Rip Shit – Don’t let the plurality in the song title fool you. Even though, Snupe (one half of Extra Prolific) and A-Plus (a fourth of Souls of Mischief) stop by and contribute the hook, this it just more of Casual lyrically sparring with imaginary opponents. I wasn’t crazy about this one.

Lose In The End – Casual takes a brief break from his battle raps and uses the three verses on this song to articulately share about a run in he had with the police. I like Domino’s up-tempo instrumental, but Casual’s story did nothing for me.

Thoughts Of The Thoughtful – Domino flips a slick Roy Ayers loop and turns it into some ole smooth shit for our host to spit upon. Casual doesn’t go outside of his normal subject matter of boasts, brags and battle raps, but the sophistication of this instrumental suits the continuous inflections in his voice and his laid back delivery, so when he spits lines like “go check ya glossary, cause I gots to be, the bombed ass supreme vocalist, I cream folks with this versification, signed Cas” (it sounds better over the beat than written) it sounds more entertaining than most of his other output on Fear Itself .

Chained Minds – Casual gets his final production credit of the evening for this one, and he definitely gets his Vanessa Williams on (aka saves his best for last). Casual uses the dope instrumental, which has a very serious feel to it, to let fools know he’s not only nice on the mic but if required he can get busy with his hands or the hammers as well. And of course he articulates his “gangsta” in the signature eloquent Hiero manner.

Be Thousand – The final song on Fear Itself finds our host sharing a tale about how a visit to smash a chick turns into drama with a random dude. Domino lays down some tribal like drums with a muffled bassy loop (that almost sounds like a voice) placed over them, and the two combined together have an understated smoothness that makes Casual’s mildly entertaining story easier to digest.

On Fear Itself (which is an extremely dope album title) Casual, who’s cadence and delivery heavily resemble his mentor Del’s, proves to be a competent and lyrical emcee with a vast vocabulary. Unfortunately, Casual’s content quickly becomes repetitive and for as many battle raps as he spews on Fear Itself, their not that impressive. He, Del and Domino (I didn’t like the instrumental for the one track that Jay-Biz produced, see “This Is How We Rip Shit”) do a pretty solid job on the production side, even if it may take several listens to appreciate it, but the instrumentals aren’t good enough to make Casual sound interesting.

-Deedub

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