Brand Nubian – Everything Is Everything (Novemeber 1, 1994)

We last heard from the Now Rule (aka New Rochelle, NY) threesome of Lord Jamar, Sadat X and DJ Sincere, collectively known as Brand Nubian, in 1993 with their sophomore album (but the first release post Grand Puba), In God We Trust. The album received positive reviews and Puba’s absence gave room for Jamar and Sadat to grow as emcees and shine on the mic. Brand Nubian would return in ’94 with their third album, Everything Is Everything.

Like In God We Trust, Brand Nubian would keep the production in house (with the exception of one track) with Lord Jamar handling the music duties and Sadat X receiving co-production credit on most of the songs. Everything Is Everything received mixed reviews upon its release, from both the critics and the streets, and like all of Brand Nubian’s projects, it didn’t sell a ton of units.

But whatever, everything is everything. Right?

Word Is Bond – This was the lead single from Everything Is Everything. Lord Jamar uses a funky Average White Band loop for the backdrop (I found it ironic that a super pro-black militant group such as Brand Nubian would sample a mainly white boy seventies soul group), which sounds a lot cleaner than the dusty loops we’ve grown accustom to hearing Brand Nubian spit over on their past projects. Most of that cleanliness can be credited to the live keyboard play (Dwayne Banks) underneath it. Jamar and Sadat pass the mic back and forth over the course of three verses, as they show and prove that they still got it; or as Sadat X simply puts it on the song’s final line: “Brand Nubian will stand, without the use of a band, we always work with a plan”. This was a nice way to kick off the show. Side note: Buckwild did a remix for this song, but his breezy instrumental wouldn’t hit as hard as the original.

Straight Off Da Head – So right after Sadat declares Brand Nubian doesn’t use a band, they pretty much recruit one to create the laidback airy musical atmosphere for this song (guitar, bass, drums and keyboard). Jamar and Sadat use the live instrumentation to spit authentic freestyles (as the song’s title suggest), turning this into a dope jam session.

Weed Vs. Weave (Interlude) – I like the Lou Donaldson loop used for the instrumental, but the rest of this interlude was useless.

Nubian Jam – Sticking with the smooth live instrumentation from “Straight Off Da Head”, our hosts invite more musicians to the studio to play live, as both emcees rock the mic lovely, and guest female vocalist, Laura Alfored blesses the track with her silky voice. Again, this song sounds a lot more polished then previous Brand Nubian material, but I enjoyed it.

Alladat – For his solo joint, Sadat X calls on Buckwild to produce the track and Busta Rhymes (who was just beginning his ridiculous run of cameos) to wild out on the hook, as he calls out those who think their shit don’t stink. Unfortunately, Buckwild’s instrumental is dry, Sadat’s rhymes don’t standout and Busta Rhymes’ antics on the hook are annoying as hell.

Step Into Da Cipher – Jamar and Sadat invite a few friends to join them on this cipher joint. Serge, Maestro Manny and Snagglepuss all spit verses along with our hosts, and while no one is embarrassingly bad (although Snagglepuss’ gimmicky delivery that imitates the speaking voice of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character of the same name was kind of corny), no one really shines, either. Jamar’s instrumental is decent, but it doesn’t have the energy required for the foundation of a superior cipher joint.

Sweatin Bullets – Brand Nubian’s in a violent mood on this one, unloading clips into anyone that crosses their path. We’ve heard Brand Nubian get violent in the past, but the violence always seemed directed and purposeful (see “Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down” and “Pass The Gat” from In God We Trust). This time they sound like they’re just on some ignorant gangsta shit.

Lookin At God (Interlude) – Over a Premo-ish sounding instrumental, Jamar lays a vocal snippet from a sermon by one of the Nation of Islam minister speaking about the importance of loving your brother. The interlude seems a bit misplaced sandwiched in between these two songs, but whatever.

Lick Dem Muthaphuckas (Remix) – Brand Nubian continues with the murderous rhetoric they started with on “Sweatin Bullets”. The original version of this song appeared on the Menace II Society Soundtrack. For the remix, our hosts each add an additional verse and Lord Jamar gives it a darker instrumental, which suits the duo’s content, well.

Another Day In The Beast (Thoughts From A Criminal) – This interlude sets up the next song…

Claimin I’m A Criminal – Jamar loops up a nasty Luther Ingram sample for the backbone of this instrumental and invites some musicians to the studio to fill in the empty spots and give it a cleaner feel, as he and Sadat each spit a verse from the perspective of a prison inmate. Jamar’s verse is solid, but Sadat steals the show, spitting one of the strongest verses in his catalog as he paints a vivid and soul touching picture: “I love my kids and I’ll teach them to love their father, I’ll send some kicks and try to send some flicks, but it’s over, baby yes it’s over…aint much you can do when you’re holding a phone, a million inmates, but you’re still alone, you’re not crying, but inside you’re dying…you might cry in the night, when you’re safe and out of sight, damn, I miss my peeps and the rides in the jeeps, and my casual freedom, where’s my crew when I need ’em? A visit aint the same, like being in the game, but I’ll take it, at least with that I’ll make it, the beast is a bitch and I see it.” Unheralded classic.

Gang Bang – Brand Nubian uses this one to call law enforcement the biggest gang in America (Preach, brothers!). It’s a decent song, but it feels like filler material.

Down For The Real – The live instrumentation on this one sounds very similar to the music on “Straight Off The Head”. Our hosts use it to continue the murder spree they started on “Sweatin Bullets” and “Lick Dem Muthafuckas (Remix)”. It’s not a standout track, but it makes for decent enough filler material.

Return Of The Dread – An extremely skippable Lord Jamar solo joint.

What The Fuck… – Jamar and Sadat are ready to start the revolution on this one. Unfortunately, they used the wrong backing music to spark it.

Hold On – For the final song of the evening, Jamar samples Simply Red’s classic “Holding Back The Years” for the backdrop and invites his friend, STARR to sing the hook. Jamar uses the serene instrumental to address black on black crime, while Sadat spits a verse about a night out on the town that has the potential to quickly get out of hand. This was the second single and one of my favorite songs on Everything Is Everything.

Everything Is Everything is not as strong of an album as I remember it being. Thanks to a sizable dosage of live instrumentation, the album has a smoother and cleaner feel than Brand Nubians’ two previous releases. Some die hard Nubian fans might not appreciate it, but I actually enjoyed the crisper production more than the tracks that stick with the traditional dusty Brand Nubian sound. More troublesome than the uneven production is Lord Jamar and Sadat X’s lack of substance, repetitive subject matter and contradictions. Both emcees have their moments of shining on Everything Is Everything (with Sadat shinning brighter and more often than his dreaded bredrin), but those moments are overshadowed by songs that promote black on black violence mixed in amongst messages of “loving and respecting your brother” and calling out law enforcement and white me for the same violence they emote throughout the album.

Everything Is Everything is not a terrible album, but sometimes nostalgia can be a bit deceptive.

-Deedub

 

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Gospel Gangstas – Gang Affiliated (October 25, 1994)

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that from 1997 to around 2003, I took a sabbatical from “secular” hip-hop, as I was on a spiritual quest, doing some soul searching and seeking clarity on a few matters. During that period, I started to get into Christian hip-hop (aka holy hip-hop). One of the groups I discovered during this period is the subject of today’s post, Gospel Gangstas.

The Gospel Gangstas (who would later change the “s” at the end of Gangstas to a “z”) were a four man group out of Los Angeles consisting of Mr. Solo, Chilly Chill, Tic Toc and DJ Dove (whose name, if you read my blog religiously (no pun intended), you may recognize from his production work with a pioneering Christian hip-hop group, SFC). All four members were gangbangers and street hustlers, until they met Christ on their proverbial Damascus Road, and gave up their guns and drugs for bibles and prayers. The Gospel Gangstas would release their debut album, Gang Affiliated in October of ’94 on their own independent label, Holy Terra Records.

DJ Dove would handle all of the production duties, while Mr. Solo (per the album’s liner notes) would pen the rhymes for the group. I didn’t get hip to Gang Affiliated until a few years after its release (years later, me and my group would actually do a show with the Gospel Gangstas, but that’s a story for another day), but I do remember the album causing some controversy in the Christian community, as some conservatives felt some of their  content was borderline inappropriate, mainly because they loved to use “nigga” in their rhymes.

Although DJ Dove would leave the group after the first album, the remaining members would go onto release at least five more projects, all on independent labels, developing a strong cult Christian following.

But not on no Jim Jones or David Koresh type shit.

Death For Life (Intro)Gang Affiliated opens with somber music and angelic voices singing, while Jesus is beaten and killed in what sounds like…the streets of Compton or South Central?

Before Redemption – DJ Doves lays down a funky-heavily-west-coast-flavored instrumental for Mr. Solo, Chilly Chill and Tic Toc to repaint the bleak and oppressed state they were in before they accepted Christ and started “bangin'” for him. All three rappers do a solid job of sharing their story, giving a raw and real street perspective that you can feel. 25 years later, this one still sounds great.

O.G.G. Intro – I’m not sure why they called this an intro, as it works more like an interlude. Regardless, DJ Dove cuts up and scratches a few records for a minute in a half, before going directly into the next song.

Mobbin’ (Gang Affiliated) – Dove keeps the west coast sonics going with this funked out backdrop, that comes complete with the Zapp voice box vibes on the hook. It was kind of corny funny to hear Solo say “my bible’s in my waist” and then later on in the same verse, warn any would be challengers that he packs “a nine for those thinkin’ of making me a martyr”. Despite those minor discrepancies, the threesome sound pretty nice over the dope instrumental.

Testimony – The trio pretty much cover the same ground that they covered on “Before Redemption”, recalling their former lives of gang bangin’, drug selling and drug abusing. Solo testifies about the sexual addiction that Jesus delivered him from, that apparently was so extreme that it had him losing weight?? Now that’s a lot of pussy; I’m sure Wilt Chamberlain would even clutch his pearls at that amount of skinz. Dove provides a solid instrumental, and the female guest vocalist, Berlye Magee sings her heart out on the hook and the adlibs at the end of the song.

Ain’t Nuthin’ Changed – Another DJ Dove interlude

Vengeance Is Mine – Dove loops up an ill Curtis Mayfield sample for the backdrop, as the OGGs let you know that they won’t be anyone’s spiritual doormat; or as Solo so elegantly puts it: “So don’t get disrespectable, yeah I’m a Christian, but your chin is still checkable”. I love the message, the music, and the dope Special Ed and Whodini vocal samples.

Interrogation 1 -The first segment of the Gospel Gangtas interview with Pastor Freddy.

Y Cain’t Da Homiez Hear Me – Dove provides a somber backdrop for the threesome to question and ponder why their old homies won’t give up the street life and except Christ as their Lord and Savior. Wait…did Solo really just say he’s going to wear a black tuxedo to his homie’s funeral? I know some people call it a home going celebration, but that’s ridiculous. Speaking of ridiculous, Tic Toc gets a little carried away while singing the hook. The dude can sing, it’s just some of his high notes get a little wild at times and it makes me chuckle every time I listen to this song. All in all, it’s a pretty solid song.

The Holy Terra – Dove lays down a funky track and adds a nasty horn loop and some nice scratches to it. Apparently he was inspired by Solo and the boys to pick up the mic and spit a verse, which turns out to be a bad idea, as he ends giving a laughable performance.

Interrogation 2 – Part two of the Gospel Gangstas interview with Pastor Freddy.

One Time – For a second, I thought this was Ice Cube’s “How To Survive In South Central” (off the Boyz N The Hood Soundtrack), as Dove’s instrumental sounds very similar and Solo even opens the song rhyming in a Cube-like cadence. The OGG’s use this one to address police brutality and believe po-po giving their lives to Christ would remedy the problem. Interesting theory, but the song is poorly executed and the hook is godawful…no pun intended.

Trial By Error – A useless interlude that’s intended to set up the next song…

Tears Of A Black Man – Mr. Solo goes, um, solo, as he discusses (in a Chuck D-like delivery) the black man’s plight in the hoods across America: “My life was on the line for this country, society’s a bully cause they keep tryna punk me, you swoop down on me like a hungry vulture, and stripped me of my heritage, tongue and culture, you taught me history according to another man, you label me derelict but that ain’t who I really am, I got the mind like the kind of Benjamin Banneker, still I’m only good enough to be a janitor, my pocket is void, so I’m paranoid, I filled out thousands of apps still I’m unemployed, my baby’s running out of milk so I’m restless, don’t give me cheese, give me a job and some justice”. Dove’s urgent instrumental serves as the perfect canvas for Solo’s potent bars, making this easily the strongest song on Gang Affiliated.

Da Gangsta Prayer – Short interlude that sounds just as corny as it reads.

Gospel Gangsta Voyage – Yep. Dove jacks liberally borrows from the Lakeside classic. It still makes for decent filler material, though.

A Gruuv Fo Sum Preachin’ – The title is super corny, but I absolutely love this outro. Dove places a melancholy and emotional instrumental underneath a portion of a sermon by Pastor Carolyn Harrell-Donaldson, who’s preaching from the depths of her soul. It then ends with Dove and Solo extending an invitation to the listener to accept Christ and leading those who do accept in a short sinner’s prayer.

Despite the corny group name, album cover and overabundance of intros, skits and interludes, Gang Affiliated is a decent debut album from the Gospel Gangstas. DJ Dove (who just might be the Dr. Dre of Christian hip-hop) laces the album with quality traditional west coast beats, while Solo, Chilly Chill and Tic Toc, do a solid job of holding the listener’s attention with a healthy dose of righteousness and a street edginess that keeps them from coming off as self-righteous. Solo is the clear standout on the mic, but Chilly Chill and Tic Toc bring their own swagger to the party (which is really impressive, considering they don’t write their own rhymes), and the threesome’s chemistry works. Gang Affiliated does have some mishaps (and laughable moments), but the good far outweighs the bad, and I’m sure even non-believers will find a few songs that they can appreciate.

-Deedub

 

 

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Extra Prolific – Like It Should Be (October 25, 1994)

I’ve always seen Extra Prolific as the black sheep of the Hieroglyphics family. Del, Souls of Mischief, and Casual have all seemed to maintain a lasting reverence from their fans or at least a strong cult following. But no one ever seems to mention Extra Prolific. For those who don’t know or simply forgot, Extra Prolific was the two man crew consisting of its front man, Houston born-Oakland transplant, Snupe and Mike G. Through their connection with the Hieroglyphics, the duo were able to snag a deal with Jive where they would release their debut album Like It Should Be in the fourth quarter of ’94.

All of the production work on Like It Should Be would be handled by the Hieroglyphics collective, with Snupe and Mike G handling half and other members from their team handling the other half. Like It Should Be produced a couple of singles, but just like the album, they came and went with little noise or fanfare. Soon after, Mike G would leave the group and Snupe would carrier on the name for a few more years, but never released another Extra Prolific project.

Maybe Mike G was salty because they covered his face with the group’s name on the album cover.

Intro – Extra Prolific kicks off Like It Should Be with a smooth Mike G produced instrumental, while Snupe welcomes the listeners to the album with a few words and a little harmony.

Brown Sugar – This was the album’s lead single. Domino (Hiero’s Domino, not to be confused with the singing rapper Domino) hooks up a funky little diddly for Snupe to rap about a sweet young sister that’s got him wide open. Snupe’s abstract and wordy presentation can make the story line hard to follow, but don’t get it twisted, he can definitely rap.

In Front Of The Kids – In true Hieroglyphic form, Snupe elegantly talks his shit over his own soothing self-produced instrumental. This is dope, and very suitable for midnight marauding, word to A Tribe Called Quest (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check).

Is It Right? –  Snupe hi-lariously starts off the song’s first verse with “misses, tell me what you like, this track is underrated, hated by my man named Mike”. Snupe aint really saying much on this one, but I actually enjoyed the Domino produced track, ecspecially the pimp stroll vibe that the dense bass line gives off.

Sweet Potato Pie – Snupe hooks up a solid backdrop and uses “sweet potato pie” as a metaphor for his sexual exploit of women throughout the song. It’s not a great song, but its quality.

Cash Money – Casual drops in to join his Hiero bredrin, as he and Snupe each spit a quick verse on this song that almost feels like an interlude. Both emcees sound solid on the mic, but the true star of this one is A-Plus’ dope mellow instrumental.

One Motion – Decent filler material.

Never Changing – I wasn’t crazy about this one, but I’m a sucka for thick bass lines, and Snupe’s is the audio equivalent of Ashanti.

First Sermon – This was the second single from Like It Should Be and my first introduction to Extra Prolific. Snupe lays down a sick instrumental with an infectious bass line, making random church references over the course of his two verses, hence the song title. Snupe’s instrumental is extremely dope and addictive. And the church said, amen.

Now What – Souls of Mischief’s Opio stops by and drops some bars, sandwiched in between Snupe’s two verses, over a laid back and enjoyable A-Plus produced track.

It’s Alright – Snupe constructs a beautifully smooth instrumental to babble over on this interlude, while the guest female vocalist, Tameka, almost single handedly destroys the soothing backdrop with her terribly out of tune adlibs. She sounds even worst when you listen through headphones.

In 20 Minutes – A-Plus gets his fourth and final production credit of the evening, and while all four are strong, this is my favorite of the quartet.

Go Back To School – Pep Love joins Snupe as they tag team the mic over Snupe’s jazzy  instrumental.

The Fat Outro – Casual gets his only production credit of the evening and turns in a beauty. He builds the mid-tempo backdrop around an ill piano loop that Snupe uses to spit two quick verses, before he gives his shout outs.

The CD format of Like It Should Be includes the following two bonus tracks:

Brown Sugar (Domino’s Player Remix) – Domino’s smooth understated backdrop for this remix is dope, and very suitable for late night creeping.

Give It Up – Extra Prolific ends Like It Should Be with a bangin’ backdrop and Snupe rhyming about the same shit he’s been rhyming about pretty much the whole album.

Like It Should Be is a well-produced album by the Hieroglyphic collective, and other than the one track that he produced, I’m still trying to figure out what role Mike G plays in the group. On the other hand, Snupe’s role is very clear, as he proves to be nice with the beats (producing about half of the album’s tracks) and a more than capable emcee, following in the Hiero legacy of elegant rhyming, even if at times he’s a bit too wordy. Sometimes you can have all the right ingredients, but if don’t use the perfect amount of “brown sugar” in the mix, your “sweet potato pie” might taste decent, but may miss that “oomph”. That metaphor sums up Like It Should Be in a nutshell: dope beats and quality rhymes, but it’s missing that it factor, or that “oomph”. Overall Extra Prolific delivers a solid debut album, it’s just not great…like it should be.

-Deedub

 

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O.C. – Word…Life (October 18, 1994)

The first time I heard Omar Credle, better known to the world as O.C., was on Organized Konfusion’s “Fudge Pudge” and again a few years later on “Let’s Organize” (which also featured Q-Tip (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check)) off their STRESS album. While I don’t recall being super impressed by either of those cameos, O.C. was able to get Wild Pitch’s attention, as he would sign with the independent label and release his debut album, Word…Life in 1994.

O.C. would invite Organized Konfusion to produce a few tracks on Word…Life, as well as his DITC bredrin Lord Finesse and a few other lesser known producers, but the bulk of the production would be handled by an up and coming producer named Buckwild (who also produced some of the stronger tracks on Artifacts debut album Between A Rock And A Hard Place). Word…Life didn’t sell well, but it was a critical darling that the critics and the streets equally praised and adored.

Let’s revisit Word…Life and see how it’s held up over the past 25 years.

Creative Control – O.C. kicks the album off with a jazzy after-hours Organized Konfusion produced instrumental that he uses to spit one quick, but potent verse over: “The slept-on phenomenon, the mic be in my palm and arm, many want to hold me back ’cause I’m coming on strong, subject matters are struck, my imagination is wonder, I’s underestimated by sons of bitches, who had power to sign me but fronted, wanted stuff I didn’t fit into my phonics, so they uninvited”. This is a dope intro that sounds even more impressive on wax than reading about it.

Word…Life – Now that our host is all warmed up, it’s time to get to work. For the title track, Buckwild lays down a motivating mid-tempo groove built around a dope piano loop, as O.C. scolds women for wearing lipstick (“I dig lips with natural juices, soft and lickable not rough and ruthless”), asks the fans to give new jacks a chance (“by the way do me a favor, give it a chance if a nigga has flavor”) and flexes on some emcee shit as well (“Crushin’ competition, dustin’ opposition, down the toilet gonna flush your composition, your scribes are weak, therefore, can’t speak, for self against the man with the true mystique, I got so many ways to flip phrases, flip those, passin’ licks over the heads of my foes”). Brilliant.

O-Zone – This is probably my favorite instrumental on Word…Life. Buckwild lays down hard boom bap drums and adds a dope drowsy horn loop to it, all capped off by a warm vibraphone loop that gives the whole thing a warm, fuzzy and melancholy feel. As he states at the beginning of the final verse, “O.C.’s in his zone” and he continues his lyrical onslaught on these fire tracks.

Born 2 Live – This was the second single from Word…Life. After a short, sweet and beautifully soulful interlude, Buckwild uses the same Keni Burke loop that Pete Rock would also use the same year (see “Take You There” from Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s Main Ingredient album) for the backdrop, but BW’s has a more somber feel, opposed to the feel good vibes of PR’s. O.C. uses it to tackle the difficult subject of death, as he reflects on a few of the people he’s lost, including a kid from his hood when they were shorties: “He just received an award for Little League Baseball like an hour before, plus, he didn’t even get to see the summer settin’, dyin’ all young at the age of seven, it opened up my eyes, ya’ll that the flesh is weak, as a kid thinkin’ shit like that was mad deep”. From the production to the content, this is a well-executed song.

Time’s Up – This was the lead single and the statement song that put O on the map and got niggas attention. Buckwild builds a bananas backdrop that O.C. completely obliterates, as he takes aim at “those who pose lyrical but really aint true”. Our host wastes no time (no pun intended) and from his opening line he goes in: “You lack the minerals and vitamins, irons and the niacin, fuck who did I offend, rappers sit back, I’m ’bout to begin, bout foul talk you squawk, never even walked the walk, more less destined to get tested, never been arrested, my album will manifest many things I saw, did or heard about, all told first hand, never word of mouth”. Yeah, I know…our host kind of contradicts himself with the “heard about” and “word of mouth” thing, but the rest of his rhymes from beginning to end are razor sharp, and Buckwild’s banger is just as potent. This is an undeniable classic. Would you put it on your top 20 hip-hop songs list? It definitely deserves to be mentioned in the discussion.

Point O Viewz – Before the actual song begins, Buckwild loops up the illest organ sample I’ve ever heard for a short interlude (you’ll probably recognize it from the instrumental for Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” off The Black Album). Then he drops a feel good melodic groove (with a co-production credit going to Prestige) that our host breezes through, effortlessly displaying his lyrical mastery and command of the English language.

Constables – A “constable” is a peace officer with limited policing authority. I’ve never heard the term used other than for this song’s title, so I guess O.C. was just trying to impress us with his vast vocabulary. O takes the dark Organized Konfusion produced track and addresses a subject that’s been plaguing America since its inception: police harassment of black men. Our host is fully aware that all cops aren’t bad, as he states in his second verse “some cops are cool and some are just downright dicks”, but he’s clearly aware that there is a problem. O.C. does a pretty solid job of rockin’ the slightly off-kilter drum pattern (the KRS-One vocal sample sounds sloppy to me), but overall this one is not nearly as impressive as the previous six songs.

Ga Head – Lord Finesse gets his only production credit of the evening, as he churns out a solid backdrop for our host to share his suspicions that his girl’s cheating on him. To O.C’s surprise, it’s not another man that has his woman open, but another woman: “she did a switch, to go down on a bitch, had me thinkin’ another man changed her pitch, another woman’s been beatin’ my time, another sister not a mister she lovin’ mine”. O.C.’s story telling abilities are solid, but again, this song is a slight step back from the first half of Word…Life.

No Main Topic – This is the first real mishap on Word…Life. DJ Ogee gets credit for the noise impersonating an instrumental, while O.C. rhymes in a super low tone with a slight distortion on his microphone, making it difficult to understand our host. I’ve listened to this song at least a hundred times through the years and I still have no idea what the hell O is saying. Prince Paul jumps on at the end to spit some freestyle rhymes, only adding insult to the already injured song.

Let It Slide – After a dope emotional interlude, Buckwild drops a super jazzy backdrop that reeks of nineties east coast hip-hop, and I love it. Our host uses it to share of a few different episodes that he had to swallow his pride instead of letting his anger get the best of him and smoke a fool for getting out of line: “I wonder why, chumps want to pick on I, they be settin’ it off and I be lettin’ it slide, I don’t know what they be seein’, but one time in a conflict I flipped, turned into an unstable human being”. I love the everyday Joe real-life persona and content that O.C. gave us on Word…Life.

Ma Dukes – Buckwild lays the feel good backdrop as O.C. invites his mom to sing the adlibs at the beginning, end and in between verses, hence the song title. O.C. doesn’t spit his strongest rhymes on this one, but sometimes, like he says on the song’s final verse, “it’s a vibe”, and about letting ma dukes shine. Damn, I miss my mama.

Story – Decent filler material.

Outtro (Sabatoge) – Buckwild loops up Faze O’s “Riding High” for O.C. to spit one solid verse over, while Prince Po preaches speaks on the song’s intro and outro.

Born 2 Live (Remix) – Organized Konfusion provides the instrumental for this remix that uses the same lyrics as the original with a slightly different hook. The instrumental suits O.C.’s lyrics perfectly, as it has warm, cold and melancholy qualities warring with each other, which all correlate to the feelings you experience when mourning a loved one. Rest in peace, mama.

O.C.’s flow might not have been as sharp and polished as Nas’, but lyrically he rivals the Queensbridge King on his debut album, and it could be argued that his content on Word…Life has stood up better over time than Illmatic’s. Buckwild (and Organized Konfusion) blesses O with a brilliant batch of backdrops for the first half of Word…Life, and even though the second half is pretty decent, it pales in comparison to the masterpiece that the first six songs are. Cut out four of the last eight songs and Word…Life goes from being a really good album to Illmatic status.

-Deedub

 

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Scarface – The Diary (October 18, 1994)

If you haven’t noticed by now, I normally only post on Tuesdays (as a tribute to the good old days when you had to walk, drive or ride the bus to your favorite music store to buy a physical copy of the new releases), but when I finished this post and noticed that The Diary was released 25 years ago to the date, I figured I’d make an exception. I hope you enjoy. 

Also, rest in peace to my beloved mama dukes, Barbara Jean Washington. I love and miss you like crazy, girl! 

By 1994 Scarface already had two gold selling solo albums and a platinum selling group album with the Geto Boys under his belt. His solo success (and the group’s success) helped to establish J. Prince’s Rap-A-Lot Records as a force to be reckoned with, and made Scarface a viable candidate for King of The South. The Texas born rapper would return at the end of 1994 with his third solo release, The Diary.

Along with Face, N.O. Joe would return to help with The Diary‘s production. Face would enlist Uncle Eddie and a young Mike Dean to sonically help sculpt the album as well. The Diary would be Face’s first solo album to earn him a platinum plaque and many fans and critics called it his best work and a classic. The Source originally gave it a 4 Mic Rating, but later went back and gave it 5 mics.

Is The Diary worthy of such praise? Let’s dig into…

IntroThe Diary opens with a dark symphonic instrumental that sent chills up my spine the first time I heard it. Then after about a minute, the soul stirring music is interrupted by gun shots and the first song begins…

The White Sheet – The first song of the evening finds Scarface in a violent state, as he lets everybody who thinks he’s an easy target know that he stays prepared for the jump off: “I aint your muthafuckin’ homeboy, you out of pocket when you fuckin’ with me so now it’s on boy, I aint runnin’ to get my shit like these other bustas, when you see me round this bitch I got that muthafucka”. Scarface sounds hungry and believable, the hook is catchy, and the cool mid-tempo groove sounds great backing him up.

No Tears – Over some southern fried production, Face is seeking vengeance on the sucka who killed one of his homeboys: “Lookin’ for the nigga who pulled his pistol on my homie, an eye for an eye, so now your life is what you owe me, look deep into the eyes of your muthafuckin killer, I want you to witness your muthafuckin’ murder nigga, and since you wants to kill then yo’ ass has got to fry, but aint no police, therefore yo’ ass has got to die.” Our host effectively drives home his point with one long verse. Well done, Brad.

Jesse James – After a quick piano solo, Face gets right back to The Diary‘s violent tone, as he recycles and dresses up the instrumental first used for “The Wall” on The World Is Yours to back his lyrical murder spree. Face’s angry aggressive flow sounds great, but he loses a few cool points for reusing this instrumental.

G’s – Face and company hook up a decent West Coastish sounding backdrop, as our host asks on the hook and answers on his verses, what do you see while riding through the hood? Face made me let off a guilty chuckle when he says “Cause I done been to more wakes in this past year, then the muthafuckin’ Bengals lost last year” during his second verse. This makes for decent filler material.

I Seen A Man Die – This was the lead single from The Diary. Over an eerie, emotional but dope groove, Face continues to speak on one of his favorite topics: death. Usually when the subject comes up in Brad’s raps, it about him killing somebody. This time he goes in-depth with the details surrounding the last moments of a man’s life and what happens afterwards: “I hear you breathin’ but your heart no longer sounds strong, but you kinda scared of dyin’ so you hold on, and you keep on blackin’ out and your pulse is low, stop tryna fight the reaper just relax and let it go, because there’s no way you can fight it but you’ll still try, and you can try it ’til you fight it but you’ll still die, your spirit leaves your body and your mind clears, the rigor mortis starts to set now you outta here”. When you add Face’s deadpan storytelling cadence to his chilling bars, you get, arguably, the best rhymes in Scarface’s entire catalog. This is an undeniable classic that may be worthy of a spot on the top twenty hip-hop songs of all-time list.

One – Once again Face and company recycle an instrumental from The World Is Yours. This time they reuse and jazz up the backdrop for “Lettin’ Em Know”. I definitely enjoyed the rawness of “Lettin’ Em Know” more than the cheesy feel this version lets off.

Goin’ Down – Face takes a brief break away from the violent themes that have been prevalent throughout the album to this point (and pretty much his whole career), because even cold blooded murdering gangsters need lovin’. The object of Brad’s erection just so happens to be one of his homeboy’s baby’s mama, that he lamely justifies creeping with by saying “My homies women aint no thang to me, cause if they caught one of my hoes they’d do the same to me”. I found Face’s commentary comical, but overall the song was kind of weak.

One Time – Not to be confused with the “One Time” interlude from The World Is Yours, but this is yet another interlude with police chatter playing over an emotional instrumental.

Hand Of The Dead Body – This was the second single from The Diary. Scarface is calling out the government and the media for its contradictions and finger pointing on this one: “They claim we threats to society, and now they calling on the government to try and make somebody quiet, for the bullshit they done to me, Gangsta Nip, Spice 1 or 2pac never gave a gun to me, so gangsta rap aint done shit for that, I’ve seen white folks from River Oaks go get the gat, So why you tryna kick some dust up? America’s been always known for blamin’ us niggas for they fuck ups”. Ice Cube also stops by and adds a solid third verse to match Scarface’s politically charge commentary. Add the catchy, clever and true hook by the uncredited Devin The Dude, along with the dope instrumental, and you got a classic record on your hand (no pun intended).

Mind Playin’ Tricks 94 – Scarface revisits the classic Geto Boys’ joint, using the same instrumental but adding three new verses to it. It’s not bad, but most classics are better left alone. Even if you were the creator of the original.

The Diary – Over a decent up-tempo southern-flavored instrumental, Brad reverts back to the violent rhetoric that dominated the first half of The Diary, as he goes back to blastin’ on anybody who gets in his path (which apparently is sparked by a dude telling Face he can “fade him on some rap shit” at beginning of the song). I don’t see the point of this one and its placement in the album’s sequencing is off. But its short, so whatever.

Outro – Bringing things full circle, The Diary ends with the same instrumental used on the “Intro” (with a slightly different beginning), punctuated by Scarface’s devious signature laugh.

After revisiting The Diary these past few weeks, it actually sounds better than I remembered it. Lyrically, Face sounds hungry, sharp and poised, and he and his production team lace together a pretty solid batch of instrumentals for our host to get busy on. On the flip side, Face’s content tends to get redundant, the recycling of some of The World Is Yours instrumentals (and concepts) is corny, and the second half of The Diary is not nearly as strong as the first half. All in all, The Diary is a decent album, but not nearly worthy of the critical acclaim its received. I wonder how much J. Prince paid The Source to get them to change the rating from 4 to 5 mics.

-Deedub

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Digable Planets – Blowout Comb (October 18, 1994)

1993 was an interesting year for our insect friends, Digable Planets. They were winning Grammy’s, receiving tons of critical acclaim and commercial success, but along with the wins came the criticism from the streets and their peers (*cough* KRS-One) that they were too soft. I personally loved Reachin’ back in ’93 and feel its aged well through the years (read my thoughts on the album here). Regardless, the trio of bugs would return in 1994 with their sophomore project, Blowout Comb.

Like Reachin’, Butterfly (and according to the album’s liner notes, the other two Planets as well) would be the backbone of the production scheme, but while their debut album was mostly sample based, Blowout Comb incorporates heavy dosages of live instrumentation by a host of musicians to go along with the samples and a few cameo verses and vocals from some special guests. The CD version of Blowout Comb would include an elaborate 13 page booklet, which along with the cover artwork and album liner notes, would include what reads like a Digable Planets community newsletter, with different stories and messages to uplift and empower the black community. The album didn’t sell that well, but it did receive respectable reception from critics and fans. Then, just like that, the group vanished into thin air, not to be heard from again for another ten years, and that was just a compilation of old songs and unreleased remixes.

I have fond memories of Blowout Comb, and it turns 25 in a week! Let’s see how it’s held up over the years.

The May 4th Movement Starring Doodlebug – The song title references May, 4 1919, which was the date some students in Beijing, seeking societal change, decided to start protesting the Chinese Government, thus sparking the movement dubbed “May 4th” and later called the “New Culture Movement”. If you want more info on the subject, simply Google “The May 4th Movement”. There’s a ton of in-depth info out there in cyberspace that I don’t have the time or space to elaborate on right now…so, back to my post: After a short triumphant trumpet solo (that is subtitled “Slowes’ Comb”), the DP’s drop a creamy smooth instrumental to match the “creamy bullets” Ladybug mentions in her opening verse (and I have to say, Ladybug Mecca may have the sexiest voice in hip-hop history). I’m not sure why the title says “Starring Doodlebug”, as all three parties spit verses on the song (and Doodlebug only gets one verse, while Ladybug and Butterfly get two each). Regardless, this is one of the greatest album opening songs in hip-hop history. Revolutionary music never sounded so heavenly.

Black Ego – The DP’s follow up the brilliantly creamy smooth instrumentation from the previous track with this moody melancholy music (tongue twist that!), as each of the trio spits one verse over it. Doodlebug steals the show, delivery a strong verse in his monotone vocal: “I got Harlem on my mind, devil on my back, Brooklyn in my blood and Butter’s on the track, I got insect thoughts, catch the cool waves, clouds of purple haze keep me in a daze, the jazz, the jive, the poetry, the style, the lingo, the bags of equality, many different things try to get to me, but in a land of hard rock I keep my humility”. After the verses end, Huey Cox (on guitar), Alan Goldsher (on bass) and Beth Russo (on cello) bless our souls with a live soothing jam session to close things out. This may be the greatest 7 minute hip-hop song ever created.

Dog It – This one opens with some wild sax chords, before the tough drums drop, accompanied by hard vibraphone notes and an undisguisable marching chant, as the album’s mood instantly goes from laidback jazzy grooves to aggressive militant music. Doodlebug sits this one out as Butterfly and Ladybug take turns spitting socially conscious rhymes, riddled references to the Nation of Gods and Earths and at one point Butterfly, uncharacteristically, threatens to bust shots at his oppressors (“before we fall victim, we lick ’em… I ain’t playin'”). Ladybug cleverly calls it all “groove food”. This one is nasty.

Jettin’ – Butterfly and crew change up the energy from the previous song as they build this breezy backdrop around a smooth Bob James loop. All three bugs are in good spirits, celebrating their blackness. This one feels just as good as it did 25 years ago.

Borough Check – The DP’s flip an ill Roy Ayers loop and invite Guru (rip) to join them as they rep for Brooklyn, and all four emcees turn in solid performances. My only issue with this song is the unwarranted extended intro and outro.

Highing Fly – This short interlude comes with a weird instrumental that has Butterfly rhyming awkward and off beat (which, based on the song title, I’m sure was his intention). I could do without this one, but at least it’s only a minute and a half.

Dial 7 – This is the first real mishap of the evening. The instrumentation is bland, Sara Webbs’ vocal spots in between the verses quickly becomes annoying, and the music doesn’t suit, and almost drowns out, the DP’s rhymes. Next…

The Art Of Easing – Our insect hosts quickly get things back on track as they build this smooth groove around a soothing Bobbi Humphrey’s loop and invite a few friends to add strings to it (Dave Darlington on guitar and Davey Chalice on bass), making the already pleasurable soundscape even more enjoyable. These are the kind of instrumentals that the Digable Planets sounds best rhyming over.

K.B.’s Alley – Over basically the same instrumental for the album’s lead single “9th Wonder” the DP’s invite David Lee Jones to blow his alto sax next to Tim “T-Bone” Williams on trombone. Just a short interlude that quickly goes into the next song…

Graffiti – The Gang Starr Foundation makes a second appearance on Blowout Comb, as Jeru Da Damaja swoops in to rep for Brooklyn next to the three BK transplants. Butter, Lady and Doodle sound decent on this one (although, Ladybug sounds better than decent when she rhymes that she has “the shotty right next to my body”…guns have never sounded so sexy!), but Jeru tip-toes through the smooth-high energy instrumentation (courtesy of Dave Darlington on bass and Shi Reltub on vibes), mixing street smart slang and his large vocabulary in his signature deadpan delivery, easily stealing the show.

Blowing Down – This is definitely one of my least favorite joints on Blowout Comb. It’s not that it’s terrible, it just doesn’t hit as hard as some of the album’s better tracks.

9th Wonder (Blackitolism) – This was the lead single from Blowout Comb. Butterfly and company lay down a funky mid-tempo groove as they boast about being slicker than they were during their Reachin’ days. This song definitely didn’t have the same impact as “Rebirth Of Slick” did, but it’s still a dope record.

For Corners – The title of this song is a clever little play on words. The DP’s invite the Bronx native, Sulaiman to join them on this one (four emcees…fo(u)r corners), as they each get multiple turns spewing thought provoking black conscious rhymes for the streets, or…for the corners. The instrumental has a cosmic jazzy vibe that just feels good and never grows old. This was a great way to wrap up Blowout Comb.

I guess we’ll never truly know if the criticism the DP’s received for being too soft on Reachin’ made them switch their content up for Breakin’ Combs. Regardless, I found the insect trio’s new edgier/militant approach enjoyable. I also found the layered production enjoyable, as the samples mixed with live instrumentation add depth to most of the grooves and shows Butterfly’s (and company) growth as a producer. There are a few skippable moments on Blowout Comb, but the good far out ways the bad, and your soul will be touched (and possibly transformed) by more than three-fourths of the “groove food” the threesome serve up. Blowout Comb may not be a classic, but it definitely deserves more respect than what history has given it through the years.

-Deedub

 

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Thug Life- Volume 1

Thug Life was the collective of 2pac, Syke (rip), Macadoshis, Mopreme (Pac’s step brother) and The Rated R.  In other words, Thug Life was Pac’s attempt of putting his crew on and lining their pockets with some money. The group would sign a deal with Jive Records and released their one and only project, Volume 1, at the tail end of 1994.

Most of the production work on Volume 1 would be handled by the group, with a few contributions from some close associates of Thug Life. I don’t remember hearing a ton of praise from the streets or critics when Volume 1 was released, but regardless, the album would go on to earn the group a gold plaque, which can directly be contributed to 2pac’s involvement.

Even though I was a Pac fan from the jump, I never checked for Thug Life or Volume 1 back in ’94. I found a used copy sometime in the mid 2000’s and figured I’d buy it to complete my Pac collection, and because I was a fan of at least one of the songs on the album.

So even if Volume 1 is trash, I’ll enjoy at least one song and thug my way through the rest of it.

Bury Me A G – The first song of the evening starts out pretty shaky, as the first thing you hear are some janky sounding drums. Then the always trustworthy Isley Brothers “In Between The Sheets” loop comes in, along with Pac’s signature baritone, and makes everything better. We also quickly learn that the rest of the crew aren’t as talent as their thugged out leader when it comes to rhyming.

Don’t Get It Twisted – Jay and Mopreme get the production credit for this dark banger that Mopreme, Macadoshis and Rated R use to thug out on. None of three spit anything worth quoting, but the instrumental is a monster.

Shit Don’t Stop – From the content to the music (to the subpar vocal performance from Y.N.V. on the hook), this was trash. Next…

Pour Out A Little Liquor – This was the lead single and the main reason I bought Volume 1 in the first place. Pac goes solo on this one, as he reminisces and pays respect to his fallen friends: “Drinkin’ on gin, smokin’ on blunts and it’s on, reminisce about my niggas that’s dead and gone, and now their buried, sometimes my eyes still get blurry, cause I’m losin’ all my homies and I worry”. Johnny J build the melodic/melancholy backdrop around a soothing O’Jays’ loop that suits Pac’s rhymes, perfectly.

Stay True – Pac and Stretch (rip) get credit for this smooth back drop, built around an ill guitar loop and bass line. Stretch and Mopreme join Pac on the mic as they take turns pledging to stay true to the thug lifestyle. This would have been better as just a Pac and Stretch combo (who would have thought that two years later they’d both be gone), but not even Mopreme’s lackluster performance can keep this from being a dope record.

How Long Will They Mourn Me? – Warren G and Nate Dogg construct this mid-tempo backdrop, complete with mournful organ chords. Pac, Syke, Macadoshis and The Rated R use it to reminisce, pay respect and dedicate this song to their deceased partner, Kato. Nate Dogg not only gets a co-production credit, but also sings the head scratching hook, (Is he wishing death on somebody else? Man, that’s cold). This isn’t a terrible record, but it didn’t move me.

Under Pressure – Stretch returns and tag teams the mic with 2pac, as the two buddies thug their way all over this hard Thug Life produced track. 2pac gets the better of his guest, but together they both shine.

Street Fame – Stretch hooks up a monster of an instrumental for Mopreme, Syke and Rated R to spit on. Even though the trio are average emcees at best, they sound solid over Stetch’s hard backdrop.

Cradle To The Grave – Apparently this was the second single from Volume 1. Syke and Jay concoct a traditional West Coast instrumental with a touch of r&b flavor, and even invite vocalists Albert Washington and Rochell to sing the hook. For only the second time on Volume 1, all five members rhyme on the same track, as they each discuss their upbringing and share their personal plights. I can see why they chose this as a single. The production is easily digestible by the masses, but the fellas still stay true to their thug themed rhymes.

Str8 Ballin’ – Our hosts definitely saved the best for last. Easy Mo Bee lays down an infectious smooth groove, as Pac creeps solo, spilling vintage thug rhetoric, and he sounds great in the process: “I smoke blunts on a regular, fuck when it counts, I’m tryna make a million dollars out a quarter ounce, and gettin’ ghost on 5-0, fuck them hoes, gotta 45 screaming out survival…don’t wanna go to the pen I’m hittin’ fences, marks on a nigga back missing me by inches, and they say how you survive, weighin’ 165, in the city where the skinny niggas die? Tell mama don’t cry, even when they kill me, they could never take the game from a young g…I’m straight ballin!” I’ve never heard this song before this post, but now I’d put it in my top 15 Pac songs of all time.

Despite Thug Life’s overall lack of rhyming ability and lyrical talent, Volume 1 still ends up being an entertaining listen. Most of the entertainment value can be credited to 2pac on the mic and Thug Life and associates’ solid batch of instrumentals, which includes a few unheralded bangers as well. You’re not going to get much substance or a wide variety of content on Volume 1, but who listens to Thug Life for that?

Martin Luther King Jr. once said there is power in unity and power in numbers. On Volume 1, Thug Life proves that the sum is sometimes greater than its parts. And I never thought I’d be quoting MLK to wrap up a Thug Life album…does that count as blasphemy?

-Deedub

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