RBX – The RBX Files (September 26, 1995)

The world was first introduced to RBX on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, where he dropped “bombs like Hiroshima” and made several other impressive cameos. After The Chronic and stealing the show from his cousin, Snoop Dogg on Doggystyle’s “Serial Killer” the following year, it seemed that RBX would be the next Death Row artist to blow. But before RBX could release an album on Death Row, he would fall out with Suge Knight and Dr. Dre, which led to his departure from the notorious label. In 1995, RBX would finally release his debut album The RBX Files on the independent label, Premeditated Records with distribution through Warner Brothers.

RBX would call on another former Death Row associate, Gregski, to produce The RBX Files from beginning to end. The album reached number 12 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop charts and 62 on the Billboard Top 200. I personally didn’t even know this album existed until I found it starring back at me in the used CD dollar bin at Cheapos a few years ago. I’m never listened to The RBX Files before today, nor am I familiar with any of the songs on the album. Let’s see how this goes.

Introduction – Over spooky sinister chords, RBX introduces the listener to the album and promises death to anyone who is brave enough to battle him: “Any attempts of battle will be futile…and imbeciles, they’ll all die, yes, die…they shall die”.  RBX has a dope voice that would sound great narrating movies and doing voice over work.

Brother Minister A Samad Muhammad – RBX uses a portion of the minister’s sermon to serve as a double meaning for a spiritual and physical escape from the enemy, which in his case is Death Row Records. This sets up the next song…

A.W.O.L. – The first official song of the evening is a dis record aimed at his former Death Row partner, Dr. Dre, who RBX fell out with sometime after The Chronic album and Doggystyle were recorded: “Dr. Dre, do you remember you was broke, and the whole rap industry thought you was a joke? Me, D.O.C. and D-O-G sat and made, lyrics to replenish your name like Gatorade, but you got thirsty for the money, punk, and disrespected the three that put you back up on it”. RBX lands some decent blows over Gregski’s slow moving funk groove, but never delivers a convincing knockout punch. I love the hook (built around RBX’s most popular Chronic bar: “I drop bombs like Hiroshima”) and the song is decent, but it’s safe to say that you won’t find this on anyone’s Top Ten Dis Record list.

Slip Into Long Beach – RBX and Gregski step the pace up a bit with this one, as RBX invites the listen to “slip into some fucked up shit” as he gets violent on some “catch a body” type shit and represents for his city, Long Beach. And just in case you were confused, RBX reminds you on the first verse “No, this aint Compton and Long Beach together, strictly Long Beach”. RBX’s unorthodox flow almost sounds like a spoken word poem, but it works over the decent instrumental.

The Edge – On this one RBX is just waiting for someone to push him over the edge so he can lace them with bullet holes, or as he says on the hook: “I’m close to the edge, bullets will be zippin’, zappin, bodies collapsin'”. RBX’s bloody bars sound great over Gregski’s hard backdrop.

Rough Is The Texture – RBX continues with his violent verses. This time he’s got his aim on every rapper in South Gate, Watts, Inglewood, South Central and Compton, only showing mercy to MC Eiht. Gregski’s instrumental sounds like a poor man’s Dr. Dre production, but it works behind RBX’s rough and theatrical vocal tone.

Burn – This sounds like some shit Satan would have on his playlist. Our host rides the dark and evil mid-tempo instrumental to perfection.

Our Time Is Now – Gregski loops up a portion of Roy Ayers “We Live In Brooklyn, Baby” for the backdrop, while X continues on with his mass murder spree. RBX has an uncanny ability to rap over any beat and sound super comfortable while doing it.

Feathers In The Wind – More violent themes over a beautiful backdrop. Murder never sounded so poetic.

Rec Dialec Introduction (Interlude) – RBX sounds like he’s narrating for some Medieval Game of Thrones type shit on this one. His grandiose introduction is used to set up the next song…

Tundra – RBX sits this one out and lets his homies hold it down: E’D Ameng, Meticulous Mad 1 and D’Cipher all take part in this chilly rumble in the tundra. None of them spit top-notch bars, but Gregski’s subdued mid-tempo instrumental is tough and the reggae touched hook was dope.

Drama (Interlude) – Our host borrows a clip from the movie Strapped (remember that one?) to set up the next song…

Mom’s Are Cryin’ – Over a slow rumbling bluesy backdrop, RBX spins a few tales that end with a young brother dead and a mom crying over her deceased son. Not one of my favorite songs, but it’s cool.

BMS On The Attack – Over unnerving drums, our host uses one short verse to kill a devil white man, as he continues to eloquently do in a poetic fashion: “Relax, I’m about to take my respect, I lower and aim straight for his fuckin’ neck, Boo-ya! Boo-ya! Then I fade into the wind, hidden by night, reflected by moon, soon comes the wrath of blacks, actually facts…” This wasn’t great, but it was short, so that’s a good thing.

Sounds Of Reality – After spending pretty much all of the first part of RBX Files killing brothers, RBX decides to get conscious with this one. Gregski loops up a familiar Blackbyrds’ loop (see Gang Starr’s “Say Your Prayers” and CMW’s “Def Wish”) that creates a mysterious soundscape for our host. The song opens with voices chanting an old Negro spiritual (taken from the Roots soundtrack), then RBX comes in to shares some Nation of Islam theology and celebrates the black culture. This was cool.

Armageddon (Interlude) – Our host uses another portion of a Brother Minister A. Samad Muhammad sermon for this interlude, as he shares more Nation of Islam teachings and takes a shot at Snoop Dogg’s rap alias. RBX ends the interlude by sharing a conversation he had with a devil Caucasian man about the gang problem. Our host finds a silver lining to the problem, claiming one day the gangbangers will be the frontline soldiers when Armageddon takes place, which according to the Bible is the last battle between good and evil, to which RBX equates as black and white. I aint buying RBX’s philosophy, but it’s a great way to justify all the violence he’s spewed up to this point RBX Files.

Akebulan – The song title, even though it’s spelled incorrectly (see”Alkebulan”), is the oldest name for Africa, which in Arabic means “The land of the blacks”. RBX is joined by Ganjah K, as the two take turns detailing the battle of Armageddon from the front lines and talk about returning to the Motherland, even if it’s only spiritual. Gregski’s backdrop is concurrently somber and hard, which works well behind the song’s content.

Fightin’ The Devil – RBX sounds a lot like Chuck D on this one, as he aggressively attacks the accapella track, buckin’ down devils and droppin’ mathematics.  All that hard and it added absolutely nothing to the album.

No Time – Over a decent instrumental, RBX calls for black unity and for the black community to be prepared for the impending Armageddon war.

Our Time Is Now (Outro) – RBX briefly brings back the “Are Time Is Now” chant from early for this outro.

A.W.O.L. (Gregski Remix) – I didn’t care much for this remix. It sounds way too empty for my liking.

RBX might have the greatest underrated voice in hip-hop. It’s a perfect mixture of Professor X’s dramatics and Chuck D’s raw authoritative tone. He’s kind of the James Earl Jones of hip-hop, which is probably why his other alias is The Narrator. On The RBX Files, The Narrator does a quality job of mastering the ceremony throughout, as his voice and his ability to adapt to any beat and sounds confident while doing so, shines through. RBX’s content gets a bit redundant and early on he comes off bitter over the Death Row fallout, but for the most part he does his thing over a solid batch of Gregski instrumentals. The RBX Files’ is a solid album, but I can’t help but wonder what it would have sounded like under the direction of Dr. Dre.

-Deedub

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Count Bass-D – Pre-Life Crisis (September 26, 1995)

Dwight Conroy Farrell, better known by his alias, Count Bass D (which pays homage to the legendary jazz musician/band leader, Count Basie) is a musician, producer and emcee that most of you have probably never heard of. Then again, some of you may have heard the Bronx born, Ohio-raised emcee spit alongside MF Doom on “Potholderz” from his 2004 release Mm…Food, which Count also produced. I first heard Count Bass D on his cameo on the Grits’ (another group most of you probably aren’t familiar with, but you can read my review of their debut album here while you listen to it on your favorite DSP) “People Noticin’ Me” record from their sophomore effort, Factors Of The Seven. But before the MF Doom and Grits cameos, Count Bass D would sign a deal with the Work Group label (which was also the label home of the London-based acid jazz group Jamiroquai throughout the nineties and the label J-Lo’s debut album, On The 6, was released on), where he would release his debut album Pre-Life Crisis.

Count would be responsible for most of the production on Pre-Life Crisis, as he plays live drums, keys and bass on most of the album and invites a few other musicians to help with a portion of the load. Legend has it that because of Pre-Life Crisis‘ progressive style, the label found it hard to market the album, so it never got a proper promotional push and failed both commercially and critically, which eventually led to the label cutting ties with Count, which is a nice way of saying they dropped his ass. Since then, Count has released several projects independently and built a solid cult following over the past 25 years.

Several years ago, I found a cd copy of Pre-Life Crisis at a Pawn America for a dollar, still in its original packaging. And since I liked the cameos I heard from him previously, I spent my hard earn cash on it. Read along and let’s see if my dollar investment was worthwhile.

The Dozens – Count kicks off the album with a jazzy mid-tempo mash up that he uses to hurl insults at his competition (and himself) and boast of his lyrical prowess in his own unique lighthearted way. If you were born before 1985, you’ll recognize the hook, as it’s built around an old playground chant. Count also pulls from his church upbringing, briefly remixing and singing an old hymn at the end of a verse. This was a great way to start the evening.

Sandwiches (I Got A Feeling) – Apparently, this was the first and only single released from Pre-Life Crisis. Sandwiches is Count’s slang term for promiscuous women, aka hoes: “Speaking on sandwiches kinda fickle, she can be white, or wheat or even pumpernickel, she don’t even walk around being discrete, on the contraire she walks around looking for the meat”. He remixes and sings another old black church hymn for the hook that some might find blasphemous, but I found it comically entertaining. The true star of this one is CBD’s dope groove and the seductive guitar chords from his friend Mark Nash. Dope. Period.

T-Boz (Part 1/2) – A funky bop plays for about thirty seconds, while Count harmonizes over it.

Shake – CBD spits more fun-spirited rhymes over some cool jazzy instrumentation. The airy vocals of Kismick Martin and Vincent Sims on the hook and adlibs was a nice added touch.

T-Boz Tried To Talk To Me – CBD brings back the instrumental from the “T-Boz (Part 1/2)” interlude and shares his story of meeting the raspy-voiced singer from TLC in Atlanta, GA, where he claims she tried to get with him. Apparently his insecurity kept him from responding before the once in a lifetime opportunity passed him by. I laugh every time I hear him dis Jodeci’s former lead man on the second verse: “Rumors ran free, that she loved Jodeci, who gives a fuck about K-Ci? He’s just as skinny as me”. Whether the story is true or not, the hook is hi-larious and the record is entertaining as hell.

Carmex – This is definitely one of my least favorite tracks on Pre-Life Crisis. But the laidback live instrumentation is still enjoyable.

I Got Needs – CBD uses this one to have a heart to heart with his women, as he clearly expresses to her what he needs: “Whether it’s sexual or intellectual, I have needs which are emotional and very personal, you try to play the selfish role to always get what you want, which happens to be control, of my thoughts, of my whereabouts, trying not to pout, I get soft and never go off, but you try to take advantage of the nigga that you want me to be and you describe him to me”. Count builds the hook around a dope Lord Jamar line (whom he shouts out at the end of the song) and the soulful organ chords make the sophisticated instrumental sounds even more amazing.

Broke Thursday – In court jester fashion, Count laments about being broke over a melancholic bluesy backdrop: “Let me tell you what’s triflin’, I got a shirt with my name on the back but I couldn’t afford the hyphen, or the “O” or the “U” or the “A”, I hope you can recognize my name without the vowels, cause “C-N-T-B-S-S-D” is the new way of spelling Count Bass D due to a lack of money, maybe one day I’ll look up and manage money better, because there’s so many times I fuck it up like Chris Webber.” It’s always refreshing to hear an emcee display vulnerability, and it resonates even more when he can rap and the music behind him sounds good.

Agriculture – Count invites his homie Vincent Sims to join him, as the two take turns comparing sex to gardening and cap things off with a hook that has the two asking each other “Did you plant her?” and “Did she bear fruit?”, to which they both reply: “No, it wasn’t in the season.” The hook is massively corny, the rhymes are mildly cheesy (ecspecially Vincent’s) and the instrumental is too pretty and refined for my taste buds. This is definitely my least favorite song on Pre-Life Crisis.

Brown – Our host sounds super confident and spits some of his strongest bars of the evening on this one, proclaiming “I feel better than Tony Toni Tone bustin’ a nut without a rubber on, word is bond, cause I got the clout ya understand? My records out sell a sellout like the Cream of Wheat Man.” But even stronger than his bars is the sick groove he creates to place them on. This is easily my favorite song on Pre-Life Crisis.

The Hate Game – CBD sticks with the mellow smooth jazzy instrumentation and dedicates this one to all his haters. The hook is kind of annoying, but overall, it’s a solid record.

Pink Tornado – The song title is Count’s unique term for big mouthed people whose tongues won’t stop moving. Our host is fed up with people shit talkin’ and backbiting (I laugh every time I hear him say “Your album’s phat, nigga please, rhymin’ aint shit, I play drums, bass and keys.”), so he lets them have it over this pleasingly melodic bop. I like this one, and I love the song title.

Sunday School – This one definitely brought me back to my childhood days as a peasy-headed church boy. Count hooks up a smooth groove and reminisces on the good old innocent days of Sunday School: “Back in the day we use to go to Sunday School, riding the church bus, actin’ a fool, breath smellin’ like milk from that bowl of cereal, our backs are extra itchy from the wool material, tight dress shoes and clip-on ties, you want to smile for pictures but the sun was in your eyes, we buy a bag of sweets before we got to the bus stop, strictly Jolly Ranchers cause you can’t hide Blow Pops, the toughest niggas never had no beef, are tongues were purple and green with Now & Laters stickin’ to our teeth.” My connection to the song’s sentiment might make me a little bias, but I like this one.

Baker’s Dozen – Clever title. CBD ends Pre-Life Crisis by bringing back the instrumental from the opening track.

On “Brown” Count Bass-D makes a very profound statement and asks an interesting rhetorical question in jest: “Niggas out here tryna be 3pac and Spice-2, so what’s an original emcee to do?” Pre-Life Crisis is his rebuttal. Count goes hard against the grain, avoiding all the hardcore Mafioso materialistic rap that begin to flood hip-hop in the mid-nineties and offers a quirky, playful, vulnerable and self-deprecating style, occasionally mixing in some braggadocio shit, just so you don’t mistake his silliness for a wack emcee. Musically, CBD’s musicianship makes for a cohesive batch of cool jazzy-seasoned hip-hop instrumentals with sprinkles of church influence that come together to form feel good vibes. There are a few songs on Pre-Life Crisis that could have been left off, but their inclusion doesn’t disrupt the overall flow of the album. Pre-Life Crisis is a great debut album from Count Bass D that was ahead of its time and unfortunately will probably never get the retro-props it deserves from the masses.

-Deedub

 

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Das EFX – Hold It Down (September 26, 1995)

It’s wild to think that by 1995 Das EFX already had two albums under their belt. After hitting the scene hard in ’92 with their platinum selling debut album, Dead Serious where their unique “iggity” style made quite the impact and produced several copycats, they returned in 1993 with its follow-up, Straight Up Sewaside. Due to heavy criticism from those who felt the “iggity” style was gimmicky and too animated, Das would abandon it on Sewaside and use a more straight forward approach that ultimately resulted in a lackluster album. The duo would return in ’95 with their third release, Hold It Down.

On their first two albums, Das rendered most of the production responsibilities to the production duo, Solid Scheme. While Solid Scheme would produce a few records on Hold It Down, Das would also call on some all-star producers to help carry the load: Premier, Pete Rock, Easy Mo Bee, DJ Clark Kent and Showbiz. Even with the A-lister production help, Hold It Down was a commercial failure and received mediocre reviews. It would also be Das’ last album on the EastWest label.

For some reason I didn’t buy Hold It Down back in the day, and only recognize one of the songs on the track list. I found a used copy a few years back and still haven’t listened to. Until now. Hopefully I won’t agree with the critics’ reviews on this one.

Intro (Once Again) – After nearly thirty seconds of basically silence (I’m assuming it’s supposed to be Das EFX walking and entering the studio in the background), Das kicks things off with heavy drums and a thick bass line that they use to yell a high energy chant for approximately thirty seconds.

No Diggedy – The song title’s not only the hook, but a double entendre for the ebonical way of saying “no doubt” and a tongue and cheek poke at themselves for abandoning their stuttering style on the previous album. They do bring the style back for this one, as they mix small slabs of it into their shit talk over some decent Premo boom bap.

Knockin’ Niggaz Off – Easy Mo Bee gets his first production credit of the evening, sliding the duo some hard shit that they spit quality battle rhymes on. Add the catchy hook built around a dope Rakim bar and this ends up being a solid joint.

Here We Go – Das continues to talk their shit and spew battle raps over a dope Solid Scheme backdrop, complete with triumphant horns.

Real Hip-Hop (Original Version) – This was the lead single and the only song I was familiar with going into this review. Premo gets his second and final production credit of the evening, laying down an ill slow-rolling bop with a dense bass line that our hosts use to represent the real hip-hop over.

Here It Is – Kevin Geeda hooks up a sinisterly dark instrumental for Skoob and Dray, who continue to spew quality rhymes. As great as Das sounds, they are out done by Geeda’s exceptional instrumental.

Microphone Master – Apparently this was the second single from Hold It Down. Mo Bee cooks up a slick soundscape that sounds like something Premo might have done. Dray and Skoob proceed to bless it with their “sewer style”, completing the second part of a potent one-two combination punch.

40 & A Blunt – I bet you can figure out what this one is about. Mo Bee drops off some laidback cool shit that Das uses to celebrate getting drunk and smoking weed over. I chuckle every time I hear Skoob randomly say “I buys ten bags for dolo, sick of niggas askin’ “Yo, what up with K-Solo?””. This was a cool record that I would get high to if I smoked.

Buck -Buck – Over a simple but hard drum beat, Krazy and Skoob play hot potato with the mic without any breaks or hooks. They stop spittin’ just over the three minute mark, but it sounds like they could have gone on a lot longer if they wanted to.

Intro – Das starts the second half of Hold It Down with another intro. This one takes a super short snippet of the duo at a live show that goes right into the next song…

Can’t Have Nuttin’ – Gerald “Soul G” Stevens lives up to his alias, as he provides Das with a soulful backdrop that takes the listener to church, while Skoob and Dray testify, sharing their humble upbringings, how they met and ultimately got into the game. It’s rare to hear Das in storytelling mode, but they do a serviceable job and it was a nice change of pace from the rest of the content they’ve given us on Hold It Down to this point.

Alright – Das delivers more quality bars over an intense soulful banger, courtesy of Mo Bee. On the song’s last first Skoob calls out all the rappers who bit their style over the previous three years: “Some heard the style and did construction on it, but they just touchin’ on it, bitch ass niggas aint got nuttin’ for it”. This was dope.

Hold It Down – A title song should never sound this mediocre.

Dedicated – Here’s another one that I thought Premo did, but it’s actually credited to the legendary DJ Clark Kent. Das dedicates the hook to high niggas, fly bitches and niggas and chicks that run game, but the verses stick to the boastful shit talkin’ they’ve pretty much spewed the entire album. Even though this came out a year and a half before his untimely demise, it still made me pause when I heard Dray say “I saw ya, tried to steal my style, hit the balls, I guess ya must be ready to die like Biggie Smalls”.

Ready To Rock Rough Rhymes – Das takes a back seat and lets their long time production partners, Derek Lynch (aka DL) and Chris Charity (aka C-Dog), together known as Solid Scheme, shine, as they not only produce the potent and rough instrumental, but spit on it as well. Besides C-Dog saying “badder” (and not the stuff you make pancakes with), they actually sound decent on the mic (Chris has a dope rapping voice). Krazy and Skoob do show up at the tail end of the song, just to remind their producers who the real emcees are. This was dope.

Represent The Real – To confirm that their beef with KRS-One was truly squashed, the duo invite The Teacher to join them on this one (for a quick recap on their beef, click here, then scroll down and read my thoughts on “We In There”). KRS would also include this on his self-titled album that would be released a few weeks after Hold It Down. From Showbiz’ instrumental to all three emcees’ rhymes, this was very ho-hum.

Comin’ Thru – Das handles DJ Scratch’s decent backdrop well, but I wasn’t crazy about this one.

Hardcore Rap Act – Our hosts breeze over Solid Scheme’s airy and very serious instrumental, but Skoob, specifically, demolishes this shit: “You never catch me rappin’ about some shit like the government, but I be snappin’ on emcees like your bitch snap on Doublemint, got a shotty and a burner and I keeps the two ready, to hit you in your chest like Steve Young do Jerry, Rice, been nice, since doc sliced, my umbilocal, knew that I would be the ill funk freaker of the syllables, and son is rugged you’re gonna love it in an instant, see I smoke blunts, but yo my Pops smoked Winstons”. This was a tough record.

Bad News – Scratch hooks up a very hard EPMD-esque backdrop, as Das is joined by PMD for this short little diddly.

Real Hip-Hop (Pete Rock Remix) – This was a bonus record, only included on the cd version of Hold It Down. As the title suggest, Pete Rock is responsible for the instrumental for this remix to the album’s lead single. Pete hooks up a mid-tempo high energy backdrop with some muscle that actually helps Dray and Skoob’s rhymes stand out more than the original mix.

Das EFX makes one thing very clear on Hold It Down: that they’re some “rappin’ ass negroes”. Their talent may have gotten lost in the animation of the first album and overlooked on their underwhelming follow-up, but Hold It Down finds the locked lyricists in full stride, mixing potent punchlines and metaphors with the perfect measurement of “iggity”, as they pretty much destroy every beat thrown at them. Speaking of beats, pound for pound, Hold It Down has the best batch of instrumentals of Das’ first three albums. Their battle/braggadocio freestyles become a little redundant by the midway point and they could have shaved three of four songs off the final product, but overall, they create an entertaining album that lives up to its title.

-Deedub

 

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Prince Markie Dee – Love Daddy (September 8, 1995)

Do you know what today is???? Yep, you guessed it! If you live in the states, its Election Day! If you haven’t voted already make sure you get out there and vote. Now back to our regularly scheduled program…

To those who don’t know, Prince Markie Dee is the former member of The Fat Boys (the light skin one), turned producer for some of Uptown Records early nineties artists, turned solo artist, himself. He released his debut solo album, Free, in August of ’92 on Columbia Records (you can read my review on that album and get more on PMD’s background here). Much like the songs he produced for others, Free was chock-full of R&B saturated hip-hop instrumentals with love themes. The album received poor reviews and soon Markie Dee would be looking for a new label home. Fittingly, he would land at Motown where he would release his sophomore effort, Love Daddy

Prince Markie Dee and his long-time production partner, Mark Rooney would handle most of the production on Love Daddy, with help from a few outside parties. The album went so far under the radar that I don’t think anyone bought it when it came out and the critics didn’t even waste time reviewing it. Years ago, I bought it for a few bucks and haven’t listened to it in its entirety until now. 

By the way, the artwork on the album cover is awful. 

Miss Jones (Interlude 1)Love Daddy begins with the first of a series of interludes that has the bedroom-voiced and former radio personality, Miss Jones seductively interviewing Prince Markie Dee about the album over some quiet storm shit.

Crunchtime – Markie Dee is joined by his protégé, Hasan The Love Child for the first song of the evening, as the two take turns spittin’ some decent boastful shit for Markie’s limited male fan base. Anthony Perez and Kevin Perez (I wonder if they’re related) use the same Grover Washington Jr. loop (“Hydra”) that Da Beatminerz used for Black Moon’s classic record, “How Many MC’s…” and dress it up in pretty keyboard chords and a harmonized hook (that annoyingly has our host repeating: “Look for doddy”). This makes for a decent start to the evening. 

L.D. – If you haven’t figured it out already, “L.D.” is short for “Love Daddy”. Our host calls on his former Fat Boys’ alum, Buffy aka The Human Beat Box (who’s credited in the liner notes as Darren “Buff” Robinson) to produce this one and he samples the heavily recycled Isley Brothers “Between The Sheets” for the backdrop. I found it semi-interesting that Buffy is credited for the instrumental, since Markie accused Biggie and Puffy of stealing this instrumental from him and using it for the classic record “Big Poppa”. Markie Dee tries his best to emulate Biggie’s “player” swag on this one (I chuckle every time I hear him say “Let your guard down, I’m sure to get up in ya with speed, make sure to bag it up, so I can catch my seed”), but falls very short. 

Tell Me That You Want It – Markie D and his longtime production partner Mark Rooney interpolate Tom Browne’s “Jamaica Funk” for our host to spit game to a certain lady over. I love the groove, but I was even more impressed by the group, Onome’s dope vocal performance on the hook and adlibs (I’ll have to check if they have any of their own music out there). This was pretty dope. 

Miss Jones (Interlude 2) – Miss Jones continues to flirt with Markie over the same quiet storm instrumental from the previous interlude. 

Garden Of Love – The Perez boys lay the R&B on thick with this one. Markie uses it to talk sex, dropping lines like “I bust off like a gat” and leaving the object of his erection “cummin’ like Niagara”. Billy Lawrence compliments the mellow groove nicely, sprinkling her pretty vocals on the hook. 

I Wanna Get With You – The Perez boys recycle a loop from Teddy P’s “Love T.K.O.” for the backdrop (another overly used popular sample amongst hip-hop producers/artists). Our host uses it to go on the hunt for some good good and ends up meeting a chick named Miranda whom he feeds “lines about delusions of grandeur”, which is probably the illest bar Markie Dee ever spit in his life. Mark Rooney almost derails this one with his out of key chords on the hook and adlibs (he kind of sounds like the terrible Juice Crew crooner, TJ Swan), but it winds up being a decent listen. 

Mellow – This is easily my favorite song on Love Daddy. Markie takes a break from all the love and sex talk, as he and Hasan get braggadocio and talk their shit over a feel good instrumental built around an ill loop with a bangin’ bass line. Our host must really like the word “grandeur”, as he forces it into a second consecutive song. This time around he’s “having visions of grandeur”, and I’m not sure what that even means. But regardless, Vincent Mason’s addictive groove we’ll keep you vibin’ and hitting the replay button, over and over and over…

Miss Jones (Interlude 3) -More of the same as the first two interludes. 

All My Love All The Time – And back to the R&B. Prince Markie Dee invites R&B singer Joe (how impressive is it to have a common name like Joe and be able to use that alone as your stage name? And it worked!) to join him, as they rap and croon, respectively, about getting to feel and taste a certain lady’s punani. During his second verse, Markie refers to himself as a “two hundred pounder”, which is a stretch, since I’m sure he was far north of 250, but it makes for a good chuckle. It was very nasty to hear Joe beg a chick to “give it” to Markie Dee (“Love Daddy”) at the end of the song, but this is an irresistible banger that sounds better with each listen.  

Back Is The Incredible – If “Mellow” is my favorite song on Love Daddy, this one is my second fav. The Marks hook up the drums from Taana Gardner’s classic record “Heartbeat” and add some airy synth chords to bring the instrumental to beautiful completion, while our host and Hasan spit passable bars over it. 

Everyman – Markie’s “perfect gentlemen-meet all your needs” persona comes off as insincere, and the overly emotional synthy instrumental sounds cheesy. 

Out Of The Love – After taking the love of his life out of the hood and showing her the finer things in life, Markie discovers she’s been cheating on him, so now he’s out of the love. It’s always comical to hear a man tell a woman “I made you feel like a woman should feel”. It’s not a great song, but I enjoyed the instrumental and the jazzy bridge break. 

Who’s The Man – Our host uses this jazzy mid-tempo groove to talk his shit on, as he claims to be “smoother than a baby’s ass” and that he’s “puttin’ an end to niggas rap careers.” While the former is debatable, the latter is a flat out lie. It was kind of pointless to have Hasan come in at the end of the song and spit eight bars, but whatever. Random thought: Heavy D had a song with the same title…was this an indirect shot from one overweight lover to another? And can I get a question mark at the end of the song title, please? 

Call My Name – The Marks loop up Mtume’s “Juicy” for the backdrop and our host uses it to tell his peeps that if they need anything he’s just a phone call away. This is another instrumental that Markie Dee claims Puffy and Biggie stole from him. He should have just handed it over to them without a fight. 

Miss Jones (Interlude 4) – One final flirting session between Miss Jones and our host. It sounded like she may have creamed her panties when Markie mentioned he might do some work in movies. 

Mellow (Special Remix For My People) – The two Marks sample the funky guitar break from Idris Muhammed’s “Crab Apple” record for this remix, as Markie and Hasan spit more braggadocios bars over it. Markie Dee sounds a lot like Heavy D on this one.

Can I Get A Witness (Interlude) – It’s labeled as an interlude, but at almost three minutes long it might as well have just been called a song. Over jazzy instrumentation, Markie Dee invites Dwight Thompson to takes us to church, as he croons the same line over and over again, throwing in a few adlibs here and there. And that concludes Love Daddy.  

On Love Daddy, Prince Markie Dee apes portions of Biggie and Heavy D’s style, picks the low hanging fruit with his sample selection, bombards you with sappy love raps, but somehow he manages to make most of the shit sound good. I know the hardcore organic hip-hop heads won’t feel this album, but if you’re like me and enjoy an occasional taste of R&B rap, you’ll find a large chunk (no pun intended) of Love Daddy entertaining, in a guilty pleasure kind of way. 

-Deedub 

 

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Junior M.A.F.I.A. – Conspiracy (August 22, 1995)

After the success of his definitive debut album, Ready To Die and a few classic remixes and cameos, Biggie Smalls was a viable candidate for king of New York and seemingly had the world in his chubby palms. Instead of rushing back to the studio to record a follow-up, he would first go back and take care of his Brooklyn crew, Junior M.A.F.I.A. The M.A.F.I.A (which is a ridiculously corny acronym for Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes) was made up of The Snakes (the duo of Trife and Larceny), Cheek Del Vec, Kleptomaniac, Lil’ Cease and the Queen B, Lil’ Kim. With Big’s help, they were able to secure a deal with Big Beat/Atlantic (I wonder why Puff didn’t sign them to Bad Boy), where they would release their debut album, Conspiracy.

JM would call on the legendary DJ Clark Kent and a handful of veteran producers to sculpt the sound of Conspiracy, which produced a few moderately successful singles and would go on to earn the crew a gold plaque. But despite all of the commercial success, the reviews for Conspiracy were mixed upon its release.

Junior M.A.F.I.A. would disband shortly after the murder of Biggie in 1997, but Conspiracy would lay the ground work for Lil’ Kim’s successful solo career. In 2005, a few of the members would reunite and release Riot Musik independently under the Junior M.A.F.I.A. name, but it came and went faster than Pokémon Go with little hoopla or fanfare. 

Intro – The album opens with a convoluted skit that ends with Junior M.A.F.I.A and a rival crew getting into a shootout that bleeds (no pun intended) into the first song…

White Chalk – Daddy-O (formerly of Stetsasonic) and Understanding concoct a sinisterly dark boom-bap treat for Trife & Larceny to delve into the “murder disease” they claim to suffer from. Larceny’s delivery and energy are godawful on this one. He sounds like a first grader who just woke up and is struggling to read his lyrics off the page. Thankfully, Trife (who sounds a lot like Havoc from Mobb Deep) sounds more convincing with his violent threats (I still laugh every time I hear him say “Don’t do this killin’ shit for real, I do this shit for fun”). The ill Biggie Smalls and Method Man (I should start a tally count of how many cameos or vocal samples he had in ’95) vocal snippets on the hook make this dark song sound even colder.

Excuse Me… – So apparently some of the gunshots we heard at the end of the intro ended up hitting Larceny. This skit finds the M.A.F.I.A. at the hospital trying to check on him, but they get thrown out for being disgruntled and disruptive. All the nurse asked for was his government name because she couldn’t find him under his rap alias and they snapped. Geesh! 

Realms Of Junior M.A.F.I.A. – Biggie and DJ Clark Kent hook up a banger for Lil’ Cease, Cheek Del Vec, Jamal (formerly one-half of the short lived duo, Illegal) and Notorious himself, to come together for this ill cipher joint. Cease and Cheek do a solid job of warming things up for Jamal, who turns in an impressive verse. But of course, B-I-G walks away with this one and makes it sound easy. This is a tough record that I completely forgot about.  

Player’s Anthem – This was the lead single from Conspiracy. Biggie, Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease come together to represent for all the players out there. Biggie’s catchy hook (that hi-lariously instructs niggas to grab their dicks if they love hip-hop and bitches to rub their titties if they love him) and DJ Clark Kent’s feel good bouncy instrumental help this classic record hold up well, twenty-five years after its release. 

I Need You Tonight – This was Conspiracy’s second single. Trife, Lil’ Kim (who will ever forget her sexy seductive line about doing “things to you, that Vanessa Del Rio would be shamed to do”?) and Klepto use this one to talk relationships and sex (with an emphasis on the sex) over Clark Kent’s warm and cozy backdrop built around a loop from Patrice Rushen’s classic record, “Remind Me” (that has been used several times in hip-hop, but always sounds amazing to my ears). An uncredited Faith Evans sings the hook and adlibs (she would be replaced in the video/single version of the song by Aaliyah (rip)), which is the icing on top of this delectable cake. 

Get Money – This was the third and final single and easily the biggest hit on Conspiracy. Biggie and Kim freak this duet like Ashford and Simpson, or more like Ike and Tina, since Big threatens to beat the shit out of Kim for snitchin’ on him during his verse. EZ Elpee’s funky mid-tempo bop helps Big and Kim’s rhymes sound even more entertaining. 

I’ve Been… – This skit always cracks me up. A dude calls his girl and asks her to fuck him and his mans. After she calls him disrespectful for asking and shuts him down, the dude then accuses her of already fucking his man, to which she replies: “What? So what, nigga fuck you!” Hi-larious!!!

Crazaay – The Snakes get their second group joint of the evening. Clark Kent lays yet another ill backdrop, sliding the duo a smooth mid-tempo groove with a seductive bass line that they use to pretty much cover the same ground as they did on “White Chalk”. Unlike “White Chalk”, Larceny sounds awake on this go, and ten times better than he did the first time around. 

Back Stabbers – A paranoid Lil’ Kim is worried that chicks are coming for her position and possessions, which keeps her high on weed, strapped and rocking a bulletproof dress for protection (that shit sounds dangerously sexy as hell). Kim adapts a monotone flow to match Daddy-O’s slower paced melodic instrumental (the Lalah Hathaway vocal loop laced throughout the song was masterful), while Jimmy Cozier sings the hook from the classic O’Jays’ record with the same name. Brilliant record from top to bottom. 

Shot! – This skit has Trife making a phone call to some unidentified man, letting him know that Larceny’s been shot and to come visit him at the hospital. I’m not sure what this added to Conspiracy, but whatever. 

Lyrical Wizardry – Akshun (yep, Special Ed’s deejay) gets his first of two production credits of the evening, and he laces Klepto with a hard backdrop with eerie vibes that our host handles fairly well: “Emcees get cut like glass, cut like class, rag tagged and crash, hemp bags, come save dat ass”. Yet another banger on an album stacked with them. 

Oh My Lord – Speaking of Special Ed, he gets the production credit on this one and provides a simple stripped-down backdrop for Klepto and Biggie to play a game of name brand-drug dealing-gun bustin’ hot potato over. Klepto does a solid job of matching Big’s superior flow (which might be because Big penned some of his shit), and this ends up being a solid record. 

Murder Onze – Akshun gets his second production credit of the evening, providing a semi-sleepy instrumental for Cheek Del Vec, Klepto, Trife and Larceny to regurgitate more of the street shit they’ve spewed throughout Conspiracy. Speaking of regurgitate, Cheek recycles Biggie’s “929 Mazda” line from “Oh My Lord”, substituting “Natasha” with “Rhonda”, which is both lazy and embarrassing, and strong proof that Biggie ghost wrote for more than Lil’ Kim on Conspiracy

Outro – The album ends with Trife asking Kim if she thinks Larceny will recover from the six shots he took, to which she response optimistically (in her own hood fashion), as his heart monitor beeps in the background. Then Trife ends the album saying: “That nigga took six shots, man…ain’t too many niggas get up from that shit, man. But I know whoever did it, man, they ain’t gonna be that happy”. Maybe it’s a reach, but it almost sounds like Trife’s comment was a subliminal reference to the infamous 1994 robbery and shooting of 2pac at Quad Studios (the same studio that Conspiracy was recorded in) that Pac would later blame on Biggie and his peeps. But it would explain the album’s title. 

Conspiracy proves there’s truth to the old adage that there is power in numbers. Individually (with the exception of Lil’ Kim), none of the members of Junior M.A.F.I.A. are talented enough to hold their own and entertain for a full album. But collectively, with a strong backing from their mentor, Biggie Smalls, they do a solid job of holding the listener’s attention with their materialistic brand of gangsta raps. Even more impressive is the production work that pretty much bangs from beginning to end. I could have done without the last song and the interludes that attempt to carry on the weak story line, but Conspiracy is still an underrated album that may be a candidate for sleeper album of the year.

-Deedub 

 

 

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Twinz – Conversation (August 22, 1995)

The Twinz (not to be confused with the New Orleans-based female duo and one time Rap-A-Lot Record affiliate, the Ghetto Twinz, or the Ying Yang Twins, or any other twin rap duo you would like to insert here) are the Long Beach, California-based identical twin brother rap duo, made up of Wayniac and Tripp Loc. We first heard from the Williams boys on their mentor, Warren G’s debut album, Regulate, where they made a couple of cameo appearances. Warren G would add them to his G-Funk Music group roster and helped them snag a deal with Def Jam (which was also Warren’s label home) where they would release their debut album, Conversation.

Warren G would be responsible for sonically sculpting Conversation, producing all but one song on the album. Despite not having any hit singles and flying under the radar for the most part, Conversation fared well on the charts and received positive reviews, including an impressive 4 Mic rating from The Source at a time when it still had credible.

I don’t remember hearing Conversation back in ’95 and probably didn’t even know it existed until around ’05 when I bought it used on the strength of being a fan of Warren G’s production work on Regulate. I believe this is my first time listening to Conversation in its entirety. So let’s listen together and then have a…conversation afterwards. Yeah, I know that was corny, but it was worth a try.

Conversation #1Conversation starts with a skit that has the Twinz in the studio putting the finishing touches on the album (by the way, the closing bars that Tripp Loc spits are trash). Then our hosts ask the studio engineer, Greg, to play the album back.

Round & Round – The first song of the night (which was also the album’s first single) features Wayniac and Tripp Loc dropping subpar bars over a decent feel good instrumental and a poorly written hook. What the hell does “Twinz got the sound that goes round and round” even mean?

Good Times – Over a smooth G-funk groove the Twinz reminisce about the good old days of their youth. Their rhymes fair better than what they spit on the previous song, and once again, the talented Nanci Fletcher is forced to sing yet another poorly written hook.

4 Eyes 2 Heads – This is the only song on Conversation that Warren G didn’t produce. Soopafly (who’s credited in the liner notes by his government name, Priest Brooks) slides our hosts a synth-heavy poor man’s version of a Dr. Dre circa The Chronic era instrumental that the duo use to get into some gangsta shit over. Nanci Fletcher sits this one out, but the reggae-tinged hook doesn’t fare much better. After a zillion listens, I still have no idea what their saying on the second half of the hook.

Jump Ta This – A very mediocre party song that if you listen to it enough, you might start to believe that you actually like it.

Eastside LB – This was the second single from Conversation. Warren G sprinkles some G-Funk over Denise Williams’ classic “Free” record that Tripp Loc and Wayniac use to celebrate the place they call home: the eastside of Long Beach, California. This is a nice summertime barbeque record, and it uses a well-placed Q-Tip vocal sample, so I can mark off my Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Sorry I Kept You – The Twinz drop off another “sac of that G shit” over another funky Warren G bop. By the way, I love the Richard Pryor sample at the beginning of this one.

Conversation #2 – This interlude is supposed to bridge the previous song with the next one.

Journey Wit Me – The Twinz show appreciation, dedication and motivation on this… conversation (bars!). Warren G’s smooth G-Funk groove is addictive and the uncredited male vocalist sounds great singing the catchy hook. This is easily my favorite song on Conversation.

Hollywood – Tripp and Wayniac invite Neb and Jah Skillz of Da 5 Footaz to join them, as they make a hip-hop version of Rufus’ classic song with the same title. Nanci Fletcher makes yet another appearance, playing Chaka Khan on the hook. It’s not one of the strongest songs on the album, but it grows on you after a few listens.

1st Round Draft Pick – I’m kind of confused on what the song title means. Based on the Warren G hook (which is equally corny and catchy) and Wayniac and Tripp Loc’s verses, the song is clearly about violence: the violence that the Twinz will inflict on you if you try them and the violence that goes on in the hood in general. But what the hell does that have to do with a draft pick? Are they calling themselves cream of the crop prospects that would get picked in the first round of a murderer draft? Or are they saying you’ll be the first to get picked and clipped if you fuck with them? Regardless, Warren G’s slick instrumental will keep your head bobbin’ way past the first round of this draft.

Conversation #3 – Short interlude that sets up the next song.

Don’t Get It Twisted – Our hosts use this mid-tempo groove to call out the ladies who suddenly want to get with them now that they have a little money in their pockets. A group called New Birth drops in on the hook and adlibs to add some gospelish soul flavor to Warren’s infectious groove.

Pass It On – The Twinz wrap up Conversation by inviting Mnmsta and T-Dubb of Foesum and Warren G (who handles the generic and uncreative hook) to take part in this very underwhelming weed session. The last bars of the song are the same bars you heard Tripp Loc say during the album’s intro, which is supposed to bring things full circle, I guess. By the way, the bars are still trash.

If rapping was weed, the Twinz would be mid-grade. On Conversation they don’t wow or mesmerize you with their rhyming ability and content, but they don’t completely suck, either. Instead, they deliver a steady dose of west coast slang and hood shit that doesn’t cover any unchartered territory. The heart and soul of Conversation is Warren G’s production. Most of the album is laced with G-Funk bangers that make the Twinz mediocre rhymes tolerable and Conversation an enjoyable listen. And by the way, Tripp Loc’s closing bars are still trash.

-Deedub

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Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (August 1, 1995)

After the success of the Wu-Tang Clan’s mammoth 1993 debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, the hip-hop world was eagerly awaiting to see what the Shaolin crew would do next. Method Man quickly became the breakout star, thanks to the success of his self-titled single and his legendary hooks, so it was no surprise when he signed with Def Jam and became the first member from the Clan to release a solo album (Tical) at the tail end of 1994 (yes, I know Rza and Genius had solo albums before Meth, but those were BEFOERE the Wu-Tang Clan was formed…thanks!). The court jester of the crew, Old Dirty Bastard, was also one of the crew’s most popular members, beloved for his zaniness and wild antics. He would sign a deal with Elektra and release his solo debut, Return To The 36 Chambers, in March of ’95. So which member would follow these two high profile clansmen solo releases? Yep, you guessed it. Raekwon the Chef would release the next Wu-Tang Clan production, striking with Only Built For Cuban Linx in the summer of ’95.

OBFCL (which through the years has also been referred to as the “Purple Tape”, because the plastic covering on the first pressings of the cassette version of OBFCL was completely purple) would be produced entirely by Rza, and Ghostface Killah would play Robin to Raekwon’s Batman throughout the album (underneath Raekwon’s name on the album cover it actually says “Guest starring Tony Starks (Ghost Face Killer)”). The album would go on to earn a gold plaque, receive critical acclaim and most consider it a classic and the best Wu-Tang Clan solo album.

25 years later, let’s see if OBFCL is still worthy of all the praise.

Striving For Perfection – Over Rza’s sorrowful loop, Rae and Ghost kick off OBFCL talking about their struggle to go from being small time dealers to moving big weight. But ultimately the goal is to get out of the streets and make legit money via the music, as Rae proclaims “I got bigger and better plans, son”. This bleeds right into the first song of the evening…

Knuckleheadz – After the epic build up the intro created, Rza drops this semi-zany instrumental (which suits the song title perfectly) that Rae, Ghost and U-God (aka Golden Arms, aka Lucky Arms) use to spew their unique Shaolin street dialect over. This was cool, but I was expecting something with a little more energy to follow up the dramatic intro we just experienced.

Knowledge God – Rza strikes with more sorrowful chords as Raekwon rolls dolo for one of the few times on OBFCL, spilling more slick street lingo: “By the way, I seen your bitch, she was up in this cat’s room, skied up, weaved the fuck up, to top it off, looked beat up with two crack fiends huggin’ your seed up, I took care of that, though, but don’t worry about it, I got your back, though”. Not one of OBFCL‘s strongest records, but it’s passable.

Criminology – Rae and Ghost go toe to toe with their Shaolin slang over a monster Rza instrumental, and everybody walks away a winner on this one. Shout out to all the Tommy Hill, ice rockin’ niggas.

Incarcerated Scarfaces – Rae dedicates this one to all his drug dealing homies on lockdown. I didn’t really like this one back in the day, but it sounds better 25 years later. I’ve always loved the song title, though.

Rainy Dayz – Rza brings back the sorrowful sample used on the album’s intro that Blue Raspberry laments over with song, which is followed by one of Rza’s signature old karate flick vocal snippets. Then you hear birds chirping, Blue Raspberry singing sorrowfully about her man changing and going insane, while a disgruntle Ghostface complains that “niggas fuckin’ robbed my gate” which has him ready to murder somebody. An unnerving whistle underneath Blue Raspberry’s despairing notes and Ghost’s angry grumblings build up a thick tension, then Rza drops the eerie and gloomy violin loop that Ghost and Rae use to detail the struggle of the street life and the grit required to survive it. This was brilliant. Easily my favorite song on OBFCL.

Guillotine (Swordz) – Rza recycles a loop we first heard him flip on the intro for Meth’s Tical for this lofty cipher session between Inspecktah Deck, Genius, Rae and Ghost. All four emcees bring their A game, spittin’ razor sharp rhymes and severing the heads of their opponents in Rza’s musical dojo as the complete the second part of a wicked two-punch combination.

Can It Be All So Simple (Remix) – After a short skit that ends with Ghostface getting shot, Rza pretty much recycles the same instrumental from the original mix that appeared on 36 Chambers with a few tweaks here and there. Rae and Ghost pick up where they left off at on the O.G. mix, and even though they don’t cover any new territory, they still entertain.

Shark Niggas (Biters) – Rae and Ghost use this interlude to call out all the biters. Then Ghost gets specific and takes his infamous shot at Biggie for copying Nas’ Illmatic album cover on Ready To Die, while Rae lets out an evil snicker behind him. No matter how many times I’ve heard this interlude, it still makes me chuckle, every time.

Ice Water – Rae and Ghost are joined by Cappadonna (aka Cappachino) on this one (it sounds like U-God was supposed to be a part of it, since they mention his name twice during the song) and they each spit a dope verse over Rza’s brilliant mid-tempo banger. This shit is hard.

Glaciers Of Ice – This one starts with Ghost giving fashion tips to his crew in his colorful signature slang, then the frantic paced backdrop comes in and he, Rae and Masta Killa do a pretty solid job of keeping up with it. I could have done without Blue Raspberry singing on this one, but Rza’s instrumental is absolutely bananas.

Verbal Intercourse – Nas joins Rae and Ghost on this one, as they each spit a verse over Rza’s creamy smooth production work. Nas (who recycles a verse he originally used on a pre-Illmatic demo track, “Deja Vu”) easily raps circles around his gracious hosts with his mesmerizing lyricism and polished flow. This one still sounds great, and I love the song title.

Wisdom Body – Apparently Ghost put in so much work on OBFCL that Rae decided to reward him with his own song. Ghost uses it to spit game to a “bad bitch wit a switch” and a waistline that’s “bangin’ like a bassline” over one verse. Ghost always shines when it comes to “lady lustin'” lingo”, but Rza’s lethargic instrumental kind of fails him. They can’t all be great.

Spot Rusherz – This one begins with Rae and Ghost babbling about a bunch of nothing while the Wu-Tang Clan St. Ides commercial (remember that? The beat was incredible) blares in the background. Then Rza drops his devious backdrop and Rae paints the intricate details of his crew’s robbery scheme. This sounds better than I remembered it. And thank you Rae for stopping Ghost from raping Dorinda at the end of the song.

Ice Cream – This was the third single from OBFCL. Rza borrows an ill Earl Klugh loop and turns it into an emotional ride for Rae, Ghost and Cappadonna to rap praises to (and thirst) beautiful women of all flavors. Method Man (continues his spectacular ’95 cameo run) stops by and delivers the very catchy hook and some dope adlibs, which serve as the topping on top of this delicious treat. Pun intended.

Wu-Gambinos – This is one of my favorites on OBFCL. Rza builds this beautiful backdrop around a sophisticated violin and piano loop, as he, Meth, Rae, Ghost and Masta Killa break bread on this brilliant cipher session. Everyone involved shows up to shine (“I call my brother son, cause he shine like one”), but I’m calling this one a tie between Meth and Rza.

Heaven & Hell – This was originally released in ’94 on the Fresh Soundtrack, but also doubled as the lead single for OBFCL. Rae and Ghost take “niggas to war” as they tag team the mic, spinning another hood tale chock-full of drugs and violence, while Blue Raspberry sprinkles her lovely vocals over Rza’s dark and emotional soundscape (that Raekwon hilariously calls “exotic type-shit” at the beginning of the song). This is another single we boosted from Sam Goody back in the day to rap over the instrumental. The good old days…when you actually had to leave the house to steal music.

North Star (Jewels) – This is actually a bonus track on OBFCL. Rza lays down a sexy cinematic instrumental for the album’s finale that begins with Popa Wu (RIP) bumping into to Rae on the street, where he bigs him up and blesses him with a few words of wisdom. Then Rza unleashes the luscious violin chords for our host to spit one last verse filled with his intriguing Shaolin street slang.

Rae and Ghost are definitely not the most talented emcees in the Wu-Tang Clan, but what they lack in raw ability they more than make up for with charisma, coolness and undeniable chemistry, and all three attributes are on full display throughout Only Built For Cuban Linx. The album’s production starts out a little sluggish (I’m sticking to my story that “Knuckleheadz” shouldn’t have been sequenced as the first song after the intro), but by the time “Rainy Dayz” rolls around, Rza’s production kicks into full gear for Rae and Ghost to massage the listener’s brain “with slang that’s king”, and the random exchanges between the two on the album’s interludes and skits are almost worth the cost of admission alone. Rae also lets every member of the Clan get a piece (with the exception of ODB and I’m still curious on why he didn’t show up), making OBFCL feel like a family affair and contributing to the album’s greatness. OBFCL has held up well over the past twenty-five years and it will forever hold its own against any of the other titanic first round of Wu-Tang Clan solo albums.

-Deedub

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Grits – Mental Releases (July 18, 1995)

The Grits are a Tennessee based rap duo made up of Teron “Bonafide” Carter and Stacy “Coffee” Jones. Bonafide and Coffee met while they were both backup dancers for the Christian rock/rap group DC Talk, who were huge in the Christian music world in the nineties and had a successful string of gold selling albums. Eventually, one-third of DC Talk, Toby McKeehan (better known by his stage name TobyMac), along with producers Todd Collins and Joey Elwood, would form the production team known as the Gotee Brothers and started their own Christian label, Gotee Records. After putting out the female gospel/R&B group Out Of Eden’s debut album, the Gotee Bros would sign the Grits (which is an acronym for Grammatical Revolution In The Spirit) and they would release their debut album, Mental Releases in the summer of ’95.

I didn’t become familiar with the Grits until around 1999, after hearing their second album Factors Of The Seven, which we’ll get to someday, but in my opinion, was a masterpiece and the duo’s magna opus (if you’re like me and like to find hidden gems, go listen to it or cop it, immediately). After being blown away by Factors, naturally, I went back and bought Mental Releases hoping it would be just as or greater than their sophomore effort.

Let’s jump into, shall we?

Cataclysmic CirclesMental Releases begins with a bouncy feel good instrumental that Bonafide, Coffee and their special guest, Mr. Maxx, use to speak in abstract riddles and invite all to come into their sanctified cipher. I wouldn’t call this cipher cataclysmic, but more peaceful and pleasant. And I enjoyed it.

The World Is Round – Bonafied shares a short spoken word poem about shiesty people over a spacious and jazzy mash up, which sets up the next song…

Weigh A Buck 50 – Mo Henderson builds this drowsily melodic backdrop for the Grits to call out their fraudulent friends: “I gets meticulous administrating friendships, so none slip through my fingertips in the process, so I suggest an open eye when you sleep, peek-a-boo, I see you phony boo-boos”. A Eugene Hunter is credited for the beautiful sax chords that make this delicious backdrop even more delectable.

Set Ya Mind – Over mellow jazzy vibes, our hosts rap about the importance of having peace of mind in this walk called life. Mo Henderson’s relaxing instrumental will definitely lead you toward the path of mental tranquility.

10-A-Cee – Even though neither Bonafide or Coffee are from Tennessee, they use this one to rap praises to the Volunteer state, which is where Gotee Records is located. They spit decent rhymes on this one, but the Gotee Brothers bangin’ instrumental is the engine that makes this one go.

Universal And Worldwide – Coffee gets the first solo joint of the night (no, I’m not counting Bonafide’s thirty second spoken word poem as a solo record) and he uses it to witness to non-believers and give the listeners a brief rundown of different places you may bump into him, which includes: Champs (trying on hats), Life of Faith Church (praising God), Gotee Records (looking for ends) and the Pawn Shop (getting rid of fake jewelry). Coffee’s rhymes aren’t amazing, but the laidback instrumental, which reeks of after hour’s vibes, will surely set you straight for your midnight maraud. Speaking of midnight marauding, the Gotee Bros throw in a Q-Tip vocal snippet on the hook, which sounds dope and satisfies my Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Don’t Bring Me Down – The Gotee Brothers interrupt our regularly scheduled program with this funky mash up that features a distorted and whiny male voice (probably TobyMac) singing nonsensical lyrics about grits looking like cream of wheat and Gotee posting bail for the Grits if they were to ever get locked up. The lyrics are kind of cheesy, but the hook is catchy and the groove is infectious.

Gettin’ Ready – The Gotee Brothers cook up a heepin’ helping of soul and throw in a vocal loop that conjures up memories of me sitting on those hard wood church pews as a peasy headed little nature boy. Bone and Coffee use it to discuss their life long mission to prepare for the life after this one: “I put my pants on one leg at a time to get prepared, showing no fear but still scared, of what’s to come to this world, what will be done, what a sight that will be, a sight that will be”. This is definitely one of my favs on Mental Releases.

Screen Door – The Grits are joined by the Inner Gate Dwellas (not to be confused with the Ghetto Dwellas) on this one, as they take turns discussing screen doors from a spiritual perspective. There’s definitely a lot of abstract coded rhymes on this one, and even if you don’t get all the bars, you can still enjoy the dope instrumental.

Jazz – Coffee got a solo joint, so it’s only right that Bonafide gets one too. Over a cool jazzy piano loop, Bone expresses his love for jazz music and discusses the parallels between jazz and hip-hop, punctuating his point on the hook: “Jazz is the mother and hip-hop’s the child, she died and revived now her child’s runnin’ wild, Grits is the tool and Hip-Hop’s the nation, sent to teach those of truth and creation”. If the backdrop wasn’t already slick enough, the Gotee Bros bring in a silky xylophone break on the hook, making this audio experience even more pleasurable. This is another one of my favs on the album.

Temptations -While most rappers boast and brag about their conquest of women, the Grits are the polar opposite. Over a decent instrumental the twosome take turns sharing their struggle with resisting the flesh that sometimes yearns and burns for that WAP, no matter how godly you are. The Guru vocal snippet is kind of misplaced, but all in all, this was solid.

Kickin’ Mo Rhymes – This is probably my favorite song on Mental Releases. The Gotee Bros slide Bone and Coffee a monster backdrop with soulful chords, a nasty bass line and a well-placed Biggie vocal loop. Coffee tacks on a mediocre verse at the end, but most of the song features Bone flowing like water and “spittin’ lyrical acid on plastic” to perfection. This is a banger.

Get The Picture – Bone and Coffee tackle stress, depression, anger and racism on this one. The hook is a bit ambiguous, but the content and instrumental are both rock solid.

Grammatical Revolution – Semi-bluesy mid-tempo instrumental interlude.

Forgive Me – Over a melancholic soulful backdrop, Bone and Coffee ask the Lord to forgive them for all their shortcomings. It may sound like a corny concept, but being that I’m a believer myself, I can relate. But even an atheist will enjoy the lovely instrumental.

Why Battle Me – The Grits invite their buddy, Aqua Liquid Man (who sounds like he bit studied Cee-Lo Green’s style, heavily) to join them, as they warn all their contemporaries to not take their emcee skills lightly just because their Christians. Bone delivers the strongest verse, but none of the three will (no pun intended) place the fear of God in anyone with their bars. I like Mo Henderson’s mellow instrumental, but can I get a question mark on the end of the song title, please?

Everybody Wants On -The Grits dedicate this one to all those who hang around simply as a means to get into this here rap game. On the second verse, Bone so eloquently spits: “Dozens of play play cousins tryna move in the house that Gotee built for the family, tryna use friendship as means of clout, eatin’ all the food and sleepin’ on the couch, disturbin’ the peace with outside suggestions, singing off key in our once perfect harmony, lookin’ over shoulders in supposed closed sessions, talkin’ about who you know thinkin’ you’re impressin’, look here, stay clear with that industry brown stuff, all on your nose, usin’ all the puffs”. Yes, leaches even exist in the Christian hip-hop arena. It sounds like the Gotee Bros looped the same record the Digable Planets used for “9th Wonder” (but I’m too lazy to confirm that right now) and the drowsy vibes work well with the duo’s content.

The Outro – The last track of the night features Bonafide getting one quick verse off over a funky instrumental. And that concludes Mental Releases.

On Mental Releases, the Grits do a great job of sharing their faith without coming off self-righteous or preachy. Clearly, Bonafide is the more polished emcee of the two, but Coffee’s monotone abstract style compliments Bone’s aggressive straight forward approach, nicely. On the production end, The Gotee Brothers and Mo Henderson string together an impressive batch of jazzy and soulful instrumentals that will keep you entertained from beginning to end. Mental Releases may not be a classic (mainly because the masses have never heard it), but the Grits make it an enjoyable experience that may also feed your soul in the process.

-Deedub

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Guru – Jazzmatazz Vol. II: The New Reality (July 18, 1995)

In the early nineties, not only was Guru the emcee for the soon to become legendary duo, Gang Starr, he was also venturing out to pursue his solo music endeavors as well. In ’93 he dropped the first installment of his hip-hop fused jazz experiment, Jazzmatazz Vol. 1. It’s not that hip-hop hadn’t already dabbled with jazz before, as even Premo was using jazz loops for some of his production. Guru’s vision was to merge jazz musicians and singers with hip-hop, and overall, his experiment was successful. Matter of fact, it was so successful that Chrysalis would back Guru for a second dosage, as he would release Jazzmatazz Vol II: The New Reality in the summer of ’95.

Guru would stick to Volume 1‘s formula, inviting a handful of hip-hop producers, a few guest emcees and a host of jazz musicians and singers to help him create the twenty track album. The New Reality received mixed reviews, but charted a little higher than its predecessor.

I remember The New Reality being part of my summer of ’95 soundtrack. I can still vividly recall me in my parent’s conversion van playing this album in my Sony Discman with the old school headphones, while making our annual 23 hour family road trip to Louisiana. The good old days…man I miss my mama.

Intro (Light It Up)/Jazzalude I: New Reality Style – The album starts with a snippet of Guru, and what sounds like Big Shug, performing live at a show. Then the sultry jazz stylings of The Solsonics come in and Guru welcomes the listener to the album, and in a roundabout not so clear way, explains the meaning of the album title. He then goes on to stress the importance of family and talks about a 360 degree mind revolution. Question: If you revolutionize your mind 360 degrees, wouldn’t that bring your mind back to where it started? Thanks to the soothing instrumental, this one never gets old.

Lifesaver – First off, why ya’ll let Guru get away with starting this song off with “Scooby do wah, scooby do wee”? He and Carlos Bass receive co-production credit for the cold and dark, but still infectiously melodic backdrop that Guru uses to denounce violence and advocate for peace: “But let me get to the essence of what I’m sayin’ here, too many blood red streets with bodies layin’ there, the systematic fanatics are at it again, tryna kill me and all of us my friend, but don’t bend to the mental strain, against all odds, we must strive for essential gain”. The French emcee, Lucien (who appeared on and was the inspiration for the Tribe Called Quest record “Luck Of Lucien”…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) gets off a verse in his native tongue (no pun intended), and even though I have no idea what he’s saying, it still sounds dope over the ill instrumentation. Baybe’s vocals on the hook and bridge are the cherry on top of this somber but yummy treat.

Living In This World – Over a Nikke Nicole (who low-key was puttin’ in work in ’95) instrumental that’s equally melancholic and feel good, Guru gives us a hip-hop version of “What’s Going On”. Sweet Sable sprinkles her pleasant vocals in the right places, while J. Rodriquez adds some pleasant flute and clarinet chords to bring the song to completion. It’s nowhere near as iconic as Marvin’s classic, but it’s still solid in its own right.

Looking Through Darkness – Wu-Tang Clan affiliate, True Master lays down a track dripping with Wu-Tang vibes, and some uncredited soul adds some ill horn chords, providing a dope instrumental for Guru to spit over, and he handles it pretty well. The chorus was trash and Mica Paris over sings the hook, but I enjoyed everything else about this one.

Skit A (Interview)/Watch What You Say – After a short interview skit, Premo gets his only production credit of the evening. He blesses his partner in rhyme with some ole sick boom bap shit that Guru uses to call out all the big mouth trash emcees. Brandford Marsalis adds some soothing saxophone notes to smooth out Prem’s roughness, and the legendary Chaka Khan drops in to sing the hook and even sings a verse sandwiched in between Guru’s. I have no idea what she saying through most of her verse and hook, but it was still nice to hear her work with Gang Starr on a track.

Jazzalude II: Defining Purpose – Another interlude with Guru babbling talking while the Solsonics play underneath him.

For You – Guru uses his jazzy backdrop to shout out all his peeps, or as he puts it in the song’s closing bars: “Dedicated to my fam that supported, you shall always, I said always be applauded”. Me’Shell N’Degeocello adds vocals to the hook and plays bass, while Kenny Garrett adds some sweet sax chords.

Insert A (Mental Relaxation)/Medicine – A short snippet from Gang Starr’s “The Planet” plays to set up the next song. The album’s energy changes up with this one. Mark Sparks (another producer who went under the radar with an impressive catalog in ’95) hooks Guru up with a monster instrumental (Donald Byrd, who was also a part of Guru’s first Jazzmatazz installment, adds some slick trumpet notes), as he invites True Master to join him in celebrating the herbal medication: “My dialect reflects hip-hop at its best, after a fat burn of cess, and yes, I guess, you could call it habitual, cause everyday it’s a ritual”. Ini “Hotstepper” Kimoze also drops in to add some reggae flavor that makes this record sound even more amazing.

Lost Souls – The English funk/acid jazz band, Jamiroqaui helps Guru and Carlos Bess create an airy backdrop (they also sing on the hook and adlibs) that our host uses to show pity on those poor lost souls moving around with no direction. I like this one.

Insert B (The Real Deal)/Nobody Knows – A short snippet from Gang Starr’s “Mostly Tha Voice” plays to set up the song. Then a somber and emotional backdrop comes in, as Guru recalls the struggles he had to endure to make it in this here rap game. I like the song’s sentiment, but if you’re depressed it might not be the best song to listen to. I could also do without Shara Nelson’s singing on the hook.

Jazzalude III: Hip-hop As A Way Of Life – Over a dope Solsonics jazzy mash up that is definitely suitable for midnight marauding, Guru talks about exactly what the song title suggest.

Respect The Architect – This is definitely The New Reality’s crown jewel. Ramsey Lewis and Guru concoct a certified banger, as Guru and Bahamadia (who makes what might be her official debut on this record) tag team the mic delivering quality bars over the nasty track. Nuff respect to Guru, Bahamadia (I love her voice) and Ramsey Lewis for burning us with this fire.

Feel The Music – Baybe’s cool vocals over the breezy and smooth jazz vibes was very enjoyable. Guru sounds decent as well.

Young Ladies – This is the first real mishap of the night. Guru invites Patra, Big Shug and Kool Keith to join him on this one, as he Shug and Keith take turns spewing unimpressive pick up line to a woman. It’s not clear if they’re all shooting their shot at the same woman (Patra), or if Patra is even the woman their trying to get at. After 25 years, I’m still confused to what exactly her role is on the song. The dull instrumentation, corny rhymes and terrible concept make this one worthy of a toilet flush.

The Traveler – I enjoyed Donald Byrd’s trumpet play, but the song’s concept was kind of corny, as were Guru’s rhymes and hook.

Jazzalude IV: Maintaining Focus – On the album’s fourth and final interlude, I mean Jazzalude, The Solsonics create a spacious atmosphere for Guru, who takes the time to stress the importance of staying focused.

Count Your Blessings – Over an enjoyable but very emotional instrumental, Guru discusses the importance of being thankful, even in the mist of sorrow and bad times. The hook was a little too simple for my taste buds, but I appreciate the sentiment.

Choice Of Weapons – Guru’s joined by Gus Da Vigilante of Sikken Moov, as the two advice the listener to choose their minds over weapons of violence. I’ve never been crazy about this one, but it’s not terrible.

Something In The Past – For the second consecutive post, Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love” is sampled. Guru loops it up to talk about bumping into a woman from his past, who apparently is also his baby mama, as he asks her in the song’s first verse how his “little man” is doing (it’s pretty pathetic sad to hear a man have to ask the mother of his son about the son’s well-being, as that’s a clear indication he and the kid don’t have a relationship…but that’s a discussion for another day). The hook was poorly mixed, as you can barely hear what Guru is saying on it, but Big Shug sounds dope crooning over the smooth groove.

Skit B (Alot On My Mind)/Revelation – After a sexy female voice of Latino descent asks Guru to let her relax him, the next song begins. Guru invites Bu from Fabidden Fruit (who we first heard on the D&D Project, and I thought went by Fabidden Fruit) to join him, as they pretty much cover the same subject matter as “Choice Of Weapons”. Both emcees deliver solid bars, but Ronny Jordan’s lovely guitar licks are the true star of this one.

The New Reality definitely has a darker more serious feel than its predecessor. A large chunk of the album captures Guru wrestling with societal ills and tapping into his vulnerable side over somber or dimly lit jazz-flavored backdrops, and I enjoyed it. While Guru has always been a high quality emcee, Volume 1 found in depth lyricism taking a backseat to the vibes and the music. He doesn’t give us his best batch of rhymes on The New Reality, but overall they’re definitely stronger than those on the former. The album runs a bit too long and there are a few throw away tracks, but overall Guru and his collective are successful in putting together a quality jazz infused hip-hop experience that has held up well through the years.

-Deedub

 

 

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Happy 29th Birthday!

The first hip-hop album that I ever fell in love with turns 29 years old today!!! Read my review on The Low End Theory here and share your thoughts. Also, let me know what your favorite song is in the comments.  And after you read my review go check out this RollingStone article on The Low End Theory written during its 25 year anniversary.  

-Deedub

 

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