Jamal-Ski – Roughneck Reality (November 9, 1993)

The first time I heard Jamal-Ski was on “7 Dee Jays” from BDP’s Edutainment album. He stood out because he was the lone emcee to spit in a reggae style, and unlike most of the other ragamuffin/reggae emcees of the time (i.e. Shabba Ranks, Mad Lion) Jamal had a unique high pitch vocal tone. And by the way, he held his own, which says a lot when your rhyming next to one of the GOAT’s in KRS-One. The second time I heard Jamal-Ski was on his solo joint “Jump ‘N’ Move” from the Brand New Heavies’ Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol. 1 album (I believe that song was also on one of the Madden video games, back in the day), and again he impressed over BNH’s bouncy and enjoyable instrumentation. A few years ago I came across Jamal-Ski’s solo debut album Roughneck Reality in the dollar bin, so you know I had to cop it.

Roughneck Reality would come and go without much press or praise (or record sales). Columbia couldn’t have put much money into adverting for the album, as I didn’t even know the album existed until I bought it, nor do I recall a single on the radio or seeing a video for any of the album’s songs.

But even worst than that, they chose to release Roughneck Reality on the same day as two hip-hop classics, and that spells trouble.

Medallion Masters Human Beat – Jamal-Ski hooks up a nice reggae-tinged backdrop, and even though I can’t catch everything he’s saying, his chanting sounds dope over the instrumental. This song probably sounded amazing at the club back in the nineties.

Texas Rumpus – Jamal-Ski rides this DJ Parker Lee instrumental pretty well. It kind of caught me off guard to hear Jamal call Ronald Regan a piece of shit at the end of his second verse. It’s not that I don’t understand why he would say it, I mean, the dude’s “war on drugs” movement in the eighties was clearing designed to incarcerate more black men. It just felt kind of random within the context of this song. I’m also confused as to what the hell the song title actually means.

Roughneck Intro – Kind of an interesting place to put an album intro, considering we’re already two songs into the album, but whatever. It plays as it reads: Over random sound bites and a basic beat, Jamal welcomes the listener to the album.

African Borders (Skeffington Mix) – Apparently this was released as one of the single from Roughneck Reality, although I don’t remember it from back in the day. Over a decent Skeff Anselm produced backdrop, Jamal-Ski pays respect to some important historical black men, briefly speaks on the plight of the black man, and sends shoutouts to the Motherland.

Akbar’s Groove – Jamal-Ski takes a back seat for this one and lets his boy Akbar AK47 take the wheel. Akbar takes full advantage of the opportunity and spits a fully grown verse over a basic drum beat and a funky guitar loop, with sick bars like “Brothers who try to riff get twisted up like dreadlocks, I’m bigger than a bread box, I walk like Redd Foxx” or “And when it comes to rhymes my style is unlike others, who try to get fly when they know they ain’t the Wright (right) brothers”. I was impressed, and would definitely love to hear more shots from Akbar’s AK.

Jump, Spread Out – The song’s title immediately made me think of  the “Jump ‘N’ Move” joint he did with The Brand New Heavies, but that’s where the comparison ends. DJ Parker Lee hooks up a pulsating instrumental with a nasty bass line for Jamal-Ski to do his thing over. This was dope.

Hangin’ Tree – On this one Jamal calls for all drug dealers to be hung for killing their own with poison. I like Jamal’s melodic instrumental, even if it’s too soft for the song’s content.

Poom Poom – Over a smooth mid-tempo DJ Parker Lee groove Jamal-Ski covers one of hip-hop’s favorite topics: sex. If you haven’t figured it out yet “poom poom” is slang for vagina. Like all emcees, Jamal brags about his sexual prowess, and while he doesn’t cover any new territory he still makes it sound interesting. By the way, why did all the emcees in the nineties lie about not going down on women? Negro, please!

Night Rider – No, this is not an ode to Michael Knight and KITT. Instead its a completely forgettable song that could have been left off of Roughneck Reality. That’s all I got.

Jah Jah Vibes – This is pretty much an interlude that lets DJ Parker Lee showcase his skills on the ones and two’s.

Ragga Youth (Featuring Michael Rose) – Jamal-Ski shows sympathy for the struggle of the disenfranchised youth in the inner-city and encourages them to hold their heads as well. He invites his buddy Michael Rose to sing the hook. Parker Lee’s instrumental has a regal feel to it and it’s pretty nice.

Holy Sacrament – Giving shoutouts to weed was almost a prerequisite for any hip-hop album in the early nineties, and Jamal-Ski would not be an exception to that rule. Jamal’s ode to the green leaf isn’t great by any stretch, and I’m sure it wouldn’t have been missed by even the most avid weed smoker had it been left on the cutting room floor.

Recognize – Our host gives his shoutouts over a rough instrumental.

Put It On (Pure Braggadap) (Featuring Rocker T & Mr. Live) – Jamal invites Rocker T and Mr. Live to join him on this cipher joint. Rocker T spits a reggae chant first, followed by a mediocre verse from Mr. Live, then our host makes his presence felt and spits the strongest verse of the song. DJ Parker Lee’s instrumental is decent, but the live bass line, courtesy of Jay Anderson, is completely nasty, in a good way (it kind of reminds me of the bass line from BDP’s “The Bridge Is Over”, only it sounds bigger, sonically).

Terrible Man – This is easily the most gangster song on Roughneck Reality. Parker Lee hooks up a gritty boom bap backdrop for Jamal-Ski to get grimy over as he talks his shit and makes G-threats, and the hook sounds like it could be used in a horror movie. The more I listen to this song the more I appreciate it.

Ya Dig – Short interlude that has Jamal-Ski rambling on in a different voice (at least for the first part) over some after hours jazz club instrumentation. It doesn’t add or take anything away from the album, so whatever.

Piece Of Reality – This is our host’s call for revolution, as he calls out the U.S. Government for their closet corruption. Jamal goes hard on this one, as he threatens to “drop one bomb on the Pentagon” and declares  “a lie is a lie, a scheme is a scheme, the U.S. Government is the biggest scheme team, they sell the most drugs and have the most artillery”. As dope as Jamal’s rhymes are on this song my favorite part of the song is the hook, where Jamal declares Oliver North, David Duke, Ronald Regan and H.W. Bush (who has recently made his way back into the news for being an alleged ass grabber) pieces of shit, which makes the song title even more clever. This is easily one of the strongest songs on Roughneck Reality. I wonder what Jamal-Ski thinks of Donald Trump.

Last Word – This must have been an inside joke. But to the listener on the outside, it’s useless.

Ragga Youth (DJ Smash Jazz Mix) – I absolutely love the good vibes DJ Smash’s remix bring to this song. It’s a lot more enjoyable than the original mix.

With the exception of Bob Marley, I’ve never been a big fan of dancehall, reggae, reggatone, or whatever other form or name Jamaican influenced music comes in, but Roughneck Reality is a pretty solid effort from Jamal-Ski. The album’s nineteen songs feel like a lot to sort through, and of course when an album has that many tracks your going to haves some useless filler material, but the bulk of the production is solid and Jamal-Ski proves to be a skilled enough emcee to hold the listener’s attention, for the most part. Roughneck Reality is not great, but a solid album that will forever live in the shadows of Enter The Wu-Tang(36 Chambers) and Midnight Marauders.

-Deedub

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Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (November 9,1993)

Through the years there have been many monumental release dates in hip-hop. Ten years ago, two of the biggest names in hip-hop, 50 Cent and Kanye West, released Curtis and Graduation, respectfully, on September 11, 2007. Social media and magazines like Rolling Stone (which on the cover of their September 2007 issue had a picture of the two artist face to face like heavyweight boxers getting ready to square up, with the caption “SHOWDOWN! 50 CENT VS KANYE WEST” underneath it) helped hype the “battle” which resulted in some pretty impressive first week sells numbers for both albums. Ultimately, Kanye would when the battle of numbers and had the better product, as I’m sure only G-Unit members can name more than two songs off of Curtis, while Graduation was littered with bangers that sound even better when you put them on today. But since only one of the two albums is classic material, we have to rule out September 11, 2007 as the supreme hip-hop release date.

One could also argue that July 25, 1989 was the greatest hip-hop release date when EPMD and the Beastie Boys released their sophomore albums Unfinished Business and Paul’s Boutique, respectfully. Or maybe February 13, 1996 when The Fugees released The Score and 2pac released All Eyez On Me. Or maybe September 29, 1998 when Outkast released Aquemini and Jay-Z, Vol.2 Hard Knock Life. There’s also Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP and The Roots’ Things Fall Apart on February 23, 1999. All worthy dates in that debate (although I probably would throw July 25 1989 out, since I’m not a huge fan of the Beastie’s or Paul’s Boutique (read my thoughts on that album here)), but in my opinion, November 9, 1993 is the greatest release date in hip-hop’s storied history, as the world would receive two of the greatest and most influential hip-hop albums of all-time: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Midnight Marauders. Today marks the 24th anniversary of these two monumental albums, so I decided to double your reading pleasure. Enjoy.

“People say different things about how it went down, but technically we were the ones who brought hip-hop back to the East Coast at the time. Us and Wu-Tang- not Nas and Biggie”. Theses are the words from Da Beatminerz Mr. Walt taken from Brian Coleman’s book Don’t Sweat The Technique, in reference to the resurgence of East Coast hip-hop, post The Chronic. I reviewed Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage about a month ago (read my thoughts on that album here), and I have to agree with Mr. Walt to a certain extent. Enta Da Stage was a definite classic, even if it didn’t necessarily kick in the door like Nas and Biggie’s debut albums would the following year. But the Wu-Tang Clan on the other hand…

The Wu-Tang Clan is literally a clan, as it was said to be comprised of over 300 actual crew members, but the group only consisted of 8:The Rza, Method Man, U-God, Inspectah Deck aka The Rebel INS, Raekwon The Chef, Ghostface Killah, Old Dirty Bastard and The Gza aka The Genius (before you tell me there were nine members, the liner notes don’t include Masta Killa as an official member at this point; he wouldn’t get his membership until Wu-Tang Forever, so, (*in my Little Richard voice*) shut up!). The Rza (formerly known as Prince Rakeem) and The Genius both previously pursued solo rap careers, with minimal success (I’ve heard Gza’s first solo album, and it was actually pretty good…read my thought on it here) , so a few years later they found themselves regrouping (both literally and figuratively), and along with the other six, they formed the Wu-Tang Clan. The Staten Island based collective would shop their demos and eventually signed with Loud Records where they would release their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

The group’s name and the album’s theme are based on the early eighties Kung-Fu flick Shaolin Vs Wu Tang (the Clan would often refer to their Staten Island stomping ground as Shaolin) and would include several sound bites from the movie throughout the album. Rza would handle the production on 36 Chambers from beginning to end (with a few co-production credits going to a few of the other crew members). A few years after its release, 36 Chambers would earn the Clan a platinum plaque, but the critical acclaim came early, and it came in heaps.

Several of the members would go onto have successful solo careers after their celebrated debut, but throughout the years they’ve managed to make time and form like Voltron and release group projects, including their 7th group effort this past October, The Saga Continues.

It’s always good to come back home.

Bring Da Ruckus – After a sound bite from the old Shaolin vs Wu-Tang karate flick plays, The Rza comes in repeating the song title as the hook, before Ghostface Killah (the liner notes spell his name as “Ghost Face Killer”…tomato, tomahto) drops the first verse on 36 Chambers. His lyrical sword has definitely gotten sharper over the years, but he doesn’t sound terrible on this one. Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and The Genius each add solid verses (in that order), with The Genius walking away victorious in this battle. But Rza’s cinematic backdrop is the true star of this song: from the tribal like drums, to the dirty breaks (I love the dark break that comes in at the very end of the song), Rza’s production work is brilliant.

Shame On A Nigga – Rza lightens things up a bit from the last track, laying down a playfully bouncy instrumental that serves as the bullseye for Ol Dirty Bastard, Method Man and Raekwon to fire their verbal darts at. Even though Meth and Rae spit verses, this is essentially ODB’s song, as he gets the first and last verse and provides one of the most entertaining refrains in hip-hop history. This one still sounds dope today.

Clan In Da Front – Gza gets the first solo joint of the evening (and one of only two solo joints on 36 Chambers) and rips a nice Rza backdrop to perfection. Nuff Said.

Wu-Tang: 7Th Chamber – This song opens with a short skit that has Raekwon drilling Meth about his missing “Killer tape” (the back and forth between these two is hi-larious!) before Ghostface comes in telling them that their boy Shameek just got shot twice in the head. The Clan then collectively decides to go ride for their fallen solider, while U-God sounds like an idiot asking the most moronic questions (“Is he dead?”). This all bleeds (no pun intended) into the actual song that has Raekwon, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Rza, ODB and Gza spitting over Rza’s simple drums and slick piano loop. Gza completely shuts this one down on the final verse with a clever reference to the old Lucky Charms commercial. I guess U-God got left out of the song for asking those dumbass questions during the skit.

Can It Be All So Simple – This was the third single released from 36 Chambers. Rza hooks up a somber backdrop that pairs Rae with Ghost (a pairing that would stand strong throughout both of their solo careers) recalling the “good old days”. Classic.

Intermission – Method breaks down each clan member’s alias and its meaning to an interviewer, before Rae and Ghost jump into the conversation, sharing their colorful personalities with the journalist when he asks about Wu’s vision. And that completes the “Shaolin Sword Side” of 36 Chambers.

Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’ – Now this may not have been released as a single, but their was definitely a video for this one, I’m sure of it. Rza hooks up a beautiful Kung-Fu flavored backdrop (with a co-production credit going to ODB) for U-God, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, ODB, and special guest, Masta Killa to sharpen their skills over, with Meth being delegated hook duties. This one still sounds dope, and what a sick song title.

Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit – Rza, Method and Inspectah Deck join forces over Rza’s (with co-credit going to Meth) dark and dusty instrumental, as they continue to chop off heads with their Wu-Tang swords.

C.R.E.A.M. – This was the second single from 36 Chambers and is arguably the biggest hit from the album. Over a chilling and emotional Rza production, Raekwon and Deck pair up and discuss the harsh reality of the street life, while Method Man provides an infectious hook that is one of the most memorable acronyms in hip-hop history. Rae is solid, but Deck steals the show, as he gets vulnerable and “kicks the truth to the young black youth” in his well sculptured verse. (Side note: In Brian Coleman’s book Don’t Sweat The Technique, Inspectah Deck says the original version of this song was recorded over a different beat and he and Rae each had four verses). If you don’t love this song, you don’t love hip-hop.

Method Man – This one opens with Meth and Raekwon playing a friendly game of Torture, which is basically when two people try to out do each other by describing the most outlandish (and sometimes obscene) forms of torture and playfully threatening to perform said acts on their opponent. Yeah, it’s pretty juvenile, but it’s still hi-larious (this should have probably been its own track, but whatever). Then you hear the voice of Gza running down the list of all the Clan Members (and just like the liner notes, he doesn’t mention Masta Killa’s name, people!). This was actually released as the B-side to “Protect Ya Neck”, but would go on to become a way bigger hit than the A-side. When this song first came out back in the day I wasn’t a huge fan, but in time it grew on me. It’s not Rza’s best production work, but it’s solid. Considering this was recorded a few years prior to the rest of 36 Chambers, Meth sounds decent on the mic, but he would only get better as time when on (I recently heard him spittin’ on Sway In The Morning, and the boy is still sharp with them lyrical darts, even if he has to read them off of his Iphone).

Protect Ya Neck – This was Wu-Tang’s introduction to the world, as it was their first independently released single. Rza hooks up a high energy backdrop for all 8 members of Wu to get down on, even if U-God only gets a short four bars (poor U-God). With the exception of U-God, everybody shows up and puts in a solid verse, but Rza walks away with the crown on this one, just barely edging out Meth. This is how a posse song is supposed to sound.

Tearz – Rza and Ghost team up for this duet, as they share two different stories about the consequences that come with making bad decisions. I love the way Rza flips the Wendy Rene record giving it a blunted feel. It’s kind of a odd place to put the song in the album’s sequencing, but it’s still a sick record.

Wu Tang: 7th Chamber – Part II – Same lyrics as the original, but Rza replaces the simple drums and slick piano loop with a bonafide banger. I like this version a lot more than the original.

Conclusion – The album ends with the same interviewer from “Intermission” asking the Clan to describe their style, to which they respond with a few karate chops to his dome, courtesy of sound bites from a Kung-Fu movie.

Black Moon may have knocked on the door with Enta Da Stage, but Wu completely kicked it off the hinges with Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), making way for Nas and Biggie to enter. 36 Chambers is the perfect hip-hop sampler of eight unique emcee styles mixed with karate soundbites and masterful dusty production. The Wu does take a break or two to get serious (and those breaks happen to be great songs), but they spends the majority of 36 Chambers sparring against each other, spittin’ lyrical Kung-Fu and sharping each others iron in the process. 36 Chambers is a flawless undisputed hip-hop classic from the Shaolin collective, from arguably the greatest era of hip-hop. Long live The Wu!

-Deedub

 

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A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Maruaders (November 9, 1993)

So while the Wu-Tang Clan was just making a name for themselves in 1993, A Tribe Called Quest had already established themselves as a respected hip-hop force. Their 1991 sophomore effort The Low End Theory, was a critical success, and slowly would become a commercial success as well. Their common man philosophies and jazz loops fused with rough drums, proved to be a winning combination for the foursome (shoutout to Jarobi). They would return in 1993 with their third release, Midnight Marauders.

Midnight Marauders picks up where The Low End Theory leaves off, as the Queens (and Brooklyn) natives would continue to move forward with their signature jazz infused brand of hip-hop. Oh yeah, and remember that colorful virtual honey on the cover of The Low End Theory? She’s back with a voice this time around, and serves as the Tour Guide throughout Midnight Marauders, dropping in from time to time to share random factoids and stats. The album’s artwork serves as a shoutout to Tribe’s hip-hop peeps, as it shows the faces (with headphones on) of some of hip-hop’s most respected emcees, deejays and hip-hop moguls with the sexy Tour Guide standing alone in front of them (I still don’t understand how the three greatest emcees of that era, in KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, didn’t make the cover, but whatever). It’s easily one of hip-hop’s greatest album covers, and I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s got that TimeIsIllmatic award on lock for 1993. Midnight Marauders was a commercial and critical darling that would help the foursome earn their first platinum plaque (The Low End Theory wouldn’t reach the platinum level until a few months after Midnight Marauders did).

Even if you’re not a fan of ATCQ’s music, you at least have to give them props for the creative artwork and basically inventing Siri. Apple needs to cut these boys a check.

RIP, Phife Dawg.

Midnight Marauders Tour Guide – The album opens with the Tour Guide welcoming the listener to Midnight Marauders.

Steve Biko (Stir It Up) – The song title is dedicated to the South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. Q-Tip and Phife pick up where they left off at on The Low End Theory’s most endearing songs (i.e. “Check The Rhime” and “Jazz (We’ve Got)”, as they take turns rocking the mic and complimenting each others strengths over a funky instrumental. I wouldn’t mind waking up every morning to the beautiful trumpet loop that this song opens with and comes back in during the hook.

Award Tour – This was the lead single from Midnight Marauders and it still sounds as yummy today as it did back in 1993. Phife (“niggas know the time when the Phife is in the jam, I never let a statue tell me how nice I am”) and Tip (“who can drop it on the angle, acute at that, so do dat do dat, do dat dat dat”) each spit a quality verse over a slick instrumental (I love the rough drums and the xylophone loop that comes in during the break), while Trugoy stops by to lay down a memorable hook. This is a hip-hop classic, folks.

8 Million Stories – This is Phife’s lone solo joint on Midnight Marauders. Skeff Anselm gets the production credit for the moody backdrop that is definitely suitable for midnight marauding. Phife’s rhymes are cool, as he lays out all the problems that life brings him, but I don’t like his delivery on this one; it sounds like he’s reverting back to his People’s Instinctive Travels days.

Sucka Nigga –  This is the first of two Q-Tip solo joints on Midnight Marauders, and he uses this one to dissect the history and complexity of the N-word. I’m normally not a fan of songs that the rapper says the same verse multiple times, but for this song it helps drive Tip’s point home. The sick Jack Wilkins loop and infectious bass line compliment Tip’s rhymes, beautifully.

Midnight – This is easily the hardest song on the album. Over a callous backdrop Q-Tip is in poetic mode, as he paints a vivid picture of the things that go on in the inner city after hours. The song ends with some soothing Elevator Music playing while the Tour Guide gives some scary statistics about AIDS in the Black and Hispanic community.

We Can Get Down – Over a severely soulful soundscape (tongue twister muchers!) Tip and Phife continue to display their lyrical proficiency. Tip spills vintage bars with lines likes “hit the city streets to enhance my soul, I can kick a rhyme over ill drum rolls, with the kick, snare, the kick and high hat, skilled in the trade of that old boom bap”. This is a dope song that often goes unsung due to the rest of the power packed track list on Midnight Marauders.

Electric Relaxation – This was the second single from Midnight Marauders, and in my opinion, one of the ten greatest hip-hop songs of all-time (and I’m sticking to my story). I don’t know if I would call this a love song, but lust has never sounded as good as Tip and Phife’s on this one (“honey check it out you got me mesmerized, with your black hair and your fat ass thighs, street poetry is my everyday, but hun I got to stop when you trot my way”). Tip and company hook up yet another hypnotic bass line and lovely jazz loop, courtesy of a Ronnie Foster record, and turn it into one of hip-hop’s greatest instrumentals. Fine wine.

Clap Your Hand – More of Tip and Phife vibin’ over a quality instrumental. Like “We Can Get Down” this one also gets lost in the shuffle of all the great material on Midnight Marauders.

Oh My God – This was the third single and is the only song on Midnight Marauders that I could do with out. It’s not terrible, it just doesn’t have the same energy as the rest of the album’s songs. The remix for this song is sick, though!

Keep It Rollin’ – Extra P relieves Tip and company from production duties for this one, but maintains the quality level of music that ATCQ has given us up to this point with this smooth instrumental. Phife and Tip continue their microphone mastery as they match each other bar for bar, and Extra P spits a pretty solid verse as well.

The Chase Part II – Part 1 of this song was actually the B-side to the “Award Tour” single that featured Consequence spitting one long verse over the same instrumental that’s used on this mix. Tip and Phife sound comfortable, confident, and conscious of the fact that they’ve reached their emcee peak, as they rap circles around the beautifully breezy instrumental. Even Tip’s playful shoutouts (which includes a hi-lariously shout to McDonalds) let you know these boys know they’ve won. The Tour Guide makes her last appearance of the evening informing the listener that the proper portion of Midnight Marauders is complete. But have no fear, we’re not done.

Lyrics To Go – Tip samples a classic Minnie Riperton record for the pretty backdrop, and he and Phife pirouette with grace all over it. The Tumblin’ Dice remix is worth checking out too.

God Lives Through – The fellas brings back the Busta Rhymes soundbite that was used on “Oh My God”, but the instrumental for this one is stratospheres better than the former; it’s the audio equivalent of manna from heaven. Phife and Tip are in battle mode, spitting razor-sharp rhymes over the beautiful backdrop (and I think Phife may have edged out Tip on this one, for the first time in ATCQ’s storied catalog). Of all the great songs in the ATCQ catalog, this one matches up with any of them, pound for pound. Yeah, I said it.

Over the years I’ve often debated with people about which Tribe album was better: The Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders? Both are classic albums, but I’ve always felt that Midnight Marauders is a fine tuned version of TLET. I see it this way: TLET is ATCQ reaching the mountain top. Midnight Marauders is the celebration after completing the climb. This go round, Phife is more involved and his rhymes have vastly improved since TLET, and the chemistry he and Tip gave us small dosages of on songs like “Check The Rhime” and “Jazz (We’ve Got)”, reaches its full potential on Midnight Marauders, as the two emcees get almost equal mic time and show and prove they can each hold their own weight. From a production standpoint, Tip and company’s jazzy soundscapes are sharper, crisper and cleaner than TLET’s. And even though  “Oh My God” is a bit of a sour spot for me, the rest of the track list on Midnight Marauders is so impressive that their good vibes and love, blot out that minor mishap.

It’s bittersweet listening to Midnight Marauders today, as it finds my favorite hip-hop group at their pinnacle, and even though they would continue to put out quality music over the next three albums (well, The Love Movement was a mixed bag, but we’ll dig into that at a later date), they would never recapture the magic that made Midnight Marauders magical. Midnight Marauders is an undeniable classic and easily one of my top five albums of all time.

-Deedub

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Shaquille O’Neal – Shaq Diesel (October 26, 1993)

Before he was a part of TNT ‘s NBA commentary team, along side Ernie Johnson, Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Charles “Turrible” Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal was a pretty damn good basketball player, and arguably the most dominant paint player in NBA history. He was a 4 time NBA Champion, 15 time NBA All-Star, 3 time NBA Finals MVP, the 2000 NBA MVP, voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, and in 2016 he was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Oh yeah, and at one point he was a rapper too.

In 1993 Shaquille O’Neal was on top of the world. A year prior he was selected out of LSU by the Orlando Magic as the NBA’s overall number one draft pick and would go on to win the NBA Rookie of The Year Award. In ’93 he would return for his second season, but he would also start his rap career, signing a deal with Jive where he would release his first solo effort, Shaq Diesel.

Shaq would call on some respected hip-hip producers to help shape the soundscape for Shaq Diesel  and he would invite a few guests to add some rhymes (and write his) to some of the songs. Shaq Diesel would go on to sell over a million copies, making Shaq the first and the only human to have both a NBA title and a RIAA platinum plaque.

But the real question is was Shaq Diesel any good?

Intro – The album opens with a clip of former NBA commissioner David Stern announcing Shaquille O’Neal as the NBA’s 1992 number one draft pick by the Orlando Magic. Then a hard drum beat drops in with vocal snippets from some well-respected rappers (i.e. Grand Puba and CL Smooth) scratched in by Def Jef.

(I Know I Got) Skillz – Speaking of Def Jef, he drops a verse and gets credit for this instrumental, which also happened to be the first single from Shaq Diesel. Jef’s backdrop is decent, as Shaq displays his average, and sometimes corny (see “I get dirty after dark, I’ll treat you like Spielberg, you’ll get your ass kick (Jurassic) in the park”), rhyming over it.

I’m Outstanding – This was the second single released from Shaq Diesel. Over a surprisingly solid Erick Sermon instrumental (but can you really go wrong when you sample The Gap Band’s classic “Outstanding” record?) Shaq recalls his humble beginnings and the hard work it took to get him to the NBA and become outstanding. This was pretty dope and still sounds good today.

Where Ya At? – Our host invites Phife Dawg (from ATCQ) to this session, as the two tag team the mic over a slick Ali Shaheed Muhammad produced backdrop. Shaq sounds decent on this one, but by ’93, Phife was in a zone, and raps circles around his counterpart (and I have a sneaking suspension Phife penned Shaq’s lines as well). But the true champion of this song is Shaheed’s buttery horn loop and the stabbing piano keys. By far this is the strongest song on Shaq Diesel.

I Hate 2 Brag – Def Jef gets his third production credit of the evening, building a solid instrumental around a sample of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”. Shaq sounds okay on it, but he doesn’t give us anything worth quoting.

Let Me In, Let Me In – Erick Sermon gets his second production credit of the evening, as Shaq uses it to address all the gold diggin’ women out there. If I were a betting man I’d bet a dollar that E-Double wrote Shaq’s rhymes. Our host’s flow, which was passable on the previous songs, completely falls apart on this one (he lazily makes his second reference of the evening to Michael Jackson’s signature “hee-hee” adlib). But worst than Shaq’s performance is E-Double’s muddling funk junk production that I’ve expressed several times how much I’m a fan of.

Shoot Pass Slam – E-Double’s instrumental isn’t as garbage as the previous song (the only saving grace is the sick break brought in during the hook), but it’s still not great. Nor are Shaq’s Erick Sermon written rhymes.

Boom! – Shaq invites his buddies the Fu-Schnickens to join him on the mic, with Erick Sermon pulling double duties as the producer and he drops a verse. No one says anything worth quoting, and E-Double’s instrumental sounds almost identical to his work on “Shoot Pass Slam”, less the sick sample on the hook. This was terrible.

Are You A Roughneck – This was trash, plus the title’s not punctuated correctly.

Giggin’ On Em – This song will always bring me back to my sophomore year in high school when our boy’s basketball team won the 1994 AA State Championship (Go Millers!). This song was on the team’s warm-up playlist, but I digress. Shaq spits decent rhymes, that I’m positive were written by Phife (who also plays Shaq’s hypeman on the hook), over a decent Dr. “?” instrumental. I still chuckle at the end of the song when Shaq runs down a list of all the people he’s “gigged” on.

What’s Up Doc? (Can We Rock) – I don’t know why I thought this was on the Space Jam Soundtrack…maybe because the title references Bugs Bunny’s famous tag line? Anyhoo… Shaq invites his Fu-Schnicken brethren back for the final song on Shaq Diesel , as they each spit a verse, bringing a cartoonish feel to the song. K-Cut (one-third of Main Source) gets the credit for the instrumental, and while it’s not terrible, Shaq and company’s rhymes give it super corny feel.

Game Over – Short outro that sounds like a bunch of dudes finishing up a game of b-ball.

Shaquille O’Neal will go down in history as one of the greatest and most dominant NBA players of all-time, rightfully so, but he should NEVER be called a great rapper. Shaq Diesel finds the Hall of Fame center experimenting with wordplay instead of playing with balls (pause); and while he doesn’t sound as bad as some of his peers who would also experiment with the mic later on (i.e. Kobe, AI, Cedric Ceballos), he’s not that good, either…plus, it’s pretty apparent that he had help writing his rhymes. By the way, shoutout to Damian Lillard, the greatest ballplayer to ever rock the mic.

There are a couple of dope songs on Shaq Diesel , but the majority of it ranges from barely decent to garbage. On the bright side, Shaq rapped better than he shot free throws.

-Deedub

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Too Short – Get In Where You Fit In (October 26, 1993)

The only thing constant in life is change…and Too Short’s monotone slow flow. Since 1985  the Oakland native has been spitting pimpology, and while many hip-hop legends and vets have altered their style in an attempt to stay relevant (with only a few doing it successfully), Too Short has stayed true to what has kept him in the game for over 30 years: simple rhymes delivered in his monotone slow flow, and you can’t deny that it has worked.

While his flow has remained the same, he has adjusted his musical backing over the years to match the trends of the times. But back in 1993, Short was still riding that Oakland funk that helped build his legend. 1992’s Shorty The Pimp introduced the world to Ant Bank’s brand of funk, which infused live instrumentation with funk samples. Short would continue that relationship with 1993’s Get In Where You Fit In, as he and Ant would be credited for the majority of the funk laden production. And like most of Short’s prior Jive releases, Get In Where You Fit In would earn Too Short yet another platinum plaque.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it…beeatch!

Don’t Fight The Intro – Short recycles the instrumental from “Don’t Fight The Feelin'” from Life Is…Too Short, and spits a quick verse running down his entire catalog in chronological order (it was kind of funny (and cool) to hear him admit his second album Players was weak) and welcomes the listener to GIWYFI.

I’m A Player – This was the lead single from GIWYFI. Short and Banks loop up a little Bootsy Collins and turn it into a smooth laid back funk groove, as our host discusses his favorite topic: playin’ the bitches. Simple rhymes over hypnotic funk has always been Short Dog’s winning combination, and it doesn’t fail here.

Just Another Day – Short Dog calls on QDIII for the instrumental, and uses it to discuss another day in the life of a Oakland player. QD’s instrumental feels like a beautiful summer day, and it works well with Short’s slow rhymes.

Gotta Get Some Lovin’ – On this one Short proves that even pimps go through dry spells. Over a dope Ant Banks instrumental Too Short shows a rare moment of vulnerability, as he comically discusses his need to feel some female box. This is not your typical Ant Banks’ backdrop, as it has no funk on it, but it’s still just as effective as his traditional production style.

Money In The Ghetto – Short and Banks rip Kool & The Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging” wholesale (way before Puffy and Mase would do it), and Short uses it to dispel the myth that every ghetto dweller is broke. Whether it’s gained legally or illegally, there is money in the ghetto. And that concludes are brief intermission from Short Dog’s pimp doctrine…now back to our regularly schedule program, beeeatch!

Blowjob Betty – The Dangerous duo switch things up, as they leave the deep funk alone for a minute and sample Tenor Saw’s reggae classic “Ring The Alarm”, building the instrumental around it. The backdrop is decent, but Too-Short’s tale about Blowjob Betty is so hilarious that its way more entertaining than he and Ant’s beat. I wonder if anyone has actually died from the same thing that killed Blowjob Betty. I’m also curious that if they found the fatal semen that killed Betty still in her windpipe, how could there not be any suspects? I guess Short didn’t think that one through all the way…but I digress.

All My Bitches Are Gone – Ant Banks samples Wilson Picket’s “Shameless” for the smoothed-out backdrop, and he and Short talk about all the bitches that left them after they used and abused them. This was definitely more entertaining back when I was younger and more immature; in my older age, it’s kind of depression to hear Short talk about beating the shit out of chick…but the instrumental goes hard.

The Dangerous Crew – The title pretty much sums up the song: Over a mid-tempo funk light instrumental, Too Short invites Mhisani, Pee Wee, Ant Banks, and Spice 1 to join him on this Dangerous Crew cipher joint. Spice-1 easily walks away with this one, thanks to his style and energy, and his line “you can catch me peelin caps, known for killing every muthafucka dead in my raps…so give me the clip and let me pow one, cause everybody’s dying on this next fuckin’ album”).

Get In Where You Fit In – In case you were listening to the last song and wondered where is Pooh Man… we’ll, he and Too Short fell out of good standing sometime after the recording of Shorty The Pimp (he was on the posse joint “Something To Ride To” ) and GIWYFI. The song opens with someone asking “What happened to that other rapper ya’ll used to fuck with?”, then Short proceeds to take jabs at his wannabe Short Dog fat-footed former crew member, and the blows are kind of potent. This song could have ended after Short’s verse, but instead he invites his buddies Rappin’ Ron and Ant Diddley Dog (collectively known as the Bad-N-Fluenz Clique) into the booth, and they both spit extremely long unimpressive verses….and am I the only one that found it contradicting that at the beginning of this song Short’s boy disses Pooh Man for “eating pussy on records”, then Rappin’ Ron turns around and talks about “eating the cunt” towards the end of his verse? Regardless, I love the low-key funk groove on this one.

Playboy Short – Banks hooks up a smooth funk groove with a bit of live piano play that gives it a jazzy feel, as Short talks his Oakland shit (his line “People can’t fuck with the way I’m rhyming, they say it’s too slow, but it bought these diamonds” always makes me chuckle). This was pretty cool.

Way Too Real –  More Ant Banks funk, Short slick talk and pimp rhetoric…and an unwarranted verse from his buddy Father Dom.

It’s All Good –  Too Short attempts to combine his funk sound with a little r&b flavor. Leslie Calaway (who sings her verses and the adlibs) plays Short Dog’s naïve new woman who believes he’s a faithful gentleman, but by the end of the song he lets her see his true doggy colors. Not a great song, but I’ve heard worst.

Oakland Style – The album ends with more Ant Banks funk and newcomer FM Blue rhyming over it…and just to make sure you remember whose album this is, Too Short drops a quick verse to close the song out, and winds up sounding way more impressive than his pupil. Ant’s backdrop is pretty decent too.

As far as content, you know exactly what to expect from a Too Short album:oodles of misogyny with a sprinkle of consciousness delivered in his signature monotone slow flow, and a bunch of trademark “beeatches” thrown in for good measure. Short is far from a great emcee, but there is something about his simplicity that makes him intriguing. What makes or breaks a Too Short album, in my opinion, is the production. His previous release, Shorty The Pimp, missed just as often as it hit from a production standpoint, and while all the instrumentals aren’t bangers on Get In Where You Fit In, there isn’t one song that makes me hit the skip button (even when our host drops a godawful rhyme from time to time or when his guests spit underwhelming bars, which is the majority of the time they have the mic). Get In Where You Fit In is a solid listen, and a great title for an emcee who has done just that over the years.

-Deedub

 

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Erick Sermon – No Pressure (October 19, 1993)

When it comes to hip-hop groups with more than one emcee, EPMD is easily in my top five. From 1988 to 1992 the duo (technically, the trio, if you count DJ Scratch) put out 4 very impressive albums, which were all commercial, as well as critical successes, sealing EPMD’s legacy as hip-hop legends. So when the news broke that the microphone doctors were parting ways (the rumor was E-Double, or someone in his circle, robbed Parrish Smith’s house), my heart broke, a little bit. After the break up both emcees would begin their solo careers. PMD would sign with RCA and release his solo debut in 1994 (an album I never checked for because his flow on the lead single “I Saw It Cummin'” was so corny I couldn’t waste my time (or money) listening to that crap for an entire album…if I find it now for a few bucks I’d probably buy it…just out of curiosity), but Erick Sermon would strike first. Sticking with Def Jam, he would release his solo debut album, No Pressure, in the fall of 1993.

Throughout EPMD’s catalog, E and P both played a part in the production process. For No Pressure, the Green-Eyed Bandit no longer had Parrish to assist him, as he would handle the production single-handedly (for the most part) and round-up a bunch of guest appearances to help carry the lyrical load. No Pressure didn’t move as many units as the previous EPMD albums and it received mixed reviews.

Let’s see how No Pressure stacks up nearly 25 years after its release.

Intro – The album opens with Erick Sermon being swarmed by the Press, then one reporter asks him what he’s going to do to show his appreciation to all his loyal fans, and his response is the next song…

Payback II – The first official song of the evening has Erick paired with newcomer, Joe Synystr (I wonder what happened to that guy), and the two exchange verses, mixing sharp wordplay with comical metaphors. E-Double stays true to his EPMD funk roots, and hooks up a mid-tempo track, whose bass line sounds a lot like the one he and Parrish used for “The Crossover”, but it works well with the bell-like sample sprinkled over it. Nice way to start the show.

Stay Real – This was No Pressure’s first single. E-Double continues to bring the funk with this ruggedly funked out backdrop that has him talkin’ shit and instructing the listener to “stay real”(which was an overly used cliché in the mid nineties). Not a terrible song, but far from great.

Imma Gitz Mine – Erick’s instrumental seems uninspired and his rhymes follow suit.

Hostile – I believe this was the second single from No Pressure, and the song that would introduce the world to Keith Murray. The Green-Eyed Bandit hooks up a cold and dark backdrop, as he and Keith talk tough all over it. I love Erick’s line “for your protection, go sit in the r&b section, for this session”, but Keith Murray walks away with this one, giving us an early glimpse of his huge vocabulary and uncanny ability to manipulate the English language (“Damage to your medulla, cerebrum and cerebellum, ya got a crew ya better tell ’em”). This one still sounds sick.

Do It Up – It was nice to hear E-Double shoutout Commissioned, arguably the dopest gospel group of all time. But that’s the only good thing I can say about this song.

Safe Sex – This is a corny PSA attempt on behalf of our host, placed over an unimaginative sample of James Brown’s “The Payback”.

Hittin’ Switches – This song was original included on the Who’s The Man soundtrack, that was released in April of ’93, and the second single from that album. It’s decent enough, I guess.

Intro – The second half  (or side two) of No Pressure begins similar to the first half: a reporter asks Mr. Sermon who does he think he is and what makes him think he can still sell records, and I guess the next song is supposed to be the response.

Erick Sermon – The rhymes and the instrumental sound a lot like “Hittin’ Switches”.

The Hype – Trash.

Lil Crazy – Shadz Of Lingo (I’m sure most of you won’t remember those guys) join E-Double on this cipher joint. SOL sounds decent on this one, but Erick sounds uninspired and tired, and his instrumental is boring as watching paint dry.

The Ill Shit – Left Coast natives KAM and Ice-Cube drop by to join the E-Double on this one. E’s line about flipping “more vowels than Pat Sajak’s white bitch” (aka Vanna White), sounds forced and like he was trying to appease his black militant counterparts. All three emcees seem like they were more consumed with shouting each other out in their rhymes instead of spitting quality bars. And to add insult to injury, E-Double’s instrumental is trash.

Swing It Over Here – Keith Murray and Redman joint E for what I believe to be the first Def Squad cut featuring all three of its original members. Mostly do to E’s terrible instrumental, it doesn’t go over well, but Keith, Redman and our host’s rhymes aren’t that impressive, either.

Interview – It plays exactly as it reads.

All In The Mind – Erick invites another newcomer Soup (not to be confused with Sup The Chemist) to share mic duties, and Keith Murray, Soup is not. Collin Wolfe stops by and lends some much needed help, giving this instrumental a little bit more life than the previous 7 or 8 songs, but it’s still far from great.

Female Species – The final song of the evening is the only song that Erick Sermon is not the primary producer on. He does get a co-production credit, but Brent Turner is the main production man. Turner hooks up a super laid back instrumental for E-Double to talk about a few fly ladies he’s met. You might not feel this after the first listen, but give it a spin late night after leaving the bar, and I’m sure you’ll love it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ve never been a big fan of Erick Sermon’s solo production work. Without PMD, who helped construct the hardcore funk beats that helped shape the EPMD sound, most of E-Double’s funk on No Pressure sounds like soulless boring noise. Speaking of Parrish, his presence is sourly missed on the mic as well, as Erick Sermon has no business (no pun intended) trying to hold down a solo album. Even with the abundant amount of guest appearances on No Pressure there is still too high a dosage of lazily lisped underwhelming rhymes from the green-eyed bandit. Maybe if E-Double put a little pressure on himself for this album the results would have been better. As is, No Pressure is a hot mess.

-Deedub

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Black Moon – Enta Da Stage (October 19, 1993)

By 1993, the paradigm in hip-hop had shifted. New York, the mecca of hip-hop, had dominated the streets and charts since its commercial beginnings with the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” back in 1980, but thanks in large part to Dr. Dre and Snoop who helped usher in the G-Funk era, the West Coast was dominating radio and the charts for the first time. You still had some artist making noise on the East coast (i.e. the Native Tongue collective, LL Cool J, Gang Starr), but nothing matched the hardness and gangster swag of the West. Until Black Moon entered da stage.

Black Moon was the Brooklyn based three-man collective consisting of Buckshot Shorty, 5Ft. Excellerator, and one half of the production team known as Da Beatminerz, DJ Evil Dee. Buckshot, who would pretty much become the voice of Black Moon, wasn’t a part of the original conception of the crew (they actually went by the name Unique Image before wisely switching their name to Black Moon), but after the lead emcee of the original group left because, as Buckshot says in Brian Coleman’s book Check The Technique, “he thought that a record deal was taking to long”, Buckshot, who was a dancer first, decided to put away his dancing shoes and pick up the mic, and the roster that the world would know as Black Moon was formed. The trio began their quest for a deal in early 1991, signed with Nervous in February of 1993, and would release their debut album Enta Da Stage in the fall of that same year.

Evil Dee and his older brother (and production mentor) Mr. Walt (collectively known as the Da Beatminerz) would handle all of the production work on Enta Da Stage. The album sold a decent amount of units and was heralded as a classic by most critics and fans.

Let’s revisit Enta Da Stage and see if it lives up to those accolades.

Powaful Impak!Enta Da Stage opens with a dirty boom-bap backdrop courtesy of Evil Dee, and a young and eager Buckshot Shorty warming up for the rest of the album. This was a nice way to start things and get the listener ready for what’s to come.

Niguz Talk Shit – Now this is hip-hop. From the muffled drums, to the grimy bass line, to the warm horn loops, to Buckshot’s gritty and aggressive shit talkin’; this is what hip-hop is supposed to sound like. This is a guaranteed head noddin’-screw-face classic.

Who Got Da Props? – This was the first single released from Enta Da Stage. Evil Dee slows things down with his smooth and melodic instrumental, as Buckshot displays a third different style in as many songs. This is a classic.

Ack Like U Want It – I remember buying this on cassette back in the day and this song wasn’t on it, but it was on the cd version that I bought a little later after my cassette was eaten by my boombox. 5Ft. Excellerator makes his first appearance of the evening, as he and Buckshot share microphone duties. Da Beatminerz instrumental is a bit cleaner and bouncier than the other songs on the album, but it’s still an enjoyable listen.

Buck ‘Em Down – And we’re right back to the grime. I love Evil Dee’s instrumental, but Buckshot’s ability to adapt his style to go with any instrumental at any BPM, is severely underrated. Side Note: the smoothed out remix to this is even sicker than the original mix. You don’t believe me? Go ahead, listen to it on YouTube and then find your way back and finish reading this post.

Black Smif-N-Wessun – Tek and Steele, better know as Smif-N-Wessun, join Buckshot, as the three bless Evil-Dee’s dark banger (and even though I have no idea what the guy is saying in the vocal sound bite, it’s arguably the sickest sound bite that I’ve ever heard). Tek and Steele are decent, but Buckshot easily has the best verse on this one.

Son Get Wrec – After a Buckshot dominated first half of the album, 5Ft Excellerator shows up for only the second time so far on Enta Da Stage, and this time he gets a solo joint. Evil-Dee’s instrumental is dope and 5Ft sounds decent over it, but this song makes it very clear why Buckshot was the dominate emcee throughout Enta Da Stage.

Make Munne – Just in case you were wondering, “Munne” is the ebonic spelling for “money”. Over a hard and grimy Mr. Walt produced backdrop, Buckshot worships the all mighty dollar bill. This is one of my least favorite songs on the album, but it’s still solid.

Slave – 3rd Bass and Main Source both sampled the same 9th Creation record that Evil Dee uses to build his backdrop around , and while Large Professor’s interpretation of the loop might be the strongest of the three, there is no doubt that Buckshot has the tightest bars out of those same three songs. Another strong record for an already banger filled album.

I Got Cha Opin – Speaking of bangers, Mr. Walt hooks up a nasty headnodder for Buckshot to, um, get open over. It’s amazing how Buckshot can match the grit of Mr. Walt’s instrumental, then come back and do a complete 180 and melodically float over Evil Dee’s breezy Isaac Hayes sampling remix. And both versions are equally dope.

Shit Iz Real – This is arguably my favorite song on Enta Da Stage. Evil Dee does a flawless job on the production side (I love the warm horn loop placed at the beginning of the song and brought in during the hook…and the keyboard sample from Faze-O’s “Riding High” is placed perfectly), and as usual, Buckshot obliterates the track and makes it sound easy in the process.

Enta Da Stage – Take out the first two sentences of my thoughts about  “Make Munne” and insert the rest here.

How Many MC’s… – This was released as the B-side to the “Who Got Da Props?” single , but kind of ended up being its own single (the video for it was pretty ill), and is one of only two songs on Enta Da Stage that both parts of Da Beatminerz get credit for producing. Buckshot takes the mid-tempo banger and turns it into a classic record with his incredible lyrical display.

U Da Man – If there is one song that I had to leave off of Enta Da Stage, this is that song. Buckshot and 5Ft Excellerator invite one of  the EP’s of Enta Da Stage and future co-founder of Duck Down Music, Dru-Ha, aka the ill Caucasian (who according to his verse on this song “always gets the pussy cause I tell ’em that I’m Spanish”…which reminds me of another pet peeve of mine: When people refer to “Spanish” as an ethnic background…it’s a language, people!!), Tek and Steele (Smif-N-Wessun) and Havoc from Mobb Deep to join them on this album ending cipher joint. Sadly, Prodigy didn’t make the song because he was in the hospital due to complications with sickle cell anemia when it was recorded.  Nearly 25 years later, complications with that sickness would end up claiming Prodigy’s life. Time is truly illmatic. Rest in peace, P.

Enta Da Stage is a muffled, gritty and grimy exhibition of excellent hip-hop recorded in arguably the greatest time period in hip-hop’s history, the golden era. From beginning to end Da Beatminerz masterfully mash-up dusty drums and filthy bass lines with rough guitar licks and beautiful horn loops, while Buckshot (sorry 5Ft) plays the conductor, switching his flow up like he suffers from bipolar disorder. And not only does he hold the listener’s attention, but he mesmerizes with his colorful voice and entertains with his quality lyricism. Even with the barely decent posse cut “U Da Man”, Enta Da Stage is nearly flawless and a sure shot classic.

In Brian Coleman’s book Don’t Sweat The Technique, Mr. Walt’s quoted as saying “People say different things about how it went down, but technically we were the ones who brought hip-hop back to the East Coast at the time. Us and Wu-Tang- not Nas and Biggie.” He’s got a point.

-Deedub

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