I know, I’m supposed to be on a break from the blog, but I had to drop in real quick to honor the birthday of this monumental album. Twenty-six years ago today, The Genius aka Gza released his quietly classic solo album, Liquid Swords. Celebrate it by giving it a listen, and if you’re listening to on a physical copy, take some time to appreciate the dope artwork on the cover. Enjoy!
There’s an old quote that goes something like “When your work is your passion, it’s no longer a job.” That’s bullshit. As much as I love writing about hip-hop, preparing a post for this blog on a weekly basis can be a fight, a struggle, and a chore at times. With that said, I’ve decided to take a short break away from this labor of love that I call TimeIsIllmatic to focus on my wifey, kids and the job that actually pays my mortgage.
I’m done with all my housekeeping posts, so I’ll jump into 1996 when I return in a few weeks. In the meantime, grab a snack and take a virtual trip through hip-hop’s past by reading some of my older reviews. And stay tuned…
Guess who turned 30 years old today? Yep, you guessed it! Ice Cube’s classic second full-length solo album, Death Certificate. Celebrate by clicking here and reading my thoughts on the album while you give it a listen.
Does Death Certificate belong in the discussion of top twenty hip-hop albums of all-time? Share your thoughts in the comments.
After Father MC and Uptown Records Vice President of Promotions, Jimmy “Love” Jenkins’ plan for Father to take over the world with his third album, Sex Is Law, failed miserably, Father MC found himself without a label to call home. Between 1990 and 1993, Father MC released three albums on the Uptown label and was able to develop a solid female fanbase, thanks to his fluffy lust/love raps over heavily r&b flavored production and hooks. While Father was able to score one gold selling record with his 1991 hit single, “I’ll Do For You” (which would introduce Mary J. Blige to the world), at best his three albums only produced modest numbers, and left Uptown Records with a decision to make. Like basic addition and subtraction, Father would regroup, and in 1995 he released two independent albums: Sexual Playground (on Top Dogg Records) and This Is For The Players (on Moja Entertainment).
I didn’t know either album existed, until a few months ago when I found them spooning in the used cd bins at one of my favorite frequents (shout out to Cheapos!). I immediately noticed that the album covers looked similar and that they had some of the same song titles listed on the back of their jewel cases. I searched the internet, high and low, looking for an explanation for this, to no avail. So, I came up with my own theory. You wanna hear it? Here it goes: Father released the first album (I’ll guess it was Sexual Playground), and after it didn’t get the backing and exposure he hoped for, he then left Top Dogg Records, made a few alterations to the original album, and re-released it as This Is For Players through Moja Entertainment Group. After both albums failed to make noise or sell any records, I’m sure Father had to take a long look in the mirror, but that’s a discussion for another day. Maybe next Father’s Day? (*rimshot*)
Since a lot of the songs on the albums overlap, I figured I’d combine them on the same post and kill two birds with one stone. I’m sure most of you could give two shits about Father’s music, but hopefully one of my faithful readers and Father MC fan, Vinny enjoys this post.
Random factoid : I just found out that Father MC is married to the actress, Theresa Randle (Malcom X, Bad Boys, Girl 6). Sounds like his love raps paid off.
Lets Get Into FMC – Sexual Playground opens with what sounds like a transistor radio, repeatedly cycling through the same three stations: One station is playing the hook to the album’s title track. The second, an eerie but beautiful jazzy organ, and the third features a male voice warning that “the world is under attack at this very moment.” This intro left me both, perplexed and intrigued. Is Father going to get into some deep shit? Make joints for the ladies? Or mix things up? We’ll find out soon enough.
You Can Do Me Right Tonight – A few years before the Trackmasters would loop up Rene & Angela’s classic record, “I’ll Be Good”, and turn it into a hit song for Foxy Brown, Father MC sampled it to create the backdrop for this high energy joint that finds our host trying to verbally seduce the ladies, as usual. Apparently, his seduction works, or at least that’s what the singing female on the hook (simply credited to Chan) leads the listener to believe, as she basically begs him to come take the booty. Not a bad way to kick off the evening.
Sexual Playground – Father lays down an instrumental dripping with summertime vibes and commences to invite the ladies to play on or in his jungle gym, as he punctuates each verse with: “If you want some TLC, creep with me, into ecstasy”. The hook is borderline corny but catchy, and the song makes for decent background music while driving in the whip on a nice summer day.
Do Me – Father stays in sex mode, spewing feeble pick-up lines to get his prey out of their panties, and he proclaims himself as the black Gotti, which I’m assuming is his weird way of calling himself the gangsta of love. Female vocalist, Sarisa, sings her heart out and her ass off on the hook, as her contribution paired with the infectious bass line and smooth instrumentation makes this an enjoyable rap r&b-fused bop.
This Is 4 The Players – Father places his Prince Charming persona on ice and puts on his sinister pimp voice, as he warns other players to keep a watchful eye on their ladies before he snatches them up and adds them to his harem: “You better check your chick, cause your chick’s checkin’ me, what’s the law? Pimp or die”. I never knew there was such honor amongst pimps. I enjoyed hearing this callous and cold-hearted version of Father, and the dark instrumental backing him was dope.
Am I What You Want? – Father samples Teddy Pendergrass’ classic “Close The Door” to create this soulful groove that finds our host listing the qualities that he looks for when selecting a woman, which includes being black and simply, having a job. I chuckled during Father’s opening bars when he gives his lady “permission” to say hello to his homies, but nothing more. Apparently, his insecure ass doesn’t think she can stay faithful if she holds a conversation with another man: “I want a girl on the mellow, represent, never disrespect, to my homies you can say hello…not too much convo, cause when I go away you might play on the down low”. Father’s rhymes have all types of sexist male chauvinistic innuendos that he dresses up and presents as charming and vulnerable to win over the female audience. I can see right through his bullshit, but I love this beautiful instrumental and what Sarisa does on the adlibs and hook.
Treat Me Right – Father builds this backdrop around a loop from Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much” (another loop that never seems to get old) and kicks more of his cliché love raps. This song is dripping with feel good vibes, and once again, Sarisa does her thing on the hook.
Playground – This is pretty much a house/techno remix of “Sexual Playground”, and I like this version way more than the original. It had me pumpin’ my fist like them dudes on Jersey Shore.
4 The Players – Father brings back the instrumental from “This Is 4 The Players”, so you can practice your freestyles over it.
That’s All – The album ends with a female voice asking, “That’s all?” and fittingly, a loop of a moaning woman, who apparently enjoyed the hell out of our host’s playground.
Now let’s jump into This Is For The Players:
Treat Me Right -This one starts with Father being interviewed by a female reporter, and their flirting quickly escalates to a full-blown sexcapade. You would think that Father would follow-up their sexy exchange with a super sexy song (like Sexual Playground’s “You Can Do Me Right Tonight” or as it’s titled on this album, “I Want Your Lovin”), but no cigar. See “Treat Me Right” on Sexual Playground.
This Is For The Players – See “This Is 4 The Players” on Sexual Playground. But you won’t get the super rare Father MC “muthafucka” on this version, as it’s censored for some reason.
Sexual Playground – See title track on Sexual Playground.
You Can Do Me Right – This song is simply titled “Do Me” on Sexual Playground (which the horny interviewer from the album’s intro says is her favorite song on the album). Don’t be fooled (or confused) by the unnecessary extra words in the song title, it’s the same version that’s on Sexual Playground.
High Rollers – Father takes a break away from his love/sex raps and dedicates this one to all the players, G’s, and high rollers. His rhymes aren’t spectacular (I’m still trying to figure out why he thought the line “Father means player, MC means G” was dope enough to say twice), but he sounds decent rhyming over this chill backdrop.
Sexual Healing – Short interlude that finds Culture sprinkling some reggae vibes on Father’s playground.
Am I What You Want – See “Am I What You Want?” on Sexual Playground. The song title is written as “Am I What You Want” in the liner notes of This Is For The Players, but as “I Am What You Want” on the back of the cd jewel case. This might be a minor editing issue to most, but it’s a major pet peeve of mine that screams lazy and unprofessional. But I digress.
Funking With Father – Father’s looking to get the party started with this one, and he manages to talk a little shit as well. It sounds like he takes a shot at Uptown Records during the second verse: “I took a minute, studied, listened, came back on a mission, to rule the industry division, with no bs, no budget, no political, no fake A&R’s that’s when it’s critical”. I’m not sure if Father was intentional trying to sound old school with his rhyming scheme as an homage to the pioneers, but it works well and matches the dope instrumental that implements elements of Whodini’s classic record “Five Minutes of Funk”.
Hey…How Ya Doin – I found a video on YouTube for this one (where I discovered that Father rocked a baldy at some point), so it must have been one of the album’s singles. I could have done without this one, but I did enjoy Jodie’s adlibs at the end of the song. Speaking of Jodie, I wonder why Father only credits his female guests by their first names in the liner notes but lists his male guests first and last names. Probably because he’s a male chauvinist. And what’s up with these ridiculous crew names he comes up with? In ’93 he was rollin’ with Butt Naked and in ’95 it’s Sex? Wait…I just put the two crew names together. I’m so juvenile.
I Want Your Lovin – See “You Can Do Me Right Tonight” on Sexual Playground, not be confused with “You Can Do Me Right”, which is “Do Me” on Sexual Playground. Are you confused yet? Father adds opening adlibs on this mix, and he stacks his vocals, which makes him sound like he’s screaming at the listener, and it gets annoying to listen to by the middle of the song.
Life – The previous song ends with a short interlude that has Father saying goodbye to his daughter to run the streets with his crew. Then the dark instrumental (built around an ill Isaac Hayes loop) drops and Father details the struggle and frustration that leads him to attempt a robbery with his crew. Needless to say, things don’t end well. This is definitely the darkest Father MC song that I’ve ever heard; and even though it doesn’t remotely fit in with the rest of the album, I enjoyed it.
For Sexual Playground and This Is For The Players, Father sticks with the formula that brought him moderate success during his stent at Uptown Records, as he continues his tradition of catering to his female fanbase with his charming ladies’ man persona. This Is For The Players has a slightly darker feel than Sexual Playground (I can’t count how many times during this post I accidently typed “Sexual Chocolate” instead of “Sexual Playground”), but at their core, they’re the same album with a few alterations, with love and sex as the main themes. Father is far from a great lyricist, but he does have a solid flow and a credible rapping voice that sounds nice when paired with his clean r&b instrumentals and hooks, which have aged well on these two albums.
If you didn’t enjoy Father MC’s music during his Uptown years, then you probably won’t enjoy SexualPlayground, or This Is For The Players. But if you’re like me and occasionally like your hip-hop drenched in predictable r&b, you’ll find a lot to enjoy on both albums.
Through the years, I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that I’m not a huge fan of reggae or dancehall music. I absolutely love Bob Marley’s music, but after him, I’d be hard pressed to name another reggae or dancehall artist that I’d consider myself a fan of. Maxi Priest had a couple of smooth joints in the nineties, as well as Shabba Ranks, and Shaggy also gave us a few hot ones. Then there was the sexy Jamaican Queen, Patra. I can’t remember any of her songs, but it sure as hell was enjoyable to watch her in videos, boggling and winding that sexy chocolate body all over my TV screen. But I digress. If my memory serves me correct, the only reggae artist’s album I’ve reviewed on TimeisIllmatic was Jamal-Ski’s Roughneck Reality, and that was only because of his affiliation with Boogie Down Productions. Well, today we tackle our second reggae artist on this blog, who ironically, was also down with the BDP crew, Mad Lion.
Mad Lion (whose alias is a nonsensical acronym for Musical Assassin Delivering Lyrical Intelligence Over Nations) was born in London and raised in Jamaica. As an adult he would move to Brooklyn, NY on his journey to make his mark as a “hip-hop reggae” artist in the states. After arriving in Brooklyn, Mad Lion met Super Cat and begin working with him; legend has it that Super Cat’s responsible for suggesting the ridiculous acronym that makes up Mad Lion’s alias. Eventually, Lion would link with the legendary Blastmaster KRS-One (By the way, I’m pissed that I didn’t get a chance to watch he and Kane’s Verzuz match-up the other night. I’ll have to find it on YouTube), and his co-sign would help Mad Lion secure a deal with Nervous Records, where he would release his debut album, Real Ting in 1995.
I’ve never listened to Real Ting before now, but I do remember the lead single, “Take It Easy”. Back in the day, I stole a copy of the cassette single from Sam Goody so me and my guys could freestyle over the instrumental on side two. So, even if the rest of the album sucks, I know there is at least one banger.
Hopefully, my purchase of the Real Ting, decades later, will atone for me taking food out of the Lion’s mouth, twenty-five plus years ago.
Real Ting Intro – Real Ting begins with a jazzy backdrop, a little singing, a few words from a bootleg Sir Nose, and an uncredited male and female (who I thought was going to spit bars at one point) assuming you (the listener) didn’t expect the album to start like this. Well, you’re right. I sure as hell didn’t, but I did enjoy the instrumental. It made me want to throw up my jazz hands.
Double Trouble – Mad Lion comes out the gate sounding aggressively hungry, spewing fiery reggae-tinged bars that left me wondering if he wants to verbally off his competition or literally, kill niggas. Either way, he sounds great over this rough and moody backdrop (credited to Mad Lion and Kenny Parker), and the chant on the hook makes things sound even grander.
See A Man Face – Mad Lion keeps the same energy from the previous track and comes off like a reggae version of M.O.P. Speaking of M.O.P., it would have been dope to hear Billy Danze and Lil Fame beat up KRS-One’s hard backdrop with enthusiastic verses. But even without M.O.P.’s presence, this is still a tough record.
Nine On My Mind – Our host uses this bouncy feel-good backdrop to rap and chant a love song to his one true love, his gun, as he recalls a couple different occasions when his nine saved his life. I love this instrumental, and Mad Lion’s hook is catchy as hell.
Shoot To Kill – KRS-One recycles his “Black Cop” instrumental and lets Mad Lion go on a violent chanting rampage over it. I was waiting for Kris to get off a verse, but no cigar. Instead, he stays behind the boards and lets the Lion tear this shit to shreds by himself.
That’s All We Need – According to Mr. Lion, all a “real nigga” needs is mad hip-hop, reggae and weed. Well, I could think of a few more things that might be beneficial in life (money, companionship, food, clothes, shelter), but I get his point.
Own Destiny – The Blastmaster loops up a commonly used Barry White sample for the instrumental, but I bet you’ve never heard anyone spit reggae bars over it. This was decent.
Crazy – This was too bland for my taste buds.
Big Box Of Blunts – What would a hip-hop/reggae artist’s album be without a weed dedication song? I hope Mad Lion’s weed is as fire as this instrumental.
Bad Luck – This one starts with a short interlude that finds a groupie chick coming to meet Mad Lion and she ends up getting mauled by his lion after she completely ignores his warning (you can hear him in the background telling her “Yo, don’t fuck with that cat…that cat will rip your head off”) and tries to pet it. Then KRS-One makes his only audible appearance of the evening, as he shares a few words and drops his dope dark instrumental that Mad Lion uses to get into some true emcee shit. Most of Lion’s rhymes are on point (how many rappers have left their competition “Dizzy like Gillespie” through the years?) and his guest, Squidley, sounds pretty decent on the hook.
Real Ting – The title track finds Mad Lion celebrating marijuana, again. This time he invites Marlon Steward to join in on the celebration, as he sings praises to the cannabis, while Lion chants about its greatness over a decent mid-tempo bop.
Real Lover – After an uncredited guest rapper spits a few bars that pay homage to Audio 2’s “Top Billin”, Mad Lion recycles Mary J Blige’s “Real Love” instrumental and tries to convince a certain young lady that he’s the only man that can love her right. Mad Lion’s voice on this one doesn’t sound as rough and raspy as the rest of the album, which leads me to believe that this song was recorded earlier than the rest of the album (the quality of the mix also sounds like it may have been an old demo). Regardless, this was still very entertaining (except for the opening and closing raps) and super catchy.
Body And Shape – The song opens with KRS-One’s wifey, G. Simone, singing some embarrassingly bad notes. Then Kris attempts to re-create the bass line from The Whole Darn Family’s “7 Minutes of Funk”, placing it over flat drums, as Lion chants about a chick with a bangin’ body. This one shouldn’t have made the final cut.
Take It Easy – This was the lead single from Real Ting, and the song that I would be introduced to Mad Lion through. KRS-One pulls one of the sickest instrumentals he’s ever produced out of his ass and blesses his mentee with it, as he continues to spew violent chants and threats over it. This record still sounds as dope as it did twenty-five plus years ago.
Play De Selection – I’m not sure what Mad Lion is talking about on this one, but the chill instrumental is soothing to my ears.
Teaser – Lion is trying to bag a chick who apparently can’t make up her mind if she wants to give him the ass or not. At least that’s what I think the premise of this song is. I couldn’t make out most of Lion’s lyrics, but the singing ladies on the hook brought me to that conclusion. If the powers that be with The Me Too Movement got a hold of this song, they’d have a field day. But since they only seem to pull the skeletons out of the closets of relevant celebrities, Mad Lion has nothing to worry about.
Baby Father – This one begins with what is supposed to be Mad Lion’s mom, snapping on him for being careless with protecting his jimmy. Then Lion uses Norty Cotto’s smoothly somber backdrop to share his reggae version of the “Billie Jean” story (I love the part when Lion asks his alleged baby mama, Caroline, “If the both of us are black, why is the baby Chinese?”). This was pretty entertaining and a nice change of pace from the rest of the content Lion had fed us for most of the evening.
Stop Dat Shit – Real Ting closes with Mad Lion and his homie smokin’ in the studio, then his homie throws on a beat to see what Mad Lion has for it. Unbenounced to Lion and his friend, the whole freestyle ends up getting recorded. This was dumb, pointless and useless.
In the liner notes of Real Ting, it reads: “Mad Lion represents hip-hop reggae, not reggae hip-hop”, which makes sense after living with Real Ting for the past few weeks. Throughout the album, Mad Lion displays reggae sensibilities with an emcee’s mentality and strong hip-hop tendencies. Unlike most reggae/dancehall artists I’ve heard, I can actually understand most of Lion’s lyrics, and even when I can’t, the texture of his ruggedly raspy voice, combined with he and KRS-One’s well-crafted boom-bap production kept me vibin’ and entertained. There are a few mediocrely bland moments, and the album runs a bit too long, but overall, Real Ting is a quality listen and a solid debut from the Boogie Down Productions associate.
This one should have been posted before Back Up Off Me!, but sometimes keeping this chronological shit in order is a task in itself. Anywhoo…hope you enjoy the read.
The first and last time we spoke about The Coup on this blog was five years ago when we discussed their 1993 debut album, Kill My Landlord (by the way, I absolutely love that album title). Led by Boots Riley (and his afro) with E-Roc and DJ Pam The Funkstress (rip) at his sides, the Oakland based trio took a militant stance and offered up a heapin’ helpin’ of black consciousness served over funky instrumentals. Kill My Landlord didn’t sell a ton of copies, nor was it deemed a critical darling, but it was a decent listen, and it was encouraging to hear a group stand strong on something they believed in, going again the thug/gangsta/materialistic grain. The Coup would return in ’94 with their cleverly titled sophomore effort, Genocide & Juice.
Like Kill My Landlord, the bulk of Genocide & Juice would be produced by Boots with help from a bunch of his musician friends providing live instrumentation. Like their debut, Genocide & Juice wouldn’t be a commercial success either and it received mix reviews from the critics. It’s been years since I’ve listened to the album, so let’s see if time has been kind to Genocide & Juice.
Intro – The album opens with someone named G-Nut sharing a few words to introduce the listeners to Genocide & Juice over a funky instrumental built around a dope Patrice Rushen loop.
Fat Cats, Bigga Fish – This was the lead single from Genocide & Juice. Boots goes dolo and comes from the perspective of a petty street hustler who ends up being humbled when he discovers that he’s a small fish amongst larger fish in the scandalous pond of hustlers. Boots does a brilliant job of dotting every “I” and crossing every “T” during his damn near flawlessly executed storyline, and the infectious funk groove that backs him sounds just as good. This is a super slept on/underappreciated record, and easily my favorite Coup joint.
Pimps – This one picks up at the snobby party that Boots was working/scheming at on the previous song. It begins with a pompous white woman talking with David Rockefeller and JP Getty, and she eventually goads them into spittin’ freestyles (the dialogue between them is hi-larious). Boots raps as Rockefeller and E-Roc as Getty, as the two billionaires take turns boasting about the power and clout that inheritance and capitalisms has brought them. Donald Trump jumps into this Fortune 500 cipher, tacking on the final verse that he spits in reggae form, and it sounds just as bad as his comb over looks. I have to give this one to Rockefeller.
Takin’ These – The previous song ends with the bougie party getting raided and robbed, which sets up Boots and E-Roc for this one; and they’re not asking for reparations, but taking it by force: “I’m gettin’ ammunition out the Pinto hatchback, refer to this as “Operation Snatchback”, because I got the fat sacks, hollow tips to distribute equally, So who’s the niggas, thugs and pimps you mention frequently? Gank me with frequency, now I know you got mail, and if my glock fails, take a sip of this Molotov cocktail”. Boots and E-Roc’s militant bars sound great over this milky smooth backdrop.
Hip 2 Tha Skeme – Boots and E-Roc use this one to address the systematic economic gap that still exist in America between the have (aka white folks) and the have-nots (aka black folks). This is definitely not one of the strongest songs on the album, but it’s still decent.
Gunsmoke – The rock guitar-driven backdrop has Boots and E-Roc on some vengeful shit, looking to get even with their oppressors who’ve tormented their ancestors for centuries. I appreciate the sentiment, but I could have done without this one.
This One’s A Girl – Pam The Funkstress gets a chance to chop shit up on the one’s and two for this short interlude. Well done, ma’am.
The Name Game – Our hosts use this one to make it clear that their goal in this hip-hop game is not to gain fortunate and fame, but to make revolutionary music that sparks change and uplifts the people: “Fuck the fame, fuck the game, fuck the riches foo, I ain’t got shit unless all my folks gon’ have theirs too”. I respect The Coup’s stance and I love the laidback funk instrumentation on this one (especially the melodic jam session at the end of the song).
360 Degrees – The Coup brings back the funky instrumental from the intro and invites Jazz Lee Alston to share a spoken word poem about a young man she simple refers to as Baby Boy (not to be confused with Tyrese’s character, Jody). I’m curious to why Jazz’ name is crossed out of the credits in the liner notes. Maybe her appearance conflicted with her contract with Rhyme Cartel Records (which the liner notes say she appears “courtesy of”)? Regardless, I enjoyed Jazz’ clever wordplay and her poem was pretty solid.
Hard Concrete – E-Roc uses his solo joint to share a cautionary tale about a young brother coming up in the hood who gets caught in the traps and snares that society has laid before him. E doesn’t cover any new territory here, but the laidback instrumental was dope and makes for great midnight marauding music.
Santa Rita Weekend – Boots and E-Roc are joined by their Oakland bredrin, Spice 1 and E-40, as they all get a chance to paint the picture of life behind bars and address the ridiculous amount of black men caught up in the criminal system, as Boots raps: “I can’t go forward, and motherfuckas can’t ignore it, cause all my people on parole, in the pen or gotta warrant”. Boots and his band of musicians provide a dope bluesy mash up (with a disgusting bass line) that sets the mood for the somber content. This is definitely one of my favorite songs on the album.
Repo Man – The Coup dedicates this one to anyone that has ever had a home, car or furniture repossessed (I’m super curious on how furniture gets repoed. I wish someone would try to come in my house and take my shit), and it serves as a reminder of the dangers of borrowing and the power in ownership. Unfortunately, the message gets tainted by the mediocre music and the annoying hook.
Interrogation – The Coup invites a few of their friends (Osagyefo and the group, Point Blank Range) to join them on this one, as they all vow to uphold one of the oldest tenets of street code: never talk to or cooperate with the police (Boots hilariously, goes as far as to say he won’t even “ask them for directions”). Things get kind of weird during the middle section of the song, when one (or two) of their guests (I’m not sure who is who) decides to get into some Broadway type theatrics (someone raps from the perspective of a cop and adapts a British accent, delivered in a Yoda voice, and interrogates a possible witness, who sounds like he’s performing in Othello). I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it’s passable.
Outro – For your listening pleasure, The Coup brings back the instrumental from the “Intro” and “360 Degrees”, but this time they put some extra stank on it in the form of live instrumentation. And that concludes Genocide & Juice.
The Coup picks up where they left off at on their first album, brewing up another healthy portion of militant black conscious content, wasting not a moment on selfish boasts or random nonsense (you catch that bar? I still got it!). There are a few moments when the message gets lost in the music and vice versa, but most of Genocide & Juice finds Boots and E-Roc spewing quality substance-filled bars over dope beats and funky instrumentation. Genocide & Juice will never be mentioned in the same conversation as politically conscious masterpieces like It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold UsBack and Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, but it serves as the perfect appetizer to prepare your “thought chops” for the main courses.
I’m sure most of you can remember years ago before reality tv shows took over television, and MTV used to actually play music videos on their channels. They even had a platform specifically dedicated to hip-hop videos, called Yo! MTV Raps. From the late-eighties through the mid-nineties, Yo! MTV Raps played the latest hip-hop music videos, featured interviews with some of your favorite artists, and occasionally, the illustrious Fab Five Freddy would stop in and provide in-depth segments about the culture outside of rap music (i.e., break dancing and graffiti). Through its run, Yo! MTV Raps had a few different hosts, but the two most memorable ones would be the colorful and humorous combo of Ed Lover & Doctor Dre (not to be confused with the good doctor who practices musical medicine on the west coast). The duo (who were so popular at one point they starred in their own New Line Cinema backed flick, Who’s The Man? A movie I still haven’t seen to this day) were notorious for hosting freestyle sessions with their guests on the show and occasionally they would also partake in the ciphers, spittin’ lighthearted nonsensical freestyles. Neither Ed nor Dre sounded amazing when rapping, but no harm done, as it was all in jest. So, a year ago when I bumped into a used copy of an album called Back Up Off Me! by Doctor Dre & Ed Lover, I was perplexed for a few different reasons. One: I had no idea this album existed, and two: Why did it exist in the first place?
Back Up Off Me! was released on Relativity Records in 1994. Most of the album’s production work is credited to Franklyn Grant, but it also features production from a few highly respected hip-hop producers and cameos by some of your favorite emcees (more on that in a bit). Wikipedia claims that Back Up Off Me! went gold, but I couldn’t confirm that on the RIAA’s website, so I’m pretty sure that claim is false, or as the kids say, all cap.
Let’s take Back Up Off Me! for a few spins and see if it’s worth the wax it was pressed on.
Back Up Off Me – The first song of the night finds Ed, Dre and their homie from Yo! MTV Raps, T-Money clownishly paying homage to the old and (then) current schools of hip-hop over a sample of the way too frequently tapped McFadden & Whitehead record, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”. This sounds like one of their Yo!MTV Raps freestyle sessions, and they all sound equally silly.
It’s Goin’ Down – Ed Lover is joined on the mic by Def Squad members, Erick Sermon and Keith Murray, as all three parties spit a verse. Erick sounds solid over his smoothly rugged backdrop, while Keith easily shines the brightest, blessing us with more of his “ole ill shit in a paragraph” (I love his bar: “My style is funky like a six pack of muthafuckas”). If you remove Ed Lover’s malnourished verse and replace it with a Redman sixteen, this quickly turns into a flawless and fire Def Squad record.
Tootin’ On The Hooters – Ed Lover was obviously influenced by Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”, as he uses this one to rap praises to his favorite female body part, the breast: “Hey-yo, baby got back, yeah, it’s fat and all that, but I’m about to take a different route on this track, cause breast is the best thing, next to the wet thing, and if it is a sex thing, check it how I wreck things”. Franklyn Grant combines a couple of James Brown loops with a sample from The Ohio Players “Funky Worm”, resulting in a decent instrumental, but Ed’s rhymes are cornmeal and the bootleg Aaron Hall singing on the hook sounds atrocious.
East Coast Sound – Marley Marl hooks up a slick backdrop, as Ed is joined by DoItAll and Mr. Funke (from Lords of The Underground) for this East Coast hip-hop appreciation session. Similar to “It’s Goin’ Down”, Ed sounds like an amateur rapping next to his guests (yes, even next to DoItAll). But despite Ed’s lyrical mishaps, this still ends up being a pretty solid joint. Plus, Ed references an A Tribe Called Quest rhyme, so we can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this write-up.
For The Love Of You – Ed dedicates this one to…pretty much everybody: His childhood crew, his fans, everybody who went and watched Who’s The Man?, single mothers, and his daughter. Someone named Jolly Stomper (with a co-credit going to Franklyn Grant) builds the instrumental around “elements” from The Isley Brothers “For The Love Of You” (yet another sample that should be retired and hung in hip-hop’s rafters), while decent background singers (the liner notes credit Debbie McGriff, Diane Cameron and Route 4) sing the hook and adlibs, and Chris “The Sax Man” Charles adds some cool jazz solos. Ed doesn’t sound spectacular, but this song is the best he’s sounded so far tonight.
Who’s The Man – This time around Ed is joined by his Yo! MTV Raps alumni, Todd One, King Just and The Notorious B.I.G., who you could say got his first national attention, thanks to Dre and Ed putting him on the Who’s The Man? Soundtrack back in ’93 (see “Party And Bullshit”). All four parties get a chance to rhyme over 45 King’s hard stripped-down backdrop, and as expected, Biggie makes light work of it with his well-polished flow and delivery, and I was pleasantly surprised by King Just’s impressive verse. I wonder why his rap career never took off; that “Warrior’s Drum” song was dope, and he was backed by Wu-Tang. Things that make you go hmmm.
It’s Like That Y’all – Dre returns from his extended bathroom break, as he joins Ed on the mic for this one; and some guy named Teri Bieker drops in to spit a quick verse in German, which was kind of random, but whatever. F. Grant’s instrumental is decent, but there is no reason you should listen to this song more than once.
Knowledge Me Again – Apparently, the original version of this song was released on Dre’s old group, Original Concept’s debut album Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High. It’s also where Masta Ace would get the bangin’ beat for his classic record, “Born To Roll” from. This is pretty much five plus minutes of our hosts giving shoutouts (which includes a shoutout to ATCQ) in super annoying raspy frog voices and an over abundant usage of “yo, cuz”.
Intimate – Ed puts on his bedroom voice for this one, as he remakes the eighties jam, “Intimate Connection” by the band Kleeer. He and female vocalist, Naima Bowman exchange lustful bars, as she sings her verse and Ed, comically, I mean, romantically raps back to her. This was far from great, but I enjoyed the smooth instrumental groove.
Recognize – The final song of the night finds Ed attempting to defend hip-hop’s honor and pissing on anyone who opposes it, which includes Rev. Calvin Butts, C. Delores Tucker (rip), and Dionne Warwick, Anita Baker and Melba Moore for not letting rappers sample their music. It was a little uncomfortable to listen to Ed verbally disrespect these Nubian Queens (he calls them all types of bitches, which ironically gets censored out, yet they let every other curse word he says fly, freely) and almost laughable to hear him trying to sound hardcore over this horrible beat.
Back Up Off Me! plays like an Ed Lover solo album chocked-full of guest cameo appearances. It’s almost like Dre knew that making this album was a bad idea, so he sat most of it out, leaving Ed to sound like a drunk uncle who got a hold of a microphone during karaoke night. Thankfully, most of the production is solid, so Back Up Off Me! isn’t a complete waste of time.
The liner notes jacket for Back Up Off Me! features a seven-page comic book layout that paints Ed & Dre as hip-hop superheroes, whose mission is to defend hip-hop’s honor and rid the genre of wack emcees. Back Up Off Me! is proof that sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
Over the better half of the past decade, “mumble rap” has dominated popular rap music and everyday another mumble rapper seems to pop up, looking to capitalize on the style. Personally, I find most of it to be repetitive uncreative nonsense, but there are a few artists/groups who’ve used the style and made some pretty entertaining music. One group that immediately comes to mind are the Migos, who many have called the fathers of the style. But I could make a strong argument that the Migos and mumble rap wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Originally going by the name of B.O.N.E. Enterpri$e, the five childhood friends out of Cleveland (comprised of Krayzie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Layzie Bone, Wish Bone and Flesh-N-Bone) independently released their debut album, Faces Of Death in 1993. Locally, the album made noise for the group, but they were determined to have their unique style heard by the entire globe. They would pack their bags and head west to California in hopes of impressing Eazy-E with their music and getting signed to his label, Ruthless Records. Legend has it that once BONE arrived in Cali, they begin to stalk Eazy, calling him every day, until one day he answered, and they rapped and harmonized over the phone for the Jheri curled mogul. Eazy was blown away by their performance, so he signed them to a deal, changed the group name from Bone Enterpri$e to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (Thank God!), and they would release their Ruthless debut project, Creepin On Ah Come Up in 1994.
Creepin On Ah Come Up would feature production from DJ Yella, Rhythm D and the newly signed Ruthless Records in-house producer, DJ Uneek. The liner notes read that the songs from this EP were “Ganked from tha upcomin album (Thugs N Harmony)”, although that album would never see the light of day (if it even exists) and none of the songs from COACU would be included on their 1995 full-length Ruthless debut, E. 1999 Eternal (and unfortunately their mentor, Eazy-E, would pass away before its release). Flesh-N-Bone must have been locked up or preoccupied with some other shit when they took the album cover picture for the EP, as the other four members stand in unity on the cover, while his solo pic eerily hovers in the upper left-hand corner. Thanks largely to their hit lead single (Thuggish Ruggish Bone), COACU would sell over four million copies and turn the self-proclaimed Cleveland Thugs in to rap superstars.
It’s been years since I last listened to Creepin On Ah Come Up. Let’s see how it’s held up over the past twenty-five plus years.
Intro – Eazy summons his distorted “devil’s son-in-law” voice to introduce his newfound harmonizing thugs to the world and they give us a little taste of their unique flavor. This intro bleeds right into the next song…
Mr. Quija – BTNH provides us with more of their thug harmony on this one. The five-man crew dabble in the dark spiritual world, as they sing to a ouija board, asking it to tell them if “bloody murder” will be their collective fate. This is some dark demented shit that feels a little uncomfortable to listen to but still catchy and entertaining as hell (no pun intended).
Thuggish Ruggish Bone – This was the lead single from the EP that would introduce the world to BTNH. DJ Uneek lays down a funky synthesized instrumental with a deep bass line, as our Cleveland hosts showcase their distinctive combination of thugged-out rapid-fire flow and melody. Bizzy delivers the strongest performance out of the crew, while Shatasha Williams’ catchy hook and adlibs are the cherry on top of this thuggish treat. This one still sounds as hard as it did in ’94.
No Surrender – Bone builds on the previous song with a clean up-tempo DJ Uneek produced backdrop that Bone uses to give us more thuggish ruggish energy. This was fire.
Down Foe My Thang – Rhythm D gets his only production credit of the night and he makes it count, serving up some heat for our harmonizing hosts to rhyme over. Bone gets into some murderous gangsta shit on this one, and they sound solid over Rhythm D’s dope production (that synth-siren at the end of the song is bananas!)
Creepin On Ah Come Up – BTNH slows things all the way down with this one. DJ Uneek concocts a creepy slow-rolling backdrop for Krayzie, Layzie and Bizzy to each spit verses about murder and robbery, punctuated by a catchy thugged-out moody melodic hook (back in the day I thought they were saying “Smokin’ cat food” on the chorus). I can’t condone Bone’s content, but I commend them for making it sound entertaining.
Foe Tha Love Of $ – DJ Yella hooks up a brilliantly creamy and clean groove (the subtle tickling of the well-spaced keys sounds heavenly) for Bone to discuss the lengths they’re willing to go through for the root of all evil. Eazy drops in and gets off a quick verse, and while his rhymes are not amazing, they work and bring a refreshing contrast to what Bone has given us throughout this project. Once again, Bizzy Bone outshines his bredrin on the mic, but shining even brighter is Yella’s stellar instrumental.
Moe Cheese – Bone liked Yella’s instrumental on the previous song so much they decided to bring it back so you could enjoy it uninterrupted (Kudos on the clever song title, gents!). This time around, Yella adds some slick and sick guitar solos, more smooth keys and Jewell (who was playing both sides of the feud between Eazy and Dre, as she appears on “Fuck With Dre Day” and this song) adds a few more adlibs. This instrumental sounded so amazing to Jewell it left her moaning on the verge of an orgasm, which is completely justifiable.
On Creepin On Ah Come Up, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony won’t bar you to death or amaze you with complex rhymes, but what they lack in substance they more than make up for with style. Bone keeps things gangsta, spewing rapid-fire rhymes and thug harmonies filled with violent tales from the hood. But shinning even brighter than Bone is the production, as DJ Uneek, Yella and Rhythm D lace the Cleveland fivesome with a dope batch of west coast-flavored instrumentals that’ll satisfy your ears, no matter where you reside on the map. Overall, Creepin On Ah Come Up is an entertaining listen and an accurate prophesy from Bone.
Over the years I’ve bought albums for several different reasons. Most of them I purchased because I was a fan of the artist, or not necessarily a fan but I liked one or two of their songs and was curious on what the rest of their music sounded like. Some of my collection are from artist that I’ve heard of but have never listened to their music and something piqued my interest to cop (the reason usually being it was screaming “get me out of this dollar bin, please!”). Then there are a few that I’ve never heard of the artist before, but their affiliation with an artist that I like, drew me in. Like the subject of today’s post: the Houston based rapper Sho and his Trouble Man album.
The album cover for Trouble Man caught my eye when I read the title “Sho Featuring Willie D” and noticed the pic of Willie D (of The Geto Boys) standing next to Sho. I’m a fan of the Geto Boys and I’ve always been entertained by Willie D’s southern twang, random outbursts and colorful lyricism. So even if Sho stinks, Willie D (who is also credited with producing the album along with The 2 Horsemen, whoever they are) will make the purchase worthwhile…right??
This is my first time listening to TroubleMan (well, at least Sho’s version of it…shout out to the late great Marvin Gaye…and T.I.), and I’d be willing to bet you’ve never listened to it before, either. If you have, feel free to hit me in the comments and share your thoughts.
Pray I’ll Be A Failure – Trouble Man begins with a soulful backdrop that lands right where somber and optimistic cross paths, and Sho uses it to call out the haters that he claims are praying for his downfall and vows to become successful despite their opposition (How narcissistic must you be to think that someone would take the time out of their day to literally get on their knees and pray to God that you would fail in life?). He also introduces the world to his slow monotone southern drawl. Willie D drops in, adding the final verse and sounds a million times better than his host. Sho and Willie’s message was semi-motivational, but the true star of this one is the soulful southern instrumental.
Fiend In The Family – This one starts with Willie D remixing the Cheers theme song into a drug dealer’s anthem. Then a simple funky guitar chord comes in accompanied by a soft melodic loop, and Sho discusses the hardship of having a dope head as a relative. Sho sounds like he’s about to fall asleep or he just woke up and listening to his slow muddled flow started to make me drowsy. Thankfully, the soothing instrumental makes this worth listening to.
Pookie – This short interlude features a verbal exchange between two crack heads (Cliff and Sonny) trying to cop from a drug dealer, ironically, named Pookie. This was worthy of a partial chuckle, but if you let out a deep belly laugh, you deserve a smack, and your sense of humor should be called in for questioning.
Another Day On The Cut – Willie and the boys chop up the same Leon Haywood loop that Dr. Dre used for “Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang”, but they put a different twist on it, turning it into a dark soulful groove for Sho to share a day in the life of a street hustler (for some reason his line: “Went to my gal’s house, woke her up, I got a meal and the guts” makes me laugh every time I hear it). Sho’s rhymes were mediocre, the hook was ass, but this instrumental is tough.
Trouble Man – Apparently, Sho’s drug dealing gig wasn’t going so well, which would explain why he spends the length of this one complaining, I mean, sharing the struggle for a young black man to make ends meet. Willie D drops in and spits a few bars that come off like he’s trying to gather sympathy from the listener for Sho’s situation. I wasn’t crazy about the rhymes or content on this one, but the soulfully weary instrumental was dope.
Fireweed – As I’ve mentioned several times through the years on this blog, marijuana dedication songs were almost a prerequisite for hip-hop albums in the nineties, and Sho keeps my theory alive with this one. Our host takes a short break to chant praises to Mary Jane (and hi-lariously shouts out some of the celebrities that are/were known for partaking in the herbal medicine) over a synthetic reggae-tinged instrumental that no matter how hard you try to resist, you’ll be vibin’ to the music while rapping along with the catchy chant.
Mississippi – Sho starts this one off by dedicating it to all the hustlers, then he shares a tale about his adventures of “moving three ki’s and a car full of firearms” to Mississippi, and things don’t end well for our host. Sho does a solid job of keeping the storyline interesting, but even more impressive is the brilliant bluesy backdrop. This is easily one of my favorite songs on the album.
Miss Thang – This one opens with Sho needing a little encouragement from Willie D to work up the courage to step to a PYT that he wants to stroke, and he gets uncomfortably straightforward in his approach (see the hook: “Miss Thang I ain’t got much to offer you, but I still wanna knock your boots”). Sho’s humble pleas for the skins are backed by a mellow and melodic instrumental built around an interpolation of the same Delegation loop that Three Times Dope used for “Funky Dividends” (come to think of it, Scarface also rapped over the loop on We Can’t Be Stopped’s “Quickie”). The instrumental was cool, but Sho sounds sloppy, bored and corny for most of this one. Although, I did chuckle at his line “I got the three B’s and I don’t regret it: a bucket, a bus card and bad credit”.
Here Today Gone Tomorrow – Over a mellow groove, Sho shares a few stories about how quickly playing in these streets can end up fatal. Hats off to Willie D and ’em, as the musicality in this instrumental is phenomenal.
Legal Murder – Our host gets into his conspiracy theory bag, giving examples of some of the ways murder happens in American and the Government (who is usually the culprit) lets it happen with no penalty. I like Sho’s concept, but he completely apes 2pac’s “Soulja’s Story” format on this one: He mimic’s the deep baritone distorted voice Pac used when rapping from the older brother’s perspective, and the instrumental even sounds undeniably similar to the classic Bill Wither’s loop Pac’s song was built around (By the way, “Soulja’s Story” is a severely underrated conceptual masterpiece, easily one of Pac’s best works). All of Sho’s thievery makes this one a little hard to enjoy, as the biting is as blatant as racism in America. Props to the uncredited male vocalist for the super catchy hook, though.
I’ma Get Mine – Sho uses this boring instrumental to piss on his haters and speak his own success in the rap game into existence (Hey, at least he tried). He invites an uncredited buddy to spit a verse and Willie D adds a super corny hook to complete what is easily the weakest song on Trouble Man.
Stick-N-Move – Sho closes out the album with a layered up-tempo dance groove that he, Willie D and the homies use to chant and sing all types of random shit over. This track would sound great in a workout mix.
On the album’s title track, Sho rhymes “So I’m on to a new thang, rap music, the brand-new dope game.” In a nutshell that line sums up Sho’s approach to Trouble Man. He comes across like an ex-drug dealer trying to find a legitimate hustle, and to him, rap was the obvious choice. But rhyming well takes skill, and having the bravery to slang dope doesn’t necessarily mean you can pen dope rhymes. Throughout most of Trouble Man, Sho sounds like an amatuer on the mic, rarely impressing with his simple rhymes and yawn-inducing monotone voice. The “Featuring Willie D” thing was a great marketing idea, but a bit misleading, as he does spit a couple of verses but most of his help comes in the form of a hook here and an adlib there, so don’t expect a Ghostface Killah on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx type of contribution from Willie. Speaking of Willie D, he and The 2 Horsemen’s contribution on the production side is worthy of praise, as they craft a cohesive batch of southern-fried soulful goodies to feed your soul while you bop your head and scrunch your face, ultimately making Trouble Man worthy of a listen.