Illegal – The Untold Truth (August 24, 1993)

With the success of Another Bad Creation’s platinum selling Coolin’ At The Playground Ya Know! and Kris Kross’ triple platinum debut Totally Krossed Out, record labels were suddenly open to signing kid hip-hop acts in the early nineties. You had Chi-Ali. Da Youngstas. Shyheim. A+. And then their was Illegal.

Illegal was the teenage two-man crew consisting of Mr. Malik Edwards (from Holly Hill, South Carolina, and he’s also Snoop Dogg’s cousin) and Jamal Phillips (from Philly). The two met at a Naughty By Nature/TLC concert (who are currently touring together on the I Love The 90s Tour…time is illmatic) in North Carolina. Mr. Malik was rolling with Treach and Jamal was with Left Eye, and both were trying to get deals as solo artist. Shortly after their meeting, they decided to join forces and formed Illegal (according to Jamal, the name was given to them by Busta Rhymes after he heard them spit at a club). Another Bad Creation’s manager, Kevin Wells, introduced them to Dallas Austin, which led to them signing a deal on Dallas’ Rowdy Records label, where they would release their debut (and only) album The Untold Truth.

The Untold Truth would feature production from some of hip-hop’s most respected names (i.e. Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Erick Sermon, Biz Markie and Cool V), and unlike all of the kid groups listed above, Illegal didn’t have a clean image and actually had to put a parental advisory sticker on the album due to their dirty little mouths. The Untold Truth produced some mild hits, but overall was not received with a ton of praise. Illegal would soon after go their separate ways and work on their solo careers (Jamal released one solo album on Rowdy (that I’ll get to at some point in the future)and Malik released one single on Rowdy, but his full length project would be shelved and never saw the light of day), but neither would make much noise.

I came across The Untold Truth about a year ago while digging in the used bins at a record store in Chicago (shoutout to Reckless Records!). I’ve never listened to the album before now and I’m only familiar with the singles, of which two of the three I remember being pretty solid. I also do remember not being impressed by Malik or Jamal’s rhymes, but with the list of heavy hitting producers in liner notes, even if Malik and Jamal stink up every song at least the beats will bang.

Right??

Back In The DayThe Untold Truth opens with what would ultimately be the third and final single released from the album. Over a slightly dark synth Colin Wolfe produced track, Malik and Jamal talk about their coming of age (which is hard for me to put in to perspective, considering they were thirteen or fourteen when the song was recorded…and the hook is even more hi-larious when you hear the little whippersnappers say “back in the day when I was a teenager”) in the mist of drugs and violence. Wolfe’s instrumental is decent, but the instrumental on the remix to this song (which was also used in the song’s video) is a lot more enjoyable.

Illegal Will Rock – Diamond D stops by and generously blesses the adolescent duo with a gem, as he turns a wicked Bill Withers bass line into a funky backdrop for the kids to spit their mediocre rhymes over. Jamal might have been slightly more skilled on the mic than Malik, but they both struggle with articulating their words, which makes it hard to make out what they’re saying at certain points of the song. But I’m sure Diamond’s flavorful instrumental will make you overlook all of the kiddos iniquities.

Head Or Gut –  This was the first single from The Untold Truth, and the first of many shots the duo would fire at their kiddy contemporaries. This time around Jamal fires a direct shot at Chi-Ali, as he threatens to “smoke that ass” at the end of his first verse. Obviously Jamal didn’t know he was fuckin’ with a real life killer in the making. I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t a big fan of Erick Sermon’s solo production work post EPMD’s first break-up, and this song is a prime example why: his “funk” instrumental sounds like a bunch of random muffled noise, and the wannabe kid gangsters don’t make matters any better. I never cared much for this song in the past and that feeling still remains today.

CrumbSnatcher  – On this one Malik and Jamal are on a mission to become drug lords, and Diamond D (who produced the track) also drops a verse about dealing dope, which sounds weird coming from the D.I.T.C. co-founder. From the concept, to the lyrics, to the uninspired instrumental, this was garbage.

We Getz Busy – This was the second single released from The Untold Truth. Illegal continues to fire shots at their kiddy rivals, as Malik calls out Chi-Ali, Da Youngstas and Kris Kross, on his first verse (ABC is only spared due to their relationship with Dallas Austin as well), and Erick Sermon also adds a verse to the song. The green-eyed bandit also gets his second production credit of the night and redeems himself with a sick guitar lick loop perfectly placed over his heavy drums. This was actually pretty dope. Side note: the black and white video which has all three spitting in the studio, somehow makes the song sound even better. Go ahead and watch it again and let me know if you agree.

Stick ‘Em Up – Again, Malik and Jamal try to convince the listener that they’re teen thugs and come off sounding like Onyx Jr. on this one. Colin Wolfe gets his second production credit of the evening, and unfortunately, this one doesn’t fair as well as his first one. So naturally, unbelievable rhymes + weak production = hot garbage.

Understand The Flow – Dallas Austin gets his first production credit of the night, and actually creates a pretty solid backdrop for Illegal. Of course they don’t do much with it, but that’s beside the point.

On Da M.I.C. – Malik and Jamal are joined by Diggin’ In The Crates members, A.G. and Lord Finesse (who also gets credit for the instrumental) on this posse joint. Malik and Jamal stay consistent, as they don’t give us anything worth quoting on this song. And it almost feels like Andre and Finesse dumb down their verses in attempted not to embarrass their snot-nosed hosts. I’m assuming Finesse didn’t want to waste one of his better instrumentals on this malnourished cypher, because his instrumental is pretty bland as well.

Ban Da Iggidy – When Das EFX hit in 1992 with their stutter (or “iggidy”) style, many of your favorite rappers jumped on the bandwagon and copied the trend (i.e. Common and Ice Cube, to name a few). And while it worked for Das (for a short period of time) it was kind of annoying to hear everyone biting adapting the style. So, when I saw the title of this song I thought this might be an interesting concept. But it’s not. Instead, it’s Illegal trying to convince the listener to forget about the “iggidy” and get with their new “uzo” style, which basically equates to them ending each word with “uzo” instead of “iggidy”, and it sounds fucking ridiculous! Dallas Austin serves up another solid instrumental, it just needs a better concept and stronger rhymes placed over it.

Lights, Camera, Action – Trash.

Interlude – This was a pretty awkward and an unnecessary interlude.

If U Want It – The final song of the evening has Malik and Jamal discussing one of hip-hop’s most popular subjects: bumping uglies. Illegal doesn’t bring anything new or worthwhile to the subject, and their hook (which sounds like something Naughty By Nature could have come up with, which might not be a far reach, considering Treach was Malik’s mentor) is complete garbage. Speaking of garbage, the Cool V/Biz Markie instrumental is not far from being trash, either.

The title of the album would lead one to believe that there would be some serious content and/or substance to the songs on The Untold Truth, but that’s not the case. The first song on the album (“Back In The Day”) gets personal, as Malik and Jamal recall the elements of street life that helped mold their hardcore mindsets, but that’s about it. From that point on the duo take the listener on an uninspired ride, firing gimmicky shots at other kid acts, occasionally dropping sub par freestyle rhymes, and posing like hardcore-drug-dealing-gun-toting thugs, which doesn’t sound remotely believable. And the big name producers whom I thought would give the puberty stricken duo some fire production, only manage to collectively deliver on a third of the tracks on The Untold Truth.

Ultimately, The Untold Truth is poo, and Malik and Jamal’s truths remain untold.

-Deedub

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Tha Alkaholiks – 21 & Over (August 24, 1993)

It’s fair to say that west coast hip-hop in the late eighties and early nineties was dominated by gangster rap. With groups like Ice-T, N.W.A and Above The Law, that hardcore style of hip-hop proved to be lucrative and quickly brought on a bunch of copycats that bit the style, even if it the street life wasn’t necessarily their reality. But there were still some that went against the grain. One of the first to stand alone was Compton native, King Tee. King Tee had more of a playful/party/comical style, but was still respected by all of his west coast gangster colleagues. And even though he never gained the same commercial success as his peers, he definitely stayed true to himself and gained a significant cult follow (which reminds me that I have to find his first three albums). After establishing his own name, King Tee would start the Likwit crew, and the first group he would help get a deal would be Tha Alkaholiks.

Tha Alkaholiks were the three-man Los Angeles based crew consisting of J-Ro, Tash (who is originally from Cincinnati. Ohio) and the DJ/producer, E-Swift (who was born in Georgia, raised in Ohio and later moved to Cali). The trio would sign a deal with the budding hip-hop label, Loud Records (which had a distribution deal with RCA at the time), and released their debut album, 21 & Over, in the summer of 1993.

If you’re not familiar with the Alkaholiks, or can’t tell by the group’s name, the trio’s whole persona was a party vibe with light-hearted rhymes centered around drinking. 21 & Overwasn’t a commercial success, but it did earn the group some critical acclaim. AllMusic.com even said that it’s “perhaps the quintessential West Coast party album, as well as one of the most promising debut albums of the ’90s, regardless of genre”. With praises like these, I sometimes wonder why Tha Liks were never able to garner the same level of crossover appeal as say a Meth and Redman. It damn sure wasn’t because they didn’t have talent.

Likwit21 & Over opens with a slick instrumental with a dope flute loop (not to be confused with a fruit loop) scattered throughout, as J-Ro, Tash and their buddy King Tee, take turns spitting funny metaphors and clever one liners over it. This was the second single released from the album, and a fresh way to kick things off.

Only When I’m Drunk – The Liks keep the good times rolling, as E-Swift hooks up the same Whole Darn Family loop that EPMD previously used for “It’s Your Thing”, and that Jay-Z would later use for his duet with Foxy Brown, “Ain’t No Nigga”, but I digress. J-Ro, Tash and E-Swift use the wicked bass line to take turns sharing more light-hearted drunken rhymes (J-Ro even conjures up a “I had too much to drink” burp during his first verse, which is hi-larious). This one still sounds great twenty plus years later.

Last Call – The boys continue to play off of their group name with the song title and hook, but J-Ro and Tash (and less so, E-Swift) are on some straight emcee shit, as they talk shit and spew random rhymes. I’m not sure how I feel about E-Swift’s beat on this one, but J-Ro and Tash still manage to entertain with strong rhymes.

Can’t Tell Me Shit – This is pretty much a J-Ro solo joint. I say pretty much, because E-Swift starts the song off with a quick 8 bars, before J-Ro comes in and adds three of his own verses to end things. Once again, E-Swift provides a less than stellar instrumental for he and J-Ro to rhymes over, but J-Ro manages to make lemonade out of the lemon he was given.

Turn Tha Party Out – For those who don’t know, The Loot Pack was a three-man crew out of Oxnard, California, consisting of DJ Romes, Wildchild and most importantly notably, Madlib (who I have always thought of as the underrated west coast version of J-Dilla). They stop by to join the Liks on this hot mess of a posse cut. And when I say hot mess, I mean hot mess. From the generic Loot Pack produced instrumental (I wonder how much input Madlib had in the production of this one) to the sloppy and corny rhymes, this song was an absolute…hot mess.

Bullshit – King Tee and E-Swift hook up a decent instrumental that King Tee and J-Ro take turns clowning and talking random shit over. This was a chill track, suitable for listening to while sipping a glass of wine on a weeknight.

Soda Pop – J-Ro takes a seat for this one, as E-Swift, Tash and special guest, Field Trip, each spit forgettable verses over an even more forgettable E-Swift produced instrumental.

Make Room – Ah, now this is more like it. This was lead single from 21 & Over, and a great way to introduce the world to the three-man crew. J-Ro and Tash sound sharp as razors over E-Swift’s bangin’ backdrop. Well done, gents.

Mary Jane – Apparently alcohol isn’t the Liks only vice. Over a minimal and slightly dark Loot Pack produced instrumental, J-Ro and Tash step away from the drinking clichés and punch lines and get creative with the metaphors, as they paint weed (aka Mary Jane) as a woman that they both love. Props to J-Ro and Tash for the well-thought out and executed concept.

Who Dem Niggas – E-Swift’s instrumental starts off sounding like it’s going to be fire, then the drum beat drops in, and everything falls apart. Speaking of falling apart, Threat continues to do the same on yet another cameo, as he joins J-Ro, Tash and E-Swift on this one and stinks up the cypher with sub par bars. It’s almost like Threat pulls J-Ro and Tash into his sunken place, because their bars on this one are trash as well. Or maybe E-Swift’s lame instrumental is to blame for all four emcees lack of inspiration. Regardless, this was a terrible ending to the evening.

J-Ro and Tash prove to be a formidable one-two punch on 21 & Over (and no, I didn’t forget about E-Swift. I purposely left him out of the equation). No, you won’t get mind-blowing lyricism or a ton of substance from the two, but their witty punch lines, light heart rhymes and college frat boy sensibilities will keep you entertained, and make you chuckle from time to time, even with most of the production falling in the middle of the road. Props to the trio for having the restraint to keep the track count to ten. It’s good to know that Tha Alkaholiks don’t over indulge on everything.

-Deedub

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Scarface – The World Is Yours (August 17, 1993)

Prior to 1993, Brad “Scarface” Jordan, along with his Geto Boy brethren and Rap-A-Lot founder and CEO James Prince, helped put the south on the proverbial hip-hop map. As a group, the Geto Boys already had three respected albums under their belts (and arguably one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time, with “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” from the We Can’t Be Stopped album) and Scarface’s 1991 debut solo album, Mr. Scarface Is Back, was a critical success that also earned the Houston emcee a gold plaque. He would return with his sophomore effort, The World Is Yours in the summer of 1993.

Crazy C, who was responsible for most of the production on Mr. Scarface Is Back, would be replaced by N.O. Joe, James Smith and John Bido, who all would go on to help create a large chunk of the soundscape throughout the rest of Face’s catalog. And while The World Is Yours did earn Scarface a second consecutive gold plaque, it was received with mixed reviews.

I wonder if Face and Crazy C fell out after Mr. Scarface Is Back. Or maybe he died? I just don’t understand why you’d part ways with the man after he laced you with such fire production. But at the end of the day, it’s all business. If you have any info on Crazy C’s whereabouts or why they parted ways, hit me in the comments.

Intro – The album opens with Scarface choking on a fat joint, then a beautifully soothing instrumental plays before the first official song begins.

Lettin’ Em Know – Over a very vanilla N.O. Joe instrumental, Face kicks The World Is Yours off talking about his upbringing in the 5th Ward streets, just in case you were curious. This was a weird interesting choice of song to start things off with. You would think you would lead things off with a more high energy track.

Comin’ Agg – Now this should have been the first song of the evening. N.O. Joe redeems himself from the lacklusterness that was the first song with a dope energetic backdrop that has Face snappin’ on his adversaries (“I’m a muthafuckin’ dreadlock, puttin’ fools in headlocks, givin’ niggas headshots…and everybody in your muthafuckin’ area, is tryna scrounge up some money so they can help to bury ya”). This goes very hard.

The Wall -N.O. Joe hooks up a bluesy instrumental that Scarface uses to discuss depression and suicide over. Not great, but I’ve heard a lot worst.

Let Me Roll – This was the lead single from The World Is Yours, and is easily one of my favorite Scarface songs of all time. Normally I like Face for his introspective or psychotic, but always thought-provoking rhymes, but this one has none of those qualities. Instead, Face takes a lighter approach to things (literally and figuratively), as he celebrates smoking weed and kicking it in the 5th Ward. But it’s not Face’s lyrics that make this song great, it’s his self-produced southern-funk-smothered-in-gravy backdrop that makes this a winner. No matter how many times I listen to this one, it still sounds great.

You Don’t Hear Me Doe – DMG, which is an acronym for arguably the worst hip-hop alias in the history of aliases (DetriMental Ganxta), was the Minnesota born (repping for my home base!) Texas transplant protégé of Scarface. He took the protégé thing too far, because he sounds way too similar to Brad on this one. DMG would go on to release one solo album and a couple more as a member of Scarface’s vanity group Facemob, all on the Rap-A-Lot label, but he never really managed to make a name for himself. Regardless of DMG’s shortcomings, N.O. Joe’s instrumental on this one is pretty sick.

One Time – Short acoustic instrumental plays while audio of police in pursuit of a “suspect” play over it. That’s all I got.

Dying With Your Boots On – The title of this song is a phrase used to describe a person who dies in the mist of battle or actively working at/on something. Face uses the term to describe a crooked cop and homeboy turned snitch, that he has to take out. This was decent, and sounds a lot better when listened to with headphones.

I Need A Favor – This short interlude has Scarface putting his mack game down strong, as he talks one of his chicks into giving some booty to one of his boys, over a slick James Smith/John Bido produced instrumental. This is entertainment brothers, so if you value your life (or your girl) I advise you not try this at home. But some of the lines Face throws at her are pretty amusing.

Still That Aggin – Brad continues to serve the listener shit talk and gangsta shit, in either order. Face gets his second production credit of the evening, as he masterfully turns what sounds like a sample of a sex burdened squeaky mattress into a bangin’ backdrop. Well done, Brad.

Strictly For The Funk Lovers – You probably remember RBX from his contribution to Dr. Dre’s classic album The Chronic. Well, he stops by The World Is Yours to talk for nearly 6 minutes about the meaning of a doo-doo chaser, which based on the song title is another term for a funk lover. Maybe if RBX actually rapped on this one (which would probably be pretty hard to do, considering his style and the super slo-mo pace of the beat) it would have worked, but to listen to him talk nonsensically about doo-doo chasers (with his fellow Death Row crew member, Jewel, singing annoying adlibs throughout) for so long isn’t entertaining, nor is it an efficient use of your time.

Now I  Feel Ya – This was the second single released from The World Is Yours. I mentioned earlier that “Let Me Roll” is one of my favorite Scarface songs, but this one may be my favorite Face song of all time. The introspective Face is in full effect on this one, as he takes us on a trip down memory lane, recalling some of the lessons he learned on his journey from a boy to becoming a young man. The James Smith/John Bido instrumental serves as the perfect canvas for Brad to paint his vivid pictures through detailed storytelling. This is an underrated classic and one of the examples of why Scarface is beloved by hip-hop fans no matter where they reside on the map.

Funky Lil Aggin – For the third time this evening, Face takes a backseat and lets a guest take the wheel. This time he surrenders the wheel to his kid puppet protégé, 2Low (at least for most of the song). It’s clear from the jump that Face penned 2Low’s rhymes, as the boy even bites Face’s signature devious chuckle during his adlibs. N.O. Joe’s instrumental is actually decent, but 2Low and Face’s corny rhymes ruin this one, and the extra cheesy reinterpretation of the Where Is Thumbkin nursery rhyme mid song sounds really bad.

Mr Scarface: Part III The Final Chapter – Face picks up where he left of at on “Mr. Scarface” from the Mr. Scarface Is Back album. A few years proves to have done wonders for Brad’s flow, as he sounds so much more polished than he did on part 2. This was dope.

He’s Dead – Scarface must have had an affinity for nursery rhymes. If you recall, on “Mr. Scarface Is Back”, he begins the song with his version of the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” song. Two songs ago he and 2Low remade the “Where Is Thumbkin?” deal, and he begins this one with a remix of “Old Macdonald”. Wtf? After he gets his acapella rendition of the popular pre-school song out of the way, a slow rumbling N.O. Joe instrumental drops for Face to discuss one of his favorite topics of discussion: murder. Not a great song, but after several listens it begins to grow on you.

I’m Black – On the final song of the evening Scarface confronts the forever haunting issue of crooked police profiling and violating black men in America. Unfortunately, Face doesn’t bring anything new to the subject, plus N.O. Joe’s instrumental is so vanilla it should have come with a cone.

Outro – And The World Is Yours ends with gun fire and a soundbite from a news reporter over a sample from Enya’s “Boadicea” (which you probably remember as the sample that would be used for the backdrop for The Fugees’ “Ready Or Not”, a few years later).

Crazy C’s production is sorely missed on The World Is Yours, as it suffers from way too many bland and/or boring instrumentals that at times blend together to form one big ball of mediocrity. And all the unimpressive guest appearances don’t help matters either. On the bright side, Face seems to have sharpened his flow and bars, and delivers a few undeniable classic songs. But as a complete body of work, The World Is Yours is not nearly as entertaining as Mr. Scarface Is Back, and left me a little disappointment.

-Deedub

 

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Threat – Sickinnahead (August 3, 1993)

I first became aware of the Los Angeles based rapper known as Threat (or Deadly Threat) from his verse on Ice Cube’s classic (and severely overlooked) posse record “Color Blind” off the nearly flawless, Death Certificate album (click here to read my thoughts on that album). “Color Blind” paired Threat up with Ice Cube, KAM, WC, Coolio, King Tee and J-Dee, who all came with their A game on the song, but Threat quietly stole the show with his smooth flow and unique rhyming pattern, in my opinion. I must have not been the only one impressed by Threat’s “Color Blind” verse, because he would soon begin popping up with cameo appearances on different artists’ songs (including a duet with Pac on Strictly 4 My Niggaz), and even scored a St. Ides commercial (remember those?). Unfortunately, the cameos were pretty weak, and it seemed that Threat may have set the bar to high for himself with his “Color Blind” verse. But regardless of his lackluster cameos post “Color Blind”, he still managed to snag a deal with Mercury Records, where he would release his debut album Sickinnahead in the summer of 1993.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t even know Sickinnahead existed until a year or so ago when I was watching a string of old St. Ides commercials on YouTube from the mid nineties when they were using rappers for their campaign (I had no idea Rakim was a part that deal), and Threat’s commercial popped up. I then became curious on what ever happened with the brother, so I Googled him and found he actually did release a solo album. Curious to see if Threat ever fulfilled the potential he displayed on “Color Blind”, I copped the album but have not listened to the album until doing this post.

Side note: I believe Threat’s named spelled in blue on the album cover is the first clue to what set he claims. We’ll get to the other clues a little later.

PDK – Based on the vocal sample used on the hook, I believe “PDK” in an acronym for Police Department Killer (feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong). DJ Pooh and Suede hook up a sleepy instrumental that Threat begins the song expressing his distaste for po-po, but then his last two verses are all over the place.

Sucka Free – DJ Pooh and Suede’s instrumental improves a bit from the previous track, as our host sets out to prove to the listeners that he ain’t no sucka. This was decent. Definitely a step up from the opening track.

Niggas Like You – Basically, these are the type of niggas Threat don’t like. And I don’t like generic instrumentals like the one Suede made for this song.

4-Deep – I like this one. DJ Pooh and Suede hook up a dope mid-tempo instrumental, and Threat’s unique rhyme scheme is on full display as he shares the adventures of rolling 4 deep with his homeboys through the streets of Los Angeles. Well done, Threat.

Let The Dogs Loose – I’m sorry, but DJ Pooh’s instrumental is too stale for me to care about anything Threat has to say over it.

When It Rains – This is probably my favorite song on Sickinnahead. Bobcat hooks up a smooth mid-tempo backdrop that Threat uses to brilliantly articulate that when drama and trouble jump off they always seem to come in multiplies. Threat also drops what I believe to be, his second clue of the evening to what set he claims on this one (“Well this is an A and B conversation, so C ya, cause I’d rather C ya than B ya”). Threat’s smooth wordplay and lyrical mastery on this song are the reasons I first begin to respect him as an emcee in the first place.

Get Ghost – “When It Rains” goes immediately into this urgent Pooh/Suede produced instrumental. It’s intensity fits perfectly behind Threat’s content, as he paints a vivid picture of himself on the run from the police. This was short, sweet and well done by our host.

24-7 – Bobcat hooks up a hard instrumental for Threat to talk some ole gangsta shit over, and he drops his third clue of the evening to what set he reps (“damn, you know it’s on whatever’s clever, and that’s respect for the third letter”). This one is strong.

Shuta Fuck Up – Weak. The song ends with the first of three interludes sprinkled throughout the final eight songs on Sickinnahead, that have some dude name Joe calling a slick chick name Kim. The first installment of the interludes has Kim hi-lariously playing Joe off has her girlfriend because her boyfriend is next to her when Joe calls. Side note: all three interludes use the instrumental used on Threat’s St. Ides commercial from back in the day, and I happen to love the soulful backdrop. I wish he would have used it on an actual song.

Ass Out – Weaker.

LA Zuu – Threat discusses the pressures, drama and the daily affairs of living in the concrete jungles of Los Angeles, which he affectionately calls the L.A. Zoo, or Zuu. Bobcat’s instrumental sounds like a poor man’s Bomb Squad beat that I really couldn’t get into, and it distracts the focus away from Threats rhymes.

The Whore Said It’s Yours – Okay. If  “When It Rains” is my favorite song on Sickinnahead, this one is a close second. Pooh and Suede are back at it again on the production end of things, and Threat uses their slightly playful backdrop to call out, as Ice Cube once put it, the neighborhood hussy, who’s trying to pin her newborn son on Threat.  Threat’s in rare form as he drops clever wordplay and witty punch lines about the mother and her bastard child. This was pretty funny and entertaining.

Give It Up – Trash.

Shote (Threw Wit Money) – Over a mediocre Suede instrumental, Threat spits one quick verse about a chick he’s gamin’ on. This should have been left off the final cut of Sickinnahead.

Bust One Fa Me – On this one Threat relives that one time he had to do a short jail bid. Threat doesn’t cover any new territory on this one, and when you couple that with the weak DJ Pooh/King Tee backdrop, this one doesn’t bode well.

So Now You Know – And more useless filler shit to wrap up the evening.

I don’t recall ever pulling for a rapper as much as I’ve pulled for Threat on Sickinnahead. I really wanted to love the album and praise him for his smooth delivery and clever wordplay, but I didn’t love Sickinnahead. Threat’s definitely a quality emcee with a solid flow and nice wordplay, but his limited and repetitive content mixed with the album’s overall lackluster production and unnecessary length, all equate to a disappointing debut album from the Los Angeles native. No, Sickinnahead is not completely wack, but I was expecting so much more from the brother.

I will admit that the more I listen to Sickinnahead the more it grows on me, and I’ve probably listened to it about 50 times in the past month. So maybe if I listen to it a million more times it will be a classic.

-Deedub

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Kris Kross – Da Bomb (August 3, 1993)

Most of you will skip this review all together, but since it’s part of my hip-hop collection (I use the term “hip-hop” loosely, folks) I felt I had to review it. So, here we go…

When I hear the term disposable music, or kiddie pop, one of the first names that come to mind is Kris Kross. Kris Kross was the kid duo out of Atlanta who were discovered by Jermaine Dupri while hanging out at mall. Chris Smith (aka Daddy Mac) and Chris Kelly’s (aka Mac Daddy) original style of dress (they were rockin’ their shirts and jeans backwards) caught the eye of Dupri who got the bright idea to turn the duo, who were dancers at the time, into a rap group. Since their names were both Chris and they wore their clothes backwards, he cleverly named them Kris Kross. Dupri would sign them to his So So Def imprint, get them a deal with Columbia/Ruffhouse, and they took the world by storm with their debut album Totally Krossed Out, fueled by their smash kiddie pop single, “Jump”.

I did buy Totally Krossed Out on cassette when it came out back in the day, but have since lost it. And even though I’ve come across the cd version in the dollar bins a million times over the past twenty years, I never felt compelled to give up another dollar for the gimmicky-four-times-platinum-selling pop-project posing as a hip-hop album. But I did repurchase their second album, Da Bomb , for a dollar a few years ago on the strength of the lead single that we’ll dig into shortly.

Da Bomb would follow the same format as Totally Krossed Out (only with their clothes worn the correct way): All rhymes written (with the exception of two songs, in which Mac Daddy receives co-writing credit) and all beats produced by Geppetto Jermaine Dupri, and rhymes recited by Pinocchio Kris Kross. Da Bomb didn’t move as many units as their debut, but it did earn the duo a second consecutive platinum plaque.

Before their 15 minutes ran out, Kris Kross would go on to release one more album, with their 1996 release, Young, Rich & Dangerous, before fading into hip-hop (or pop) obscurity. Sadly, Chris Kelly, aka Mac Daddy (the dark skin one) would die from a drug overdose on May 1, 2013. He was only 34 years old. May he rest in peace.

IntroDa Bomb opens with a few Ice Cube soundbites taken from “Steady Mobbin”, before going into the first song…

Da Bomb – The Krises invite Da Brat to join them, on what I believe to be, her debut to the world, and she murders the duo on their own shit (I don’t know if that’s even praise worthy, considering who’s she rhyming with, but, whatever). JD’s instrumental isn’t terrible, but he somehow manages to strip the soul out of the Isaac Hayes “The Look Of Love” sample.

Sound Of My Hood – Oh, I forgot to mention that Dr. Dre’s The Chronic happened at the end of 1992, which pretty much changed the landscape of hip-hop. JD thought it would be cool (or more so, lucrative) to turn Kris Kross into baby Snoop Doggy Doggs on Da Bomb . Brothers Krisses don’t even bother to chew what they bite on this one, and swallow Snoop’s style whole. Hell, JD’s instrumental even sounds like a poorly constructed Dr. Dre backdrop, complete with a Snoop soundbite from The Chronic. This was terrible.

It Don’t Stop (Hip-Hop Classic) – Over JD’s stripped down backdrop, Kris Kross pays homage to “the old school”, more so, to Run DMC. Side note: This is one of two songs in which the liner notes give Mac Daddy (the dark skin one) co-writing credit along with Jermaine Dupri. Props for the intent, but this was trash.

D.J. Nabs Break – Kris Kross’ deejay, D.J. Nabs, gets a chance to display his skills on the wheels of steel on this one. I wasn’t impressed, but, whatever.

Alright – This is easily the best song on Da Bomb , and one of the few Kris Kross songs I actually really like. Jermaine Dupri takes the bass line from Slave’s “Just A Touch Of Love” and adds a dope loop (of what, I’m not sure, but it gives the song a nice melodic touch) on the hook, along with a slick Super Cat chant, that makes for a smooth backdrop, suitable for summer cruising. Daddy Mac takes a quick jab at Da Youngsta’s (“see, I ain’t come out wack I came out right, unlike those moles who chose to pass the mic”) who criticized Kris Kross for not writing their own rhymes (which was pretty hypocritical, because I’m sure Treach penned most of Da Youngsta’s rhymes for the “Crewz Pop” record). This groove still holds up well twenty plus years later. I literally just listened to it seven times in a row.

I’m Real – Yeah, right. Kris Kross continues their blatant robbery of Snoop Dogg’s style, as they try to convince the skeptical hip-hop audience that they’re authentic and worthy of street cred. They even have the nerve to call their competition soft…Ha! JD again, tries to create a Dr. Dre beat, and after one listen, even a babe can tell it’s fugazy.

2 Da Beat Ch’yall – Mac Daddy gets his second and final co-writing credit of the evening. Too bad it’s a contribution to a trash record.

Freak Da Funk – This is the song that Mac Daddy commits blasphemy on when he compares himself to the god emcee (“Cause when I break niggas off I keep ’em broke down, I’m like the R-A-K-I-M, I aint no joke, clown”). Kris Kross definitely had chips on their shoulders on Da Bomb . On “Alright” they fired shots at the Da Youngsta’s, rightfully so, since they fired the first shots at the Brothers Krises. But as far as I can remember, on their mega hit record “Jump”, Kris Kross fired the first shot at Mike Biven’s short-lived gimmick, Another Bad Creation, aka ABC (“don’t try to compare us to another bad little fad, I’m the Mac and I’m bad giving you something that you never had”…”and everything is to the back with a little slack, cause inside out is wiggity wiggity wiggity wack”…”to the back you’ll be sportin’ the gear, is that coincidental? Act like you know and don’t be claimin’ that it’s mental”), and Mac Daddy continues what appeared to be a one-sided beef on this one (“Unlike them other teenyboppers that continue to say and jay and never ever come my way, I’m waiting for that Alphabet crew to make my day…so I can chop and chop and drop those little punks quick, and teach them never to mess with this Krossed out kid”). What was the beef? ABC came out first rockin’ their clothes inside out, so it’s not like they bit Kris Kross’ style (if anything one could argue that Kris Kross’ backwards style was inspired by ABC). The better question is why have I spent an entire paragraph analyzing this kiddie beef and garbage record?

A Lot To Live 4 – JD’s mellow instrumental on this one is actually kind of decent. The Krises use it to encourage the youth that no matter what your circumstances are, there is always something to live for. It’s kind of sad when you considering Mac Daddy’s unfortunate demise.

Take ‘Em Out – Kris Kross has already taken shots at ABC and Da Youngsta’s on Da Bomb , so why not go for the trifecta and target another kid group? This time it’s the duo, Illegal. Mac Daddy: It ain’t my fault you and your crew came soggy, and didn’t think about being hard until you saw me, so what you did made a cut, “Head or Gut”, but from me to you it sounds like you’re swingin’ on “these nuts”. Daddy Mac also says something about “how you gonna dis by sayin’ we ain’t real g, when them niggas that you run with is straight r&b?”. Not sure, who that was aimed at, but whatever. Hot garbage.

Alright (Extended Remix) – Same lyrics and instrumental as the original mix, but with a few more breaks and Super Cat adlibs.

I’ll keep this wrap up short and sweet. Da Bomb is the prototype for disposable music, and time only magnifies its uselessness. With the exception of “Alright” Da Bomb  is trash. *Mic drops*

-Deedub

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Fat Joe Da Gangsta – Represent (July 27,1993)

Joseph Antonio Cartagena is the half Cuban, half Puerto Rican emcee out of the Bronx known to the world by the alias, Fat Joe (in the beginning he went by the alias of Fat Joe Da Gangsta, but thankfully he dropped “da gangsta” after his first album) and the founder of the Terror Squad. Like many of his contemporaries, Fat Joe grew up in the hood, running the streets getting into trouble, and even got shot during the heart of his hoodlum days. He would eventually leave the thug life behind, and begin to focus on his rap career, which begin to take off after he linked up with the legendary Diggin’ In The Crates crew. Joe would ink a deal with Relativity and released his debut album Represent in the summer of 1993.

Represent would mainly be produced by Diamond D with a few assists from fellow Diggin’ In The Crates crew members, Showbiz and Lord Finesse. Even with the well-respected cast of producers, Represent was a flop and didn’t garner a warm reception from the heads, either.

I have to admit, I’ve never been a big (no pun intended) Fat Joe fan, but have gained more respect for him as an emcee since the turn of the century (you can’t front on “Lean Back” or “All The Way Up”). I found Represent in the dollar bins a few years ago at one of the spots I frequent, and when I saw that Diamond D handled the bulk of the production, I figured that even if Joe was trash on every track the production would be dope. I have never listen to Represent before today and I’m hopeful that my theory rings true.

When you look back at all the talented emcees (i.e O.C, AG, Big L, Lord Finesse) and producers (Diamond D, Showbiz, Buckwild) that the Diggin’ In The Crates crew produced in the mid nineties, I would have laughed in your face if you told me that Fat Joe would wind up being the most successful and last industry relevant member of the crew. Time is truly illmatic.

A Word To Da WiseRepresent opens with a short soundbite from what is probably ninety percent of all emcees favorite movie, Scarface, which quickly bleeds into the next song…

Livin’ Fat – Right from the start Fat Joe displays how limited his flow and lyricism were at this point in his career. My favorite line, that still has me scratching my head trying to figure out what the hell he was trying to say, is “rockin’ and shockin’ the whole rap scene, I’m mean, my favorite color is green…I guess that’s why they call it the blues”. What the hell does his favorite color being green, or his love of money, have to do with the blues?  Was he trying to say he has the blues because he doesn’t have any green? If so, he did a horrible job of connecting the two…moving on. Lord Finesse gets his only production credit of the evening, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Sometimes the melodic instrumental is cool and other times its sounds empty and kind of cheesy. So, I guess it just depends on my current mood whether or not I like the song.

My Man Ski – Joe gives one of his homeboys (Ski) a little shine on this interlude, and Ski pretty much uses it to threaten to kill your family (or as he exaggerates it, “faaaaaaaaaaamily”) if you don’t buy Fat Joe’s album. This was pretty useless.

Bad Bad Man – Diamond D takes a loop of microphone feedback (from Yvonne Fair’s “Let Your Hair Down” record) and turns it into a brilliantly constructed backdrop. Fat Joe uses it in an attempt to convince the listener that he’s a force to be reckoned with it. At the beginning of his third verse, Joe takes what sounds like a direct shot (no pun intended) at Buckshot from Black Moon: “One day I was chillin’ caught a buckshot, the nigga was butt, so he gets no props” (I won’t believe it’s a coincidence that he uses “buckshot” and part of the title of Black Moon’s first single (see “Who Got Da Props?”) in the same bar). I wonder what his beef was with Buckshot (or Black Moon). If you know, hit me in the comments. Joe gives it all he’s got on this one, and his energy is commendable, but his lyrics fall short of the glory of God. But Diamond’s instrumental is genius. 

Watch The Sound – This was the second single released from Represent . Joe invites Grand Puba and Diamond D (who also produced the song) to join him on the mic. All three emcees slightly alter their verses for the video mix, but Puba makes the biggest alterations: on the album version he kind of disses Tommy Hilfiger (“lets squeeze a trigger for the nigga, see I flipped to the low, cause I’m through with the Hilfiger”), but his video version verse (tongue twister mucher) give props to Hilfiger (“it’s that same ole nigga, dressed low in Hilfiger, but my pockets got a little bigger”), which I found both confusing and interesting. As much as a fan I am of Puba’s flow (he’s definitely in the discussion for best flow in hip-hop history), Diamond D quietly walks away with this one.

Flow Joe – This was the lead single from Represent . Joe’s flow doesn’t sound that impressive, and it sounds like he may have been taking a shot at Heavy D on this one (“rappers come heavy, but yo, I weigh a ton”). Diamond D’s instrumental is a bit conflicting: he samples a piece of Morton Stevens’ “The Long Wait” (better known as the theme music for “Hawaii Five-O”) that gives the song a sinister feel when coupled with the hard drums. But for some reason he adds a playful flute loop (not to be confused with fruit loop) during the hook, which kind of undermines the sinisterism of the Morton Stevens loop. Thankfully, they took the flute loop out of the video version of the song.

Da Fat Gangsta – Diamond D slides Joe yet another quality mid-tempo instrumental, and Joe actually does a decent job with it this time. Yeah, he struggles with his breath control and sounds sloppy at certain points (and he sounds super Cuban when he yells the hook), but the shortcomings on this one aren’t as bad as they are on some of the previous songs.

Shorty Gotta Fat Ass – Diamond’s instrumental is kind of nice, but Joe’s rhymes and concept are trash.

The Shit Is Real – This was the third single released from Represent. This is probably Joe’s best lyrical output on the album, as he revisits his upbringing and coming of age. Now that I think about it, it’s probably his honesty that’s more appealing than his actual lyrics. Unfortunately, The Beatnuts’, um beat, is very drab. Thankfully, Premo would breath new life into the song with the remix, that would be included on Joe’s second album, Jealous One’s Envy.

You Must Be Out Of Your Fuckin’ Mind – Joe invites Apache and Kool G. Rap to join him on this one. Diamond hooks up a dark and bleak backdrop that the three emcees compete to sound the most psychotic over. Decent enough, I guess.

I Got This In A Smash – Showbiz gets his first production credit of the evening, and it’s pretty dope. Joe continues to spew mediocre rhymes, and comically mispronounces Richard Gere’s last name when he brags about getting more skins (aka sex) than him. But Joe’s mediocrity can’t undermine Showbiz hard backdrop.

Another Wild Nigger From The Bronx – Put this one on the ballot for worst song title of the year. And what’s up with spelling “Nigger” with an “er” instead of an “a”? Something about the “er” ending gives me visions of “Colored” marked water fountains and bathrooms. Joe invites Gismo, Kieth Kieth (pronounced as Keith Keith, but for some reason he puts the “i” before the “e”… or maybe they just misspelled his name in the liner notes?) and King Sun to join him on the final cipher joint of the evening. King Sun definitely sounds the most impressive of the four emcees, but Chilly Dee’s instrumental is the true king of this song.

Get On Up – More underwhelming rhymes from Joe over a solid Diamond D beat.

I’m A Hit That – The final song of the evening has Joe salivating over a hottie he wants to bang out over a decent Showbiz instrumental. This was pretty weak, and an awkward way to end a hip-hop album.

I’ve heard Fat Joe say in interviews that his flow was feeble at this point in his career. I concur. He has definitely improved as an emcee as time went on. Luckily for Joe, he had a top-notch beatsmith in Diamond D to help make up for what he lacked lyrically, and make Represent an enjoyable listen. Represent is not a classic album, but there’s enough quality material on it to make it a decent debut from the self-proclaimed fat gangsta.

-Deedub

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Cypress Hill – Black Sunday (July 20, 1993)

Cypress Hill’s 1991 self-titled debut album was both a commercial and critical success, even if it took sometime for both successes to take fruition. Led by B-Real’s nasally praises of weed and violence and DJ Mugg’s blunted backdrops, Cypress Hill not only got respect in the hip-hop community, but also managed to gain a bit of crossover success while staying true to their hardcore foundation. What would the Latin threesome do next? Cypress Hill would return in the summer of 1993 with their sophomore effort Black Sunday.

Black Sunday would pick up where Cypress Hill left off, with more weed avocation and gun penetration over Muggs’ blunted beats. Like it’s predecessor, Black Sunday would earn Cypress Hill a platinum plaque and heaps of praises from hip-hop heads and weed heads alike. I personally thought that Cypress Hill was a bit overrated, with a few great singles hidden in a sea of decent to mediocre songs. Lets see if Black Sunday is an overall better body of work than our blunted amigos’ debut.

I Wanna Get High – The album opens with some spooky horns, before Muggs’ blunted bass line and slow-paced reggae tinged drums comes in. After a few bars, B-Real then joins in on the fun and spits one quick verse, and based on the song title I’m sure you’re smart enough to figure out what his bars about. Nice way to kick off the evening.

I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That – This was the second single released from Black Sunday. Muggs’ hooks up a dark instrumental with a trunk rattling bass line that B-Real and Sen Dog use to issue violent threats to anyone that thinks that Cypress is soft. This one is hard.

Insane In The Brain – This was the lead single from Black Sunday, and is easily the biggest hit on the album, and probably in all of Cypress’ thick catalog. I never was a fan of this one. Probably because I always felt like they were trying to recreate House Of Pain’s “Jump Around” (which Muggs also produced) with it. That said, it’s not a terrible song, it just doesn’t have a soul.

When The Shit Goes Down – Muggs samples an Outlaw Blues Band record (that if you’ve followed hip-hop since the early nineties, you’ve heard it used a time or two before) for the mid-tempo back drop. B-Real advises all, that when its time to shoot it out with the police, make sure you have enough artillery for the battle, kids. Even though Muggs uses a recycled loop, he manages to bring new life to it in how he flips it. This was pretty dope.

Lick A Shot – Muggs’ instrumental on “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That” sounds very similar to the one he uses for this one, but somehow this one sounds so much harder and better than the former. B-Real rolls solo this time around, as he does more of his tough guy gun talk shit, and the simple but effective hook (“so I let the gat hummmmmmmm…”) is the cherry on top of this gangsta sundae. Speaking of sundaes, this is probably my favorite song on Black Sunday.

Cock The Hammer – Muggs follows up the hard darkness of the previous song with a cold and callous backdrop (punctuated by a rain sample that makes it sound even colder)that B-Real and Sen Dog use to brandish their weapons and praise violence over. And folks, the worship of violence never sounded so good.

Lock Down – A decent little instrumental interlude.

Lil’ Putos – For those who don’t know and are too lazy to look it up on their own, “puto” is a derogatory spanish word for a male homosexual, or a coward, or a traitor. Over a slow-paced instrumental built around a loop from Lou Donaldson’s “Ode To Billie Joe” (another sample you’ve surely heard used before if you’ve followed hip-hop since the early nineties), B-Real and Sen Dog talk about how they react when three little chumps try to rob them. I’ve never really felt this song. Muggs’ production work feels lazy on this one.

Legalize It – Short interlude advocating for the legalization of marijuana.

Hits From The Bong – Over a mellowed-out Muggs’ backdrop, B-Real gives details and pointers on smoking weed through a bong (if you don’t know what a bong is, Google it and you’ll find plenty of resources to reference). Even though I’m not a weed head, I can still appreciate a well put together song about weed, especially when the backdrop is as pleasant to listen to as this one.

What Go Around Come Around, Kid – The hook on this one reminds me of “When The Shit Goes Down”, and Muggs again turns off his creativity and recycles a sample (“Get Out Of My Life Women”) that had been used at least three times prior in hip-hop, and doesn’t bring anything new with how he flips it. Needless to say this one doesn’t work for me.

A To The K – Filler shit.

Hand On The Glock – Loose recreation of “Hand On The Pump”, but is doesn’t come close to the former.

Break ‘Em Off Some – And more filler shit.

For Black Sunday, Cypress Hill sticks to the old adage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix, as they use the same formula as the debut album: dusty-blunted Muggs production (though it sounds a bit more refined this time around) with B-Real and Sen Dog smoking weed or an adversary, on every track. Also, like the debut, Black Sunday starts off strong and slowly begins to go down hill (no pun intended) from there. With the exception of “Hits From The Bong”, the entire second half of Black Sunday is filled with regurgitated concepts and recycled loops that result in a mediocre listen. I might get stoned (no pun intended) for saying this, but in my opinion, Black Sunday is not the classic a lot of Cypress Stans claim it to be. Cut it in half and then you half an argument. As is, it’s Wendy Williams: top-heavy, but not much going on on the bottom end.

-Deedub

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