DJ Honda – H (July 2, 1996)

DJ Honda is a Japanese deejay/producer who got his foot into American hip-hop in the mid-nineties. After being the lead vocalist and guitarist for a Japan-based rock band called the Clique, he started tinkering with deejaying. Honda began deejaying in local clubs in Japan, spinning disco records in the early eighties (yes, I know that disco died in the late seventies here in the states, but unlike Americans’ fickle asses, other countries embrace musical genres long after they’re no longer popular), but would soon discover hip-hop, which piqued his interest. Honda started studying pioneering deejays, like Grand Mixer DXT and honing his skills on the turntables after them. He would hone his skills to the point of entering the 1992 New Music Seminar’s DJ Battle for World Supremacy in New York, where he finished second. Even though he lost the battle, he would win the war, as that battle would earn him respect and help him forge relationships with a bunch of established American hip-hop artists, which would eventually lead to the culmination and release of his debut compilation album, simply titled, H (I think you’re all smart enough to figure out what the “H” stands for. If you said “hot,” you are correct).

H was originally released in Japan on the Sony Music Japan label in 1995, then re-released in the U.S. on Relativity Records in 1996. Honda would produce all thirteen tracks on the album and invite a host of veteran emcees and a few newcomers to rhymes over his instrumentals. H would go on to be moderately successful, thus setting up a series of Honda compilation and collaboration albums throughout the nineties and early two-thousands.

Like a large chunk of my collection, I discovered H years after its release, sitting in the used cd bins at one of my favorite used record spots. The name, “Honda,” and the styling of the lowercase “h” on the album cover, immediately made me think about the popular automobile brand with the same name and I was curious to why this “DJ” was jacking their name and remixing their iconic emblem. Those factors, along with the “Explicit Lyrics” sticker, moved me to pick it up and check out the liner notes, where I discovered a bunch of artists’ names whose music, I’m a fan of, and the rest is history.

This is my first time listening to H, so let’s see how this goes.

Intro – The album opens with a saddened horn loop, weary drums and a faint wailing female voice, which sounds more suitable for a funeral than an album intro. But this kind of dark shit is my happy place, so I loved it. My only issue with it is it’s too short.

DJ Battle – Things quickly shift to a snippet of DJ Honda performing live, and he gives the listener a taste of his skills on the ones and twos, as he slices up Chic’s “Good Times.” Not bad, Mr. Honda.

What You Expected – The first official record of the night pairs Honda with Gang Starr. Honda provides Guru (rip) a creamy smooth backdrop that he makes easy work of, while Premo drops in to lay his signature precision cuts on the hook. This is a dope record that sounds even better at night, and it’s exactly what I expected to hear from a Gang Starr collabo.

Kill The Noize – Our host invites the Brooklyn-based emcee, Problemz to join him on this track. Honda builds the instrumental around what sounds like a bass guitar interpolation of the bass line from The Stylistics “People Make The World Go Round,” paired with a mysterious bell/xylophone sounding loop, while Problemz finds his spot and holds his own on the mic with his monotone flow and cool demeanor. Despite his use of the overly used “Dizzy like Gillespie” metaphor (that line really should be hung in the hip-hop rafters), Problemz proves to be a spitter with a great alias.

Dat’s My Word – Redman drops by to wild out over Honda’s mystically spacey backsplash that sounds like the perfect music for an alien abduction. I don’t know if I like the pairing of Redman’s animated high energy style with the semi-subdued music, but I absolutely love Honda’s instrumental.

Straight Talk From NY – Honda is joined by two-thirds of Brand Nubian, Sadat X and Grand Puba (with Lord Jamar curiously missing is action) and some guy named Wakeem, whom I’ve never heard of before this song. Honda cooks up a bassy soulful feel good groove, while Sadat X and Wakeem (who drops two Asian slurs during his verse, which I found extremely disrespectful, especially since he’s the guest on a Japanese deejay’s record.) pretty much warm up the mic for Puba, who gets off a dope verse that finds him demanding compensation for his free endorsement of Tommy Hilfiger through the years and effortlessly shittin’ on emcees (although he was wrong about Barney putting Big Bird out of business. Sesame Street is still very much alive and well, while Barney is now extinct with the rest of his peoples…and I’d like to give a random shout out to Hip-Hop Harry). This was dope as is, but it probably would have sounded even better as a Grand Puba solo joint.

Intro – Honda leaves a few cuts and scratches on a super short after-hours appropriate instrumental to kick off the second half of H.

Out For The Cash – This New York City cipher session pairs Al Tariq (formerly known as Fashion) with his former group mates, The Beatnuts (JuJu and Psycho Les), Fat Joe and Problemz, who makes his second appearance on H. Honda mixes rugged drums with a dusty slightly out of tune piano loop, and Joey Crack, who sounds right at home rhyming over the gully soundscape, comes out victorious with blood dripping from his mouth and the beat’s head in hand.

Interlude – Common stops by and gets off a quick throw away verse over a boring DJ Honda instrumental. Thankfully, it only lasts a minute and fifteen seconds, so it’s over just as you’re moved to hit the skip button.

Biz Freestyle – Over a mellow backdrop, Biz Markie reminisces about the good old days (recalling when he first met MC Shan, Roxanne Shante and Marley Marl, and he shouts out some hip-hop pioneers, like Grand Wizard Theodore and The Cold Crush), but in true Biz Markie fashion, he spends most of the song spittin’ a bunch of randomness (i.e., shouting out all the New York sports teams, remixing the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, and he mentions “Bonita Applebum” in a line, so we can mark Tribe Degrees of Separation off for this post). This was a fun record that captures a snapshot of Biz’s charismatic and comedic genius that will forever live on through his music. Continue to rest easy, Biz.

Fuk Dat – Honda serves up his most energetic instrumental of the evening, as the Brooklyn newcomer, Sean Black aka Black Attack gets a chance to rock over this funky instrumental that includes a classic Buckshot Shorty line on the hook. Sean sounds like a competent enough emcee, delivering solid bars and keeping pace with Honda’s potent backdrop.

International Anthem – Tha Alkaholiks drop by to bless Honda on a track, as he lays an urgent sounding backsplash, dipped in airy James Bond theme music vibes, as all three legs of the team get off quality bars. E-Swift (whose apparently not aware that Spain is a part of Europe) bats first, followed by Tash (who appears as the drunk Sir Mix-A-Lot, making your fiancé put her titties on the glass), and J-Ro (who displays his obsession with wack emcees necks: first he’s stabbing them in their neck like Monica Seles (an incident that I completely forgot about before hearing this song), then later he’s found wrapping microphone cords around their throats, giving them unwanted bow ties) cleans it all up with a comically quality verse that reminded me of why he’s my personal favorite Alkaholik. After the first few listens, I thought Honda’s instrumental sounded too serious for Tha Liks’ hijinks, but the more I listen to it, the more the contrast seems to work.

The End – The final song of the night has dual meaning, as it not only marks the end of H, but it also features Al Tariq discussing the end of the world, making mention of Armageddon, The Rapture, the anti-Christ and the second coming of Jesus (he never calls him by name, but I’m pretty sure “my man’s coming back ya gonna wish he never had” is a reference to J.C.). Honda backs Al’s apocalyptic content with a melodically blunted backdrop, equipped with a vibrating bass line that feels like it’s massaging your brain when you listen to it. It was interesting to hear Al substitute the juvenile content that we grew accustomed to hearing him spit as part of the Beatnuts with “gospel rappin’, and Honda’s instrumental is really dope.

On H, DJ Honda doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but follows in the tradition of legendary east coast hip-hop producers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock, putting his own eastern (Asian) interpretation on the sound and capturing the essence of mid-nineties east coast boom-bap. Collectively, the guests on H turn in adequate performances, but it’s Honda’s smooth production that carries most of the load and shines the brightest. H doesn’t have a lot of high energy joints (which some of you hardcore enthusiasts might detest), but it does provide a cohesive dosage of cool quality hip-hop (that sounds even better when played after the sun sets), and what more could you ask for from a hip-hop album?

-Deedub

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Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt (June 25, 1996)

Everyone is familiar with Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s illustrious rise from successful drug dealer to billionaire businessman (and a business, man!) and arguably, the greatest rapper of all-time, but before he became a filthy rich rap superstar and bagged the flyest chick in the game who not only rocks his chain, but also his wedding ring, he had to pay his dues (a concept that is completely nonexistent in this current age of microwave hip-hop…but I digress). After getting his start appearing on his mentor, Jaz-O’s 1989 debut album, Word To The Jaz, he would go on to make a handful of cameos on different artists’ albums (i.e., Original Flavor, Big L, Big Daddy Kane and Mic Geronimo). These cameos would help raise Jay’s profile and after linking with Dame Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke to form Rock-A-Fella Records, Jay would be the label’s inaugural artist, releasing his debut album, Reasonable Doubt in June of ‘96.

As Jay has mentioned before (and I’m paraphrasing), the album title references those who doubted his rapping ability, which he humbly deemed reasonably, but was out to prove them wrong, and we all know how that played out. Jay would call on a handful of producers to sculpt the sound of Reasonable Doubt (including DJ Premier, Ski-Beatz and DJ Clark Kent) and would invite a few guests to make cameos as well. Even though he felt “it should have went triple”, Reasonable Doubt would earn Jay a platinum plaque, a shit load of critical acclaim, and the album is widely heralded as a classic and one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time.

I’ll admit, I was a little late getting into Reasonable Doubt. My summer of 1996 was consumed by three other albums that I’ll be discussing very soon (I’m sure you can figure out at least one of them), and I didn’t start delving into Reasonable Doubt until the following September. But if my memory serves me correct; Reasonable Doubt made for great fall music.

Legend has it (and by legend, I mean from the mouth of the legendary, DJ Clark Kent) that Jay-Z only planned to make Reasonable Doubt and then exit the music game forever. Man plans, God laughs, and Shawn Carter’s been laughing his way to the bank and goat status ever since.

Can’t Knock The Hustle – The album opens with a recreated scene from the classic movie, Scarface before the first song of the night starts, which was also the third single released from Reasonable Doubt. Knobody (what an alias) chefs up a bassy and cool backdrop that sounds like its submerged in water, while Jay-Z proudly boasts about his drug dealer lifestyle (“We do dirt like worms, produce G’s like sperm, till legs spread like germs, I got extensive hoes, with expensive clothes, and I sip fine wines and spit vintage flows.”) and brashly tries to defend it: “At my arraignment, screamin’, “All us Blacks got is sports and entertainment,” until we even, thievin’, as long as I’m breathin’, can’t knock the way a nigga eatin’, fuck you even.” Mary J. Blige (who by 1996 was well on her way to becoming crowned the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul) stops by to add her signature adlibs and sings the hook, which was a pleasant but obvious attempt to make Jay’s underworld rhetoric more digestible to the masses (aka make it sound more commercial). I’ve never been crazy about this record, but it’s still decent.

Politics As Usual – Jay gives us more drug dealer talk with this one. This time around he balances bragging with sharing some of the stresses and mental anguish that illegal business can bring: “Ya’ll feel a nigga’s struggle, ya’ll think a nigga love ta, hustle behind the wheel, tryin’ to escape my trouble? That’s out there greetin’ me, I’m talkin’ sweet to ki’s, cursin’ the very God that brought this grief to be.” Ski gets his first production credit of the night and builds a super soulful groove around a Stylistics record that works as the perfect backing music for Jay-Z’s conversational style. This one still sounds as amazing as it did twenty-five plus years ago.

Brooklyn’s Finest – The Scarface character from the intro returns to let off a few rounds and shares a few words to introduce the next record that pairs Jay with another Brooklyn legend, The Notorious B.I.G. DJ Clark Kent (with a co-production credit going to Dame Dash) loops up a funky Ohio Players joint to back the duo’s verbal sparring, as the two kings exchange witty hustler heavy rhymes. Big may have been the more established and celebrated of the two emcees at the time, but Jay matches him bar for bar on this one. This is a superb record that lives up to its title. Continue to rest easy, Biggie.

Dead Presidents II – Part 1 of this song was the promotional single for Reasonable Doubt and the version used for the video. Both versions use the same instrumental, but have different lyrics, and while I love the “Rico, all good just a week ago” line from the original, Jay sounds way more comfortable and polished on the sequel (who can ever forget the classic line: “I dabbled in crazy weight, without rap I was crazy straight, Patnah, I’m still spendin’ money from eighty-eight”?). Ski keeps the soulful vibes coming, this time building the dope backdrop around a brilliant Lonnie Liston Smith piano loop, and he uses the notorious Nas line for the hook that Jay would later reference during the two titan’s epic feud a few years later (“You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song”). This is an undeniable classic that still sounds fire.

Feelin’ It – This was the fourth and final single released from Reasonable Doubt. Ski uses another jazzy piano loop, accompanied by poppin’ drums to create this elegant instrumental that features Mecca singing on the hook and finds Jay enjoying the fruits of his illegal labor: poppin’ bottles of Moet and Cristal, driving fancy cars and smoking weed with beautiful women on exotic islands. Ya feelin’ it? Yeah, me too. Legend has it that Ski made this instrumental for Camp Lo but decided to give it to Jay at the last minute. All respect due to Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede, but I’d say Ski made the right decision.

D’Evils – Premo gets his first production credit of the night, crafting some dark boom-bap with a few classic vocal snippets scratched in to the hook, as Jay embraces “d’evils” that he confesses possess his soul and have him selling death to his own people and feuding with childhood friends over drug territories: “We used to fight for building blocks, now we fight for blocks with buildings to make a killin’, the closest of friends when we first started, but grew apart as the money grew, we grew black-hearted, thinkin’ back when we first learned to use rubbers, he never learned so in turn I’m kidnapping his baby’s mother.” This has to be the darkest record in Jay-Z’s catalog and probably the song that started the “Jay-Z’s in the Illuminati” rumors. A chilling, but great record.

22 Two’s – This one begins with Maria Davis, who actually used to to host an event called Mad Wednesdays in New York City, introducing herself and her event, before spotting Jay-Z in the audience and asking him to come to the stage and “kick a freestyle,” to which he obliges. Ski’s darkish (we’ll call it tinted) backdrop comes in and Mr. Carter takes a brief break away from his drug dealer themes to get into some emcee shit. Jay starts thing off by borrowing ATCQ’s “Can I Kick It?” call and response, and when he doesn’t get the participation from the crowd that he expected, he hi-lariously mumbles, “Ya’ll muthafuckas must didn’t hear that Tribe Called Quest shit, let’s do it again” (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). As the song title suggests, Jay gets off a verse that includes twenty-two two’s (technically, he gets off a combination of twenty-two two’s, too’s and to’s), before deviating from the concept during his second verse, but he still kills it. If you’re listening to Reasonable Doubt on cassette, this record concludes side one. So, if you don’t have auto reverse, get up and flip that shit over, homie!

Can I Live – Irv Gotti (credited as DJ Irv in the album’s liner notes) gets his sole production credit of the night and he sticks to the soulful theme, looping up some classic Isaac Hayes (I love the boomin’ horn loop) for Jay to discuss more of the stresses that come with hustlin’ and the addiction to the money and lifestyle that keeps him in the game. Yet another great album cut that sounds better than most of the album’s singles.

Ain’t No Nigga – This was the second single released from Reasonable Doubt and it was also included on The Nutty Professor Soundtrack. Jay-Z let’s his mentor, Jaz-O handle the production on this one, as he flips the often used and very familiar Whole Darn Family loop for our host to spew bars filled with misogyny and materialism. Foxy Brown pops in at the tail end of the song to get off a few bars that rebuttal and co-sign Jigga’s male chauvinistic antics. I never cared much for this one. Easily my least favorite record on Reasonable Doubt.

Friend Or Foe – One of the attributes that has always set Jay-Z apart from his contemporaries is his ability to rap as if it’s just the two of you in a room having a conversation. Well, on this one you feel like a fly on a wall, as Jay confronts some out-of-towners (whom you hear talking shit about Jay during the skit before the song begins) trying to come in and set up shop in his territory: “Let me guess, they said it was money ‘round here, and the rest is me stoppin’ you from gettin’ it, correct? Sorry to hear that, my guess is you got work at the hotel, I’ll take care of that, you’ll soon see, now please, give me the room key, you’re twitchin’, don’t do that, you’re makin’ me nervous, my crew, well, they do pack, them dudes is murders.” Premo builds the backdrop around a blaring semi-wacky trumpet loop that matches Jay’s light-hearted approach to what should be seen as a serious situation. Dope song concept and brilliant execution by one of the best to ever do it.

Coming Of Age – This one pairs Jay with his protégé, Memphis Bleek, as the two mimic their raps career roles, with Jay playing the seasoned hood drug kingpin and Bleek plays the young, hungry and eager kid trying to get his feet into the drug game. Clark Kent lays down a smooth backdrop to hold down Jay and Bleek’s Goodfellas theatrics that I actually appreciate more now than I did back in ‘96.

Cashmere Thoughts – Clark Kent gets his final production credit of the evening and he keeps it funky as chitlins but still as smooth as a newborn’s ass. Speaking of smooth, Jay sounds so slick on this track that he talks the instrumental out of its panties with his cool and effortless flow: “I’m smooth but deadly like a pearl handled pistol, honeys hum in melody when I rub it like crystal, the proper etiquette, when I drop the subject, verb then the predicate with this rich nigga rhetoric”. Dope record with an equally dope song title.

Bring It On – Premo serves up a dimly lit emotion stirring backdrop with a well-placed Fat Joe vocal snippet on the hook, as Sauce Money and Jaz-O join Jay on this mafioso cipher session. All three parties bring their A-game, with Jay barely out dueling his mentor, Jaz-O (the “money makes the world go around so I made some to spin (spend)” line was too tough), but Premo’s masterful production work is the true winner on this track.

Regrets – The final song on the proper album finds Mr. Carter revisiting a couple of situations from his street pharmacists past that he wishes would have played out differently. Peter Panic provides the soulfully somber instrumental (who’s drums are almost nonexistent) to help comfort and console Jay through his painful reminiscing. Solid record and a fitting way to end the album.

Can I Live II – On the 1998 remastered version of Reasonable Doubt (which I also have a copy of) or if you stream it on your favorite DSP, this bonus track exists. The sequel has nothing on the original, and other than Jay’s mention of Pac during his first verse (“Don’t even hate one those who hate me, I got Pac on”), there’s not much to remember about this one.

Reasonable Doubt is Jay-Z’s drug dealer manifesto that not only gives you a detailed look into the life of Shawn Carter and the mechanics and workings of the underworld, but it also highlights Jay’s undeniable emcee wit and chiseled wordsmanship. Throughout Reasonable Doubt, Jay makes the listener feel like they’re riding shotgun with the Brooklyn emcee, while he navigates his luxurious whip through the New York City streets, feeding you his conversational style bars, while the phenomenal batch of soulful instrumentals back his “rich nigga rhetoric.” Several “drug dealers turned rapper” have tried to emulate the greatness of Reasonable Doubt, using the album as their blueprint (no pun intended), and a few have come close, but none have matched Jay-Z’s debut masterpiece. Reasonable Doubt has stood Teflon through time, leaving no one a reason to doubt it’s classic status.

-Deedub

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Prince Paul – Psychoanalysis (What It Is?) (June 25, 1996)

Prince Paul is not a household name, nor does he garner the respect in hip-hop culture that he deserves, but his resumé speaks for itself. He’s a pioneering producer who played an integral part in shaping the sound of some important hip-hop albums from the late eighties through the mid-nineties. He’s produced tracks for the likes of Big Daddy Kane, 3rd Bass, Slick Rick, Biz Markie (rip), MC Lyte and Queen Latifah, just to name a few. But he will probably most be remembered for his stint as the deejay (and part of the production team) for Stetsasonic and later for producing and molding the creative direction for De La Soul’s first three landmark albums (Paul was often referred to as the “fourth Plug” during his time with De La, who were part of the Native Tongue collective, which of course, A Tribe Called Quest was also a part of, so go ahead and check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post). Sometime during the making of De La’s fourth album, Stakes Is High (an album I’ll be breaking down in the very near future), Paul would amicably separate himself from the group and begin his solo journey. He would release his debut solo album, Psychoanalysis (What Is It?) in 1996.

Psychoanalysis was originally release on the small independent label, WordSound, but would be reissued by Tommy Boy Records In 1997 with different cover artwork and a slightly different track list (I have a copy of the Tommy Boy reissue, so that’s the version I’ll be breaking down for this post). The album wasn’t a commercial success, but it did receive positive reviews from the critics and would go on to become a cult classic amongst Prince Paul Stans.

The liner notes for Psychoanalysis reads: “This album is a compilation of senseless skitstyle material that was slapped together by Prince Paul for his own ill enjoyment.” This is my first time listening to Psychoanalysis since I bought it a few years ago, and based on Prince Paul’s disclosure, I’m fully prepared to experience some ridiculously loony shit.

Why Must You Hate Me – The album opens with a vocal sample of a therapist introducing himself as “your analysis,” then he lets whomever he’s speaking to know that he’s going to “analyze you.” Paul then brings in a loop of a vocal sample from of a male voice saying, “As long as I can remember people have hated me,” along with his mid-tempo instrumental built around somber guitar strums, setting the mood for a psychotherapy session.

Beautiful Night (Manic Psychopath) – This one begins with another soundbite from (who I believe is) the same therapist from the previous track, asking his patient to share an uncensored dream. Then Paul lays down a relaxed after hours jazzy instrumental and the patient spills his guts about all the guts that he’s spilled: he confesses to a couple of date rapes and a few homicides (I mean, the racist bartender kind of had it coming, though), while the therapist listens to the gruesome details and only response with an occasional “Yeah…mmhmm.” The hook is uncomfortably funny, and this ends up being some entertainingly bizarre shit that you’ll feel guilty for enjoying.

Open Your Mouth (Hypohalamus) – This short interlude features a decent instrumental with soundbites of a man saying, “Open your mouth, I’m going to put something nice into it,” followed by a snippet of a moaning woman. This cycle goes on for about forty-five seconds, before the therapist weighs in with his assessment, which is pretty comical.

Introduction To Psychoanalysis (Schizophrenia) – Over hard drums and dark chords, some dude (the liner notes credit him simply as “the flipper”) rambles on about being a fan of De La Soul and Prince Paul. He then mentions that he also does music and wants to become Paul’s apprentice, then out of nowhere he goes into a demented rant about delivering a pregnant heroin addict’s baby, hitting a girl with a wiffle ball bat as a kid, and somehow ends up talking about his lack of gettin’ ass and how he has some wild disorder that causes one of his nuts to get sucked up in his stomach just be for he cums, to which the therapist just casually replies “yeah, yeah.” This was wildly hi-larious.

You Made Me (A.K.C.) – Paul pieces together soundbites from a man and a woman, making the two converse and sound like they’re newly and madly in love. He backs the vocal samples with a beautifully breezy instrumental that sounds custom made for a rap love song. I have no idea what “A.K.C.” is an abbreviation for, but I do know that this instrumental is absolutely scrumptious.

Vexual Healing (Vacillation) – Paul brings the Caribbean vibes with this instrumental, while a Jamaican man and woman (credited as Del Rio and The Squid in the liner notes) separately ramble on about all kinds of randomness for nearly three and a half minutes. I’m not sure what the meaning of this interlude was, but I found the line “the child is black as a raisin,” delivered in a heavy Jamaican accent, super funny for some reason.

To Get A Gun – This short interlude features a simple drum beat and vocal snippets taken from an old black and white movie (I’m guessing it was black and white, and I’m also assuming it’s from a movie) that justify the song title. Next…

J.O.B. – Das What Dey Is! – Paul pays homage and parodies Schooly D’s classic joint, “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” with this one. He recycles the bangin’ drums and the classic crashing cymbal break from the original, as Scully B, The Mic and Man Scientist break down the meaning of “J.O.B.” for all you broke mofos.

The World’s A Stage (A Dramady) – Omega Man cracks ComicView style jokes (shout out to BET), while a laugh track encourages him to continue. Some of his jokes are actually funny (i.e., the UCLA one and the Golden State Bridge one), while others are duds, but their corniness and randomness makes them hi-larious.

Booty Clap – This one pokes fun at 2 Live Crew and the Miami Bass music that they helped make popular in the late eighties. One guy plays the Luke Campbell role, and two others spit raps gettin’ their Fresh Kid Ice (rip) and Brother Marquis on for this hypersexual call and response parody that gets asses and dicks in the air. This was actually funny.

Drinks (Escapism) – This one finds a gentleman going to a bar to get a few drinks and unloading all his troubles into the bartender’s ear, while the backing melancholic music consoles him and the sarcastic reoccurring horn loop, empathetically pats the poor chump on the back. This was cool and I’m sure most guys can relate to some of the poor chump’s feelings and complaints.

Dimepieces – Mista Wells, Smile-Lee, Nephew Mike and Howard Who all come together to spit a whole load of misogyny with an early eighties flow over a minimalistic early eighties beat, and I wasn’t amused by their antics.

In Your Mind (Altered States) – This skit features a back and forth between a sound bitten truck driver and an animated Italian gas station attendant, who find themselves on two completely different wave lengths during their hi-larious exchange. If this one doesn’t move you to at least a chuckle, there’s something wrong with your funny bone.

2 B Blunt (A True Story) – Mista Wells and Scotty puff on a blunt while they exchange two bizarre stories (the one about the “veteniarial” diseased gym shorts was pretty funny), while the mellow guitar plucks in the instrumental will sooth your soul as you listen along and giggle.

Psycho Linguistics (Convergent Thought) – Over a plush and creamy backdrop, an uncredited male emcee raps from the perspective of a psycho ward patient and gets off some quality bars: “I don’t know, I guess it’s my thought process, fifty below the level of consciousness, S.O.S., ring the alarm red alert, When I’m rhymin’, sound the sirens, the whole works, cause they consider me m-a-d, Alfred E. Neuman got nothing on me, Public Enemy No. 1, now they got me in a cell, living hell, yeah that be my life, ‘cause mine don’t matter, so I apply mind over matter, while they mull matter over mind.” The instrumental includes scattered screechy notes that make it feel like you’re strolling through the unbalanced corridors of the mentally ill rapper’s mind. This was dope. Easily my favorite joint on the album.

That’s Entertainment!? (Aversive Conditioning) – Paul splices together a bunch of random and outlandish soundbites, all tied together by the master soundbite of a man saying, “We have a little entertainment planned for you today.” Psychoanalysis would have been fine without this interlude, but at least the decent instrumental will cause your head to mildly nod along to Paul’s lunacy.

Outroduction To Diagnosis Psychosis – The Mad Scientist returns to give shout outs and thanks the listener for listening to Psychoanalysis over an infectious toe tappin’ jazzy piano loop driven backdrop. This instrumental grows more gorgeous with each listen.

Beautiful Night (Automator Remix) – Dan The Automator replaces the cool jazz instrumentation from the o.g. version with dark keyboard, cello and violin chords that match the psychotic patient’s confession much better than the original. And we’re done.

Psychoanalysis (What It Is?) is a kooky ride through the partially perverted, heavily juvenile, one-hundred percent quirky mind of Prince Paul, placed and served over hip-hop beats. Over the course of the album’s eighteen tracks, Prince Paul will make you chuckle with guilt, laugh out loud, question his sanity and please your ears with a dope batch of instrumentals to back his foolish antics and hijinks. There are a few questionable or forgettable moments on Psychoanalysis, but the bulk of it is hysterically fun. If you don’t take Prince Paul’s content too seriously.

-Deedub

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Various Artists – America Is Dying Slowly (June 25, 1996)

If you’re older than ten years old, I’m sure you’re familiar with the dreaded acronyms, HIV and AIDS, and more than likely you know someone who died from the deadly virus. In the late seventies-early eighties, seemingly out of nowhere, AIDS spread like wildfire, becoming a worldwide epidemic that would claim millions of lives throughout the eighties and nineties. I personally lost my uncle to AIDS, and I will never forget the shock and concern I felt in 1991 when Magic Johnson, at his basketball peak, announced to the world that he was HIV positive, which at the time felt like certain death. Thanks to advances in AIDS education and research, Magic is still alive today and testing HIV Positive is no longer the death sentence that it once was thirty years ago. Some of the credit for these advancements must go to organizations like the Red Hot Organization, a non-profit that formed in 1990 to raise money for HIV/AIDS relief and awareness, with one of their fundraising outlets being music. Red Hot would tap artists from different genres to create compilations albums, including the subject of today’s post, America Is Dying Slowly.

America Is Dying Slowly (a title that I’m sure most of you noticed is built around the AIDS acronym) would be the eighth project in the Red Hot compilation series and the first to exclusively feature all hip-hop artists, calling on respected rappers and producers from every region of the country to contribute to the project that the liners notes refers to as “A Soundtrack For Life”. Not only would America Is Dying Slowly help raise money for AIDS awareness, but it would also receive positive reviews, including a stamp of approval from The Source Magazine that called it “a masterpiece.”

I haven’t listened to America Is Dying Slowly in years, so this should be a fun refresher.

No Rubber, No Backstage Pass – The first track of the night pairs The Diabolical Biz Markie (rip) with Chubb Rock over a Prince Paul produced instrumental. The song title might lead you to believe this is going to be a warning about the importance of safe sex, and Chubb Rock eventually touches on the subject at hand during the last few bars of the song, but most of the record features Biz and Chubb spittin’ freestyle bars over Paul’s dope instrumental, built around dueling piano loops: one slightly drunken and the other sounds like a Loony Tunes cartoon character getting their head banged against the same piano key, repeatedly. My only issue with this song is the poor mixing, as it leaves some of Biz and Chubb’s rhymes hard to understand, but other than that, it’s a thumbs up. This one ends with a voice I don’t recognize sharing a few words about the importance of using condoms.

The Yearn – I mentioned a few posts ago during my write up of the Lost Boyz’ Legal Drug Money that there was a version of this song that had an additional verse from Pete Rock (who also produced the song) tacked on at the end. Well, this is it. The song still sounds great, and it fits right into the theme of the album. The song is followed by a quick soundbite from another voice I don’t recognize, that conveniently leaves the “S” off “AIDS” to make the acronym stand for “America Is Dying” as well as “Allah Is Divine,” bleeding (no pun intended) right into the next song.

America – The Wu sends a few of its finest to weigh in on the AIDS epidemic: Killah Priest, Raekwon, Rza, Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck all spits verses about different individuals who chose to go raw and unprotected and ended up with the HIV (I’m not clear on how Rae’s character, Javier contracted HIV: was it the dirty drugs needles or going raw in shorty? Or does Javier have the worst luck in the world and contracted it both ways?). Rza provides an emotional-bluesy canvas and all five clansmen paint quality pics on its surface (at the end of the record, Raekwon shouts out different types of condoms and gives us what may be the funniest adlib in hip-hop history when he says “the ribbed joints is bangin’”). This song ends with a soundbite of Rae talking about the importance of putting a sock on the pickle when it’s time to stickle.

Blood – This was originally a short interlude on Goodie Mob’s debut album, Soul Food. Goodie Mob decided to expound on the idea and turn it into a full-fledge song with the theme calling for Black unity, because “we’re all blood (related)”, and since we know that HIV can be spread through blood exchange, it loosely ties into the theme of the album, right? I like Goodie Mob, but I couldn’t get into this one. Mainly due to the instrumental, which feels like it was so focused on trying to sound pretty that it forgot to sound interesting.

I Breaks ‘Em Off – Coolio completely deviates from the subject at hand and goes off dissin’ emcees and rapping about everything but AIDS. Wino provides steady drums and a thick bass line, while Wah Wah Watson lives up to his alias and laces the track with some funky wah-wah guitar licks. Even with Coolio going completely off topic, I enjoyed this one.

Listen To Me Now – This one begins with a super funky bass guitar solo (if you close your eyes, you can actually see the strings bending as their strummed), then the drums and the rest of the musical elements come in for 8Ball & MJG to get off their bars, rhyming from the perspective of the virus: “I have no face, I have no body, I have no heart, I have no soul, I don’t care if you’re young or if you’re old, here’s my mission, I’m out to get them, those who slippin’, creepin’, while they be creepin’, I be enterin’, into them, silently, violently, that is not me, quietly, you’ll never know I’m in your bloodstream.” And that’s just the opening bars, folks. The Memphis duo proceed to spit vivid lyrics, issuing warnings about the dangers of unprotected sex and the “worldwide plague,” even making biblical references that allegedly, prophesy of AIDS coming into the world. 8Ball & MJG are one of those groups that I’ve never got around to thoroughly diggin’ into their catalog, but this record once again reminded me that I should. The song is followed by another soundbite from Raekwon.

Street Life – L.E.S. deviates from his production norm of looping up obvious r&b samples and creates a grimy and eerie musical atmosphere, punctuated by a soulfully haunting vocal loop that will leave you with goosebumps when listening to this song after midnight. Mobb Deep is joined by their comrade, A.C.D. (I have no idea what those letters stand for…come to think of it, I don’t know what L.E.S. stands for, either), as the three amigos do what Mobb Deep has pretty much done their entire rap career: talk about hood shit. P and their guest sound decent over the devilish track, but Havoc finds his pocket and locks in, as he uncharacteristically, gets off the strongest verse of the record. This song has nothing to do with AIDS (I guess you can reach and say Havoc’s line “My .44 will burn that ass like going raw with nymphos, so protect your lifestyle, rock your vest” ties it in), but regardless, this record is hard and ill (no pun intended) as shit. The song is followed by a soundbite of someone sharing their conspiracy theory about AIDS being man-made (to which I agree) and that someone is getting rich off its creation, which is also an interesting idea.

Games – Money Boss Players was a group out of The Bronx that released a few singles on a few different labels in the late nineties but were never able to establish solid footing in the rap game. For this track they recruit, Minnesota, who hooks up a dramatic stabbing loop that ironically, sounds dry, while MBP discusses fake gangstas and hustlers and sounds just as parched as the music backing them.

Check Ya Self – Ant Banks, Spice 1, Celly Cel, 187 Fac (comprised of Almon D, Den Fenn and G-Nut) and Gangsta P all come together for this Bay Area safe sex PSA. It’s kind of humorous in a not so funny way, how disrespectful the rappers on this song are to the women that allegedly infect the guys with HIV in their stories (they call them “bitches” or “hoes” no less than ten times during the song). The hook (sung by Gruve) is embarrassingly bad and so blunt that its comical. All parties involved get off pretty decent verses and I enjoyed Ant Banks’ funky synthesized backdrop that screams “serious message.” The song is followed by a Spice 1 soundbite, where he discusses Eazy-E’s demise, explaining that he always thought that Eazy would get shot, end up in the pen or “caught up in some other bullshit,” as if living a full life and dying at a ripe old age was never in the cards for Eric Wright. That’s some sad pessimistic shit.

I’ve Been Thinking – Common is joined by his homie Sean Lett (I wonder what happened to him) as the two emcees reflect on life, get introspective and rep for Chicago. No ID lays down swingy drums and places a dope slightly distorted, partially out-of-tune piano loop over them, which works as the perfect companion piece for the two Chicagoans to let their stream of consciousness flow over it. This is easily one of my favorite songs on the album.

Decisions – Organized Konfusion weighs in on the subject at hand. Over a melodically airy backdrop, Pharoahe Monch uses his verse to compare the object of his erection to chicken (but he makes sure to put on a “rubber glove” before he cooks), while Prince Poe shares a more intricate story about a chick named Yvette, who told him about a girl named Shante and her ex-husband who “needle pops” and… I got lost in the details of his story at that point. Even with Poe’s confusing (no pun intended) storyline, I still enjoyed this one.

The Hustle – Da Beatminerz and De La Soul join forces for this record. I’m a fan of both De La and Da Beatminerz, and while this song wasn’t terrible, it looks better on paper than it actually sounds.

What I Represent – Representing the Diggin In The Crates crew: Buckwild hooks up a beautiful soulful groove for O.C., who calls for more love and affection in hip-hop on one hand and then disses rappers on the other (“Being in the state of mass consumption in this game it’s like drugs, only quantity is run throughout, quality is walking through the valley of the reaper, true deceivers, are coming through your receivers”). Despite the mixed messaging, O sounds solid over Buckwild’s feel good instrumental, and the Q-Tip vocal sample on the hook takes care of Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post (FYI, we could have taken care of Tribe Degrees of Separation on the previous song when Trugoy shouts out Phife (rip) during his final verse, but this will suffice). The song is followed by more colorful Spice 1 commentary.

Nasty Hoes – Now this is an interesting pairing. Sadat X and Fat Joe team up to discuss the importance of protecting yourself against nasty AIDS infected hoes. Joe truly grew as an emcee after his debut album, Represent (that he himself has openly admitted he sucked on), as he steals the show with a colorful verse about a one-night stand with a chick named Sixty-Nine (who he says looks “Halle Berryish”) that he met at a club and intentionally tries to give him AIDS (I literally lol’d when I heard him end his verse by saying “Practice safe sex never flex unprotected, I don’t really got AIDS it’s just a muthafucka record”). Its too bad Diamond D didn’t provide a stronger instrumental so Joe’s verse could shine brighter.

Sport That Raincoat – Domino offers up a safe sex PSA, not to be confused with his other safe sex PSA song, titled, “Raincoat” from his self-titled debut album. D pretty much covers the same territory as his previous safe sex joint, but this one is backed with an upbeat manufactured funk instrumental instead of the smooth soulful groove that backed the former. It’s not a great record, but not bad enough to make me hit the skip button, either.

Suckas P.H. – The final song of the night features the Bay Area cult favorite, Mac Mall, who’s focused on getting paid and calling out all the suckas that player hate, hence the “P.H.” in the song title. Kevin Gardner (who also sings on the hook) and Redwine are credited with producing this semi-decent instrumental, but I wasn’t feelin’ the slang Mr. Mall was putting down over it.

It’s always cool to see rappers from both coasts and all points in between coming together to support an important cause, and there aren’t too many more important causes that effected as many lives from the black and brown communities like AIDS did at the tail end of the twentieth century (it’s also worth noting that this was done during the height of the east coast/west coast beef, when hip-hop was super territorial). What’s even more remarkable is when those rappers serve justice to the cause that untied them by giving the public quality music. America Is Dying Slowly showcases a wide array of hip-hop artists that mostly hit on the subject at hand and manage to cover the topic without sounding preachy or corny, keeping the content raw and gritty, and at times, extremely blunt. There are a few moments of lukewarmness but overall, America Is Dying Slowly is an enjoyable smorgasbord of hip-hop songs that will keep you entertained and hopefully, serve as a reminder to stay safe and protected.

-Deedub

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Heltah Skeltah – Nocturnal (June 18, 1996)

Before I start this post, I want to send my condolences to all the families that lost a child during the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, TX last week. I can’t imagine the pain you’re experiencing right now, and my thoughts and prayers are with you.

After Black Moon laid the foundation for the Boot Camp Clik with their monumental 1993 debut album, Enta Da Stage, they would pass the baton to Smif-N-Wessun who would continue to build on the BCC legacy with another damn near flawless work in the form of their 1995 debut album, Dah Shinin’. With two classic albums under their collective belts, the Brooklyn New York based collective would introduce the world to the next chapter and third installment of the BCC: Ruck (better known as Sean Price (rip)) and Rock (aka Rockness, aka Da Rockness Monsta), aka Ruckus and Rockness, aka Sparkski and Dutch, but professional known as Heltah Skeltah. They would release their debut album, Nocturnal, in the summer of 1996.

Unlike Enta Da Stage and Dah Shinin’, which were both entirely produced by Da Beatminerz, Heltah Skeltah would call on the minerz of beats to produce about half of Nocturnal, letting a few other hands take care of the rest of the album. Nocturnal would render three singles, peaking at thirty-five on the Billboard’s Top 200 and five on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts. Even though the album wasn’t a commercial success it did receive positive reviews from most of the critics. (By the way, Ruck’s shoutouts in the liner notes for Nocturnal are hi-larious!).

But the question of the day is: would it stand up to the BCC projects that came before?

Intro (Here We Come) – The first thing you hear on Nocturnal is a male voice saying, “What the hell was your dick doing in the milk, man?” (Not to be confused with “milkman,” which would give the question and answer completely different context), which has to be the weirdest start to any album in the history of music. Then a basic drum beat, accompanied by slick “wah wah” guitar licks (credited to Lord Jamar and Buckshot Shorty) and a faint posse war chant (“Here we come”) comes in, followed by the voice of Starang Wondah (aka Gunn Clappa Number One, who makes up one-third of OGC aka the Originoo Gunn Clappaz), who explains the meaning of the word “nocturnal” and introduces the listener to the album. Then Rock takes the floor and gets off a few bars in his distinctive deep baritone vocal tone, delivered with his robotic-reggaeish flow to warm things up for the evening.

Letha Brainz Blo – Baby Paul laces Heltah Skeltah with a slick symphonic backdrop, while Ruck and Rock give us our first full dosage of their one-two punch, and they don’t disappoint. The thugged-out hook (“if you grin, we’ll let your brains blow”) is hi-larious to me, but I’ve got a slightly twisted sense of humor, so don’t mind me.

Undastand – The melodic sample that Baby Paul sprinkles this instrumental with is the audio equivalent of manna falling from heaven, and it lands perfectly on top of his rugged drums, as Heltah Skeltah declares and wages war on all rappers within earshot. Speaking of heaven, whoever owned the publishing rights to the sampled record (“Soul Girl” by Jeanne & the Darlings) and gave clearance must have been a rigid God-fearing religious person, as all of Ruck and Rock’s curses are edited out of the song. But the censorship doesn’t subtract from the duo’s relentless barrage of quality rhymes and the creamy goodness of the track.

Who Dat? – Ruck and Rock each get off a quick verse over a relaxed but devious sounding Buckshot produced instrumental. It sounds like both emcees are spittin’ “off the top of the dome” freestyles on this one, and they both sound solid. Rock gets interrupted mid-verse by a knock at the door, and that bleeds right into the next song…

Sean Price – Based on the song title, I was sure this was going to be a Ruckus solo joint, but instead, Sean turns it into a duet as he invites his buddy, Illa Noyz (which is a dope alias by the way) to join him on the track. Illa’s flow and delivery give off hood Shakespeare vibes (in a good way), while Ruck continues to impress with braggadocious bully raps, and he adds a tipsy Dancehall-esque style chant on the hook, which works well with the drowsy dimly lit instrumentation.

Clan’s, Posse’s, Crew’s & Clik’s – This one starts with Evil Dee’s thick bending bass line and Rock spotting “six bitch ass niggas on the corner.” Then the drums drop, and Sparkski and Dutch proceed to talk their shit, threatening to beat up and shoot up all “clans, posses, crews and clicks,” and disrespectfully, invite them all to suck upon their private parts on the hook. I miss good old fashion bully rap like this.

Therapy – This was the third single released from Nocturnal. Rock plays a man struggling with his violent thoughts, so he seeks help from (wait for it…) Dr. Kill Patient, played by Ruck, who doesn’t even know what he specializes in (after he introduces himself to Rock at the beginning of the song, he hi-lariously mumbles about being “your psycho…sick…sadomasochistic…). Dr. Kill Patient starts the session off by offering Rock a “six pack and a spliff,” before asking him a series of blunt (no pun intended) questions (i.e., “Have you been touched the wrong way? Involved in gun play? Did your momma beat you?”) and accusing him of being a crackhead. Rock begins to make progress during the second verse when he thinks back to “the nineties, that’s when life got extra grimy”, which he later identifies was fueled by his “eighties anger”, brought on by feeling abandoned by his biological family (there’s some deep shit to unpack here!), to which the good doctor haphazardly, recommends “prescribed poetry that people perceive as potent” (aka dope hip-hop music). Baby Paul’s melodically soothing instrumental, along with the lovely vocals of the beautiful Ms. Vinia Mojica (who most of us were introduced to on The Low End Theory’s “Verses From The Abstract” (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check)) on the hook, complete this underrated gem of a record that Charlamagne Tha God could use as his theme music.

Place To Be – More battle/bully raps over a hard beat.

Soldiers Gone Psyco – If I had to leave one song off Nocturnal it would probably be this one. It’s not a bad song, it’s just not as strong as some of the other joints on the album.

The Square (Triple R) – Supreme builds this instrumental around urgently epic sounding keyboard chords, while Heltah Skeltah invites the Representativz (comprised of Rock’s little brother, Lidu Rock, and Steele’s (from Smif-N-Wessun) cousin and the producer of this track, Supreme The Eloheem) to join them on the track, weaving all the verses together with another clever violent hook. This was sick, and definitely one of my favorite records on Nocturnal.

Da Wiggy – If I had to pick a second song to leave off Nocturnal it would be this one.

Gettin Ass Gettin Ass – Heltah Skeltah provides a little comic relief with this interlude. Ruck calls up a chick (played by Vinia Mojica) that he’s been trying to bone, while a super thirsty (borderline perverted) Rock listens to his buddy’s conversation, laughing in the background and repeatedly asks Ruck to ask the chick if she has a friend, to which Ruck hi-lariously keeps ignoring as he spits game to the object of his erection.

Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka – This was the lead single from Nocturnal and one of the few songs I remember from back in the day, even though I’ve never been able to pronounce the third word in the song title. All three legs of the Originoo Gunn Clappaz (Starang Wondah, Louieville Sluggah and Top Dog) join Rock and Ruck, as all five emcees take turns verbally bashing Baby Paul’s beautiful instrumental in the face. The soothing bass line in this joint is guaranteed to leave you in a trance.

Prowl – Mr. Walt builds this backdrop around a chilling loop taken from the music from the Mission Impossible TV show, as Heltah Skeltah and Louieville Sluggah rep for the nighttime, spreading light and “smacking the shit out of a few ignorant motherfuckers” along the way. Ruck almost sounds bored as he effortlessly spews bars, delivering the best verse of the song: “I devour, niggas who want to test me and defy me, it my Giuliani or the Illuminati, but I be writing plans of attack in my journal, so Ruck, Rock, ‘Ville Sluggah remain nocturnal, seeing through sheisty shit, shining like I’m solar, penetrate through darkness, bounce like I’m sonar”. This is a tough record.

Grate Unknown – Ruck got a solo joint earlier in the evening, so it’s only right that Rock gets one as well. Unlike Ruck (who does introduce his partner in rhyme at the beginning of the song) who had a guest join him on his dolo mission, Rock solely nibbles on this soulful slow-rolling instrumental (credited to Shaleek, who received his first and only other production credit of the night for Ruck’s joint “Sean Price”) that comes equipped with a haunting female vocal, properly sprinkled on the hook. This was nice.

Operation Lockdown – This was the second single from Nocturnal. E-Swift from Tha Alkaholiks builds this silky-smooth backdrop around a luscious harp loop taken from an old George Benson record, as Heltah Skeltah takes one last swing, landing a final blow on the chin of the competition. Buckshot finally shows his face (or voice), but only in the form of a few adlibs. It would have been nice to hear Buck add a verse next to his BCC bredrin, but the record is still dope without it.

Hidden Track – Heltah Skeltah brings back the previous instrumental from “Operation Lock Down” for this hidden Outro. Ruck plays a Dominican accented cat named DeJesus (who sounds a lot like David “Big Papi” Ortiz) who shares his perspective on the current state of hip-hop and based on his opinion from over twenty-five years ago, I’m sure he would hate what most of the music sounds like today. This was hi-larious, and a great way to end the album.

Heltah Skeltah doesn’t give you a bunch of variety on Nocturnal. Just a steady dose of hard beats, violent battle bars aimed at everybody who is not a part of the Boot Camp Clik, and a little comic relief sprinkled in to break up the constant barrage of east coast thuggery; and I enjoyed most of it. Ruck and Rock are both formidable emcees (with Ruck being the more skilled), who might be the strongest lyricists in the BCC not named Buckshot Shorty (I’d be willing to argue that Sean Price was iller than Buckshot, but that’s a conversation for another day). Nocturnal may not be as revered as Enta Da Stage and Dah Shinin’, but it’s a great debut album from an underappreciated duo who I believe were more than capable of living out the violence they inflict in their rhymes.

-Deedub

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Heather B – Takin Mine (June 11, 1996)

The first time I ever heard Heather B rhyme was on “7 Dee Jays” off BDP’s Edutainment album back in 1990. After D-Nice kicks the song off with a verse full of player/pimp rhetoric, Heather slides in second and aggressively spits conscious bars that find her on the verge of slicing the oppressor with razors, dissin’ Margaret Thatcher and “bustin’ shots for South Africa.” A year later she would get a solo joint on the H.E.A.L. Project, Civilization Vs. Technology (which was a pretty dope record), and in 1992 she would make history becoming the first Black woman on the first season of the first ever reality TV show (damn, that’s a lot of firsts), The Real World: New York. The show would make history, changing the course of television programming forever, and I’d be willing to bet it helped Heather land a deal with EMI, where she would release her debut album, Takin Mine in June of ‘96.

Staying loyal to her Boogie Down Production crew, HB would call on KRS-One’s little brother and BDP member, Kenny Parker, to produce nine of the ten tracks on Takin Mine, with Da Beatminerz producing the lone loosey. Takin Mine would produce three singles, with one of them turning into a hood classic (more on that in a bit), and the album would go on to have modest success, reaching thirty-six on the Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album Charts.

I remember a few of the singles from Takin Mine, but I didn’t buy or listen to the album back in the day. A few years ago, I did find a used cd copy at a bookstore and now is the perfect time to crack it open and give a few spins.

FYI: Heather B does specifically, shoutout “Jarobi & Phife” in the album’s liner notes, so we can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Da Heartbreaka – Don’t let the song title fool you. Heather’s not breaking hearts romantically with this song, but instead she uses this opening track to rip the heart out of wack emcees, with Kenny Parker as her accomplish, as he lays down a stripped-down boom bap beat to back her shit talk. Unfortunately, her rhymes don’t deliver what her enthusiasm sells, and Kenny’s backdrop matches her bars in mediocrity.

All Glocks Down – This was the lead single from Takin Mine, and the hood classic that I mentioned in the intro that will forever be Heather B’s crown jewel. Kenny Parker puts a hard drum beat underneath a dope flip of a sample from The Stylistics” People Make The World Go Round,” turning the combination into a certified banger. Heather spits decent rhymes and adds a catchy high energy hook (that really has nothing to do with her bars), but Kenny’s instrumental is so fire that Alvin & The Chipmunks would sound decent rapping over it. Side note: the video for this song features a young Omar Epps wildin’ out, uncontrollably nodding his head as he listens to the hard beat while playing NBA Live on the Sega Genesis (Oh, what memories), which I found super hi-larious.

If Headz Only Knew – For the backdrop, Kenny combines a sturdy drum beat with a bellowing bass line and a loop of what sounds like a dramatic laser beam, while HB disses Tempest Bledsoe’s short-lived talk show (remember that?), talks more shit, and gets off a pretty solid metaphor that compares her freestyle to a game of basketball during the third verse. This was actually pretty decent.

My Kinda Nigga – M.O.P. drops by and joins Heather for this cipher session that has the trio trying to out bully rap each other and out grimy Kenny’s manufactured gutter production. Unfortunately, the record doesn’t have enough grime of gutter to give it much replay value.

Takin Mine – The title track is an inspirational one that finds our hostess determined to make it in the industry despite her doubters and the challenges thrown her way. KP backs HB’s bars with a somber-esque backdrop that nicely brings it all together like a zipper on a butter leather. Shoutout to the legendary, Black Thought.

Mad Bent – HB only spends a portion of her verses (and the hook) focused on getting drunk and high. The rest of the song is dedicated to her trying her damnedest to spit fire, as she continues to scream her bars, unnecessarily extending her voice. KP’s backdrop sounded bland my first few times threw Takin Mine but grows on me the more I listen to it.

Sendin ‘Em Back – Kenny serves up some dark devilish boom-bap and Heather puts together arguably, her strongest bars of the album, as she continues to talk her shit with bars that appear to be aimed at her female counterparts: “I chip tooths, knockin ’em loose at one time, that’s for all them hoes that don’t write they own rhymes, repeat after me, ‘Heather B, Heather B’, lyrically, lyrically got all these hoes shook, What, you think you can’t get yo title took? You are not the type to even hold a mic, you rhyme, but I write, you fuss but I fight, I am all the truth, and you are all the fuckin’ hype.” And they claim that men are responsible for pitting female emcees against each other. Regardless, this is easily one of the strongest songs on Takin Mine.

No Doubt – Average mid-grade boom bap.

Real Niggaz Up – Heather invites a few of her 54th Regiment bredrin (Thorough Ass Bo and Tone 2000) to join her on this cipher session, as all three parties spew competent rhymes over Da Beatminerz average and discretely rugged instrumental. That’s all I got.

What Goes On – HB dedicates the last song of the night to all the thorough brothers aka “noccas” out there. Her “noccas” include her homeboys and possible romantic prospects, which she has some pretty interesting criteria for (basically, he has to be a shirtless, Hilfiger boxer-fatigue wearing drug dealer who provides her with an endless supply of weed). Kenny loops us Kool & The Gang’s “Summer Madness,” which is nearly impossible to mess up, but he comes damn near close to doing that with his watered-down flip of the sample. This one was pretty weak.

The conscious Heather B that I was first introduced to on “7 Dee Jays” and the H.E.A.L. Project is completely missing from Takin Mine. Instead, HB uses most of the album’s ten tracks to smoke, drink, fight, rep her 54th Regiment crew, call out chicks that don’t write their own rhymes, and just talk regular emcee shit. Most of Heather’s rhymes are decent, but her voice sounds strained throughout the album as she over aggressively delivers her lines and sounds a little uncomfortable in her flow. The production on Takin Mine is a consistent batch of boom bap joints, but with the exception of the undeniable banger that is “All Glocks Down,” they’re average at best, lacking heart and soul.

On “No Doubt” Heather shares her dream of wanting to be “More Illmatic than Nas.” She clearly didn’t achieve that goal with Takin Mine, but she did end up marrying Nas’ childhood friend and Braveheart crew member, Big Horse, so that should count for something, right?

-Deedub

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Domino – Physical Funk (June 11, 1996)

By 1996 Domino had transformed from the set trippin’-Blood killin’-crip-claimin’ rapper known as Genuine Draft (see The Bloods & Crips album Bangin’ On Wax) to a radio friendly rapping/singing gold selling recording artist, thanks largely to his 1993 hit record “Getto Jam” that helped earn both the single and his self-titled debut album RIAA certifications. Through the years, many singing rappers have come through and experienced commercial success (i.e., Ja-Rule and of course, Drake), but seldom is Domino mentioned as one of the architects of the style. Regardless, he would return in ‘96 to follow up his self-titled debut with his sophomore effort, Physical Funk.

On his debut album, Domino relied on DJ Battlecat and Robert “Funksta” Bacon to sonically shape the album. For Physical Funk, Domino would be at the production helm, pushing the buttons and programming keyboards, while a few of his musician friends would lend a helping hand, adding live instrumentation to a track, here and there. Surprisingly, after the commercial success of Domino, Physical Funk would fly under the radar, producing disappointing sells numbers and received less than flattering reviews.

Let’s revisit Physical Funk and see how it sounds twenty-six years after its original release.

Microphone Musician – Domino kicks off the evening with a beautiful melancholic jazzy instrumental (the emotional tickling of the keys is damn near hypnotic), as he smoothly talks his shit via rap and harmony: “The man that sports the Guess suits, and fly Havana boots, has finally got a chance to get loose and produce, in ‘93 I came quite unique, unexpected, now everybody got a “Getto Jam” on they record.” I like hearing Domino rap/sing with a little chip on his shoulder, but even more intriguing is his quiet storm backdrop.

Macadocious – Domino (who’s rap voice and cadence sounds very similar to Ahmad’s, who most of you will remember from his hit record “Back In The Day”) uses this one to break down the meaning of “Macadocious”, and if you’ve never heard this song, I think you’re smart enough to figure out what the term means. If not, go stream it and support a Black man’s music. I’m surprised this one wasn’t released as a single, as it’s pristine manufactured melodic vibes paired with Domino’s poppish hook is tailor made for radio but still funky enough to make me want to crip walk to it.

Hennessy – Domino brings the energy level down a few notches as he and a few of his musician friends (Ernest Tibbs on bass and Angelo Earl on guitar) create a laidback sophisticated jazzy atmosphere (which sounds suspiciously similar to “Getto Jam”) that he dedicates to his favorite drink of choice. It makes for a decent listen, but more importantly, I hope Hennessy gave him a bag for this endorsement.

Physical Funk – The title track (which is just a fancy way for Domino to say “sex,”) was also the lead single from the album. Once again, D designs a record custom made for nineties radio play, and even though I’m not crazy about the record, it serves its purpose. I’m kind of surprised it wasn’t a bigger commercial hit when it came out.

Trickin – Our host dedicates this ballad to a fine young tender that he becomes obsessed with after seeing her at a beauty shop, and he’s later met with disappointment when he discovers that she’s the neighborhood garden tool, or as Domino so bluntly puts it: “she’s the whole hood’s homie lover friend.” Is he saying “kind of soda like a strawberry” on hook? If so, what the hell does that mean? Regardless, I couldn’t get into this one. Domino’s storyline and singing sounds boring, and the instrumental has a Casio keyboard cheesiness to it.

Long Beach Funk – Domino rips the instrumentation from Tom Browne’s “Funkin’ For Jamaica”, replaces “Jamaica” with “Long Beach” on the hook, and raps and sings praises to the city he calls home. Is it just me or does it sound like Domino jacked Nate Dogg’s singing style on this joint? Come to think of it, his rap on this one sounds like he borrowed Snoop’s flow. Hmmm…

So Fly – This was the second and final single released from Physical Funk. Domino’s responsible for the drums and piano, Warren Cee brings the soulful church organ chords, and Darroll Crooks’ stanky guitar licks are the heart and soul of this funk session that finds our host crooning about a young sexy that’s got him wide open. This is a bonafide groove that I completely forgot existed, but what a pleasant reminder. Random thought: I wouldn’t mind hearing Anderson Paak reinterpret this one.

Do You Qualify – Our host revisits his cautionary tale about falling in lust for underage girls with overdeveloped bodies (the original mix was on his debut album). Domino replaces Bobcat’s synthy “Summertime Madness” assisted instrumental with lusciously elegant instrumentation that allows him to deliver his lines, hook and adlibs at a swaggier slower pace, which in turn brings his commentary to life and makes it sound more interesting. Side note: The DSP version of Physical Funk doesn’t have this song on it, but instead has a song called “Street Thang”, which is Domino’s ode to a bangin’ hood chick over a funk-heavy instrumental with a trunk rattling bass line.

Domino Got Beats – Fluffy party rhymes and harmony mixed with a generic instrumental are the perfect ingredients for a forgettable formulaic party record. Next…

Good Part – Domino and Darroll Crooks create a soulful slow-jam that begs for an answer to an important question to a lot of newly dating couples: “When we gonna get to the good part?” aka the “physical funk” portion of the relationship. Domino shares two stories: one from a man’s point of view and the other from a woman’s perspective, and both are nicely executed, but it’s the catchy hook and the beautiful instrumentation that make this one irresistible.

Get Your Groove On – Domino hooks up another uninspired funk instrumental and throws in a Zapp-esque talk box voice on the hook, as he and his homeboy, Jiboh spit raps that are supposed to get asses and feet on the dance floor. I’d be willing to bet it didn’t work on too many asses, and even less feet.

Physical Funk (Remix) – Domino closes the album with a remix of the title track, and I’m not a fan. The instrumental sounds too filtered and synthesized, while the hook and his verses sound fuzzy, making it hard to understand the words coming out of his mouth. Shout out to Chris Tucker.

There is something to be said about an artist finding his or her lane and staying true to it. Domino is not super lyrical, nor will he hit you with meaty verses full of substance over traditional hip-hop beats, but what he did on his debut album and continued to do on Physical Funk is use a simple formula: a steady dosage of sex, lust and party themes, backed by clean programmed drums and keyboards with occasional sprinkles of live instrumentation, and when cooked at four-hundred and sixty degrees for three hours, you get a heapin’ helpin’ of radio friendly records. Normally, this formulaic method of making music doesn’t appeal to me, but Domino manages to make most of Physical Funk sound entertaining, as he straddles the line between rapping and singing for the entirety of the album, and to be honest with you, I enjoyed more of his singing than rapping. Physical Funk is far from a classic and doesn’t come with pop hit records like “Getto Jam” or “Sweet Potatoe Pie”, but pound for pound it’s a better album than its predecessor that left me interested in hearing the rest of Domino’s catalog.

-Deedub

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Ice-T – VI: The Return Of The Real (June 4, 1996)

By 1996 Ice-T had five gold selling albums under his belt and was quickly establishing himself as a Hollywood presence and soon to be Television star. Even though the godfather of gangsta rap’s legacy in hip-hop was sealed and his acting career was blossoming, he still had the rap bug in him. He would return in ‘96 to release his sixth album, VI: Return Of The Real.

Absent from VI are the production contributions from longtime Ice-T collaborators, DJ Aladdin and Afrika Islam. Instead, the production liner notes are flooded with a bunch of names that I’m unfamiliar with and cameos from strange names as well. Upon its release, VI would receive less than flattering reviews from the critics and it would be the first Ice-T album to not earn the perm-haired South Central based rapper a gold certification.

If we’re willing to have an honest conversation and with all due respect for his pioneering work, wasn’t nobody checking for new material from Ice-T the rapper in 1996. That’s why I don’t feel bad for not knowing about the album’s existence until I bumped into a used cd copy of VI at one of the record stores that I frequent a few years back (might I add that the matte black disc with the embedded shimmering camouflaged pic of Ice-T is super dope). I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but once again, this will be my first time listening to VI since I bought it. So, let’s find out if Ice-T’s return to the game was real-ly worth the wait.

Yeah, that was pretty bad, but like they say: you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take, so whatever.

Pimp AnthemVI begins with a sinister organ loop placed over hard drums, accompanied by a devious bass line that Ice-T uses to spit his pimpology, boasting that his game is so potent that he deserves a “pimpin’ patent”: “So damn smooth that every woman wants to touch me, so much sexuality that nuns wanna fuck me…lot of niggas talk it, but they can’t hold a hooker, Ice took her, she was too long a looker.” Ice’s hook was clearly inspired by the hook from Junior Mafia’s “Player Anthem,” and it works. So do his bars, as he sounds comfortable and confident putting a lyrical smack down on this dope San-Man produced beat.

Where The Shit Goes Down – CMT & E-A Ski hook up a traditional mid-nineties smooth yet funky instrumental that finds Ice-T bragging about living the “hustler’s dream”, selling death (in the form of drugs) and committing cold blooded homicide in beautiful South Central L.A. Ice doesn’t cover any new territory with this one, but he still manages to make it a mildly entertaining record.

Bouncin’ Down The Strezeet – Ice invites his first guests of the evening, as he’s joined by Mr. Wesside, Powerlord Jell (pronounced as “Jay-L”) and Hot Dolla on this west coast gangsta cipher session. The instrumental sounds like someone’s sprinkling fairy dust over the eerie synth chords and drab drums, and Ice and his guests’ subpar performances don’t make matters any better. But more troubling is Mr. Wesside’s cringe worthy hook that might be the worst hook in the history of hip-hop. Yes, it’s that bad.

Return Of The Real – Our host uses the title track to call out studio gangstas and the fictitious lives they live in the booth. I’m not sure how I feel about the twangy semi-dark loop used in DJ Ace’s backdrop, and Ice never seems to find a pocket over this beat. And much like the previous track, Ice’s wordy hook sounds terrible.

I Must Stand – This was the lead single from VI. Ice recalls his rough child (which left him without both parents by the age of eleven), his introduction to the street life and all the stress and trouble it brings, before closing the song by sharing his decision to make a change for the better and encourages any streets hustlers listening to do the same. The quiet storm voice and cadence that Ice adapts for this song is kind of corny, but I appreciate the message and his sentiment.

Alotta Niggas – This interlude features Ice-T’s Body Count bredrin, Sean E Sean (which has to be a candidate for worst moniker of the year) asking Ice his thoughts on the critics that question his street cred since branching out into Hollywood and forming a rock band. I can appreciate Ice’s response, although the Diablo piece was kind of a head scratcher.

Rap Game’s Hijacked – SLEJ Da Ruff Edge (who put in a lot of work on Ice-T’s last two albums) hooks up this rugged east coast-flavored banger that Ice uses to address how the white man, I mean, corporate America, took over hip-hop and pimped the shit out of it. Ice shares some useful history on the game and gives some interesting business lessons from a seasoned o.g.’s perspective, and the “white engineer, minimum wage” comment at the end of the song is worthy of a chuckle.

How Does It Feel – Ice puts on his bedroom voice and invites his homie, Big Rich to join him, as the duo take turns trying to convince the female listenership that sex is better when you’re “making love with a G.” Speaking of G, that’s also the alias of the gentleman who drops by to adlib on the hook, while Ice and Rich attempt to sing on it, borrowing the harmony form Bootsy Collins’ classic joint, “I’d Rather Be With You”, which Big Rich and Mad Rome also interpolate into the instrumental. The instrumental is decent, but Ice and Rich’s rhymes sound cheesy. Then again, I’m not the targeted demographic for this song, so who cares.

The Lane – Ice sticks with his gangsta themes, this time giving detailed commentary on the ups and downs and pros and cons of life in the fast lane. He, DJ Ace and SLEJ are credited for the dope backdrop that complements our host’s content very well.

Rap Is Fake – This short interlude finds Ice-T denying to a reporter that he and The Syndicate have any “underworld connections”. I guess this is supposed to set up the next song.

Make The Loot Loop – Over a dark slow-rolling backdrop, Ice-T lets the listener know that he no longer wants to be called a gangsta (even though he spends most of VI posturing like one), but instead, be addressed as a hustler. Then he spends the rest of the song bragging about his material possessions. Except for the mention of his now beautiful ex-queen, Darlene Ortiz (who you might remember for wonderfully gracing the album covers of his first two albums…you know, the ones LL Cool J took home to the bathroom), this joint was pretty forgettable.

Syndicate 4 Ever – This one begins with some Syndicate naysayers naysaying, followed by screeching tires and gun fire, presumably coming from the nay recipients. Ice-T sits this one out and lets his Syndicate bredrin, L.P., Powerlord Jell and Hot Dolla “hoo-ride” all over this poor man’s Dr. Dre knock off instrumental. Keep it moving, nothing to see here, folks.

The 5th – Ice uses this one to paint his Syndicate crew as a mafia-type criminal organization, and if you join the crew and speak of the organization’s existence, your own existence is in jeopardy. This is mid-grade gangsta filler that Ice-T even sounds disinterested in as he delivers his rhymes.

It’s Goin’ Down – This interlude starts with Ice on the receiving end of some mind-tingling head (it sounds like the young lady is nibbling on a Slim Jim instead of suckin’ a dick), while his record, “How Does It Feel”, fittingly, plays in the background. His moment of ecstasy is suddenly interrupted when his homeboy calls to let him know that the drama is back on, which leaves our host so peeved that he hi-lariousy, commands the nibbling Nancy to “stop bitch!” This bleeds right into the next song…

They Want Me Back In – Ice-T plays an o.g. who’s trying to get out of the game but is quickly drawn back in when his homie calls to let him know that some of their crosstown rivals think that Ice is responsible for killing one of their own. Ice does a great job of playing the disgruntled old gangsta and Big Rich (who the liner notes fail to credit) does a solid job of playing the husky-voiced message deliverer and “down to ride” homie. DJ Ace provides a bangin’ backdrop and the ill Method Man vocal loop on the hook is the cherry on top of this gangsta treat.

Inside Of A Gangsta – Ice-T slips his bedroom voice back on as he attempts to appeal to the ladies by showing a more tender side of a gangsta, using cheesy verbiage about gangstas having “barricades around their hearts,” and asks the ladies to “walk through the darkened halls of his mind” as they “stroll through his soul.” Powerlord Jell makes yet another appearance on VI, and his elementary rhymes sound even cornier than Ice’s. Adding insult to injury, the Big Rich/Mad Rome produced instrumental is horrible, and when you factor in the embarrassingly horrid hook (sung by some dude named Teddy), this record ends up being a laughably bad train wreck.

Forced To Do Dirt – Ice continues to rehash more of the same gangsta rhetoric that he’s spewed for most of the night, but at least the smooth laidback instrumental was refreshing and enjoyable.

Haters – Hmmm…this interlude sounds a lot like the skit at the beginning of “Syndicate 4 Ever”. Regardless, it only exists to set up the next song…

Cramp Your Style – Ice-T names off a plethora of weaponry in his personal collection that he threatens to use on his haters if they’re brave enough to step to him. Trails of Flowalistics hooks up a jazzy swing backdrop that includes a dope Sticky Fingaz vocal snippet on the hook. I like the instrumental, but it sounds too happy and playful to be paired with Ice’s content.

Real – Our host takes some time out to explain his interpretation of what “real” means, and his explanation gets kind of lengthy and random.

Dear Homie – The final song of the night features a synthy somber instrumental (credited to long time Syndicate member, Hen-Gee and Little Dre), as Ice-T plays a dead gangsta talking to his homie from heaven, while the same homeboy (played by Godfather from Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. (rip)) raps back to his friend from the land of the living. This was a decent enough way to conclude VI, I guess.

One of the glaring issues I have with VI is the track sequencing. The first four tracks find Ice-T pimpin’, hustlin’ or gangsterin’ before he recognizes the error in his ways and reforms on track five (“I Must Stand”). But instead of building on his reform with positive messages and themes of change, he uses the bulk of the remaining sixteen tracks to pimp, hustle and get his gangsta on. He could have at least got his “street life/gangsta” records off first and then closed the album with “I Must Stand” and “Dear Homie”, which would have given the album some much needed order. But even if Ice-T did change the track sequencing, there are still issues with the inconsistent production, a bunch of subpar guest appearances, corny and redundant song ideas, and then there’s our host himself, who was way past his emcee prime by ’96. There are some solid records on VI, but even the best records on the album aren’t that memorable.

– Deedub

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Lost Boyz – Legal Drug Money (June 4, 1996)

The Lost Boyz were a four-man crew out of Southside Jamaica Queens, New York comprised of lead emcee Mr. Cheeks, B-mic and hypeman, Freaky Tah (rip), DJ Spigg Nice and Pretty Lou, who’s role in the group I’m still trying to determine. Cheeks, Tah and Lou met as kids growing up in Queens and would later meet Spigg Nice in high school where the four would vibe and soon form a group. Originally calling themselves the Stay Fresh Crew, they later settled on Lost Boyz after discovering the 1987 vampire movie of the same name (but spelled The Lost Boys). The LB’s would do shows locally and record demos, and one of those demos would end up in the hands of Uptown executive “Buttnaked” Tim Dawg (I don’t want to know how he got that alias), which lead to the LB’s signing a deal with Uptown, where they would release a few successful singles, and eventually sign an album deal with Universal/Motown, where they would release their debut album, Legal Drug Money.

As Mr. Cheeks has explained on several occasions, the album title, Legal Drug Money, references the Lost Boyz pursuit to get paid legally, slangin’ the very addictive drug called music. The album would produce five charting singles and shoot to number six on the Billboards Top 200 and number one on the Billboards Top R&B/Hip-Hop charts. Legal Drug Money would also earn the LB’s a gold certification after just two months of its release.

The Lost Boyz would go on to release a few more albums, but after the untimely murder of Freaky Tah in ‘99 and the 2004 bank robbery spree conviction of DJ Spigg Nice (which would land him a thirty-seven-year sentence; he would serve seventeen years of the sentence before being released in 2021), the LB’s would lose their momentum and things would soon come to an end for the group. Mr. Cheeks would go on to experience some success as a solo artist, and much like his time in the group, I have no idea what Pretty Lou went on to do.

I’m familiar with some of LB’s joints from being played on the radio and video shows back in the day, but I’ve never listened to a Lost Boyz album. I stumbled on a used copy of LDM a few years back, and thanks to this blog I will now get the opportunity to experience the album for the first time with you all.

And maybe I’ll get an answer to the question of the day: What the hell did Pretty Lou do the group?

Intro – The album opens with the soothing sounds of Kool & The Gang’s classic, “Summertime Madness” playing in the background, while Mr. Cheeks babbles on about all types of randomness.

The Yearn – The first song of the night is a hood PSA on safe sex. Pete Rock serves up a dimly lit but fire instrumental with his signature drums doing the heavy lifting, as Mr. Cheeks and Freaky Tah get off verses about the importance of using protection when you’re lustin’ and bustin’ (well, at least Mr. Cheeks does; I have no idea what Tah is talking about…oh and by the way, Mr. Cheeks, AIDS does have a name; it’s Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome…duh!). There is also a version of this song with a Pete Rock verse tacked on at the end that was included on the America Is Dying Slowly (AIDS) compilation album in connection with the Red Hot AIDS Benefit Series. Nice way to kick off the evening, fellas.

Music Makes Me High – This was the fourth single released from LDM. Mr. Sexxx and Charles Suitt hook up a bouncy west coast funk backdrop (built around a commonly used loop from “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll”) that Mr. Cheeks uses to drop random bars, while the simply hook affectively turns the song into a catchy party record that you can’t resist even though you want to with all your heart.

Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz & Benz – This was the lead single from LDM, and don’t let the song title fool you, this song has absolutely nothing to do with luxury automobiles. Instead, Mr. Cheeks uses the effective but ordinary sounding Easy Mo Bee produced instrumental to casually talk his emcee shit on. It’s not a terrible record, but definitely not fire enough to have it sequenced this early in the album.

Lifestyles Of The Rich And Shameless – Mr. Cheeks uses this one to share the stories of a couple of drug dealers around his way, Jack and Yvette. Each of the subjects gets a verse outlining their deeds and exploits before Mr. Cheeks uses the third verse to discuss his stent in the drug game and how he gave it up to start “hustlin’ his style and cookin’ up works with his pen.” Easy Mo Bee is responsible for this instrumental as well and it fares much better than the last one but might have shined brighter with a more talented emcee rhyming over it.

Renee – This was the second single from the album and one of the few LB songs that I remember from back in the day. Mr. Sexxx lays down a quality mid-tempo bop that Mr. Cheeks uses to nonchalantly share a tale about a young lady named Renee that he met on the subway, quickly fell in love with and lost to gun violence way too soon. Cheeks’ story (that he has said in several interviews is loosely based around a girl named Ebony from his neighborhood who was murdered) is pretty anti-climactic, as he lets you know right after the first verse during the hook that Renee is going to die. Yet in still, it makes for an intriguing listen.

All Right – This one begins with someone spittin’ a spoken word poem about being a lady’s man in a stereotypical African slave voice. Then Big Dex drops an airy-minimalistic backdrop that he, Cheeks and Tah use to spit what sounds like, off the top of the dome freestyle rhymes. Cheeks does manage to get off one of his strongest bars of the night with his opening line: “I run with crooks, that be in Donald Goines books,” but things get progressively worst from there.

Legal Drug Money – After a short interview interlude with Big Lez (remember when she was on BET’s Rap City back in the day? Yummy), Big Dex drops a partial mystic, moderately dark instrumental laced with a callous horn loop that Cheeks and Tah use to talk about their transition from slangin’ dope to slangin’ rhymes. This was actually pretty dope, no pun intended.

Get Up – Cheeks is in party mode on this one, spittin’ bars about chicks, gettin’ high and kickin’ it with the crew over a Mr. Sexxx produced track built around a loop from a classic Stephanie Mills record. The more I do this blog the more I’m realizing how often Gwen McCrae’s “Funky Sensation” has been sampled in hip-hop records through the years, as this song also borrows her iconic “Get up, clap your hands” on the hook. This record is dripping with summertime vibes and makes for a great choice to throw on at a barbeque.

Is This The Part – The details of Cheeks story are blurred, but I was able to gather that he calls some chick a “stink bitch” for not responding to him when he tries to kick it to her during the first verse, and then another woman (or maybe it’s the same woman he called a stink bitch during the first verse) ends up cheating on him, and disgusted by her/their actions, he hi-lariously wraps up the song by calling her/them “two dollar bitches with three dollar haircuts” Cheeks’ storyline might be suspect, but the catchy hook and the soulful Isaac Hayes sample led backdrop (courtesy of Easy Mo Bee) make this record irresistible.

Straight From Da Ghetto – Big Dex keeps the soulful vibes coming, as he hooks up a soulfully warm and scrumptious bop that Cheeks uses to pledge his allegiance to the hood, good, bad or indifferent. This is easily my favorite song on LDM.

Keep It Real – You can add this one to the never-ending list of overused hip-hop song titles with “Real” in them. Dex loops up some classic Barry White for Cheeks to talk about some of the devilish deeds he did before beginning his pursuit of legal drug money: “Slingin’ rocks and packin’ glocks on the blocks, it’s early in the morning I’m selling jums from my Reeboks, tre’s, nicks and dimes, I write rhymes, but the ghetto times, they got the Cheeks doing crimes.” Cheeks’ rhymes and flow sound sharper and more aggressive than normal and I like it, even though it was sloppy of him to mention that he’s “smokin’ weed in ‘96”, only later to say he “might not be around in ‘95”. At least try to make me believe the song was written during the same time period.

Channel Zero – Cheeks uses this sorrowful soundscape to discuss his humble beginnings, address some hood issues, calls for unity in the hood and seemingly out of nowhere goes in on Marky Mark (For you young bucks, Marky Mark was Mark Wahlberg’s rap alias back in the nineties. Before he gave up his microphone for Hollywood, the Boston bred actor caught as much flack as Vanilla Ice from other emcees for being a corny token “great white hope” rapper, which is probably why he hates discussing his rap career in interviews to this day). I couldn’t get into this one. Dex’s instrumental is boring, Cheeks semi-harmonized cadence is annoying and Tah’s adlibs only make matters worse.

Da Game – More mid-grade hood filler material. And can somebody please tell me what the hell this “field jacket” is that Mr. Cheeks has been obsessed with for the entire album?

1, 2, 3 – Since Cheeks has played the A mic for most of the night, it’s only right that Freaky Tah gets a solo joint, I guess. This one begins with dark sporadic piano chords and almost inaudible wah-wah guitar licks playing in the background, while Freaky Tah rambles on about trying to avoid beef in the streets. Well apparently, he couldn’t avoid the beef, as he spends the next five verses screaming, explaining in great detail how he knocked off three cats as payback for what they did to one of his guys. This is probably the longest and worst murder rap song in the history of hip-hop.

Lifestyles Of The Rich And Shameless (Remix) – This remix not only comes with a shiny new “happy-go-lucky” instrumental, but it also gets reconstructive surgery on its hook and verses. Pleasant way to end the evening.

On Legal Drug Money, the Lost Boyz rely heavily on polished radio friendly hip-hop beats and simple but catchy hooks that make up for what they lack in content. That’s not to say that Mr. Cheeks, who carries the bulk of the lyrical load on the album, is completely trash, but he even admits on “The Yearn” that he’s not the “best or the smartest rap artist”. On the other hand, Cheeks’ unique high-pitched raspy voice does make his “average at best” rhymes easier to digest, while Freaky Tah’s adlibs fill up the gaps in his flow and bring energy to a lot of the album’s tracks. There are a couple of skippable moments on LDM, and the hour and eleven-minute runtime could stand to be shaved down by ten minutes or so, but with all its flaws it’s still a solid debut from the Jamaica Queens foursome. I still want to know what Pretty Lou’s role was in all of this.

-Deedub

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Digital Underground – Future Rhythm (June 4, 1996)

Before we get into this post, I must start by saying rest in peace to the underappreciated musical genius that was Gregory “Shock G” Jacobs, who we lost almost a year ago to the date. Thank you for your contribution to our beloved genre and may you continue to rest in peace.

We last checked in with Digital Underground with their 1993 release, Body-Hat Syndrome, and to put it mildly, the album was only a few dirty diapers away from being trash. Being the fan that I am of the Shock G led Oakland collective, the underwhelming output hurt my soul a bit. Body-Hat Syndrome would also be the first DU project to not earn at minimum, a gold plaque and coincidentally, would be the last project they would release on Tommy Boy Records. DU would pick up the pieces and return in ‘96, independently releasing their fourth full-length, Future Rhythm.

Based on the album cover and elaborate sixteen page insert, Future Rhythm has double meaning, as it not only refers to the music, but also acts as a faux virtual reality video game, where you can select from over sixty players (the insert highlights a few of the options, including: Deemo The Assassin, Tasheeba The Sex Slave, The Death Lord, Terry The Trick and Malika The Master Pimpstress, and all of them come complete with bizarre background storylines) and choose to engage in “High Risk Anti-Protection Combat-Orgy” or select an alternate game, like: “Glooty-Us-Maximus”, where you can “choose from over 200 multi-colored asses to see which ones don’t stank when dey poot” or “Walk The Dog Real Kool” where you can put some hoes, I mean, dogs on leashes and walk dem bitches like a pimp. And if you’re not tech savvy, no worries, all the games are “Use-Her-Friendly”. Shock G would stick to DU tradition, keeping the production in-house with his D-Flo production squad and invite a gang of friends to cameo on a bunch of the album’s tracks. Like Body-Hat Syndrome, Future Rhythm also wasn’t a commercial success, but it did receive favorable reviews from several publications upon its release.

I found Future Rhythm at a used bookstore a few years back for a couple of bucks and have never listened to it until now. Would the DU’s rhythm usher in the Future? Let’s find out.

Walk Real Kool – After a computer voice welcomes the listener to the album (or the game) and instructs him or her to select a player, D-Flo lays down a slow-rolling jazzy funk mash up. Shock G is joined by Erika “Shay” Sulpacio and Marsha Lurry, as the three sing about the state of the Black and Brown community and ask the rhetorical question of “Where are we going as a people?” on the hook. I enjoyed the easily digestible food for thought and the tight groove that back’s the conscious message.

Glooty-Us-Maximus – Saafir, Skatz and one-half of the Luniz, Numskull join DU for this song about beautiful women, bougie attitudes and stank asses. Speaking of asses, this record is booty. Humpty Hump makes his first appearance of the night, but even his presence doesn’t make this one worth listening to more than once.

Oregano Flow (Gumbo Soup Mix) – Shock goes dolo on this one as he gets into his Oakland player bag and sprinkles his “oregano flow (not too heavy on the garlic)” all over the track. He and the D-Flo strip the panties, bra, heels and melody off Loose Ends’ “Hangin’ On A String” instrumental, leaving it butt-naked for all its funkiness to be exposed and shine. This was really dope.

Fool Get A Clue – Shock is joined by Shaquaan and Shabaam (collectively known as The Black Spooks), as the three stand up for freedom of expression and sexual liberation over a smooth deep-fried funk groove built around a slice of Funkadelic’s “Funk Gets Stronger”. This D-Flo groove gets stronger as it goes on, ending with a full out jam session complete with nasty guitar licks and fabulous horn solos.

Rumpty Rump – Quick interlude that features Money B leaving a voicemail for Shock about an idea to create a female version of Humpty Hump, named Rumpty Rump. But instead of having a big fake nose like Humpty, she would have a big fake ass. Wait. Did Money B predict the coming of Nicki Minaj?

Food Fight – This one pairs Humpty up with Del The Funky Homosapien, as the unlikely duo square off with rival crews in a good old-fashion food fight. Humpty comes armed with cheeseburgers, cantaloupes and melons, while Del’s equipped with lettuce, ham hocks, pork balls and his secret weapon, paprika (throw a little seasoning in a wack emcee’s eye. Now, that’s gangsta). Fittingly, this class clown session appeared in Marlon and Shawn Wayans’ hood movie parody flick, Don’t Be A Menace (there is no damn way I’m typing out the full title of that movie). The instrumentation is decent and much like Humpty’s nose, it grows on me the more I listen to it.

Future Rhythm – The title track finds Shock and Humpty joined by their buddies, Krazy Horse and Mac-Mone, as they all take shots predicting the future over a drowsily melodic backdrop. They successfully predict that texting (“text to the sexless”) and FaceTime (“I seen them with my tv screen phone”) would become the norm in the future (and for you young bucks, neither was a thing in ‘96, as the cellphone itself wasn’t even common place at time), but unfortunately, they were wrong about no longer having “imitation G’s flexin’ techs in the hood” and the ability to “fax freaks through the internet.” Instagram and OnlyFans has gotten us damn near close to the latter, though.

Hokis Pokis (A Classic Case) – I’m not sure what Humpty and the crew’s loony inside joke is on this one, but at least the drunken background music is mildly entertaining.

We Got More – Like “Food Fight” this song was also featured in the Don’t Be A Menace movie and included on the movie’s soundtrack. The Luniz drop by and join Shock G and Humpty to talk their Oakland shit over dope drums, laced with a sick snake charmer sounding horn. This is one of the few records on Future Rhythm that I vaguely remember from back in the day, and it still sounds dope, and somewhat current.

Hella Bump – Hella underwhelming.

Stylin’ – This might be my favorite joint on Future Rhythm. The D-Flo crew creates a cool jazz atmosphere, punctuated by a sassy synthesized saxophone chord that Shock, Humpty and their special guests, Kenya and Tyranny use to brag and boast of their original styling, rapping and harmonizing their way through it. Well done gents.

Midnite Snack – Shock and the fellas bring back a reprised version of the instrumental from “Food Fight” and let it rock a little while for this short and cleverly titled interlude.

Oregano Flow (Hot Sauce Mix) – There is nothing hot about the sauce in this mix. The instrumental has a super cheesy circus feel and needs a shit load of oregano, garlic and everything else to make it taste good.

Want It All – The final song of the evening features a warm backdrop filled with melodic vibrations and DU taking a cleverly comical approach to address the duplicity that exist in all of us. After Shock G’s recent transition, hearing him harmonize “It’s great to be alive, I wonder what it’s like to die, I wanna live drug free, but I wanna be somber, I wanna get high, ’til the world is over” hits different.

After their disappointing 1993 release, Body-Hat Syndrome, Future Rhythm is definitely a step back in the right direction for Digital Underground. The album finds Shock G and company splattering light-hearted rhymes and harmonies (with a few hidden messages and some hyper-sexual undertones) over bluesy-cool jazz-funk fused hip-hop instrumentation, and most of it sounds pretty damn entertaining. It’s safe to say that DU’s best days were behind them by 1996, but like Jordan leaving the Bulls and finishing his career with the Wizards, Future Rhythm proves that the Oakland collective still had some productive gas left in their creative tanks.

-Deedub

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