MC Ren – Shock of The Hour (November 16, 1993)

Before we start December of 1993, I figured I’d slip this November release in, as it somehow got removed from my spreadsheet. If you’re keeping track at home, insert this one after Black Reign. 

We last heard from MC Ren with the release of his debut solo project, that was the 6 song EP affectionately titled, Kizz My Black Azz. For those who read this blog on a regular basis, in the wrap up of the Kizz My Black Azz review I mentioned that I wondered what a full-length project from the former NWA emcee would sound like. Well, lucky for me, I came across a copy of his full length debut Shock of the Hour, a while back.

Like Kizz My Black Azz, Shock Of The Hour would be released on his long-time homie, Eazy-E’s (rip) Ruthless label. DJ Bobcat was at the helm for most of the production work on Kizz My Black Azz, but he would not be present for Shock of the Hour. Instead, Ren would bring in a few relatively unknown producers, Tootie and Dr. Jam to handle the bulk of the production load. It’s worth noting that the album is divided into two parts, as the first half of songs were recorded before Ren converted to the Nation of Islam and the second half after his conversion.

Hopefully the songs sound as epic as the album cover’s artwork looks.

11:55 – The album opens with a dark instrumental and a few sound bites, before Ren’s buddy Laywiy gives the listener a spoken word piece that touches on everything from the Apocalypse to drive-bys, and everything in between. I found this pretty useless, but at least it’s short.

Same Old Shit – This was the lead single from Shock of the Hour, and boy is it a dandy. Tootie hooks up a dark and very hard instrumental that Ren uses to discuss the scandalous deeds he commits on a daily basis. Ren sounds right at home and his booming baritone compliments the edgy backdrop, perfectly.

Fuck What Ya Heard – Ren uses this one to address all the rumors floating around about himself, and to talk random shit. Dr. Jam provides a decent extremely west coast sounding backdrop for Ren to vent over. Not great, but I’ve heard worst.

All Bullshit Aside – Ren continues his tough guy talk over a Dr. Jam & Madness 4 Real produced track. It’s not a great song, but the instrumental’s mystic low-key vibe will grow on you and win you over.

One False Move – Ren invites hid buddies Da Konvicted Felon and Dollar Bill to rhyme next to him on this one, with Don Jaguar adding a reggae chant on the hook. Ren sounds decent, but his boys stink up the place, along with Tootie’s instrumental which is pretty  weak as well.

You Wanna Fuck Her – Dr. Jam slides Ren some old smoothness that he uses to get his misogyny on. As disturbing as this may sound, he sounds pretty damn good disrespecting women over it. Guilty pleasure.

Mayday On The Front Line – This was originally released as a single from the CB4 Soundtrack. Ren does a complete one-eighty as he goes from a full-blown gangster on the first half of the album to a Black Militant activist on this song. I guess it’s not a complete one-eighty, because he still has his hardcore edge. He just redirects his aim at the white man instead of his own brother.  Initially, I wasn’t crazy about Dr. Jam’s instrumental, but the more I listen to it the more I love it.

Attack On Babylon – If hip-hop were around back in Nat Turner’s day this song would have definitely been on his rebellion playlist (right in between P.E.’s “Fight The Power” and N.W.A.’s “Fuck The Police”). David “Rhythm D” Weldon hooks up a dark unsettling instrumental for Ren to paint the gory details of the day the black man takes over America by force. Ren’s very convincing on this one, and sure to make even the coolest white boy a little uncomfortable.

Do You Believe – Can a brother get a question mark, please? Tootie serves up a solid backdrop, as Ren continues his militant rants, calling out black men who marry white women, worship a white Jesus, keep their slave master’s name, eat pork and gangbang. I don’t agree with a lot of his opinions, but it’s interesting to hear the reformed gangster spilling some consciousness in his rhymes.

Mr. Fuck Up – Our host takes a bathroom break and lets his crew, The Whole Click (yes, that is actually the name of their crew): Grinch, Bone, Juvenile and J-Rocc, take over this one. Unfortunately, none of them impress on the mic and Tootie’s instrumental sounds lazy, so all parties involved live up to the song title.

Shock Of The Hour – Ren saves the title track for last and invites Laywiy and KAM to join him on this warning of the looming apocalypse. Ren and KAM sound decent enough, I guess, but listening to this Laywiy dude is like listening to someone press a piece of chalk against a chalkboard. I see what Tootie was going for with the instrumental and he succeeds with its unnerving dark feel, but overall it’s pretty anticlimactic and doesn’t complete what it set out to accomplish.

This may sound wrong, but I think I prefer the ratchet Ren over the righteous Ren that shows up for the second half of Shock of the Hour. In my opinion, Ren’s strongest attributes have always been his strong booming vocal tone and his direct rhyming approach. Both attributes are present throughout Shock of the Hour, but his direct rhyming comes across more effective when he’s thuggin’ opposed to when he’s trying to enlighten the listener. I was less impressed with Tootie and Dr. Jam’s production. Even though they manage to slip Ren a dope instrumental, here and there, most of their work is average and mediocre. All that said, Shock of the Hour isn’t a terrible album, but it leads me to believe that Ren may be stronger in a group than as a solo artist.

-Deedub

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The Conscious Daughters – Ear To The Street (November 30, 1993)

I hope this post finds everyone enjoying the Holiday season! As 2017 comes to an end we are also close to wrapping up 1993 hip-hop reviews. This is my last post of the year, so may you all have a Happy New Year!  

There was once a time in hip-hop when female emcees didn’t have to talk dirty and walk around in thongs and heels to be heard. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy that method sometimes, but…I’m just sayin’. During those good old days, female emcees like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Roxanne Shante gripped the mic looking to be noticed and respected for their lyricism, not their bodies. As the gangster rap sub-genre begin to grow in the early nineties, the ladies started to gravitate toward the style as well, with groups like Boss having commercial success with it. Another female group that came out of this era with a hardcore edge was the Oakland duo of Carla “CMG” Green and Karryl “Special One” Smith, together known as The Conscious Daughters.

The Conscious Daughters were put on by their bay area brethren, Paris, who would sign them to his Scarface imprint and go on to produce their entire debut album, Ear To The Street. Ear To The Street would spawn a couple of minor hits for the duo, who would release two more albums as a group: 1996’s Gamers and 2009’s The Nutcracker Suite. Sadly, on December 10, 2o11, Special One was found dead in her home due to complications with blood clots. May she rest in peace.

I found Ear To The Street a couple of years ago for a few bucks in the clearance bin at one of my favorite books stores (what up Half Price Books?!!!). I’m familiar with a few of the singles from Ear To The Street, but this is my first time listening to the album in its entirety. So, with no further adieu, let’s take a journey and see how funky this expedition really is.

Princess Of Poetry – TCD get things off to an energetic start, as both CMG and K show they can actually spit over a sick instrumental, courtesy of Paris. Great start to the evening, and thank you ladies for keeping it humble and not proclaiming yourselves queens of this here genre.

Shitty Situation – Paris uses an interpolation of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” for the instrumental, and CMG goes dolo on this one as she explains how a night of hot buckey naked sex (I had to chuckle when CMG says her lover was “diggin’ up in the guts like the muthafucka lost something”) turns into a lifetime of responsibility. This makes for a cool PSA , but not a great song. Hopefully it helped some young lady make a wise decision, though.

TCD In Da Front – CMG and K rekindle the fire they started with on “Princess Of Poetry” and sound nice rockin’ over Paris’ Parliament influenced backdrop. Both emcees spit one quick verse (with K bringing the stronger bars on this one) and jump out of it, quickly. Then Easy-E ends the song dropping a co-sign for the duo. Well done, ladies.

Somethin’ To Ride To (Funky Expedition) – This was the lead single from Ear To The Street. CMG and K take turns glorifying smoking, drinking, hunting down their rivals, avoiding 5-0 and all the other stereotypical hood shit you can think of. To make matters worse, Paris’ instrumental sounds cheesy and the whistling sample sound on the hook is enough to drive a brotha insane after a few listens.

We Roll Deep – This was the only other song I was familiar with before listening to Ear To The Street today. Over a breezy instrumental TCD continues their tough guy talk. This one is suitable for summertime cruising.

Showdown – Paris brings the funk (and a verse) for TCD to get their swerve on, and they wind up rapping circles around their mentor. It’s not that TCD sound spectacular, but Paris’ sixteen sounds like the audio equivalent of a decrepit old man trying to bend over to tie his shoes. The true star of this song is the instrumental, though; it makes me want to get in the six-four and hit them switches…before I remember I don’t have one.

Wife Of A Gangsta – K and CMG use a slick Paris backdrop to glorify the life a being married to a gangsta and all the perks that come with: money, scandalous women scheming to take your man and the constant fear of rivals plotting to take you and your husband’s lives. Fun stuff! The only thing enjoyable about this one is the instrumental and CMG’s line “taking them out in twosies”, which makes me chuckle every time I listen to this song.

Dex Dog – Apparently Dex Dog is TCD’s homeboy and they wanted him to get a little shine, so they let him vent and ramble on for about fifteen second.

Crazybitchmadness – Special One spits a quick verse over a basic drum beat. The song is super short, but very unimpressive.

Da Mac Flow – I didn’t care for this one either.

What’s A Girl To Do? – This song is all over the place. K spends her bars talking about what she won’t do for her man, while CMG uses her verses to spit battle rhymes (wait…did she just take a shot at the UMC’s? What beef could CMG possibly have with Haas G and Kool Kim?). I like the funky yet smooth guitar sample that Paris uses (which Unknown DJ (of CMW) used the previous year for the instrumental for the female emcee, Paradise’s song “Down With My Nigga” from the Deep Cover Soundtrack), but everything else about this song is trash.

Don’t let the name fool you. With the exception of “Shitty Situation” there is not much conscious about these daughters’ content on Ear To The Street. In fact, while they both can actually rap, it sounds like they and Paris was trying to capitalize on the success of Boss and borrowed their gangsta image for Ear To The Street (which is ironic, considering Paris’ conscious black militant persona). Paris does manage to muster up a couple of pretty dope instrumentals for the ladies, but most of his production falls flat, while most of TCD’s rhymes ring hollow and inauthentic. Maybe they should have held their ears to the street a tad bit longer.

-Deedub

 

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Del The Funkyhomosapien – No Need For Alarm (November 23, 1993)

After getting his foot in the door in 1991 with his debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here, Del The Funkyhomosapien (formerly Del The Funkee Homosapien) would begin to introduce the world to his Hieroglyphics crew. The Hieroglyphics are the Oakland based collective of emcees and deejays/producers (consisting of Souls of Mischief (A-Plus, Phesto, Opio and Tajai), Extra Prolific (Snupe and Mike G), Casual, Pep-Love, Domino (not to be confused with the “Ghetto Jam” Domino), Jay-Biz and DJ Toure) who defied the typical gangster rhyme style and g-funk based production sound that most of their left coast counterparts partook in, in exchange for a mix of conscious content mixed with battle bars and jazz and funk loops over boom-bap drum beats, similar to, say A Tribe Called Quest (of course I had to some how sneak their name into this post). First out the pack in 1993 would be The Souls of Mischief, who would make quite the first impression with their classic debut ’93 Til Infinity. Then Del would strike with his second release, No Need For Alarm.

Ice Cube and The Boogiemen handled most of the production for Del’s debut, but this time around Del and members from Hiero would provide all the instrumentals, and a few of them would also make cameos on the mic as well. No Need For Alarm was highly praised by the critics and fans, and its been said that it’s the second of three classic Golden-era albums from the Hiero crew (with the first being ’93 Til Infinity and Casual’s Fear Itself, the third). I can confirm the first, I recently bought the third and still haven’t listened to it, but today we’re only concerned with the second one.

Let’s give her a listen, shall we?

You’re in ShamblesNo Need For Alarm opens with what sounds like a dark chopped up violin (or horn?) sample, that morphs into some horror movie type shit (courtesy of Snupe). Del tip toes over the beat and dishes out verbal lashing to all emcees within earshot. Dope start to the evening.

Catch a Bad One – This was No Need For Alarm‘s lead single and is and probably always will be, my favorite Del The Funkyhomosapien song. Casual hooks up a nasty backdrop that has both a regal and hardcore feel (I can’t tell if that’s a bass guitar or violin sample at the beginning of the song, but whatever it is is disgusting), and Del sounds triumphant as he continues his articulate verbal assault on his contemporaries. If you forgot about this one or never heard it, I’d advise you to revisit it or look it up. This is a great hip-hop record that sounds even better today that it did twenty plus years ago.

Wack M.C.’s – Del continues his trash talk to emcees on this one. On the song’s opening verse it sounds like he may have taken a shot at Treach with the line “Forfeit, because your shit’s, unbearable, terrible, sounds like you’re sharing flows with Treach” (if you have any info on a beef between the two, feel free to chime in in the comments). I like Del, but if he and Treach were to battle back in the day, I’d put my money on Treach…but I digress. Del’s instrumental is decent and overall the song winds up sounding pretty decent too.

No Need For Alarm – Domino lays down a mediocre instrumental for the title track and Del does his best to bring it to life, to no avail. I did find his line “No time for tiddlywinks, if your titties is pink, then you are white and I’m not the right man” pretty funny. Something about the word “tiddlywinks” and “pink titties” together is hi-larious to me.

Boo Boo Heads – One of Del’s ex-lovers did him dirty and left him heart-broken, and this song is his emotional reaction to the pain she caused him. Kurious makes a useless cameo at the beginning of the song, and the SD50’s hook up a fatigued backdrop that brings the song to a grinding halt.

Treats For The Kiddies – The SD50’s fail Del yet again with this garbage instrumental. I was so bored with the instrumental that I couldn’t even focus on Del’s rhymes.

Worldwide – Del gets his Shock G on and summons his sixteen year old inner child, who goes by the name of Unicron, and each of them get a verse on this one. Casual’s zany instrumental complements the song’s theme, well.

No More Worries – Del invites A-Plus, Casual and Snupe to join him on this cipher joint, and I have to say that Snupe delivers the strongest verse out of the four (I wonder what Extra Prolific is up to these days). Props to Domino for the solid instrumental…I love the tribal like drums on it.

Wrongplace – Del lays down a soulful backdrop for himself and shares a few different scenarios where he was guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This one still sounds amazing.

In and Out – That’s exactly what this song does to my ears every time I listen to it.

Don’t Forget – Domino takes the listener to church with a dope instrumental built around a scorchin’ hot organ sample, as Del reminds the listener to “don’t forget your niggas”.

Miles To Go – More battle rhymes from our host over a dry Jay-Biz backdrop.

Check It Ooout – Del hooks up a dope slightly soulful mid-tempo instrumental and uses it to verbally attack rival emcees. I wonder if Del was talking about someone specifically with his line: “if he go off beat and it’s on purpose, he gotta come back on beat or the effort is worthless”. But the line that keeps me in cramps is “Cause I’m relentless with a sentence…a jail sentence after I beat you senseless”. He saves the last verse for Danyel Smith, a magazine editor and journalist who wrote an article for Rolling Stone Magazine that Del felt painted he and his Hieroglyphics crew in a negative light. Wait…did he really just threaten to rip a part her skull?

Thank Youse – A-Plus gets credit for the final instrumental of the evening, and it’s a pretty little diddly that Del uses to send his appreciation to the fans for listening. It’s short, sweet and serves as a nice little bow on the album.

Nostalgia can be a strange thing. My memories of No Need For Alarm had it sounding a lot more entertaining than it did today. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible album. Del delivers lyrically throughout and proves he’ s a dope emcee (and a lot more violent than he was on I Wish My Brother George Was Here), but the production is a bit uneven and during the midway point of the album, it makes following Del’s intricate rhyme style a bit challenging. No Need For Alarm is a decent listen, but not nearly as strong as his Souls of Mischief brethren’s debut album released a few months earlier.

-Deedub

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Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle November 23, 1993

After making a hell of a statement with his debut cameo appearance on the bangin’ title track for the Deep Cover Soundtrack, then coming right back the following year and being a major factor in the success of the colossal collabo album that was The Chronic, the world was impatiently awaiting the arrival of Calvin “Snoop Doggy Dogg” Broadus’ debut album. Nearly a year after The Chronic was released, Snoop Dogg would unleash (no pun intended) his debut album on the world, cleverly titled Doggystyle .

Doggystyle would include the same players that were involved on The Chronic, with appearances by Das, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, RBX, Rage, DOC, and the maestro himself, Dr. Dre behind the boards, and a  few new guest, including a special cameo appearance by one of Dre’s biggest production influences (more on that in a bit). Doggystyle  was deemed an instant classic by critics a like and was certified 4 times platinum by the RIAA less than 6 months after its release, and since has gone on to sell over 7 million copies domestically and 11 million worldwide.

It’s fair to say that The Chronic and Doggystyle were the cornerstones that helped propel Uncle Snoop into being a household name and arguably the biggest rap superstar on the planet. And he’s still releasing new music, with his latest album just released earlier this year (Neva Left). And who would have thought 25 years ago that the gangsta rapping weed connoisseur would be hosting game shows and a cooking show with Martha Stewart?

Time is truly, illmatic.

BathtubDoggystyle opens with an intro that has Snoop getting bathed by a woman, before they’re interrupted by a doorbell and a group of people coming to visit. Snoop then exchanges greeting with one of his homeboys (played by Warren G) and expresses to him how he’s considering getting out the game because he’s tired of all the “punk ass bitches” and “sucka ass niggas”, to which Warren rebuttals that he’ be crazy to give up a lifestyle that allows him to smoke a pound of weed a day and watch tv on a big screen. Yeah, I found it kind of stupid and useless too, but this all leads into Doggystyle’s official intro…

G Funk Intro – George Clinton makes a cameo and spits a short spoken word piece, which is fitting, since Dre borrows from Funkadelic’s “Not Just (Knee Deep)” record for the instrumental. Clinton’s lines are followed by a verse from Rage, and she gets a good jump out the starting blocks, running laps around the beat. Snoop then spits a quick four bars, before Clinton brings things to a close with another short poem about dogs, female dogs (aka bitches) and doggy bags. And I found the whole two-minute experience pretty damn entertaining.

Gin And Juice – “With so much drama in the L-B-C, it’s kind of hard being Snoop D-O-double-G”. Who will ever forget Snoop’s classic opening bar from this classic song that also happens to be the second single from Doggystyle ? Dre hooks up a dark vintage G-Funk instrumental that Snoop freaks with (eighty degrees, when I told that bitch please, raise up off these n-u-t’s, cause you gets none of these, at) ease, as he sings praises to his choice of drink and chaser. I’m sure this song plays at least ten times a day on somebody’s throwback radio mix (shoutout to Backspin on Sirius XM). Classic.

Tha Shiznit – After a short interlude from the faux disc jockey, DJ Saul T. Nuts (played by the late comedian Ricky Harris) who spins for the fictitious radio station W-Balls, Dre drops an intense and sinister backdrop for Snoop, who completely obliterates it. Legend has it that Snoop’s verses on this song are off the dome freestyles that he did in one take. If that is true, that makes this song even more impressive. This is easily my favorite song on Doggystyle , and probably in all of Snoop’s catalog.

Lodi Dodi – Snoop takes a break from the frenzied pace that Doggystyle  started with and slows things down with this remake of Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew’s classic record of the same name, but spelled different (shoutout to Slick Rick). Snoop does make some minor tweaks here and there to make it his own, but pretty much follows Slick Rick’s storyline to a tee. This isn’t my favorite song on Doggystyle , but I appreciate the sentiment.

Murder Was The Case – And right back to the frenetic pace. The song opens with a couple of Snoop’s rivals (or just haters) rollin’ up on him and spraying shots at him. Snoop then takes the listener on a brilliantly detailed ride to the after life, where, as he once explained it “a gangsta is saved by God, and instead of doing the right thing, the gangsta does the wrong thing and pays for it”. Dre lays down a dark and spooky backdrop that plays perfect with Snoop’s well-sculpted storyline. A year after Doggystyle was released this song would turn into its own short film complete with a music soundtrack, which I’ll review in detail somewhere down the road.

Serial Killa – Tha Dogg Pound (Kurupt and Daz) and RBX (and DOC provides part of the hook) join Snoop on this side-one ending song, if you’re listening to it on vinyl or cassette. Dre provides a dope dark instrumental for the crew to rock over, and RBX fittingly provides the last verse and walks away with this one, folks.

Who Am I (What’s My Name)? – This was the lead single from Doggystyle . For the second time this evening, Dre samples Funkadelic’s “Not Just (Knee Deep)” for the instrumental, and Snoop does a decent job with the mediocrity that he’s given. I’ve never been a huge fan of this song, but I’ve heard worst.

For All My Niggaz & Bitches – Kurupt, Das and Rage pretty much take care of this one, with Snoop just contributing a short 4 bars (that was also used as a hook for “Niggas Don’t Give A Fuck” on the Poetic Justice Soundtrack) at the end of the song. Kurupt gets the most mic time on this one, and proves he’s a formidable emcee, and also gives a shoutout to the microphone god, Rakim. Dre provides a rough instrumental with g-funk sensibilities, that all parties involved sound pretty nice rockin’ over. Even Das, I guess.

Aint No Fun (If The Homies Cant Have None) – Nate Dogg (rip), Kurupt and Warren G join Snoop on this, um, lyrical gangbang. Nate gets first dibs and does what made him great (harmonize raunchy bars over hip-hop beats), followed by Kurupt, Snoop and Dre’s half-brother, Mr. Regulator himself, Warren G. With the climate of sexual assault/harassment in America these days, it would be a poor choice to play this on a throwback mix, but you’re a lie if you aren’t/weren’t entertained by this misogynistic masterpiece. Guilty pleasure.

Doggy Dogg World – After Snoop takes a chronic break (fyi, I think he meant to say The Bluenotes without Harold Melvin, because Teddy Pendergrass blew up after leaving his blue buddies), Dre slows things all the way down with this smooth groove that Snoop and his Dogg Pound buddies, Das and Kurupt, us to talk more random shit about their skills, women and weed. Snoop also invites the seventies soul group The Dramatics to sing the hook, and they sound pretty nice harmonizing over it (“Talkin’ bout Snoop, talkin’ bout you Snoop!”).

Gz And Hustlas – Dre flips Bernard Wright’s “Haboglabotribin'” and throws some G-Funk swag on it, as Snoop continues to display his nearly flawless flow, dedicating this one to the g’s and the hustlas. Side note: for any one who cares, Lil Bow Wow makes his debut by playing young Snoop on the skit at the beginning of this song.

Gz Up, Hoes Down – Only the early editions of Doggystyle had this song on it, as it was later pulled due to sample clearance issues with Isaac Hayes’ “The Look Of Love” record. Snoop reclines all the way back as he rides this smooth Dr. Dre production to perfection. This is dope.

Pump Pump – The song opens with Snoop and Sam Sneed (you don’t remember who he is? You better recognize!) getting into it over a woman, and then shots ring out. That bleeds into the final song of the evening that has Snoop spittin’ decent bars over a decent Dre track. Oh yeah, and Lil’ Malik aka Lil Hershey Loc (formerly of Illegal) gets the last verse of the song, and even though he sounds better than he ever did with Illegal, his bars are still not that impressive. And we’re done.

I could probably have done without “Who Am I (What’s My Name)? “, but the rest of Doggystyle is so damn good, one mediocre moment can’t stop the album’s momentum toward greatness. With his slightly nasal always smooth flow, Snoop entertains and pretty much holds down the first half of the album, single-handed, before humbly yielding the second half for his crew to shine, but you can still feel his influence as he plays the background. On the production side, Dr. Dre picks up where he left off at on The Chronic, and while he doesn’t necessarily expand upon The Chronic’s production sound, he still  provides an overall enjoyable g-funk soundscape for the duration of the ride. Doggystyle is a dope debut from the crip-claiming canine emcee, and a classic record that still entertains today.

-Deedub

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Das EFX – Straight Up Sewaside (November 16,1993)

It’s fair to say that Das EFX’s debut album Dead Serious had a huge effect on hip-hop. Their platinum selling debut showed off the duo’s unusual and animated style that every emcee and their mama would try to mimic in an attempt to cash in on the success that it brought Das. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, so in theory you’d think Das felt good about the copycats. But they didn’t. Not only were they not flattered by the biters, they were also getting criticism from some hip-hop heads that felt their stuttering style was a gimmick. So, when they returned in 1993 with their sophomore effort Straight Up Sewaside, they decided to switch things up.

Like Dead Serious, Straight Up Sewaside would have Solid Scheme behind the boards (for all but one of its fourteen tracks), but Dray and Skoob would abandon their stutter style and use a more straight forward rhyming approach this time around. Unlike Dead Serious, Straight Up Sewaside wasn’t a commercial success, but it did receive pretty positive reviews upon its release. I bought the album when it came out back in the day, but honestly don’t remember much about it.

I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad sign of what’s to come.

Intro – Yep.

Undaground RappaStraight Up Sewaside starts with a slightly dark Solid Scheme instrumental that Dray and Skoob use to showcase their new straight forward approach to rhyming. Gone are the “iggites” that littered their bars on Dead Serious. But don’t get it twisted, these boys can still rhyme.

Gimme Dat Microphone – This is the lone track on Straight Up Sewaside that Solid Scheme did not produce. Instead, Charlie Marotta cooks up a fire instrumental that reeks of  vintage EPMD, and Skoob and Dray serve it up, properly.

Check It Out – The dreaded duo take things right back to the sewer and go hard over this grimy backdrop.

Interlude – It plays exactly how it reads.

Freakit -This was the lead single from Straight Up Sewaside. Solid Scheme lays down a decent backdrop and the duo do to it exactly what the title suggest.

Rappaz – Solid Scheme’s instrumental ironically sounds like something Muggs would have hooked up for some of Das’ number one fans, Funkdoobiest, and that’s actually a compliment. Skoob and Dray briefly resort back to their old ways, reviving the “iggidty” at certain points during the song, and on the second verse, Skoob talks about how public opinion helped influence their decision to change their style up. Interesting.

Interview – After a few sound bites play, Das comes in and talks about how everybody and their mama bit the style that they came in the game with it and made popular. If they’d had only got the style trademarked they could have made a fortune.

Baknaffek – Solid Scheme’s instrumental on this one sounds a lot like their work on “Underground Rappa”. And it was kind of corny to hear them shoutout KRS-One so soon after squashing their short-lived beef with him (“So if you’re drunk, I’ll freak the funk until you’re sober, but still be gettin’ chills when niggas play the bridge is over”).

Kaught In Da Ak –  Das briefly steps away from their random rhyming format and uses this dark backdrop (that sounds a lot like the previous track and “Underground Rappa”) to display their storytelling skills. It was a nice change of pace, but Das isn’t even remotely great at the art of storytelling.

Wontu – This one almost put me to sleep.

Krazy With Da Books – Soul meets the sewer on this Solid Scheme backdrop, and Dray and Skoob sound right at home over it, as they take the listener to church.

It’z Like Dat – Solid Scheme’s instrumental kind of reminds me of the siren-like sample that Premo used on Gang Starr’s “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?”, only not nearly as dope. Actually, this song is pretty boring.

Host Wit Da Most (Rappaz Remix) – In case you missed it in the title, this is a remix to “Rappaz”. It uses the same lyrics as the original, just a different hook and an instrumental built around a lazy loop of Johnny Guitar Walker’s “Superman Lover”. I’ll take the original, thanks.

Technically and sonically, Straight Up Sewaside isn’t a bad album. Gone are the “iggites”, but strangely, Dray and Scoop still manage to sound the same as they did on their debut album (which isn’t a bad thing), and Solid Scheme cooks up a decent to solid batch of backdrops for the dreaded duo to spit on. But over the course of 14 tracks, Das’ random rhyme style with no real themes, begins to sound repetitive, and Solid Scheme’s instrumentals start to run together by the midway point of the album. And while Dead Serious gave us undeniable bangers like “Mic Checka” and “They Want EFX”, Straight Up Sewaside doesn’t have one definitive song it can stand on and be remembered by. Straight Up Sewaside  may not be a bad album, but it’s far from great.

-Deedub

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Queen Latifah – Black Reign (November 16, 1993)

By 1993 Queen Latifah was a budding actress, with the hood classic Juice under her belt and starring in the first season of her severely underrated sitcom Living Single. Oh yeah, and she also had two solid hip-hop albums under her belt and was arguably the most respected female emcee in the game at the time. The Queen would return at the end of 1993 with her third release Black Reign.

The bulk of the production work for Black Reign would be handled by Tony Dofat, Kay-Gee (of Naughty By Nature) and newcomer, S.I.D., and the album would go on to earn Latifah her second gold selling certification. Latifah would dedicate Black Reign to her brother Lancelot H. Owens aka Winki, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1992.

Like Latifah, Black Reign will always be connected to death for me as well. In December of 1993 my high school homie, Sophia Lewis, was shot in the head while sitting in the passenger seat of some dude’s car, and of course, he was the one the bullets were intended for. He would walk away unscathed, while Sophia would become a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, because, as momma used to say, “a bullet don’t have nobody’s name on it”. Sophia was only 16 years old. Ironically, Black Reign was the album I was bumping in my Walkman (remember those?) the day I got the news of Sophia’s demise, and some of the album’s dark and moody undertones would help me cope with the lost for the bulk of that winter. Thank you, Queen.

Winki and Sophia, may you both rest in peace.

Black Hand Side Black Reign opens with a spacey S.I.D. instrumental and Latifah warming up her mic, while she welcomes the listener to the album and a new day (“a new day to hit me”). She and S.I.D. both deserve five on the black hand side for this gem.

Listen 2 Me – Keeping with the spacey feel, Tony Dofat gets his first production credit of the evening and builds an airy/moody jazz instrumental for Latifah to spit on, and she does a decent job with it. This song brings back memories and sounds just as good today as it did twenty plus years ago.

I Can’t Understand – This song has the Queen pondering why wack emcees want to try her (*cough* Roxanne Shante), why men play games, why white and black people fight each other, why good people die, why the sky is blue, etc. etc. Tony Dofat hooks up a dope up-tempo backdrop and Latifah does a good job of keeping pace with it.

Rough… – Tony Dofat hooks up a rugged backdrop and the Queen invites a few of her all-star emcee friends to join her on this cipher joint: Treach, Heavy D and KRS-One stop by to spit a verse along side Latifah. Everyone involved contributes a solid verse, but of course the Blastmaster walks away with this one.

4 The D.J.’s (Interlude) – S.I.D. chops up the intro to Al B. Sure’s “Die For You” along with a soundbite of someone saying “gimme the microphone”, and turns it into a decent interlude.

Bring The Flavor – This was included on the Flavor Unit compilation Roll Wit Tha Flava. Read my thought on this song here.

Coochie Bang… – One of the few songs on Black Reign that Latifah actually gives one of her writers (Treach) a credit in liner notes. S.I.D. creates a smooth mid-tempo groove which lays the ground work for this cool safe sex PSA.

Superstar – S.I.D. continues to bless the Queen with excellent production work. This time around he churns out a beautifully melodic backdrop that has the Queen in search of an ordinary guy. Picture that: the Queen with an everyday peasant.

No Work – Kay Gee gets his first production credit of the evening and hooks up funky instrumental for Latifah to talk her shit, or should I say Treach’s shit, over (I don’t care what the liner notes say, can’t nobody tell me Treach didn’t write “we’re ready for the worst things first, anything you thought I thought twice, thought through and thought first”). La even adapts Treach’s flow and cadence on this one, but it’s still a banger.

Just A Flow (Interlude) – Latifah freestyles a short spoken word piece over S.I.D.’s track that has good vibes dripping all over it.

Just Another Day… – This was the second single from Black Reign. Latifah uses this soothing S.I.D. backdrop to give the listener a glimpse into the life of the Queen, and who would have thought she still lives in the hood and walks around with a nine, tech and condoms, just in case she needs protection? Even with her exaggerations, this song is still dope.

U.N.I.T.Y. – This was the lead single from Black Reign and is easily the biggest hit on the album. Kay-Gee hooks up a somber jazzy instrumental that Latifah uses to create arguably the greatest feminist movement song in hip-hop history. And with all the sexual assault accusations against some of the entertainment world’s most powerful men, this song couldn’t be more relevant. “Who you calling a bitch?!”

Weekend Love – When it comes to combining hip-hop with the island vibes, Latifah was through with it before Drake learned what to do with it. Kay-Gee lays down a smooth Caribbean flavored instrumental for Latifah to showcase her lovely singing voice and tell her weekend boy toy that what they have is just a weekend ting, or thing. Tony Rebel adds a reggae chant for the hook on this breezy feel good joint.

Mood Is Right – This sounds like something that should have been on La’s Nature Of A Sista album. S.I.D. hooks up a mid-tempo-slightly r&b tinged backdrop, as Latifah expresses her readiness to give up the box to her new man. She also continues to show and prove she can sing a little bit, on the hook.

Winki’s ThemeBlack Reign fittingly closes with a tribute to Latifah’s late brother, Winki. Unlike most tribute songs, this one is not super sappy, but you can still feel the emotion in the upbeat instrumentation (that Latifah is credited for producing). I wasn’t a big fan of this song back in the day, but now as an adult, I can appreciate it a lot more. What a perfect way to end Black Reign.

Black Reign definitely lives up to the album’s title as Kay-Gee, Tony Dofat and S.I.D. (who I’m shocked didn’t get more production work after his masterful job on this album) sew together a sonically cohesive darkly moody quilt that the Queen lays her quality and versatile verses on, as she combines battle bars with consciousness, while occasionally rhyming and singing about love, all done with a mournful heart. There is not one song on the album that is worthy of skipping, and that’s pretty impressive, considering there are fourteen tracks. Black Reign is a great album that doesn’t get nearly the credit that it deserves.

-Deedub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Deedub

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